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August

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

ROME, making a god of the man who had subjugated her, consecrated the month of August to Cæsar Augustus. When Christ had delivered her, she placed at the head of this same month, as a trophy of her regained liberty, the feast of the chains wherewith, in order to break hers, Peter the Vicar of Christ had once been bound. O divine Wisdom, who hast a better claim to reign over this month than had the adopted son of Cæsar, Thou couldst not have more authentically inaugurated Thy empire. Strength and sweetness are the attributes of Thy works, and it is in the weakness of Thy chosen ones that Thou triumphest over the powerful. Thou Thyself, in order to give us life, didst swallow death; Simon, son of John, became a captive, to set free the world entrusted to him. First Herod, and then Nero, showed him the cost of the promise he had once received, of binding and loosing on earth as in heaven: he had to share the love of the supreme Shepherd, even to allowing himself, like Him, to be bound with chains for the sake of the flock, and led where he would not.

Glorious chains! never will ye make Peter's successors tremble any more than Peter himself; before the Herods and Neros and Cæsars of all ages ye will be the guarantee of the liberty of souls. With what veneration have the Christian people honoured you, ever since the earliest times! One may truly say of the present feast that its origin is lost in the darkness of ages. According to ancient monuments,[1] St. Peter himself first consecrated on this date the basilica on the highest of the seven hills, where the citizens of Rome are gathered to-day. The name Title of Eudoxia, by which the venerable Church is often designated, seems to have arisen from certain restorations made on occasion of the events mentioned in the lessons. As to the sacred chains which are its treasure, the earliest mention now extant of honour being paid to them occurs in the beginning of the second century. Balbina, daughter of the tribune Quirinus, keeper of the prisons, had been cured by touching the chains of the holy Pope Alexander; she could not cease kissing the hands which had healed her. ‘Find the chains of blessed Peter, and kiss them rather than these,' said the pontiff. Balbina, therefore, having fortunately found the apostle’s chains, lavished her pious veneration upon them, and afterwards gave them to the noble Theodora, sister of Hermes.[2]

The irons which had bound the arms of the Doctor of the Gentiles, without being able to bind the word of God, were also after his martyrdom treasured more than jewels and gold. From Antioch in Syria, St. John Chrysostom, thinking with holy envy of the lands enriched by these trophies of triumphant bondage, cried out in a sublime transport: 'What more magnificent than these chains? Prisoner for Christ is a more beautiful name than that of Apostle, Evangelist, or Doctor. To be bound for Christ’s sake is better than to dwell in the heavens; to sit upon the twelve thrones is not so great an honour. He that loves can understand me; but who can better understand these things than the holy choir of apostles? As for me, if I were offered my choice between these chains and the whole of heaven, I should not hesitate; for in them is happiness. Would that I were now in those places, where it is said the chains of these admirable men are still kept! If it were given me to be set free from the care of this church, and if I had a little health, I should not hesitate to undertake such a voyage only to see Paul’s chains. If they said to me: Which wouldst thou prefer, to be the angel who delivered Peter or Peter himself in chains? I would rather be Peter, because of his chains.’[3]

Though always venerated in the great basilica which enshrines his tomb, St. Paul's chain has never been made, like those of St. Peter, the object of a special feast in the Church. This distinction was due to the preeminence of him 'who alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven to communicate them to others,’[4] and who alone continues, in his successors, to bind and loose with sovereign power throughout the whole world. The collection of letters of St. Gregory the Great proves how universally, in the sixth century, was spread the cultus of these holy chains, a few filings of which enclosed in gold or silver keys was the richest present the Sovereign Pontiffs were wont to offer to the principal churches, or to princes whom they wished to honour. Constantinople, at some period not clearly determined, received a portion of these precious chains; she appointed a feast on January 16, honouring on that day the Apostle Peter, as the occupant of the first See, the foundation of the faith, the immovable basis of dogma.[5]

The following is the legend of the feast in the Roman Breviary:

Theodosio juniore imperante, cum Eudocia ejus uxor Jerosolymam solvendi voti causa venisset, ibi multis est affecta muneribus: præ cæteris insigne donum accepit ferreæ catenæ, auro gemmisque ornatæ: quam illam esse affirmabant, qua Petrus apostolus ab Herode vinctus fuerat. Eudocia catenam pie venerata, eam postea Romam ad filiam Eudoxiam misit, quæillam pontifici maximo detulit: isque vicissim illi monstravit alteram catenam: qua, Nerone imperatore, idem apostolus constrictus fuerat.

Cum igitur pontifex Romanam catenam cum ea, quæ Jerosolymis aliata fuerat, contulisset, factum est ut illæ inter se sic connecterentur, ut non duæ, sed una catena ab eodem artifice confecta, esse videretur. Quo miraculo tantus honor sacris illis vinculis haberi cœpit, ut propterea hoc nomine sancti Petri ad Vincula ecclesia titulo Eudoxiæ dedicata sit in Exquiliis, ejusque memoriæ dies festus institutus Kalendis Augusti.

Quo ex tempore honos, qui eo die profanis Gentilium celebritatibus tribui solitus erat, Petri vinculis haberi cœpit: quæ tacta ægros sanabant, et dæmones ejiciebant. Quo in genere anno salutis humanænongentesimo sexagesimo nono accidit, ut quidam comes, Othonis imperatoris familiaris, occupatus ab immundo spiritu, seipsum dentibus dilaniaret. Quare is jussu imperatoris ad Joannem pontifìcem ducitur: qui, ut sacra catena comitis collum attigit, erumpens nefarius spiritus hominem liberum reliquit: ac deinceps in urbe sanctorum vinculorum religio propagata est.
During the reign of Theodosius the younger, Eudocia, his wife, went to Jerusalem to fulfil a vow, and while there she was honoured with many gifts, the greatest of which was an iron chain adorned with gold and precious stones, and said to be that wherewith the apostle Peter had been bound by Herod. Eudocia piously venerated this chain, and then sent it to Rome to her daughter Eudoxia. The latter took it to the sovereign pontiff, who in his turn showed her anotherchain which had bound the same apostle, under Nero.

When the pontiff thus brought together the Roman chain and that which had come from Jerusalem, they joined together in such a manner that they seemed no longer two chains, but a single one, made by one same workman. On account of this miracle the holy chains began to be held in so great honour that a church at the title of Eudoxia on the Esquiline was dedicated under the name of St. Peter ad vincula, and the memory of its dedication was celebrated by a feast on the Kalends of August.

From that time St. Peter’s chains began to receive the honours of this day, instead of a pagan festival which it had been customary to celebrate. Contact with them healed the sick, and put the demons to flight. Thus, in the year of salvation 969, a certain count, who was very intimate with the Emperor Otho, was taken possession of by an unclean spirit, so that he tore his flesh with his own teeth. By command of the emperor he was taken to the pontiff John, who had no sooner touched the count’s neck with the holy chain than the wicked spirit was driven away, leaving the man entirely free. On this account devotion to the holy chains was spread throughout Rome.

Put thy feet into the fetters of Wisdom, and thy neck into her chains, said the Holy Spirit under the ancient alliance . . . and be not grieved with her bands. . . . For in the latter end thou shalt find rest in her, and she shall he turned to thy joy. Then shall her fetters he a strong defence for thee . . . and her hands are a healthful binding. Thou shalt put her on as a robe of glory.[6]Incarnate Wisdom, applying the prophecy to thee, O prince of apostles, declared that in testimony of thy love the day would come when thou shouldst suffer constraint and bondage. The trial, O Peter, was a convincing one for eternal Wisdom, who proportions her requirements to the measure of her own love. But thou, too, didst find her faithful; in the days of the formidable combat, wherein she wished to show her power in thy weakness, she did not leave thee in bands; in her arms thou didst sleep so calm a sleep in Herod's prison; and, going down with thee into the pit of Nero, she faithfully kept thee company up to the hour when, subjecting the persecutors to the persecuted, she placed the sceptre in thy hands, and on thy brow the triple crown.

From the throne where thou reignest with the ManGod in heaven, as thou didst follow Him on earth in trials and anguish, loosen our bands which, alas! are not glorious ones such as thine; break these fetters of sin which bind us to Satan, these ties of all the passions which prevent us from soaring towards God. The world, more than ever enslaved in the infatuation of its false liberties which make it forget the only true freedom, has more need now of enfranchisement than in the times of pagan Cæsars: be once more its deliverer, now that thou art more powerful than ever. May Rome, especially, now fallen the lower because precipitated from a greater height, learn again the emancipating power which lies in thy chains; they have become a rallying standard for her faithful children in these latter trials.[7] Make good the word once uttered by her poets, that 'encircled with these chains she will ever be free.'[8]

The August heavens glitter with the brightest constellations of the sacred cycle. Even in the sixth century, the second Council of Tours remarked that this month was filled with the feasts of saints.[9] My delights are to he with the children of men, says Wisdom; and in the month which echoes with her teachings she seems to have made it her glory to be surrounded with blessed ones, who, walking with her in the midst of the paths of judgment, have in finding her found life and salvation from the Lord. This noble court is presided over by the Queen of all grace, whose triumph consecrates this month and makes it the delight of that Wisdom of the Father, who, once enthroned in Mary, never quitted her. What a wealth of divine favours do the coming days promise to our souls! Never were our Father's bams so well filled as at this season, when the earthly as well as the heavenly harvests are ripe.

While the Church on earth inaugurates these days by adorning herself with Peter’s chains as with a precious jewel, a constellation of seven stars appears for the third time in the heavens. The seven brothers Machabees preceded the sons of Symphorosa and Felicitas in the bloodstained arena; they followed divine Wisdom even before she had manifested her beauty in the flesh. The sacred cause of which they were the champions, their strength of soul under the tortures, their sublime answers to the executioners were so evidently the type reproduced by the later martyrs, that the Fathers of the first centuries with one accord claimed for the Christian Church these heroes of the synagogue, who could have gained such courage from no other source than their faith in the Christ to come. For this reason they alone of all the holy persons of the ancient covenant have found a place on the Christian cycle; all the martyrologies and calendars of East and West attest the universality of their cultus, while its antiquity is such as to rival that of St. Peter's chains in that same basilica of Eudoxia where their precious relics lie.

At the time when in the hope of a better resurrection they refused under cruel torments to redeem their lives, other heroes of the same blood, inspired by the same faith, flew to arms and delivered their country from a terrible crisis. Several children of Israel, forgetting the traditions of their nation, had wished it to follow the customs of strange peoples; and the Lord, in punishment, had allowed Judea to feel the whole weight of a profane rule to which it had guiltily submitted. But when King Antiochus, taking advantage of the treason of a few and the carelessness of the majority, endeavoured by his ordinances to blot out the divine law which alone gives power to man over man, Israel, suddenly awakened, met the tyrant with the double opposition of revolt and martyrdom. Judas Machabeus in immortal battles reclaimed for God the land of his inheritance, while by the virtue of their generous confession, the seven brothers also, his rivals in glory, recoveredl, as the Scripture says, the law out of the hands of the nations, and out of the hands of the kings.[10] Soon afterwards, craving mercy under the hand of God and not finding it, Antiochus died, devoured by worms, just as later on were to die the first and last persecutors of the Christians, Herod Agrippa and Galerius Maximian.

The Holy Ghost, who would Himself hand down to posterity the acts of the protomartyr of the New Law, did the same with regard to the passion of Stephen's glorious predecessors in the ages of expectation. Indeed, it was he who then, as under the law of love, inspired with both words and courage these valiant brothers, and their still more admirable mother, who, seeing her seven sons one after the other suffering the most horrible tortures, uttered nothing but burning exhortations to die. Surrounded by their mutilated bodies, she mocked the tyrant who, in false pity, wished her to persuade at least the youngest to save his life; she bent over the last child of her tender love and said to him: My son, have pity upon me, that bore thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee suck three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age. I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing and mankind also: so thou shalt not fear this tormentor, but being made a worthy partner with thy brethren, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again with thy brethren[11] And the intrepid youth ran in his innocence to the tortures; and the incomparable mother followed her sons.

Prayer

Fraterna nos, Domine, martyrum tuorum corona lætificet: quæ et fidei nostræ præbeat incrementa virtutum, et multiplici nos suffragio consoletur. Per Dominum.
May the fraternal crown of Thy martyrs rejoice us, O Lord, and may it procure for our faith an increase of virtue, and console us with multiplied intercession. Through, etc.

[1] Martyrolog. Hieronym., Bed., Raban., Notker.
[2] Acta S. Alexandri.
[3] Chrys. in Ep. ad Eph., hom. viii.
[4] Op. Milev. contra Parmen., vii., iii.
[5] Menæa.
[6] Eccli. vi. 25-32.
[7] Archconfraternity of St. Peter’s Chains, erected June 18, 1867.
[8] Arator. De Act. Apost., L. 1, v. 1070-1076.
[9] Toto Augusto . . . festivitates sunt et missæ sanctorum. De observatione psallendi. Labbe, V, 857.
[10] 1 Mach. ii. 48.
[11] 2 Mach. vii. 27, 28, 29.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

YESTERDAY we admired, in Peter and the Machabees, the substructure of the palace built by Wisdom in time to endure for eternity. To-day, in conformity with the divine ways of that Wisdom, who in her playing reaches from end to end, we are suffered to contemplate the progress of the glorious building, to behold the summit of the work, the last row of stones actually laid. Now, summit and foundation, the work is all one; the materials are all priceless: witness the diamond of fine water which displays its lustre to-day.

To this great saint, great both in works and in doctrine, are directly applied these words of the Holy Ghost: They that instruct many to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.[1] At the time he appeared an odious sect was denying the mercy and the sweetness of our heavenly Father; it triumphed in the practical conduct of even those who were shocked by its Calvinistic theories. Under pretext of a reaction against an imaginary school of laxity, and denouncing with much ado some erroneous propositions made by obscure persons, the new Pharisees had set themselves up as zealous for the law. Stretching the commandments, and exaggerating the sanction, they loaded the conscience with the same unbearable burdens which the Man-God reproached the ancient Pharisees with laying on the shoulders of men; but the cry of alarm they had raised in the name of endangered morals had

none the less deceived the simple, and ended by misleading even the best. Thanks to the show of austerity displayed by its adherents, Jansenism, so clever in veiling its teachings, had too well succeeded in its designs of forcing itself upon the Church in spite of the Church. Unsuspecting allies within the Holy City gave up to its mercy the sources of salvation. Soon in too many places the sacred keys were used but to open hell; the Holy Table, spread for the preservation and increase of life in all. became accessible only to the perfect; and these latter were esteemed such, according as, by a strange reversion of the apostle's words, they subjected the spirit of adoption of sons to the spirit of servitude and fear. As to the faithful, who did not rise to the height of this new asceticism, 'finding in the tribunal of penance, instead of fathers and physicians, only exactors and executioners,’[2] they had but to choose between despair and indifference. Everywhere legislatures and parliaments lent a hand to the so-called reformers, without heeding the flood of odious unbelief that was rising around them, without seeing the gathering stormclouds.

Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men, for you yourselves do not enter in; and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter. ... Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves.[3] Not of your conventicles was it said that the sons of Wisdom are the Church of the just, for it was added: Their generation is obedience and love.[4] Not of the fear which you preached did the psalmist sing: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom;[5] for even under the law of Sinai the Holy Spirit said: Ye that fear the Lord, believe Him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in Him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love Him: and your hearts shall be enlightened.[6] Every deviation, whether towards rigour or weakness, offends the rectitude of justice; but, especially since Bethlehem and Calvary, no sin so wounds the divine Heart as distrust; no fault is unpardonable except in the despair of a Judas, saying, like Cain: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.[7]

Who, then, in the sombre quietism into which the teachers then in vogue had led even the strongest minds, could find once more the key of knowledge? But Wisdom, says the Holy Ghost, kept in her treasures the signification of discipline.[8] Just as in other times she had raised up new avengers for every dogma that had been attacked, so now, against a heresy which, in spite of the speculative pretensions of its beginning, had only in its moral bearing any sort of duration, she brought forth Alphonsus Liguori as the avenger of the violated law and the doctor par excellence of Christian morality. A stranger alike to fatal rigorism and baneful indulgence, he knew how to restore to the justices of the Lord their rectitude, and at the same time their power of rejoicing hearts;to His commandments their luminous brightness, whereby they are justified in themselves; to His testimonies the purity which attracts souls and faithfully guides the simple and the little ones from the beginnings of Wisdom to its summits.[9] It was not only in the sphere of casuistry that Alphonsus succeeded, in his moral theology, in counteracting the poison which threatened to infect the whole Christian life. Whilst on the one hand he never left unanswered any attack made at the time against revealed truth, his ascetic and mystical works brought back piety to its traditional sources, the frequentation of the sacraments, and the love of our Lord and His blessed Mother. The Sacred Congregation of Rites, after examining in the name of the Holy See the works of our saint and declaring that nothing deserving of censure was to be found therein,[10] arranged his innumerable writings under forty separate titles. Alphonsus, however, resolved only late in life to give to the public, through the press, the lights which flooded his soul; his first work, the golden book of Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin, did not appear till the author was nearly fifty years of age. Though God prolonged his life beyond the usual limits, He spared him neither the double burden of the episcopate and the government of the Congregation he had founded, nor the most painful infirmities, nor still more grievous moral sufferings.

Let us listen to the Church's account of his life:

Alphonsus Maria de Ligorio, Neapoli nobilibus parentibus natus, ab ineunte ætate non obscura præbuit sanctitatis indicia. Eum adhuc infantem quum parentes obtulissent sancto Francisco de Hieronymo e Societate Jesu, is bene precatus edixit eumdem ad nonagesimum usque annum perventurum, ad episcopalem dignitatem evectum iri, maximoque Ecclesiæ bono futurum. Jam tum a pueritia a ludis abhorrens, nobiles ephebos ad christianam modestiamverbo et exemplo componebat. Adolescens, dato piis sodalitatibus nomine, in publicis nosocomiis ægrotis inservire, jugi in templis orationi vacare, ac sacra mysteria frequenter obire in deliciis habebat. Pietatem litterarum studiis adeo conjunxit, ut sexdecim vix annos natus utriusque juris lauream in patria universitate fuerit assecutus. Patri obtemperans causarum patrocinia suscepit, in quo munere obeundo, etsi magnam sibi laudem comparasset, fori tamen pericula expertus, ejusmodi vitæ institutum ultro dimisit. Spreto igitur preclaro conjugio sibi a patre proposito, avia primogenitura abdicata, et ad aram Virginis de Mercede ense suspenso, divinis ministeriis se mancipavit. Sacerdos factus, tanto zelo irruit in vitia, ut apostolico munere fungens, huc illuc pervolans, ingentes perditorum hominum conversionesperageret. Pauperum præsertim et ruricolarum miseratus, congregationem presbyterorum instituit sanctissimi Redemptoris, qui ipsum Redemptorem secuti per agros, pagos et castella, pauperibus evangelizarent.

Ne autem a proposito umquam diverteret, perpetuo se voto obstrinxit, nullam temporis jacturam faciendi. Hinc animaruin zelo succensus, tum divini verbi prædicatione, tum scriptis sacra eruditione et pietate refertis, animas Christo lucrifacere, et ad perfectiorem vitam ad ducere studuit. Mirum sane quot odia exstinxerit, quot devios ad rectum salutis iter revocaverit. Dei Genitricis cultor eximius de illius laudibus librum edidit, ac de iis dum ferventius concionando disserit, a Virginis imagine in eum immisso miro splendore totus facie coruscare, et in exstasim rapi coram universo populo non semel visus est. Dominicæ passionis, et sacræ Eucharistiæ contemplator assiduus, ejus cultum mirifice propagavit. Dum vero ad ejus aram oraret, vel sacrum faceret, quod numquam omisit, præ amoris vehementia, vel seraphicis liquescebat ardoribus, vel insolitis quatiebatur motibus, vel abstrahebatur a sensibus. Miram vitæ innocentiam, quam nulla umquam lethali labe fœdavit, pari cum pœnitentia socians, corpus suum inedia, ferreis catenulis, ciliciis, cruentaque flagellatione castigabat. Inter hæc prophetiæ, scrutationis cordium, bilocationis, et miraculorum donis inclaruit.

Ab ecclesiasticis dignitatibus sibi oblatis constantissime abhorruit. At Clementis decimitertii pontificis auctoritate coactus, sanctæ Agathæ Gothorum Ecclesiam gubernandam suscepit. Episcopus externum dumtaxat habitum non autem severam vivendi rationem immutavit. Eadem frugalitas, summus christianæ disciplinæ zelus, impensum in vitiis coercendis arcendisque erroribus, et in reliquis pastoralibus muneribus obeundis studium. Liberalis in pauperes, omnes ecclesiæ proventus iisdem distribuebat, ac, urgente annonæ cantate, ipsam domesticanm supellectilem in alendis famelicis erogavit. Omnibus omnia factus, sanctimoniales ad perfectiorem vivendi formam redegit, suæque congregationis monialium monasterium constituendum curavit. Episcopatu ob graves habitualesque morbos dimisso, ad alumnos suos, a quibus pauper discesserat, revertitur pauper. Demum quamvis senio, laboribusque, diuturna arthritide, aliisque gravissimis morbis fractus corpore, spiritu tamen alacrior, de cœlestibus rebus disserendi, aut scribendi finem numquam adhibuit, donec nonagenarius, Kalendis Augusti, anno millesimo septingentesimo octogesimo septimo, Nuceriæ Paganorum inter suorum alumnorum lacrymas placidissime exspiravit. Eum inde virtutibus et miraculis clarum Pius septimus pontifex maximus anno millesimo octingentesimo decimo sexto beatorum fastis, novisque fulgentem signis, Gregorius Decimussextus in festo sanctissimæ Trinitatis, anno millesimo octingentesimo trigesimo nono solemni ritu sanctorum catalogo accensuit; tandem Pius nonus, pontifex maximus, ex Sacrorum Rituum Congregationis consulto, universalis Ecclesiæ Doctorem declaravit.

 

Alphonsus Mary de Liguori was born of a noble family at Naples, and from his early youth gave clear proofs of sanctity. While he was still a child, his parents once presented him to St. Francis Jerome, of the Society of Jesus. The saint blessed him, and prophesied that he would reach his ninetieth year, that he would be raised to the episcopal dignity, and would do much good for the Church. Even as a boy he shrank from games, and both by his words and example incited noble youth to Christian modesty. When he reached early manhood he enrolled himself in pious associations, and made it his delight to serve the sick in the public hospital, to spend much time in prayer and in the church, and frequently to receive the sacred mysteries. He joined study to piety with such success that, when scarcely sixteen years of age, he took the degree of Doctor in both Canon and Civil Law, in the University of his native city. In obedience to his father’s wishes, he pleaded at the bar; but, while winning himself a name in the discharge of this office, he learnt by experience what dangers beset a lawyer’s life, and, of his own accord, abandoned the profession. Then he refused a brilliant marriage proposed to him by his father, renounced his right of inheritance as eldest son, and, hanging up his sword at the altar of the Virgin of Mercy, he devoted himself to the divine service. Having been made priest, he attacked vice with such great zeal that, in the exercise of his apostolic ministry, he hastened from place to place, working wonderful conversions. He had a special compassion for the poor, and particularly for country people, and founded a congregation for priests, called ‘ of the Holy Redeemer,' who were to follow the Redeemer through the fields, and hamlets, and villages, preaching to the poor.

In order that nothing might turn him from his purpose, he bound himself by a perpetual vow never to waste any time. On fire with love of souls, he strove, both by preaching the divine word and by writings full of sacred learning and piety, to win them to Christ and to make them lead more perfect lives. Marvellous was the number of quarrels he stilled and of wanderers he brought back to the path of salvation. He had the greatest devotion to the Mother of God, and published a book on the 'Glories of Mary,' More than once, while he was speaking of her with great earnestness during his sermons, a wonderful brightness came upon him from our Lady’s image, and he was seen by all the people to be rapt in ecstasy. The Passion of our Lord and the Holy Eucharist were the objects of his unceasing contemplation, and he spread devotion to them in a wonderful degree. When he was praying before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, or celebrating Holy Mass, which he never failed to do, through the violence of his love he shed burning tears, was agitated in an extraordinary manner, and at times was carried out of his senses. He joined a wonderful innocence, which he had never stained by deadly sin, with an equally wonderful spirit of penance, and chastised his body by fasting, iron chains, hair-shirts, and scourgings even to blood. At the same time he was remarkable for the gifts of prophecy, reading of hearts, bilocation, and many miracles

He firmly refused the ecclesiastical dignities which were offered him, but he was compelled by the authority of Pope Clement XIII to accept the government of the Church of St. Agatha of the Goths. As bishop, though he changed his outward dress, yet he made no alteration in the severity of his life. He observed the same moderation; his zeal for Christian discipline was most ardent, and he displayed the greatest devotedness in rooting out vice, in guarding against false doctrine, and in discharging the other duties of the pastoral charge. He was most generous towards the poor, distributing to them all the revenues of his see, and in a time of scarcity of corn he sold even the furniture of his house to feed his starving people. He was all things to all men. He brought religious women to lead a more perfect life, and took care to erect a monastery for nuns of his Congregation. Severe and continual sickness forced him to resign his bishopric, and he returned to his children as poor as when he had left them. Though worn out in body by old age, labours, chronic gout, and other painful maladies, his mind was fresh and clear, and he never ceased speaking or writing of heavenly things till at length, on the Kalends of August, he most peacefully expired, at Nocera dei Pagani, amidst his weeping children. It was in the year 1787, the ninetieth year of his age. His virtues and miracles made him famous, and on this account, in 1816, Pope Pius VII enrolled him amongst the Blessed. God still glorified him with new signs and wonders, and, on the feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, in the year 1839, Gregory XVI solemnly inscribed his name on the list of the saints; finally. Pope Pius IX, after consulting the Congregation of Sacred Rites, declared him a doctor of the universal Church.

‘I have not hid Thy justice within my heart: I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation.’[11] Thus sings the Church in thy name to-day, in gratitude for the great service thou didst render her in the days of sinners, when godliness seemed to be lost. Exposed to the attacks of an extravagant pharisaism, and watched by a sceptical and mocking philosophy, even the good wavered as to which was the way of the Lord. While the moralists of the day could but forge fetters for consciences, the enemy had a good chance of crying: Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us. The ancient wisdom revered by their fathers, now that it was compromised by these foolish teachers, seemed but a ruined edifice to people eager for emancipation. In this unprecedented extremity, thou, O Alphonsus, wast the prudent man whom the Church needed, whose mouth uttered words to strengthen men's hearts.

Long before thy birth, a great Pope had said that it belongs to doctors to enlighten the Church, to adorn her with virtues, to form her manners; by them, he added, she shines in the midst of darkness as a morning star; their word, made fruitful from on high, solves the enigmas of the Scriptures, unravels difficulties, clears obscurities, interprets what is doubtful; their profound works, beautified by eloquence of speech, are so many priceless pearls which ennoble no less than adorn the House of God. Thus did Boniface VIII speak in the thirteenth century, when he was raising to the rank of doubles the feasts of the apostles and evangelists, and of the four then recognized doctors, St. Gregory, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Jerome. But is it not a description, striking as a prophecy, faithful as a portrait, of all that thou wert?

Glory, then, be to thee, who in our days of decadence renewest the youth of the Church, and through whom justice and peace once more embrace one another at the meeting of mercy and truth. For this object thou didst literally give unreservedly thy time and thy strength. ‘The love of God,’ says St. Gregory, ‘is never idle: where it exists it does great things: if it refuses to act, it is not love.’[12] What fidelity was thine in accomplishing that awful vow, whereby thou didst deny thyself the possibility of even a moment's relaxation. When suffering intolerable pain, which would appear to anyone else to justify, if not to command, some rest, thou wouldst hold to thy forehead with one hand a piece of marble, which seemed to give some slight relief, and with the other wouldst continue thy precious writings.

But still greater was the example God set before the world, when, in thine old age, He suffered thee, through the treason of one of thine own sons, to be disgraced by that Apostolic See, for which thou hadst worn away thy life, and which in return withdrew thee, as unworthy, from the very institute thou hadst founded! Then hell was permitted to join its stripes with those of heaven; and thou, the doctor of peace, didst endure terrible temptations against faith and holy hope. Thus was thy work made perfect in that weakness which is stronger than strength; and thus didst thou merit for troubled souls the support of the virtue of Christ. Nevertheless, having become a child once more in the blind obedience required under such painful trials, thou wast near at once to the kingdom of heaven and to the Crib, which thou didst celebrate in such sweet accents. And the virtue which the ManGod felt going out from Him during His mortal life escaped from thee, too, in such abundance that the little sick children presented by their mothers for thy blessing were all healed.

Now that thy tears and thy toils are over, watch over us evermore. Preserve in the Church the fruits of thy labours. The religious family begotten by thee has not degenerated; more than once, in the persecutions of last century, the enemy has honoured it with special tokens of his hatred; already, too, has the aureole of the blessed passed from the father to his sons; may they ever cherish these noble traditions! May the eternal Father, who in baptism made us all worthy to he partakers of the lot of the saints in light, lead us all happily by thy example and teachings[13] in the footsteps of our most holy Redeemer into the kingdom of this Son of His love.[14]

The commemoration of the illustrious Pope and Martyr, Stephen I, adds a perfume of antiquity to the holiness of this day dedicated to the honour of a comparatively modem saint. Stephen’s special glory in the Church is to have been the guardian of the dignity of holy baptism. Baptism once given can never be repeated; for the character of child of God, which it imprints upon the Christian, is everlasting; and this unspeakable dignity of the first sacrament in no wise depends upon the disposition or state of the minister conferring it. According to the teaching of St. Austin, whether Peter, or Paul, or Judas, baptize, it is He upon whom the divine Dove descended in the Jordan, it is He alone and always that baptizes by them in the Holy Ghost. Such is the adorable munificence of our Lord, with regard to this indispensable means of salvation, that the very pagan who belongs not to the Church and the schismatic or heretic separated from her can administer it with full validity, on the one condition of fulfilling the exterior rite in its essence, and of wishing to do thereby what the Church does.

In the time of Stephen I this truth was not so universally known as now. Great bishops, whose learning and holiness had justly won them the admiration of their age, wished to make the converts from various sects pass again through the laver of salvation. But the assistance promised to Peter was not wanting to his successor; and by maintaining the traditional discipline, Rome, through Stephen, saved the faith of the churches. Let us testify our gratitude to the holy pontiff for his fidelity in guarding the sacred deposit, which is the treasure of all men; and let us beg him to preserve no less effectually in us also the nobility and the rights of our holy baptism.

Prayer

Deus, qui nos beati Stephani martyris tui atque pontificis annua solemnitate lætificas: concede propitius; ut cujus natalitia colimus, de ejusdem etiam protectione gaudeamus. Per Dominum.
O God, who givest us joy by the annual solemnity of blessed Stephen, Thy martyr and bishop, mercifully grant that we may rejoice in the protection of him whose festival we celebrate. Through our Lord, etc.

[1] Dan. xii. 3.
[2] Supplices litteræ Episcopatus pro concessione tituli Doctoris S. Alphonso Mariæ.
[3] St. Matt. xxiii. 13, 15.
[4] Eccli. iii. 1.
[5] Ps. cx. 10.
[6] Eccli. ii. 8-10.
[7] Gen. iv. 13.
[8] Eccli. i. 31.
[9] Cf. Ps. xviii, 8-10.
[10] Decretum, 14 and 18 Maii, 1803.
[11] Gradual of the Mass, Ps. xxxix. 11.
[12] Greg, in Ev., hom. xxx.
[13] Collect of the Feast.
[14] Col. i. 12, 13.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

URGED by the approach of Laurence's triumph, Stephen rises to assist at his combat; it is a meeting full of beauty and strength, revealing the work of eternal Wisdom in the arrangement of the sacred cycle. But the present feast has other teachings also to offer us.

The first resurrection, of which we spoke above, continues for the saints. After Nazarius and Celsus, and all the martyrs whom the victory of Christ has shown to be partakers of His glory according to the divine promise, the standard-bearer of the whiterobed army himself rises glorious from his tomb to lead the way for new triumphs. The fierce auxiliaries of God’s anger against idolatrous Rome, after reducing the false gods to powder, must in their turn be subjugated; and this second victory will be the work of the martyrs aiding the Church by their miracles, as the first was that of their faith despising death and tortures. The received method of writing history in our days ignores such considerations; that is no reason why we should follow the fashion; the exactitude of its data, on which the science of this age plumes itself, is but one more proof that falsehood is as easily nurtured by omissions as by positive misstatements. Now the more profound the present silence on the question, the more certain it is that the very years which beheld the barbarians invading and overturning the empire were signalized by an effusion of virtue from on high, comparable in more than one respect to that which marked the times of the apostolic preaching. Nothing less was required to reassure the faithful on the one hand, and on the other to inspire with respect for the Church these brutal invaders, who knew no right but might, and felt nothing but disdain for the race they had conquered.

The divine intention in surrounding the fall of Rome in 410 with discoveries of saints' bodies was clearly manifested in the most important of these discoveries, the one we celebrate to-day. The year 415 had opened. Italy, Gaul, and Spain were being invaded; Africa was about to share their fate. Amidst the universal ruin the Christians, in whom alone resided the hope of the world, put up their petitions at every sanctuary to obtain at least, according to the expression of the Spanish priest Avitus, ‘ that the Lord would inspire with gentleness those whom He suffered to prevail.’[1] It was then that took place that marvellous revelation which the severe critic Tillemont, convinced by the testimony of all the chronicles, histories, letters, and discourses of the time,[2] allows to be ‘one of the most celebrated events of the fifth century.’[3] Through the intermediary of the priest Lucian, John, Bishop of Jerusalem, received from St. Stephen the first martyr and his companions in the tomb a message couched in these terms: ‘Make haste to open our sepulchre, that by our means God may open to the world the door of His clemency, and may take pity on His people in the universal tribulation.’ The discovery, accomplished in the midst of prodigies, was published to the whole world as the sign of salvation.[4] St. Stephen's relics, scattered everywhere in token of security and peace,[5] wrought astonishing conversions;[6] innumerable miracles, ‘like those of ancient times,’ bore witness to the same faith of Christ which the martyr had confessed by his death four centuries earlier.[7]

Such was the extraordinary character of this manifestation, so astonishing was the number of resurrections of the dead, that St. Augustine, addressing his people, deemed it prudent to lift their thoughts from Stephen the servant to Christ his Master. 'Though dead,’ said he, ‘he raises the dead to life, because in reality he is not dead.[8] But as heretofore in his mortal life, so now, too, he acts solely in the name of Christ; all that ye see now done by the memory of Stephen is done in that name alone, that Christ may be exalted, Christ may be adored, Christ may be expected as Judge of the living and the dead.’[9]

Let us conclude with this praise addressed to St. Stephen a few years later by Basil of Seleucia, which gives so well in a few words the reason of the feast: ‘There is no place, no territory, no nation, no far-off land, that has not obtained the help of thy benefits. There is no one, stranger or citizen, barbarian or Scythian, that does not experience, through thy intercession, the greatness of heavenly realities.’[10]

The following legend epitomizes and completes the history given by the priest Lucian:

Sanctorum corpora Stephani Protomartyris, Gamalielis, Nicodemi et Abibonis, quæ diu in obscuro ac sordido loco jacuerant, Honorio imperatore, Luciano presbytero divinitus admonito, inventa sunt prope Jerosolymam. Cui Gamaliel, cum in somnis apparuisset, gravi quadam et præclara senis specie, locum jacentium corporum commonstravit, imperans, ut Joannem Jerosolymitanum antistitem adiret, ageretque cum eo, ut honestius illa. corpora sepelirentur.

Quibus auditis Jerosolymorum antistes, finitimarum urbium episcopis presbyterisque convocatis, ad locum pergit: defossos loculos invenit, unde suavissimus odor efflabatur. Cujus rei fama commota, magna hominum multitudo eo convenit, multique ex variis morbis ægroti ac debiles, sani et integri domum redierunt. Sacrum autem sancti Stephani corpus, quod summa tunc celebritate in sanctam ecclesiam Sion illatum est, sub Theodosio junioreConstantinopolim, inde Romam Pelagio Primo Summo. Pontifice translatum, in agro Verano in sepulcro sancti Laurentii Martyris collocatum est.
During the reign of the Emperor Honorius the bodies of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Abibo were found near Jerusalem. They had long lain buried, unknown and neglected, when they were revealed by God to a priest named Lucian. While he was asleep, Gamaliel appeared to him as a venerable and majestic old man, and showed him the spot where the bodies lay, commanding him to go to Bishop John of Jerusalem, and persuade him to give these bodies more honourable burial.

On hearing this, the Bishop of Jerusalem assembled the neighbouring bishops and clergy, and went to the spot indicated. The tombs were found, and from them exhaled a most sweet odour. At the rumour of what had occurred, a great crowd came together, and many of them who were sick and weak from various ailments went away perfectly cured. The sacred body of St. Stephen was then carried with great honour to the holy church of Sion. Under Theodosius the younger it was carried to Constantinople, and from thence it was translated to Rome under Pope Pelagius I and placed in the tomb of St. Laurence the Martyr, in Agro Verano.

What a precious addition to thy history in the sacred books is furnished us, O Protomartyr, by the story of thy finding! We now know who were those ‘Godfearing men who buried Stephen and made great mourning over him.’ Gamaliel, the master of the Doctor of the Gentiles, had been, before his disciple, conquered by our Lord; inspired by Jesus to whom in dying thou didst commend thy soul, he honoured after thy death the humble soldier of Christ with the same cares which had been lavished by Joseph of Arimathea, the noble counsellor, on the Man-God, and laid thy body in the new tomb prepared for himself. Soon Nicodemus, Joseph's companion in the pious work of the great Friday, hunted by the Jews in that persecution in which thou wert the first victim, found refuge near thy sacred relics, and dying a holy death was laid to rest beside thee. The respected name of Gamaliel prevailed over the angry synagogue; while the family of Annas and Caiphas kept in its hands the priestly power through the precarious favour of Rome, the grandson of Hillel left to his descendants pre-eminence in knowledge, and his eldest line remained for four centuries the depositories of the only moral authority then recognized by the dispersed Israelites. But more fortunate was he in having, by hearing the apostles and thyself, O Stephen, passed from the science of shadows to the light of the realities, from the Law to the Gospel, from Moses to Him whom Moses announced; more happy than the eldest born was the beloved son Abibo, baptized with his father at the age of twenty, who, passing away to God, filled the tomb next to thine with the sweet odour of heavenly purity. How touching was the last will of the illustrious father, when, his hour being come, he ordered the grave of Abibo to be opened for himself, that father and son might be seen to be twin brothers born together to the only true light!

The munificence of our Lord had placed thee in death, O Stephen, in worthy company. We give thanks to the noble person who showed thee hospitality for thy last rest; and we are grateful to him for having, at the appointed time, himself broken the silence kept concerning him by the delicate reserve of the Scriptures. Here again we see how the Man-God wills to share His own honours with His chosen ones. Thy sepulchre, like

His, was glorious; and when it was opened, the earth shook, the bystanders believed that heaven had come down; the world was delivered from a desolating drought, and amid a thousand evils hope sprang up once more. Now that our West possesses thy body and Gamaliel has yielded to Laurence the right of hospitality, rise up once more, O Stephen; and together with the great Roman deacon deliver us from the new barbarians, by converting them, or wiping them off the face of the earth given by God to his Christ.


[1] Aviti Epist. ad Palchon, De reliquiis S. Stephani.
[2] Idatii, Marcellini, Sozomenis, Augustini, etc. 3
[3] Mem. Eccl., ii., p. 12.
[4] Luciani Epist ad omnem Ecclesiam, De revelatione S. Stephani.
[5] Aviti Epist.
[6] Severi Epist. ad omnem Eccl., De virtutibus S. Stephani.
[7] Aug. De Civit Dei, xiii. 8, 9.
[8] Sermo 319, al. De diversis 51.
[9] Sermo 316, al. De diversis 94.
[10] Basil Seleuc. Oratio 41, De S. Stephano.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

In that clime

Where springs the pleasant west wind to unfold

The fresh leaves, with which Europe sees herself

New-garmented; nor from those billows far,

Beyond whose chiding, after weary course,

The sun doth sometimes hide him; safe abides

The happy Calaroga under guard

Of the great shield, wherein the lion lies

Subjected and supreme. And there was born

The loving minion of the Christian faith,

The hallowed wrestler, gentle to his own,

And to his enemies terrible. So replete

His soul with lively virtue, that when first

Created, even in the mother's womb,

It prophesied. When, at the sacred font,

The spousals were complete 'twixt faith and him,

Where pledge of mutual safety was exchanged,

The dame, who was his surety, in her sleep

Beheld the wondrous fruit, that was from him

And from his heirs to issue. And that such

He might be construed, as indeed he was,

She was inspired to name him of his owner,

Whose he was wholly; and so called him Dominic.

………………………………………..

O happy father! Felix rightly named.

O favoured mother! rightly named Joanna;

If that do mean as men interpret it.[1]

…………………………………………….

Then, with sage doctrine and goodwill to help,

Forth on his great apostleship he fared,

Like torrent bursting from a lofty vein;

And dashing 'gainst the stocks of heresy,

Smote fiercest, where resistance was most stout.

Thence many rivulets have since been turned,

Over the garden Catholic to lead

Their living waters, and have fed its plants.[2]

This eulogium, truly worthy of heaven, is placed by Dante, in his ‘Paradiso,’ on the lips of the most illustrious son of the poor man of Assisi. In the great poet’s journey through the upper world, it was fitting that Bonaventure should extol the patriarch of the Preachers as in the preceding canto Thomas Aquinas, Dominic’s son, had celebrated the father of the family humbly girt with the cord.

The Providence that governeth the world,

In depth of counsel by created ken

Unfathomable, to the end that she,

Who with loud cries was spoused in precious Blood,

Might keep her footing towards her well-beloved,

Safe in herself and constant unto him,

Hath two ordained, who should on either hand

In chief escort her: one, seraphic all

In fervency; for wisdom upon earth,

The other, splendour of cherubic light.[3]

O Wisdom of the Father, thou wast the one love of both; Francis’ poverty, the true treasure of the soul, and Dominic’s faith, the incomparable light of our exile, are but two aspects of Thee from below, expressing to us, in our time of trial and shadow, Thy adorable beauty. Speaking with no less profoundness and with greater authority, the immortal pontiff Gregory IX says: ‘ The Fountain of Wisdom, the Word of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose nature is goodness, whose work is mercy, does not abandon in the course of ages the vine He has brought out of Egypt; He comes to the aid of wavering souls by new signs, He adapts His wonders to the weakness of the incredulous. When therefore the day was declining towards evening, and while charity was becoming frozen by the abundance of wickedness, the light of justice was beginning to wane, the Father of the family gathered together workmen fitted for the labours of the eleventh hour; to clear His vineyard of the thorns that had overgrown it, and to drive away the multitude of mischievous little foxes that were doing their best to destroy it, He raised up the companies of Friars Preachers and Minors with the chiefs armed for battle.’[4] In this expedition of the Lord of hosts, Dominic was 'His glorious charger, full of fire in his faith, fearlessly neighing by preaching the divine word.’[5] In October we shall see the great share in the combat taken by his brother-at-arms, who appeared as a living standard of Christ crucified, in the midst of a society where the triple concupiscence was in league with every error, striving to overthrow Christianity itself.

Finding everywhere this union of sensuality with heresy, which was henceforth to be the principal strength of false preachers, Dominic, like Francis, prescribed to his sons the most absolute renunciation of this world's goods, and he too became a beggar for Christ's sake. The time was past when the people, rejoicing in all the consequences of the Incarnation, made over to the Man-God the most extensive territorial domain that ever was, and at the same time placed his Vicar at the head of kings. The unworthy descendants of these highminded Christians, after having vainly attempted to humiliate the Bride by subjecting the priesthood to the empire, reproached the Church with possessing those goods of which she was but the depository in the name of our Lord; the time had come for the Dove of the Canticle to begin, by abandoning the earth, her return journey towards heaven.

But if the two leaders of the campaign which arrested for a time the progress of the enemy were but one in their love of holy poverty, this last was the special choice of the Assisian Patriarch. Dominic's more direct means for obtaining the glory of God and the salvation of souls was science; this was his excellent portion, more fertile than that of Caleb's daughter. Less than fifty years after Dominic had bequeathed this inheritance to his descendants, the wisely combined irrigation, by the upper and the nether waters of faith and reason, had brought to full growth the tree of theological science, with its powerful roots and branches loftier than the clouds, whereon the birds of all tribes under heaven loved to perch without fear and gaze upon the sun.

‘The father of the Preachers,’ said the Eternal Father to St. Catherine of Siena, ‘established his principle on the light, by making it his aim and his armour; he took upon him the office of the Word My Son, sowing My word, dispelling darkness, enlightening the earth; Mary, by whom I gave him to the world, made him the extirpator of heresies.[6] In the same way, as we have already seen, spoke the Florentine poet half a century earlier. The order, called to become the chief support of the sovereign pontiff in uprooting pernicious doctrines, ought, if possible, to justify that name even more than its patriarch: the first of the tribunals of Holy Church, the Holy Roman Universal Inquisition, the Holy Office, truly invested with the office of the Word with His two-edged sword, to convert or to chastise, could find no instrument more trusty or more sure.

Little thought the virgin of Siena, or the illustrious author of the ‘Divina Commedia,’ that the chief title of the Dominican family to the grateful love of the people would be discussed in a certain apologetic school, and there discarded as insulting, or dissembled as unpleasant. The present age glories in a liberalism which has given proofs of its power by multiplying ruins, and which rests on no better philosophical basis than a strange confusion between licence and liberty; only such intellectual grovelling could have failed to understand that, in a society which has faith for the basis of its institutions as well as the principle of salvation for all, no crime could equal that of shaking the foundation on which thus rest both social interest and the most precious possession of individuals. Neither the idea of justice, nor still less that of liberty, could consist in leaving to the mercy of evil or evil men the weak who are unable to protect themselves: this truth was the axiom and the glory of chivalry: the brothers of Peter the Martyr devoted their lives to protect the safety of the children of God against the surprises of the strong armed one, and the business that walketh about in the dark:[7] it was the honour of the 'saintly flock led by Dominic along a way where they thrive well who do not go astray.'[8]

Who could be truer knights than those athletes of the faith,[9] taking their sacred vow in the form of allegiance,[10] and choosing for their Lady her who, terrible as an army, alone crushes heresies throughout the whole world? To the buckler of truth and the sword of the word, she who keeps in Sion the armour of valiant men, added for her devoted liegemen the Rosary, the special mark of her own militia; she, as being their true commander-in-chief, assigned them the habit of her choice, and in the person of Blessed Reginald, anointed them with her own hands for the battle. She herself, too, watched over the recruiting of the holy band, attracting to it from among the élite youth of the universities souls the purest, the most generously devoted, and of the noblest intellect. At Paris, the capital of theology, and Bologna, of law and jurisprudence, masters and scholars, disciples of every branch of science, were pursued and overtaken by the sweet Queen amid incidents more heavenly than earthly. How graceful were those beginnings, wherein Dominic's virginal serenity seemed to surround all his children! It was indeed in this the Order of light that the Gospel word was seen verified: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.[11] Eyes enlightened from above beheld the foundations of the Friars Preachers under the figure of fields of lilies; and Mary, by whom the Splendour of eternal Light came down to us, became their heavenly mistress and led them from every science to Wisdom, the friend of pure hearts. She came, accompanied by Cecilia and Catherine, to bless their rest at night, and covered them all with her royal mantle beside the throne of our Lord. After this we are not astonished at the freshness and purity, which continued even after St. Dominic, under the generalship of Jordan of Saxony, Raymund of Pennafort, John the Teuton, and Humbert de Romans, in those 'Lives of the Brethren,' and 'Lives of the Sisters,' so happily handed down to us. It is instructive to note that in the Dominican family, apostolic in its very essence, the Sisters were founded ten years before the Brethren, which shows how, in the Church of God, action can never be fruitful unless preceded and accompanied by contemplation, which obtains for it every blessing and grace.

Notre Dame de Prouille, at the foot of the Pyrenees, was not only by this right of primogeniture the beginning of the whole order; it was here also that the first companions of St. Dominic made with him their choice of a rule, and divided the world amongst them, going from here to found the convents of St. Romanus at Toulouse, St. James at Paris, St. Nicholas at Bologna, St. Sixtus and St. Sabina in the Eternal City. About the same period the establishment of the Militia of Jesus Christ placed under the direction of the Friars Preachers secular persons, who undertook to defend, by all the means in their power, the goods and liberty of the Church against the aggressions of heresy; when the sectaries had laid down their arms, leaving the world in peace for a time, the association did not disappear: it continued to fight with spiritual arms, and changed its name into that of the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic.

Let us read in the Church's book the abridged life of the holy patriarch:

Dominicus, Calarogæ in Hispania ex nobili Guzmanorum familianatus, Palentiæ liberalibus disciplinis et theologiæ operam dedit: quo in studio cum plurimum profecisset, prius Oxomensis ecclesiæ canonicus regularis, deinde ordinis Fratrum Prædicatorum auctor fuit. Hujus mater gravida sibi visa est in quiete continere in alvo catulum ore præferentem facem, qua editus in lucem, orbem terrarum incenderet Quo somnio significabatur, fore ut splendore sanctitatis ac doctrinæ, gentes ad christianam pietatem inflammarentur. Veritatem exitus comprobavit: id enim et præstitit per se, et per sui ordinis socios deinceps est consecutus.

Hujus autem ingenium ac virtus maxime enituit in evertendis hæreticis, qui perni ciosis erroribus Tolosates pervertere conabantur. Quo in negotio septem consumpsit annos. Postea Romam venit ad Lateranense concilium cum episcopo Tolosano, ut ordo, quem instituerat, ab Innocentio tertio confirmaretur. Quæ res dum in deliberatione versatur, Dominicus hortatu pontificis ad suos revertitur, ut sibi regulam deligeret. Romani rediens, ab Honorio tertio, qui proximus Innocentio successerat, confirmationem ordinis Prædicatorum impetrat Romæ autem duo instituit monasteria, alterum virorum, mulierum alterum. Tres etiam mortuos ad vitam revocavit, multaque alia edidit miracula, quibus Ordo Prædicatorum mirifice propagari cœpit.

Verum cum ejus opera ubique terrarum monasteria jam ædifìcarentur, innumerabilesque homines religiosam ac piam vitam instituerent, Bononiæ anno Christi ducentesimo vigesimo primo supra millesimum, in febrem incidit: ex qua cum se moriturum intelligeret, convocatis fratribus et alumnis suæ disciplinæ, eos ad innocentiam et integritatem cohortatus est. Postremo caritatem, humilitatem, paupertatem, tamquam certum patrimonium eis testamento reliquit: fratribusque orantibus, in illis verbis, Subvenite sancti Dei, occurrite Angeli, obdormivit in Domino, octavo idus Augusti: quem postea Gregorius nonus pontifex retulit in sanctorum numerum.
Dominic was born at Calaruega, in Spain, of the noble family of the Guzmans, and went through his liberal and theological studies at Palencia. He made great progress in learning, and became a Canon Regular of the church of Osma, and afterwards instituted the order of Friars Preachers. While his mother was with child, she dreamt she was carrying in her womb a little dog holding a torch in his mouth, with which, as soon as he was born, he would set fire to the world. This dream signified that he would enkindle Christian piety among the nations by the splendour of his sanctity and teaching. Events proved its truth: for he fulfilled the prophecy both in person and later on by the brethren of his order.

His genius and virtue shone forth especially in confounding the heretics who were attempting to infect the people of Toulouse with their baneful errors. He was occupied for seven years in this undertaking. Then he went to Rome for the Council of Lateran, with the Bishop of Toulouse, to obtain from Innocent III the confirmation of the order he had instituted. But while the matter was under consideration that Pope advised Dominic to return to his disciples, and choose a rule. On his return to Rome, he obtained the confirmation of the Order of Preachers from Honorius III, the immediate successor of Innocent. In Rome itself he founded two monasteries, one for men and the other for women. He raised three dead to life, and worked many other miracles, in consequence of which the Order of Preachers began to spread in a wonderful manner.

Monasteries were built by his means in every part of theworld, and through his teaching numbers of men embraced a holy and religious manner of life. At length, in the year of Christ 1221, he fell into a fever at Bologna. When he saw he was about to die, calling together his brethren and children, he exhorted them to innocence and purity of life, and left them as their true inheritance the virtues of charity, humility, and poverty. While the brethren were praying round him, at the words, 'Come to his aid, ye saints of God, run to meet him, O ye angels,' he fell asleep in the Lord, on the eighth of the Ides of August. Pope Gregory IX placed him among the saints.

How many sons and daughters surround thee on the sacred cycle! This very month, Rose of Lima and Hyacinth keep thee company, and thy coming has long since been heralded in the liturgy by Raymund of Pennafort, Thomas Aquinas, Vincent Ferrer, Peter the Martyr, Catherine of Siena, Pius V, and Antoninus. And now at length appears in the firmament the new star whose brightness dispels ignorance, confounds heresy, increases the faith of believers. O Dominic, thy blessed mother, who preceded thee to heaven, now penetrates in all its fulness the happy meaning of that mysterious vision which once excited her fears. And that other Dominic, the glory of ancient Silos, at whose tomb she received the promise of thy blessed birth, rejoices at the tenfold splendour given by thee for all eternity to the beautiful name he bequeathed thee. But what a special welcome dost thou receive from the Mother of all grace, who heretofore, embracing the feet of her angered Son, stood surety that thou wouldst bring back the world to its Saviour! A few years passed away; and error, put to confusion, felt that a deadly struggle was engaged between itself and thy family; the Lateran Church saw its walls, which were threatening to fall, strengthened for a time; and the two princes of the apostles, who had bidden thee go and preach, rejoice that the word has gone forth once more into the whole world.

Stricken with barrenness, the nations, which the Apocalypse likens to great waters, seemed to have become once for all corrupt; the prostitute of Babylon was setting up her throne before the time; when, in imitation of Eliseus, putting the salt of Wisdom into the new vessel of the order founded by thee, thou didst cast this divine salt into the unhealthy waters, neutralize the poison of the beast so soon risen up again, and, in spite of the snares which will never cease, didst render the earth habitable once more. How clearly thy example shows us that they alone are powerful before God and over the people, who give themselves up to Him without seeking anything else, and only give to others out of their own fulness. Despising, as thine historians tell us, every opportunity and every science where eternal Wisdom was not to be seen, thy youth was charmed with her alone; and she, who prevents those that seek her, inundated thee from thy earliest years with the light and the anticipated sweetness of heaven. It is from her that overflowed upon thee that radiant serenity, which so struck thy contemporaries, and which no occurrence could ever alter. In heavenly peace thou didst drink long draughts from the everflowing fountain springing up into eternal life; but while thine inmost soul was thus slaking the thirst of its love, the divine source produced a marvellous fecundity; and its streams becoming thine, thy fountains were conveyed abroad in the streets, thou didst divide thy waters. Thou hadst welcomed Wisdom, and she exalted thee; not content to adorn thy brow with the rays of the mysterious star, she gave thee also the glory of patriarchs, and multiplied thy years and thy works in those of thy sons. In them thou hast not ceased to be one of the strongest stays of the Church. Science has made thy name wonderful among the nations, and because of it their youth is honoured by the ancients; may it ever be for them, as it was for their elders, both the fruit of Wisdom and the way that leads to her; may it be fostered by prayer; for thy holy order so well keeps up the beautiful traditions of prayer as to approach the nearest, in that respect, to the ancient monastic orders. To praise, to bless, and to preach will be to the end its loved motto; for its apostolate must be, according to the word of the Psalm, the overflowing of the abundance of sweetness tasted in communication with God. Thus strengthened in Sion, thus blessed in its glorious rôle of propagator and guardian of the truth, thy noble family will ever deserve to hear, from the mouth of our Lady herself, that encouragement above all praise: ' Fortiter, fortiter, viri fortes!—Courage, courage, ye men of courage!'


[1] Dominic, belonging to the Lord; Felix, happy; Joanna, grace.
[2] Dante, Divina Commedia, Paradiso, Canto xii. (Cary’s translation).
[3] Dante, Paradiso, Canto xi.
[4] Bulla Fons Sapientiæ, de canonizatione S. Dominici.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Dialogue, clviii.
[7] Ps. xc. 6.
[8] Dante, Paradiso, Canto x.
[9] Honorius III., Diploma confirmans ordinem.
[10] Promitto obedientiam Deo et B. Mariæ, Constitutiones Fratr. Ord. Prædicat. 12 Distinctio, cap. xv. de Professione.
[11] St. Matt. v. 8.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

ROME, delivered from slavery by Peter on the first of this month, offers to the world a wonderful spectacle. O Wisdom, who, since the glorious Pentecost, hast spread over the whole world, where could it be more true to sing of thee that thou hast trodden the proud heights under thy victorious feet? On seven hills had pagan Rome set up her pageantry and built temples to her false gods; seven churches now appear at the summits on which purified Rome rests her now truly eternal foundations.

By their very site, the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, of St. Laurence and St. Sebastian, placed at the four outer angles of the city of the Cæsars, recall the long siege continued for three centuries around the ancient Rome, while the new Rome was being founded. Helena and her son Constantine, recommencing the work of the foundations of the Holy City, carried the trenches further out; nevertheless, the churches which were their own peculiar work—viz., Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and St. Saviour's on the Lateran, are still at the very entrance of the pagan stronghold, close to the gates, and leaning against the ramparts; just as a soldier, setting foot within a tremendous fortress which has been long invested, advances cautiously, surveying both the breach through which he has just passed, and the labyrinth of unknown paths opening before him.

Who will plant the standard of Sion in the centre of Babylon? Who will force the enemy into his last retreat, and casting out the vain idols, set up his palace in their temples? O thou to whom was said this word of the Most High: Thou art My Son, I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, thou mighty One with thy sharp arrows routing armies, listen to the cry reechoing from the whole redeemed world: With thy comeliness and thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign! But the Son of the Most High has a Mother on earth; the song of the Psalmist inviting Him to the triumph extols also the Queen standing at His right hand in a vesture of gold; if it is from His Father that He holds His power, it is from His Mother that He receives His crown, and He leaves her in return the spoils of the mighty. Go forth, then, ye daughters of the new Sion, and behold King Solomon in the diadem wherewith his Mother crowned him on the joyful day, when, taking possession through her of the capital of the world, he espoused the Gentile race.

Truly that was a day of joy, when Mary, in the name of Jesus, claimed her right as sovereign and heiress of the Roman soil! To the East, at the highest point of the Eternal City, she appeared on that blessed morning literally like the rising dawn; beautiful as the moon shining by night; more powerful than the August sun, surprised to see her tempering his heat, and doubling the brightness of his light with her mantle of snow; more terrible than an army; for from that date, daring what neither apostles nor martyrs had attempted, and what Jesus Himself would not do without her, she dispossessed the deities of Olympus of their usurped thrones. As was fitting, the haughty Juno whose altar disgraced the Esquiline, the false queen of these lying gods, was the first to flee before Mary's face, leaving the splendid columns of her polluted sanctuary to the only true Queen of earth and heaven.

Forty years had passed since the days of St. Sylvester, when the ' image of our Saviour, depicted on the walls of the Lateran, appeared for the first time to the Roman people.’[1] Rome, still half pagan, beheld to-day the Mother of our Saviour; under the influence of the pure symbol, at which she gazed in surprise, she felt die down within her the evil ardour which made her once the scourge of nations, whereas now she was to become their mother; and in the joy of her renewed youth she beheld her once sullied hills covered with the white garment of the Bride.

Even from the times of the apostolic preaching, the elect, who gathered in large numbers in Rome in spite of herself, knew Mary and paid to her in those days of martyrdom a homage such as no other creature could ever receive; witness in the catacombs those primitive frescoes of our Lady, either alone or holding her divine Child, but always seated, receiving from her place of honour the praise, messages, prayers, or gifts of prophets, archangels, and kings.[2] In the Trastevere, where in the reign of Augustus a mysterious fountain of oil had sprung up, announcing the coming of the Anointed of the Lord, Callixtus in 222 had built a church in honour of her who is ever the true fons olei, the source whence sprang Christ, and together with him all unction and all grace. The basilica raised by Liberius, the beloved of our Lady, on the Esquiline, was not, then, the most ancient monument dedicated by the Christians of Rome to the Mother of God; but it at once took, and has always kept, the first place among our Lady's churches in the city, and indeed in the world, on account of the solemn and miraculous circumstances of its origin.

Hast thou entered, said the Lord to Job, into the storehouses of the snow, or hast thou beheld the treasures of the hail; which I have prepared for the time of the enemy, against the day of battle and war?[3] On August 5, then, at God's command, the treasures were opened and the snow was scattered like birds lighting upon the earth, and its coming was the signal for the lightnings of His judgments upon the gods of the nations. The Tower of David now dominates over all the towers of the earthly city; from her impregnable position our Lady will never cease her victorious sallies till she has taken the last hostile fort. How beautiful will thy steps be in these warlike expeditions, O daughter of the prince, O Queen, whose standard, by the will of thine adorable Son, must wave over the whole world rescued from the power of the cursed serpent! The ignominious goddess, overthrown from her impure pedestal by one glance of thine, left Rome still dishonoured by the presence of many vain idols. But thou, all conquering Lady, didst continue thy triumphal march. The Church of St. Mary in Ara cœli replaced, on the Capitol, the odious temple of Jupiter; the sanctuaries and groves dedicated to Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, and Proserpine hastened to take the title of one who had been shown in their fabulous history under disfigured and degraded forms. The deserted Pantheon awaited the day when it was to receive the noble and magnificent name of St. Mary ad Martyres. What a preparation for thy glorious Assumption is the series of earthly triumphs which this day inaugurates! The basilica of St. Mary of the Snow, called also of Liberius, from its founder, and also of Sixtus, after Sixtus III, who restored it, owed to this last the honour of becoming the monument of the divine Maternity proclaimed at Ephesus; the name of St. Mary Mother, which it received on that occasion, became, under Theodore I, who enriched it with the most precious relic, St. Mary of the Crib: all these noble titles were afterwards gathered into that of St. Mary Major, which is amply justified by the facts we have related, by universal devotion, and by the pre-eminence always assigned to it by the sovereign pontiffs. Though the last in order of time of the seven churches upon which Christian Rome is founded, it nevertheless ranked in the middle ages next to that of St. Saviour; in the procession of the greater Litanies on April 25 the ancient Roman Ordo assigned to the Cross of St. Mary’s its place between that of St. Peter’s and that of the Lateran.[4] The important and numerous liturgical Stations appointed at the basilica on the Esquiline testify to the devotion of the Romans and of all Catholics towards it. It was honoured by having councils celebrated and Vicars of Christ elected within its walls; the pontiffs for a time made it their residence, and were accustomed on the Ember Wednesdays, when the Station is always held there, to publish the names of the Cardinal Deacons or Cardinal Priests whom they had resolved to create.[5]

As to the annual solemnity of its dedication, which is the object of the present feast, there can be no doubt that it was celebrated on the Esquiline at a very early date. It was, however, not yet kept by the whole Church in the thirteenth century; for Gregory IX, in the bull of canonization of St. Dominic, whose death occurred on August 6, anticipated his feast on the fifth of the month, as being at that time vacant, whereas the sixth was already occupied, as we shall see to-morrow, by another solemnity. It was Paul IV who in 1558 definitely fixed the feast of the holy founder on August 4; and the reason he gives is, that the feast of St. Mary of the Snow having since been made universal and taking precedence of the other, the honour due to the holy patriarch might be put in the shade if his feast continued to be kept on the same day. The breviary of St. Pius V soon after promulgated to the entire world the office, of which the following is the legend:

Liberio summo Pontifice, Joannes patricius Romanus, et uxor pari nobilitate, cum liberos non suscepissent, quos bonorum hæredes relinquerent, suam hæreditatem sanctissimæ Virgini Dei Matri voverunt, ab ea summis precibus assidue petentes, ut in quod pium opus eam pecuniam potissimum erogari vellet, aliquo modo significaret. Quorum preces et vota exanimo facta beata Virgo Maria benigne audiens, miraculo comprobavit.

Nonis igitur augusti, quo tempore in urbe maximi calores esse solent, noctu nix partem collis Exquilini contexit. Qua nocte Dei Mater separatim Joannem et conjugem in somnis admonuit, ut quem locum nive conspersum viderent, in eo ecclesiam ædificarent, quæ Mariæ Virginis nomine dedicaretur: se enim ita velie ab ipsis hæredem institui. Quod Joannes ad Liberium pontificem detulit, qui idem per somnium sibi contigisse affirmavit.

Quare solemni sacerdotum et populi supplicatione ad collem venit nive coopertum, et in eo locum ecclesiædesignavit, qua Joannis et uxoris pecunia exstructa est, postea a Xysto tertio restituta. Variis nominibusprimum est appellata, basilica Liberii, sancta Maria ad Præsepe. Sed cum multa jam essent in urbe ecclesia sub nomine sanctæ Maria Virginis: ut qua basilica novitate miraculi ac dignitate cæteris ejusdem nominis basilicis præstaret, vocabuli etiam excelientia significaretur, ecclesia sanctæ Maria majoris dicta est. Cujus dedicationis memoria ex nive, quæ hac die mirabiliter cecidit, anniversaria celebritate colitur.
Under the pontificate of Liberius, John, a Roman patrician, and his wife, who was of an equally noble race, having no children to whom they might leave their estates, vowed their whole fortune to the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, begging her most earnestly and continually to make known to them by some means in what pious work she wished them to employ the money. The Blessed Virgin Mary graciously heard their heartfelt prayers and vows, and answered them by a miracle.

On the Nones of August, usually the hottest time of the year in Rome, a part of the Esquiline hill was covered with snow during the night. That same night the Mother of God appeared in a dream to John and his wife separately, and told them to build a church on the spot they should find covered with snow, and to dedicate it to the Virgin Mary; for it was in this manner that she wished to become their heiress. John related this to Pope Liberius, who said he had dreamt the same thing.

He went, therefore, with a solemn procession of priests and people to the snow-clad hill, and chose the site of a church, which was built with the money of John and his wife. It was afterwards rebuilt by Sixtus III. At first it was called by different names, the Liberian basilica, St. Mary at the Crib. But, since there are many churches in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as this one surpasses all other basilicas in dignity and by its miraculous beginning, it is distinguished from them also by its title of St. Mary Major. On account of the miraculous fall of snow, the anniversary of the dedication is celebrated by a yearly solemnity.

What recollections, O Mary, does this feast of thy greatest basilica awaken within us! And what worthier praise, what better prayer, could we offer thee to-day than to remind thee of the graces we have received within its precincts, and implore thee to renew them and confirm them for ever? United with our MotherChurch in spite of distance, have we not, under its shadow, tasted the sweetest and most triumphant emotions of the cycle now verging on to its term?

On the first Sunday of Advent it was here that we began the year, as in the place 'most suitable for saluting the approach of the Divine Birth, which was to gladden heaven and earth and manifest the sublime portent of a Virgin Mother.’[6] Our hearts were overflowing with desire on that holy Vigil, when from early morning we were invited to the bright basilica where the ‘mystical Rose was soon to bloom and fill the world with its fragrance. The grandest of all the churches which the people of Rome have erected in honour of the Mother of God, it stood before us rich in its marble and gold, but richer still in possessing, together with the portrait of our Lady painted by St. Luke, the humble yet glorious Crib of Jesus, of which the inscrutable designs of God have deprived Bethlehem. During that blessed night an immense concourse of people assembled in the basilica awaiting the happy moment when that monument of the love and the humiliation of a God was to be brought in, carried on the shoulders of the priests as an ark of the New Covenant, whose welcome sight gives the sinner confidence and makes the just man thrill with joy.’[7] Alas! a few months passed away, and we were again in the noble sanctuary, this time compassionating our ‘holy Mother, whose heart was filled with poignant grief at the foresight of the sacrifice which was preparing.’[8] But soon the august basilica was filled once more with new joys, when Rome 'justly associated with the Paschal solemnity the memory of her who, more than all other creatures, had merited its joys, not only because of the exceptional share she had had in all the sufferings of Jesus, but also because of the unshaken faith wherewith, during those long and cruel hours of His lying in the tomb, she had awaited His Resurrection.’[9] Dazzling as the snow which fell from heaven to mark the place of thy predilection on earth, O Mary, a white-robed band of neophytes coming up from the waters formed thy graceful court and enhanced the triumph of that great day. Obtain for them and for us all, O Mother, affections as pure as the white marble columns of thy loved church, charity as bright as the gold glittering on its ceiling, works shining as the Paschal Candle, that symbol of Christ the conqueror of death, which offered thee the homage of its first flames.


[1] Lectiones ii. Noct in Dedic. Basilicæ Salvatoris.
[2] Cemeteries of Priscilla, of Nereus and Achilleus, etc.
[3] Job xxxviii. 22, 23.
[4] Museum Italicum: Joan. Diac. Lib. de Eccl., Lateran XVI, de Episcopis et Cardinal, per patriarchatus dispositis; Romani Ordin. xi., xii.
[5] Paulus de Angelis, Basilicæ S. Mariæ Maj., descriptio vi, v.
[6] Advent, p. 123.
[7] Christmas, Vol. I., pp. 140, 141.
[8] Passiontide, p. 276. Station of Wednesday in Holy Week.
[9] Paschal Time, Vol. I, p. 157.

 

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