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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Clouds are gathering over Holy Church. We are reminded on every side of the approach of those days when our Emmanuel will show Himself to us in the pitiable state to which our sins have brought Him. Bethlehem is so soon followed by Calvary. We shall find the Mother of divine grace at the foot of the Cross as we found her at Ephrata. She brought forth her firstborn in joy, but now in tears she is to bring forth those brothers of His whose birth cost her so much. We have shared her joy, and we shall not refuse to weep and suffer with her.

Let us take for our models the saints whom the Church honours to-day. They passed their lives in the contemplation of our Lady’s sorrows, and the Order which they founded has the special mission to spread this devotion. St. Francis of Assisi raised the standard of the Cross anew in a world grown cold. The work of redemption seemed to be taken up afresh, and, as on the great Friday Jesus would not manifest Himself without Mary, the Servites completed the work of the Founder of the Friars Minor. Men regained confidence as they meditated on the Passion of the Son and the Compassion of the Mother.

The two feasts consecrated to the Dolours of our Lady will teach us in due course what place her compassion had in the economy of the Redemption. The Queen of heaven herself showed her predilection for the Order which made itself her apostle, in the striking outpouring of holiness which marked its origin. The simultaneous blooming of seven lilies, gathered on earth to-day by the angels, was a sight new even to heaven. Peter of Verona had a vision of them when they were implanting themselves on Monte Senario; and the future martyr saw the blessed Virgin smile as she gazed on that mountain where countless other flowers sprang up to perfume holy Church. Florence, the city of flowers, had never before given such blooms to God. Hell multiplied its attacks against the noble city, but could not prevail against Mary within its walls. We shall be reminded of these things by the feasts of St. Juliana Falconieri and St. Philip Benizi, which were established before the one we are keeping to-day. Let us unite our gratitude to that which the Church feels for the Religious family of the Servites. The world owes to them the grace of a new development in the knowledge and love of the Mother of God, who became our Mother at the price of unparalleled sufferings.

The lessons read by the Church on this day speak of the merits of our Saints and the favours with which our Lady rewarded their fidelity. February 11, the day first chosen as their common feast, is not the anniversary of the death of any one of them, but the day on which, in the year 1304, after passing through many vicissitudes, their Order obtained the definitive approbation of the Church.

Sæculo tertio decimo, cum Friderici secundi diro schismate, cruentisque factionibus cultiores Italiæ populi scinderentur, providens Dei misericordia præter alios sanctitate illustres, septem e Fiorentina nobilitate viros suscitavit, qui in caritate conjuncti, præclarum fraternæ dilectionis præberent exemplum. Hi, nimirum, Bonfilius Monaldius, Bonajuncta Manettus, Manettus Antelensis, Amedeus de Amideis, Uguccio Uguccionum, Sostenus de Sosteneis et Alexius Falconerius, cum anno trigesimo tertio ejus sæculi, die sacra cælo Virgini receptæ, in quodam piorum hominum conventu, Laudantium nuncupato, ferventius orarent; ab eadem Deipara singulis apparente sunt admoniti, ut sanctius perfectiusque vitæ genus amplecterentur. Re itaque prius cum Florentino præsule collata, hi septem viri, generis nobilitate divitiisque posthabitis, sub vilissimis detritisque vestibus cilicio induti, octava die Septembris in ruralem quamdam ædiculam secessere, ut ea die primordia vitæ sanctioris auspicarentur, qua ipsa Dei Genitrix mortalibus orta sanctissimam vitam inceperat.

Hoc vitæ institutum quam sibi foret acceptum Deus miraculo ostendit. Nam cum paulo deinceps hi septem viri per Florentinam urbem ostiatim eleemosynam emendicarent, accidit, ut repente infantium voce, quos inter fuit sanctus Philippus Benitius quintum ætatis mensem vix ingressus, beatæMariæ Servi acelamarentur: quo deinde nomine semper appellati sunt. Quare, vitandi populi occursus ac solitudinis amore ducti in Senarii montis recessu omnes convenere, ibique cæleste quoddam vitæ genus aggressi sunt. Victitabant enim in speluncis, sola aqua herbisque contenti: vigiliis aliisque asperitatibus corpus attenebant: Christi passionem ac mœstissimæ ejusdem Genitricis dolores assidue meditantes. Quod quum olim sacra Parasceves die impensius exsequerentur, ipsa beata Virgo illis iterato apparens, lugubrem vestem quam induerent, ostendit, sibique acceptissimum fore significavit, ut novum in Ecclesia regularem Ordinem excitarent, qui jugem recoleret ac promoveret memoriam dolorum, quos ipsa pertulit sub cruce Domini. Hæc sanctus Petrus, inclytus Ordinis Prædicatorum martyr, ex familiari cum sanctis illis viris consuetudine ac peculiari etiam Deiparæ visione quum didicisset; iis auctor fuit ut Ordinem Regularem sub appellatione Servorum beatæ Virginis instituerent; qui postea ab Innocentio quarto Pontifice Maximo approbatus fuit.

Porro sancti illi viri, quum plures sibi socios adjunxissent, Italiæ civitates atque oppida, præsertim Etruriæ, excurrere cœperunt, prædicantes ubique Christum cruci fixum, civiles discordias compescentes, et innumeros fere devios ad virtutis semitam revocantes. Neque Italiam modo, sed et Galliam, Germaniam ac Poloniam suis evangelicis laboribus excoluerunt. Denique quum bonum Christi odorem longe lateque diffudissent, portentorum quoque gloria illustres, migrarunt ad Dominum. Sed quos unus veræ fraternitatis ac religionis amor in vita scoiaverat, unum pariter demortuos contexit sepulchrum, unaque populi veneratio prosecuta est. Quapropter Clemensundecimus et Benedictus decimus tertius Pontifices Maximi delatum iisdem a pluribus sæculis individuum cultum confirmarunt: ac Leo decimus tertius, approbatis antea miraculis, post indultam venerationem ad collectivam earumdem invocationem a Deo patratis, eosdem anno quinquagesimo sacerdotii sui Sanctorum honoribus cumulavit eorumque memoriam Officio ac Missa in universa Ecclesia quotannis recolendam instituit.
When in the thirteenth century the most cultured peoples of Italy were divided by factions, and the schism fostered by Frederic II, the merciful providence of God raised up many persons remarkable for their holiness, among whom were seven noble Florentines whose union of spirit gave to the world a striking example of fraternal love. They were Bonfilius Monaldi, Bonagiunta Manetti, Manettus dell' Antella, Amadeus de Amadei, Hugo Lippi, Gerard Sostegni, and Alexis Falconieri. The Mother of God appeared to each of them on the feast of her Assumption, 1233, when they were praying fervently in the Chapel of the pious Confraternity of the Laudesi, and exhorted them to embrace a more perfect life. They took counsel with the Bishop of Florence, and at once bade farewell to their wealth and rank, clothing themselves in hair cloth and old and ragged garments. On September 8 they established themselves in a humble retreat outside the city, desiring to begin their new life on the day when the Mother of God began her own most holy life upon earth.

God showed by a miracle that their resolution was pleasing to him. One day shortly afterwards, when all seven were begging from door to door in Florence, they were hailed by the voices of children, among whom was St. Philip Benizi, then only five months old, as the “Servants of Mary,” which was for the future to be their title. This prodigy and their love of solitude led them to choose Monte Senario as a place of retreat, that thus they might avoid great concourse of people. Their life was truly heavenly. They lived in caves, took no food but herbs and water, and subdued their bodies by vigils and penances. The Passion of Christ and the Dolours of his afflicted Mother were the subject of their continual meditations. One Good Friday, when they were absorbed in fervent prayer, the blessed Virgin appeared to them all in person a second time, showed them the sombre habit they were to adopt, and told them that she wished them to found a new Order of Religious, whose mission was to cultivate and spread devotion to the sorrows which she endured at the foot of the Cross. They were aided in this work by Peter, an illustrious Friar Preacher, who died the death of a martyr. He was their intimate friend, and had been instructed about the new Order in a vision by the blessed Virgin herself. The Order received the name of Servites, or Servants of the blessed Virgin Mary, and was approved by Innocent IV.

The holy Founders were soon joined by many disciples, and began to preach Christ Crucified in the towns and cities of Italy, especially in Tuscany. They brought civil feuds to an end, and recalled numbers of sinners to the paths of virtue. Not only Italy, but France, Germany, and Poland benefited by their apostolic labours, and their miracles made them famous. Finally, after having carried the good odour of Christ into distant lands, they went to God. In life they were one in their love of religion and of the brotherhood, in death they wore united in one tomb and in the veneration of the people. Popes Clement XI. and Benedict XIII. confirmed the cultus which had been paid to them unitedly for many centuries. Leo XIII., having approved this devotion, and recognized the miracles wrought by God in answer to this collective invocation, proceeded to their formal canonization in the fiftieth year of his priesthood, and ordered that their Office and Mass should be said every year throughout the Church.

You made the sorrows of Mary your own, and now she shares her eternal joys with you. The vine with its miraculously ripening grapes, which prefigured your fruitfulness in a frozen world, still yields a sweet odour in this land of exile, and the faithful still appreciate its fruit. Philip and Juliana have long been honoured as branches of this blessed vine, and to-day we pay our homage to the sevenfold root from which they sprang. You rejoiced in the obscurity which covered the life upon earth of the Queen of saints herself, but to-day the glory of Mary pierces all clouds, and no shadow can withdraw the servants from the radiance which surrounds the Mistress. May your glory be increased by the favours you bestow upon men! Teach an aged world to seek warmth at the fire whence you draw a love strong enough to triumph over the world and sacrifice self for God.

O Heart of Mary, pierced by the sword of sorrow, furnace of love which throughout all eternity feeds the fires of the very Seraphim, be our model, our refuge, and our consolation until the dawn of that blissful day which is to be the end of our exile in this vale of tears.

 

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

My bow shall appear in the clouds and I will remember My covenant with you.[1]

The lessons at Matins on February 11, 1854 (Thursday in Sexagesima week) recalled these words, and the world soon learned that on this very day Mary had appeared, more fair than the sign of hope which typified her at the time of the deluge.

Portents, the realization of which we see in these days, were being multiplied. Mankind had grown old, and seemed about to perish in a deluge more dreadful than the former one. ‘I am the Immaculate Conception,’ said the Mother of divine grace to the humble child whom she chose at such a time to bear her message to the captain of the Ark of salvation. She pierced the gathering darkness with the light of that sublime privilege which the supreme pilot, to his eternal glory, had declared three years before to be dogma.

Indeed, if, as the beloved disciple says, it is our faith to which victory on earth is promised,[2] and if faith is nourished by light—what individual dogma is there which so presupposes and recalls all other dogmatic truths, and at the same time throws such light upon them? It is a royal crown on the brow of the victorious queen, resplendent like the rainbow which breaks through the clouds with all the glories of heaven.

But perchance it was still necessary to open the eyes of the blind to these splendours, to inspire courage into hearts saddened by hell’s denials, and to infuse strength to make an act of faith into so many understandings weakened by the education of these days. The Immaculate Virgin summoned the multitudes to the scene of her blessed visit, and both sweetly and strongly succoured the weakness of souls by healing bodies. She smiled upon publicity, welcomed investigation, and confirmed by the authority of miracles her own words and the definition of the Vicar of Christ.

The Psalmist said that the works of God tell His praises in all tongues,[3] and St. Paul taxes with folly and impiety those who will not accept this testimony.[4] So, too, we may say that the men of these times have no excuse if they do not recognize the blessed Virgin in her works. May she extend the field of her beneficence and take pity on that worst of diseases—that weakness of soul which refuses to see out of a secret fear of the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, and struggles against the truth until the mind is filled with contradictions and the heart with darkness, so that it seems as though the reason itself were given over to that reprobate sense[5] which St. Paul describes as striking the pagans in their flesh.

The things that take place at Lourdes are as famous as any events of contemporary history. Let us listen to the short account which the Church has enshrined in the Liturgy:

Anno quarto a dogmatica definitione de immaculato beatæ Virginis Conceptu, ad Gavi fluminis oram prope oppidnm Lourdes Diœcesis Tarbiensis in Gallia, ipsa Virgo in rupis sinu super specum Massabielle puellæ cuidam, vernacula lingua Bernadette nuncupatæ, pauperrimæ quidem, sed ingenuæ ac piæ, pluries se conspiciendam obtulit. Immaculata Virgo juvenili ac benigno videbaturaspectu, nivea veste niveoque pallio contecta, ac zona cærulea succincta: nudos pedes aurea rosa ornabat. Primo apparitionis die, qui fuit undecimus Februarii anno millesimo octingentesimo quinquagesimo octavo, puellam signum crucis rite pieque faciendum edocuit, atque ad sacri rosarii recitationem, exemplo suo, coronam, quæ prius ex brachio demissa pendebat, manu advoleus, excitavit: quod in ceteris etiam apparitionibus præstitit. Altera autem apparitionis die, puella in simplicitate cordis sui, diabolicam fraudem timens, lustralem aquam in Virginem effudit: sed beata Virgo, leniter arridens, benigniorem illi vultum ostendit. Cum vero tertio apparuisset, puellam ad specum per quindecim dies invitavit. Exinde eam sæpius est alloquuta, ac pro peccatoribus orare, terram deosculari, pœnitentiamque agere est hortata: deinde imperavit ut sacerdotibus ediceret, ædificandutn ibi esse sacellum, solemnisque supplicationis more illo accedendum. Mandavit insuper ut e fonte, qui sub arena adhuc latebat sed mox erat erupturus, aquam biberet eaque se abstergeret. Denique die festo Annuntiationis, percontanti enixo puellæ illius nomen, cujus aspectu toties dignata fuerat, Virgo admotis pectori manibus elatisque in cælum oculis, respondit: Immaculata Conceptio ego sum.

Percrebrescente fama bencficiorum, quæ in sacro specu recepisse fideles dicebantur, augebatur in dies hominum concursus, quos loci religio ad specum advocabat. Itaque prodigiorum fama puellæque candore motus Tarbiensis episcopus, quarto ab enarratis anno, post juridicam factorum inquisitionem, eupernaturales esse apparitionis notas sua sententia probavit, cultumque Virginis Immaculatæ in eodem specu permisit. Mox ædificatum sacellum: ex illa die pene innumeræ fidelium turbæ, voti ac supplicationis causa, ex Gallia, Belgio, Italia, Hispania, ceterisque Europæ provinciis necnon ex longinquis Americæ regionibus quovis anno illuc adveniunt, nomenque Immaculatæ de Lourdes ubique terrarum inclarescit. Fontis aqua in cunctas orbis partes delata, ægris sanitatem restituit. Orbis vero catholicus tantorum memor benefactorum, ædes sacras mirabili opere ibi exstruxit. Vexilla innumera, acceptorum beneficiorum veluti monumenta, illuc a civitatibus ac gentibus missa, ædem Virginis miro ornatu decorant. In hac sua veluti sede Immaculata Virgo jugiter colitur; interdiu quidem precibus, religioso cantu solemnibusque aliis cæremoniis; noctu vero sacris illis supplicationibus, quibus infinitæ propemodum peregrinantium turbæ cereis facibusque accensis procedunt et laudes beatæ Virginis concinunt.

Peregrinationes hujusmodi fidem frigescente sæculo excitasse, animum ad christianam legem profitendam addidisse, cultumque Virginis immaculatæ mirum in modum auxisse, omnibus compertum est. In qua mirabili fidei professione Christianus populus sacerdotes veluti duces habet, qui illuc suas plebes adducunt. Ipsi etiam sacrorum Antistites sanctum locum frequenter adeunt, peregrinationibus præsunt, solemnioribusque festis intersunt. Nec adeo rarum est ipsos RomanæEcclesiæ Purpuratos Patres humili peregrinorum more accedentes conspicere. Ipsi quoque Romani Pontifices, pro sua erga Immaculatam de Lourdes pietate, sacram ædem donis nobilissimis cumularunt. Pius nonus, sacris indulgentiis, Archiconfraternitatis privilegio ac minoris Basilicæ titulo ipsam insignivit; ac Deiparæ imaginem ibidem cultam, solemni ritu per Legatum suum Apostolicum in Gallia diademate distinctam voluit. Leo vero decimus tertius innumera etiam contulit beneficia, indulgentias ad modum Jubilæi vigesimo quinto Apparitionis anno vertente concessit, peregrinationes sua auctoritate verboque provexit, ac solemnem Ecclesiæ sub titulo Rosarii dedicationem suo nomine peragi curavit. Quorum beneficiorum amplitudinem cumulavit, cum plurium Episcoporum rogatu,solemne festum sub titulo Apparitionis beatæ Mariæ Virginis Immaculatæ proprio Officio et propria Missa celebrandum benigne conoessit. Tandem Pins decimus Pontifex Maximus pro sua erga Deiparam pietate, ac plurimomm votis annuens sacrorum Antistitum, idem festum ad Ecclesiam universam extendit.
In the fourth year after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the blessed Virgin vouchsafed to appear on several occasions to a poor but pious and innocent child named Bernadette, in a rocky cavern overlooking the grotto of Massabielle on the banks of the Gave near the town of Lourdes in the diocese of Tarbes in France. She showed herself as a young and gracious figure, robed in white, with a white veil and blue girdle, and golden roses on her bare feet. At the first apparition on February 11, 1858, she taught the child to make the sign of the Cross correctly and devoutly, and, taking a chaplet from her own arm, encouraged her by example to say her rosary. This was repeated at subsequent apparitions. On the second day, Bernadette, who feared an illusion of the devil, in all simplicity cast holy water at the apparition, who smiled more graciously than before. At the third apparition Bernadette was invited to repeat her visits to the grotto for fifteen days, during which the blessed Virgin conversed with her, exhorted her to pray for sinners, kiss the ground and do penance, and finally commanded her to tell the priests that a chapel was to be built in the place and processions held. She was also bidden drink and wash in the water, and a spring, until then invisible, gushed out of the ground. On the feast of the Annunciation, the child earnestly begged the Lady who had so often visited her to reveal her name, and the blessed Virgin, joining her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, said: 'I am the Immaculate Conception.’

Rumours of favours received at the holy grotto spread rapidly, and the crowds of devout visitors increased daily, so that the Bishop of Tarbes, who had been impressed by the candour of Bernadette, found it advisable to hold a judicial enquiry into the facts. In the course of the fourth year he gave sentence, recognizing the supernatural character of the apparition, and permitting devotions to our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception to be held in the grotto. A chapel was soon built, and since then every year has witnessed innumerable pilgrimages from France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and all parts of Europe and America. The name of Our Lady of Lourdes has become famous all over the world, and cures are obtained everywhere by use of the water. Lourdes has been enriched by a grateful world with splendidly decorated churches, where countless banners bear witness to the favours received and to the desire of peoples and cities to adorn the house of the blessed Virgin, who is honoured there as in her own palace. The days are filled with prayers, hymns and solemn ceremonies, and the nights are sanctified by the pious supplications of countless people who walk in procession carrying torches, and singing the praises of the blessed Virgin Mary.

All men know how, in spite of the coldness of the world, these pilgrimages have revived faith, restored the observance of the Christian religion, and increased devotion to the Immaculate Virgin. The Faithful are led by their priests in this marvellous development of faith and devotion. The Bishops make frequent visits to the holy spot, lead pilgrimages, and take part in the ceremonies, and the Cardinals of Holy Church are often seen in the humble quality of pilgrims. The Roman Pontiffs have shown their devotion to our Lady of Lourdes, and have bestowed remarkable favours on her sanctuary. Pius IX. enriched it with indulgences, gave it the privilege of an Archconfraternity and the title of minor basilica, and delegated the Apostolic Nuncio in France to crown in his name the statue of the Mother of God. Leo XIII. also granted many favours, including the jubilee of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apparition. He encouraged pilgrimages, and ordained that the consecration of the Rosary Church should be performed in his name. Moreover, he crowned all these favours by conceding, at the request of many bishops, the celebration of a solemn feast under the title of the Apparition of Our Lady Immaculate, with a proper Office and Mass. Finally, Pius X., out of devotion to the Mother of God, granted the petition of many prelates that this feast should be extended to the Universal Church.

‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!’ Thou didst teach us this prayer in 1830 as a safeguard against the dangers of the future. In 1846 the two shepherds of La Salette reminded us of thy tears and exhortations: ‘Pray for poor sinners, pray for the world which is so disturbed.’ To-day the little seer of the grotto of Massabielle brings us thy message: ‘Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!’

We desire to obey thee, O blessed Virgin, to combat in ourselves and all around us that enemy of mankind who is our only real enemy, and sin, that supreme evil which is the source of all others. Praise be to the Almighty, who saved thee from all stain of sin, and thus inaugurated in thee the full restoration of our fallen race. Praise be to thee, who, having no debts of thy own, didst pay our debts with the Blood of thy Son and the tears of His Mother, thus reconciling heaven and earth and crushing the head of the serpent.

Prayer, expiation—the Church from apostolic times has ever urged these thoughts upon us during the days which immediately precede Lent. Dear Mother in heaven, we bless thee for having thus united thy voice to that of our Mother on earth. The world no longer desired, no longer understood, the infallible but indispensable remedy offered by the justice and mercy of God to the misery of man.

Men seemed to have forgotten the words: 'Except you do penance, you shall all perish.’[6] Thy pity wakes us from this fatal stupor, O Mary. Thou knowest our weakness, and hast mingled sweetness in the bitter draught. Thou lavishest temporal favours upon man in order that he may ask of thee eternal blessings. We will not be like those children who welcome their mother’s caresses, but neglect her admonitions and the corrections which her tenderness sought to make acceptable. We will pray and suffer in union with Jesus and thee. By thine assistance during this Lent we will be converted and do penance.

 


[1] Gen. ix. 14-15.
[2] 1 John v. 4.
[3] Ps. xviii. 2-5.
[4] Rom. i. 18-22.
[5] Ibid. i. 28.
[6] Luke xiii. 5.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.[1]

These words, addressed to the serpent in the days which the Church now seeks to bring before the minds of her children, have dominated the world’s history. The woman, who was the first to fall victim to Satan’s deceits, was, in Mary, the first to rise. In her Immaculate Conception, in her virginal motherhood, in her offering of the new Adam to God on the mount of expiation, the new Eve made the enemy of mankind feel the power of her victorious foot; and so the rebel angel, who by man’s complicity has become the prince of this world, has never ceased to direct against the woman who has triumphed over him the united forces of his double empire, over the legions of hell and the children of darkness. Mary in heaven continues the conflict she began on earth. As queen of the blessed spirits and of the children of light she leads to battle as one army the heavenly hosts and the battalions of the Church Militant. The triumph of these faithful soldiers is that of their sovereign lady—it is a continual crushing of the head of the father of lies by the defeat of error and the exaltation of truth, the victory of the Divine Word, who is both Son of Mary and Son of God.

But the connection between the victory of the Divine Word and the triumph of his glorious Mother has never been more manifest than in the combats sustained by the Pontiff whom we are to honour today. Cyril of Alexandria is the Doctor of the Divine Maternity as his predecessor Athanasius was that of the Consubstantiality of the Word. The dogma of the Incarnation is founded upon these two ineffable mysteries, which they confessed and defended in two succeeding centuries. As Son of God Christ must be consubstantial with the Father, for the infinite simplicity of the divine essence excludes all idea of division. To deny the unity of substance and principle in Jesus, the Divine Word, was to deny His divinity. As Son of Man, as well as true God of true God, Jesus was to be born on earth of a daughter of Adam, and yet in His humanity be still one Person with the Word which is consubstantial with the Father. To deny the personal union of the two natures in Christ was again equivalent to denying His divinity; it was also equivalent to declaring that the Blessed Virgin, who until then had been honoured as having given birth to God in the nature which He assumed for our salvation, was only the mother of a man.

Three centuries of persecution had not been able to wring from the Church a denial of the divinity of her Spouse. But hardly had the world witnessed the triumph of the Incarnate Word, when the enemy turned the victory to his own advantage. Profiting by the new position of Christianity and its security from public violence, he sought to win in the domain of false science the denial which had been refused him on the field of martyrdom. Apostasy did less to serve the hostile influence of the serpent and foster the growth of his accursed race than the bitter zeal of heretics for the reform of the Church’s faith.

Arius was the first of these teachers of the doctrines of hell—a worthy first in his pride. He carried his questionings into the very depths of the divine essence, and rejected consubstantiality on the evidence of texts which he misunderstood. Upheld principally by the powers of this world, Arianism fell at the end of a century, having no root but in recently converted nations who had not had to shed their blood for the divinity of the Son of God.

It was then that Satan produced Nestorius, crowned with a fictitious halo of sanctity and knowledge. This man, who was to give the clearest expression to the hatred of the serpent for the woman, was enthroned in the Chair of Constantinople amid the applause of the whole East, which hoped to see in him a second Chrysostom. The joy of the good was of short duration. In the very year of his exaltation, on Christmas Day 428, Nestorius, taking advantage of the immense concourse which had assembled in honour of the Virgin Mother and her Child, pronounced from the episcopal pulpit the blasphemous words: Mary did not bring forth God; her Son was only a man, the instrument of the Divinity.’ The multitude shuddered with horror. Eusebius, a simple layman, rose to give expression to the general indignation, and protested against this impiety. Soon a more explicit protest was drawn up and disseminated in the name of the members of this grief-stricken Church, launching an anathema against anyone who should dare to say: 'The Only-begotten Son of the Father and the Son of Mary are different persons.' This generous attitude was the safeguard of Byzantium, and won the praise of Popes and Councils. When the shepherd becomes a wolf, the first duty of the flock is to defend itself. It is usual and regular, no doubt, for doctrine to descend from the bishops to the faithful, and those who are subject in the faith are not to judge their superiors. But in the treasure of revelation there are essential doctrines which all Christians, by the very fact of their title as such, are bound to know and defend. The principle is the same whether it be a question of belief or conduct, dogma or morals. Treachery like that of Nestorius is rare in the Church, but it may happen that some pastors keep silence for one reason or another in circumstances when religion itself is at stake. The true children of Holy Church at such times are those who walk by the light of their baptism, not the cowardly souls who, under the specious pretext of submission to the powers that be, delay their opposition to the enemy in the hope of receiving instructions which are neither necessary nor desirable.

The emotion produced by the blasphemy of Nestorius spread through the East and soon reached Alexandria. Cyril was then ruling the see which had been founded by Mark in the name of Peter and raised to the second place by the Head of the Church. The union of Athanasius and the Roman Pontiffs had overcome Arianism in the previous century, and now Rome and Alexandria were once more to unite in crushing heresy. But the enemy had learnt by experience and acted with infernal foresight. When the future champion of the Mother of God was raised to the Chair of St. Athanasius, this formidable alliance was a thing of the past. Theophilus, the late Patriarch, who was the principal author of the condemnation of St. John Chrysostom at the Pseudo-council 'of the Oak,’ had refused to subscribe to the rehabilitation of his victim by the Holy See, and Rome had been obliged to break with her eldest daughter. Cyril was the nephew of Theophilus. He knew nothing of the secret motives by which his uncle had been governed. He had been brought up to honour him as his superior, his benefactor, and his master in sacred science, and when, in his turn, he became Patriarch, he had no thought of reversing the decisions of one whom he had always regarded as a father. Alexandria remained separated from the Church of Rome. Like the serpent, whose venom poisons all that it touches, Satan turned the most noble sentiments against the cause of God, but our Lady, who loves an upright heart, did not abandon her champion. After a few years of mishaps, which taught him to know men, the young Patriarch had his eyes opened to the truth by a holy monk named Isidore of Pelusium. Once convinced, he did not hesitate to restore the name of John Chrysostom to the sacred diptychs. The schemes of hell came to naught. Rome found a new Athanasius on the banks of the Nile to assist her in her new combats for the faith.

Cyril, restored to Christian unity by a monk, showed as great a devotion to the holy solitaries as his predecessor had done. He confided to them his grief at the first news of Nestorius’ impiety. The letter in which he appeals to their faith and warns them of the danger which threatens the Church has become celebrated. ‘Those,’ he says, who have embraced in Christ the noble and enviable lot which is yours, ought to shine most brilliantly with the light of a perfect and unhesitating faith, and add to this light the special radiance of virtue. Then they ought to employ their wealth in increasing in themselves the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ, and striving to understand them perfectly. This,’ says the holy Doctor, ‘is what I think St. Paul means when he speaks of the development of the perfect man,[2] the way to arrive at the measure and the fullness of Christ.’[3]

The Patriarch of Alexandria could not rest content with opening his heart to those of whose sympathy he was assured. He strove to win back Nestorius by letters, in which his personal meekness is only rivalled by the vigour and breadth of his doctrine. But Nestorius was obdurate. Having no arguments at his command, he complained of the Patriarch’s interference. As it always happens, there were pacifists who, though not sharing Nestorius’ errors, thought it would be best not to answer him for fear of embittering him, increasing the scandal, and wounding charity. Cyril thus answers that singular virtue which fears the affirmations of the Christian faith more than the audacity of heresy: 'What! Nestorius dares to suffer men to say in public and in his presence that he who calls Mary the Mother of God is to be anathema! He hurls his anathema, through his partisans, at us, at the other Bishops of the Universal Church and the ancient Fathers, who in all ages and all places with one accord have acknowledged and honoured the holy Mother of God! And have we not the right to repay him in his own coin and say, “If anyone denies that Mary is the Mother of God let him be anathema”? Nevertheless, out of regard for him, I have not yet uttered these words.’[4]

Men of another type, also represented in all ages, revealed the true motive of their hesitation when, after insisting on the advantages of peace and their ancient friendship with Nestorius, they suggested timidly that it would be dangerous to oppose so powerful an adversary. ‘Could I but satisfy the Bishop of Constantinople and heal the wounded spirit of my brother by suffering the loss of all my possessions!’ was Cyril’s reply. ‘But the faith is at stake. The scandal has spread through the Church, and all men are inquiring about the new doctrine. If we, who have received from God the office of teacher, fail to remedy such great evils, will there be flames enough for us at the Day of Judgment? I have already been struck by insult and calumny—let it pass. If only the faith be safe, I will yield to none in my love of Nestorius. But if the faith suffers through the deeds of some —let there be no doubt about it—I will not risk my soul even if instant death threaten me. If the fear of some disturbance is stronger than our zeal for God’s glory and prevents us from speaking the truth, how shall we dare in the presence of the Christian people to celebrate the holy martyrs, whose glory lies in the very fact that they carried out in their lives the words[5]: “Even unto death fight for justice”?’[6]

When the combat became inevitable, he organized the forces of the Church, and summoned monks and Bishops to his side. He did not attempt to conceal the holy enthusiasm which filled his heart. 'As far as I am concerned,’ he writes to the clerics who represent him in the imperial city, ‘my greatest desire is to suffer, live and die for the faith of Jesus Christ. As it is written: “If I shall give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids, or rest to my temples”[7] until I have fought the battle which is necessary for the well-being of all. Therefore let your hearts be full of the same spirit and do manfully. Watch the enemy and inform us of his slightest movements. As soon as I can, I will send you some Bishops and monks, pious and prudent men, chosen out of many. I am already preparing my letters. I have resolved to labour without truce for the faith of Christ and to suffer all torments, yea death itself, which in such a cause would be sweet to me.'[8]

Informed of these troubles by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope St. Celestine I. condemned the new heresy, and commissioned Cyril to depose the Bishop of Constantinople in the name of the Roman Pontiff. But Nestorius prolonged the contest by his intrigues. At this point there appears at the side of Cyril the figure of a saintly woman who for forty years was the terror of hell, and who twice crushed the head of the hateful serpent in the name of the Queen of heaven. Pulcheria had assumed the reins of government at the age of fifteen. It was a time of disasters, but she arrested interior disturbances by her prudence and energy, and in union with her sisters, virgins like herself, held back the barbarian hordes by the might of divine Psalmody. While the West was in its last agony, the East, thanks to its gifted empress, was enjoying once more the prosperity of its best days. The sight of a granddaughter of Theodosius the Great, who employed her private wealth in multiplying churches in honour of our Lady, taught Byzantium that devotion to Mary which was her safeguard in evil days, and which obtained for her from Mary’s Son a thousand years of mercy and incomprehensible patience. General Councils have hailed St. Pulcheria as the guardian of faith and the bulwark of unity.[9] St. Leo says that the greatest share in the defence of divine truth was hers.[10] ‘A double palm is in her hands,’ says this great Pope, ‘a double crown on her head, for the Church owes to her a double victory over impiety in the persons of Nestorius and Eutyches, who from different sides tended towards the same point—the denial of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of the share of the Virgin Mother in the salvation of mankind.’[11]

But we must not overstep our limits. The summary of the life of this great Pontiff read by the Church at Matins will give us some idea of those glorious combats witnessed by the city of Ephesus when Cyril, supported by Rome and upheld by Pulcheria, established for ever our Lady’s title to the most noble diadem that a mere creature can ever wear:

Cyrillus Alexandrinus, cujus præconia non unius tantum vel alterius sunt comprobata testimonio, sed etiam œcumenicorum Conciliorum Ephesini et Chalcedonensis actis celebrata, Claris ortus parentibus, ac Theophili episcopi Alexandrini nepos, adhuc adolescens præcellentis ingenii clara specimina dedit. Litteris ac scientiis egregie imbutus, ad Joannem episcopum Hierosolymitanum se contulit, ut in Christiana fide perficeretur. Alexandriam deinde cum rediisset, Theophilo vita functo, ad illius sedem evectus est: quo in munere ita optimi pastoris formam ab Apostolo definitam constanter præ se tulit, ut sanctissimi præsulis gloriam merito sit adeptus.

Salutis animarum zelo incensus curas omnes intendit, ut sibi commissum gregem in fidei et morum integritate servaret, atque a venenatis infideliuro et hæreticorum pascuis defenderet. Hinc tum Novati asseclas e civitate expelli, tum Judæos qui furore acti in cædem Christianorum conspiraverant, juxta leges puniri sategit. Singulare vero Cyrilli pro catholicæ fidei incolumitate enituit studium contra Nestorium Constantinopolitanum episcopum, asserentem Jesum Christum ex Maria Virgine hominem tantum et non Deum natum, eique divinitatem pro meritis esse collatam; cujus emendationem cum frustra tentasset, eum sancto Cælestino Pontifici Maximo denuntiavit.

Cælestini delegata auctoritate, Concilio Ephesino præfuit, in quo hæresis Nestoriana penitus proscripta est, damnatus Nestorius et a sua sede dejectus, ac dogma catholicum de una in Christo, eaque divina persona, et divina gloriosæ Virginis Mariæ maternitate assertum; plaudente populo universo, qui incredibili gaudio gestiens, collucentibua facibus domum deduxit episcopos, Sed hac de causa Cyrillus calumniis, injuriis et persecutionibus plurimis a Nestorio ejusque fautoribus impetitus fuit; quas ipse patientissime tulit, ita ut de sola fide sollicitus, quid-quid adversus sum effutiebant ac moliebantur hæretici, prò nihilo haberet. Tandem prò Ecclesia Dei maximis perfunctuslaboribus, plurimisque scriptis editis tum ad ethnicos et hæreticos confutandos, tum ad sacras scripturas et catholica explananda dogmata, sancto fine quievit anno quadringentesimo quadragesimo quarto, episcopatus trigesimo secundo. Leo decimus tertius Pontifex Maximus Officium et Missam præclarissimi hujua fidei catholicæ propugnatoris et Orientalis Ecclesiæ luminis, Ecclesiam universam extendit.
The praises of Cyril of Alexandria not only have been celebrated by individual writers, but are even registered in the acts of the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. He was born of noble parents, and was the nephew of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria. While still young he gave proofs of an excellent understanding, and after having profoundly studied literature and science, he betook himself to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, to be perfected in the Christian faith. After his return to Alexandria and the death of Theophilus, he was raised to that see. In this office he kept ever before his eyes the type of the shepherd of souls described by the Apostle, and by adhering faithfully to it, earned the glory of a holy Bishop.

He burnt with zeal for the salvation of souls, and took all care to keep the flock entrusted to him in purity of faith and life, and to guard them from the poisonous pastures of heresy and infidelity. Hence, in accordance with the laws, he caused the followers of Novatus to be expelled from the city, and procured the punishment of the Jews whose hatred had led them to plan a massacre of the Christians. His eminent care for the preservation of the Catholic faith shone forth especially in his conflict with Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, who declared that Jesus Christ had been born of the Virgin Mary as man only, and that the divinity had been bestowed upon him because of his merits. Cyril first attempted to convert Nestorius, but when he found the task hopeless, he denounced him to Pope St. Celestine.

As delegate of Pope Celestine, he presided over the Council of Ephesus where the Nestorian heresy was condemned, Nestorius deprived of his see, and the Catholic doctrine as to the unity of Person in Christ and the divine maternity of the glorious Virgin Mary was laid down amid the rejoicings of all the people, who escorted the bishops to their lodgings with a torchlight procession. Nestorius and his followers made Cyril the object of slanders, insults, and persecutions, which he bore with great patience, for he cared only for the purity of the faith, and took no heed of what the heretics might say or do against him. At length, after having performed great labours for the Church of God, and having composed numerous works, both in refutation of paganism and heresy and in explanation of the 'Catholic faith, he died a holy death in the year 444, the thirty-second year of his episcopal consecration. The supreme Pontiff Leo XIII. extended to the Universal Church the Office and Mass of this most eminent champion of the Catholic faith and light of the Eastern Church.

O holy Pontiff, the heavens rejoice and the earth is glad at the thought of that conflict in which the Queen of heaven and earth chose thee as the instrument of her triumph. The East has ever honoured thee as her light; the West has long hailed thee as champion of the Mother of God, and now seeks to give stronger expression to her gratitude. A new flower has appeared in our day in Mary’s crown, and it springs from the very soil cultivated by thee. When thou didst proclaim the divine maternity in the name of Peter and Celestine thou wast preparing for our Lady another triumph, which was to be the consequence of the first. The Mother of God must be immaculate. The definition of Pius IX. completes the work done by Celestine and thee. The two days—June 22, 431, and December 8, 1854—are equally glorious in heaven, and were celebrated with like manifestations of joy and love on earth. And so, O Cyril, the whole Church turns to thee after fourteen centuries and proclaims thee Doctor. She sees that thy work is complete, and will have nothing lacking in the homage rendered to thee on earth. Devotion to thee has found its fullest expression at the same time as devotion to the Mother of God. Thy glory is an extension of her glory.

We understand that the greatest honour we can pay to thee is to sing the praises of thy sovereign Lady. We therefore repeat the burning words which the Holy Ghost put upon thy lips on that day of triumph at Ephesus: ‘We hail thee, O Mary, Mother of God, as the bright gem of the whole creation; the lamp whose light shall never be put out, the crown of virginity, the sceptre of orthodox faith, the indestructible temple and shrine of the Infinite, through whom we have received Him whom the Gospels call Blessed, Him who comes in the name of the Lord. Hail Mary, whose spotless and virginal womb bore that Infinite One, by whom the Trinity is glorified and the precious Cross honoured and adored throughout the earth. Hail Mary, joy of heaven, peace of angels and archangels, terror of demons. Through thee the tempter fell from heaven, through thee the fallen are raised up to heaven. The world was held captive in idolatrous folly, and thou hast opened its eyes to the truth. To thee the faithful owe their baptism, to thee they owe the oil of gladness. Throughout all the earth thou foundest churches and leadest the nations to penance. What shall I say more? It was through thee that the onlybegotten Son of God shone forth as the light of those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; through thee that the prophets foretold things to come; through thee that the Apostles preached salvation to the nations; through thee that the dead rise again; through thee that kings reign by the grace of the Holy Trinity. What man could ever adequately praise Mary, who is worthy of all praise?'[12]

If then, O Cyril, the dignity of the Mother of God surpasses all praise, beseech her to raise up among us men capable of praising her as thou didst. May the power with which she armed thee against her foes descend to those who in our days have to carry on the age-long combat between the woman and the serpent. The adversary has grown bolder. This age has surpassed in its denial of Jesus not only Nestorius, but also the apostate Emperor Julian, against whom thou didst defend the divinity of the Son of the Virgin Mother. Thou didst rain terrible blows upon error. Teach our Doctors how to conquer; teach them to lean upon Peter, to interest themselves in all that concerns the Church, to look upon her foes as their personal enemies, and the only real enemies they have. Our pastors will draw from thy sublime writings that true knowledge of sacred Scripture without which their zeal would be powerless. Christians will learn from thee that they cannot grow in virtue without first increasing their faith and their knowledge of the mysteries of the Incarnate Word. Many souls in these times content themselves with vague ideas. Let them learn from thee that it is the love of truth which leads us to life.[13] The approach of Lent reminds us of these Paschal Letters which at this season carried to all the announcement of the Feast of Feasts and an exhortation to penance. Our souls have grown soft. Obtain for us a sense of the seriousness of the Christian life, so that we may enter valiantly upon the holy campaign which is to win back our peace with God through the triumph of the spirit over the flesh.

 


[1] Gen. iii. 15.
[2] Eph. iv. 13.
[3] Cyr. Al. Ep. 1 ad monach.
[4] Ep viii. al. vi.
[5] Ecclus. iv. 33.
[6] Cyr. Al. Ep. ix. al. vii.
[7] Ps. cxxxi. 4, 5.
[8] Cyr. Al. Ep. x. al. viii.
[9] Labbe, Conc. iv. 464.
[10] Leo. Ep. xxxi. al. xxvii.
[11] Leo. Ep. xxxi. al. xxvii. and Ep. lxxix. al. lix.
[12] Cyr. al. Hom. iv. Ephesi habita ad St. Mariam.
[13] Cyr. Al. Hom., div. 1.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

We are to celebrate, to-day, the Feast of a holy Bishop of the Apostolic Age—a Disciple of the Apostle St. Paul. Little is known of his life; but, by addressing to him one of his inspired Epistles, the Apostle of the Gentiles has immortalised his memory. Wheresoever the Faith of Christ has been or shall be preached, Titus’ name has been venerated by the Faithful; and as long as the world lasts, the holy Church will read to her children this Epistle, which was written, indeed, to a simple Bishop of the Isle of Crete, but was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and therefore destined to be a part of those Sacred Scriptures, which contain the Word of God. The counsels and directions given in this admirable Letter, were the rule of the holy Bishop, for whom St. Paul entertained a very strong affection. St. Titus had the honour of establishing the Christian Religion in that famous Island, which was one of the strongholds of Paganism. He survived his master, who was put to death by Nero. Like St. John, he sweetly slept in Christ at a very advanced age, respected and loved by the Church he had founded. As we have already observed, his life left but few traces behind it; but these few are sufficient to prove him to have been one of those wonderful men whom God chose as the directors of His infant Church.

Titum Cretensium Episcopum vix Pauli Apostoli verbo Christianæ fidei sacramentis, mysteriisque excultum, ea sanctitatis luce Ecclesiæ tunc vagienti effulsisse compertum est, ut inter ejusdem Doctoris Gentium discipulos meruerit cooptari. Adscitus in partem oneris prædicationis adeo evangelizandi ardore et fidelitate Paulo exstitit carus, ut ipse cum venisset Troadem propterEvangelium Christi testatua sit, non habuisse requiem spiritui sue, eo quod Titum fratrem suum ibi non invenerit. Et paulo post Macedoniam petens, rursus suam in eum charitatem ita exprimit: Sed qui consolatur humiles, consolatus est nos Deus in adventu Titi.

Quamobrem Corinthum ab Apostolo missus, ea sapientia et lenitate legationis hujus munere functus est, quæ præsertim de fidelium pietate eleemosynas colligendas ad sublevandam Ecclesiæ Hebræorum inopiam spectabat, ut Corinthios non solum in Christi fide continuerit, sed etiam desiderium, fletum, æmulationem inter eos pro Paulo qui illos primum instituit, excitaverit. Ad effundendum interim inter gentes linguis, locisque distinctas, divini verbi semen, pluribus terra, marique itineribus relectis, magnaque animi firmitate pro Crucis trophæo curis laboribusque exantlatis, una cum duce Paulo Cretæ insulam appulit, Cum porro huic EcclesiæEpiscopus ab ipso Apostolo delectus esset, dubitandum non est, quin in eo munere ita versatus sit, ut juxta ipsius Pauli præceptoris monita, seipsum præbuerit exemplum bonorum operum in doctrina, in integritate, in gravitate.

Itaque tamquam lucerna inter eos qui in idololatria et mendaciorumtenebris, veluti in umbra mortis, sedebant, religionis jubar diffudit. Traditur eum inter Dalmatas, ut Crucis vexillum explicaret, strenue consudasse. Tandem meritorum et dierum plenus quarto supra nonagesimum anno, pridie Nonas Januarii, pretiosa justorum morte obdormivit in Domino, et sepultus est in Ecclesia, ubi ab Apostolo Minister fuerat constituts. Hujus nomen a sancto Joanne Chrysostomo et a sancto Hieronymo præcipue commendatum, Martyrologio Romano eadem die inscriptum legitur; ejus autem festum summus Pontifex Pius Nonus ab universa Ecclesia celebrali præcepit.
Titus, Bishop of Crete, was initiated into the mysteries of the Christian faith by Paul the Apostle; and being prepared by the sacraments, he shed so bright a light of sanctity on the infant Church, that he merited to be chosen as one of the Disciples of the Doctor of the Gentiles. Being called to bear the burden of preaching the Gospel, so ardent and persevering was he in the discharge of that duty, that he endeared himself to St. Paul so much, as to make the Apostle say in one of his Epistles, that being come to Troas, to preach the faith in that city, he found no rest for his heart, because he found not there his brother Titus. And having, a short time after this, gone to Macedonia, he thus expresses his affection for his disciple in these terms: But God who comforteth the humble, comforted us by the coming of Titus.

Being sent to Corinth by the Apostle, he acquitted himself in this mission (which mainly consisted in collecting the alms given by the piety of the faithful towards alleviating the distress of the Hebrew Church) with so much prudence and patience, that he not only confirmed the Corinthians in the faith of Christ, but made them so desirous of a visit from Paul, who had been their first teacher in the faith, that they shed tears of long affection. After having undertaken several journeys, both by sea and land, in order to sow the seed of the divine word among people of various tongues and countries; and after having supported, with great firmness of soul, countless anxieties and fatigues, in order to plant the standard of the Cross;— he landed at the island of Crete in company with his master St. Paul. The Apostle made him Bishop of the Church which he had founded in that island; and it is not to be doubted but that Titus so discharged his duty as that he became a model to the Faithful, according to the advice given to him by his master, in good works, in doctrine, in integrity, in gravity.

Thus did he become a shining light, pouring forth the rays of Christian faith on them that were sitting in the darkness of idolatry and lies, as in the shadow of death. Tradition tells us that he passed into Dalmatia, where he laboured with extraordinary zeal to enlist that people under the banner of the Cross. At length, full of days and merit, in the ninety-fourth year of his age, he slept in the Lord the death of the just, on the vigil of the nones of January (January 4), and was buried in the Church in which the Apostle had appointed him Minister of the word. St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome pass great eulogium upon this holy Bishop, and his name is inscribed in the Roman Martyrology on the day above mentioned; but the sovereign Pontiff Pius the Ninth ordered his Feast to be kept by the Universal Church.

Favoured Disciple of the great Apostle! the holy Church has decreed that one of the days of the ecclesiastical year should be spent in celebrating thy virtues, and offering thee our prayers. Look down with love upon the Faithful who glorify the Holy Spirit that gave thee thy rich graces. Thou didst discharge thy pastoral duties with untiring zeal. Every quality enumerated in the Epistle addressed to thee by St. Paul, as required in a Bishop, was possessed by thee; and thou shinest in the crown of Jesus, the Prince of Pastors, as one of the brightest of its gems. Forget not the Church militant, of which thou wast one of the first guides. Eighteen hundred years have passed away since thou wast taken from her. During this long period, she has had sufferings and trials without end; but she has triumphed over every obstacle, and she continues her glorious path, saving souls and offering them to her heavenly Spouse; and this will she persevere doing, until her Jesus comes to stop the course of time, and open the gates of eternity. Meanwhile, O glorious Saint! she counts on the aid of thy prayers, in the great work of the salvation of souls. Ask of Jesus, that He send us Pastors like unto thee. Pray for that Island, which thou didst convert to the true faith, but which is now buried in the darkness of infidelity and schism. Pray, too, for the Greek Church, that it may regain its ancient glory by union with the See of Peter. Hear, O Titus! the prayers of the Pontiff, who has made thy name be venerated in the Liturgy throughout the world, in order that he might draw down peace and mercy upon the world, by thy powerful intercession.

 

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Close to the faithful virgins, who form the court of Jesus, there stand those holy women, whose repentance has merited for them a prominent place in the calendar of the Church. They are the bright trophies of God’s mercy. They expiated their sins by a life of penance; the tears of their compunction wiped away their guilt; He that is purity itself has found them worthy of His love, and, when pharisees affect to be shocked at His allowing them to be near Him, He warmly defends them. Foremost among these is Mary Magdalene, to whom much was forgiven, because she loved much;[1] but there are two on the list of penitent saints whose names shine most brightly on the calendar of this portion of the year; and who were, like Mary Magdalene, ardent in their love of the divine Master, whom they had once offended: these are, Mary of Egypt, and Margaret of Cortona. It is the second of these who to-day tells us the consoling truth that if sin separate us from God, penance has the power not only of disarming His anger, but of forming between God and the sinner that ineffable bond of love, which the apostle alludes to when he says: ‘Where sin hath abounded, grace hath more abounded.'[2]

Let us study the virtues of the illustrious penitent of the thirteenth century. They are thus summed up by the Church in the lessons of to-day’s feast.

Margarita, a loco dormitionis Cortonensis appellata, Laviani in Tuscia ortum habuit. Primis adolescentiæ suæ annis mundi voluptatibus capta, in Montis Politiani civitate, vanam et lubricam vitam duxit: sed cum amasium ab hostibus fœde transfossum, indicio canis in fovea sub strue lignorurn tumulatum fortuito reperisset, illico facta est manus Domini super eam, quæ magno culparum suarum mœrore tacta, exiit foras et flevit amare. Itaque Lavianum reversa, crine detonso, neglecto capite, pullaque veste contecta, erroribus suis mundique illecebris nuntium misit; inque ædibus Deo sacris fune ad collum alligato, humi procumbens, ab omnibus quos antea moribus suis palam offenderat, veniam exoravit. Mox Cortonam profecta, in cinere et cilicio ab se læsam Bei majestatem placare studuit, donec post triennale virtutum experimentum a Fratribus Minoribus spiritualis vitæ ducibus, Tertii Ordinis habitum impetravit. Uberes exinde lacrymæ ei familiares fuerunt, atque ima suspiria tanta animi contritione ducta, ut diu elinguis consisteret. Lectulus nuda humus, cervical lapis aut lignum porrexit; atque ita noctes insomnes in cœlestium meditatione trahere consuevit, nullum amplius pravum desiderium perpessa, dum bonus spiritus promptior infirmam camem ad subeundos labores erigebat.

A dæmone insidiis, funestisque conatibus Iacessita, mulier fortis hostem, ex verbis defcectum, semel atque iterum invicta repulit Ad eludendum vanæ gloriæ lenocinium, quo a malo spiritu petebatur, præterifcos mores suos per vicos et plateas alta voce accusare non destitit, omni supplicio se ream inclamans; nec, nisi a confessano deterrita, in speciosam faciem, olim impuri amoris causam, sævire abstinuit, æegre ferens suam formam longa carnis maceratione non aboleri. Quibus aliisque magnæ pœnitentiae argumentis, suorum criminum labe expiata, atque ita de se triumphatrix, ut sensus piane omnes a mundi illecebris custodiret, digna facta est quæ sæpe Domini consuetudine frueretur. Ejusdem quoque Christi et Virginis Matris dolorum, quod ipsa ardenter expetierat, particeps facta, cunctis sensibus destituta, et vere mortua interdum visa est. Ad eam proinde veluti ad perfectionis magistram, ex dissitis etiam regionibua plurimi conveniebant: ipsa vero cœlesti, quo erat perfusa, lumine, cordium secreta, conscientias hominum, imo et peccata in remotis licet partibus Deum offendentium cum dolore et lacrymis detegens, summaque in Deum et proximum charitate fervens, ingentem animarum fructum operata est. Ægris ad se venientibus salutem, obsessis a dæmone liberationem impetravit. Puerum defunctum, lugente matre, ad vitam reduxit. Imminentes bellorura tumultus assiduis orationibus sedavit. Denique summæ pietatis operibus vivos et mortuos sibi demeruit.

Tot sanctis operibus occupata, de rigore, quo assidue corpus suum exercebat, nihil remisit, neque a studio cœlestia meditandi se avelli passa est, in utroque vitæ genere piane admiranda, utramque sororem, Magdalenam et Martham, referens. Tandem pro se Dominum orans, ut ex hac valle lacrymarum sursum in cœlestem patriam evocaretur, exaudita est oratio ejus, die atque hora dormitionis ei patefactis. Meritis itaque et laboribus plena, ac cœlestibus donis cumulata, cœpit corporis viribus destitui, perque dies decem et septem nullo cibo, sed divinis tantum colloquiis refecta est: tum sanctissimis Ecclesiæ sacramentis rite susceptis, vultu hilari, atque oculis in cœlum conversis, octavo Kalendas Martias, anno ætatis quinquagesimo, suæ conversionis vigesimo tertio, humanæ vero salutis millesimo ducentesimo nonagesimo septimo, felix migravit ad Sponsum. Corpus in hanc usque diem vegetum, incorruptum, illæsum et suaviter olens, summa religione colitur in ecclesia fratrum Minorum, quæ jam ab eadem Margarita appellatur. Miraculis continuo floruit; quibus permoti Romani Pontifices, ad augendum ejus culturm plurima liberaliter indulsemnt. Benedictus vero decimus tertius, in festo Pentecostes, die sexta decima Mail anni millesimi septingentesimi vigesimi octavi, solemnem ejus canonizationem religiosissime celebravit.
Margaret of Cortona (so called from the town where she died), was born at Alviano in Tuscany. In her early youth she was a slave to the pleasures of this world, and led a vain and sinful life in the city of Montepulciano. Her attention was, one day, attracted by a dog, which seemed to wish her to follow it. She did so, and it led her to a pile of wood which covered a large hole. Looking in, she saw the body of her lover, whose enemies had murdered him, and thrown his mangled corpse into that place. She suddenly felt that the hand of God was upon her, and being overwhelmed with intense sorrow for her sins, she went forth, and wept bitterly. She returned to Alviano, cut off her hair, laid aside* her trinkets, and, putting on a dark-coloured dress, she abandoned her evil ways and the pleasures of the world. She was to be found in the churches, with a rope tied round her neck, prostrate on the ground, and imploring pardon of all whom she had scandalized by her past life. She shortly afterwards set out for Cortona, and there, in sackcloth and ashes, she sought how she might appease the divine anger. For three years did she try herself in the practice of every virtue: and at the end of that time, she obtained permission from the Friars Minors (under whose spiritual guidance she had placed herself), to receive the habit of the Third Order. From that time forward, her tears were almost incessant; and the sighs which deep contrition wrung from her heart were such as to leave her speechless for hours. Her bed was the naked ground; and her pillow, a stone or piece of wood: so that she frequently passed whole nights in heavenly contemplation. Evil desires no longer tormented her, for her fervent spirit was so prompt, that the weak flesh was made to labour and obey.

The devil spared neither snares nor violent assaults, whereby to lead her from her holy purpose: but she, like a strong woman, detected him by his words, and drove him from her. This wicked spirit having tempted her to vain glory, she went into the streets, and cried out with a loud voice, that she had been a great sinner, and deserved the worst of punishments. It was obedience to her confessor that alone prevented her from disfiguring her features, which had been the cause of much sin: for the long and severe penance she had imposed on herself had not impaired her beauty. By these and such like exercises of a mortified life, she cleansed her soul from the stains of her sins, and gained such a victory over herself, that the allurements of the world had not the slightest effect upon her, and our Lord rewarded her by frequently visiting her. She also received the grace she so ardently desired, of being allowed to have a share in the sufferings of Jesus and Mary; so much so, indeed, that, at times, she lay perfectly unconscious, as though she were really dead. All this made her be looked up to as a guide in the path of perfection, and persons would come to her, even from distant countries, in order to seek her counsel. By the heavenly light granted her, she could read the hearts and consciences of others, and could see the sins committed against our Lord in various parts of the world, for which she would offer up, in atonement, her own sorrow and tears. Great indeed was the good she effected by the ardent charity she bore to God and her neighbour. She healed the sick who came to her, and drove out the devil from such as were possessed. A mother besought her, with many tears, to restore her child to life, which she did. Her prayers more than once averted war, when on the point of being declared. In a word, both the living and the dead experienced the effects of her unbounded charity.

While engaged in these manifold holy works, she relented not in the severity of her bodily mortifications, or in her contemplation of heavenly things. The two lives of Mary and Martha were admirably blended together in her; and rich in the merits of each, she besought our Lord to take her from this vale of tears, and give her to enter the heavenly country. Her prayer was heard, and the day and the hour of her death were revealed to her. Laden with meritorious works and divine favours, her bodily strength began to fail. For the last seventeen days of her life her only food was that of conversation with her Creator. At length, after receiving the most holy Sacraments of the Church, with a face beaming with joy, and her eyes raised up to heaven, her happy soul fled to its divine Spouse, on the eighth of the Calends of March (February 22), in the fiftieth year of her age, the twenty-third of her conversion, and in the year of our Lord one thousand two hundred and ninety-seven. Her body, which, even to this day, is fresh, incorrupt, and unaltered, and sheds a sweet fragrance, is devoutly honoured in the church (called after her Saint Margaret's) belonging to the Friars Minor. The many miracles which have been wrought at her shrine, have induced the Sovereign Pontiffs to promote devotion to Saint Margaret by the grant of many spiritual favours. She was canonized, with great solemnity, by Pope Benedict XIII., on May 16, which was the feast of Pentecost, in the year 1728.

If the angels of God rejoiced on the day of thy conversion, when Margaret the sinner became the heroic and saintly penitent, what a grand feast must they have kept when thy soul left this world, and they led thee to the eternal nuptials with the Lamb! Thou art one of the brightest trophies of divine mercy, and when we think of the saint of Cortona, our hearts glow with hope. We are sinners; we have deserved hell; and yet, when we hear thy name, heaven and mercy seem so near to us, yea, even to us. Margaret of Cortona! see how like we are to thee in thy weakness, and thy wanderings from the fold; but thou forcest us to hope that we may, like thee, be converted, do penance, and reach heaven at last. The instrument of thy conversion was death; and is not death busy enough around us? The sight of that corpse taught thee, and with an irresistible eloquence, that sin is madness, for it exposes the soul to fall into infinite misery; how comes it that death is almost daily telling us that life is uncertain, and that our eternal lot may be decided at any hour, and yet the lesson is so lost upon us? We are hard-hearted sinners, and we need thy prayers, O fervent lover of Jesus! The Church will soon preach to us the great Memento; she will tell us that we are but dust, and into dust must speedily return. Oh that this warning might detach us from the world and ourselves, and man us to the resolution of penance, that port of salvation for them that have suffered shipwreck! Oh that it might excite within us the desire of returning to that God, who knows not how to resist the poor soul who comes to Him after all her sins, throws herself into the bosom of His mercy, and asks Him to forgive! Thy example proves that we may hope for every grace. Pray for us, and exercise in our favour that maternal charity which filled thy heart even when thou wast living here below.


[1] St. Luke vii. 47.
[2] Rom. v. 20.