From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
It is from a court that we are to be taught to-day the most heroic virtues. Casimir is a prince; he is surrounded by all the allurements of youth and luxury; and yet he passes through the snares of the world with as much safety and prudence, as though he were an angel in human form. His example shows us what we may do. The world has not smiled on us as it did on Casimir; but how much we have loved it! If we have gone so far as to make it our idol, we must now break what we have adored, and give our service to the sovereign Lord, who alone has a right to it. When we read the lives of the saints, and find that persons who were in the ordinary walks of life practised extraordinary virtues, we are inclined to think that they were not exposed to great temptations, or that the misfortunes they met with in the world made them give themselves up unreservedly to God’s service. Such interpretations of the actions of the saints are shallow and false, for they ignore this great fact, that there is no condition or state, however humble, in which man has not to combat the evil inclinations of his heart, and that corrupt nature alone is strong enough to iead him to sin. But in such a saint as Casimir we have no difficulty in recognizing that all his Christian energy was from God, and not from any natural source; and we rightly conclude that we, who have the same good God, may well hope that this season of spiritual regeneration will change and better us. Casimir preferred death to sin. But is not every Christian bound to be thus minded every hour of the day? And yet, such is the infatuation produced by the pleasures or advantages of this present life, that we every day see men plunging themselves into sin, which is the death of the soul; and this, not for the sake of saving the life of the body, but for a vile and transient gratification, which is oftentimes contrary to their temporal interests. What stronger proof could there be than this, of the sad effects produced in us by original sin? The examples of the saints are given us as a light to lead us in the right path, let us follow it, and we shall be saved. Besides, we have a powerful aid in their merits and intercession: let us take courage at the thought that these friends of God have a most affectionate compassion for us their brethren, who are surrounded by so many and great dangers.
The Church, in her liturgy, thus describes to us the virtues of our young prince:
Casimirus, patre Casimiro, matre Elisabetha Austriaca, Poloniæ regibus ortus, a pueritia sub optimis magistris pietate, et bonis artibus instructus, juveniles artus aspero domabat cilicio, et assiduis extenuabat jejuniis. Regii spreta lecti mollitie, dura cubabat humo, et clam intempesta nocte, præ foribus tempiorum pronus in terra divinam exorabat clementiam. In Christi contemplanda Passione assiduus, Missarum solemniis adeo erectain Deum mente solebat adesse, ut extra se rapi videretur.
Catholicam promovere fidem summopere studuit, et Ruthenorum schisma abolere; quapropter Casimirum patrem induxit, ut legem ferret, ne schismaticinova templa construerent, nec vetera collabentia restaurarent. Erga pauperes et calamitatibus oppressos benefieus et misericors, patris et defensoris egenorum nomen obtinuit. Virginitatem, quam ab incunabulis servavit illæsam, sub extremo vilæ termino fortiter asseruit, dum gravi pressus infirmitate, mori potius, quam castitatisjacturam ex medicorum Consilio subire, constanter decrevit.
Consummatus in brevi, virtutibus et meritis plenus, prænuntiato mortis die, inter sacerdotum, et religio sorum choros spiritum Deo reddidit, anno setatis vigesimo quinto. Corpus Vilnam delatum multis claret miraculis. Etenim, præterquam quod puella defuncta vitam, cæci visum, claudi gressum, et varii infirmi sanitatem ad ejus sepulchrum recuperarunt. Lithuanis exiguo numero ad potentissimi hostis insperatam irruptionem trepidantibus in aere apparens, insignem tribuit victoriam. Quibus permotus Leo decimus, eumdem sanctorum catalogo adscripsit.
Casimir was the son of Casimir, king of Poland, and of Elizabeth of Austria. He was put, when quite a boy, under the care of the best masters, who trained him to piety and learning. He brought his body into subjection by wearing a hair-shirt, and by frequent fasting. He could not endure the soft bed which is given to kings, but lay on the hard floor, and during the night, he used privately to steal from his room, and go to the church, where, prostrate before the door, he besought God to have mercy on him. The Passion of Christ was his favourite subject of meditation; and when he assisted at Mass, his mind was so fixed on God, that he seemed to be in one long ecstasy.
Great was his zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith, and the suppression of the Russian schism. He persuaded the king, his father, to pass a law, forbidding the schismatics to build new churches, or to repair those which had fallen to ruin. Such was his charity for the poor and all sufferers, that he went under the name of the father and defender of the poor. During his last illness, he nobly evinced his love of purity, which virtue he had maintained unsullied during his whole life. He was suffering a cruel malady; but he courageously preferred to die, rather than suffer the loss of his chastity, whereby his physicians advised him to purchase his cure.
Being made perfect in a short space of time, and rich in virtue and merit, after having foretold the day of his death, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his God, in the twenty-fifth year of his age, surrounded by priests and religious. His body was taken to Vilna, and was honoured by many miracles. A young girl was raised to life at his shrine; the blind recovered their sight, the lame the use of their limbs, and the sick their health. He appeared to a small army of Lithuanians, who were unexpectedly attacked by a large force, and gave them the victory over the enemy. Leo X. was induced by all these miracles to enrol him among the saints.
Enjoy thy well-earned rest in heaven, O Casimir! Neither the world with all its riches, nor the court with all its pleasures, could distract thy heart from the eternal joys it alone coveted and loved. Thy life was short, but full of merit. The remembrance of heaven made thee forget the earth. God yielded to the impatience of thy desire to be with Him, and took thee speedily from among men. Thy life, though most innocent, was one of penance, for knowing the evil tendencies of corrupt nature, thou hadst a dread of a life of comfort. When shall we be made to understand that penance is a debt we owe to God, a debt of expiation for the sins we have committed against Him? Thou didst prefer death to sin; obtain for as a fear of sin, that greatest of all the evils that can befall as, because it is an evil which strikes at God Himself. Pray for as daring this holy season, which is intended as a preparation for penance; impress our minds with the truths now put before us. The Christian world is honouring thee to-day; repay its homage by thy blessing. Poland, thy fatherland, once the bulwark of the Church, which kept back the invasion of schism, heresy, and infidelity, beseeches thy prayers.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
On this day a commemoration is made of St. Lucius, Pope and Martyr. He was a Roman by birth, and succeeded Pope Cornelius in 252. Shortly after his accession he was sent into exile by the Emperor Gallus, but was soon recalled, to the great joy of the Roman people. St. Cyprian quotes decrees issued by him against the Novatians. He died after a very short pontificate on March 4, 253. His relics were translated to the church of St. Cecilia, where they are exposed to the veneration of the Faithful.
Qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam æternam custodit eam.
Deus qui nos beati Lucii Martyris tui atque Pontificis annua solemnitate lætificas: concede propitlus; ut, cujus natalitia colimus, de ejusdem etiam protectione gaudeamus. Per Dominum.
He that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal.
Let us Pray.
O God, who dost year by year give us joy in the feast of blessed Lucius, Thy Martyr and Pontiff, mercifully grant that, as we celebrate his birthday unto life eternal, so we may also rejoice in his protection.Through our Lord.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The real feast of these two illustrious heroines of the faith is to-morrow, which is the anniversary of their martyrdom and triumph; but the memory of the angel of the schools, St. Thomas of Aquin, shines so brightly on the seventh of March, that it almost eclipses the two glorious stars of Africa. In consequence of this, the Holy See orders the Church to anticipate their feast, and keep it to-day. We at once offer to the Christian reader the glorious spectacle of which Carthage was the scene in the year 203. Nothing could give us a clearer idea of that spirit of the Gospel, according to which we are now studying to conform our whole life. Here are two women, two mothers; God asks great sacrifices from them; He asks them to give Him their lives, nay, more than their lives; and they obey with that simplicity and devotedness which made Abraham merit to be the father of believers.
Their two names, as St. Augustine observes, are a presage of what awaits them in heaven: a perpetual felicity. The example they set of Christian fortitude, is, of itself, a victory, which secures to the true faith a triumph in the land of Africa. St. Cyprian will soon follow them, with his bold and eloquent appeal to the African Christians, inspiring them to die for their faith: but his words, grand as they are, are less touching than the few pages written by the hand of the brave Perpetua, who, though only twenty-two years of age, relates, with all the self-possession of an angel, the trials she had to go through for God; and when she has to hurry off to the amphitheatre, she puts her pen into another’s hand, bidding him go on where she leaves off, and write the rest of the battle. As we read these charming pages, we seem to be in the company of the martyrs; the power of divine grace, which could produce such heroism amidst a people demoralized by paganism, appears so great that even we grow courageous; and the very fact that the instruments employed by God for the destruction of the pagan world were frequently women, induces us to say with St. John Chrysostom: ‘I feel an indescribable pleasure in reading the “Acts of the Martyrs”; but when the martyr is a woman, my enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instrument, the greater is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once conquered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon, is now his destroyer, brave and invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our heroine disdained to live, when her living was to depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope for pardon, when women fought the holy battle with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts?’
The lessons appointed to be read on this feast will be found in the Supplement. The following passage from the account written by Perpetua herself, which used to be read at Matins, will make some readers long to read the whole of what she has left us. They will find it in our first volume of the ‘Acts of the Martyrs.’
Severo imperatore, apprehensi sunt in Africa adolescentes catechumeni, Revocatils et Felicitas conserva ejus, Saturninus et Secundulus: inter quos et Vivia Perpetua, honeste nata, liberaliter instituta, matronaliter nupta, habens filium ad ubera. Erat autem ipsa annorum circiter viginti duorum. Hæc ordinem martyrii sui conscriptum manu sua reliquit. Quum adhuc, inquit, cum persecutoribus essemus, et me pater avertere, pro sua affectione, perseveraret: Pater, inquio, aliud me dicere non possum, nisi quod sum Christiana. Tunc pater, motus in hoc verbo, misit se in me, ut oculos mihi erueret. Sed vexavit tantum; et profecfcus est victus cum argumentis diaboli. In spatio paucorum dierum baptizati sumus: mihi autem Spiritus dictavit nihil aliud petendum in aqua, nisi sufferentiam carnis. Post paucos dies, recipimur in carcerem: et expavi, quia nunquam experta eram talea tenebras. Mox rumor cucurrit ut audiremur. Supervenit autem et de chvitate pater meus, consumptus tædio; et ascendit ad me, ut me dejiceret, dicens: Miserere, filia, canis meis; miserere patri, si dignus sum a te pater vocari. Aspice ad fratres tuos, aspice ad matrem tuam: aspice ad filium tuum, qui post te vivere non poterit. Depone animos, ne universos nos extermines. Hæc dicebat pater pro sua pietate: se ad pedes meos jactans, et lacrymis non filiam, sed dominam me vocabat. Et ego dolebam canos patris mei: quod solus de passione mea gavisurus non esset de toto genere meo. Et confortavi eum, dicens: Hoc fiet quod Deus voluerit. Scito enim nos non in nostra potestate esse constitutos, sed in Dei. Et recessit a me contristatus.
Alio die, quum prande remus, subito rapti sumus ut audiremur: et perveninius ad forum. Ascendimus in catasta. Interrogati cæteri confessi sunt. Ventum est et ad me. Et apparuit pater illico cum filio meo: et extraxit me de gradu, et dixit supplicans: Miserere infanti. Et Hilarianus procurator: Parce, inquit, canis patris tui, parce infantiæ pueri: fac sacrum pro salute imperatorum. Et ego respondi: Non facio: Christiana sum. Tunc nos universos pronuntiat et damnat ad bestias: et hilares descendimus ad carcerem. Sed quia consueverat a me infans mammas accipere, et mecum in carcere manere, statim mitto ad patrem, postulans infantem. Sed pater dare noluit: et, quomodo Deus voluit, neque ille amplius mammas desideravit neque mihi fervorem fecerunt. Atque hoc scripsit beata Perpetua usque in pridie certaminis. Felicitas vero, quæ prægnans octo jam mensium fuerat apprehensa, instante spectaculi die, in magno erat luctu, ne propter ventrem differretur. Sed et commartyres ejus graviter contristabantur, ne tam bonam sociam in via ejusdem spei relinquerent. Conjuncto itaque gemitu, ad Dominum orationem fuderunt ante tertium diem muneris. Statim post orationem dolores eam invaserunt. Et quum in partu laborans doleret, ait illi quidam ex ministris: Quæ sic modo doles, quid facies objecta bestiis, quas contempsisti quum sacrificare noluisti? Et illa respondit: Modo ego patior quod patior: illic autem alius erit in me qui patietur pro me; quia et ego pro illo passura sum. Ita enixa est puellam, quam sibi quædam soror in filiain educavit.
Illuxit dies victoriæ iliorum: et processerunt de carcere in amphitheatrum, quasi in cœlum, hilares, vultu decori: si forte, gaudio paventes, non timore. Sequebatur Perpetua placido vultu, et pedum incessu ut matrona Christi dilecta: vigorem oculorum suorum dejiciens ab omnium conspectu. Item Felicitas, salvam se peperisse gaudens, ut ad bestias pugnaret. Illis ferocissimam vaccam diabolus præparavit. Itaque reticulis in dutæ producuntur. Inducitur prior Perpetua. Jactata est et concidit in lumbos: et ut conspexit tunicam a latere discissam ad velamentum femorum adduxit, pudoris potius memor quam doloris. Dehinc requisita et dispersos capillos infibulavit. Non enim decebat martyrem dispcrsis capillis pati: ne in sua gloria plangere videretur. Ita surrexit; et elisam Felicitatem quum vidisset, accessit et manum ei tradidit, et sublevavit illam. Et ambæ pariter steterunt: et populi duritia devicta, revocatæ sunt in portam Sanavivariam. Illic Perpetua, quasi a somno expergita, adeo in spiritu et extasi fuerat, circumspicere cœpit: et stupentibus omnibus, ait: Quando producimur ad vaccam illam, nescio. Et quum audisset quod jam evenerat; non prius credidit, nisi quasdam notas vexationis in corpore et habitu suo recognovisset. Exinde accersitum fratrem suum, et catechumenum Rusticum nomine, allocuta est eos, dicens: In fide state, et invicem omnes diligite; et passionibus nostris ne scandalizemini.Secundulum Deus maturiore exitu de sæculo adhuc in carcere evocaverat. Saturninus et Revocatus leopardum experti, etiam ab urso vexati sunt. Saturus apro oblatus est; deinde ad ursum tractus, qui de cavea prodire noluit: itaque bis illæsus revocatur. In fine spectaculi, leopardo objectus. de uno morsu ejus tanto perfusus est sanguine, ut populus revertenti illi secundi Baptismatis testimonium rcclamaverit: Salvum lotum, salvum lotum. Exinde jam exanimis, prosternitur cum cæteris ad jugulationem solito loco. Et quum populus illos in medium postularet, ut gladio penetrante in eorem corpore, oculos suos comites homicidii adjungeret; ultro surrexerunt, et se quo volebat populus transtulerunt: ante jam osculati invicem, ut martyrium per solemnia pacis consummarent. Cæteri quidem immobiles et cum silentio ferrum receperunt: multo magis Saturus, qui prior reddidit spiritum. Perpetua autem, ut aliquid doloris gustaret, inter costas puncta exululavit; et errantem dexteram tirunculi gladiatoris ipsa in jugulum suum posuit. Fortasse tanta fernina aliter non potuisset occidi, quia ab immundo spiritu timcbatur, nisi ipsa voluisset.
During the reign of the Emperor Severus, several catechumens were apprehended at Carthage, in Africa. Among these were Revocatus and his fellow-servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and Vivia Perpetua, a lady by birth and education, who was married to a man of wealth. Perpetua was about twentytwo years of age, and was suckling an infant. She has left us the following particulars of her martyrdom. ‘As soon as our persecutors had apprehended us, my father came to me, and out of his great love for me, he tried to make me change my resolution. I said to him: “Father, I cannot consent to call myself other than what I am, a Christian.”At these words, he rushed at me threatening to tear out my eyes. But he only struck me, and then he left me, when he found that the arguments suggested to him by the devil, were of no avail. A few days after this, we were baptized; and the Holy Ghost inspired me to look on this Baptism as a preparation for bodily suffering. A few more days elapsed, and we were sent to prison. I was terrified, for I was not accustomed to such darkness. The report soon spread that we were to be brought to trial. 'My father left the city, for he was heartbroken, and he came to me, hoping to shake my purpose. These were his words to me: “My child, have pity on my old age. Have pity on thy father, if I deserve to be called father. Think of thy brothers, think of thy mother, think of thy son, who cannot live when thou art gone. Give up this mad purpose, or thou wilt bring misery upon thy family.” Whilst saying this, which he did out of love for me, he threw himself at my feet, and wept bitterly, and said he besought this of me not as his child, but as his lady. I was moved to tears to see my aged parent in this grief, for I knew that he was the only one of my family that would not rejoice at my being a martyr. I tried to console him, and said: “I will do whatsoever God shall ordain. Thou knowest that we belong to God, and not to ourselves.” He then left me, and was very sad.
‘On the following day, as we were taking our repast, they came upon us suddenly, and summoned us to trial. We reached the forum. We were made to mount a platform. My companions were questioned, and they confessed the faith. My turn came next, and I immediately saw my father approaching towards me, holding my infant son. He drew me from the platform, and besought me, saying: “Have pity on thy babe!” Hilarian, too, the governor, said to me: “Have pity on thy aged father, have pity on thy babe! Offer up sacrifice for the emperors.” I answered him: “I cannot; I am a Christian.” Whereupon, he sentences all of us to be devoured by the wild beasts; and we, full of joy, return to our prison. But as I had hitherto always had my child with me in prison, and fed him at my breasts, I immediately sent word to my father, beseeching him to let him come to me. He refused; and from that moment, neither the babe asked for the breast, nor did I suffer inconvenience; for God thus willed it.’ All this is taken from the written account left us by the blessed Perpetua, and it brings us to the day before she was put to death. As regards Felicitas, she was in the eighth month of her pregnancy, when she was apprehended. The day of the public shows was near at hand, and the fear that her martyrdom would be deferred on account of her being with child, made her very sad. Her fellowmartya, too, felt much for her, for they could not bear the thought of seeing so worthy a companion disappointed in the hope, she had in common with themselves, of so soon reaching heaven. Uniting, therefore, in prayer, they with tears besought God in her behalf. It was but three days before the public shows. No sooner was their prayer ended, than Felicitas was seized with pain. One of the gaolers, who overheard her moaning, cried out: 'If this pain seem to thee so great, what wilt thou do when thou art being devoured by the wild beasts, which thou pretendedst to heed not when thou wast told to offer sacrifice.’ She answered: ‘What I am suffering now, it is indeed I that suffer; but there, there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I shall be suffering for him.’ She was delivered of a daughter, and one of our sisters adopted the infant as her own.
The day of their victory dawned. They left their prison for the amphitheatre, cheerful, and with faces beaming with joy, as though they were going to heaven. They were excited, but it was from delight, not from fear. The last in the group was Perpetua. Her placid look, her noble gait, betrayed the Christian matron. She passed through the crowd and saw no one, for her beautiful eyes were fixed upon the ground. By her side was Felicitas, rejoicing that her safe delivery enabled her to encounter the wild beasts. The devil had prepared a savage cow for them. They were put into a net. Perpetua was brought forward the first. She was tossed into the air, and fell upon her back. Observing that one side of her dress was torn, she adjusted it, heedless of her pain, because thoughtful for modesty. Having recovered from the fall, she put up her hair which was dishevelled by the shock, for it was not seemly that a martyr should win her palm and have the appearance of one distracted by grief. This done, she stood up. Seeing Felicitas thrown down she went to her, and giving her hand to her, raised her from the ground. Both were now ready for a fresh attack; but the people were moved to pity, and the martyrs were led to the gate called Sana Vivaria. There Perpetua, like one that is roused from sleep, awoke from the deep ecstasy of her spirit. She looked around her, and said to the astonished multitude: ‘When will the cow attack us?’ They told her that it had already attacked them. She could not believe it, until her wounds and torn dress reminded her of what had happened. Then beckoning to her brother, and to a catechumen named Rusticus, she thus spoke to them: ‘Be stanch in the faith, and love one another, and be not shocked at our sufferings.’God had already taken Secundulus from this world; for he died while he was in the prison. Saturninus and Revocatus were exposed first to a leopard, and then to a bear. Saturus was exposed to a boar, and then to a bear, which would not come out of its den; thus was he twice left uninjured; but at the close of the games, he was thrown to a leopard, which bit him so severely, that he was all covered with blood, and as he was taken from the amphitheatre, the people jeered at him for this second Baptism, and said: ‘Saved, washed I Saved, washed!’ He was then carried off, dying as he was, to the appointed place, there to be dispatched by the sword, with the rest. But the people demanded that they should be led back to the middle of the amphitheatre, that their eyes might feast on the sight, and watch the sword as it pierced them. The martyrs hearing their request, cheerfully stood up, and marched to the place where the people would have them go; but first they embraced one another, that the sacrifice of their martyrdom might be consummated with the solemn kiss of peace. They all received the fatal stroke without a movement or a moan; Saturus being the first to expire. Perpetua was permitted to feel more than the rest. Her executioner, who was a novice in his work, thrust his sword through her ribs: she slightly moaned, then took his right hand, and pointing his sword towards her throat, told him that that was the place to strike. Perhaps it was that such a woman could not be otherwise slain than by her own consent, for the unclean spirit feared her.
The Holy See has approved of the three following hymns composed in honour of our two martyrs. We unite them under one conclusion.
Christi sponsa piis laudibus efferat
Binas impavido pectore feminas:
In sexu fragili corda virilia
Hymnis pangat ovantibus.
Ad lucem genitæ sole sub Africo,
Nunc ambæ pugiles actibus inclytis
In toto radiant orbe: micantibus
Fulgent tempora laureis.
Exornat generis Perpetuam decus;
Sponso connubiis juncta recentibus
Clarescit; sed honor hanc trahit altior:
Christi fœdera prætulit.
Se Regia famulam libera profitens,
Dum servile jugum Felicitas subit;
Ad luctam properans gressibus æmulis,
Palmas ad similes volat.
Frustra Perpetuam fletibus et minis
Impugnai genitor: quæ simul angitur,
Errantem miserans. Oscula filio
Lactenti dedit ultima.
Terris Eva parens quæ mala contulit,
Horum sentit onus Felicitas grave;
Nunc et passa sibi parturiens gemit,
Mox passura Deo libens.
Cœli Perpetuæ pan ditur ostium;
Inspectare datur: jam sibi prælia
Exortura videt; sed requiem Deus
Post certamina conferet.
Tangit scala domos aurea cœlitum:
Ast utrumque latus cuspidibus riget;
Lapsos terribilis faucibus excipit
Hanc infra recubans draco.
Ascendas, mulier, nec draco terreat;
Contritumque caput sit tibi pro gradu,
Per quem sidereos incipias pede
Orbes scandere concito.
Hortus deliciis jam patet affluens,
In quo mulget oves pastor amabilis:
Huc optata venis, filia: sic ait,
Hanc dulci recreans cibo.
In circum rapitur: fœdus et horrida
Occurrit specie vir gladium vibrans:
Dejectus teritur femineo pede.
Victrix, suscipe præmia.
Luxit clara dies, vincere qua datur
Athletis Domini. Pergite martyres:
Omnis Perpetuam curia cœlitum,
Et te, Felicitas, cupit.
Quassat Perpetuæ membra tenerrima,
Elidit sociam bellua. Te soror
Stans, o Felicitas, ad nova prælia
Erectam reparat manu.
E cœlo pugilum respiciens Deus
Certamen, geminas ad bravium vocat.
Effuso properet sanguine spiritus,
In Christi remeans sinum.
Optatus penetrat corpora martyrum
Lictoris gladius: sed trepidam manum
Fortis Perpetuæ dextera dirigit,
Præbens guttura cuspidi.
Nunc, o magnanimæ, gaudia quæ manent
In Sponsi thalamo carpite jugiter.
Vos exempla dedit: præsidium potens
Vestris ferte clientibus.
Laus æterna Patri, laus quoque Filio;
Par individuo gloria Flamini;
In cunctis resonet Christiadum choris
Virtus martyribus data.
Let the Church, the bride of Christ,
celebrate in holy praise, the two dauntless women;
and sing, in joyous hymns,
how the weaker sex had here two manly hearts.
Both were born in Africa’s sunny land;
and now both shine throughout the whole world
as the two glorious combatants,
wearing bright laurels on their brows.
Perpetua is honoured by her fellow-citizens
as being of high birth, and had but recently contracted
an honourable marriage. But there was an honour
far higher, in her eyes, the love and service of Christ.
Felicitas, though she served an earthly master,
was free in this, that she was a servant of the great King.
Like Perpetua, she thirsts for battle;
and like her, she culls a palm.
In vain did Perpetua’s father strive, by tears and threats,
to make her deny her faith. She, on her side was full of grief,
and pity at seeing him a victim of error. Her babe was taken from her;
she kissed him and was content.
Felicitas begins her sufferings by those cruel pangs which Eve,
our mother, brought upon the earth.
Now, in child-birth, she suffers for herself, and she moans;
but, in her martyrdom, she suffers for her God, and she rejoices.
The gate of heaven is thrown open to Perpetua,
and she is permitted to look within.
She there learns that a contest awaits her,
but that, after the battle, God will grant her repose.
She sees a golden ladder reaching to the palace of heaven;
but both its sides are armed with spikes,
and at its foot lies an angry dragon,
which devours them that fall.
Ascend, Perpetua! fear not the dragon.
Trample on his head, and make it a steppingstone,
whereby thou mayst quickly mount
to the starry land above.
There shalt thou find a paradise of delights, where the loving
shepherd caresses his sheep. 'Thou art welcome here, my daughter!’
Thus did he address the martyr,
and then gave her to eat of sweetest food.
In another vision, she thought she was hurried to the amphitheatre.
There she was met by a man, whose face was swarth and terrible to look at.
He brandished his sword. She encountered him, threw him on the ground, and trampled
on his head. A cry was heard: 'Thou hast conquered! Come, take the prize!’
But at length came the glorious day
of victory for the soldiers of Christ.
On, martyrs, to the field! Perpetua and Felicitas!
the court of heaven is longing to receive you!
The wild beast rushes upon them, tossing,
tearing, and wounding their tender limbs.
See, Felicitas! thy sister’s hand
emboldens thee to renew the fight.
God looks down from heaven on the two brave combatants,
and calls them to the prize.
Their blood streams from the wounds,
and their spirits speed their way to the bosom of Christ.
The sword, the welcome sword, is thrust;
the martyrs die, all save Perpetua;
bravely she takes the trembling lictor’s hand,
and offering him her neck, tells him his surest aim is there.
Go now, brave-hearted ones, to him who is your Spouse,
and there eternally enjoy the bliss he has in store for you.
He gave you to us as models;
Oh, show your power, and help us your clients.
Eternal glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the coequal Spirit!
And let every choir in Christian lands sound forth its praise
to the grace bestowed on the martyrs.
Perpetua! Felicitas! O glorious and prophetic names, which come like two bright stars of March, pouring out upon us your rays of light and life! You are heard in the songs of the angels; and we poor sinners, as we echo them on earth, are told to love and hope. You remind us of that brave woman, who, as the Scripture says, kept up the battle begun by men: The valiant men ceased: who will follow them? A mother in Israel. Glory be to that almighty power, which loves to choose the weak things of the world that it may confound the strong! Glory to the Church of Africa, the daughter of the Church of Rome; and glory to the Church of Carthage, which had not then heard the preachings of her Cyprian, and yet could produce two such noble hearts!
As to thee, Perpetua, thou art held in veneration by the whole Christian world. Thy name is mentioned by God's priests in the holy Mass, and thus thy memory is associated with the sacrifice of the Man-God, for love of whom thou didst lay down thy life. And those pages written by thine own hand, how they reveal to us the generous character of thy soul! How they comment those words of the Canticle: Love is strong as death! It was thy love of God that made thee suffer, and die, and conquer. Even before the water of Baptism had touched thee, thou wast enrolled among the martyrs. When the hard trial came of resisting a father, who wished thee to lay down the palm of martyrdom, how bravely didst thou triumph over thy filial affection, in order to save that which is due to our Father who is in heaven! Nay, when the hardest test came, when the babe that fed at thy breast was taken from thee in thy prison, even then thy love was strong enough for the sacrifice, as was Abraham’s, when he had to immolate his Isaac.
Thy fellow-martyrs deserve our admiration; they are so grand in their courage; but thou, dear saint, surpassest them all. Thy love makes thee more than brave in thy sufferings, it makes thee forget them. ‘Where wast thou,’ we would ask thee in the words of St. Augustine, ‘where wast thou, that thou didst not feel the goading of that furious beast, asking when it was to be, as though it had not been? Where wast thou? What didst thou see, that made thee see not this? On what wast thou feasting, that made thee dead to sense? What was the love that absorbed, what was the sight that distracted, what was the chalice that inebriated thee? And yet the ties of flesh were still holding thee, the claims of death were still upon thee, the corruptible body was still weighing thee down!’ But our Lord had prepared thee for the final struggle, by asking sacrifice at thy hands. This made thy life wholly spiritual, and gave thy soul to dwell, by love, with Him, who had asked thee for all and received it; and thus living in union with Jesus, thy spirit was all but a stranger to the body it animated.
It was impatient to be wholly with its sovereign Good. Thy eager hand directs the sword that is to set thee free; and as the executioner severs the last tie that holds thee, how voluntary was thy sacrifice, how hearty thy welcome of death! Truly, thou wast the valiant, the strong woman, that conqueredst the wicked serpent! Thy greatness of soul has merited for thee a high place among the heroines of our holy faith, and for sixteen hundred years thou hast been honoured by the enthusiastic devotion and love of the servants of God.
And thou, too, Felicitas! receive the homage of our veneration, for thou wast found worthy to be a fellow-martyr with Perpetua. Though she was a rich matron of Carthage, and thou a servant, yet Baptism and martyrdom made you companions and sisters. The lady and the slave embraced, for martyrdom made you equal; and as the spectators saw you hand in hand together, they must have felt that there was a power in the religion they persecuted, which would put an end to slavery. The power and grace of Jesus triumphed in thee, as it did in Perpetua; and thus was fulfilled thy sublime answer to the pagan, who dared to jeer thee: that when the hour of trial came, it would not be thou that wouldst suffer, but Christ who would suffer in thee. Heaven is now the reward of thy sacrifice; well didst thou merit it. And that babe, that was born in thy prison, what a happy child to have for its mother a martyr in heaven! How wouldst thou bless both it and the mother who adopted it! Oh, what fitness, in such a soul as thine, for the kingdom of God! Not once looking back, but ever bravely speeding onwards to Him that called thee. Thy felicity is perpetual in heaven; thy glory on earth shall never cease.
And now, dear saints, Perpetua and Felicitas, intercede for us during this season of grace. Go, with your palms in your hands, to the throne of God, and beseech Him to pour down His mercy upon us. It is true, the days of paganism are gone by; and there are no persecutors clamouring for our blood. You, and countless other martyrs, have won victory for faith; and that faith is now ours; we are Christians. But there is a second paganism, which has taken deep root among us. It is the source of that corruption which now pervades every rank of society, and its own two sources are indifference, which chills the heart, and sensuality, which induces cowardice. Holy martyrs! pray for us that we may profit by the example of your virtues, and that the thought of your heroic devotedness may urge us to be courageous in the sacrifices which God claims at our hands. Pray, too, for the Churches which are now being established on that very spot of Africa, which was the scene of your glorious martyrdom: bless them, and obtain for them, by your powerful intercession, firmness of faith and purity of morals.
At the recent revision of the Breviary the office of this feast was changed, and the following lessons were appointed to be read at Matins:
Perpetua et Felicitas, in persecutione Severi imperatoris, in Africa, una cum Revocato, Saturnino et Se cundulo comprehensæ sunt, et in tenebricosum carcerem detrusæ, quibus ultra adjunctus est Satyrus. Erant adhuc catechumenæ, sed paulo post baptizatæ sunt. Paucis diebus interjectis, e carcere ad forum deductæ cum sociis, post gloriosam confessionem, ab Hilarione procuratore damnantur ad bestias. Inde hilares descendunt ad carcerem, ubi variis visionibus recreantur, et ad martyrii palmam accenduntur. Perpetuam, nec patris senio pene confecti iteratæ preces et lacrymæ, nec erga filium infantem pendentemad ubera maternus amor, nec supplicii atrocitas, a Christi fide dimovere unqaam potuerunt.
Felicitas vero, instante spectaculi die, cum octo jam menses prægnans esset in magno erat luctu, ne differetur; leges quippe vetebant prægnantes supplicio affici. At precibus commartyrum acœlerato partu, enixa est filiam. Cumque in partu laborans doleret, ait illi quidam de custodibus: Quæ sic modo doles, quid facies, objecta bestiis? Cui illa: Modo ego patior, illic autem alius erit in me, qui patietur pro me, quia et ego prò illo passura sum.
In amphitheatrum, toto inspectante populo, producuntur tandem generosæ mulieres, Nonis Martii, ac primum flagellis cæduntur. Tunc a ferocissima vacca aliquamdiu jactatæ, plagis concisæ et in terram elisæ sunt: demum cum sociis, qui a variis bestiis vexati fuerant, gladiorum ictibus conficiuntur. Harum sanctarum Martyrum festum Pius Decimus Pontifex Maximus ad ritum duplicem pro universa Ecclesia evexit, ac diei sextæ Hartii adsignari mandavit.
Perpetua and Felicitas were arrested during the persecution of the Emperor Severus, in Africa, together with Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and were cast into a darksome dungeon, where Satyrus was added to their company. They were as yet catechumens, but a short while after they were baptized. After a few days, they, with their companions, were led forth from their prison to the court, and, after a glorious confession, were condemned by the procurator Hilarion to be thrown to the beasts. Thereupon they went down to their prison rejoicing, and while there were refreshed with divers visions, and fired with a longing for the martyrs palm. Neither the repeated prayers and tears of Perpetua's father, a man almost decrepit with old age, nor her motherly love for her baby son, still at the breast, nor the horror of the penalty, could avail at all to shake her faith in Christ.
But Felicitas, when the day of the spectacle drew nigh, was in great grief lest it should be put off, seeing that she was eight months with child: for the law ordained that no woman with child should be put to the torture. But at the prayer of her fellow-martyrs her delivery was hastened, and she gave birth to a daughter. While she was groaning amid the pains of childbirth, one of the gaolers said to her: 'What wilt thou do when thou art thrown to the beasts, if thou groanest thus now?' She replied: 'Now it is I who suffer, but then Another will be within me who will suffer on my behalf, seeing that it is for Him that I am to suffer.’
At length the noble-hearted women were brought into the amphitheatre, in the sight of all the people, on the Nones of March (March 7). They were first beaten with scourges. Then they were tossed for some time by a ferocious cow, torn with wounds, and dragged on the ground; and lastly, together with their companions, who had been attacked by divers wild beasts, they were slain by the sword. Pope Pius X. raised the feast of these holy martyrs to the rank of a double for the Universal Church, and ordered it to be kept on March 6.
 Homil. de diversis novi Testamenti locis.
 Judges v. 7.
 1 Cor. i. 27.
 Cant. viii. 6.
 Sermon for the feast of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas.
 Prov. xxxi. 10.
 St. Luke ix. 62.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The saint we are to honour to-day is one of the sublimest and most lucid interpreters of divine truth. He rose up in the Church many centuries after the apostolic age, nay, long after the four great Latin doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory. The Church, the ever young and joyful mother, is justly proud of her Thomas, and has honoured him with the splendid title of the angelical doctor, on account of the extraordinary gift of understanding wherewith God had blessed him; just as his contemporary and friend, St. Bonaventure, has been called the seraphic doctor, on account of the wonderful unction which abounds in the writings of this worthy disciple of St. Francis. Thomas of Aquin is an honour to mankind, for perhaps there never existed a man whose intellect surpassed his. He is one of the brightest ornaments of the Church, for not one of her doctors has equalled him in the clearness and precision wherewith he has explained her doctrines. He received the thanks of Christ Himself, for having well written of Him and His mysteries. How welcome ought this feast of such a saint to be to us during this season of the year, when our main study is our return and conversion to God! What greater blessing could we have than to come to the knowledge of God? Has not our ignorance of God, of His claims, and of His perfections, been the greatest misery of our past lives? Here we have a saint whose prayers are most efficacious in procuring for us that knowledge, which is unspotted, and converteth souls, and giveth wisdom to little ones, and gladdeneth the heart, and enlighteneth the eyes. Happy we if this spiritual wisdom be granted us! We shall then see the vanity of everything that is not eternal, the righteousness of the divine commandments, the malice of Bin, and the infinite goodness wherewith God treats us when we repent.
Let us learn from the Church the claims of the angelical doctor to our admiration and confidence.
Præelarum Christiani orbis decus et Ecciesiæ lumen, beatissiinus vir Thomas, Landulpho Comite Aquinate et Theodora Neapolitana, nobilibus parcntibus natus, futuræ in Deiparam devotionis affectum adhuc infantulus ostendit. Nam chartulam ab eo inventam, in qua salutatio angelica scripta erat, frustra adnitente nutrice, compressa manu valide retinuit, et a matre per vim abreptam, ploratu et gestu repetiit, ac mox redditam deglutivit. Quintum annum agens, monacbis sancti Benedicti Cassinatibns custodiendus traditur. Inde Neapolim studiorum causa missus, jam adolesoens Fratrum Prædicatorum Ordinem suscepit. Sed matre ac fratribus id indigne ferentibus, Lutetiam Parisiorum mittitur. Quem fratres in itinere per vim raptum in arcem castri Sancii Joannis perducunt, ubi varie exagitatus,utsanctum propositum mutaret, mulierem etiam, quæ ad labefactandam ejus constantiam introducta fuerat, titione fugavit. Mox beatus juvenis, flexis genibus ante signum crucis orans, ibique somno eorreptus, per quietem sentire visus est sibi ab angelis constringi lumbos: quo ex tempore omni postea libidinis sensu caruit. Sororibus, quæ, ut eum a pio consilio removerent, in castrum venerant, persuasit ut, contemptis curia sæcularibus, ad exercitationem cœlestis vitæ se conferrent.
Emissus e castro per fenestram, Neapolim reducitur: unde Romam, postea Parisium a fratre Joanne Theutonico, Ordinis Prædicatorum generali magistro, ductus, Alberto Magno doctore, philosophiæ ac theologise operam dedit. Viginti quinque annos natus, magister est appellatus, publiceque philosophos ac theologos summa cura laude est interpretatus. Nunquam se lectioni aut scriptioni dedit, nisi post orationem. In difficultatibus locorum sacræ Scripturæ, ad orationem jejunium adhibebat. Quin etiam sodali suo fratri Reginaldo dicere solebat, quidquid sciret non tam studio aut labore suo peperisse, quam divinitus traditum accepisse. Neapoli, cum ad imaginem Crucifixi vehementius oraret, hanc vocem audivit: Bene scripsisti de me, Thoma: quam ergo mercedem accipies? Cui ille: Non aliara, Domine, nisi teipsum. Collationes patrum assidue pervolutabat; et nullum fuit scriptorum genus in quo non esset diligentissime versatus. Scripta ejus et multitudine, et varietate et facilitate explicandi res difficiles adeo excellunt, ut uberrima atque incorrupta illius doctrina, cum revelatis veritatibus mire consentiens, aptissima sit ad omnium temporum errores pervincendos.
A summo Pontifice Urbano quarto Roman vocatus, ejus jussu ecclesiasticum lucubravit Officium in Corporis Christi solemnitate celebrandum; oblatos vero honores, et Neapolitanum archiepiscopatum etiam deferente Clemente quarto recusavit. A prædicatione divini verbi non desistebat; quod cura faceret per octavam Paschæ in basilica sancti Petri, mulierem, quæ ejus fimbriam tetigerat, a fluxu sanguinis liberavit. Missus a beato Gregorio decimo ad Concilium Lugdunense, in monasterio Fossæ Novæ in morbum incidit, ubi segrotus Cantica canticorum explanavit. Ibidem obiit, quinquagenarius, anno salutis millesimo ducentesimo septuagesimo quarto, Nonis Martii. Miraculis etiam mortuus claruit; quibus probatis, a Joanne vigesimo secundo in sanctorum numerum relatus est, anno millesimo trecentesimo vigesimo tertio; translato postea ejus corpore Tolosam, ex mandato beati Urbani quinti. Cum sanctis angelicis spiritibus non minus innocentia quam ingenio comparatus, doctoris angelici nomen jure est adeptus, eidem auctoritate sancti Pii quinti confirmatum. Leo autem decimus tertius, libentissime excipiens postulationes et vota omnium pene sacrorum antistitum orbis Catholici, ad tot præcipue philosophicorum systematum a veritate aberrantium luera propulsandam, ad incrementa scientiarum, et communem humani generis utilitatem, eum ex sacrorum rituum Congregationis consulto, per apostolicas litteras cœlestem patronum scholarum omnium Catholicarum declaravit et instituit.
The distinguished ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church, the most blessed man Thomas, was born of noble parents, his father being Landulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother a rich Neapolitan lady, by name Theodora. While yet an infant he gave proof of his future devotion towards the Mother of God; for having found a leaflet on which was written the angelical salutation, he clenched it so fast that the nurse tried in vain to take it from his hand. His mother, however, having forced it from him, the child succeeded by tears and signs, in recovering the paper, which he immediately swallowed. When he was five years old he was sent to Monte Cassino, that he might receive from the Benedictine monks his first training. Thence he was sent to Naples, where he went through a course of studies, and, young as he was, joined the Order of Friars Preachers. This step caused great displeasure to his mother and brothers, and it was therefore deemed advisable to send him to Paris, He was waylaid by his brothers, who seized him, and imprisoned him in the castle of Saint John. After having made several unsuccessful attempts to induce him to abandon the holy life he had chosen, they assailed his purity, by sending to him a wicked woman: but he drove her from his chamber with a firebrand. The young saint then threw himself on his knees before a crucifix. Having prayed some time, he fell asleep, and it seemed to him that two angels approached him, and tightly girded his loins. From that time forward, he never suffered the slightest feeling against purity. His sisters also had come to the castle, and tried to make him change his mind; but he, on the contrary, persuaded them to despise the world, and devote themselves to the exercise of a holy life.
It was contrived that he should escape through a window of the castle, and return to Naples. He was thence taken by John the Teutonic, the General of the Dominican Order, first to Rome and then to Paris, in which latter city ho was taught philosophy and theology by Albert the Great. At the age of twenty-five, he received the title of doctor, and explained in the public schools, and in a manner that made him the object of universal admiration, the writings of philosophers and theologians. He always applied himself to prayer, before reading or writing anything. When he met with any difficult passage in the sacred Scriptures, he both fasted and prayed. He used often to say to his companion, brother Reginald, that if he knew anything, it was more a gift from God, than the fruit of his own study and labour. One day, when at Naples, as he was praying with more than his usual fervour, before a crucifix, he heard these words: ‘Well hast thou written of me, Thomas! What reward wouldst thou have me give thee?’ He answered ‘None other, Lord, than thyself.’ His favourite spiritual book was the Conferences of the Fathers, and there was not a book which he had not most carefully read. His writings are so extraordinary, not only for their number and variety, but also for their clearness in explaining difficult points of doctrine, that his copious and sound teaching, so wonderfully consonant with revealed truth, is most apt for utterly refuting the errors of all ages.
Being called to Rome by Pope Urban IV., he composed, at his command, the ecclesiastical Office for the solemnity of Corpus Christi; but he refused to accept any honours, as likewise the archbishopric of Naples offered to him by Pope Clement IV. He was most zealous in preaching the word of God. On one occasion, during Easter week, as he was preaching in the church of St. Peter, a woman touched the hem of his habit, and was cured of an issue of blood. He was sent by Gregory X. to the Council of Lyons; but having reached Fossa Nova, he fell sick, and was received as a guest in the monastery of that place, where he wrote a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles. There he died in the fiftieth year of his age, in the year of our Lord 1274 on the Nones of March (March 7). His sanctity was made manifest after his death, by miracles: which being proved, he was canonized by Pope John XXII. in the year 1323. His body was translated to Toulouse by command of blessed Urban V. Being comparable to the angels, no less by his innocence than by his genius, he has received the title of angelical doctor, confirmed to him by the authority of St. Pius V. Pope Leo XIII. joyfully acceding to the desires and petitions of the bishops of the Catholic world, by a decree of the sacred Congregation of rites and by letters apostolic, ordained and declared him the heavenly patron of all Catholic schools; and this especially for the purpose of repelling the evil of so many philosophical systems abandoned to error, for the increase of knowledge, and for the common utility of mankind.
The Dominican Order, of which St. Thomas is one of the greatest ornaments, has inserted the three following hymns in its liturgy of his feast:
Exsultet mentis jubilo
Laudans turba fidelium,
Errorum pulso nubilo
Per novi solis radium.
Thomas in mundi vespere,
Fudit thesauros gratiæ:
Donis pienus ex æthere
Morum et sapientiæ.
De cujus fonte luminis,
Verbi coruscant faculæ,
Scripturæ sacræ Numinis,
Et veritatis regulæ.
Fulgens doctrinæ radiis,
Clarus vitæ munditia,
Splendens miris prodigiis,
Dat toti mundo gaudia.
Laus Patri sit, ac Genito
Simulque sancto Flamini,
Qui sancti Thomæ merito
Nos cœli jungat agmini.
Let the assembly of the faithful exult in spiritual joy,
and give praise to God,
who has made a new sun to shine in our world,
and disperse the clouds of error.
It was in the evening of the world
that Thomas shed his treasures of heavenly light.
Heaven had enriched him
with gifts of virtue and wisdom:
From this fountain of light
we have derived a brighter knowledge of the Word,
the understanding of the divine Scriptures
and the rules of truth.
The effulgent rays of his wisdom,
the light of his spotless life,
and the splendour of his miracles,
have filled the universe with joy.
Praise, then, be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
And may our God, by the intercession and merits of his saint,
admit us into the choir of the blessed in heaven.
Thomas insignis genere,
Claram ducens originem,
Subit ætatis teneræ
Typum gessit luciferi,
Splendens in cœtu nubium,
Plusquam doctores cæteri
Purgans dogma Gentilium.
Profunda scrutans fluminum,
In lucem pandit abdita,
Dum supra sensus hominum
Obscura facit cognita.
Fit paradisi fluvius,
Fit Gedeonis gladius,
Tuba, lagena, radius.
Laus Patri sit, ac Genito
Simulque sancto Flamini,
Qui sancti Thomæ merito,
Nos cœli jungat agmini.
Noble by birth and parentage,
Thomas, while in the bloom
of youth, embraced
the Order of Preachers.
Like to the star of morn,
brightly does he shine amidst the luminaries of earth,
and, more than any doctor of the Church,
refutes the doctrines of the Gentiles.
He explores the depth of mysteries,
and brings to light the hidden gems of truth,
for he teaches us what the mind of man
had else never understood.
God gives him to the Church as a fountain of wisdom,
like to that four-branched river of paradise.
He made him to be her Gedeon’s sword,
her trumpet, her vase, her torch.
Praise, then, be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
And may our God, by the intercession and merits of his saint,
admit us into the choir of the blessed in heaven.
Lauda, mater Ecclesia,
Thomæ felicem exitum,
Qui pervenit ad gaudia
Per Verbi vitæ meritum.
Fossa Nova tunc suscipit
Thecam thesauri gratiæ,
Cum Christus Thomam efficit
Hæredem regni gloriæ.
Manens doctrinæ veritas,
Et funeris integritas,
Mira fragrans suavitas,
Ægris collata sanitas.
Monstrat hunc dignum laudibus
Terræ, ponto, et superis;
Nos juvet suis precibus,
Deo commendet meritis.
Laus Patri sit ac Genito,
Simulque sancto Flamini,
Qui sancti Thomæ merito
Nos cœli jungat agmini.
Dear Church, our mother!
the happy death of thy Thomas deserves a hymn of praise.
By the merits of him that is the Word of life,
he is now in endless joy.
It was at Fossa Nova that the rich treasury
of grace was welcomed as a guest.
It was there that he received from Christ
the inheritance of eternal glory.
He has left us the fruits of truth;
he has loft us his glorious relics
which breathe forth a heavenly fragrance,
and work cures for the suffering sick.
Right well, then, is honour his due:
earth, and sea, and heaven, all may give him praise.
May his prayers and merits
intercede for us with God.
Praise, then, be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
And may our God, by the intercession and merits of his saint,
admit us into the choir of the blessed in heaven.
How shall we worthily praise thee, most holy Doctor! How shall we thank thee for what thou hast taught us? The rays of the divine Sun of justice beamed strongly upon thee, and thou hast reflected them upon us. When we picture thee contemplating truth, we think of those words of our Lord: 'Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.’ Thy victory over the concupiscence of the flesh merited for thee the highest spiritual delights; and our Redeemer chose thee, because of the purity of thy angelic soul, to compose for His Church the Office whereby she should celebrate the divine Sacrament of His love. Learning did not impair thy humility. Prayer was ever thy guide in thy search after truth; and there was but one reward for which, after all thy labours, thou wast ambitious, the possession of God.
Thy life, alas! was short. The very masterpiece of thy angelical writings was left unfinished. But thou hast not lost thy power of working for the Church. Aid her in her combats against error. She holds thy teachings in the highest estimation, because she feels that none of her saints has ever known so well as thou, the secrets and mysteries of her divine Spouse. Now, perhaps more than in any other age, truths are decayed among the children of men; strengthen us in our faith, procure us light. Check the conceit of those shallow self-constituted philosophers, who dare to sit in judgment on the actions and decisions of the Church, and to force their contemptible theories upon a generation that is too ill-instructed to detect their fallacies. The atmosphere around us is gloomy with ignorance; loose principles, and truths spoilt by cowardly compromise, are the fashion of our times; pray for us; bring us back to that bold and simple acceptance of truth, which gives life to the intellect and joy to the heart.
Pray, too, for the grand Order which loves thee so devoutly, and honours thee as one of the most illustrious of its many glorious children. Draw down upon the family of thy patriarch St. Dominic the choicest blessings, for it is one of the most powerful auxiliaries of God’s Church.
We are on the eve of the holy season of Lent, preparing for the great work of earnest conversion of our lives. Thy prayers must gain for us the knowledge both of the God we have offended by our sins, and of the wretched state of a soul that is at enmity with its Maker. Knowing this, we shall hate our sins; we shall desire to purify our souls in the Blood of the spotless Lamb; we shall generously atone for our faults by works of penance
 Ps. xviii. 8, 9.
 St. Matt. v. 8.
 Ps. xi. 2.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
This day month we were keeping the feast of St. John of Matha, whose characteristic virtue was charity; our saint of to-day was like him: love for his neighbour led him to devote himself to the service of them that most needed help. Both are examples to us of what is a principal duty of this present season; they are models of fraternal charity. They teach us this great lesson, that our love of God is false if our hearts are not disposed to show mercy to our neighbour, and help him in his necessities and troubles. It is the same lesson as that which the beloved disciple gives us, when he says: 'He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall put up his mercy from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him?’ But if there can be no love of God where there is none for our neighbour, the love of our neighbour itself is not genuine unless it be accompanied by a love of our Creator and Redeemer. The charity which the world has set up, which it calls philanthropy, and which it exercises not in the name of God, but solely for the sake of man, is a mere delusion; it is incapable of producing love between those who give and those who receive, and its results must necessarily be unsatisfactory. There is but one tie which can make men love one another: that tie is God, who created them all, and commands them all to be one in Him. To serve mankind for its own sake, is to make a god of it; and even viewing the workings of the two systems in this single point of view—the relief they afford to temporal suffering—what comparison is there between mere philanthropy, and that supernatural charity of the humble disciples of Christ, who make Him the very motive and end of all they do for their afflicted brethren? The saint we honour today, was called John of God, because the name of God was ever on his lips. His heroic acts of charity had no other motive than that of pleasing God; God alone was the inspirer of the tender love he had for his suffering fellow-creatures. Let us imitate his example, for our Lord assures us that He considers as done to Himself whatsoever we do even for the least of His disciples.
The liturgy thus portrays the virtues of our saint:
Joannes de Deo, ex Catholicis piisque parentibus in oppido Montis-Majoris, junioris regni Lusitaniæ natus, quam sublimiter in sortem Domini fuerit electus, insuetus splendor super ejus domo refulgens, sonitusque æris campani sua sponte emissus, ab ipso ejus nativitatis tempore non obscure prænuntiarunt. A laxiorisvivendi ratione, divina operante virtute, revocatus, magnæ sanetilatis exhibere specimen cœpit, et ob auditam prædicationem verbi Dei sic ad meliora se excitatum sensit, ut jam ab ipso sanctioris vitæ rudimento consummatum aliquid, perfectumque visus sit attigisse. Bonis omnibus in pauperes carceribus inclusos erogatis, admirabilis pœnitentiæ, suique ipsius contemptus cuncto populo spectaculum factus, a plerisque ceu demena graviter afflictus, in carcorem amentibus deslinatum conjicitur. At Joannes cœlesti charitate magis incensus, gemino atque ampio valetudinario ex piorum eleemosynis in civitate Granatensi exstructo, jactoque novi Ordinis fundamento, Ecclesiam nova prole fœcundavit, Fratrum hospitalitatis, infirmis præclaro animarum corporumque profectu inservientium, et longe lateque per orbem diffusorum.
Pauperibus ægrotis, quos propriis quandoque humeris domum deferebat, nulla re ad animæ corporisque salutem proficua deerat. Effusa quoque extra nosocomium charitate, indigentibus mulieribus viduis, et præcipue virginibus periclitantibus, clam alimenta subministrabat, curamque indefessam adhibehat ut carnis coneupiscentiam a proximis hujusmodi vitio inquinatis exterminaret. Cum autem maximum in regio Granatensi valetudinario excitatum fuisset ineendium, Joannes impavidus prosiliit in ignem, hue illuc diseurrens, quousque tum infirmos humeris exportatos, tum lectulos e fenestris projectos ab igne vindicavit, ac per dimidiam horam inter flammas jam in immensum succrescentes versatus, exinde divinitus incolumis, universis civibus admirantibus, exivit, in schola cliaritatis edocens, segniorem in eum fuisse ignem qui foris usserat, quam qui intus accen derat.
Multiplici aspcritatum genere, demississiiua obcdientia, extrema paupertate, orandi studio, rerum divinarum contemplatione, ac in beatam Virginem pietate mirifico excelluit, et lacrymarum dono enituit. Denique gravi morbo correptus, omnibus Ecclcsiae sacramentis rite sancteque refcctus, viribus licet destitutus. propriis indulus vestibus e lectulo surgens, ac provolutus in genua, manu et corde Christum Dominum e cruce pendentem perstringens: octavo Idus Martii, anno millesimo quingentesimo quinquagesimo, obiit in osculo Domini: quem etiam mortuus tenuit nec dimisit, et in eadem corporis constitutione sex circiter horas, quousque inde dimotus fuisset, tota civitate inspectante, mirabiliter permansit, odorem mire fragrantem diffundens. Quem ante et post obitum plutimis miraculis darum Alexander octavus, Pontifex maximus, in sanctorum numerum retulit; et Leo decimus tertius, ex sacrorum catholici orbis antistitum voto, ac rituum congregationis con sulto, cœlestem omnium hospitalium et infirmorum ubique degentium patronum declaravit, ipsiusque nomen in agonizantium litaniis invocari præcepit.
John of God was born of Catholic and virtuous parents, in Portugal, in the town of Montemor. At his birth, a bright light shone upon the house, and the church bell was heard to ring of itself; God thus evincing to what great things he destined this his servant. For some time he fell into a lax way of living; but was reclaimed by God’s grace, and led a very holy life. His conversion was effected by his hearing a sermon, and so fervently did he practise the exercises of a devout life, that, from the very first, he seemed to have attained the height of perfection. He gave whatsoever he possessed to the poor who were in prison. Extraordinary were the penances he inflicted on himself; and the contempt he had for himself induced him to do certain things, which led some people to accuse him of madness, so that he was for some time confined in a madhouse. His charity only increased by such treatment. He collected alms sufficient to build two large hospitals in the city of Granada, where also he began the new Order, wherewith he enriched the Church. This Order was called the Institute of Friars Hospitallers. Its object was to assist the sick, both in their spiritual and corporal wants. Its success was very great, and it had houses in almost all parts of the world.
The saint often carried the sick poor on his own shoulders to the hospital, and there he provided them with everything they could want, whether for soul or body. His charity was not confined within the limits of his hospitals. He secretly provided food for indigent widows, and girls whose virtue was exposed to danger. Nothing could exceed the zeal wherewith he laboured to reclaim such as had fallen into sins of impurity. On occasion of an immense fire breaking out in the royal hospital of Granada, John fearlessly threw himself into the midst of the flames. He went through the several wards, taking the sick upon his shoulders, and throwing the beds through the windows, so that all were saved. He remained half an hour amidst the flames, which raged with wildest fury in every part of the building. He was miraculously preserved from the slightest injury, and came forth to the astonishment of the whole city, teaching the people, who had witnessed what had happened, that the disciples of charity have a fire within their hearts more active than any which could burn the body.
Among the virtues wherein he wonderfully excelled, may be mentioned his many practices of bodily mortilication, profound obedience, extreme poverty, love of prayer, contemplation, and devotion to the blessed Virgin. He also possessed, in an extraordinary degree, the gift of tears. At length, falling seriously ill, he fervently received the last Sacraments. Though reduced to a state of utter weakness, he dressed himself, rose from his bed, fell on his knees, devoutly took the crucifix into his hands, pressed it to his heart, and kissing it, died on the eighth of the Ides of March (March 8) in the year 1550. He remained in this same attitude with the crucifix still in his hand, for about six hours after his death. The entire city came to see the holy corpse, which gave forth a heavenly fragrance. The body was then removed, in order that it might be buried. God honoured his servant by many miracles, both before and after his death, and he was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII. Leo XIII., at the desire of the bishops of the Catholic world, and having consulted the sacred congregation of rites, declared him the heavenly patron of all hospitals and of the sick in all places, and ordered his name to be inserted in the litany for the dying.
What a glorious life was thine, O John of God! It was one of charity, and of miracles wrought by charity. Like Vincent of Paul thou wast poor, and, in thy early life, a shepherd-boy like him; but the charity which filled thy heart gave thee a power to do what worldly influence and riches never can. Thy name and memory are dear to the Church; they deserve to be held in benediction by all mankind, for thou didst spend thy life in serving thy fellow-creatures, for God’s sake. That motive gave thee a devotedness to the poor, which is an impossibility for those who befriend them from mere natural sympathy. Philanthropy may be generous, and its workings may be admirable for ingenuity and order; but it never can look upon the poor man as a sacred object, because it refuses to see God in him. Pray for the men of this generation, that they may at length desist from perverting charity into a mere mechanism of relief. The poor are the representatives of Christ, for He Himself has willed that they be such; and if the world refuse to accept them in this their exalted character, if it deny their resemblance to our Redeemer, it may succeed in degrading the poor, but by this very degradation it will make them its enemies. Thy predilection, O John of God, was for the sick; have pity, therefore, on our times, which are ambitious to eliminate the supernatural, and exclude God from the world by what is called secularization of society. Pray for us, that we may see how evil a thing it is to have changed the Christian for the worldly spirit. Enkindle holy charity within our hearts, that during these days, when we are striving to draw down the mercy of God upon ourselves, we also may show mercy. May we, as thou didst, imitate the example of our blessed Redeemer, who gave Himself to us His enemies, and deigned to adopt us as His brethren. Protect also the Order thou didst institute, which has inherited thy spirit; that it may prosper, and spread in every place the sweet odour of that charity, which is its very name.
 1 St. John iii. 17
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The period intervening between the Purification of our blessed Lady and Ash Wednesday (when it occurs at its latest date), gives us thirty-six days; and these offer us feasts of every order of saint. The apostles have given us St. Mathias, and St. Peter’s Chair at Antioch; the martyrs have sent us, from their countless choir, Simeon, Lucius, Blase, Valentine, Faustinus and Jovita, Perpetua and Felicitas, and the forty soldiers of Sebaste, whose feast is kept to-morrow; the holy pontiffs have been represented by Titus, Andrew Corsini, and also by Cyril of Alexandria and Peter Damian, who, like Thomas of Aquin, are doctors of the Church; the confessors have produced Romuald of Camaldoli, John of Matha, John of God, the Seven Founders of the Servites, and the angelic prince Casimir; the virgins have gladdened us with the presence of Agatha, Dorothy, Apollonia, and Scholastica, three wreathed with the red roses of martyrdom, and the fourth with the fair lilies of the enclosed garden of her Spouse; and lastly, we have had a penitent saint, Margaret of Cortona. The state of Christian marriage is the only one that has not yet deputed a saint during this season, which is less rich in feasts than most of the year. The deficiency is supplied to-day by the admirable Frances of Rome.
Having, for forty years, led a most saintly life in the married state, upon which she entered when but twelve years of age, Frances retired from the world, where she had endured every sort of tribulation. But she had given her heart to her God long before she withdrew to the cloister. Her whole life had been spent in the exercise of the highest Christian perfection, and she had ever received from our Lord the sublimest spiritual favours. Her amiable disposition had won for her the love and admiration of her husband and children: the rich venerated her as their model, the poor respected her as their devoted benefactress and mother.
God recompensed her angelic virtues by these two special graces: the almost uninterrupted sight of her guardian angel, and the most sublime revelations. But there is one trait of her life, which is particularly striking, and reminds us forcibly of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and of St. Jane Frances Chantal: her austere practices of penance. Such an innocent, and yet such a mortified, life is full of instruction for us. How can we think of murmuring against the obligation of mortification, when we find a saint like this practising it during her whole life? True, we are not bound to imitate her in the manner of her penance; but penance we must do, if we would confidently approach that God who readily pardons the sinner when he repents, but whose justice requires atonement and satisfaction.
The Church thus describes the life, virtues, and miracles of St. Frances.
Francisca, nobilis matrona romana, ab ineunte ætate illustria dedit virtutum exempla: etenim pueriles ludos, et illecebras mundi respuens, solitudine, et oratione magnopere delectabatur. Undecim annos nata virginitatem suam Deo consecrare, et monasterium ingredi proposuit. Parentum taraen voluntati humiliter obteroperans, Laurentio de Pontianis, juveni æque diviti ac nobili nupsit. In matrimonio arctioris vitæ propositum, quantum licuit, semper retinuit: a spectaculis, conviviis, aliisque hujusmodi oblectamentis abhorrens, lanea ac vulgari veste utens, et quidquid a domesticis curis supererat temporis, orationi, aut proximorum utilitati tribuens, in id vero maxima sollicitudine incumbens, ut matronas romanas a pompis sæculi, et ornatus vanitate revocaret. Quapropter domum Oblatarum, sub regula sancti Benedicti, Congregationis Montis Oliveti, adhuc viro alligata, in Urbe instiiuit. Viri exilium, bonorum jacturam, ac universæ domus mcerorem non modo constantissime toleravit, sed gratias agens cum beato Job, illud frequenter usurpabat: Dominus dedit, Dominus abstulit: sit nomen Domini benedictum.
Viro defuncto, ad prædictam Oblatarum domum convolans, nudis pedibus, fune ad collum alligato, humi prostrata, multis cum lacrymis, earum numero adscribi suppliciter postulavit. Voti mpos facta, licet esset omnium mater, non alio tamen quam ancillæ, vilissimæ que feminæ, et immunditiæ vasculi titulo gloriabatur. Quam vilem sui existimationem, et verbo declaravit, et exemplo. Sæpe enim e suburbana vinea ievertens, et lignorum fascem proprio capiti impositum deferens, vel eisdem onustum agens per Urbem asellum, pauperibus subveniebat, in quos etiam largas eleemosynas erogabat; ægrotantesque in xenodochiis visitans, non corporali tantum cibo, sed salutaribus monitis recreabat. Corpus suum vigiliis, jejuniis, cilicio, ferreo cingulo, crebrisque flagellis, in servitutem redigere jugiter satagebat. Cibum illi semel in die, herbæ et legumina: aqua potum præbuit. Hos tamen corporis cruciatus aliquando confessarii mandato, a cujus ore nutuque pendebat, modice temperavit.
Divina mysteria, præsertim vero Christi Domini Passionem, tanto mentis ardore, tantaque lacrymarum vi contemplabatur, ut præ doloris magnitudine pene confici videretur. Sæpe etiam cum oraret, maxime sumpto sanctissimæ Eucharistiæ sacramento, spiritu in Deum elevata, ac cœlestium contemplatione rapta, immobilis permanebat. Quapropter humani generishostis variis eam contumeliis ac verberibus a proposito dimovere conabatur: quem tamen illa imperterrita semper elusit, angeli præsertim præsidio, cujus familiari consuetudine gloriosum de eo triumphum reportavit. Gratia curationum, et prophetiæ dono enituit, quo et futura prædixit, et cordium secreta penetravit. Non semel aquæ, vel per rivum decurrentes, vele cœlo labentes, intactain prorsus, dum Deo vacaret, reliquerunt. Modica panis fragmenta., quæ vix tribus sororibus reficiendis fuissent satis, sic ejus precibus Dominus multiplicavit, ut quindecim in de exsaturatis, tantum superfuerit, ut canistrum impleverit: et aliquando, earumdem sororum extra Urbem mense Januario ligna parantium, sitim recentis uvæ racemis ex vite in arbore pendentibus mirabiliter obtentis, abunde expleverit. Denique meritis, et miraculis clara, migravit ad Dominum, anno ætatis suæ quinquagesimo sexto, quam Paulus quintus, Pontifex maximus, in sanctarum numerum retulit.
Frances, a noble lady of Rome, led a most virtuous life, even in her earliest years. She despised all childish amusements, and worldly pleasures, her only delight being solitude and prayer. When eleven years old, she resolved on consecrating her virginity to God, and seeking admission into a monastery. But she humbly yielded to the wishes of her parents, and married a young and rich nobleman, by name Lorenzo Ponziani. As far as it was possible, she observed, in the married state, the austerities of the most perfect life to which she had aspired. She carefully shunned theatrical entertainments, banquets, and other such amusements. Her dress was of serge, and extremely plain. Whatever time remained after she had fulfilled her domestic duties was spent in prayer and works of charity. But her zeal was mainly exercised in endeavouring to persuade the ladies of Rome, to shun the world, and vanity in dress. It was with a view to this that she founded during her husband’s life, the house of Oblates of the Congregation of Monte Oliveto, under the rule of Saint Benedict. She bore her husband’s banishment, the loss of all her goods, and the trouble which befell her whole family, not only with heroic patience, but was frequently heard to give thanks, saying with holy Job: 'The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.’
At the death of her husband, she fled to the aforesaid house of Oblates, and there, barefooted, with a rope tied round her neck, and prostrate on the ground, she humbly, and with many tears, begged admission. Her petition being granted, she, though mother o the whole community, gloried in calling herself everyone’s servant, and a worthless woman, and a vessel of dishonour. She evinced the contempt she had for herself by her conduct, as well as by her expressions. Thus, when returning from a vineyard in the suburbs, she would go through the city, sometimes carrying faggots on her head, sometimes driving an ass laden with them. She looked after, and bestowed abundant alms upon the poor. She visited the sick in the hospitals, and consoled them, not only with corporal food, but with spiritual advice. She was untiring in her endeavours to bring her body into subjection, by watchings, fasting, wearing a hair-shirt and an iron girdle, and by frequent disciplines. Her food, which she took but once in the day, consisted of herbs and pulse, and her only drink was water. But she would somewhat relent in these corporal austerities, as often as she was requested to do so by her confessor, whom she obeyed with the utmost exactitude.
Her contemplation of the divine mysteries, and especially of the Passion, was made with such intense fervour and abundance of tears, that she seemed as though she would die with grief. Frequently, too, when she was praying, and above all after holy Communion, she would remain motionless, with her soul fixed on God, and rapt in heavenly contemplation. The enemy of mankind seeing this, endeavoured to frighten her out of so holy a life, by insults and blows; but she feared him not, invariably baffled his attempts, and, by the assistance of her angel guardian, whose visible presence was granted to her, she gained a glorious victory. God favoured her with the gift of healing the sick, as also with that of prophecy, whereby she foretold future events, and could read the secrets of hearts. More than once, when she was intent on prayer, either in the bed of a torrent, or during a storm of rain, she was not touched by the water. On one occasion, when all the bread they had was scarcely enough to provide a meal for three of the sisters, she besought our Lord, and he multiplied the bread; so that after fifteen persons had eaten as much as they needed, there was sufficient left to fill a basket. At another time, when the sisters were gathering wood outside the city walls, in the month of January, she amply quenched their thirst by offering them bunches of fresh grapes, which she miraculously obtained from a vine hanging on a tree. Her virtues and miracles procured for her the greatest veneration from all. Our Lord called her to himself in the fifty-sixth year of her age, and she was canonized by Pope Paul the fifth.
O Frances, sublime model of every virtue! thou wast the glory of Christian Koine, and the ornament of thy sex. How insignificant are the pagan heroines of old compared with thee! Thy fidelity to the duties of thy state, and all thy saintly actions, had God for their one single end and motive. The world looked on thee with amazement, as though heaven had lent one of its angels to this earth. Humility and penance put such energy into thy soul, that every trial was met and mastered. Thy love for those whom God Himself had given thee, thy calm resignation and interior joy under tribulation, thy simple and generous charity, to every neighbour—all was evidence of God’s dwelling within thy soul. Thy seeing and conversing with thy angel guardian, and the wonderful revelations granted thee of the secrets of the other world, how much these favours tell us of thy merits! Nature suspended her laws at thy bidding; she was subservient to thee, as to one that was already face to face with the sovereign Master, and had the power to command. We admire these privileges and gifts granted thee by our Lord; and now beseech thee to have pity onus, who are so far from being in that path, in which thou didst so perseveringly walk. Pray for us, that we may be Christians, practically and earnestly; that we may cease to love the world and its vanities; that we may courageously take up the yoke of our Lord, and do penance; that we may give up our pride; that we may be patient and firm under temptation. Such was thy influence with our heavenly Father, that thou hadst but to pray, and a vine produced the richest clusters of fruit, even in the midst of winter. Our Jesus calls Himself the true Vine; ask Him to give us of the wine of His divine love, which His cross has so richly prepared for us. When we remember how frequently thou didst ask Him to let thee suffer, and accept thy sufferings for poor sinners, we feel encouraged to ask thee to offer thy merits to Him for us. Pray, too, for Rome, thy native city, that her people may be stanch to the faith, edifying by holiness of life, and loyal to the Church. May thy powerful intercession bring blessings on the faithful throughout the world, add to their number, and make them fervent as were our fathers of old.
 Cant. iv. 12.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
We know the mystery of the number forty. This tenth of March brings it before us. Forty new advocates! Forty encouraging us to enter bravely on our career of penance! On the frozen pool, which was their field of battle, these martyrs reminded one another that Jesus had fasted for forty days, and that they themselves were forty in number! Let us, in our turn, compare their sufferings with the lenten exercises which the Church imposes upon us; and humble ourselves on seeing our cowardice; or, if we begin with fervour, let us remember that the grand thing is to be faithful to the end, and bring to the Easter solemnity the crown of our perseverance. Our forty martyrs patiently endured the cruellest tortures; the fear of God, and their deep-rooted conviction that He had an infinite claim to their fidelity, gave them the victory. How many times we have sinned, and had not such severe temptations as theirs to palliate our fall! How can we sufficiently bless that divine mercy, which spared us, instead of abandoning us as it did that poor apostate, who turned coward and was lost! But, on what condition did God spare us? That we should not spare ourselves, but do penance. He put into our hands the rights of His own justice; justice, then, must be satisfied, and we must exercise it against ourselves. The lives of the saints will be of great help to us in this, for they will teach us how we are to look upon sin, how to avoid it, and how strictly we are bound to do penance for it after having committed it.
The Church, in her liturgy, thus relates to us the martyrdom of the soldiers of Sebaste.
Licinio imperatore, et Agricolao præside, ad Sebasten Armeniæ urbem, quadraginta militum fides in Jesum Christum, et fortitudo in cruciatibus perferendis enituit. Qui sæpius in horribilem carcerem detrusi, vinculisque constricti, cum ora ipsorum lapidibus contusa fuissent, hiemis tempore frigidissimo, nudi sub aperto aere supra stagnum rigens pernoctare jussi sunt, ut frigore congelati necarentur. Una autem erat omnium oratio: Quadraginta in stadium ingressi sumus, quadraginta item, Domine, corona donemur; ne una quidem huic numero desit. Est in honore hic numerus, quem tu quadraginta dierum jejunio decorasti, per quem divina lex ingressa est in orbem terrarum. Elias quadraginta dierum jejunio Deum quærens, ejus visionem consecutus est. Et hæc quidem illorum erat oratio.
Cæteris autem oustodibus somno deditis, solus vigilabat janitor, qui et illos orantes, et luce circumfusos, et quosdam e cœlo descendentes angelos tanquam a Rege missos, qui coronas triginta novem militibus distribuerent, intuens, ita secum loquebatur: Quadraginta hi sunt; quadragesimi corona ubi est? Quæ dum cogitaret, unus ex illo numero, cui animus ad frigus ferendum defecerat in proximum tepefactum balneum desiliens, sanctos illos summo dolore affecit. Verum Deus illorum preces irritas esse non est passus; nam rei eventum admiratus janitor, mox custodibus e somno excitatis, detractisque sibi vestibus, ac se christianum esse clara voce professus, martyribus se adjunxit. Cum vero præsidis satellites janitorem quoque christianum esse cognovissent, bacillis comminuta omnium eorum crura fregerunt.
In eo supplicio mortui sunt omnes præter Melithonem, natu minimum. Quem cum præsens mater ejus fractis cruribus adhuc viventem vidisset, sic cohortata est: Fili, paulisper sustine, ecce Christus ad januamstat adjuvans te. Cum vero reliquorum corpora plaustris imponi cerneret, ut in rogum inferrentur, ac filium suum relinqui, quod speraret impia turba, puerum, si vixisset, ad idolorum cultum revocari posse; ipso in humeros sublato, sancta mater vehicula martyrum corporibus onusta strenue prosequebatur; in cujus amplexu Melithon spiritum Deo reddidit, ejusque corpus in eumdem illum cæterorum martyrum rogum pia mater injecit: ut qui fide et virtute conjunctissimi fuerant, funeris etiam societate copulati, una in cœlum pervenirent. Combustis ills, eorum reliquiae projectæ in profluentem, cum mirabiliter in unum confluxissent locum, salvæ et integræ repertæ, honorifico sepulchro conditæ sunt.
During the reign of the Emperor Licinius, and under the presidency of Agricolaus, the city of Sebaste in Armenia was honoured by being made the scene of the martyrdom of forty soldiers, whose faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and patience in bearing tortures, were so glorious. After having been frequently confined in a horrid dungeon, shackled with chains, and having had their faces beaten with stones, they were condemned to pass a most bitter winter night in the open air, and on a frozen pool, that they might be frozen to death. When there, they united in this prayer: 'Forty have we entered on the battle; let us, O Lord, receive forty crowns, and suffer not our number to be broken. The number is an honoured one, for thou didst fast for forty days, and the divine law was given to the world after the same number of days was observed. Elias, too, sought God by a forty days’ fast, and was permitted to see him. Thus did they pray.
All the guards, except one, were asleep. He overheard their prayer, and saw them encircled with light, and angels coming down from heaven, like messengers sent by a King, who distributed crowns to thirty-nine of the soldiers. Whereupon, he thus said to himself: ‘There are forty men; where is the fortieth crown?’ While he was thus pondering, one of the number lost his courage; he could bear the cold no longer, and threw himself into a warm bath, which had been placed near at hand. His saintly companions were exceedingly grieved at this. But God would not suffer their prayer to be void. The sentinel, astonished at what he had witnessed, went immediately and awoke the guards; then, taking off his garments, he cried out, with a loud voice, that he was a Christian, and associated himself with the martyrs. No sooner did the governor’s guards perceive that the sentinel had also declared himself to be a Christian, than they approached the martyrs, and broke their legs with clubs.
All died under this torture except Melithon, who was the youngest of the forty. His mother, who was present, seeing that he was still living after his legs were broken, thus encouraged him: ‘My son, be patient yet a while. Lo! Christ is at the door, helping thee.’ But, as soon as she saw the other bodies being placed on carts, that they might be thrown on the pile, and her son left behind (for the impious men hoped that, if the boy survived, he might be induced to worship the idols), she lifted him up into her arms, and, summing up all her strength, ran after the waggons, on which the martyrs bodies were being carried. Melithon died in his mother’s arms, and the holy woman threw his body on the pile, where the other martyrs were, that as he had been so united with them in faith and courage, he might bo one with them in burial, and go to heaven in their company. As soon as the bodies, were burnt, the pagans threw what remained into a river. The relics miraculously flowed to one and the same place, just as they were when they were taken from the pile. The Christians took them, and respectfully buried them.
That we may the more worthily celebrate the memory of the forty martyrs, we borrow a few stanzas from the hymn in which the Greek liturgy so enthusiastically sings their praises.
(Die IX. Martii)
Generose præsentia sufferentes, in præmiis quæ sperabant gaudentes, sancti martyres ad invicem dicebant: Non vestimentum exuimus, sed veterem hominem deponimus; rigida est hiems, sed dulcis paradisus; molesta est glacies, sed jucunda requies. Non ergo recedamus, O commilitones: paulum sustineamus, ut victoriæcoronas obtineamus a Christo Domino et Salvatore animarum nostrarum.
Fortissima mente martyrium sustinentes, athletæ admirandi, per ignem et aquam transivistis, et inde ad salutis latitudinem perveniatis, in hæreditatem accipientes regnum cœlorum, in quo divinas pro nobis preces facite, sapientes quadraginta martyres.
Attonitus stetit quadraginta martyrum custos coronas aspiciens, et amore hujus vitæ contempto, desiderio gloriæ tuæ, Domine, quæ illi apparuerat, sublevatus est, et cum martyribus cecinit: Benedictus es, Deus patrum nostrorum.
Vitæ amator miles ad lavacrum currens pestiferum mortuus est; Christi autem amicus egregius raptor coronarum quæ apparuerant, velut in lavacro immortalitatis, cum martyribus canebat: Benedictus es, Deus patrum nostrorum.
Virili prædita pectore, mater Deo amica, super humeros tollens quem genuerat fructum pietatis, martyrem cum martyribus victimam adducit, patris Abrahæimitatrix. O fili, ad perenniter manentem vitam velocius currens carpe viam, Christi amica mater ad puerum clamabat. Non fero te secundum ad Deum præmia largientem pervenire.
Venite, fratres, martyrum laudibus celebremus phalangem, frigore incensam, et errons frigus ardenti zelo incendentem; generosissimum exercitum, sacratissimum agmen, consertis pugnans clypeis, infractum et invictum, defensores fidei et custodes, martyres quadraginta, divinam choream, legatos Ecclesiæ, potenter Christum deprecantes ut pacem animis nostris concedat et magnam misericordiam.
The holy martyrs, generously suffering present evils, and rejoicing in the hope of reward, said to each other: 'It is not our raiment, but the old man that we have put off. The winter is cold; but paradise is sweet. The ice is a torture; but the repose is pleasant. Fellow-soldiers! let us not retreat. Let us suffer for a while, that we may obtain our crowns of victory from Christ our Lord, the Saviour of our souls.’
O admirable combatants! you suffered martyrdom with most brave hearts. You passed through fire and water, and thence you came to the spacious land of salvation, receiving the kingdom of heaven as your inheritance. There, O prudent forty martyrs, offer up your holy prayers for us.
The gaoler of the forty martyrs stood in astonishment as he beheld the crowns. Despising this present life, and ambitious to enjoy thy glory, O Lord, which had been shown him in vision, he joined the martyrs in this hymn: ‘Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers!'
The soldier that loved this life, ran to the cursed bath, and there he met with death: but the friend of Christ, he that nobly seized the crown which was offered him, as it were laved in immortality, sang with the martyrs: ‘Blessed art thou, the God of our fathers!'
The mother, whose manly spirit made her dear to God, taking on her shoulders the beloved fruit of her womb, brings him to the martyrs that he may be a martyred victim with them. Thus does she imitate our father Abraham. This mother, dear to Christ, cried out to her child: 'O my son; quickly run the path that leads to life eternal. I cannot brook thy being second to any in coming to the God, who rewards us.’
Come, brethren, let us sing the praises of the troop of martyrs, who were burnt with frost, and whose ardent zeal set fire to the frosty cold of error. Most heroic army; most holy legion, that fought with shields close knit together; unbroken and unconquered troop; defenders and guardians of the faith; the forty martyrs, the sacred choir, the legates of the Church: their powerful prayers to Christ draw down upon our souls his peace and rich mercy.
Valiant soldiers of Christ, who meet us, with your mysterious number, at this commencement of our forty days’ fast, receive the homage of our devotion. Your memory is venerated throughout the whole Church, and your glory is great in heaven. Though engaged in the service of an earthly prince, you were the soldiers of the eternal King: to Him were you faithful, and from Him did you receive your crown of eternal glory. We, also, are His soldiers; we are fighting for the kingdom of heaven. Our enemies are many and powerful; but, like you, we can conquer them, if, like you, we use the arms which God has put in our hands. Faith in God’s word, hope in His assistance, humility, and prudence, with these we are sure of victory. Pray for us, O holy martyrs, that we may avoid all compromise with our enemies; for our defeat is certain, if we try to serve two masters. During these forty days, we must put our arms in order, repair our lost strength, and renew our engagements; come to our assistance, and get us a share in your brave spirit. A crown is also prepared for us: it is to be won on easier terms than yours; and yet we shall lose it, unless we keep up within us an esteem for our vocation. How many times, in our past lives, have we forfeited that glorious crown! But God, in His mercy, has offered it to us again, and we are resolved on winning it. Oh, for the glory of our common Lord and Master, make intercession for us.
Our work of preparation is over: we are ready to obey our mother’s call to Lent. During the three past weeks, we have studied the fall of our first parents, and the miseries it brought upon man; the necessity of a Saviour; the justice of God, against which the human race dared to rebel; the terrible chastisement of the deluge, wherewith that revolt was punished; and finally, the covenant made by God, through Abraham, with those who are faithful to Him, and shun the maxims of a perverse and guilty world.
Now we are to see the accomplishment of the great mysteries, whereby the wounds of our fall were healed, the divine justice was disarmed, and God’s grace was poured out upon us, delivering us from the yoke of Satan and the world.
The Man-God, whose sweet presence has been less sensible during this Septuagesima season, is now about to show Himself to us again, but this time it is on His way to Calvary, where He is to be immolated for our redemption. The dolorous Passion, which our sins have imposed upon Him, is about to be brought before us: the greatest of anniversaries will soon be upon us.
Let us be all attention to the mysteries: let us be fervent in the great work of our own purification. Let us walk on courageously in the path of penance, so that each day the burden of our sins may be lightened, and after we have partaken, by heartfelt compassion, of the cup of our Redeemer’s Passion, our lips will be once more permitted to sing the songs of joy, and our hearts will thrill at Easter with the loud burst of the Church’s Alleluia!