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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.

We are called upon, a second time, to honour St. Peter’s chair: first, it was his pontificate in Rome; to-day, it is his episcopate at Antioch. The seven years spent by the prince of the apostles in the second of these cities, were the grandest glory she ever had; and they are too important a portion of the life of St. Peter to be passed by without being noticed in the Christian cycle.

Three years had elapsed since our Lord’s Ascension. The Church had already been made fruitful by martyrdom, and from Jerusalem she had spread into distant countries. Antioch, the first of the cities of Asia, had received the Gospel; and it was there that those who professed the faith of Jesus were first called Christians. Jerusalem was doomed to destruction for having not only refused to acknowledge, but even crucified, the Messias: it was time for Peter, in whom resided the supreme power, to deprive the faithless city of the honour she had heretofore enjoyed, of possessing within her walls the chair of the apostolate. It was towards the Gentiles that the Holy Spirit drove those clouds, which were shown to Isaias as the symbol of the holy apostles.[1] Accordingly, it is in Antioch, the third capital of the Roman Empire, that Peter first places the august throne, on which, as vicegerent of Christ, he presides over the universal Church.

But the progress of the apostles was so rapid; the conquests they made, in spite of every opposition, were so extensive, that the vicar of Christ was inspired to leave Antioch, after he had honoured it with the chair during the space of seven years. Alexandria, the second city of the empire, is also to be made a see of Peter; and Rome, the capital of the world, awaits the grand privilege for which God has long been preparing her. Onwards, then, does the prince advance, bearing with him the destinies of the Church; where he fixes his last abode, and where he dies, there will he have his successor in his sublime dignity of vicar of Christ. He leaves Antioch, making one of his disciples, Evodius, its bishop. Evodius succeeds Peter as bishop of Antioch; but that see is not to inherit the headship of the Church, which goes whithersoever Peter goes. He sends Mark, another of his disciples, to take possession, in his name, of Alexandria; and this Church he would have to be the second in the world, and though he has not ruled it in person, he raises it above that of Antioch. This done, he goes to Rome, where he permanently establishes that chair, on which he will live, and teach, and rule, in his successors, to the end of time.

And here we have the origin of the three great patriarchal sees, which were the object of so much veneration in the early ages: the first is Rome, invested with all the prerogatives of the prince of the apostles, which, when dying, he transmitted to her; the second is Alexandria, which owes her preeminence to Peter’s adopting her as his second see; the third is Antioch, whither he repaired in person, when he left Jerusalem to bring to the Gentiles the grace of adoption. If, therefore, Antioch is below Alexandria in rank, Alexandria never enjoyed the honour granted to Antioch, of having been governed, in person, by him whom Christ appointed to be the supreme pastor of His Church. Nothing, then, could be more just, than that Antioch should be honoured, as having, for seven years, had the privilege of being the centre of Christendom; and this is the object of to-day’s feast.

The children of the Church have a right to feel a special interest in every solemnity that is kept in memory of St. Peter. The father’s feast is a feast for the whole family; for to him it owes its very life. If there be but one fold, it is because there is but one Shepherd. Let us, then, honour Peter’s divine prerogative, to which Christianity owes its preservation; and let us often reflect upon the obligations we are under to the apostolic see. On the feast of the chair at Rome, we saw how faith is taught, and maintained, and propagated by the mother-Church, which has inherited the promises made to Peter. To-day, let us consider the apostolic see as the sole source of the legitimate power, whereby mankind is ruled and governed in all that concerns eternal salvation.

Our Saviour said to Peter: ‘To thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’[2] that is to say, of the Church. He said to him on another occasion: ‘Feed My lambs, feed My sheep.’[3] So that Peter is prince; for, in the language of the sacred Scriptures, keys denote princely power: he is also pastor, and universal pastor; for the whole flock is comprised under the two terms, lambs and sheep. And yet there are other pastors in every portion of the Christian world. The bishops, whom the Holy Ghost hath placed to rule the Church of God,[4] govern, in his name, their respective dioceses, and are also pastors. How comes it that the keys, which were given to Peter, are found in other hands than his? The Catholic Church explains the difficulty to us by her tradition. She says to us, by Tertullian: ‘Christ gave the keys to Peter, and through him to the Church.’[5] By St. Optatus of Milevis: 'For the sake of unity, Peter was made the first among all the apostles, and he alone received the keys, that he might give them to the rest.’[6] By St. Gregory of Nyssa: ‘It is through Peter that Christ gave to bishops the keys of their heavenly prerogative.’[7] By St. Leo the Great: 'If our Lord willed that there should be something common to Peter and the rest of the princes of His Church, it was only on this condition, that whatsoever He gave to the rest, He gave it to them through Peter.’[8]

Yes, the episcopate is most sacred, for it comes from the hands of Jesus Christ through Peter and his successors. Such is the unanimous teaching of Catholic tradition, which is in keeping with the language used by the Roman pontiffs, from the earliest ages, who have always spoken of the dignity of bishops as consisting in their being ‘called to a share of their own solicitude.' Hence St. Cyprian does not hesitate to say that 'our Saviour, wishing to establish the episcopal dignity and constitute His Church, says to Peter: “To thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven and here we have both the institution of bishops, and the constitution of the Church.’[9] This same doctrine is clearly stated in a letter written to Pope St. Symmachus by St. Cesarius of Arles, who lived in the fifth century: ‘The episcopate flows from the blessed apostle Peter; and consequently, it belongs to your holiness to prescribe to the several Churches the rules which they are to follow.’[10] This fundamental principle, which St. Leo the Great has so ably and eloquently developed (as we have seen on the feast of the chair at Rome, January 18), this principle, which is taught us by universal tradition, is laid down with all possible precision in the magnificent letters, still extant, of Pope St. Innocent I., who preceded St. Leo by several years. Thus he writes to the Council of Carthage, that ‘the episcopate, with all its authority, emanates from the apostolic see’;[11] to the Council of Milevis, that 'bishops must look upon Peter as the source whence both their name and their dignity are derived’;[12] to St. Victricius, bishop of Rouen, that 'the apostolate and the episcopate both owe their origin to Peter.’[13]

Controversy is not our object. All we aim at by giving these quotations from the fathers on the prerogatives of Peter’s chair, is to excite the faithful to be devoted to it and venerate it. This we have endeavoured to do, by showing them that this chair is the source of the spiritual authority, which, in its several degrees, rules and sanctifies them. All spiritual authority comes from Peter; all comes from the bishop of Rome, in whom Peter will continue to govern the Church to the end of time. Jesus Christ is the founder of the episcopate; it is the Holy Ghost who establishes bishops to rule the Church; but the mission and the institution, which assign the pastor his flock, and the flock its pastor, these are given by Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Peter and his successors.

How sacred, how divine, is this authority of the keys, which is first given by heaven itself to the Roman Pontiff; then is delegated by him to the prelates of the Church; and thus guides and blesses the whole Christian world! The apostolic see has varied its mode of transmitting such an authority according to the circumstances of the several ages; but the one source of the whole power was always the same, the chair of Peter. We have already seen how, at the commencement, there were three chairs: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch; and all three were sources of the canonical institution of the bishops of their respective provinces; but they were all three chairs of Peter, for they were founded by him that they might preside over their patriarchates, as St. Leo,[14] St. Gelasius,[15] and St. Gregory the Great,[16] expressly teach. But of these three chairs, the Pontiff of Rome had his authority and his institution from heaven; whereas, the two other patriarchs could not exercise their rights, until they were recognized and confirmed by him who was Peter’s successor, as vicar of Christ. Later on, two other sees were added to these first three: but it was only by the consent of the Roman Pontiff that Constantinople and Jerusalem obtained such an honour. Let us notice, too, the difference there is between the accidental honours conferred on four of these Churches, and the divine prerogative of the Church of Rome. By God’s permission, the sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, were defiled by heresy; they became chairs of pestilence;[17] and having corrupted the faith they received from Rome, they could not transmit to others the mission they themselves had forfeited. Sad indeed was the ruin of such pillars as these! Peter’s hand had placed them in the Church. They had merited the love and veneration of men; but they fell; and their fall gave one more proof of the solidity of that edifice, which Christ Himself had built on Peter. The unity of the Church was made more visible. Obliged by the treachery of her own favoured children to deprive them of the privileges they had received from her, Rome was, more evidently than ever, the sole source of pastoral power.

We, then, both priests and people, have a right to know whence our pastors have received their power. From whose hand have they received the keys? If their mission come from the apostolic see, let us honour and obey them, for they are sent to us by Jesus Christ, who has invested them, through Peter, with His own authority. If they claim our obedience without having been sent by the bishop of Rome, we must refuse to receive them, for they are not acknowledged by Christ as His ministers. The holy anointing may have conferred on them the sacred character of the episcopate: it matters not; they must be as aliens to us, for they have not been sent, they are not pastors.

Thus it is that the divine Founder of the Church, who willed that she should be a city seated on a mountain,[18] gave her visibility; it was an essential requisite; for since all were called to enter her pale, all must be able to see her. But He was not satisfied with this. He moreover willed that the spiritual power exercised by her pastors should come from a visible source, so that the faithful might have a sure means of verifying the claims of those who were to guide them in His name. Our Lord (we say it reverently) owed this to us; for, on the last day, He will not receive us as His children, unless we shall have been members of His Church, and have lived in union with Him by the ministry of pastors lawfully constituted. Honour, then, and submission to Jesus in His vicar! honour and submission to the vicar of Christ in the pastors he sends!

As a tribute of our devotion to the prince of the apostles, let us recite, in his honour, the following hymn, composed by St. Peter Damian:

HYMN

Senatus apostolici
Princeps, et præco Domini:
Pastor prime fidelium,
Custodi gregem creditum.

Per pascua virentia,
Nos verbi fruge recrea:
Refectas oves prævius
Caulis infer cœlestibus.

Supernæ claves januæ
Tibi, Petre, sunt traditæ:
Tuisque patent legibus
Terrena cum cœlestibus.

Tu petram veræ fidei,
Tu basini sedificii
Fundas, in qua Catholica
Fixa surgit Ecclesia.

Umbra tua, dum graderis,
Fit medicina languidis;
Textrinis usa vestium
Sprevit Tabitha feretrum.

Catena vinctum gemina,
Virtus solvit angelica;
Veste sumpta cum caligis,
Patescunt fores carceris.

Sit Patri laus ingenito,
Sit decus Unigenito,
Sit utriusque parili
Majestas summa Flamini.

Amen.
O prince of the apostolic senate!
Herald of our Lord!
First pastor of the faithful!
watch over the flock entrusted to thee.

Lead us through verdant pastures,
feeding us with the nourishment of the word;
and lead us, thus fed, into the heavenly fold,
whither thou hast already gone.

To thee, Peter, have been delivered
the keys of heaven’s gate;
and all things, both in heaven and on earth,
acknowledge thy authority.

’Tis thou that choosest the city
where is to be established the rock of the true faith,
the foundation of the building,
on which the Catholic Church stands immovable.

Thy shadow, as thou passest by,
heals the sick;
and Tabitha, that made garments for the poor,
was raised to life at thy bidding.

Bound with two chains,
thou wast set free by an angel's power;
he bids thee put on thy garments and thy sandals,
and lo! the prisondoor is opened.

To the Father unbegotten,
and to the only-begotten Son,
and to the coequal Spirit of them both,
be praise and kingly highest power.

Amen.

Glory be to thee, O prince of the apostles, on thy chair at Antioch, where thou didst for seven years preside over the universal Church! How magnificent are the stations of thy apostolate! Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria (by thy disciple Mark), and Rome, these are the cities which have been honoured by thy august chair. After Rome, Antioch was the longest graced by its presence: justly, therefore, do we honour this Church, which was thus made, by thee, the mother and mistress of all other Churches. Alas! all her beauty has now left her; her faith is dead; she is in bondage to the Saracen. Save her, take her once more under thy power, bring her into allegiance to Rome, where thou hast thy chair, not for seven years only, but for all ages. The gates of hell have let loose the fury of every tempest upon thee, firm rock of the Church! and we ourselves have Been the immortal chair banished for a time from Rome. The words of St. Ambrose then came to our minds: ‘Where Peter is, there is the Church.’ How could we despair? Did we not know, that it was God’s inspiration which made thee choose Rome for the fixed resting-place of thy throne? No human will can put asunder what God has united; the bishop of Rome must ever be the vicar of Christ; and the vicar of Christ, let sacrilege and persecution banish him as they will, must ever be the bishop of Rome. Holy apostle! calm the wildness of the tempest, lest the weak should take scandal. Beseech our Lord that He permit not the residence of thy successor to be disturbed in that holy city, which has been chosen for so great an honour. If it be that her inhabitants deserve punishment for their offences, spare them for the sake of their brethren of the rest of the world; and pray for them, that their faith may once more become what it was when St. Paul praised it, and said to them: ‘Your faith is spoken of in the whole world.’[19]

 


[1] Isa. lx. 8.
[2] St. Matt. xvi. 19.
[3] St. John xxi. 15, 17.
[4] Acts xx. 28.
[5] Scorpiac., cap. x.
[6] Contra Parmenianum, lib. vii.
[7] Opp., tom. iii.
[8] In Anniv. assumpt., serm. iv.
[9] Epist. xxxiii.
[10] Ibid., x.
[11] Ibid., xxix.
[12] Ibid., xxx.
[13] Ibid., ii.
[14] Epist. civ. Ad Anatolium.
[15] Concli. Romanum. Labb., tom. iv.
[16] Epist. Ad Eulogium.
[17] Ps. i. 1.
[18] St. Matt. v. 14.
[19] Rom. i. 8.

 

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

It is the feast of the austere reformer of the eleventh century, Peter Damian, the precursor of the holy pontiff Gregory VII., that we are called upon to celebrate to-day. To him is due in part that glorious regeneration, which was effected at that troubled period when judgment had to begin at the house of God.[1] The life he had led under the monastic rule had fitted him for the great contest. So zealously did he withstand the disorders and abuses of his times, that we may attribute to him, at least in great measure, the ardent faith of the two centuries which followed the scandals of the tenth. The Church ranks him among her doctors, on account of his admirable writings: and his penitential life ought to excite us to be fervent in the work we have in hand, the work of our conversion.

The following lessons, read by the Church, on this feast, give us a sketch of our saint’s life:

Petrus, Ravennæ honestis parentibus natus, adhuc lactens a matre numerosæ prolis pertæsa abjicitur, sed domesticæ mulieris opera semivivus exceptus ac recreatus, genitrici ad humanitatis sensum revocata redditur. Utroque orbatus parente, tamquam vile mancipium sub aspera fratria tutela duram servitutem exercuit. Religionis in Deum ac pietatis erga patrem egregium tunc specimen dedit; inventum siquidem forte nummum non propriæ mediæ sublevandæ, sed sacerdoti qui divinum sacrificium ad illius expiationem offerret, erogavit. A Damiano fratre, a quo, uti fertur, cognomentum accepit, benigne receptus, ejus cura litteris eruditur, in quibus brevi tantum profecit, ut magistris admirationi esset. Quum autem liberalibus scientiis floreret et nomine, eas cum laude docuit. Interim ut corpus rationi subderet, sub mollibus vesitibus cilicium adhibuit, jejuniis, vigiliis, et orationibus solerter insistens. Calente juventa, dum carnis stimulis acriter urgeretur, insultan tium libidinum faces rigentibus fluvii mersus aquis noctu extinguebat: tum venerabilia quæque loca obire, tofcumque psalterium recitare consueverat. Ope assidua pauperes levabat, quibus frequenter pastis convivio, propriis ipse manibus ministrabat.

Perficiendæ magis vitæ causa, in Avellanensi Eugubinæ diœcesis cœnobio, Ordini monachorum sanctæ Crucis Fontis Avellanæ, a beato Ludulpho sancti Romualdi discipulo fundato, nomen dedit. Non ita multo post in monasterum Pomposianum, mox in cœnobium Sancti Vincentii Petræ Pertusæ ab abbate suo missus, utrumque asceterium verbo sacro, præclaris institutionibus et moribus excoluit. Ad suos revocatus, post præsidis obitum Avellanitarurm familiæ præficitur, quam novis variis in locis extructis domiciliis, et sanctissimis institutis ita auxit, ut alter ejus Ordinis parens ac præcipuum ornamentum jure sit habitus. Salutarem Petri sollicitudinem alia quoque diversi instituti cœnobia, canonicorum conventus, et populi sunt experti. Urbinati diœcesi non uno nomine profuit: Theuzoni episcopo in causa gravissima assedit, ipsumque in recte administrando episcopatu consilio et opera juvit. Divinorum contemplatione, corporis macerationibus,cæterisque spectatæ sanctimoniæ exemplis excelluit. His motus Stephanus Nonus, Pontifex maximus, eum licet invitum et reluctantem sanctæ Komanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem creavit, et Ostiensem episcopum. Quas Petrus dignitates splendidissimis virtutibus, et consentaneis episcopali ministerio operibus gessit.

Difficillimo tempore Romanæ Ecclesiæ summisque Pontificibus doctrina, legationibus, aliisque susceptis laboribus mirifice adfuit. Adversus Nicolaitarum et Simoniacam hæreses ad mortem usque strenue decertavit. Hujusmodi depulsis malia, Mediolanen sem Ecclesiæ Komanæ conciliavit. Benedicto, et Cadaloo, falsis Pontificibus, fortiter restitit. Henricum quartum Germaniæ regem ab iniquo uxoris divortio deterruit: Ravennates ad debita Romano Pontifici obsequia revocatos sacris restituit. Canonicos Veliternos ad sanctioris vitæ leges composuit. In provincia prasertim Urbinate vix ulla fuit episcopalis ecclesia, de qua Petrus non sit bene meritus: Eugubinam, quam aliquan do creditam habuit, multis levavit incommodis: alias alibi, quando oportuit, perinde curavit, ac si suæ essent tutelæcommissæ. Cardinalatu, et episcopali dignitate depositis, nihil de pristina juvandi proximos sedulitate remisit. Jejunium sextæ feriæ in honorem sanctæ crucis Jesu Christi, horarias beatæ Dei Genitricis preces, ejusque die Sabbato cultum propagavit. Inferendæ quoque sibi verberationis morem ad patratorum scelerum expiationem provexit. Demum sanctitate, doctrina, miraeulis, et præclare actis illustris, dum e Ravennate legatione rediret, Faventiæ octavo Kalendas Martii migravit ad Christum. Ejus corpus ibidem apud Cistercienses multis miraculis darum frequenti populorum veneratione colitur. Ipsum Faventini non semel in præsenti discrimine propitium experti, patronum apud Deum delegerunt: Leo vero duodecimus, Pontifex maximus, Officium Missamque in ejus honorem tamquam confessoris pontificis, quæ aliquibus in diœcesibus, atque in Ordine Camaldulensium jam celebrabantur, ex Sacroram Rituum Congregationis consulto, addita doctoria qualitate, ad universam extendit Ecclesiam.
Peter was born at Ravenna, of respectable parents. His mother, wearied with the care of a large family, abandoned him when a babe; but one of her female servants found him in an almost dying state, and took care of him, until such time as the mother, repenting of her unnatural conduct, consented to treat him as her child. After the death of his parents, one of his brothers, a most harsh man, took him as a servant, or more truly as his slave. It was about this period of his life that he performed an action, which evinced his virtue and his filial piety. He happened to find a sum of money: but instead of using it for his own wants, he gave it to a priest, begging him to offer up the holy sacrifice for the repose of his father’s soul. Another of his brothers, called Damian (after whom, it is said, he was named), had him educated; and so rapid and so great was the progress he made in his studies, that he was the admiration of his masters. He became such a proficient in the liberal sciences, that he was made to teach them in the public schools, which he did with great success. During all this time, it was his study to bring his body into subjection to the spirit; and to this end, he wore a hair shirt under an out wardly comfortable dress, and practised frequent fasting, watching, and prayer. Being in the very ardour of youth, and being cruelly buffeted by the sting of the flesh, he, during the night, would go and plunge himself into a frozen pool of water, that he might quench the impure flame which tormented him; or he would make pilgrimages to holy sanctuaries, and recite the entire psalter. His charities to the poor were unceasing, and when he provided them with a meal, which was frequently, he would wait upon them himself.

Out of a desire to lead a still more perfect life, he became a religious in the monastery of Avellino, in the diocese of Gubbio, of the Order of the monks of holy Cross of Fontavellana, which was founded by the blessed Ludolphus, a disciple of St. Romuald. Being sent by his abbot, not very long after, first to the monastery of Pomposia, and then to that of Saint Vincent of PietraPertusa, he edified both houses by his preaching, admirable teaching, and holy life. At the death of the abbot of Avellino, he was recalled to that monastery, and was made its superior. The institute was so benefited by his government, not only by the new monasteries which he founded in several places, but also by the very saintly regulations he drew up, that he was justly looked upon as the second founder of the Order, and its brightest ornament. Houses of other Orders, canons, yea, entire congregations of the faithful, were benefited by Peter’s enlightened zeal. He was a benefactor, in more ways than one, to the diocese of Urbino: he aided the bishop Theuzo in a most important suit, and assisted him, both by advice and work, in the right administration of his diocese. His spirit of holy contemplation, his corporal austerities, and the saintly tenor of his whole conduct, gained for him so high a reputation, that Pope Stephen IX., in spite of Peter's extreme reluctance, created him Cardinal of the holy Roman Church and bishop of Ostia. The saint proved himself worthy of these honours by the exercise of the most eminent virtues, and by the faithful discharge of his episcopal office.

It would be impossible to describe the services he rendered to the Church and the sovereign Pontiffs, during those most trying times, by his learning, his prudence as legate, and his untiring zeal. His life was one continued struggle against simony, and the heresy of the Nicolaites. He purged the Church of Milan of these disorders, and brought her into subjection to the Holy See. He courageously resisted the anti-popes Benedict and Cadalous. He deterred Henry IV., king of Germany, from an unjust divorce of his wife. He restored the people of Ravenna to their allegiance to the Roman Pontiff, and absolved them from interdict. He reformed the abuses which had crept in among the canons of Vellotri. There was scarcely a single cathedral church in the province of Urbino that had not experienced the beneficial effects of Peter’s holy zeal: thus, that of Gubbio, which was for some time under his care, was relieved by him of many evils; and other churches, that needed his help, found him as earnest for their welfare as though he were their own bishop. When he obtained permission to resign his dignity as Cardinal and his bishopric, he relented nothing of his former charity, but was equally ready in doing good to all. He was instrumental in propagating many devout practices; among these may be mentioned, fasting on Fridays in honour of the holy cross; the reciting the Little Office of our Lady; the keeping the Saturday as a day especially devoted to Mary; the taking of the discipline in expiation of past Bins. At length, after a life which had edified the world by holiness, learning, miracles, and glorious works, on his return from Ravenna, whither he had been sent as legate, he slept in Christ, on the eighth of the Calends of March (February 23), at Faënza. His relics, which are kept in the Cistercian church of that town, are devoutly honoured by the faithful, and many miracles are wrought at the holy shrine. The inhabitants of Faënza have chosen him as the patron of their city, having several times experienced his protection when threatened by danger. His Mass and Office, which were kept under the rite of confessor and bishop, had been long observed in several dioceses, and by the Camaldolese Order; but they were extended to the whole Church by a decree of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, which was approved by Pope Leo XII., who also added to the name of the saint the title of Doctor.

Thy soul was inflamed by the zeal of God’s house, O Peter! God gave thee to His Church in those sad times when the wickedness of the world had robbed her of well-nigh all her beauty. Thou hadst the spirit of an Elias within thee, and it gave thee courage to waken the servants of the Lord: they had slept, and while they were asleep, the enemy came, and the field was oversown with tares.[2] Then did better days dawn for the bride of Christ; the promises made by our Lord were fulfilled; but who was the friend of the bridegroom?[3] Who was the chief instrument used by God to bring back to His house its ancient beauty? A saint who bore the glorious name of Peter Damian! In those days, the sanctuary was degraded by secular interference. The princes of the earth said: 'Let us possess the sanctuary of God for an inheritance.’[4] The Church, which God intended to be free, was but a slave, in the power of the rulers of this world; and the vices, which are inherent to human weakness, defiled the temple. But God had pity on the bride of Christ, and for her deliverance He would use human agency: He chose thee, Peter, as His principal co-operator in restoring order. Thy example and thy labours prepared the way for Gregory, the faithful and dauntless Hildebrand, into whose hands the keys were no sooner placed, than the work of regeneration was completed. Thou hast fought the good fight; thou art now in thy rest; but thy love of the Church, and thy power to help, are greater than ever. Watch, then, over her interests. Obtain for her pastors that apostolic energy and courage, which alone can cope with enemies so determined as hers are. Obtain for her priests the holiness which God demands from them that are the salt of the earth.[5] Obtain for the faithful the respect and obedience they owe to those who direct them in the path of salvation. Thou wast not only the apostle, thou wast moreover the model, of penance in the midst of a corrupt age; pray for us, that we may be eager to atone for our sins by works of mortification. Excite within our souls the remembrance of the sufferings of our Redeemer, that so His Passion may urge us to repentance and hope. Increase our confidence in Mary, the refuge of sinners, and make us, like thyself, full of filial affection towards her, and of zeal that she may be honoured and loved by those who are around us.

 


 

[1] 1 St. Peter iv. 17.
[2] St. Matt. xiii. 25.
[3] St. John iii. 29.
[4] Ps. lxxxii. 13.
[5] St. Matt. v. 13.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

In leap-year, the feast of St Mathias is kept on February 25.

An apostle of Jesus Christ, St. Mathias, is one of the blessed choir which the Church would have us honour during the season of Septuagesima. Mathias was one of the first to follow our Saviour; and he was an eye-witness of all His divine actions up to the very day of the Ascension. He was one of the seventy-two disciples; but our Lord had not conferred upon him the dignity of an apostle. And yet, he was to have this great glory, for it was of him that David spoke, when he prophesied that another should take the bishopric[1] left vacant by the apostasy of Judas the traitor. In the interval between Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Ghost, the apostolic college had to complete the mystic number fixed by our Lord Himself, so that there might be the twelve on that solemn day, when the Church, filled with the Holy Ghost, was to manifest herself to the Synagogue. The lot fell on Mathias;[2] he shared with his brother-apostles the persecution in Jerusalem, and, when the time came for the ambassadors of Christ to separate, he set out for the countries allotted to him. Tradition tells us that these were Cappadocia and the provinces bordering on the Caspian Sea.

The virtues, labours, and sufferings of St. Mathias have not been handed down to us: this explains the lack of proper lessons on his life, such as we have for the feasts of the rest of the apostles. Clement of Alexandria records in his writings several sayings of our holy apostle. One of these is so very appropriate to the spirit of the present season, that we consider it a duty to quote it. 'It behoves us to combat the flesh, and make use of it, without pampering it by unlawful gratifications. As to the soul, we must develop her power by faith and knowledge.’[3] How profound is the teaching contained in these few words! Sin has deranged the order which the Creator had established. It gave the outward man such a tendency to grovel in things which degrade him, that the only means left us for the restoration of the image and likeness of God unto which we were created, is the forcible subjection of the body to the spirit. But the spirit itself, that is, the soul, was also impaired by original sin, and her inclinations were made prone to evil; what is to be her protection? Faith and knowledge. Faith humbles her, and then exalts and rewards her; and the reward is knowledge. Here we have a summary of what the Church teaches us during the two seasons of Septuagesima and Lent. Let us thank the holy apostle, on this his feast, for leaving us such a lesson of spiritual wisdom and fortitude. The same traditions, which give us some Blight information regarding the holy life of St. Mathias, tell us that his apostolic labours were rewarded with the palm of martyrdom. Let us celebrate his triumph by the following stanzas, which are taken from the Menææa of the Greeks.

Hymn
(Die IX. Augusti)

Mathia beate, Eden spiritualis, fontibus divinis ut fluvius inundans scaturisti, et mysticis terram irrigasti rivulis, et illam fructiferam reddidisti; ideo deprecare Dominum ut animabus nostris pacem concedat et magnani misericordiam.

Mathia apostole, divinum replevisti collegium ex quo Judas ceciderat, et divinis sapientum sermonurn tuorum fulgoribus tenebras fugasti idololatriæ, virtute Spiritus sancti; et nunc deprecare Dominum, ut mentibus nostris concedat pacem et magnam misericordiam.

Ut multifrugiferum palmitem te Vitis vera direxit, colentem uvam quæ salutis vinum profundit; illud bibentesqui detinebanturignorantia, erroris temulentiam rejecerunt.

Erroris axes, iniquitatis currus, verbi Dei ipse currus factus, gloriose, in perpetuum contrivisti; et idololatras, et columnas et tempia radicitus divina virtute destruxisti, Trinitatis vero tempia ædificasti clamantia: Populi, superexaltate Christum in sæcula.

Ut spirituale cœlum apparuisti, enarrans gloriam unigeniti Filii Dei ineffabilem, Mathia venerabilis; fulgur Spiritus sancti, piscator errantium, lumen divinæ claritatis, mysteriorum doctor; ipsum in lætitia unanimi voce celebremus.

Amicum te dixit Salvator, Buia obtemperantem mandatis, beate apostole, et ipsius regni hæredem, et cum ipso sedentem in throno in futura terribili die, sapientissime Mathia, collegii duodenari! apostolorum complementum.

Crucis velamine instructus, vitæ sæviens mare trajecisti, beate, et ad requiei portum pervenisti; et nunc lætus cum apostolorum choro judicum altissimo adstare digneris, Dominum pro nobis exorans misericordem.

Lampas aureo nitore fulgens, Spiritus sancti ellychnio ardens, lingua tua apparuit, extranea comburens dogmata, extraneum extinguens ignem, o sapiens Mathia, lucem fulgurans sedentibus in tenebris ignorantiæ.
O blessed Mathias! spiritual Eden! thou didst flow, like a full river, from the divine fountain; thou didst water the earth with thy mystic rivulets, and make it fruitful. Do thou, therefore, beseech the Lord that he grant peace and much mercy to our souls.

O apostle Mathias I thou didst complete the sacred college, from which Judas had fallen; and by the power of the Holy Ghost, thou didst put to flight the darkness of idolatry by the admirable lightnings of thy wise words. Do thou now beseech the Lord that he grant peace and much mercy to our souls.

He that is the true Vine sent thee, a fruitful branch, bearing the grapes that give out the wine of salvation. When they drank it that before were slaves to ignorance, they turned from the drunkenness of error.

Being made, O glorious Mathias, the chariot of God’s word, thou didst break for ever the wheels of error, and the chariots of iniquity. By the divine power, thou didst defeat the idolaters, and destroy the pillars and the temples; but thou didst build up to the Trinity other temples, which echoed with these words: All ye people, praise Christ above all for ever!

O venerable Mathias! thou, like a spiritual firmament, didst proclaim the glory of the only-begotten Son of God. Let us with one glad voice celebrate the praise of this apostle, who was effulgent with the Holy Ghost; he was the fisher of them that had gone astray, the light that reflected the divine brightness, the teacher of the mysteries.

O blessed apostle! the Saviour called thee his friend, because thou didst keep his commandments. Thou art heir to his kingdom, and thou art to sit with him, on a throne, at the last terrible day, O most wise Mathias, who didst complete the number of the apostolic college.

Guided by the sail of the cross, thou, O blessed one, didst pass over the troubled sea of life, and didst reach the haven of rest. Do thou now vouchsafe to join the glad choir of the apostles, and beseech the infinite Judge, that he would show himself a merciful Lord unto us.

Thy tongue was a bright lamp of glittering gold, burning with the flame of the Holy Ghost. Thou didst consume all strange doctrines, thou didst quench all fire that was profane, and to them that sat in the darkness of ignorance, thou, O wise Mathias, didst show a brilliant light.

 

[1] Ps. cviii. 8; Acts i 20.
[2] Acts i. 26.
[3] Stromat., lib. iii., cap. iv.

 

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

It is from a court that we are to be taught to-day the most heroic virtues. Casimir is a prince; he is surrounded by all the allurements of youth and luxury; and yet he passes through the snares of the world with as much safety and prudence, as though he were an angel in human form. His example shows us what we may do. The world has not smiled on us as it did on Casimir; but how much we have loved it! If we have gone so far as to make it our idol, we must now break what we have adored, and give our service to the sovereign Lord, who alone has a right to it. When we read the lives of the saints, and find that persons who were in the ordinary walks of life practised extraordinary virtues, we are inclined to think that they were not exposed to great temptations, or that the misfortunes they met with in the world made them give themselves up unreservedly to God’s service. Such interpretations of the actions of the saints are shallow and false, for they ignore this great fact, that there is no condition or state, however humble, in which man has not to combat the evil inclinations of his heart, and that corrupt nature alone is strong enough to iead him to sin. But in such a saint as Casimir we have no difficulty in recognizing that all his Christian energy was from God, and not from any natural source; and we rightly conclude that we, who have the same good God, may well hope that this season of spiritual regeneration will change and better us. Casimir preferred death to sin. But is not every Christian bound to be thus minded every hour of the day? And yet, such is the infatuation produced by the pleasures or advantages of this present life, that we every day see men plunging themselves into sin, which is the death of the soul; and this, not for the sake of saving the life of the body, but for a vile and transient gratification, which is oftentimes contrary to their temporal interests. What stronger proof could there be than this, of the sad effects produced in us by original sin? The examples of the saints are given us as a light to lead us in the right path, let us follow it, and we shall be saved. Besides, we have a powerful aid in their merits and intercession: let us take courage at the thought that these friends of God have a most affectionate compassion for us their brethren, who are surrounded by so many and great dangers.

The Church, in her liturgy, thus describes to us the virtues of our young prince:

Casimirus, patre Casimiro, matre Elisabetha Austriaca, Poloniæ regibus ortus, a pueritia sub optimis magistris pietate, et bonis artibus instructus, juveniles artus aspero domabat cilicio, et assiduis extenuabat jejuniis. Regii spreta lecti mollitie, dura cubabat humo, et clam intempesta nocte, præ foribus tempiorum pronus in terra divinam exorabat clementiam. In Christi contemplanda Passione assiduus, Missarum solemniis adeo erectain Deum mente solebat adesse, ut extra se rapi videretur.

Catholicam promovere fidem summopere studuit, et Ruthenorum schisma abolere; quapropter Casimirum patrem induxit, ut legem ferret, ne schismaticinova templa construerent, nec vetera collabentia restaurarent. Erga pauperes et calamitatibus oppressos benefieus et misericors, patris et defensoris egenorum nomen obtinuit. Virginitatem, quam ab incunabulis servavit illæsam, sub extremo vilæ termino fortiter asseruit, dum gravi pressus infirmitate, mori potius, quam castitatisjacturam ex medicorum Consilio subire, constanter decrevit.

Consummatus in brevi, virtutibus et meritis plenus, prænuntiato mortis die, inter sacerdotum, et religio sorum choros spiritum Deo reddidit, anno setatis vigesimo quinto. Corpus Vilnam delatum multis claret miraculis. Etenim, præterquam quod puella defuncta vitam, cæci visum, claudi gressum, et varii infirmi sanitatem ad ejus sepulchrum recuperarunt. Lithuanis exiguo numero ad potentissimi hostis insperatam irruptionem trepidantibus in aere apparens, insignem tribuit victoriam. Quibus permotus Leo decimus, eumdem sanctorum catalogo adscripsit.
Casimir was the son of Casimir, king of Poland, and of Elizabeth of Austria. He was put, when quite a boy, under the care of the best masters, who trained him to piety and learning. He brought his body into subjection by wearing a hair-shirt, and by frequent fasting. He could not endure the soft bed which is given to kings, but lay on the hard floor, and during the night, he used privately to steal from his room, and go to the church, where, prostrate before the door, he besought God to have mercy on him. The Passion of Christ was his favourite subject of meditation; and when he assisted at Mass, his mind was so fixed on God, that he seemed to be in one long ecstasy.

Great was his zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith, and the suppression of the Russian schism. He persuaded the king, his father, to pass a law, forbidding the schismatics to build new churches, or to repair those which had fallen to ruin. Such was his charity for the poor and all sufferers, that he went under the name of the father and defender of the poor. During his last illness, he nobly evinced his love of purity, which virtue he had maintained unsullied during his whole life. He was suffering a cruel malady; but he courageously preferred to die, rather than suffer the loss of his chastity, whereby his physicians advised him to purchase his cure.

Being made perfect in a short space of time, and rich in virtue and merit, after having foretold the day of his death, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his God, in the twenty-fifth year of his age, surrounded by priests and religious. His body was taken to Vilna, and was honoured by many miracles. A young girl was raised to life at his shrine; the blind recovered their sight, the lame the use of their limbs, and the sick their health. He appeared to a small army of Lithuanians, who were unexpectedly attacked by a large force, and gave them the victory over the enemy. Leo X. was induced by all these miracles to enrol him among the saints.

Enjoy thy well-earned rest in heaven, O Casimir! Neither the world with all its riches, nor the court with all its pleasures, could distract thy heart from the eternal joys it alone coveted and loved. Thy life was short, but full of merit. The remembrance of heaven made thee forget the earth. God yielded to the impatience of thy desire to be with Him, and took thee speedily from among men. Thy life, though most innocent, was one of penance, for knowing the evil tendencies of corrupt nature, thou hadst a dread of a life of comfort. When shall we be made to understand that penance is a debt we owe to God, a debt of expiation for the sins we have committed against Him? Thou didst prefer death to sin; obtain for as a fear of sin, that greatest of all the evils that can befall as, because it is an evil which strikes at God Himself. Pray for as daring this holy season, which is intended as a preparation for penance; impress our minds with the truths now put before us. The Christian world is honouring thee to-day; repay its homage by thy blessing. Poland, thy fatherland, once the bulwark of the Church, which kept back the invasion of schism, heresy, and infidelity, beseeches thy prayers.

 

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

On this day a commemoration is made of St. Lucius, Pope and Martyr. He was a Roman by birth, and succeeded Pope Cornelius in 252. Shortly after his accession he was sent into exile by the Emperor Gallus, but was soon recalled, to the great joy of the Roman people. St. Cyprian quotes decrees issued by him against the Novatians. He died after a very short pontificate on March 4, 253. His relics were translated to the church of St. Cecilia, where they are exposed to the veneration of the Faithful.

Antiphon

Qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam æternam custodit eam.

Oremus.

Deus qui nos beati Lucii Martyris tui atque Pontificis annua solemnitate lætificas: concede propitlus; ut, cujus natalitia colimus, de ejusdem etiam protectione gaudeamus. Per Dominum.
He that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal.

Let us Pray.

O God, who dost year by year give us joy in the feast of blessed Lucius, Thy Martyr and Pontiff, mercifully grant that, as we celebrate his birthday unto life eternal, so we may also rejoice in his protection.Through our Lord.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The real feast of these two illustrious heroines of the faith is to-morrow, which is the anniversary of their martyrdom and triumph; but the memory of the angel of the schools, St. Thomas of Aquin, shines so brightly on the seventh of March, that it almost eclipses the two glorious stars of Africa. In consequence of this, the Holy See orders the Church to anticipate their feast, and keep it to-day. We at once offer to the Christian reader the glorious spectacle of which Carthage was the scene in the year 203. Nothing could give us a clearer idea of that spirit of the Gospel, according to which we are now studying to conform our whole life. Here are two women, two mothers; God asks great sacrifices from them; He asks them to give Him their lives, nay, more than their lives; and they obey with that simplicity and devotedness which made Abraham merit to be the father of believers.

Their two names, as St. Augustine observes, are a presage of what awaits them in heaven: a perpetual felicity. The example they set of Christian fortitude, is, of itself, a victory, which secures to the true faith a triumph in the land of Africa. St. Cyprian will soon follow them, with his bold and eloquent appeal to the African Christians, inspiring them to die for their faith: but his words, grand as they are, are less touching than the few pages written by the hand of the brave Perpetua, who, though only twenty-two years of age, relates, with all the self-possession of an angel, the trials she had to go through for God; and when she has to hurry off to the amphitheatre, she puts her pen into another’s hand, bidding him go on where she leaves off, and write the rest of the battle. As we read these charming pages, we seem to be in the company of the martyrs; the power of divine grace, which could produce such heroism amidst a people demoralized by paganism, appears so great that even we grow courageous; and the very fact that the instruments employed by God for the destruction of the pagan world were frequently women, induces us to say with St. John Chrysostom: ‘I feel an indescribable pleasure in reading the “Acts of the Martyrs”; but when the martyr is a woman, my enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instrument, the greater is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once conquered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon, is now his destroyer, brave and invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our heroine disdained to live, when her living was to depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope for pardon, when women fought the holy battle with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts?’[1]

The lessons appointed to be read on this feast will be found in the Supplement. The following passage from the account written by Perpetua herself, which used to be read at Matins, will make some readers long to read the whole of what she has left us. They will find it in our first volume of the ‘Acts of the Martyrs.’

Severo imperatore, apprehensi sunt in Africa adolescentes catechumeni, Revocatils et Felicitas conserva ejus, Saturninus et Secundulus: inter quos et Vivia Perpetua, honeste nata, liberaliter instituta, matronaliter nupta, habens filium ad ubera. Erat autem ipsa annorum circiter viginti duorum. Hæc ordinem martyrii sui conscriptum manu sua reliquit. Quum adhuc, inquit, cum persecutoribus essemus, et me pater avertere, pro sua affectione, perseveraret: Pater, inquio, aliud me dicere non possum, nisi quod sum Christiana. Tunc pater, motus in hoc verbo, misit se in me, ut oculos mihi erueret. Sed vexavit tantum; et profecfcus est victus cum argumentis diaboli. In spatio paucorum dierum baptizati sumus: mihi autem Spiritus dictavit nihil aliud petendum in aqua, nisi sufferentiam carnis. Post paucos dies, recipimur in carcerem: et expavi, quia nunquam experta eram talea tenebras. Mox rumor cucurrit ut audiremur. Supervenit autem et de chvitate pater meus, consumptus tædio; et ascendit ad me, ut me dejiceret, dicens: Miserere, filia, canis meis; miserere patri, si dignus sum a te pater vocari. Aspice ad fratres tuos, aspice ad matrem tuam: aspice ad filium tuum, qui post te vivere non poterit. Depone animos, ne universos nos extermines. Hæc dicebat pater pro sua pietate: se ad pedes meos jactans, et lacrymis non filiam, sed dominam me vocabat. Et ego dolebam canos patris mei: quod solus de passione mea gavisurus non esset de toto genere meo. Et confortavi eum, dicens: Hoc fiet quod Deus voluerit. Scito enim nos non in nostra potestate esse constitutos, sed in Dei. Et recessit a me contristatus.

Alio die, quum prande remus, subito rapti sumus ut audiremur: et perveninius ad forum. Ascendimus in catasta. Interrogati cæteri confessi sunt. Ventum est et ad me. Et apparuit pater illico cum filio meo: et extraxit me de gradu, et dixit supplicans: Miserere infanti. Et Hilarianus procurator: Parce, inquit, canis patris tui, parce infantiæ pueri: fac sacrum pro salute imperatorum. Et ego respondi: Non facio: Christiana sum. Tunc nos universos pronuntiat et damnat ad bestias: et hilares descendimus ad carcerem. Sed quia consueverat a me infans mammas accipere, et mecum in carcere manere, statim mitto ad patrem, postulans infantem. Sed pater dare noluit: et, quomodo Deus voluit, neque ille amplius mammas desideravit neque mihi fervorem fecerunt. Atque hoc scripsit beata Perpetua usque in pridie certaminis. Felicitas vero, quæ prægnans octo jam mensium fuerat apprehensa, instante spectaculi die, in magno erat luctu, ne propter ventrem differretur. Sed et commartyres ejus graviter contristabantur, ne tam bonam sociam in via ejusdem spei relinquerent. Conjuncto itaque gemitu, ad Dominum orationem fuderunt ante tertium diem muneris. Statim post orationem dolores eam invaserunt. Et quum in partu laborans doleret, ait illi quidam ex ministris: Quæ sic modo doles, quid facies objecta bestiis, quas contempsisti quum sacrificare noluisti? Et illa respondit: Modo ego patior quod patior: illic autem alius erit in me qui patietur pro me; quia et ego pro illo passura sum. Ita enixa est puellam, quam sibi quædam soror in filiain educavit.

Illuxit dies victoriæ iliorum: et processerunt de carcere in amphitheatrum, quasi in cœlum, hilares, vultu decori: si forte, gaudio paventes, non timore. Sequebatur Perpetua placido vultu, et pedum incessu ut matrona Christi dilecta: vigorem oculorum suorum dejiciens ab omnium conspectu. Item Felicitas, salvam se peperisse gaudens, ut ad bestias pugnaret. Illis ferocissimam vaccam diabolus præparavit. Itaque reticulis in dutæ producuntur. Inducitur prior Perpetua. Jactata est et concidit in lumbos: et ut conspexit tunicam a latere discissam ad velamentum femorum adduxit, pudoris potius memor quam doloris. Dehinc requisita et dispersos capillos infibulavit. Non enim decebat martyrem dispcrsis capillis pati: ne in sua gloria plangere videretur. Ita surrexit; et elisam Felicitatem quum vidisset, accessit et manum ei tradidit, et sublevavit illam. Et ambæ pariter steterunt: et populi duritia devicta, revocatæ sunt in portam Sanavivariam. Illic Perpetua, quasi a somno expergita, adeo in spiritu et extasi fuerat, circumspicere cœpit: et stupentibus omnibus, ait: Quando producimur ad vaccam illam, nescio. Et quum audisset quod jam evenerat; non prius credidit, nisi quasdam notas vexationis in corpore et habitu suo recognovisset. Exinde accersitum fratrem suum, et catechumenum Rusticum nomine, allocuta est eos, dicens: In fide state, et invicem omnes diligite; et passionibus nostris ne scandalizemini.Secundulum Deus maturiore exitu de sæculo adhuc in carcere evocaverat. Saturninus et Revocatus leopardum experti, etiam ab urso vexati sunt. Saturus apro oblatus est; deinde ad ursum tractus, qui de cavea prodire noluit: itaque bis illæsus revocatur. In fine spectaculi, leopardo objectus. de uno morsu ejus tanto perfusus est sanguine, ut populus revertenti illi secundi Baptismatis testimonium rcclamaverit: Salvum lotum, salvum lotum. Exinde jam exanimis, prosternitur cum cæteris ad jugulationem solito loco. Et quum populus illos in medium postularet, ut gladio penetrante in eorem corpore, oculos suos comites homicidii adjungeret; ultro surrexerunt, et se quo volebat populus transtulerunt: ante jam osculati invicem, ut martyrium per solemnia pacis consummarent. Cæteri quidem immobiles et cum silentio ferrum receperunt: multo magis Saturus, qui prior reddidit spiritum. Perpetua autem, ut aliquid doloris gustaret, inter costas puncta exululavit; et errantem dexteram tirunculi gladiatoris ipsa in jugulum suum posuit. Fortasse tanta fernina aliter non potuisset occidi, quia ab immundo spiritu timcbatur, nisi ipsa voluisset.
During the reign of the Emperor Severus, several catechumens were apprehended at Carthage, in Africa. Among these were Revocatus and his fellow-servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and Vivia Perpetua, a lady by birth and education, who was married to a man of wealth. Perpetua was about twentytwo years of age, and was suckling an infant. She has left us the following particulars of her martyrdom. ‘As soon as our persecutors had apprehended us, my father came to me, and out of his great love for me, he tried to make me change my resolution. I said to him: “Father, I cannot consent to call myself other than what I am, a Christian.”At these words, he rushed at me threatening to tear out my eyes. But he only struck me, and then he left me, when he found that the arguments suggested to him by the devil, were of no avail. A few days after this, we were baptized; and the Holy Ghost inspired me to look on this Baptism as a preparation for bodily suffering. A few more days elapsed, and we were sent to prison. I was terrified, for I was not accustomed to such darkness. The report soon spread that we were to be brought to trial. 'My father left the city, for he was heartbroken, and he came to me, hoping to shake my purpose. These were his words to me: “My child, have pity on my old age. Have pity on thy father, if I deserve to be called father. Think of thy brothers, think of thy mother, think of thy son, who cannot live when thou art gone. Give up this mad purpose, or thou wilt bring misery upon thy family.” Whilst saying this, which he did out of love for me, he threw himself at my feet, and wept bitterly, and said he besought this of me not as his child, but as his lady. I was moved to tears to see my aged parent in this grief, for I knew that he was the only one of my family that would not rejoice at my being a martyr. I tried to console him, and said: “I will do whatsoever God shall ordain. Thou knowest that we belong to God, and not to ourselves.” He then left me, and was very sad.

‘On the following day, as we were taking our repast, they came upon us suddenly, and summoned us to trial. We reached the forum. We were made to mount a platform. My companions were questioned, and they confessed the faith. My turn came next, and I immediately saw my father approaching towards me, holding my infant son. He drew me from the platform, and besought me, saying: “Have pity on thy babe!” Hilarian, too, the governor, said to me: “Have pity on thy aged father, have pity on thy babe! Offer up sacrifice for the emperors.” I answered him: “I cannot; I am a Christian.” Whereupon, he sentences all of us to be devoured by the wild beasts; and we, full of joy, return to our prison. But as I had hitherto always had my child with me in prison, and fed him at my breasts, I immediately sent word to my father, beseeching him to let him come to me. He refused; and from that moment, neither the babe asked for the breast, nor did I suffer inconvenience; for God thus willed it.’ All this is taken from the written account left us by the blessed Perpetua, and it brings us to the day before she was put to death. As regards Felicitas, she was in the eighth month of her pregnancy, when she was apprehended. The day of the public shows was near at hand, and the fear that her martyrdom would be deferred on account of her being with child, made her very sad. Her fellowmartya, too, felt much for her, for they could not bear the thought of seeing so worthy a companion disappointed in the hope, she had in common with themselves, of so soon reaching heaven. Uniting, therefore, in prayer, they with tears besought God in her behalf. It was but three days before the public shows. No sooner was their prayer ended, than Felicitas was seized with pain. One of the gaolers, who overheard her moaning, cried out: 'If this pain seem to thee so great, what wilt thou do when thou art being devoured by the wild beasts, which thou pretendedst to heed not when thou wast told to offer sacrifice.’ She answered: ‘What I am suffering now, it is indeed I that suffer; but there, there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I shall be suffering for him.’ She was delivered of a daughter, and one of our sisters adopted the infant as her own.

The day of their victory dawned. They left their prison for the amphitheatre, cheerful, and with faces beaming with joy, as though they were going to heaven. They were excited, but it was from delight, not from fear. The last in the group was Perpetua. Her placid look, her noble gait, betrayed the Christian matron. She passed through the crowd and saw no one, for her beautiful eyes were fixed upon the ground. By her side was Felicitas, rejoicing that her safe delivery enabled her to encounter the wild beasts. The devil had prepared a savage cow for them. They were put into a net. Perpetua was brought forward the first. She was tossed into the air, and fell upon her back. Observing that one side of her dress was torn, she adjusted it, heedless of her pain, because thoughtful for modesty. Having recovered from the fall, she put up her hair which was dishevelled by the shock, for it was not seemly that a martyr should win her palm and have the appearance of one distracted by grief. This done, she stood up. Seeing Felicitas thrown down she went to her, and giving her hand to her, raised her from the ground. Both were now ready for a fresh attack; but the people were moved to pity, and the martyrs were led to the gate called Sana Vivaria. There Perpetua, like one that is roused from sleep, awoke from the deep ecstasy of her spirit. She looked around her, and said to the astonished multitude: ‘When will the cow attack us?’ They told her that it had already attacked them. She could not believe it, until her wounds and torn dress reminded her of what had happened. Then beckoning to her brother, and to a catechumen named Rusticus, she thus spoke to them: ‘Be stanch in the faith, and love one another, and be not shocked at our sufferings.’God had already taken Secundulus from this world; for he died while he was in the prison. Saturninus and Revocatus were exposed first to a leopard, and then to a bear. Saturus was exposed to a boar, and then to a bear, which would not come out of its den; thus was he twice left uninjured; but at the close of the games, he was thrown to a leopard, which bit him so severely, that he was all covered with blood, and as he was taken from the amphitheatre, the people jeered at him for this second Baptism, and said: ‘Saved, washed I Saved, washed!’ He was then carried off, dying as he was, to the appointed place, there to be dispatched by the sword, with the rest. But the people demanded that they should be led back to the middle of the amphitheatre, that their eyes might feast on the sight, and watch the sword as it pierced them. The martyrs hearing their request, cheerfully stood up, and marched to the place where the people would have them go; but first they embraced one another, that the sacrifice of their martyrdom might be consummated with the solemn kiss of peace. They all received the fatal stroke without a movement or a moan; Saturus being the first to expire. Perpetua was permitted to feel more than the rest. Her executioner, who was a novice in his work, thrust his sword through her ribs: she slightly moaned, then took his right hand, and pointing his sword towards her throat, told him that that was the place to strike. Perhaps it was that such a woman could not be otherwise slain than by her own consent, for the unclean spirit feared her.

The Holy See has approved of the three following hymns composed in honour of our two martyrs. We unite them under one conclusion.

Hymn

Christi sponsa piis laudibus efferat
Binas impavido pectore feminas:
In sexu fragili corda virilia
Hymnis pangat ovantibus.

Ad lucem genitæ sole sub Africo,
Nunc ambæ pugiles actibus inclytis
In toto radiant orbe: micantibus
Fulgent tempora laureis.

Exornat generis Perpetuam decus;
Sponso connubiis juncta recentibus
Clarescit; sed honor hanc trahit altior:
Christi fœdera prætulit.

Se Regia famulam libera profitens,
Dum servile jugum Felicitas subit;
Ad luctam properans gressibus æmulis,
Palmas ad similes volat.

Frustra Perpetuam fletibus et minis
Impugnai genitor: quæ simul angitur,
Errantem miserans. Oscula filio
Lactenti dedit ultima.

Terris Eva parens quæ mala contulit,
Horum sentit onus Felicitas grave;
Nunc et passa sibi parturiens gemit,
Mox passura Deo libens.

Cœli Perpetuæ pan ditur ostium;
Inspectare datur: jam sibi prælia
Exortura videt; sed requiem Deus
Post certamina conferet.

Tangit scala domos aurea cœlitum:
Ast utrumque latus cuspidibus riget;
Lapsos terribilis faucibus excipit
Hanc infra recubans draco.

Ascendas, mulier, nec draco terreat;
Contritumque caput sit tibi pro gradu,
Per quem sidereos incipias pede
Orbes scandere concito.

Hortus deliciis jam patet affluens,
In quo mulget oves pastor amabilis:
Huc optata venis, filia: sic ait,
Hanc dulci recreans cibo.

In circum rapitur: fœdus et horrida
Occurrit specie vir gladium vibrans:
Dejectus teritur femineo pede.
Victrix, suscipe præmia.

Luxit clara dies, vincere qua datur
Athletis Domini. Pergite martyres:
Omnis Perpetuam curia cœlitum,
Et te, Felicitas, cupit.

Quassat Perpetuæ membra tenerrima,
Elidit sociam bellua. Te soror
Stans, o Felicitas, ad nova prælia
Erectam reparat manu.

E cœlo pugilum respiciens Deus
Certamen, geminas ad bravium vocat.
Effuso properet sanguine spiritus,
In Christi remeans sinum.

Optatus penetrat corpora martyrum
Lictoris gladius: sed trepidam manum
Fortis Perpetuæ dextera dirigit,
Præbens guttura cuspidi.

Nunc, o magnanimæ, gaudia quæ manent
In Sponsi thalamo carpite jugiter.
Vos exempla dedit: præsidium potens
Vestris ferte clientibus.

Laus æterna Patri, laus quoque Filio;
Par individuo gloria Flamini;
In cunctis resonet Christiadum choris
Virtus martyribus data.

Amen.
Let the Church, the bride of Christ,
celebrate in holy praise, the two dauntless women;
and sing, in joyous hymns,
how the weaker sex had here two manly hearts.

Both were born in Africa’s sunny land;
and now both shine throughout the whole world
as the two glorious combatants,
wearing bright laurels on their brows.

Perpetua is honoured by her fellow-citizens
as being of high birth, and had but recently contracted
an honourable marriage. But there was an honour
far higher, in her eyes, the love and service of Christ.

Felicitas, though she served an earthly master,
was free in this, that she was a servant of the great King.
Like Perpetua, she thirsts for battle;
and like her, she culls a palm.

In vain did Perpetua’s father strive, by tears and threats,
to make her deny her faith. She, on her side was full of grief,
and pity at seeing him a victim of error. Her babe was taken from her;
she kissed him and was content.

Felicitas begins her sufferings by those cruel pangs which Eve,
our mother, brought upon the earth.
Now, in child-birth, she suffers for herself, and she moans;
but, in her martyrdom, she suffers for her God, and she rejoices.

The gate of heaven is thrown open to Perpetua,
and she is permitted to look within.
She there learns that a contest awaits her,
but that, after the battle, God will grant her repose.

She sees a golden ladder reaching to the palace of heaven;
but both its sides are armed with spikes,
and at its foot lies an angry dragon,
which devours them that fall.

Ascend, Perpetua! fear not the dragon.
Trample on his head, and make it a steppingstone,
whereby thou mayst quickly mount
to the starry land above.

There shalt thou find a paradise of delights, where the loving
shepherd caresses his sheep. 'Thou art welcome here, my daughter!’
Thus did he address the martyr,
and then gave her to eat of sweetest food.

In another vision, she thought she was hurried to the amphitheatre.
There she was met by a man, whose face was swarth and terrible to look at.
He brandished his sword. She encountered him, threw him on the ground, and trampled
on his head. A cry was heard: 'Thou hast conquered! Come, take the prize!’

But at length came the glorious day
of victory for the soldiers of Christ.
On, martyrs, to the field! Perpetua and Felicitas!
the court of heaven is longing to receive you!

The wild beast rushes upon them, tossing,
tearing, and wounding their tender limbs.
See, Felicitas! thy sister’s hand
emboldens thee to renew the fight.

God looks down from heaven on the two brave combatants,
and calls them to the prize.
Their blood streams from the wounds,
and their spirits speed their way to the bosom of Christ.

The sword, the welcome sword, is thrust;
the martyrs die, all save Perpetua;
bravely she takes the trembling lictor’s hand,
and offering him her neck, tells him his surest aim is there.

Go now, brave-hearted ones, to him who is your Spouse,
and there eternally enjoy the bliss he has in store for you.
He gave you to us as models;
Oh, show your power, and help us your clients.

Eternal glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the coequal Spirit!
And let every choir in Christian lands sound forth its praise
to the grace bestowed on the martyrs.

Amen.

Perpetua! Felicitas! O glorious and prophetic names, which come like two bright stars of March, pouring out upon us your rays of light and life! You are heard in the songs of the angels; and we poor sinners, as we echo them on earth, are told to love and hope. You remind us of that brave woman, who, as the Scripture says, kept up the battle begun by men: The valiant men ceased: who will follow them? A mother in Israel.[2] Glory be to that almighty power, which loves to choose the weak things of the world that it may confound the strong![3] Glory to the Church of Africa, the daughter of the Church of Rome; and glory to the Church of Carthage, which had not then heard the preachings of her Cyprian, and yet could produce two such noble hearts!

As to thee, Perpetua, thou art held in veneration by the whole Christian world. Thy name is mentioned by God's priests in the holy Mass, and thus thy memory is associated with the sacrifice of the Man-God, for love of whom thou didst lay down thy life. And those pages written by thine own hand, how they reveal to us the generous character of thy soul! How they comment those words of the Canticle: Love is strong as death![4] It was thy love of God that made thee suffer, and die, and conquer. Even before the water of Baptism had touched thee, thou wast enrolled among the martyrs. When the hard trial came of resisting a father, who wished thee to lay down the palm of martyrdom, how bravely didst thou triumph over thy filial affection, in order to save that which is due to our Father who is in heaven! Nay, when the hardest test came, when the babe that fed at thy breast was taken from thee in thy prison, even then thy love was strong enough for the sacrifice, as was Abraham’s, when he had to immolate his Isaac.

Thy fellow-martyrs deserve our admiration; they are so grand in their courage; but thou, dear saint, surpassest them all. Thy love makes thee more than brave in thy sufferings, it makes thee forget them. ‘Where wast thou,’ we would ask thee in the words of St. Augustine, ‘where wast thou, that thou didst not feel the goading of that furious beast, asking when it was to be, as though it had not been? Where wast thou? What didst thou see, that made thee see not this? On what wast thou feasting, that made thee dead to sense? What was the love that absorbed, what was the sight that distracted, what was the chalice that inebriated thee? And yet the ties of flesh were still holding thee, the claims of death were still upon thee, the corruptible body was still weighing thee down!’[5] But our Lord had prepared thee for the final struggle, by asking sacrifice at thy hands. This made thy life wholly spiritual, and gave thy soul to dwell, by love, with Him, who had asked thee for all and received it; and thus living in union with Jesus, thy spirit was all but a stranger to the body it animated.

It was impatient to be wholly with its sovereign Good. Thy eager hand directs the sword that is to set thee free; and as the executioner severs the last tie that holds thee, how voluntary was thy sacrifice, how hearty thy welcome of death! Truly, thou wast the valiant, the strong woman,[6] that conqueredst the wicked serpent! Thy greatness of soul has merited for thee a high place among the heroines of our holy faith, and for sixteen hundred years thou hast been honoured by the enthusiastic devotion and love of the servants of God.

And thou, too, Felicitas! receive the homage of our veneration, for thou wast found worthy to be a fellow-martyr with Perpetua. Though she was a rich matron of Carthage, and thou a servant, yet Baptism and martyrdom made you companions and sisters. The lady and the slave embraced, for martyrdom made you equal; and as the spectators saw you hand in hand together, they must have felt that there was a power in the religion they persecuted, which would put an end to slavery. The power and grace of Jesus triumphed in thee, as it did in Perpetua; and thus was fulfilled thy sublime answer to the pagan, who dared to jeer thee: that when the hour of trial came, it would not be thou that wouldst suffer, but Christ who would suffer in thee. Heaven is now the reward of thy sacrifice; well didst thou merit it. And that babe, that was born in thy prison, what a happy child to have for its mother a martyr in heaven! How wouldst thou bless both it and the mother who adopted it! Oh, what fitness, in such a soul as thine, for the kingdom of God![7] Not once looking back, but ever bravely speeding onwards to Him that called thee. Thy felicity is perpetual in heaven; thy glory on earth shall never cease.

And now, dear saints, Perpetua and Felicitas, intercede for us during this season of grace. Go, with your palms in your hands, to the throne of God, and beseech Him to pour down His mercy upon us. It is true, the days of paganism are gone by; and there are no persecutors clamouring for our blood. You, and countless other martyrs, have won victory for faith; and that faith is now ours; we are Christians. But there is a second paganism, which has taken deep root among us. It is the source of that corruption which now pervades every rank of society, and its own two sources are indifference, which chills the heart, and sensuality, which induces cowardice. Holy martyrs! pray for us that we may profit by the example of your virtues, and that the thought of your heroic devotedness may urge us to be courageous in the sacrifices which God claims at our hands. Pray, too, for the Churches which are now being established on that very spot of Africa, which was the scene of your glorious martyrdom: bless them, and obtain for them, by your powerful intercession, firmness of faith and purity of morals.

Appendix

At the recent revision of the Breviary the office of this feast was changed, and the following lessons were appointed to be read at Matins:

Perpetua et Felicitas, in persecutione Severi imperatoris, in Africa, una cum Revocato, Saturnino et Se cundulo comprehensæ sunt, et in tenebricosum carcerem detrusæ, quibus ultra adjunctus est Satyrus. Erant adhuc catechumenæ, sed paulo post baptizatæ sunt. Paucis diebus interjectis, e carcere ad forum deductæ cum sociis, post gloriosam confessionem, ab Hilarione procuratore damnantur ad bestias. Inde hilares descendunt ad carcerem, ubi variis visionibus recreantur, et ad martyrii palmam accenduntur. Perpetuam, nec patris senio pene confecti iteratæ preces et lacrymæ, nec erga filium infantem pendentemad ubera maternus amor, nec supplicii atrocitas, a Christi fide dimovere unqaam potuerunt.

Felicitas vero, instante spectaculi die, cum octo jam menses prægnans esset in magno erat luctu, ne differetur; leges quippe vetebant prægnantes supplicio affici. At precibus commartyrum acœlerato partu, enixa est filiam. Cumque in partu laborans doleret, ait illi quidam de custodibus: Quæ sic modo doles, quid facies, objecta bestiis? Cui illa: Modo ego patior, illic autem alius erit in me, qui patietur pro me, quia et ego prò illo passura sum.

In amphitheatrum, toto inspectante populo, producuntur tandem generosæ mulieres, Nonis Martii, ac primum flagellis cæduntur. Tunc a ferocissima vacca aliquamdiu jactatæ, plagis concisæ et in terram elisæ sunt: demum cum sociis, qui a variis bestiis vexati fuerant, gladiorum ictibus conficiuntur. Harum sanctarum Martyrum festum Pius Decimus Pontifex Maximus ad ritum duplicem pro universa Ecclesia evexit, ac diei sextæ Hartii adsignari mandavit.
Perpetua and Felicitas were arrested during the persecution of the Emperor Severus, in Africa, together with Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and were cast into a darksome dungeon, where Satyrus was added to their company. They were as yet catechumens, but a short while after they were baptized. After a few days, they, with their companions, were led forth from their prison to the court, and, after a glorious confession, were condemned by the procurator Hilarion to be thrown to the beasts. Thereupon they went down to their prison rejoicing, and while there were refreshed with divers visions, and fired with a longing for the martyrs palm. Neither the repeated prayers and tears of Perpetua's father, a man almost decrepit with old age, nor her motherly love for her baby son, still at the breast, nor the horror of the penalty, could avail at all to shake her faith in Christ.

But Felicitas, when the day of the spectacle drew nigh, was in great grief lest it should be put off, seeing that she was eight months with child: for the law ordained that no woman with child should be put to the torture. But at the prayer of her fellow-martyrs her delivery was hastened, and she gave birth to a daughter. While she was groaning amid the pains of childbirth, one of the gaolers said to her: 'What wilt thou do when thou art thrown to the beasts, if thou groanest thus now?' She replied: 'Now it is I who suffer, but then Another will be within me who will suffer on my behalf, seeing that it is for Him that I am to suffer.’

At length the noble-hearted women were brought into the amphitheatre, in the sight of all the people, on the Nones of March (March 7). They were first beaten with scourges. Then they were tossed for some time by a ferocious cow, torn with wounds, and dragged on the ground; and lastly, together with their companions, who had been attacked by divers wild beasts, they were slain by the sword. Pope Pius X. raised the feast of these holy martyrs to the rank of a double for the Universal Church, and ordered it to be kept on March 6.

 


[1] Homil. de diversis novi Testamenti locis.
[2] Judges v. 7.
[3] 1 Cor. i. 27.
[4] Cant. viii. 6.
[5] Sermon for the feast of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas.
[6] Prov. xxxi. 10.
[7] St. Luke ix. 62.

 

 

 

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