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The Liturgical Year

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Under this heading of Proper of the Time, we here comprise the movable Office of the Sundays and Ferias of Advent. Though anxious to give to the faithful the flowers of the Advent liturgy, yet were we to bring forward even those which might be considered as the choicest, four volumes would have barely sufficed. The fear of making our work too expensive to the faithful, persuaded us to limit it within much narrower bounds, and out of the abundant treasures before us, to give what we thought could be least dispensed with.

The plan we have adopted is this: We give the whole of the Mass and Vespers for the four Sundays of Advent. On the ferial days, we give one, at least, of the lessons from Isaias, which are read in the Office of Matins; adding to this a hymn or sequence, or some other poetic liturgical composition. All these have been taken from the gravest sources, for example, from the Roman and Mozarabic breviaries, from the Greek anthology and menæa, from the missals of the middle ages, &c. After this hymn or sequence, we have given a prayer from the Ambrosian, Gallican, or Mozarabic missal. So that the faithful will find in our collection an unprecedented abundance of liturgical formulæ, each of which carries authority with it, as being taken from ancient and approved sources.

We have not thought it desirable to give a commentary to each of the liturgical formulæ inserted in our work. It seemed to us that they would be rendered sufficiently intelligible by the general explanation which runs through our work, in which explanation we have endeavoured to excite the devotion of the reader, give unity to the several parts, and afford solid instruction. We shall thus avoid all those repetitions and commonplace remarks, which do little more than fatigue the reader.

We have inserted the Great Antiphons and the Office of Christmas Eve in the proper of the saints, because both of these have fixed days in the calendar, and to put them in the proper of the time, as they stand in the breviary and missal, would have required us to introduce into a book, destined for the laity, rubrics somewhat complicated, which would, perhaps, not have been understood.

For more information on the season of Advent, visit here.

We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels[1] on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. The Faithful will remember that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation by the four penitential weeks of Advent.
[1] St Luke ii 10.

(From Chapter 1: The History of Christmas)

For more information on the season of Christmas, visit here.

This third section of the liturgical year is much shorter than the two preceding ones; and yet it is one of real interest. The season of Septuagesima has only three weeks of the Proper of the Time, and the feasts of the saints are far less frequent than at other periods of the year. The volume we now offer to the faithful may be called one of transition, inasmuch as it includes the period between two important seasons—viz., Christmas and Lent. We have endeavoured to teach them how to spend these three weeks; and our instructions, we trust, will show them that, even in this the least interesting portion of the ecclesiastical year, there is much to be learned. They will find the Church persevering in carrying out the one sublime idea which pervades the whole of her liturgy; and, consequently, they must derive solid profit from imbibing the spirit peculiar to this season.

Were we, therefore, to keep aloof from the Church during Septuagesima, we should not have a complete idea of her year, of which these three weeks form an essential part. The three preliminary chapters of this volume will convince them of the truth of our observation; and we feel confident that, when they have once understood the ceremonies, and formulas, and instructions, offered them by the Church during this short season, they will value it as it deserves.

For more information on the season of Septuagesima, visit here.

We begin, with this volume, the holy season of Lent; but such is the richness of its liturgy, that we have found it impossible to take our readers beyond the Saturday of the fourth week. Passion-week and Holy Week, which complete the forty days of yearly penance, require to be treated at such length, that we could not have introduced them into this volume without making it inconveniently large.

The present volume is a very full one, although it only comprises the first four weeks of the season of Lent. We have called it Lent; and yet the two weeks of the next volume are also comprised in Lent; nay, they are its most important and sacred part. But, in giving the name of Lent to this first section, we have followed the liturgy itself, which applies this word to the first four weeks only; giving to the two that remain the names of Passion-week and Holy Week. Our next volume will, therefore, be called Passiontide and Holy Week.

For more information on Lent, visit here.

After having proposed the forty-days’ fast of Jesus in the desert to the meditation of the faithful during the first four weeks of Lent, the holy Church gives the two weeks which still remain before Easter to the commemoration of the Passion. She would not have her children come to that great day of the immolation of the Lamb, without having prepared for it by compassionating with Him in the sufferings He endured in their stead.

(From Chapter 1: The History of Passiontide and Holy Week)

For more information on Passiontide and Holy Week, visit here.

WITH this volume we begin the season of Easter, wherein are accomplished the mysteries prepared for, and looked forward to, since Advent. Such are the liturgical riches of this portion of the Christian year, that we have found it necessary to devote three volumes to it.

The present volume is wholly taken up with Easter Week. A week is indeed a short period; but such a week as this, with the importance of the events it brings before us, and the grandeur of the mysteries it celebrates, is, at least, equivalent to any other section of our Liturgical Year. We have abridged our explanations as much as possible; and yet we have exceeded two-thirds of one of our ordinary volumes. Hence, it was out of the question to add the remaining weeks; the more so, as the saints’ feasts recommence on the Monday following the Easter Octave, and their insertion would have obliged us to have made our volume considerably more bulky than even that of Passiontide. We have, therefore, been satisfied with giving the Mass and Office of the Annunciation, already given in our volume for Lent, but which are needed for the Monday after Low Sunday, when Easter falls between March 22 and April 2, which is frequently the case.

For more information on Paschal Tide, visit here.

This volume opens to us the second part of the Liturgical Year, beginning the long period of the Time after Pentecost. It treats of the feasts of the most holy Trinity, of Corpus Christi, and of the sacred Heart of Jesus. These three feasts require to be explained apart. Their dates depend on that of Easter; and yet they are detached, if we consider their object, from the moveable cycle, whose aim is to bring before us, each year, the successive, and so to speak historic, memories of our Lord’s mysteries. After the sublime drama, which has, by gradually presenting to us the facts of our Redeemer’s history, shown us the divine economy of the redemption, these feasts immediately follow, and give us a deep and dogmatic teaching: a teaching which is a marvellous synthesis, taking in the whole body of Christian doctrine.

The Holy Ghost has come down upon the earth, in order to sanctify it. Faith being the one basis of all sanctification, and the source of love, the holy Spirit would make it the starting-point of His divine workings in the soul. To this end, He inspires the Church, which has sprung up into life under the influence of His impetuous breathing, to propose at once to the faithful that doctrinal summary, which is comprised in the three feasts immediately coming after Pentecost. The volumes following the present one will show us the holy Spirit continuing His work, and, on the solid foundations of the faith He established at the outset, building the entire superstructure of the Christian virtues.

This was the idea which the author of the Liturgical year was busy developing in the second part of his work, when death came upon him; and the pen that had begun this volume was put by obedience into the hands of one, who now comes before the faithful, asking their prayers for the arduous task he has undertaken, of continuing the not quite finished work of his beloved father and master. He begs of them to beseech our Lord, that He Himself will vouchsafe to bring to a successful termination an undertaking that was begun for His honour and glory, and that has already produced so much fruit in the souls of men.

Br. L.F. O.S.B.

Solesmes, May 10, 1879.


For more information on Time after Pentecost, visit here.

Introduction to the Season of advent

Introduction to the Season of CHRISTMAS

For more information on the season of Christmas, visit here.

Introduction to the Season of Septuagesima

Introduction to the Season of Lent

Introduction to passiontide and holy week

THE Magi Kings, as we have already observed, have been followed to the Crib of Jesus by saintly Christian monarchs; and it was just that these should be represented on the Church's Calendar during the season which is consecrated to the Mystery of his Birth. The eleventh century is one of the most glorious of the Christian era, and gave, both to the Church and the various States of Europe, a great number of saintly Kings. Among them Canute the Fourth of Denmark stands pre-eminent by reason of the aureole of his martyrdom. He had every quality which forms a Christian prince: he was a zealous propagator of the faith of Christ, he was a brave warrior, he was pious, and he was charitable to the poor. His zeal for the Church (and in those days her rights were counted as the rights of the people) was made the pretext for putting him to death: he died in the midst of a sedition as a victim sacrificed for his people's sake. His offering to the new-born King was that of his blood; and in exchange for the perishable crown he lost, he received that which the Church gives to her Martyrs, and which can never be taken away. The history of Denmark in the eleventh century is scarce known by the rest of the world; but the glory of that country's having had one of her kings a Martyr is known throughout the whole Church, and the Church inhabits the whole earth. This power, possessed by the Spouse of Christ, of conferring honour on the name and actions of the servants and friends of God, is one of the grandest spectacles out of heaven; for when she holds up a name as worthy of honour, that name becomes immortalized, whether he who bore it were a powerful king or the poorest peasant.

We find the following life of this holy King given in the Lessons until recently used in the Breviary.

Canutus Quartus, Suenonis Esthritii Danorum regis filius, fide, pietate et morum honestate conspicuus, eximiæ sanctitatis a teneris annis specimen dedit. Paternum sceptmm summa omnium acclamatione adeptus, religioni promovendæ sedulo incumbere, Ecclesias redditibus augere, et pretiosa supellectili ornare cœpit. Tum zelo propagandæ fidei succensus, barbara regna justo certamine aggressus, devictas subditasque nationes Christianæ legi subjugavit. Victoriis autem plurimis gloriosus, et divitiis auctus, regale diadema ad Christi crucifixi pedes abjecit, se et regnum illi subjiciens qui Rex regum est et Dominus dominatium. Corpus suum jejuniis, ciliciis, et flagellis castigavit. In oratione et contemplatione assiduus, erga pauperes profusus, erga omnes beneficus semper fuit, nec unquam a justitiæ, divinæque legis semita deflexit.

His aliisque virtutibus imbutus, ad supremum perfectionis apicem sanctus Rex properabat. Accidit autem, ut Angliæ regnum a Wilhelmo Normannorum duce formidabili exercitu invaderetur; Anglis vero Danorum opem implorantibus, cum succurrere rex decrevisset, belli expeditionem Olao fratri commisit, qui regnandi cupiditate illectus, arma vertit in regis perniciem, militibus et populo contra ilium concitatis. Nec defuerunt rebellioni fomenta; cum enim rex editis legibus decimas Ecclesiis solvi, Dei et Ecclesiæ præcepta servari, transgressores puniri sanxisset; plerique perversi ac scelerati homines exacerbati, primum quidem tumultuari, tum plebem commovere, ac tandem sanctissimo regi necem moliri coeperunt.

Sciens igitur rex futurorum præscius, mortem sibi propter justitiam imminere; ea prænuntiata, ad Ecclesiam sancti Albani martyris Othoniæ tanquam ad locum certaminis profectus est, et Sacramentis munitus, agonem suum Domino commendabat. Mox ibi adveniens conjuratorum multitudo, Ecclesiæ ignem admovere, fores confringere, et in eam irrumpere tentarunt. Quod cum perficere non possent, ad fenestras accedentes, saxa et sagittas in sanctum Regem, flexis genibus pro inimicis orantem, magno impetu jaculari non cessarunt, donec lapidum et telorum ictibus, ac tandem lancea confossus, glorioso martyrio ante altare, extensis brachiis procumbens coronatus est, sedente in Apostolico throno Gregorio Septimo. Multis postea miraculis Martyrern suum illustravit Deus: nam gravi penuria et diversis calamitatibus oppressa Dania, patrati sacrilegii pœnas luit. Plures etiam variis languoribus afflicti, ad ejus tumulum remedium et incolumitatem consecuti sunt; cumque Regina sacrum ejus corpus noctu clam surripere, et alio transferre conaretur, emisso cælitus ingenti splendore perterrita, a proposito cessavit.
Canute the Fourth, son of Sweyn Estrithius, King of Denmark, was conspicuous for his faith, piety, and purity of life, and even from his infancy gave proof of exceeding holiness. Having been elected by the votes of the people to the throne held by his father, he at once began zealously to promote religion, to add to the revenues of the Churches, and to provide the same with costly fittings and furniture. Being also inflamed with zeal for the propagation of the faith, he refused not to enter into just war with barbarous nations, which, when he had conquered and subdued, he subjected to the law of Christ. Having obtained several glorious victories, and increased the riches of his treasury, he laid his regal diadem at the feet of a crucifix, offering himself and his kingdom to him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He chastised his body by fasting, hair-shirts and disciplines. He was assiduous in prayer and contemplation, liberal in his alms to the poor, and ever kind to all, never deviating from the path of justice and the divine commandments.

By these and other such virtues the holy King made rapid strides to the summit of perfection. Now it happened that William, Duke of Normandy, invaded the kingdom of England with a formidable army, and the English sought assistance from the Danes. The King resolved to grant them his aid, and intrusted the expedition to his brother Olaf. But he, from the desire he had of getting possession of the throne, turned his forces against the King, and stirred up the soldiers and the people to rebellion. Neither were there wanting motives for this rebellion; for the King had issued laws commanding the payment of ecclesiastical tithes, the observance of the commandments of God and his Church, and the infliction of penalties on defaulters; all which were made a handle of by perverse and wicked malcontents, for spreading discontent, exciting the people to revolt, and at last, to plot the death of the saintly King.

Foreknowing what was to happen, the King saw that he would soon be put to death for justice' sake. Having foretold it, he set out to Odense, where, entering into the Church of St Alban the Martyr, as the place of combat, he fortified himself with the Sacraments, and commended this his last struggle to our Lord. He had not long been there, when a band of conspirators arrived. They endeavoured to set fire to the Church, to burst open the doors, and to force an entrance. But failing in this, they scaled the windows, and with great violence threw a shower of stones and arrows upon the holy King, who was on his knees, praying for his enemies. Wounded by the stones and arrows, and at last pierced through with a spear, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom, and fell before the altar with his arms stretched out. Gregory the Seventh was the reigning Pontiff. God showed by many miracles how glorious was his Martyr; and Denmark was afflicted with a great famine and sundry calamities, in punishment of the sacrilegious murder which had been perpetrated. Many persons, who were afflicted with various maladies, found aid and health by praying at the tomb of the Martyr. On one occasion, when the Queen endeavoured during the night to take up his body secretly and carry it to another place, she was deterred from her design by being struck with fear at the sight of a most brilliant light, which came down from heaven.

O holy King! the Sun of Justice had risen upon thy country, and all thy ambition was that thy people might enjoy the fulness of its light and warmth. Like the Magi of the East, thou didst lay thy crown at the feet of the Emmanuel, and at length didst offer thy very life in his service and in that of his Church. But thy people were not worthy of thee; they shed thy blood, as the ungrateful Israel shed the Blood of the Just One who is now born unto us, and whose sweet Infancy we are now celebrating. Thou didst offer thy martyrdom for the sins of thy people; offer it now also for them, that they may recover the true faith they have so long lost. Pray for the Rulers of Christian lands, that they may be faithful to their duties, zealous for justice, and may have respect for the liberty of the Church. Ask for us of the Divine Infant a devotedness in his cause like that which glowed in thy breast; and since we have not a crown to lay at his feet, pray for us that we may be generous enough to give our whole heart.



SEVERAL dioceses in England celebrate on this day the feast of St Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester. The last of the Anglo-Saxon saints, Wulstan was worthy to close the long line of men and women who had earned for the country the proud title of 'Insula Sanctorum.' His character as sketched by a contemporary is singularly attractive. A simple man, strong in his simplicity, yet kindly and gifted with a merry wit, he held straight on his course in God's service a priest, monk, prior, and bishop, spending himself in the laborious offices of his ministry, much more intent on the burdens of his position than on its emoluments. A love of beauty ran through his life and manifested itself in building fine churches, in his care of books, in his love for the freshness of children.

In his long life of eighty-seven years Wulstan saw the gradual passing of the old order, the reigns of Ethelbert, Canute, Edward the Confessor, and of his friend King Harold, down to the fateful day when power passed into Norman hands. With all his love for his own land and dynasty the Saint gave no time to useless regrets. He had warned the people that for their sins the country would fall under the dominion of strangers, and when the conquest became a fact he threw his great influence into support of the new dynasty. But he was no time-server, and had no hesitation in confronting the Conqueror to demand redress of injustice done to his See. King William learned to admire the sturdy Saxon prelate, and Wulstan, instead of sharing the fate of nearly all the native bishops who were removed and replaced by Normans, remained in his See and was made the King’s lieutenant for the Midlands.

The following are the lessons of Saint Wulstan.


Wolstanus presbyter magnani sibi sanctitatis famam acquisiverat. Postea monachus Wigorniensis factus, ad ejusdem Ecclesiæ regimen brevi assumptus est. Scienti sacularis pene rudi, spirituali disciplina totum se dedit. Sermonis Anglicani inter eloquentissimos habebatur; quo in genere est illud maxime memorandum, quod cives Bristolienses, quos a nefario mancipiorum indigenarum mercatu, nec regia, nec pontificia potestas deterrere potuerat, ipse assiduis prædicationibus ad saniorem mentem reduxerit.

Episcopus factus omnes boni pastoris partes sedulo egit. Continuo diœcesim suam lustrare cœpit, ordinationes facere, ecclesias dedicare, peccantes arguere animassibi commissas et verbo et exemplo ad æternævitæ desiderium excitare. Sæpius evenit ut ab ortu solii ad tenebras pueros undecumque advectos ad duorum vel trium millium numerum sacro chrismate jejunus signaret. In confessionibus excipiendis ea erat mansuetudine, eo animarum zelo, ut ad Wolstanum et tota Anglia conflueretur, ejusque monitis peccatores scelera sua dignis pœnitentiæ operibus emendarent.

Neque vero, dum alienæ saluti invigilaret, negligebat suam. Frequenti Missarum celebratione, oratione assidua, jugi ab esu carnium abstinentia, et effusa in egenoscaritate Deo serviebat. Quanto autem de se demissius sentiret, eo magis ab omnibus virtutes ejus prædicabantur: ut non solum Angli et Normanni, sed exterarum quoque gentium reges et præsules ejus se orationibus commendarent. Senex admodum mortuus est anno ab Incarnatione Domini millesimo nonagesimo quinto et in ecclesia sua Wigomiæ sepultus.
Wulstan whilst a simple priest had acquired to himself a great renown for holiness. Afterwards having become a monk of Worcester Priory, he was in a short time raised to the government of the same church. Almost entirely ignorant of secular learning, he gave himself wholly to spiritual science. He was numbered among the most eloquent speakers of the English language, in proof of which, this is principally to be remembered, that by his assiduous preaching he converted the citizens of Bristol, whom neither the regal nor the pontifical power could withdraw from the infamous slave trade.

Being made bishop, he sedulously fulfilled all the duties of a good shepherd. He began to visit all parts of his diocese, to give ordinations, to dedicate churches, to reprove sinners, and to animate the souls committed to his care, both by word and example, to the desire of eternal life. It frequently happened that he fasted from sunrise till nightfall whilst he was occupied in confirming children to the number of two or three thousand who were brought from all parts. Such was his meekness and zeal for souls in hearing confessions that persons came to him from all parts of England, and by his admonitions sinners amended their crimes by worthy deeds of penance.

Neither did he whilst watching over the salvation of others neglect his own. He served God by the constant celebration of Mass, by assiduous prayer, by continued abstinence from flesh-meat and by overflowing charity to the needy. The more humbly he esteemed himself, by so much the more his virtues were proclaimed by all, so that not only the English and Normans, but the kings and rulers of foreign nations also commended themselves to his prayers. He died, a very old man, in the year from the Incarnation of our Lord one thousand and ninety-five, and was buried in his church of Worcester.



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

TWO great Martyrs divide between them the honours of this twentieth day of January:—one, a Pontiff of the Church of Rome; the other, a member of that Mother-Church. Fabian received the crown of martyrdom, in the year 250, under the persecution of Decius; the persecution of Diocletian crowned Sebastian in the year 288. We will consider the merits of these two champions of Christ separately.

Saint Fabian

St Fabian, like St Clement and St Anthems, two of his predecessors, was extremely zealous in seeing that the Acts of the Martyrs were carefully drawn up. This zeal was no doubt exercised by the clergy in the case of our holy Pontiff himself, and his sufferings and martyrdom were carefully registered; but all these interesting particulars have been lost, in common with an immense number of other precious Acts, which were condemned to the flames, by the Imperial Edicts, during the persecution under Diocletian. Nothing is now known of the life of St Fabian, save a few of his actions as Pope; but we may have some idea of his virtues by the praise given him by St Cyprian, who, in a letter written to St Cornelius, the immediate successor of St Fabian, calls him an incomparable man. The Bishop of Carthage extols the purity and holiness of life of the holy Pontiff, who so peaceably governed the Church amidst all the storms which then assailed her. There is an interesting circumstance related of him by Eusebius. After the death of St Antherus, the people and clergy of Rome assembled together for the election of the new Pontiff. Heaven marked out the successor of St Peter: a dove was seen to rest on the venerable head of Fabian, and he was unanimously chosen. This reminds us of the event in our Lord's Life, which we celebrated a few days back, when, standing in the river Jordan, the Dove came down from heaven, and showed him to the people as the Son of God. Fabian was the depository of the power of regeneration, which Jesus by his baptism gave to the element of water; he zealously propagated the Faith of his Divine Master, and among the Bishops he consecrated for divers places, one or more were sent by him into these western parts of Europe.

We give the short account of the Acts of St Fabian, as recorded in the Liturgy.

Fabianus Romanus a Maximino usque ad Decium regens Ecclesiam, septem Diaconis regiones divisit, qui pauperum curam haberent. Totidem Subdiaconos creavit, qui res gestas Martyrum a septem Notariis scriptas colligerent. Idem statuit, ut quotannis Feria quinta in Cœna Domini, vetere combusto, Chrisma renovaretur. Denique decimotertio kalendas Februarii in persecutione Decii martyrio coronatus, in cœmeterio Callisti via Appia sepelitur, cum sedisset annos quindecim, dies quatuor. Hic fecit Ordinationes quinque mense Decembri, quibus creavit Presbyteros viginti duos, Diáconos septem, Episcopos per diversa loca undecim.
Fabian, a Roman by birth, governed the Church from the reign of 'Maximian to that of Decius. He divided the City into seven parts, which he consigned to as many Deacons, and to them he gave the charge of looking after the poor. He created also a like number of Subdeacons, who were to collect the Acts of the Martyrs, written by seven Notaries. It was he who decreed that every year, on the fifth Feria of our Lord's Supper, the Chrism should be renewed, and the old should be burnt. At length, on the thirteenth of the Kalends of February (January 20), he was crowned with martyrdom, in the persecution of Decius, and was buried in the cemetery of Callixtus, on the Appian Way, after reigning fifteen years and four days. He held five ordinations in the month of December, in which ordinations he made two and twenty Priests, seven Deacons and eleven Bishops for divers places.

Thus didst thou live out the long tempestuous days of thy Pontificate, O Fabian! But thou hadst the presentiment of the peaceful future reserved by God for his Church, and thou didst zealously labour to hand down to the coming generations the great examples of the Martyrs. The flames have robbed us of a great portion of the treasures thou preparedst for us, and have deprived us of knowing the Fabian who so loved the Martyrs, and died one himself. But of thee, Blessed Pontiff! we know enough to make us thank God for having set thee over his Church in those hard times, and keep this day as a feast in celebration of thy glorious triumph. The dove, which marked thee out as the one chosen by heaven, showed thee to men as the visible Christ on earth; it told thee that thou wert destined for heavy responsibilities and martyrdom; it was a warning to the Church that she should recognize and hear thee as her guide and teacher. Honoured thus with a resemblance to Jesus in the mystery of his Epiphany, pray to him for us, that he mercifully manifest himself to our mind and heart. Obtain of him for us that docility to his grace, that loving submissiveness to his will, that detachment from all created things, which were the support of thy life during those fifteen years of thy ever threatened and anxious pontificate. When the angry persecution at length broke on thee, it found thee prepared, and martyrdom carried thee to the bosom of that God who had already welcomed so many of thy martyred children. We too are looking for that last wave which is to break over us, and carry us from the shore of this present life to eternity; oh! pray for us, that it may find us ready! If the love of the Divine Babe, our Jesus, be within us; if, like thee, we imitate the simplicity of the dove; we shall not be lost! Here are our hearts—we wish for nothing but God; help us by thy prayers.

Saint Sebastian

At the head of her list of heroes, after the two glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, who form her chief glory, Rome puts her two most valiant Martyrs, Laurence and Sebastian, and her two most illustrious Virgins, Cecily and Agnes. Of these four, two are given us by the Calendar of Christmastide as attendants in the court of the Infant Jesus at Bethlehem. Laurence and Cecily come later in the year, when other mysteries are brought before us by the Liturgy: but Christmas calls forth Sebastian and Agnes. To-day it is the brave soldier of the pretorian band, Sebastian, who stands by the Crib; to-morrow we shall see Agnes, gentle as a lamb, yet fearless as a lion, inviting us to love the sweet Babe whom she chose for her Spouse.

The chivalrous spirit of Sebastian reminds us of the great Archdeacon; both of them, one in the sanctuary and the other in the world, defied the tortures of death. Burnt on one side, Laurence bids the tyrant roast the other; Sebastian, pierced with his arrows, waits till the gaping wounds are closed, and then runs to his persecutor Diocletian, asking for a second martyrdom. But we must forget Laurence to-day, to think of Sebastian.

We must picture to ourselves a young soldier, who tears himself away from all the ties of his home at Milan, because the persecution there was too tame, whereas at Rome it was at its fiercest. He trembles with anxiety at the thought that perhaps some of the Christians in the Capital may be losing courage. He has been told that at times some of the Emperor's soldiers, who were soldiers also of Christ, have gained admission into the prisons, and have roused up the sinking courage of the confessors. He is resolved to go on the like mission, and hopes that he may also receive the blessing of martyrdom. He reaches Rome, he is admitted into the prisons, and encourages to martyrdom such as had been shaken by the tears of those who were dear to them. Some of the gaolers, converted by witnessing his faith and his miracles, become martyrs themselves; and one of the Roman Magistrates asks to be instructed in a religion which can produce such men as this Sebastian. He has won the esteem of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian Hercules for his fidelity and courage as a soldier; they have loaded him with favours; and this gives him an influence in Rome which he so zealously turns to the advantage of the Christian religion, that the holy Pope Caius calls him the Defender of the Church.

After sending innumerable martyrs to heaven, Sebastian at length wins the crown he had so ardently desired. He incurs the displeasure of Diocletian by confessing himself a Christian; the heavenly King, for whose sake alone he had put on the helmet and soldier's cloak, was to him above all Emperors and Princes. He is handed over to the archers of Mauritania, who strip him, bind him, and wound him from head to foot with their arrows. They left him for dead, but a pious woman named Irene took care of him, and his wounds were healed. Sebastian again approaches the Emperor, who orders him to be beaten to death in the circus, near the Imperial Palace.

Such are the Soldiers of our new-born King; but oh! how richly does he repay them for their service! Rome, the Capital of his Church, is founded on seven Basilicas, as the ancient City was on its seven hills; and the name and tomb of Sebastian grace one of these seven sanctuaries. The Basilica of Sebastian stands in a sort of solitude, on the Appian Way, outside the walls of the Eternal City; it is enriched with the relics of the holy Pope and Martyr Fabian; but Sebastian, the valiant leader of the pretorian guard, is the Patron, and as it were the Prince of the holy temple. It was here that he wished to be buried, as a faithful guardian, near the well wherein the bodies of the holy Apostles had been concealed, lest they should be desecrated by the persecutors.

In return for the zeal of St Sebastian for the souls of his Christian brethren, whom he preserved from the contagion of paganism, God has made him the Protector of the faithful against pestilence. A signal proof of this power granted to the holy Martyr was given at Rome, in the year 680, under the Pontificate of St Agatho.

Let us now listen to our holy Mother the Church, who thus speaks of her glorious Martyr in the Office of his Feast.

Sebastianus ex patre Narbonensi, matre Mediolanensi natus, ob generisnobilitatemi et virtutem Diocletiano cams fuit. Dux primæ cohortis, christianos, quorum fidem clam colebat, opera et facultatibus adjuvabat; et qui ex eis tormentomm vim reformidare videbantur, cohortatione sic confirmabat, ut pro Jesu Christo multi se ultro tortoribus offerrent. In illis fuere Marcus et Marcellianus fratres, qui Romæ in custodia erant apud Nicostratum: cujus uxor Zoe vocem, quam amiserat, Sebastiani oratione recuperavit. Quibus Diocletiano delatis, Sebastianum accersit, et vehementius objurgatum, omnibus artificiis a Christi fide conatur avertere. Sed cum nihil nec pollicendo, nec terrendo proficeret, ad palum alligatum sagittis configi jubet.

Quem omnium opinione mortuum, noctu sancta mulier Irene sepeliendi gratia jussit auferri: sed vivum repertum, domi suæ curavit. Itaque paulo post confirmata valetudine, Diocletiano obviam factus, ejus impietatem liberius accusavit. Cujus aspectu cum ille primum obstupuisset, quod mortuum crederet, rei novitate et acri Sebastiani reprehensione excandescens, eum tamdiu virgis cædi imperavit, donec animam Deo redderet. Ejus corpus in cloacam dejectum, Lucina a Sebastiano in somnis admonita, ubi esset, et quo loco humari vellet, ad Catacumbas sepelivit, ubi sancti Sebastiani nomine Celebris Ecclesia est ædificata.
Sebastian, whose father was of Narbonne, and his mother a lady of Milan, was beloved by Diocletian on account of his noble birth and his virtues. Being a captain of the pretorian cohort, he was able to give assistance and alms to the Christians, whose faith he himself followed, though privately. When he perceived any of them trembling at the great tortures of the persecutors, he made it his duty to encourage them; and so well did he do it, that many, for the sake of Jesus Christ, would freely offer themselves to the executioners. Of this number were the two brothers Mark and Marcellian, who were in custody under Nicostratus, whose wife, named Zoe, had recovered her speech by the prayer made for her by Sebastian. Diocletian, being told of these things, summoned Sebastian before him; and after upbraiding him in very strong words, tried every means to induce him to turn from the faith of Christ. But finding that neither promises nor threats availed, he ordered him to be tied to a stake, and to be shot to death with arrows.

Everyone thought he was dead; and a pious woman named Irene gave orders that his body should be taken away during the night and buried; but she, finding him to be still alive, had him taken to her house, where she took care of him. Not long after, having quite recovered, he went before Diocletian, and boldly chided him for his wickedness. At first the Emperor was struck dumb with astonishment, for he had been told that Sebastian was dead; but at length the strange event and the Martyr's sharp rebuke so inflamed him with rage, that he ordered him to be scourged to death with rods. His body was thrown into a sewer, but Lucina was instructed by Sebastian, in her sleep, both as to where his body was, and where he wished to be buried. Accordingly she buried him at the Catacombs, where, afterwards, a celebrated Church was built, called Saint Sebastian's.

The ancient Liturgical books contain a great many pieces in honour of St Sebastian. We limit ourselves to the following, which belongs to the Ambrosian Breviary.


Sebastiani Martyris,
Concivis almi, supplices
Diem sacratam vocibus
Canamus omnes debitis.

Athleta Christi nobilis,
Ardens amore prælii,
Linquit tepentem patriam,
Pugnamque Romæ festinat.

Hic cultor alti dogmatis,
Virtute plenus cœlica,
Idola damnans, inclyti
Trophæa sperai martyris.

Loris revinctus plurimis;
Qua stipes ingens tollitur,
Vibrata tela suscipit
Umbone nudo pectoris.

Fit silva corpus ferrea;
Sed ære mens constantior
Ut molle ferrum despicit:
Ferrum precatur, sæviat.

Manantis unda sanguinis
Exsangue corpus nunciat;
Sed casta nocte femina
Plagas tumentes recreat.

Cœleste robur militi
Adacta præbent vulnera;
Rursum tyrannum provocans,
Exspirat inter vulnera.

Nunc cœli in arce considens,
Bellator o fortissime,
Luem fugando, civium
Tuere clemens corpora.

Patri, simulque Filio,
Tibique, Sancte Spiritus,
Sicut fuit, sit jugiter
Sæclum per omne gloria.

Let us all, in humble supplication,
and with becoming sweetness of voice,
celebrate in song the feast-day
of our dear fellow-citizen, Sebastian the Martyr.

This noble champion of Christ,
fired with the love of battle,
leaves his country, where danger too tamely threatened him,
and hastens to the hot battlefield at Rome.

His soul enlightened with the sublime dogmas of faith,
and full of heavenly courage,
he condemns the worship of idols,
and hopes that a martyr's bright trophy may be his.

He is bound with many thongs
to the huge trunk of a tree,
and on his naked breast
receives the quivering arrows.

There stood his body like a forest of iron darts,
while his soul, more unflinching than brass,
despises the weapons as harmless things,
and bids them do their worst.

Streams of blood flow from the wounds,
leaving but a lifeless body;
but a holy woman comes by night,
and heals the gaping wounds.

The cruel goading
gives our soldier heavenly strength;
again he urges the tyrant to his work,
and this time dies under the wounding lash.

And now, most brave of warriors!
now that thou art throned in the high heavens,
drive pestilence away, and mercifully protect
the bodily health of thy fellow-citizens on earth.

To the Father, and to the Son,
and to thee, O Holy Spirit,
may there be, as there ever hath been,
glory for ever and ever.


We find the following Prayer in the Gothic Missal.


Deus, qui per beatissimum Sebastianum Martyrern tuum, tuorum fidelium animos roborasti: dum tibi illum latentem sub chlamyde terrena imperii, militem perfectum exhibuisti, fac nos semper in tuis laudibus militare: os nostrum arma documento justitiæ: cor illustra tuæ dilectionis amore, atque carnem nostram erutam libidine clavis tuæ crucis adfige.
O God, who by thy most blessed Martyr Sebastian hast infused courage into the hearts of thy faithful, since thou didst make him, while concealed under the service of an earthly commander, a perfect soldier of thine own: grant that we may ever fight to secure thy praise; confirm our speech with the teachings of thy justice; enlighten our heart with the love of thy love, and having freed our flesh from its concupiscence, secure it to thyself with the nails of thy cross.

Brave Soldier of our Emmanuel! thou art now sweetly reposing at the foot of his throne. Thy wounds are closed, and thy rich palm-branch delights all heaven by the freshness of its unfading beauty. Look down upon the Church on earth, that tires not in singing thy praise. Each Christmas, we find thee near the Crib of the Divine Babe, its brave and faithful sentinel. The office thou didst once fill in an earthly prince's court is still thine, but it is in the palace of the King of kings. Into that palace, we beseech thee, lead us by thy prayers, and gain a favourable hearing to our own unworthy petitions.

With what a favourable ear must not Jesus receive all thy requests, who didst love him with such a brave love! Thirsting to shed thy blood in his service, thou didst scorn a battlefield where danger was not sure, and Rome, that Babylon which, as St John says,[1] was drunk with the blood of the Martyrs, Rome alone was worthy of thee. And there it was not thy plan to secure the palm of martyrdom only for thyself; the courage of some of thy fellow-Christians had wavered, and the thought of their danger troubled thee. Rushing into their prisons, where they lay mutilated by the tortures they had endured, thou didst give them back the fallen laurel, and teach them how to secure it in the grasp of holy defiance. It seemed as though thou wast commissioned to form a pretorian band for the King of heaven, and that thou couldst not enter heaven unless marshalling thither a troop of veterans for Jesus.

Thy turn came at last; the hour of thy confession was at hand, and thou hadst to think of thine own fair crown. But for such a soldier as thou, Sebastian, one martyrdom is not enough. The archers have faithfully done their work—not an arrow is left in their quivers; and yet their victim lives, ready for a second sacrifice. Such were the Christians of the early times, and we are their children!

Look, then, O Soldier of Christ! upon us, and pity us, as thou didst thy brethren, who once faltered in the combat. Alas! we let everything frighten and discourage us; and oftentimes we are enemies of the Cross, even while professing that we love it. We too easily forget that we cannot be companions of the martyrs unless our hearts have the generosity of the martyrs. We are cowardly in our contest with the world and its pomps; with the evil propensities of our nature, and the tyranny of our senses; and thus we fall. And when we have made an easy peace with God, and sealed it with the sacrament of his love, we behave as though we had now nothing more to do than to go on quietly to heaven, without further trials or self-imposed sacrifices. Rouse us, great Saint! from these illusions, and waken us from our listless life. Our love of God is asleep, and all must needs go wrong.

Preserve us from the contagion of bad example, and of those worldly maxims which gain currency even with Christian minds, because Christian lips call them rules of Christian prudence. Pray for us, that we may be ardent in the pursuit of our sanctification, watchful over our inclinations, zealous for the salvation of others, lovers of the Cross, and detached from earthly things. Oh! by the arrows which pierced thee, we beseech thee shield us from those hidden darts which Satan throws against us.

Pray for us, that we may be clad with the armour of God, described to us by the great Apostle. May we have on the breastplate of justice, which will defend us from sin; the helmet of salvation, that is, the hope of gaining heaven, which will preserve us from both despair and presumption; the shield of faith, which will ward off the darts of the enemy who seeks to corrupt the heart by leading the mind into error; and lastly, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, whereby we may put all false doctrines to flight, and vanquish all our vices; for heaven and earth pass away, but the word of God abides for ever, and is given us as our rule and the pledge of our salvation.[2]

Defender of the Church, as the Vicar of Christ called thee, lift up thy sword and defend her now. Prostrate her enemies, and frustrate the plots they have laid for her destruction. Let her enjoy one of those rare periods of peace during which she prepares for fresh combats. Obtain for Christian soldiers, engaged in just wars, the blessing of the God of Hosts. Protect the Holy City of Rome, where thy Tomb is honoured. Avert from us, by thy intercession, the scourge of pestilence and contagion. Hear the prayers which each year are addressed to thee for the preservation of the creatures given by God to man to aid him in his daily labour. Secure to us, by thy prayers, peace and happiness in this present life, and the good things of the life to come.


[1] Apoc. xvii 6.
[2] Eph. vi 13 et seq.



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

HOW rich is the constellation of Martyrs, which shines in this portion of the sacred cycle! Yesterday we had St Sebastian; to-morrow we shall be singing the name which means Victory, for it is the Feast of Vincent; and now to-day, between these two stalwart palm-branches, we find the gentle Agnes decked with the roses and lilies of her virginity. It is to a girl of thirteen that our Emmanuel gave this stern courage of martyrdom which made her meet the enemy with as bold a front as either the valiant captain of the pretorian band or the dauntless deacon of Saragossa. If they are the soldiers of Jesus, she is his tender and devoted Spouse. These are the triumphs of the Son of Mary! Scarcely has he shown himself to the world, and lo! every noble heart flies towards him, according to that word of his: Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together.[1]

It is the admirable result of the Virginity of his Blessed Mother, who has brought honour to the fecundity of the soul, and set it far above that of the body. It was Mary that first opened the way whereby certain chosen souls mount up even to the Divine Son, and fix their gaze in a cloudless vision on his beauty; for he himself said: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.[2]

What a glory it is for the Catholic Church, that she alone has the gift of this holy state of virginity, which is the source of every other sacrifice, because nothing but the love of God could inspire a human heart to vow virginity! And what a grand honour for Christian Rome that she should have produced a Saint Agnes, that angel of earth, in comparison with whom the Vestals of paganism are mere pretences of devotedness, for their Virginity was never punished by fire and sword, nay, rather, was flattered by the recompense of earthly honours and riches!

Not that our Saint is without her recompense; only her recompense is not marred with the flaw of all human rewards. The name of this child, who lived but thirteen short years, will be echoed, to the end of time, in the sacred Canon of the universal Sacrifice. The path trod by the innocent maiden, on the way to her trial, is still marked out in the Holy City. In the Circus Agonalis[3] there rises the beautiful Church of Saint Agnes, with its rich cupola; and beneath are the vaults which were once the haunts of infamy, but now are a holy sanctuary, where everything reminds us of her who here won her glorious victory. Further on, on the Nomentan Road, outside the ramparts, is the beautiful Basilica, built by Constantine; and here, under an altar covered with precious stones, lies the body of the young Saint. Round this Basilica there are immense crypts; and in these did Agnes's relics repose until the epoch of peace, surrounded by thousands of martyrs, whose holy remains were also deposited here.

Nor must we pass over in silence the gracious tribute of honour paid by Rome each year, on this feast, to her beloved Martyr. Two lambs are placed on the altar of the Basilica Nomentana; they are emblems of the meekness of Jesus and the innocence of the gentle Agnes. After they have been blessed by the Abbot of the religious community which serves this Church, they are taken to a monastery of nuns, where they are carefully reared. Their wool is used for making the Palliums, which the Pope sends to all Patriarchs and Metropolitans of the Catholic world, as the essential emblem of their jurisdiction. Thus, this simple woollen ornament, which these prelates wear on their shoulders as a symbol of the sheep carried on the shoulders of the good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Pontiff takes from off the Altar of Saint Peter in order to send it to its destination, carries to the very ends of the world the sublime union of these two sentiments—the vigour and power of the Prince of the Apostles, and the gentleness of Agnes the Virgin.

We will now quote the beautiful eulogy on St Agnes written by St Ambrose in his Book On Virgins.[4] The Church gives almost the entire passage in her Office of to-day’s feast; and, assuredly, the Virgin of Christ could not have had a finer panegyrist than the great Bishop of Milan, who is the most eloquent and persuasive of all the Fathers on the subject of holy virginity. We read that in the cities where Ambrose preached, mothers were afraid of their daughters being present at his sermons, lest he should persuade them to such love of Christ as to choose the better part.

Having resolved,’ says the holy Bishop, ‘to write a book on virginity, I think myself happy in being able to begin it on the feast we are keeping of the Virgin Agnes. It is the feast of a virgin; let us walk in the path of purity. It is the feast of a martyr; let us offer up our Sacrifice. It is the feast of St Agnes; let men admire, and children not despair; let the married wonder, and the unmarried imitate. But what can we speak worthy of this Saint, whose very name is not void of praise? As her devotedness is beyond her years, and her virtue superhuman—so, as it seems to me, her name is not an appellation, but a prophecy, presaging that she was to be a martyr.

The holy Doctor is here alluding to the word Agnus, from which some have derived the name Agnes; and he says that the young Saint had immolation in her very name, for it called her victim. He goes on to consider the other etymology of Agnes, from the Greek word agnos, which means pure; and he thus continues his discourse:

The maiden’s name is an expression of purity. Martyr then, and Virgin! Is not that praise enough? There is no praise so eloquent as merit that is too great to need seeking. No one is so praiseworthy as he who may be praised by all. Now all men are the praisers of Agnes, for when they pronounce her name they say her praise, for they say a Martyr.

There is a tradition that she suffered martyrdom at the age of thirteen. Detestable indeed the cruelty that spared not even so tender an age! but oh! the power of faith, that could find even children to be its witnesses! Here was a victim scarce big enough for a wound, for where could the sword fall? and yet she had courage enough to conquer the sword.

At such an age as this, a girl trembles if she but see her mother angry, and cries as though it were a grievous thing if but pricked with a needle's point. And Agnes, who stands amidst blood-stained murderers, is fearless! She is stunned with the rattle of the heavy chains, and yet not a flutter in that heart! She offers her whole body to the sword of the furious soldier, for though she knows not what death is, yet she is quite ready to endure it. Perchance they will take her by force to the altars of their gods! If they do, she will stretch out her hands to Jesus, and amidst those sacrilegious fires she will sign herself with that blessed sign, the trophy of our divine Conqueror; and then, if they will, and they can find shackles small enough to fit such tender limbs, they may fasten her hands and neck in their iron fetters!

How strange a martyrdom! She is too young to be punished, yet she is old enough to win a victory. She cannot fight, yet she easily gains a crown. She has but the age of a scholar, yet has she mastered every virtue. Bride never went to nuptials with so glad a heart, nor so light a step, as this young virgin marches to the place of execution. She is decked not with the gay show of plaited tresses, but with Christ; she is wreathed not with flowers, but with purity.

All stood weeping; Agnes shed not a tear. Some wondered how it could be that she, who had but just begun her life, should be as ready to sacrifice it as though she had lived it out; and everyone was amazed that she, who was too young to give evidence even in her own affairs, should be so bold a witness of the divinity. Her oath would be invalid in a human cause; yet she is believed when she bears testimony for God. Their surprise was just: for a power thus above nature could only come from him who is the author of all nature.

Her executioner does all he can to frighten her; he speaks fair words to coax her; he tells her of all the suitors who have sought her as their bride; but she replies: "The Spouse insults her Beloved if she hesitate. I belong to him who first betrothed me: why, executioner, dost thou not strike? Kill this body, which might be loved by eyes I would not wish to please."

She stood, she prayed, she bowed down her head. The executioner trembles, as though himself were going to be beheaded. His hand shakes, and his cheek grows pale, to strike this girl, who loves the danger and the blow. Here, then, have we a twofold martyrdom in a single victim, one for her chastity, the other for her faith. She was a Virgin before; and now she is a Martyr.

The Roman Church sings on this feast the sweet Responsories in which Agnes expresses her tender love of Jesus, and her happiness at having him for her Spouse. They are formed from the words of the ancient Acts of her Martyrdom, which were long attributed to the pen of St Ambrose.


℟. Dexteram meam et collum meum cinxit lapidibus pretiosis; tradidit auribus meis inæstimabiles margaritas: * Et circumdedit me vernantibus atque coruscantibus gemmis.
℣. Posuit signum in faciem meam, ut nullum præter eum amatorem admittam. * Et circumdedit me.

. Amo Christum in cujus thalamum introibo, cujus Mater virgo est, cujus Pater feminam nescit, cujus mihi organa modulatis vocibus cantant: * Quem cum amavero, casta sum, cum tetigero, munda sum, cum accepero, virgo sum.
℣. Annulo fidei suæ subarrhavit me, et immensis monilibus ornavit me: * Quem.

. Mel et lac ex ejus ore suscepi, * Et sanguis ejus ornavit genas meas.
℣. Ostendit mihi thesauros incomparabiles, quos mihi se daturum repromisit. * Et sanguis.

. Jam corpus ejus corpori meo sociatum est, et sanguis ejus omavit genas meas: * Cujus Mater virgo est, cujus Pater feminam nescit.
℣. Ipsi sum desponsata cui Angeli serviunt, cujus pulchritudinem sol et luna mirantur. * Cujus Mater.
℟. My Spouse has set precious stones on my right hand and on my neck; he has hung priceless pearls in my ears: * And he has laden me with gay and glittering gems.
℣. He has placed his sign upon my face, that I may have none other to love me but him. * And he has.

℟. I love Christ; I shall be the spouse of him, whose Mother is a Virgin, and whose Father begot him divinely, and who delights me with sweet music of organs and singers: * When I love him, I am chaste; when I touch him, I am pure; when I possess him, I am a Virgin.
℣. He has betrothed me with the ring of his fidelity, and has decked me with a necklace of priceless worth. * When.

℟. Milk and honey have I received from his lips; * and his Blood has graced my cheek.
℣. He has shown me incomparable treasures, and these has he promised to give me. * And his Blood.

℟. Already have I communicated of his sacred Body, and his Blood has graced my cheek: * His Mother is a Virgin, his Father is God.
℣. I am espoused to him whom the Angels obey, and whose beauty the sun and the moon admire. * His Mother.

St Ambrose was sure to write a Hymn on the Virgin-Martyr in whose praise he was so enthusiastic. We almost despair of giving an idea of the beauty of his verses to such as can read only our version of them.


Agnes beatæ virginis
Natalis est, quo spiritum
Cœlo refudit debitum,
Pio sacrata sanguine.

Matura martyrio fuit,
Matura nondum nuptiis,
Nutabat in viris fides,
Cedebat et fessus senex.

Metu parentes territi
Claustrum pudoris auxerant:
Solvit fores custodiæ
Fides teneri nescia.

Prodire quis nuptam putet,
Sic læta vultu ducitur,
Novas viro ferens opes,
Dotata censu sanguinis.

Aras nefandi numinis
Adolere tædis cogitur:
Respondet: Haud tales faces
Sumpsere Christi virgines.

Hic ignis exstinguit fidem,
Hæc fiamma lumen eripit:
Hic, hic ferite, ut profluo
Cruore restinguam focos.

Percussa quam pompam tulit?
Nam veste se totam tegit,
Curam pudoris præstitit,
Ne quis retectam cerneret.

In morte vivebat pudor,
Vultumque texerat manu;
Terram genuflexo petit,
Lapsu verecundo cadens.

Gloria tibi Domine,
Gloria Unigenito,
Una cum Sancto Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula.

It is the blessed Virgin Agnes' feast,
for today she was sanctified
by shedding her innocent blood,
and gave to heaven her heaven-claimed spirit.

She that was too young to be a bride
was old enough to be a martyr,
and that too in an age when men were faltering in faith,
and even hoary heads grew wearied and denied our God.

Her parents trembled for their Agnes,
and doubly did they thus defend the treasure of her purity;
but her faith disdained a silent hiding-place,
and unlocked its shelter-giving gate.

One would think it was a bride hurrying with glad smiles
to give some new present to her Spouse;
and so it was: she was bearing to him
the dowry of her martyrdom.

They would fain make her light
a torch at the altar of some vile deity they came to:
'The Virgins of Jesus,' said Agnes,
'are not wont to hold a torch like this.

'Its fire would quench one’s faith;
its flame would put out my light.
Strike, strike me, and the stream of my blood
shall extinguish these fires.'

They strike her to the ground and as she falls,
she gathers her robes around her, dreading,
in the jealous purity of her soul,
the insulting gaze of some lewd eye.

Alive to purity even in the act of death,
she buries her face in her hands;
and kneeling on the ground,
she falls as purity would wish to fall.

Glory be to thee, O Lord!
and glory to thine Only Begotten Son,
together with thy Holy Spirit,
for everlasting ages.


Our admirable Prudentius, who visited Rome in the early part of the fifth century, and witnessed the devotion of the Roman people to St Agnes, consecrated to her sweet memory the following Hymn, which is one of the finest of his poems. Though very long, it is the Hymn used for this Feast in the Mozarabic Breviary.


Agnes sepulchrum est Romulea in domo,
Fortis puellæ, martyris inclytæ.
Conspectu in ipso condita turrium,
Servai salutem virgo Quiritium:
Nec non et ipsos protegit advenas,
Puro, ac fideli pectore supplices.
Duplex corona est præstita Martyri.
Intactum ab omni crimine virginal,
Mortis deinde gloria liberæ.

Aiunt, jugali vix habilem toro
Primis in annis forte puellulam,
Christo calentem, fortiter impiis
Jussis renisam, quo minus idolis
Addicta, sacram desereret fidem.

Tentata multis nam prius artibus,
Nunc ore blandi judicis illice,
Nunc sævientis camificis minis,
Stabat feroci robore pertinax,
Corpusque duris excruciatibus
Ultro offerebat, non renuens mori.

Tum trux tyrannus: Si facile est, ait,
Pœnam subactis ferre doloribus,
Et vita vilis spernitur: at pudor
Carus dicatæ virginitatis est.

Hanc in lupanar tradere publicum
Certum est, ad aram ni caput applicet,
Ac de Minerva jam veniam roget,
Quam virgo pergit temnere virginem.
Omnis Juventus irruat, et novum
Ludibriorum mancipium petat.

Haud, inquit Agnes, immemor est ita
Christus suorum, perdat ut aureum
Nobis pudorem, nos quoque deserat.
Præsto est pudicis, nec patitur sacræ
Integritatis munera pollui.

Ferrum impiabis sanguine, si voles:
Non inquinabis membra libidine.

Sic elocutam publicitus jubet
Flexu in plateæ sistere virginem,
Stantem refugit mœsta frequentia,
Aversa vultus, ne petulantius
Quisquam verendum conspiceret locum.
Intendit unus forte procaciter
Os in puellam, nec trepidat sacram
Spectare formam lumine lubrico.

En ales ignis fulminis in modum
Vibratur ardens, atque oculos ferit:
Cæcus corusco lumine corruit,
Atque in plateæ pulvere palpitat,
Tollunt sodales seminecem solo,
Verbisque deflent exsequialibus.

Ibat triumphans virgo, Deum Patrem,
Christumque sacro carmine concinens,
Quod sub profani labe periculi
Castum lupanar, nec violabile
Experta victrix virginitas foret.

Sunt, qui rogatam rettulerint preces
Fudisse Christo, redderet ut reo
Lucem jacenti: tum juveni halitum
Vitæ innovatum visibus integris.

Primum sed Agnes hunc habuit gradum
Cœlestis aulæ, mox alius datur.
Accensus iram nam furor incitat
Hostis cruenti. Vincor, ait gemens;
I, stringe ferrum, miles, et exere
Præcepta summi regia principis,

Ut vidit Agnes, stare trucem virum
Mucrone nudo, lætior hæc ait:
Exsulto, talis quod potius venit
Vesanus, atrox, turbidus armiger,
Quam si veniret languidus, ac tener
Mollisque ephebus tinctus aromate,
Qui me pudoris funere perderet.
Hic, hic amator jam, fateor, placet:
Ibo irruentis gressibus obviam,
Nec demorabor vota calentia:
Ferrum in papillas omne recepero,
Pectusque ad imum vim gladii traham.
Sic nupta Christo transiliam poli
Omnes tenebras æthere celsior.

Æterne rector, divide januas
Cœli, obseratas terrigenis prius;
Ac te sequentem, Christe, animam voca,
Quum virginalem, tum Patris hostiam.
Sic fata, Christum vertice cernuo
Supplex adorat, vulnus ut imminens
Cervix subiret prona paratius.

Ast ille tantam spem peragit manu:
Uno sub ictu nam caput amputat.
Sensum doloris mors cita prævenit.
Exutus inde Spiritus emicat,
Liberque in auras exilit: Angeli
Sepsere euntem tramite candido.

Miratur orbem sub pedibus situm,
Spectat tenebras ardua subditas,
Ridetque, solis quod rota circuit,
Quod mundus omnis volvit, et implicat,
Rerum quod atro turbine vivitur,
Quod vana sæcli mobilitas rapit:

Reges, tyrannos, imperia et gradus,
Pompasque honorum stulta tumentium:
Argenti et auri vim, rabida siti
Cunctis petitam per varium nefas,
Splendore multo structa habitacula,
Illusa pictæ vestis inania,
Iram, timorem, vota, pericula:
Nunc triste longum, nunc breve gaudium,
Livoris atri fumificas faces
Nigrescit unde spes hominum et decus,
Et, quod malorum tetrius omnium est,
Gentilitatis sordida nubila.

Hæc calcat Agnes, hæc pede proterit,
Stans, et draconis calce premens caput:
Terrena mundi qui ferus omnia
Spargit venenis, mergit et inferis,
Nunc virginali perdomitus solo,
Cristas cerebri deprimit ignei,
Nec victus audet tollere verticem.

Cingit coronis interea Deus
Frontem duabus martyris innubæ
Unam decemplex edita sexies
Merces perenni lumine conficit:
Centenus exstat fructus in altera.

O virgo felix, o nova gloria,
Cœlestis arcis nobilis incoia,
Intende nostris colluvionibus
Vultum gemello cum diademate:
Cui posse soli Cunctiparens dedit
Castum vel ipsum reddere fornicem.

Purgabor oris propitiabilis
Fulgore, nostrum si jecur impleas.
Nil non pudicum est quod pia visere
Dignaris, almo vel pede tangere.
The tomb of Agnes, the intrepid maiden,
the glorious Martyr, is in the city of Romulus.
In her resting-place, fronting the ramparts,
the Virgin watches over the sons of Quirinus;
and to pilgrims, too, that pray to her
with pure and faithful hearts, she extends her protection.
She is a Martyr that wears a double crown;
for she was a spotless, innocent virgin;
and a glorious victim that freely died for Christ.

It is related that when a girl,
and too young to be a bride,
she loved Jesus with tenderest love, and bravely withstood
the impious commands that bade her offer sacrifice
to the idols, and deny the holy faith.

No art was left untried to make her yield;
the judge put on the softness of winning words,
and the grim executioner blustered out his threats:
but Agnes stood firm in stern courageousness,
bidding them put her body to their fierce tortures,
for she was willing to die.

Then spoke the fierce tyrant: 'I know thy readiness
to suffer pain and tortures, and at how low a price
thou settest life; but there is one thing
thou holdest dear—a virgin's purity.

‘Tis this I have resolved to expose to insult in the common brothel,
unless thy head shall bend before the altar of our virgin-goddess Minerva,
and thou, a virgin that darest to despise a virgin such as she,
shalt humbly crave her pardon.
There shall youthful wantons have access,
and thou be minister to passion.'

'And thinkest thou,’ said Agnes, ‘that Christ can so forget
his children as to let our gold of purity be robbed,
and us be outcasts to his care?
He is ever with the chaste, shielding from injury
the gift he has bestowed of holy virginity.

Thy sword may drip, if so thou listest, with our blood;
but contamination and dishonour, never!'

Scarce had she said these words, than order was given
to expose her in the vaults
of the well-known street.
A throng, indeed, was there; but pity put a veil
o'er every eye, and fear imposed respect.
Save one alone, and gaze, he says, he will.
He scorns this modest fear,
which checks the froward eye.

But lo! an Angel, swift as lightning,
strikes and blinds the wanton wretch.
He falls, and writhes amidst the dust.
His fellows raise him from the ground,
lifeless, as he seems to them; and weeping
and lamenting, bear the corpse away.

Agnes had triumphed: and in a hymn of praise,
she sings her thanks to God the Father and his Christ,
for that they had turned the den of infamy
into a shelter for her treasure,
and made virginity victorious.

Some say that she was prayed
to pray to Christ that he would restore
the prostrate sinner to the vision he had lost:
she did so, and the youth regained his consciousness and sight.

But this was only one step towards heaven
for our Saint; a second is to come.
The cruel tyrant boils with furious wrath,
and choked with disappointment, exclaims:
‘Shall I be baffled by a girl? Draw thy sword,
soldier, and do the royal biddings of our sovereign lord.'

Agnes looked up, and saw the savage minion standing
with his unsheathed sword, and thus she spoke with beaming face:
'Oh! happy, happy change! A wild, fierce,
boisterous swordsman, for that young love-sick,
smooth-faced, soft perfumed
murderer of the chaste soul!
‘This is a suitor that does please me.
I will not run from him, nor deny him what he asks.
His steel shall nestle in my bosom,
and his sword shall warm
in my heart's best blood.
Thus wedded to my Christ,
I shall mount above the dark world
to the realms beyond the clouds.

‘Eternal King! the gate of heaven, closed to men before thy coming
on our earth, is opened now: ah! let me enter in.
Call to thyself, my Jesus, a soul that seeks but thee:
thy virgin-spouse, and thy Father’s martyr—call me, Lord, to thee.'
Thus did she pray; and then, with bended head,
adored her Lord, and in this posture was the readier
to receive the uplifted sword.

The soldier’s hand was raised, and all the hopes of Agnes were fulfilled,
for with a single blow he beheads the holy maiden,
and death comes speedily to leave no time for pain.
Quickly her spirit quits its garb of flesh,
and speeds untrammelled through the air,
surrounded, as it mounts, by a choir of lovely Angels.

She sees this orb of ours far far below,
and all beneath her seems a speck of dark.
All earthly things are now so dwindled to her spirit's eye,
that she looks at them and smiles: yea, all seems poor:
the space traversed by the Sun, the globe with all its system, all that lives in the stormy whirlwind of creation, and changes with the vain fickleness of the world.

Kings and tyrants, empires and all ranks;
the pompous pageantry of honours big with folly;
the sovereignty of gold and silver,
which all men seek with rapid thirst,
and gain by varied crime; sumptuous dwellings;
rich coloured garbs, mere graceful lies;
wrath and fear, hope and peril;
grief so long, and joy so brief;
black envy’s smoky flames,
which blight men's hopes and fame;
and last but worst of all earth’s ills,
the gloomy cloud of pagan superstition.

Agnes sees all this, and tramples on it all.
She stands, and crushes with her foot the serpent’s head.
This monster with his venom taints all things on earth,
and plunges into hell the fools that are his slaves;
but now he crouching lies beneath a virgin’s foot,
droops his fiery crest,
and dares not raise his vanquished head.

And now our God girds with two crowns
the Virgin-Martyr's brow:
one is a sixtyfold of light
eternal and reward;
the other is the hundredfold of fruit.

O happy Virgin! Singular in thy glory!
Noble inhabitant of heaven, decked with a twofold crown!
Oh! look upon us who live in misery and sin;
for to thee alone did our Heavenly Father
give the power to change impurity's abode
into the shelter of chastity.

Fill my heart with the bright ray of thine intercession,
and I shall be cleansed;
for all is pure that can from thy pity
gain a look or loving visit.

There is still another hymn to the praise of Agnes. It is from the pen of Adam of Saint-Victor, and is one of the finest of his sequences.


Animemur ad agonem,
Recolentes passionem
Gloriosæ virginis.

Contrectantes sacrum florem,
Respiremus ad odorem
Respersæ dulcedinis.

Pulchra, prudens et illustris,
Jam duobus Agnes lustris
Addebat triennium.

Proles amat hanc præfecti:
Sed ad ejus virgo flecti
Respuit arbitrium.

Mira vis fidei,
Mira virginitas,
Mira virginei
Cordis integritas.

Sic Dei Filius,
Nutu mirabili,
Se mirabilius
Prodit in fragili.

Languet amans: cubat lecto:
Languor notus fit præfecto;
Maturat remedia.

Offert multa, spondet plura,
Periturus peritura;
Sed vilescunt omnia.

Nudam prostituit
Præses flagitiis:
Quam Christus induit
Comarum fimbriis
Stolaque cœlesti.

Cœlestis nuncius
Assistit propius:
Cella libidinis
Fit locus luminis;
Turbantur incesti.

Cæcus amans indignatur,
Et irrumpens præfocatur
A maligno spiritu.

Luget pater, lugent cuncti:
Roma flevit pro defuncti
Juvenis interitu.

Suscitatur ab Agnete,
Turba fremit indiscrete:
Rogum parant Virgini.

Rogus ardens reos urit,
In furentes flamma furit,
Dans honorem Nummi.

Grates agens Salvatori,
Guttur offert hæc lictori,
Nec ad horam timet mori,
Puritatis conscia.

Agnes, Agni salutaris
Stans ad dextram gloriaris,
Et parentes consolaris
Invitans ad gaudia.

Ne te flerent ut defunctam
Jam cœlesti Sponso junctam:
His sub agni forma suam
Revelavit, atque tuam
Virginalem gloriam.

Nos ab Agno salutari
Non permitte separari,
Cui te totam consecrasti;
Cujus ope tu curasti
Nobilem Constantiam.

Vas electura, vas honoris,
Incorrupti flos odoris,
Angelorum grata choris,
Honestatis et pudoris
Formam præbes sæculo.

Palma fruens triumphali,
Flore vernans virginali,
Nos indignos speciali
Fac sanctorum generali
Vel subscribi titulo.

Let us gain courage for our own battle
by honouring the martyrdom
of the glorious virgin Agnes.

Let us look at this sweet flower of our feast,
and inhale into our souls
the virtues of its fragrance.

Agnes was fair
and wise and rich,
and had reached her thirteenth year.

The Prefect’s son saw and loved her;
but the maiden could not be
induced to grant his suit.

How great is the power of faith!
How wonderful is Virginity!
How admirable
the purity of a virgin’s heart!

’Tis thus that Jesus,
by a wonderful dispensation,
shows himself strongest
in the weakest.

Sick, then, with love, the suitor takes to bed;
his sickness is made known to the Prefect;
the cure is prepared.

Gifts in abundance, promises without end;
but giver and gifts, both are perishable things;
and Agnes thought both beneath her.

The Prefect condemns her
to the worst of insults;
Christ protects her
with the flowing tresses of her head,
and a garment he sends her from heaven.

He sends an Angel
to stand by her.
The den of infamy
becomes a mansion of light;
and consternation checks the wanton crowd.

The blind suitor is angry,
and rushing at his prey,
is choked by the wicked spirit.

The father mourns, and all mourn;
Rome wept for the death
of the young man.

Agnes raises him to life;
the crowd is in confusion,
and prepares a fire on which to burn the virgin.

The fire burns the guilty;
the flame rages against them,
and avenges the honour of God.

The Saint gives thanks to her Saviour;
offers her head to the executioner,
and dies unfearingly,
for her purity was safe.

O Agnes, standing at the right hand of the Lamb,
thy Saviour, thou art now in glory,
and thou consolest thy parents,
inviting them to bliss.

Thou biddest them not mourn for thee as for one that was dead,
for that thou wast now united to the heavenly Spouse:
and he, under the form of a Lamb,
reveals to them his own
and thy virginal glory.

Suffer us not to be separated
from the Lamb, our Saviour,
to whom thou didst consecrate thy whole being;
and by whose power
thou didst heal the lady Constance.

Vessel of election! vessel of honour!
flower of unfading fragrance!
beloved of the choirs of Angels!
thou art an example to the world
of virtue and chastity.

O thou that wearest a Martyr’s palm
and a Virgin’s wreath!
pray for us, that, though unworthy of a special crown,
we may have our names
written in the list of Saints.


How sweet and yet how strong, O Agnes! is the love of Jesus, thy Spouse! It enters an innocent heart, and that heart becomes full of dauntless courage! Thus was it with thee. The world and its pleasures, persecution and its tortures, all were alike contemptible to thee. The pagan judge condemned thee to an insult worse than a thousand deaths, and thou didst not know that the Angel of the Lord would defend thee! how is it that thou hadst no fear? It was because the love of Jesus filled thy heart. Fire was nothing; the sword was nothing; the very hell of men's making, even that was nothing to thee! for thy love told thee that no human power could ever rob thee of thy Jesus; thou hadst his word for it, and thou knewest he would keep it.

Dear Child! innocent even in the capital of pagan corruption, and free of heart even amidst a slavish race, we see the image of our Emmanuel in thee. He is the Lamb; and thou art simple, like him: he is the Lion of the Tribe of Juda; and like him thou art invincible. Truly these Christians, as the pagans said, are a race of beings come from heaven to people this earth! A family that has martyrs and heroes and heroines like thee, brave Saint! that has young virgins, filled, like its venerable pontiffs and veteran soldiers, with the fire of heaven, and burning with ambition to leave a world they have edified with their virtues, is God's own people, and it never can be extinct. Its martyrs are to us the representation of the divine virtues of our Lord Jesus Christ. By nature they were as weak as we; they had a disadvantage which we have not—they had to live in the very thick of paganism, and paganism had corrupted the whole earth; and notwithstanding all this, they were courageous and chaste.

Have pity on us and help us, O thou, one of the brightest of these great Saints! The love of Jesus is weak in our hearts. We are affected and shed tears at the recital of thy heroic conduct; but we are cowards in the battle we ourselves have to fight against the world and our passions. Habitual seeking after ease and comfort has fastened upon us a certain effeminacy: we are ever throwing away our interest upon trifles; how can we have earnestness and courage for our duties? Sanctity! we cannot understand it; and when we hear or read of it, we gravely say that the Saints did very strange things and were indiscreet, and were carried away by exaggerated notions! What must we think, on this thy feast, of thy contempt for the world and all its pleasures, of thy heavenly enthusiasm, of thy eagerness to go to Jesus by suffering? Thou wast a Christian, Agnes! Are we too Christians? Oh! pray for us that we may love like Christians, that is, with a generous and active love, with a love which can feel indignant when asked to have less detachment from all that is not God. Pray for us, that our piety may be that of the Gospel, and not the fashionable piety which pleases the world, and makes us pleased with ourselves. There are some brave hearts who follow thy example; but they are few; increase their number by thy prayers, that so the Divine Lamb may be followed, whithersoever he goeth in heaven, by a countless number of virgins and martyrs.

Innocent Saint! we meet thee each year at the Crib of the Divine Babe, and we delight, on thy Feast, to think of the wonderful love there is between Jesus and his brave little Martyr. This Lamb is come to die for us too, and invites us to Bethlehem; speak to him for us; the intercession of a Saint who loved him as thou didst can work wonders even for such sinners as we. Lead us to his sweet Virgin-Mother. Thou didst imitate her virginal purity; ask her to give us those powerful prayers which can cleanse even worse hearts than ours.

Pray also, O Agnes! for the Holy Church, which is the Spouse of Jesus. It was she that gave thee to be his, and it is from her that we also have received our life and our light. Pray that she may be blessed with an ever-increasing number of faithful virgins. Protect Rome, the city which guards thy relics, and loves thee so tenderly. Bless the Prelates of the Church, and obtain for them the meekness of the lamb, the firmness of the Rock, the zeal of the good Shepherd for his lost sheep. And lastly, O Spouse of Jesus! hear the prayers of all who invoke thee, and let thy charity for us thy exiled brethren learn from the Heart of Jesus the secret of growing more ardent as the world grows older.



[1] St Matt. xxiv 28.
[2] Ibid. v 8.
[3] Now the Piazza. Navona.
[4] Book I post initium.



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Saint Vincent, Deacon and Martyr

VINCENT, the Victorious, vested in the sacred dalmatic, and holding his palm in his hand, comes, today, to the Crib, and right welcome is he to Stephen, the Crowned, his leader and his brother. Spain is his country. He is a deacon of the glorious Church of Saragossa, and, by the strength and warmth of his faith, he is a type of that land, which is pre-eminently the Catholic Kingdom.But he does not belong to Spain only: like Stephen, and like Laurence, Vincent is the favourite and hero of the whole Church. Stephen, the deacon, preached the divinity of Jesus amidst the shower of stones which were hurled upon him as a blasphemer; Vincent, the deacon, confessed his faith in Jesus upon his red-hot gridiron, as did that other deacon, Laurence. This triumvirate of Martyr-deacons cluster together in the sacred Litany, and when we hear their three grand names, the Crown, the Laurel, and the Conqueror, we hail them as the three bravest Knights of our most dear Lord.

Vincent triumphed over the torture of fire, because the flame of divine love which burned within his soul was keener than that which scorched his body. He was comforted in the most miraculous manner during his great sufferings; but God worked these prodigies not to deprive Vincent of his crown, but to show his own power. The holy deacon had but one thought in the midst of all his pains; he was ambitious to make a return, by the gift of his own life, for that sacrifice whereby his divine Master had died for him and for all men. And now, is it not right and just that so generous a lover of God should be found beside the Crib? How he urges us, every Christmas, to love this Divine Infant! He that hesitated not, when called on to give himself to his Lord, even though it was to cost him such cruel pains—what cowards would he not call us, who can come so many Christmases to Bethlehem, and have nothing to give but cold and divided hearts! His sacrifice was to be burnt alive and tom and cut, and he smiled as he offered it: what are we to say of ourselves, who take years to think before we will give up those childish things which prevent us from ever seriously beginning a new life with our new-born Jesus! Would that the sight of all these Martyrs, in whose company the Church has made us live during these few last days, would touch our hearts, and make them resolute and simple!

There is an ancient Christian tradition, which makes St Vincent the patron of vineyards and labourers in vineyards. This was, no doubt, suggested by the Saint's having held the office of deacon; for the deacon has to pour wine into the chalice during the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that wine is to be changed into the Blood of Christ. A few days ago, we assisted at the mystery of the Feast at Cana; Jesus then offered us the sacred cup, the wine of his love: today, again, he offers it to us by the hand of his Martyr Vincent. To make himself worthy of his high office, the holy deacon mingled his own blood, as a generous wine, in the cup that holds the price of the world's salvation. It is thus that we are to understand that expression of St Paul, which says that the Saints fill up in the flesh, by the merit of their sufferings, those things that are wanting, not in their efficacy, but in their fulness, of the sufferings of Christ,[1] whose members the Saints are.

We will now give the abridged account of the martyrdom of St Vincent, as it is related in the Lessons of his Feast.

Vincentius, Oscæ in Hispania citeriore natus, a prima setate studiis deditus, sacras litteras a Valerio Cæsaraugustano Episcopo didicit: cujus etiam partes suscepit prædicandi Evangelium, quod Episcopus, propter linguæ impedimentum, prædicationis officio fungi non poterat. Ea re ad Dacianum, provinciæ a Diocletiano et Maximiano præpositum, delata, Vincentius Cæsaraugustæ comprehenditur, et vinctus ad Dacianum Valentiam adducitur. Ubi verberibus et equuleo tortus, multis præsentibus, cum nulla aut tormentorum vi, aut acerbitate vel lenitate verborum a proposito deterreri posset; in craticula impositus, prunis ardentibus suppositus, ac ferreis unguibus excarnificatus, candentibusque laminis exustus, iterum ducitur in carcerem stratum testaceis fragmentis, ut ejus nudum corpus, somno oppressum, a subjectis etiam testarum aculeis torqueretur.

Veruni illo in tenebricosa incluso custodia, clarissimus splendor obortus totum carcerem illustravit: quæ lux cum summa admiratione omnes, qui aderant, affecisset, res a custode carceris ad Dacianum defertur. Qui eductum in molli culcitra collocat: et quem cruciatibus in suam sententiam trahere non poterat, deliciis perducerc conatur. Sed invictus Vincentii animus Jesu Christi fide speque munitus, vicit omnia: et ignis, ferri, tortorum immanitate superata, victor ad cœlestem martyrii coronam advolavit undecimo kalendas Februarii. Cujus corpus, cum projectum esset inhumatum; corvus et a volucribus et a lupo, unguibus, rostro, alis mirabiliter defendit. Qua re cognita, Dacianus iliud in altum mare demergi jubet: sed inde etiam divinitus ejectum ad littus, Christiani sepeliunt.
Vincent was born at Huesca, a town of northern Spain, and when quite a child applied himself to study. He was taught the sacred sciences by Valerius, the Bishop of Saragossa. This prelate intrusted him with the duty of preaching the Gospel, because he was not able to discharge that office himself, by reason of an impediment in his speech. This having reached the ears of Dacian, who had been made governor of that province by Diocletian and Maximian, Vincent was apprehended at Saragossa, and was led in chains to Valencia, before the judgement-seat of Dacian. There he was tortured by lashes and the rack, in the presence of many people; but neither the violence of the torments, nor the harsh nor bland speeches addressed to him, could induce him to swerve from his resolution. He was therefore laid on a gridiron, which was set upon burning coals; his flesh was torn off with iron hooks, and red-hot plates were laid over him. After this he was led back to prison, the floor of which had been strewed with broken potsherds, in order that when he lay down to sleep, his body might be tortured by their sharp edges.

But whilst he was shut up in this dark prison, a most bright light penetrated the place. They who were present were astonished beyond measure, and the gaoler informed Dacian of what had occurred. Vincent was then ordered to be taken out of prison, and put on a soft bed; for the governor thought by such comforts as this to gain over him whom he had failed to seduce by tortures. But Vincent's invincible spirit, strengthened by his faith and hope in Christ Jesus, overcame all their efforts; and after triumphing over fire and sword, and all his tortures, took his flight to heaven, there to receive the crown of martyrdom, on the eleventh of the Kalends of February (January 22). His body was thrown in a marsh, and denied burial; but a crow miraculously defended it by its claws, beak, and wings, against birds of prey and a wolf. Dacian, hearing this, ordered it to be thrown into a deep part of the sea: but by a fresh prodigy it was washed to the shore, and the Christians gave it burial.

The Gothic Church of Spain, in her Mozarabic Liturgy, is magnificent in her praises of St Vincent. The first and second of the following prayers are taken from the Breviary, the third is from the Missal of that Rite.


Deus qui multis passionum generibus mirifice Vincentium coronasti,liberans ilium ab omni exitio tormentorum, ut vestigia ejus, quæ luto non inhæserant vitiorum, mirifice calcarent omne crudelitatis supplicium: ne aquarum absorberetur profundo, qui mente sæculum calcans, jam hæres esset proximus cœlo: præbe nobis precibus tanti Martyris, nec luto vitiorum attingi, nec profunda desperationis voragine operiri, sed candida conscientiæ libertate decori tibi præsentemur in die judicii. Amen.
O God, who didst wonderfully, with manifold sufferings, crown thy servant Vincent, and didst deliver him from the effects of his torments, to the end that he might gloriously trample upon each cruel punishment with those feet of his, that had never trod in the mire of vice; who didst, moreover, save him from the deep waters, to the end that he whose spirit had despised the world might be near to his heritage in heaven: grant unto us, by the prayers of this so great a Martyr, that we may never be defiled by the mire of sin, nor be plunged in the deep pool of despair, but may be presented to thee on the day of judgement beautified with a spotless freedom of conscience. Amen.


Benedicimus te, omnipotens Deus, qui beatissimum Vincentium Martyrem tuum, sicut quondam tres pueros, ab ignis incendio liberasti:cum ejus utique membris adhibita flamma, etsi esset quæ exureret, non tamen esset quæ vinceret; ejus ergo precibus rorem misericordiæ tuæ nostris infunde visceribus, ut madefacto igne carnalis incendii, flamma in nobis tepescat peccati; quæ etsi a nobis naturaliter non desistat, quæsumus, ne fragilitatem nostram materialiter succensam comburat; sed ita gratia naturæ subveniat, ut quod origine caremus, munere restinguere valeamus. Amen.
We bless thee, O Almighty God, for that thou didst deliver thy most blessed Martyr Vincent, as heretofore the three children, from the flames of fire; for when his body was laid on the fire, it burned, but could not conquer him. Hear his prayer for us, and pour into our innermost spirit the dew of thy mercy, that so, the fire of our carnal passions being slaked, the flame of sin that is within us may smoulder, and though by nature it cease not to molest us, permit not, we beseech thee, that our weakness, while passing through the fire, should ever be burnt; but grant that grace may in such manner assist nature, as that we may be able to quench by thy gift what originated without us. Amen.


Christe, cujus magnitudo potentiæ Vincentii Martyris tui corpus, quod vesano Daciani furore fuerat marinis projectum in fluctibus, undis advehentibus honorandum revocabit littoribus: tu nos, eodem Martyre suffragante, a procelloso istius sæculi profundo, manu pietatis in supernis attolle: ut qui, inimico impellente, in mare, excrescentibus delictis, cecidimus, et per caritatem, quæ est coopertio peccatorum, ad portum salutis quandoque perveniamus, lætaturi cum omnibus invicem quos dilectio tua jungit in hac præsenti Martyris tui solemnitate. Amen.
O Jesus! by whose great power the body of thy Martyr Vincent, which the mad fury of Dacian had cast into the sea, was borne to the shore on the bosom of the waves, that it might receive honour from man: do thou, by this thy Martyr’s praying for us, stretch out thy hand of pity, and raise us from the stormy sea of this world to the heavenly country above; that thus we, who were driven by the impulse of the enemy to burden ourselves with guilt and so fall into the gulf, may at length, by charity, which covereth sin, arrive at the port of salvation, and rejoice in the company of all these who out of love for thee are assembled on this Feast of thy Martyr. Amen.

We regret being obliged to content ourselves with a few stanzas of the magnificent hymn composed by Prudentius in honour of St Vincent. The Ambrosian Breviary has selected several verses of this long poem for one of its hymns; and these we offer to our readers.


Beate Martyr, prospera
Diem triumphalem tuum:
Quo sanguinis merces tibi
Corona Vincenti datur.

Hic te ex tenebris sæculi,
Tortore victo et judice,
Evexit ad cœlum dies,
Christoque ovantem reddidit.

Nunc Angelorum particeps,
Collucis insigni stola,
Quam testis indomabilis
Rivis cruoris laveras.

Levita de tribu sacra,
Minister altails Dei,
Septem ex columnis lacteis.
Martyr triumpho nobili.

Tu solus, o bis inclyte,
Solus bravii duplicis
Palmas tulisti: tu duas
Simul parasti laureas.

In morte victor aspera,
Dum deinde post mortem pari
Victor triumpho proteris
Solo latronem corpore.

Per vincla, flammas, ungulas,
Per carceralem stipitem,
Per fragmen illud testeum
Quo parta crevit gloria;

Adesto nunc et percipe
Voces precantum supplices,
Nostri reatus efficax
Orator ad thronum Dei.

Deo Patri sit gloria,
Ejusque soli Filio,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Nunc et per omne sæculum.

O blessed Martyr! bless this day of thy feast,
whereon the crown is given to thee,
the Conqueror; and thou didst
purchase it by thy blood.

This is the day which took thee from this dark world to heaven,
and restored thee in triumph to Christ,
for thou hadst conquered
thy torturer and thy judge.

Fellow now of the Angels,
thou shinest in thy bright stole,
which thou didst wash in the stream of thy blood,
for thou wast the invincible witness of Christ.

Thou wast a levite of the holy tribe,
a Minister of God’s altar,
which is surrounded by its seven snow-white pillars;
and by thy noble triumph, thou art a Martyr of Christ.

Thou alone, O doubly noble
didst bear away the palms of a double victory,
and wreathe two laurels
for thy brow.

Conqueror, once, in the hard death thou didst endure;
and then, after death,
thou wast conqueror over the tyrant-thief,
and with thy body alone didst gloriously defeat him.

Oh! by thy chains and fires and hooks;
by thy prisonchains;
by the potsherds,
strewed to enhance thy glory,

Assist us now, and hear
the humble prayers of thy suppliants,
and make intercession for us sinners
at the throne of God.

To God the Father,
and to his Only Son,
and to the Holy Paraclete,
be glory now and for all ages.


Adam of Saint-Victor composed two Sequences in honour of the great Deacon of Saragossa. We consider it a duty to insert them both, for they are very beautiful.

First Sequence

Ecce dies præoptata,
Dies felix, dies grata,
Dies digna gaudio.

Nos hanc diem veneremur,
Et pugnantem admiremur
Christum in Vincentio.

Ortu, fide, sanctitate,
Sensu, verbo, dignitate,
Clarus et officio.

Hic arcem Diaconi,
Sub patris Valerii
Regebat imperio.

Linguæ præsul impeditæ
Deo vacat: et Levitæ
Verbi dat officium.

Cujus linguam sermo rectus,
Duplex quoque, simplex pectus
Exornat seientia.

Dumque fidem docet sanam
Plebem Cæsaraugustanam,
Comitante gratia,

Sævit in Ecclesiam
Zelans idolatriam
Præsidis invidia.

Post auditam fidei constantiam,
Jubet ambos pertrahi Valentiam
Sub catenis.

Nec juveni parcitur egregio,
Nec ætas attenditur ab impio
Sancti senis.

Fessos ex itinere,
Pressos ferri pondere
Tetro claudit carcere,
Negans victualia.

Sic pro posse nocuit,
Nec pro voto potuit,
Quia suos aluit
Christi providentia.

Seniorem relegat exilio:
Juniorem reservat supplicio
Præses acerbiori.

Equuleum perpessus et ungulam
Vincentius, conscendit craticulam
Spiritu fortiori.

Dum torretur, non terretur;
Christum magis confitetur,
Nec tyrannum reveretur,
In ejus præsentia.

Ardet vultus inhumanus:
Hæret lingua, tremit manus:
Nec se capit Dacianus
Præ cordis insania.

Inde specu Martyr retruditur,
Et testulis fixus illiditur;
Multa tamen hic luce fruitur.
Ab Angelis visitatus.

In lectulo tandem repositus,
Ad superos transit emeritus,
Sicque suo triumphans spiritus
Est Principi præsentatus.

Non communi sinit jure
Virum tradi sepulturæ:
Legi simul et naturæ
Vim facit malitia.

In defunctum judex sævit:
Hinc defuncto laus accrescit:
Nam quo vesci consuevit
Reformidat bestia.

En cadaver inhumatum
Corvus servat illibatum:
Sicque sua sceleratum
Frustratur intentio.

At profanus Dacianus
Quod consumi nequit humi,
Vult abscondi sub profundi
Gurgitis silentio.

Nec tenetur a molari,
Nec celari potest mari:
Quem nunc laude singulari
Venerari voto pari
Satagit Ecclesia.

Ustulatum corpus igne,
Terra, mari fit insigne.
Nobis, Jesu. da benigne.
Ut cum Sanctis te condigne
Laudemus in patria.

Lo! the wished-for day is come!
The happy, dear
and joyous day!

Let us honour this day,
and admire in Vincent
the combats of Christ.

Vincent was great by birth and faith
and piety and wisdom, and preaching
and dignity and office.

He held the position of deacon,
under the command
of his father, Valerius.

The Bishop could not speak,
so served his God in quiet,
and gives to the Levite the office of the word.

On his lips was the word of truth;
and in his simple soul the
gracefulness of a twofold science;

For whilst, by the help of grace,
he instructs the people
of Saragossa in the faith,

There rages against the Church
the envious tyranny of the governor,
an idolatrous zealot.

He had heard of Valerius and his deacon,
and how boldly they taught the faith;
he orders both to be put in chains, and led to Valentia.

To such a wretch as he,
what was the flower of Vincent's age,
or the grey locks of the saintly Bishop?

Worn out by the journey,
and galled by their iron chains,
he confines them in a dark dungeon,
denying them food and drink.

He does all he can,
though not all he would, to give his captives pain;
they are dear to Christ,
and he provides them food.

The governor sends the venerable Bishop into exile,
keeping the young deacon
for a sharper test.

And first he is put on the rack;
then torn with hooks; and then, with a braver heart,
he mounts the iron bed.

His flesh is grilled, but his heart is staunch:
louder than ever he confesses Christ:
and heeds not the tyrant,
who stands looking on.

The monster’s eyes flash with fire;
his tongue is dumb, his hand is palsied,
and himself wild
with a maddened heart.

He bids them throw the Martyr into a prison,
strewed with sharp potsherds, which will cut him as he stands or sleeps;
but here he enjoys a bright light,
and is visited by Angels.

At last he is laid upon a bed;
his victorious and triumphant soul
thus takes its flight to heaven,
and is presented to its Lord.

The wicked tyrant refuses
to the Martyr’s body
the common right of burial,
thus trampling on both law and nature.

He wreaks his anger on the dead,
but only to increase the Martyr’s praise;
and beasts of prey approach,
but fear to touch the holy corpse.

For lo! a crow
protects the unburied saint;
and thus is foiled
the wicked tyrant’s scheme.

Then Dacian, finding that he cannot,
destroy the holy remains on land,
has them thrown into
the silent grave of the deep sea.

But neither does the huge stone weigh them down,
nor will the sea retain them.
And now the Church studies how to honour Vincent
with special praise, and the faithful,
with one accord, join her in her hymns.

This body, which was scorched by fire,
is honoured both on sea and land.
O Jesus! mercifully grant
that together with thy Saints we too
may worthily praise thee in our heavenly home.



Second Sequence

Triumphalis lux illuxit,
Lux preclara, quæ reduxit Levitæ solemnium;
Omnes ergo jocundemur,
Et Vincentem veneremur in Christo Vincentium.

Qui Vincentis habet nomen
Ex re probat dignum omen sui fore nominis:
Vincens terra, Vincens mari,
Quidquid potest irrogali pœnæ vel formidinis.

Hic effulget ad bis tincti
Cocci instar et jacinthi,
Cujus lumbi sunt præcincti
Duplici munditia.

Hic retortam byssum gerens
Purpuræque palmam quærens,
Stat invictus, dira ferens
Pro Christo supplicia.

Hic hostia medullata,
Vervex pelle rubricata tegens tabernaculum;
Pio serit in mærore,
Et vitalem ex sudore reportat manipulum.

Ad cruenta Daciani
Dei servus inhumani rapitur prætoria.
Præses sanctum prece tentat,
Nunc exterret, nunc præsentat mundana fastigia.

Miles spernens mundi fiorem,
Dona, preces et terrorem elatæ tyrannidis,
Equuleo admovetur:
Quem plus torquet, plus torquetur spretus tumor præsidis.

Flamma vigens, ardens, lectus,
Lictor cædens, sal injectus in nudata viscera,
Simul torrent, simul angunt,
Nec athletam lætum frangunt tot pœnarum genera.

Antro clausum testa pungit,
Membra scindit et disjungit;
Sed confortat et perungit cœlestis jocunditas:
Illic onus in honorem,
Cæcus carcer in splendorem,
Florum transit in dulcorem testarum asperitas.

Collocatur molli thoro,
Sursum spirat, et canoro
Angelorum septus choro cœlo reddit spiritum:
Feris dato custos datur,
Mari mersus non celatur,
Sed hunc digne veneratur mundus sibi redditum.

Claruerunt ita dignis
Elementa cuncta signis,
Aqua, tellus, ær, ignis, in ejus victoria;
Summe testis veritatis,
Ora Christum, ut peccatis
Nos emundet, et mundatis vera præstet gaudia;
Ut cantemus, claritatis Cohæredes: Alleluia!
The day of triumph has dawned,
the honoured day that brings us the deacon's feast.
Therefore let us all be glad
and venerate our Vincent victorious in Christ.

He is called Vincent,
and he proves that his name was prophetic of his deeds:
vanquishing on land and vanquishing on sea
every insult, pain and fear.

He is clad as with a twice-dyed crimson robe;
he shines as the hyacinth.
His loins are girt with purity
twice pure.

He wears the Deacon's linen stole,
and he seeks the Martyr's palm,
bearing for Christ, and with unflinching heart,
the pangs of cruel torture.

He is the rich victim,
and the lamb whose fleece is dyed with scarlet to cover the tabernacle.
He sows in holy tears,
and reaps the sheaf of life, earned by the sweat of his blood.

The servant of God is hurried
to the blood-stained court of the cruel Dacian,
who tempts the Saint first by entreaty,
then by threat, and then by offers of worldly pomps.

The soldier of Christ spurns the proposal of the haughty tyrant;
the flower of the world, his gifts, his gentle words, and his threats.
For this, the rack.
But while he tortures more, the more tortured is the tyrant by his slighted pride.

The crackling flame, the fiery bed,
the cutting whips, the salt rubbed deep within his gaping wounds,
burn indeed, and torture,
but conquer not the laughing combatant of Christ,

The sharp potsherds of his prison-floor
cut and tear his flesh;
but joy, imparting ease and unction, is sent to him by God.
His chains become his ornament,
his gloomy prison a glittering hall,
and the cruel potsherds soft sweet flowers.

He is laid on a soft couch;
panting to ascend, and surrounded
by a tuneful choir of Angels, his spirit soars to heaven.
His body is thrown to beasts of prey;
a faithful guard protects. It is cast into the sea;
the waves convey it to the shore.

Welcomed by mankind,
he receives the loving veneration of a world.
Thus did the elements, sea and earth and air and fire, celebrate his victory.
O admirable witness of the truth!
pray for us to Christ, that he cleanse us
from our sins, and bring us purified to the heavenly joys,
to sing with thee, companions in thy bliss, our ceaseless Alleluia.

Hail, Victorious Deacon! How beautiful art thou, with the Chalice of salvation in thy brave hands! It was thine office to offer it at the Altar, in order that the wine it contained might be changed by the sacred words into the Blood of Christ; and, when the Mystery was accomplished, thou hadst to take this same Chalice, and present it to the Faithful, to the end that they who thirsted after their God might drink at the source of eternal life. But on this day thou offerest it thyself to Jesus, and it is full to the brim with thine own blood. Oh! how faithful a Deacon! giving even thy very life in testimony to the Mysteries of which thou wast the dispenser. Three centuries had elapsed since Stephen's sacrifice; sixty years had gone by since the sweet incense of Laurence's martyrdom had ascended to the throne of God; and now it is the last persecution; peace is dawning on the Church; and a third Deacon comes to prove that time had not impaired the Order—it was the Deacon of Saragossa—thyself, dear Saint!

Bright is thy name in the list of Martyrs, O Vincent! and the Church is proud of thy triumph. It was for the Church, after Jesus, that thou didst combat: have pity on us therefore, and signalize this day of thy Feast by showing us the effects of thy protection. Thou art face to face with the King of Ages, whose battle thou didst fight on earth, and thou gazest, with a loving yet dazzled eye, on his eternal beauty. We also, we who are in this valley of tears, possess him and see him, for he calls himself our Emmanuel, God with us. But it is under the form of a weak Babe that he shows himself, for he fears to overpower us with the splendour of his majesty. Pray for us, O holy Martyr Vincent! for at times we tremble at the thought that this sweet Jesus is one day to be our Judge. When we reflect on what thou didst suffer for him, we have scarcely courage to think upon ourselves, for what good works can we show, or who can say of us that we were ever warm in defending the cause of our Divine Master? Oh! that thy Feast might shame us into the earnest, uncalculating simplicity which this sweet Babe of Bethlehem is come to teach us—the simplicity which springs from humility and confidence in God, and which made thee go through all thy martyrdom with such a brave and calm spirit! Pray for us, that we may at length obey God who teaches us by his own example, and accomplish his will, whatever that may ask of us, with the calm cheerfulness of devoted service.

Pray, Vincent, for all Christians, for all are called to fight against the world and their own passions. Jesus will admit none but conquerors to the banquet of eternal glory, where he has promised to drink with us the new wine, in the Kingdom of his Father.[2] The wedding garment, which all must have on who enter there, must be washed in the blood of the Lamb: we must all be Martyrs, at least in heart, for we have all to triumph over self, and self is the harshest of tyrants.

Fly to the assistance of the Martyrs who, in distant countries, are dying for the true Faith; obtain for them such courage, that they may be the Vincents of our age. Protect Spain, thy country. Beseech our Emmanuel to send her heroes of thy stamp; that so, the Catholic Kingdom, which has ever been so jealous of purity of Faith, may speedily triumph over the trials which are heavy upon her. Shall the illustrious Church of Saragossa—founded by St James the Apostle, visited by the Blessed Mother of God, and sanctified by the ministry of thy deaconship—shall such a country as this ever grow indifferent about Faith, or suffer the bond of unity to be broken? And since the devotion of the Christian people looks upon thee as the protector of the vine, bless this fruit of the earth, which God has destined for man's use, and which he has deigned to make both the instrument of the deepest of his Mysteries, and the symbol of his love of mankind.

Saint Anastasius, Martyr

On this same 22nd of January, the Church honours the memory of the holy Persian monk Anastasius, who suffered Martyrdom in the year 628. Chosroes, having made himself master of Jerusalem, had carried with him into Persia the wood of the True Cross, which was afterwards recovered by Heraclius. The sight of this Holy Wood excited in the heart of Anastasius, who was then a Pagan, the desire to know the religion of which it is the trophy. He renounced the Persian superstitions in order to become a Christian, and a monk. This, together with the neophyte's zeal, excited the Pagans against him; and after enduring frightful tortures, the soldier of Christ was beheaded. His body was taken to Constantinople, and thence to Rome, where it is still honoured. Two celebrated Churches of Rome, one in the City itself, and the other outside the walls, are dedicated in common to St Vincent and St.Anastasius, because these two great Martyrs suffered on the same day of the year, though in different centuries. This is the motive of the Church in uniting their two feasts into one. Let us pray to this new champion of the Faith, that he intercede for us to the Saviour, whose Cross was so dear to him.

We add the short lesson of St Anastasius. It occurs immediately after those of St Vincent.

Anastasius, Persa, monachus, Heraclio imperatore, cum sanctam Jerosolymorum terram visitasset, ad Cæsaream Palæstinæ pro Christi religione vincula et verbera constanter perpessus est. Mox a Persis ob eamdem causam variis cruciatibus affectus, a rege Chosroa, una cum Septuaginta aliis Christianis, securi percutitur. Cujus reliquiæ primum Jerosolymam, ad monasterium, in quo monasticam vitam professus erat, deinde Romam delatæ, collocatæ sunt in monasterio ad Aquas Salvias.
Anastasius, a Persian by birth, had embraced the monastic life during the reign of Heraclius. After visiting the Holy Places in Jerusalem, he courageously endured at Cæsarea in Palestine both imprisonment and scourgings for the faith of Christ. Not long after, the Persians put him to several kinds of torture for the same reason. King Chosroes at last ordered him to be beheaded, together with seventy other Christians. His relics were at first carried to Jerusalem, to the Monastery where he had professed the monastic life; afterwards they were translated to Rome, and were deposited in the monastery near the Salvian Waters.

Let us now address ourselves to both these holy Martyrs, using the prayer of their feast.

Ant. Istorum est enim regnum cœlorum, qui contempserunt vitam mundi, et pervenerunt ad præmia regni, et laverunt stolas suas in sanguine Agni.

℣. Lætamini in Domino, et exsultate justi.
℟. Et gloriamini omnes recti corde.


Adesto, Domine, supplicationibus nostris, ut qui ex iniquitate nostra reos nos esse cognoscimus, beatorum Martyrum tuorum Vincentii et Anastasii intercessione liberemur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Ant. For of such is the kingdom of heaven; they despised the life of the world, and attained to the rewards of the kingdom, and washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb.

. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye just.
℟. And glory, all ye right of heart.


Hear, O Lord, our earnest prayers, that we who are sensible of the guilt of our crimes may be delivered therefrom by the prayers of thy blessed Martyrs Vincent and Anastasius. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.



[1] Col. i 24.
[2] St Matt. xxvi 29.



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THE glorious choir of martyrs, that stands round our Emmanuel till the day of his Presentation in the Temple, opens its ranks from time to time to give admission to the confessors, whom divine Providence has willed should grace the cycle during this sacred season. The martyrs surpass all the other saints in number; but still, the confessors are well represented. After Hilary, Paul, Maurus, and Antony, comes Raymund of Pennafort, one of the glories of the Order of St Dominic and of the Church, in the thirteenth century.

According to the saying of the Prophets, the Messias is come to be our Lawgiver; nay, he is himself our law. His words are to be the rule of mankind; he will leave with his Church the power of legislation, to the end that she may guide men in holiness and justice, in all ages. As it is his Truth that presides over the teaching of the Faith, so is it his Wisdom that regulates canonical discipline. But the Church, in the compilation and arrangement of her laws, engages the services of men, whom she judges to be the most competent for the work, by their knowledge of Canon Law and the holiness of their lives.

St Raymund has the honour of having been intrusted to draw up the Church's Code of Canon Law. It was he who, in the year 1234, compiled, by order of Pope Gregory the Ninth, the five Books of the Decretals; and his name will ever be associated with this great work which forms the basis of the actual discipline of the Church.

Raymund was a faithful disciple of that God who came down from heaven to save sinners by calling them to receive pardon. He has merited the beautiful title, conferred on him by the Church, of excellent Minister of the Sacrament of Penance. He was the first who collected together into one body of doctrine the maxims of Christian morality, which regulate the duties of the confessor with regard to the faithful who confess their sins to him. The Sum of Penitential Cases opened the series of those important treatises in which learned and holy men have carefully considered the claims of law and the obligations of man, in order to instruct the Priest how to pass judgement, as the Scripture says, between leprosy and leprosy.[1]

In fine, when the glorious Mother of God, who is also the Mother of men, raised up for the redemption of captives the generous Peter Nolasco—whom we shall meet, a few days hence, at the Crib of our Redeemer—Raymund was an important instrument in this great work of mercy; and it is with good reason that the Order of Mercy looks upon him as one of its Founders, and that so many thousand captives, who were ransomed by the Religious of that Order from the captivity of the Moors, have honoured him as one of the principal authors of their liberty.

Let us now read the account of the actions of this holy man, whose life was indeed a full one, and rich in merit. The Lessons of his Feast thus abridge his history.

Beatus Raymundus Barcinonensis, ex nobili familia de Pennafort, christianæ religionis rudimentis imbutus, adhuc parvulus, eximia animi et corporis indole magnum aliquid portendere visus est. Nam adolescens humaniores litteras in patria professus, Bononiam se contulit, ubi pietatis officiis, ac Pontificio civilique juri sedulo incumbens, et Doctoris laurea insignitus, ibidem sacros canones magna cum hominum admiratione est interpretatus. Ejus virtutum fama percrebrescente, Berengarius Barcinonensis Episcopus, cum Roma suam ad Ecclesiam rediret, eum conveniendi causa Bononiam iter instituit, et tandem summis precibus, ut secum in patriam reverteretur, obtinuit. Mox ejusdem Ecclesiæ Canonicatu et Præpositura ornatus, universo clero et populo, integritate, modestia, doctrina et morum suavitate præfulsit, ac Deiparæ Virginis, quam singulari pietatis affectu venerabatur, honorem et cultum semper pro viribus auxit.

Annum circiter quintum supra quadragesimum agens, in Ordine Fratrum Prædicatorum solemni emissa professione, ut novus miles, in omni virtutum genere, sed præcipue in caritate erga egenos, et maxime captivos ab infidelibus detentos se exercuit. Unde cum ejus hortatu sanctus Petrus Nolascus (cujus ipse confessiones audiebat) suas opes piissimo huic operi conferret, tum eidem, tum beato Raymundo et Jacobo Primo Aragoniæ Regi apparens beatissima Virgo, gratissimum sibi et unigenito Filio suo fore dixit, si in suum honorem institueretur Ordo Religiosorum, quibus captivos ex infidelium tyrannide liberandi cura incumberet. Quare collatis inter se consiliis, Ordinem beatæ Mariæ de Mercede Redemptionis captivorum fundaverunt: cui beatus Raymundus certas vivendi leges præscripsit ad ejusdem Ordinis vocationem accommodatissimas: quarum approbationem aliquot post annos a Gregorio Nono impetravit, et dictum sanctum Petrum primum Generalem Ordinis Magistrum suis ipse manibus habitu eodem indutum creavit.

Ab eodem Gregorio Romam accersitus, et Capellam ac Pœnitentiarii et Confessarii sui munere decoratus, ejusdem jussu, Romanorum Pontificum Decreta, in diversis Conciliis et Epistolis sparsa, in unum Decretalium volumen redegit. Archiepiscopatum Tarraconensem ab ipso Pontifice sibi oblatum constantissime recusavit: et totius Ordinis Prædicatorum generale Magisterium, quod per biennium sanctissime administraverat, sponte dimisit. Jacobo Aragoniæ Regi sacræ Inquisitionis Officii suis in regnis instituendi auctor fuit. Multa patravit miracula: inter quæ illud clarissimum, quod ex insula Baleari Majori Barcinonem reversurus, strato super aquas pallio, centum sexaginta milliaria sex horis confecerit, et suum coenobium januis clausis fuerit ingressus. Tandem prope centenarius, virtutibus et meritis cumulatus, obdormivit in Domino, anno salutis millesimo ducentesimo septuagesimo quinto, quem Clemens Octavus in Sanctorum numerum retulit.
The blessed Raymund was born at Barcelona, of the noble family of Pennafort. Having been imbued with the rudiments of the Christian faith, the admirable gifts he had received, both of mind and body, were such that even when quite a boy he seemed to promise great things in his after life. Whilst still young, he taught humanities in Barcelona. Later on, he went to Bologna, where he applied himself with much diligence to the exercises of a virtuous life, and to the study of canon and civil law. He there received the Doctor's cap, and interpreted the sacred canons so ably that he was the admiration of his hearers. The holiness of his life becoming known far and wide, Berengarius, the Bishop of Barcelona, when returning to his diocese from Rome, visited Bologna in order to see him; and after most earnest entreaties, induced Raymund to accompany him to Barcelona. He was shortly after made Canon and Provost of that Church, and became a model to the clergy and people by his uprightness, modesty, learning and meekness. His tender devotion to the Holy Mother of God was extraordinary, and he never neglected an opportunity of zealously promoting the devotion and honour which are due to her.

When he was about forty-five years of age, he made his solemn profession in the Order of the Friars Preachers. He then, as a soldier but just entered into service, devoted himself to the exercise of every virtue, but above all to charity to the poor, and this mainly to the captives who had been taken by the infidels. It was by his exhortation that St Peter Nolasco (who was his penitent) was induced to devote all his riches to this work of most meritorious charity. The Blessed Virgin appeared to Peter, as also to blessed Raymund and to James the First, King of Aragon, telling them that it would be exceedingly pleasing to herself and her divine Child, if an Order of Religious men were instituted whose mission it should be to deliver captives from the tyranny of infidels. Whereupon, after deliberating together, they founded the Order of our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom of Captives; and blessed Raymund drew up certain rules of life, which were admirably adapted to the spirit and vocation of the said Order. Some years after, he obtained their approbation from Gregory the Ninth, and made St Peter Nolasco, to whom he gave the habit with his own hands, first General of the Order.

Raymund was called to Rome by the same Pope, who appointed him to be his Chaplain, Penitentiary, and Confessor. It was by Gregory’s order that he collected together, in the volume called the Decretals, the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs, which were to be found separately in the various Councils and Letters. He was most resolute in refusing the Archbishopric of Tarragona, which the same Pontiff offered to him, and, of his own accord resigned the Generalship of the Dominican Order, which office he had discharged in a most holy manner for the space of two years. He persuaded James the King of Aragon to establish in his dominions the Holy Office of the Inquisition. He worked many miracles; among which is that most celebrated one of his having, when returning to Barcelona from the island of Majorca, spread his cloak upon the sea, and sailed upon it, in the space of six hours, the distance of a hundred and sixty miles, and having reached his convent, entered it through the closed doors. At length, when he had almost reached the hundredth year of his age, and was full of virtue and merit, he slept in the Lord, in the year of the Incarnation 1275. He was canonized by Pope Clement the Eighth.

We take the following Hymn from the Dominican Breviary.


Grande Raymundi celebrate nomen,
Præsules, Reges, populique terræ:
Cujus æternæ fuit universis Cura salutis.

Quidquid est alta pietate mirum
Exhibet purus, niveusque morum:
Omne virtutum rutilare cernis lumen in illo.

Sparsa Summorum monumenta
Patrum Colligit mira studiosus arte:
Quæque sunt prisci sacra digna cedro dogmata juris.

Doctus infidum solidare pontum.
Currit invectus stadio patenti:
Veste componens, baculoque cymbam, æquora calcat.

Da, Deus, nobis sine labe mores.
Da vitæ tutum sine clade cursum:
Da perennalis sine fine vitæ Tangere portum.

Prelates, Kings, and people of the earth!
celebrate the glorious name of Raymund,
to whom the salvation of all mankind was an object of loving care.

His pure and spotless life
reflected all the marvels of the mystic life;
and the light of every virtue shines brightly forth in him.

With admirable study and research,
he collects together the scattered Decrees of the Sovereign Pontiffs,
and all the sacred maxims of the ancient Canons, so worthy to be handed down to all ages.

He bids the treacherous sea be firm, and on her open waters carry him to land;
he spreads his mantle, and his staff the mast,
he rides upon the waves.

Grant us, O Lord, to traverse through the sea of life
with innocence and safety,
and reach at length the port of life eternal.


Faithful dispenser of the Mystery of reconciliation! It was from the Heart of an Incarnate God that thou didst draw the sweet charity which made thee the friend of the sinner. Thou didst love thy fellow-men, and didst labour to supply all their wants, whether of soul or body. Enlightened by the rays of the Sun of Justice, thou hast taught us how to discern between good and evil by giving us those rules whereby our wounds are judged and healed. Rome was the admirer of thy knowledge of her laws, and it is one of her glories that she received from thy hand the sacred Code whereby she governs the Churches of the world.

Excite in our hearts, O Raymund! that sincere compunction which is the condition required of us when we seek our pardon in the Sacrament of Penance. Make us understand both the grievousness of mortal sin, which separates us from our God for all eternity, and the dangers of venial sin, which disposes the tepid soul to fall into mortal sin. Pray, that there may abound in the Church men Med with charity and learning, who may exercise that sublime ministry of healing souls. Preserve them from the two extremes of rigorism, which drives to despair, and of laxity which flatters into sloth. Revive amongst them the study of the holy Canons, which can alone keep disorder and anarchy from the fold of Christ. Oh! thou that hadst such tender love for captives, console all that are pining now in exile or in prison; pray for their deliverance; and pray that we all may be set loose from the ties of sin, which but too often make them slaves in their souls who boast of their outward liberty.

Thou wast the confidant of the Heart of Mary, the Queen of Mercy, and she made thee share with her in the work of the Redemption of Captives. Pray for us to this incomparable Mother of God, that we may have the grace to love the Divine Child she holds in her arms. May she be induced, by thy prayers, to be our Star on the Sea of this world, more stormy by far than that which thou didst pass, when sailing on thy miraculous bark.

Remember, too, thy dear Spain, where thou didst pass thy saintly life. Her Church is in mourning, because she has lost the Religious Orders which made her so grand and so strong: pray that they may be speedily restored to her, and assist her as of old. Protect the Dominican Order, of whose Habit and Rule thou wast so bright an ornament. Thou didst govern it with great prudence whilst on earth; now that thou art in heaven, be a father to it by thy love. May it repair its losses. May it once more flourish in the universal Church, and produce, as in former days, those fruits of holiness and learning which made it one of the chief glories of the Church of God.

[1] Deut. xvii 8.



Commemoration of Saint Emerentiana

Three days have scarcely passed since the martyrdom of St Agnes, when the Liturgy, so jealous of every tradition, invites us to visit the Martyr's tomb. There we shall find a young Virgin named Emerentiana; she was the friend and foster-sister of our dear little heroine, and has come to pray and weep at the spot where lies her loved one, so soon and so cruelly taken from her. Emerentiana has not yet been regenerated in the waters of Baptism; she is going through the exercises of a Catechumen; but her heart already belongs, by faith and desire, to Jesus.

Whilst the young girl is pouring forth her grief over the tomb of her much loved Agnes, she is surprised by the approach of some pagans; they ridicule her tears, and bid her pay no more of this sort of honour to one who was their victim. Upon this, the child, longing as she was to be with Christ, and to be clasped in the embraces of her sweet Agnes, was fired with holy courage—as well she might near such a Martyr's tomb—and turning to the barbarians, she confesses Christ Jesus, and curses the idols, and upbraids them for their vile cruelty to the innocent Saint who lay there.

This was more than enough to rouse the savage nature of men, who were slaves to the worship of Satan; and scarcely had the child spoken, when she falls on the tomb, covered with the heavy stones thrown on her by her murderers. Baptized in her own blood, Emerentiana leaves her bleeding corpse upon the earth, and her soul flies to the bosom of God, where she is to enjoy, for ever, union with him, in the dear company of Agnes.

Let us unite with the Church, which so devoutly honours these touching incidents of her own history. Let us ask Emerentiana to pray that we may have the grace to be united with Jesus and Agnes in heaven; and congratulate her on her triumph, by addressing her in the words of the holy Liturgy.

Ant. Veni, Sponsa Christi, accipe coronam quam tibi Dominus præparavit in æternum.

. Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis.
℟. Propterea benedixit te Deus in æternum.


Indulgentiam nobis, quæsumus, Domine, beata Emerentiana Virgo et Martyr imploret: quæ tibi grata semper exstitit et merito castitatis, et tuæ professione virtutis. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Ant. Come, O Spouse of Christ, receive the crown, which the Lord hath prepared for thee for ever.

. Grace is poured abroad in thy lips.
℟. Therefore hath God blessed thee for ever.

Let us Pray

Let blessed Emerentiana, thy Virgin and Martyr, O Lord, sue for our pardon: who by the purity of her life, and profession of thy virtue, was always pleasing to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.