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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

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Since the commencement of the ecclesiastical year, we have kept the feasts of two out of the four illustrious virgins whose names are daily honoured in the holy Sacrifice of the Lamb: the third comes to-day, lighting up the heaven of the Church with her bright soft rays. Lucy first, then Agnes, and now the gracious visit of Agatha. The fourth, Cecily, the immortal Cecily, is to be one of that magnificent constellation which gives such splendour to the closing of the year. To-day, then, let us keep a feast in honour of Agatha, the virgin daughter of that same fair Sicily which can boast of her Lucy. We must not allow the holy sadness of our present season to take aught from the devotion we owe to our saint. The joy wherewith we celebrate her merits will lead us to study her virtues. She will repay us by her prayers; she will encourage us to persevere in the path which is to bring us to the God she so nobly loved and served, and with whom she is now for ever united.

Let us begin by reading what the Church tells us of the virtues and combats of this glorious bride of Christ.

Agatha virgo, in Sicilia nobilibus parentibus nata, quam Panormitani et Catanenses civem suam esse dicunt, in persecutione Decii imperatoris Catanæ gloriosi martyrii coronam consecuta est. Nam cum pari pulchritudinis et castitatis laude commendaretur, Quintianns, Sicilise prætor, ejus amore captus est. Sed cum, tentata modis omnibus ejus pudicitia, Agatham in suam sententiam perducere non posset, Christianæ superstitionis nomine comprehensam, Aphrodisiæ cuidam mulieri depravandam tradit. Quæ Aphrodisiæ consuetudine cum de constantia colendæ Christianæ fidei, et servandæ virginitatis, romoveri non posset, nuntiat illa Quintiano, se in Agatha operam perdere. Quare ille ad se virginem adduci jubet: et nonne, inquit, te pudet nobili genere natam humilem et servilem Christianomm vitam agere? Cui Agatha: Multo præstantior est Christiana humilitas et servitus, regum opibus, ac superbia.

Quamobrem iratus prætor hanc ei optionem dat, velitne potius venerari deos, an vim tormentorum subire. At illa constans in fide, primum colaphis cæsa mittitur in carcererem: unde postridie educta, cum in sententia permaneret, admotis candentibus laminis in equuleo torquetur: tum ei mamilla abscinditur. Quo in vulnere Quintianum appellans virgo: Crudelis, inquit, tyranne, non te pudet, amputare in femina, quod ipse in matre suxisti? Mox conjecta in vincula, sequenti nocte a sene quodam, qui se Christi apostolum esse dicebat, sanata est. Rursum evocata a prætore, et in Christi confessione perseverans, in acutis testulis, et candentibus carbonibus ei subjectis volutatur.

Quo tempore ingenti terræ motu urbs tota contremuit, ac duo parietes comientes, Silvinum et Falconium intimos prætoris familiares oppresserunt. Quare vehementer commota civitate, veritus populi tumultum Quintianus, Agatham semimortuam clam reduci imperat in carcerem. Quæ sic Deum precata: Domine, qui me custodisti ab infantia, qui abstulisti a me amorem sæculi, qui me carnificum tormentis superiorem præstitisti, accipe animam meam. Ea in oratione migravit in cœlum Noms Februarii: cujus corpus a Christianis sepelitur.
The holy virgin Agatha was born in Sicily, of noble parents. The cities of Palermo and Catania both claim the honour of having been the place of her birth. She received the crown of a glorious martyrdom at Catania, under the persecution of the Emperor Decius. Her beauty, which was as great as her chaste and innocent life was praiseworthy, attracted the notice of Quintianus, the governor of Sicily. He spared no means whereby to compass his lustful designs upon the innocent virgin; but seeing that she scorned his offers, he had her apprehended as being guilty of the Christian superstition, and gave her in charge of a woman, named Aphrodisia, who was noted for her power of alluring to evil. But finding that her words and company had no effect on the holy maiden, and that she was immovable in her resolution to maintain both her faith and her virginity, Aphrodisia told Quintianus that she was but losing her time with Agatha. Whereupon, he ordered the virgin to be brought before him, and he said to her: ‘Art not thou, that art so noble by birth, ashamed to lead the life of a base and slavish Christian?’ She replied: 'Better by far is the baseness and slavery of a Christian than the wealth and pride of kings.'

Angered by her words, the governor bids her choose one of these two: adoration of the gods, or sharp tortures. On her refusal to deny her faith, he ordered her to be buffeted, and cast into prison. On the following day, she was again led to trial. Finding that she was still firm in her purpose, they hoisted her on the rack, and laid hot iron plates on her flesh, and cut off her breast. While suffering this last torture, she thus spoke to Quintianus: ‘Cruel tyrant, art thou not ashamed to cut a woman’s breast, who wast thyself fed at the breast of thy mother?' She was then sent back to prison, where, during the night, a venerable old man, who told her that he was the apostle of Christ, healed her. A third time she was summoned by the governor, and being still firm in confessing Christ, she was rolled upon sharp potsherds, and burning coals.

Suddenly, the whole city was shaken by a violent earthquake, and two of the governor’s intimate friends were killed by the falling of two walls. The people were in such a state of excitement that the governor began to fear a sedition, and therefore ordered the almost lifeless Agatha to be secretly conveyed back to her prison. She thus prayed to our Lord: 'O God! who hast watched over me from my infancy, who hast separated me from the love of this world, and hast given me strength to bear the tortures of my executioners, receive my soul!’ Her prayer being ended, her soul took its flight to heaven, on the Nones of February (February 5), and the Christians buried her body.

The ancient books of the liturgy abound with verses in honour of St. Agatha; but most of them are so poor in sentiment that we pass them over. The following beautiful hymn is the composition of Pope St. Damasus.



Martyris ecce dies Agathæ
Virginis emicat eximiæ:
Christus eam sibi qua sociat,
Et diadema duplex decorat.

Stirpe decens, elegans specie,
Sed magia actibus atque fide,
Terrea prospera nil reputans,
Jussa Dei sibi corde ligans.

Fortior hæc trucibusque viris,
Exposuit sua membra flagris,
Pectore quam fuerit valido
Torta mamilla docet patulo.

Deliciæ cui carcer erat,
Pastor ovem Petrus hanc recreat:
Inde gavisa magisque flagrans,
Cuncta flagella cucurrit ovans.

Ethnica turba rogum fugiens
Hujus et ipsa meretur opem;
Quos fidei titulus decorat,
His Venerem magis ipsa premat.

Jam renitens quasi sponsa polo,
Pro miseris supplica Domino,
Sio tua festa coli faciat,
Te celebrantibus ut faveat.

Gloria cum Patre sit Genito,
Spirituique proinde sacro,
Qui Deus unus et omnipotens
Hanc nostri faciat memorem.

Lo! the bright festal day
of the glorious martyr and virgin Agatha,
when Christ took her to himself,
and a double crown wreathed her brow.

Though noble by birth and blessed with beauty,
her grandest riches were her deeds and her faith.
Earthly prosperity was nothing in her eyes,
but her whole heart was on the precepts of her God.

Her bravery tired out the men that tortured her;
she flinched not as they lashed her limbs:
and her wounded breast
reveals a dauntless heart.

Her prison was her paradise,
where the pastor Peter heals his bleeding lamb;
and thence once more she runs to suffer,
gladder and braver at every wound.

A pagan city once in flames
was saved by Agatha’s prayer.
The same can check, in Christian hearts,
the threatening fire of lust.

Now that thou art in heaven, clad as a bride of Christ,
intercede with him for us miserable sinners,
that he grant us so to spend thy feast,
that our celebration may draw down his grace.

Glory be to the Son, together with the Father
and the Holy Ghost.
May the one almighty God
grant that this his saint be mindful of us.



How lovely are thy palms, O Agatha! But how long and cruel was thy combat for them! The day was thine; thy faith and thy virginity triumphed, but the battle-field streamed with thy blood, and thy glorious wounds bear testimony to the angels how stern was the courage of thy fidelity to Jesus thy Spouse. When thine enemies left thee, it was to Him thou didst look up; and then thy soul flew to its rest, in the bosom of thy King and God. The whole Church keeps feast to-day, praising her Lord in thee, great martyr and virgin! She knows the love thou bearest her, and how, amidst the joys of heaven, her interests and her wants are the object of thy prayers. Thou art our sister; be, too, our mother, by interceding for us. Centuries have passed away since that day, whereon thy soul quitted the body thou hadst sanctified by purity and suffering; but the great battle between the spirit and the flesh is still waging here on earth, and will do so to the end of time. Assist us in the struggle; keep up within our hearts the holy fire, which the world and our passions are ever seeking to quench.

It is now the season when every Christian should renew his whole being by repentance and compunction. We know the power of thy prayer; let it procure us these gifts: the fear of God, which keeps down the workings of corrupt nature; the spirit of penance, which repairs the injuries caused by our sins; and a solid love for our dear Lord, which sweetens the yoke, and ensures perseverance. More than once a whole people has witnessed how a relic of thine, thy veil, has checked the stream of lava which rolled down the sides of Etna; we are threatened with a torrent of vice, which will drive the world back to pagan corruption, unless divine mercy stay its wild fury; and prayers such as thine can obtain it for us. Delay not, O Agatha! each day gives strength to the danger. Not a nation but is now infected with the poison of a literature that is infidel and immoral; by thy prayers keep the poisonous cup from them that have not tasted, neutralize its power in them that have drunk its venom of death. Oh! spare us the shame of seeing our Europe the slave of sensuality, and the dupe of hell.



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

To-day again, it is one of the most amiable of Christ’s brides that comes to console us by her presence; it is Dorothy, the simple and intrepid virgin, who strews the path of her martyrdom with prodigies of sweetest charity. The religion of Christ alone can produce in timid women, like the saint of to-day, an energy which at times surpasses that of the most valiant martyrs among men. Thus does our Lord glorify His infinite power, by crushing Satan’s head with what is by nature so weak. The enmity put by God between the woman and the serpent,[1] is for ever showing itself in those sublime Acts of the Martyrs, where the rebel angel is defeated by an enemy whom he knew to be weak, and therefore scorned to fear; but that very weakness, which made her victory the grander, made his humiliation the bitterer. Surely, such history must have taught him how powerful an enemy he has in a Christian woman; and we, who can boast of having so many heroines among the ancestors of our holy faith, should cherish their memory, and confide in their protection, for their intercession is powerful with Him for whom they died. One of the noblest of these comes to us to-day; let us celebrate her victory, and merit her patronage.

The lessons given in the Dominican breviary are so much fuller than the legend of the Roman liturgy that we have not hesitated to insert them here.

Dorothea virgo, in Cæsarea Cappadociæ, propter Christi confessionem, ab Apricio illius provinciæ præfecto comprehensa, Crystæ et Callistæ sororibus, quæ a fide defecerant, tradita est, ut eam a proposito removerent. Sed ipsa reduxit eas ad finem, propter quam in cupam missæ et incensæ sunt. Dorotheam vero jussit præses in catasta levari; quæ dixit ad illum: Numquam in tota vita mea sic lætata sum sicut hodie. Tum ad ejus latera lampades ardentes apponi, dein faciem diutissime cædi, tandem caput gladio percuti præses imperat.

Ea porro dum duceretur ad supplicium dicente: Gratias tibi, amator animarum, qui me ad paradisum tuum vocasti, Theophilus quidam præsidis advocatus irridens: Eia tu, inquit, sponsa Christi, mitte mihi de paradiso sponsi tui mala, aut rosas. Et Dorothea respondit: Et piane ita faciam. Cum ante ictum breviter precari permissa esset, pulchra specie puer ante eam apparuit, ferens in orario tria mala, et tres rosas. Cui illa ait: Obsecro ut feras ea Theophilo. Et mox gladio percussa perrexit ad Christum.

Igitur cum Theophilus irridens, promissionem sanctæ Dorotheæ sodalibus narraret, ecce puer ante eum cum orario, in quo ferens tria mala magnifica, et tres rosas elegantissimas, dixit ei: En sicut petenti promisit virgo sacratissima Dorothea, transmisit hæc tibi de paradiso sponsi sui. Tum Theophilus stupens, quod esset Februarius, et gelu cuncta rigerent, ea accepit, atque exclamavit: Vere Deus Christus est. Sicque palam fidem Christi professus, gravissimum quoque pro ea martyrium strenue pertulit.
The holy virgin Dorothy, of Cesarea in Cappadocia, was apprehended by Apricius, the governor of that province, for professing the faith of Christ. She was put under the care of her two sisters, Chrysta and Callista, who had apostatized from the faith, and would be able to shake the resolute constancy of Dorothy. But she brought them back to the faith, for which they were burnt to death in a cauldron. The governor ordered Dorothy to be hoisted on the rack, and she said to him, as she lay upon it: 'Never in my whole life have I felt such joy, as I do to-day.’ Then the governor ordered the executioners to burn her sides with lighted lamps, and beat her for a very long time on the face, and finally behead her with the sword.

While she was being led to the place of execution, she said: 'I give thee thanks, O thou lover of our souls, that thou callest me to thy paradise!’ Theophilus, one of the governor’s officers, hearing her words, laughed, and said to her: ‘Hear me, bride of Christ! I ask thee to send me some apples and roses from this paradise of thy Spouse.’ Dorothy replied: 'Well, and so I will.’ Before she was beheaded, she was allowed a moment for prayer; when lo! a beautiful child came to her, bringing with him in a napkin three apples and three roses. She said to him: 'Take them, I pray thee, to Theophilus.' Then the executioner struck her head off with his sword, and her soul fled to Christ.

While Theophilus was jocosely telling his fellows the promise made him by Dorothy, he sees a boy bringing him in a napkin three fine apples, and three most lovely roses, who, as he gave them, said: 'Lo! the most holy virgin Dorothy sends thee, as she promised, these gifts from the paradise of her Spouse.' Theophilus was beside himself with surprise, for it was February, and the frost most sharp; but taking the gifts he exclaimed: 'Christ is truly God!' He openly professed the Christian faith, and courageously suffered for the same a most painful martyrdom.

The missals and breviaries of the Middle Ages contain several pieces in honour of St. Dorothy. The following is one that was used in Germany, and is most appropriate for the season of Septuagesima.


Psallat concors symphonia,
Laudes pangat harmonia,
Cum sonora melodia
Cordisque tripudio.

In hoc festo lætabundo
Dorotheæ, corde mundo,
Sono plaudat vox jucundo
Neumatum præludio.

Generosa Christi verna
Labe carens, et lucerna
Mundo lucens, ac pincerna,
Vina donans mystica.

Paradisi tu colona,
Quæ pro malo reddis bona,
Scribæ mittis cœli dona
Rosas, mala pistica.

Vitam ducens angelorum,
Dum in carne præter forum
Carnis vivis, spernis torum
Viri propter Dominum.

Martyr Christi quæ profanos
Deos sternis, ac paganos
Fide vestis, et sic sanos
Mores facis hominum.

Tota manens speciosa,
Velut rubens fragrans rosa,
Ad conflictum roborosa,
Minante Fabricio.

Vinculata carceraris,
In catasta cruciaris,
Vultu cæsa flagellaris,
Omni carens vitio.

Gens perversa malæ spei
Quam dum doces verbum Dei,
Lumen tuæ faciei
Conterit cum baculis.

Furens auget tormentales
Pœnas sævas et lethales,
Dum mamillas virginales
Tuas cremat faculis.

Supplicamus: nos tuere
Et peccata fac timere,
Martyr sancta, confer veræ
Tempus pœnitentiæ.

Virgo bona, crimen terge,
Victum dona, mores rege,
Ne damnemur gravi lege
Causa negligentiæ.

Sponsa Christi Dorothea,
Tua nos virtute bea,
Ut purgata mente rea,
Digni simus præmio.

Deum nobis fac placatum,
Ut post hujus incolatum,
Sed et locum det optatum
In cœlesti gremio.

Let tuneful instruments breathe forth concordant strains,
and harmony sound forth her praise,
and we, with joyous heart,
sing sweet melodious hymns.

'Tis the pure-hearted
Dorothy’s happy feast;
let our glad voices, led on by the organ’s peal,
proclaim her praise.

O noble and sinless handmaid of Christ!
O bright lamp shining to the whole world!
O cup-bearer, that profferest us
rich mystic wines!

Child of paradise,
that payest evil with good,
and givest to thine enemy roses
and fragrant apples of heaven.

Thou leadest the life of an angel,
and whilst in the flesh, livest not according to the flesh;
scorning to be spouse of man,
because betrothed to Christ.

Thou art his martyr too,
trampling on the pagan gods;
and, giving faith to infidels,
convertest them from madness to wisdom.

Red fragrant rose!
nothing could impair thy beauty.
Fabricius may threaten what he lists,
thou hast a heart brave enough for all.

Chains and prisons,
racks and buffets,
thou sufferest all,
yet innocent, deserving none.

Wicked men, whose hopes were bent on evil,
beat thy beaming face,
for that thou darest
to teach them the word of God.

But they could increase their tortures,
keen and deadly as they were;
furiously, then,
they burn thy innocent breast.

O holy martyr!
we beseech thee, protect us,
obtain for us a fear of sin,
and pray that time be given us for true repentance.

Kind virgin! pray for us
that our sins be cleansed, our souls be nourished with grace,
our lives well regulated, that so we be not condemned for negligence
by God’s dread law of justice.

O Dorothy, thou spouse of Christ!
may thy merits draw down his blessing upon us;
and we be found worthy of the reward that he gives
to those whose souls are free from sin.

Render our Lord propitious to us,
and beseech him to give us,
after our sojourn here, the longed-for place of rest
in the bosom of his heaven.


Thy promises, O Dorothy, are faithful as thyself. In the garden of thy heavenly Spouse, thou forgettest not the exiles on earth. How fortunate was Theophilus to have had one of thy promises! He asked for fruits and flowers; he received them, and with them the richer gifts of faith and perseverance, which we also would now ask thee to send us. Thou knowest our wants. We want courage to conquer the world and our passions; we want the grace of conversion; we want the spirit of penance, without which we can never reach that heaven of our vocation, where we are to be thy companions in bliss. Promise us thy prayers, and we shall not fail. And on the grand day of Easter for which we are preparing, our souls, having been purified in the Blood of the Lamb, will be as fragrant as the fruits and as fair as the flowers thou didst send to a pagan, whose prayer was less confident than ours.


[1] Gen. iii. 15.


From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The calendar’s list of martyrs is interrupted for two days; the first of these is the feast of Romuald, the hero of penance, the saint of the forests of Camaldoli. He is a son of the great patriarch St. Benedict, and, like him, is the father of many children. The Benedictine family has a direct line from the commencement, even to this present time; but, from the trunk of this venerable tree there have issued four vigorous branches, to each of which the Holy Spirit has imparted the life and fruitfulness of the parent stem. These collateral branches of the Benedictine Order are: Camaldoli, founded by Romuald; Cluny, by Odo; Vallombrosa, by John Gualbert; and Citeaux, by Robert of Molesmes.

The saint of this seventh day of February is Romuald. The martyrs whom we meet with on our way to Lent, give us an important lesson by the contempt they had for this short life. But the teaching offered us by such holy penitents as the great abbot of Camaldoli is even more practical than that of the martyrs. ‘They that are Christ’s,’ says the apostle, 'have crucified their flesh, with its vices and concupiscences’;[1] and in these words he tells us what is the distinguishing character of every true Christian. We repeat it: what a powerful encouragement we have in these models of mortification, who have sanctified the deserts by their lives of heroic penance! How they make us ashamed of our own cowardice, which can scarcely bring itself to do the little that must be done to satisfy God’s justice and merit His grace! Let us take the lesson to heart, cheerfully offer our offended Lord the tribute of our repentance, and purify our souls by works of mortification.

The Office for St. Romuald’s feast gives us the following sketch of his life.

Romualdus Ravennæ, Sergio patre nobili genere natus, adolescens in propinquum monasterium Classense, pœnitentiæ causa secessit: ubi religiosi hominis sermone, ad pietatis studium vehementius incensus, viso etiam semel et iterum per noctem in ecclesia beato Apollinari, quod Dei servus illi futurum promiserat, monachus efficitur. Mox ad Marinum, vitæ sanctitate ac severiore disciplina in finibus Venetorum eo tempore celebrem, se contulit, ut ad arctam et sublimem perfectionis viam eo magistro ac duce uteretur.

Multis Satanæ insidiis, et hominum invidia oppugnatus, tanto bumilior se assidue jejuniis et orationibus exercebat, et rerum cœlestium meditatione, vim lacrymarum profundens fruebatur: vultu tamen adeo læto semper erat, ut intuentes exhilararet. Magno apud principes et reges in honore fuit, multique ejus consilio, mundi illecebris abjectis, solitudinem petierunt. Martyrii quoque cupiditate flagravit, cujus causa dum in Pannoniam proficiscitur, morbo quo afflictabatur cum progrederetur, levabatur cum recederet, reverti cogitar.

In vita et post mortem miraculis clarus, spiritu etiam prophetiæ non caruit. Scalam a terra cœlum pertingentem in similitudinem Jacob patriarchæ, per quam homines in veste candida ascendebant et descendebant, per visum conspexit, eoque Camaldulenses monachos, quorum instituti auctor fuit, designari mirabiliter agnovit. Denique cum annos centum et viginti ageret, et centum ipsos in summa vitæ asperitate Deo servisset, ad eum migravit anno salutis millesimo vigesimo septimo. Ejus corpus quinquennio postquam sepultum fuerat, integrum repertum, Fabriani in ecclesia sui ordinis honorifice conditum est.
Romuald was the son of a nobleman, named Sergius. He was born at Ravenna, and while yet a boy, withdrew to the monastery of Classis, there to lead a life of penance. The conversation of one of the religious increased in his soul his already ardent love of piety; and after being twice favoured with a vision of St. Apollinaris, who appeared to him, during the night, in the church which was dedicated to him, he entered the monastic state, agreeably to the promise made him by the holy martyr. A few years later on, he betook himself to a hermit named Marinus, who lived in the neighbourhood of Venice, and was famed for his holy and austere life, that, under such a master and guide, he might follow the narrow path of high perfection.

Many were the snares laid for him by Satan, and envious men molested him with their persecutions; but these things only excited him to be more humble, and assiduous in fasting and prayer. In the heavenly contemplation wherewith he was favoured, he shed abundant tears. Yet such was the joy which ever beamed in his face, that it made all who looked at him cheerful. Princes and kings held him in great veneration, and his advice induced many to leave the world and its allurements, and live in holy solitude. An ardent desire for martyrdom induced him to set out for Pannonia; but a malady, which tormented him as often as he went forward, and left him when he turned back, obliged him to abandon his design.

He wrought many miracles during his life, as also after his death, and was endowed with the gift of prophecy. Like the patriarch Jacob, he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, on which men, clad in white robes, ascended and descended. He interpreted this miraculous vision as signifying the Camaldolese monks, whose founder he was. At length, having reached the age of a hundred and twenty, after having served his God by a life of most austere penance for a hundred years, he went to his reward, in the year of our Lord one thousand and twenty-seven. His body was found incorrupt after it had been five years in the grave; and was then buried, with due honour, in the church of his Order at Fabriano.

Faithful servant and friend of God! how different was thy life from ours! We love the world and its distractions. We think we do wonders if we give, each day, a passing thought to our Creator, and make Him, at long intervals, the sole end of some one of our occupations. Yet we know how each hour is bringing us nearer to that moment, when we must stand before the divine tribunal, with our good and our evil works, to receive the irrevocable sentence we shall have merited. Thou, Romuald, didst not thus waste life away. It seemed to thee as though there were but one thought and one interest worth living for: how best to serve thy God. Lest anything should distract thee from this infinitely dear object, thou didst flee into the desert. There, under the rule of the great patriarch, St. Benedict, thou wagedst war against the flesh and the devil; thy tears washed away thy sins, though so light if compared with what we have committed; thy soul, invigorated by penance, was inflamed with the love of Jesus, for whose sake thou wouldst fain have shed thy blood. We love to recount these thy merits, for they belong to us in virtue of that communion which our Lord has so mercifully established between saints and sinners. Assist us, therefore, during the penitential season, which is soon to be upon us. The justice of God will not despise our feeble efforts, for He will see them beautified by the union He allows them to have with such glorious works as thine. When thou wast living in the Eden of Camaldoli, thy amiable and sweet charity for men was such, that all who came near thee were filled with joy and consolation: what may we not expect from thee, now that thou art face to face with the God of love? Remember, too, the Order thou hast founded; protect it, give it increase, and make it ever, to those who become its children, a ladder to lead them up to heaven.


[1] Gal v. 24.



From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

We were celebrating, not many days ago, the memory of Peter Nolasco, who was inspired, by the holy Mother of God, to found an Order for the ransoming of Christian captives from the infidels: to-day, we have to honour the generous saint, to whom this sublime work was first revealed. He established, under the name of the most holy Trinity, a body of religious men, who bound themselves by vow to devote their energies, their privations, their liberty, nay, their very life, to the service of the poor slaves who were groaning under the Saracen yoke. The Order of the Trinitarians, and the Order of Mercy, though distinct, have the same end in view, and the result of their labours, during the six hundred years of their existence, has been the restoration to liberty and preservation from apostasy of upwards of a million slaves. John of Matha, assisted by his faithful co-operator, Felix of Valois (whose feast we shall keep at the close of the year), established the centre of his grand work at Meaux, in France. We are preparing for Lent, when one of our great duties will have to be that of charity towards our suffering brethren: what finer model could we have than John of Matha, and his whole Order, which was called into existence for no other object than that of delivering from the horrors of slavery brethren who were utter strangers to their deliverers, but were in suffering and in bondage. Can we imagine any almsgiving, let it be ever so generous, which can bear comparison with this devotedness of men, who bind themselves by their rule, not only to traverse every Christian land begging alms for the ransom of slaves, but to change places with the poor captives, if their liberty cannot be otherwise obtained? Is it not, as far as human weakness permits, following to the very letter the example of the Son of God Himself, who came down from heaven that He might be our ransom and our Redeemer? We repeat it: with such models as these before us, we shall feel ourselves urged to follow the injunction we are shortly to receive from the Church, of exercising works of mercy towards our fellow-creatures, as being one of the essential elements of our lenten penance.

But it is time we should listen to the account given us by the liturgy of the virtues of this apostolic man, who has endeared himself, both to the Church and to mankind, by his heroism of charity.

Joannes de Matha, Ordinis sanctissimæ Trinitatis redemptionis captivorum institutor, Falcone in Provincia natus est, parentibus pietate et nobilitate conspicuis. Studiorum causa Aquas Sextias, mox Parisios profectus, confectoque theologiæ curriculo, magisterii lauream adeptus, doctrinæ, et virtutum splendore enituit: quibus motus Parisiensia Antistes, ad sacrum presbyteratus ordinem, præ humilitate reluctantem promovit, eo consilio, ut in ea civitate commorans, sapientia et moribus studiosæ juventuti præluceret. Cum autem in sacello ejusdem episcopi, ipso cum aliis adstante, primum Deo sacrum offerret, cœlesti favore meruit recreari. Nam angelus candida et fulgenti veste indutus, cui in pectore crux rubei et cærulei coloris assuta erat, brachiis cancellatis, et super duos captivos ad latera pósitos, Christianum unum, alterum Maurum, extensis apparuit. Qua visione in exstasim raptus, intellexit protinus vir Dei se ad redimendos ab infidelibus captivos destinari.

Quo vero maturius in re tanti momenti procederet, in solitudinem secessit; ibique divino nutu factum est, ut Felicem Valesium in ipsa eremo jam multis annis degentem repererit. Cum quo inita societate, se per triennium in oratione et contemplatione, omniumque virtutum studio exercuit. Contigit autem, ut dum secum de rebus divinis prope fontem colloquerentur, cervus ad eos accesserit, crucem inter cornua gerens, rubei et cærulei coloris. Cumque Felix ob rei novitatem miraretur, narravit ei Joannes visionem in prima Missa habitam: et exinde ferventius orationi incumbentes, ter in somnis admoniti, Romam proficisei decreverunt, ut a summo Pontifice novi Ordinis pro redimendis captivis institutionem impetrarent. Electus fuerat eo tempore Innocentius tertius; qui, illis benigne acceptis, dum secum de re proposita deliberaret, in festo sanctæ Agnetis secundo, Laterani intra Missarum solemnia, ad sacræ Hostiæ elevationem, angelus ei candida veste, cruce bicolori, specie redimentis captivos apparuit. Quo viso, Pontifex institutum approbavit, et novum Ordinem sanctissimæ Trinitatis redemptionis captivorum vocari jussit, ejusque professoribus albas vestes, cum cruce rubei et cærulei coloris præbuit.

Sic stabilito Ordine, sancii fundatores in Galliam redierunt; primoque cœnobio Cervi Frigidi in diœcesi Meldensi constructo, ad ejus regimen Felix remansit, et Joannes Romam cum aliquot sociis reversus est ubi Innocentius domum, ecclesiam, et hospitale sancti Thomæ de Formis in monte Cœlio eis donavit, cum multis redditibus, et possessionibus. Datis quoque litteris ad Miramolinnm regem Marochii, opus redemptionis felici auspicio inchoatum fuit. Tum ad Hispanias, sub jugo Saracenorum, magna ex parte oppressas, Joannes profectus est, regumque, principum, atque aliorum fidelium animos ad captivorum et pauperum commiserationem commovit. Monasteria ædificavit, hospitalia erexit, magnoque lucro animarum, plures captivos redemit. Romam tandem reversus, sanctisque operibus incumbens, assiduis laboribus attritus, et morbo confectus, ardentissimo Dei et proximi amore exæstuans, ad extremum devenit. Quare fratribus convocatis, eisque ad opus redemptionis cœlitus præmonstratum efficaciter cohortatis, obdormivit in Domino, sextodecimo kalendas Januarii, anno salutis millesimo ducentesimo decimo tertio, ejusque corpus in ipsa ecclesia Sancti Thomæ de Formis condigno honore tumulatimi fuit.
John of Matha, the institutor of the Order of the most Holy Trinity for the ransom of captives, was born at Faucon, in Provence, of parents conspicuous for their nobility and virtue. He went through his studies first at Aix, and afterwards at Paris, where, after having completed his theological course, he received the degree of doctor. His eminent learning and virtues induced the bishop of Paris to promote him, in spite of his humble resistance, to the holy order of priesthood, that, during his sojourn in that city, he might be a bright example to young students by his talents and piety. While celebrating his first Mass in the bishop’s chapel, in the presence of the prelate and several assistants, he was honoured by a signal favour from heaven. There appeared to him an angel clad in a white and brilliant robe; he had on his breast a red and blue cross, and his arms were stretched out, crossed one above the other, over two captives, one a Christian, the other a Moor. Falling into an ecstasy at this sight, the man of God at once understood that he was called to ransom captives from the infidels.

But, that he might the more prudently carry out so important an undertaking, he withdrew into a solitude. There by divine appointment, he met with Felix of Valois, who had been living many years in that same desert. They agreed to live together, and for three years did John devote himself to prayer and contemplation, and the practice of every virtue. It happened, that as they were one day seated near a fountain, conferring with each other on holy things, a stag came towards them, bearing a red and blue cross between his antlers. John, perceiving that Felix was surprised by so strange an occurrence, told him of the vision he had had in his first Mass. They gave themselves more fervently than ever to prayer, and having been thrice admonished in sleep, they resolved to set out for Rome, there to obtain permission from the sovereign Pontiff to found an Order for the ransom of captives. Innocent III., who had shortly before been elected Pope, received them kindly, and while deliberating upon what they proposed, it happened that as he was celebrating Mass in the Lateran church, on the second feast of St. Agnes, there appeared to him, during the elevation of the sacred Host, an angel robed in white, bearing a two-coloured cross, and in the attitude of one that was rescuing captives. Whereupon, the Pontiff gave his approbation to the new institute, and would have it called the Order of the most Holy Trinity for the ransom of captives, bidding its members wear a white habit, with a red and blue cross.

The Order being thus established, its holy founders returned to France, and erected their first monastery at Cerfroid, in the diocese of Meaux. Felix was left to govern it, and John returned, accompanied by a few of his brethren, to Rome. Innocent III. gave them the house, church, and hospital of St. Thomas de Formis, together with various revenues and possessions. He also gave them letters to Miramolin, king of Morocco, and thus was prosperously begun the work of ransom. John afterwards went into Spain, a great portion of which country was then under the Saracen yoke. He stirred up kings, princes, and others of the faithful, to compassion for the captives and the poor. He built monasteries, founded hospitals, and saved the souls of many captives by purchasing their freedom. Having, at length, returned to Rome, he spent his days in doing good. Worn out by incessant labour and sickness, and burning with a most ardent love of God and his neighbour, it was evident that his death was at hand. Wherefore, calling his brethren round him, he eloquently besought them to labour in the work of ransom, which heaven had entrusted to them, and then slept in the Lord, on the sixteenth of the Calends of January (December 17), in the year of grace 1213. His body was buried with the honour that was due to him in the same church of St. Thomas de Formis.

And now, generous-hearted saint, enjoy the fruits of thy devoted charity. Our blessed Redeemer recognizes thee as one of His most faithful imitators, and the whole court of heaven is witness of the recompense wherewith He loves to honour thy likeness to Himself. We must imitate thee; we must walk in thy footsteps; for we too hope to reach the same eternal resting-place. Fraternal charity will lead us to heaven, for the works it inspires us to do have the power of freeing the soul from sin, as our Lord assures us.[1] Thy charity was formed on the model of that which is in the heart of God, who loves our soul yet disdains not to provide for the wants of our body. Seeing so many souls in danger of apostasy, thou didst run to their aid, and men were taught to love a religion which can produce heroes of charity like thee. Thy heart bled at hearing of the bodily sufferings of these captives, and thy hand broke the chains of their galling slavery. Teach us the secret of ardent charity. Is it possible that we can see a soul in danger of being lost, and remain indifferent? Have we forgotten the divine promise, told us by the apostle: ‘He that causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of his own sins’?[2] Obtain for us, also, a tender compassion for such as are in bodily suffering and poverty, that so we may be generous in comforting them under these trials, which are but too often an occasion of their blaspheming Providence. Dear friend and liberator of slaves! pray, during this holy season, for those who groan under the captivity of sin and Satan; for those, especially, who, taken with the frenzy of earthly pleasures, feel not the weight of their chains, but sleep on peacefully through their slavery. Ransom them by thy prayers, convert them to the Lord their God, lead them back to the land of freedom. Pray for France which was thy country, and save her from infidelity. Protect the venerable remnants of thy Order, that so it may labour for the present wants of the Christian world, since the object for which thou didst institute it has ceased to require its devotedness.


[1] Ecclus. iii. 33.
[2] St. James v. 20.


From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The holy virgin who this day claims the homage of our devotion and praise, is offered to us by the Church of Alexandria. Apollonia is a martyr of Christ; her name is celebrated and honoured throughout the whole world; and she comes to us on this ninth day of February, to add her own example to that which we have so recently had from her sister saints, Agatha and Dorothy; like them, she bids us fight courageously for heaven. To her this present life was a thing of little value, and no sooner did she receive God’s inspiration to sacrifice it, than she did what her would-be executioners intended doing: she threw herself into the flames prepared for her. It is no unusual thing, nowadays, for men that are wearied of the trials, or afraid of the humiliations, of this world, to take away their own lives, and prefer suicide to the courageous performance of duty: but Apollonia’s motive for hastening her death by a moment’s anticipation, was to testify her horror of the apostasy that was proposed to her. This is not the only instance we meet with, during times of persecution, of the holy Spirit’s inspiring this lavish sacrifice to saintly virgins, who trembled for their faith or their virtue. It is true, such examples are rare; but they teach us, among other things, that our lives belong to God alone, and that we should be in readiness of mind to give them to Him, when and as He pleases to demand them of us.

There is one very striking circumstance in the martyrdom of St. Apollonia. Her executioners, to punish the boldness wherewith she confessed our Lord Jesus Christ, beat out her teeth. This has suggested to the faithful, when suffering the cruel pain of toothache, to have recourse to St. Apollonia; and their confidence is often rewarded, for God would have us seek the protection of His saints, not only in our spiritual, but even in our bodily sufferings and necessities.

The liturgy thus speaks the praises of our saint.

Apollonia, virgo Alexandrina, sub Decio imperatore, cum ingravescente jam setate ad idola sisteretur, ut eis venerationem adhiberet, illis contemptis, Jesum Christum verum Deum colendum esse prædicabat. Quamobrem omnes ei contusi sunt et evulsi dentes: ac, nisi Christum detestata deos coleret, accenso rogo combusturos vivam minati sunt impii carnifices. Quibus illa, se quamvis mortem pro Jesu Christi fide subituram respondit. Itaquecomprehensa ut combureretur, cum paulisper quasi deliberans quid agendum esset, stetisset, ex illorum manibus elapsa, alacris in ignem sibi paratura, majori Spiritus sancti flamma intus accensa, se injecit. Unde brevi con9umpto corpore, purissimus spiritus in cœlum ad sempiternam martyrii coronam evolavit.
Apollonia was a virgin of Alexandria. In the persecution under the Emperor Decius, when she was far advanced in years, she was brought up to trial, and ordered to pay adoration to idols. She turned from them with contempt, and declared that worship ought to be given to Jesus Christ, the true God. Whereupon, the impious executioners broke and pulled out her teeth; then lighting a pile of wood, they threatened to burn her alive, unless she would hate Christ, and adore their gods. She replied, that she was ready to suffer every kind of death for the faith of Jesus Christ. Upon this, they seized her, intending to do as they said. She stood for a moment, as though hesitating what she should do; then, snatching herself from their hold, she suddenly threw herself into the fire, for there was within her the intenser flame of the Holy Ghost. Her body was soon consumed, and her most pure soul took its flight, and was graced with the everlasting crown of martyrdom.

What energy was thine, Apollonia! Thy persecutors threaten thee with fire; but far from fearing it, thou art impatient for it, as though it were a throne, and thou ambitious to be queen. Thy dread of sin took away the fear of death, nor didst thou wait for man to be thy executioner. This thy courage surprises our cowardice; and yet, the burning pile into which thou didst throw thyself when asked to apostatize, and which was a momentary pain leading thy soul to eternal bliss, was nothing when we compare it with that everlasting fire, to which the sinner condemns himself almost every day of his life. He heeds not the flames of hell, and deems it no madness to purchase them at the price of some vile passing pleasure. And with all this, worldlings can be scandalized at the saints, and call them exaggerated, extravagant, imprudent; because they believed that there is but one thing necessary! Awaken in our hearts, Apollonia, the fear of sin; for sin gnaws eternally the souls of them who die with its guilt upon them. If the fire, which had a charm for thee, seems to us the most frightful of tortures, let us turn our fear of suffering and death into a preservative against sin, which plunges men into that abyss, whence the smoke of their torments shall ascend for ever and ever,[1]as St. John tells us in his Revelation. Have pity on us, most brave and prudent martyr. Pray for sinners. Open their eyes to see the evils that threaten them. Procure for us the fear of God, that so we may merit His mercies, and may begin in good earnest to love Him.


[1] Apoc. xiv. 11.