Profiles of the Saints and Feasts

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Profiles of the Proper of the Saints, Feasts and Season

Christmastide continued from December 29th through January 4th, 2003


SUNDAY, December 29, 2002

    Semi-Double Feast of the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas and the Feast of Saint Thomas a Beckett, Bishop and Martyr.

        White Vestments.

    Mass for the Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity

    EPISTLE: Galatians 4: 1-7
    GRADUAL: Psalm 44: 3,2
    GOSPEL: Luke 2: 33-40

Saint Thomas a Becket, Bishop and Martyr

   Saint Thomas a Becket, son of an English nobleman, Gilbert Becket, was born on the day consecrated to the memory of Saint Thomas the Apostle, December 21, 1117, in Southwark, England. He was endowed by both nature and grace with gifts recommending him to his fellow men; and his father, certain he would one day be a great servant of Christ, confided his education to a monastery. His first employment was in the government of the London police. There he was obliged to learn the various rights of the Church and of the secular arm, but already he saw so many injustices imposed upon the clergy that he preferred to leave that employment rather than to participate in iniquity. He was perfectly chaste and truthful, and no snares could cause to waver his hatred for any form of covert action.

   He was employed then by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him on missions to Rome and permitted him to study civil law at the University of Bologna (Italy) for an entire year. After a few years, witnessing his perfect service, he made him his Archdeacon and endowed him with several benefices. The young cleric’s virtue and force soon recommended him also to the king, who made of him his Lord Chancellor. In that high office, while inflexible in the rendition of justice, he was generous and solicitous for the relief of misery. He was severe towards himself, spending the better part of every night in prayer. He often employed a discipline, to be less subject to the revolts of the flesh against the spirit. In a war with France he won the respect of his enemies, including that of the young King Louis VII. To Saint Thomas, his own sovereign, Henry II, confided the education of the crown prince. Of the formation of the future king and the young lords who composed his suite, the Chancellor took extreme care, knowing well that the strength of a State depends largely on the early impressions received by the elite of its youth.

   When Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury died, the king insisted on the consecration of Saint Thomas in his stead. Saint Thomas at first declined, warning the king that from that hour their friendship would be threatened by his own obligations to uphold the rights of the Church against infringement by the sovereign, whose tendencies were not different from those of his predecessors. In the end he was obliged by obedience to yield. The inevitable conflict was not long in coming. Saint Thomas resisted when the king’s courtiers drew up a list of royal “customs” at Clarendon, where the parliament of the king was assembled, and Henry obliged all the bishops as well as the lords to sign a promise to uphold these without permitting any restrictions whatsoever. Many of these pretended “customs” violated the liberties of the Church, and some were even invented for the occasion. Saint Thomas, obliged in conscience to resist, was soon the object of persecution, not only from the irritated king but by all who had sworn loyalty to his nefarious doings.

   Saint Thomas took refuge in France under the protection of the generous Louis VII, who resisted successfully the repeated efforts of Henry to turn away his favor from the Archbishop. The Pope at that time was in France, and he, too, was besieged by Henry’s emissaries, but knew well how to pacify minds and protect the defender of the Church. Thomas retired to a Benedictine monastery for two years, and when Henry wrote a threatening letter to its abbot, moved to another. After six years, his office restored as the Pope’s apostolic legate, a title which Henry had wrested from him for a time, he returned to England, to preach again and enforce order in his see. He knew well that it was to martyrdom that he was destined; it is related that the Mother of God appeared to him in France to foretell it to him, and that She presented him for that intention with a red chasuble. By this time the persecuted Archbishop’s case was known to all of Christian Europe, which sympathized with him and elicited from King Henry an appearance of conciliation.

   A few words which the capricious Henry spoke to certain courtiers who hated Thomas, sufficed for the latter to decide to do away with the prelate who contravened all their unchristian doings. They violated a monastic cloister and chapel to enter there while he was assisting at Vespers; the Saint himself prevented the monks from resisting the assassins at the door. Refusing to flee the church as the assassins summoned him to do, he was slain before the altar, by cruel and murderous repeated blows on the head. He died, saying: “I die willingly, for the name of Jesus and for the defense of the Church.”

   The actions of the Pope in this conflict make clear what all of history teaches: the lives of the Church’s Saints themselves comprise the history of the world. The humility of Thomas had prompted him, after a moment of weakness he had manifested in a difficult situation, to judge himself unfit for his office and offer his resignation as Archbishop. The Pope did not hesitate a moment in refusing his resignation. He judged with apostolic wisdom that if Thomas should be deprived of his rank for having opposed the unjust pretensions of the English royalty, no bishop would ever dare oppose the impingements of iniquity on the Church’s rights, and the Spouse of Christ would be no longer sustained by marble columns, but by reeds bending in the wind.

   The martyred Archbishop was canonized by Pope Alexander III on Ash Wednesday, 1173, not yet three years after his death on December 29, 1170, to the edification of the entire Church.

Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14.


Monday, December 30, 2002

    Within the Octave

        White Vestments.

    Mass within the Octave -

    EPISTLE: Titus 3: 4-7
    GRADUAL: Psalm 117: 27, 26, 23,
    GOSPEL: Luke 2: 15, 20


Tuesday, December 31, 2002

    Double Feast of Pope Saint Sylvester I, Confessor and 33rd Successor of Peter

        White Vestments.

    Mass Si diligis - for Holy Popes

    EPISTLE: 1 Peter 5: 1-4, 10-11
    GRADUAL: Psalm: 106: 32, 31
    GOSPEL: Matthew 16: 13-19

Pope Saint Sylvester

   Saint Sylvester was born in Rome. When he reached the age to dispose of his fortune, he took pleasure in giving hospitality to Christians passing through the city. He would take them with him, wash their feet, serve them at table, and in sum give them in the name of Christ, all the care that the most sincere charity inspired. One day Timothy of Antioch, an illustrious confessor of the Faith, arrived in Rome. No one dared receive him, but Sylvester considered it an honor. For a year Timothy, preaching Jesus Christ with unflagging zeal, received at Sylvester’s dwelling the most generous hospitality. When this heroic man had won the palm of martyrdom, Sylvester took up his precious remains and buried them during the night. But he himself was soon denounced to the prefect and accused of having hidden the martyr’s treasures. He replied, “Timothy left to me only the heritage of his faith and courage.” The governor threatened him with death and had him imprisoned, but Sylvester said to him, “Senseless one, this very night it is you who will render an account to God.” And the persecutor that evening swallowed a fish bone, and died in fact that night.

   Fear of Heavenly chastisements softened the guardians, and the brave young man was set at liberty. Sylvester’s courageous acts became known to Saint Melchiades, Pope, who elevated him to the diaconate. He was a young priest when persecution of the Christians grew worse under the tyrant Diocletian. Idols were erected at the street corners, in the market-places, and over the public fountains, so that it was scarcely possible for a Christian to go abroad without being put to the test of offering sacrifice, with the alternative of apostasy or death. During this fiery trial, Sylvester strengthened the confessors and martyrs, and God preserved his life from many dangers. It was indeed he who was destined to succeed the Pope who had recognized his virtues.

   His long pontificate of twenty-one years, famous for several reasons, is remembered in particular for the Council of Nicea, the Baptism of Constantine, and the triumph of the Church. Some authors would place Constantine’s Baptism later, but there are numerous and serious testimonies which fix the emperor’s reception into the Church under the reign of Saint Sylvester, and the Roman Breviary confirms that opinion. Constantine, while still pagan and little concerned for the Christians, whose doctrine was entirely unknown to him, was attacked by a kind of leprosy which soon covered his entire body. One night Saint Peter and Saint Paul, shining with light, appeared to him and commanded him to call for Pope Sylvester, who would cure him by giving him Baptism. In effect, the Pope instructed the royal neophyte and baptized him. Thus began the social reign of Jesus Christ: Constantine’s conversion, culminating in the Edict of Milan in 313, had as its happy consequence that of the known world.

Sources: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).


Wednesday, January 1, 2003

    Traditional Double of the Second Class Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord and Octave Day of the Nativity

        White Vestments.

    Mass for the Feast of the Circumcision

    EPISTLE: Titus 2: 11-15
    GRADUAL: Psalm 97: 3, 4, 2
    GOSPEL: Luke 2: 21

The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord

   Circumcision was a sacrament of the Old Law, and the first legal observance required of the descendants of Abraham by Almighty God. It was a sacrament of initiation in the service of God, and a promise, an engagement, to believe and act as He had revealed and directed. The law of circumcision continued in force until the death of Christ. Our Savior having thus been born under the law, it became Him Who came to teach mankind obedience to the law of God, to fulfill all justice, and to submit to it. He was circumcised that He might redeem those who were under the law, by freeing them from the servitude of it, and that those who were formerly in the condition of servants might be set at liberty and receive the adoption of sons in Baptism, which, by Christ’s institution, succeeded to circumcision. (Cf. Gal. 4:5)

   On the day when the divine Infant was circumcised, He received the name of JESUS, which was assigned to Him by the Angel before He was conceived, and which signifies SAVIOR. That name, so beautiful, so glorious, the divine Child does not wish to bear for one moment without fulfilling its meaning. Even at the moment of His circumcision He showed Himself a SAVIOR by shedding for us that blood of which a single drop is more than sufficient for the ransom and salvation of the whole world.

REFLECTION: Let us profit by the circumstance of the New Year, and of the wonderful renewal wrought in the world by the great mystery of this day, to renew in our hearts an increase of fervor and of generosity in the service of God. May this year be one of fervor and of progress! It will go by rapidly, like the one which has just ended. If God permits us to see its end, how happy we shall be to have passed it in a holy manner!

Source: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).


Thursday, January 2, 2003

    Simple Feast of the Octave of Saint Stephen, First Martyr of the Church

        Red Vestments.

    Mass for the Octave of the Feast of Saint Stephen

    EPISTLE: Acts: 6: 8-10; 7: 54-59
    GRADUAL: Psalm 118: 23, 86
    GOSPEL: Matthew 23: 34-39

See profile on St. Stephen


Friday, January 3, 2003

    Simple Feast of the Octave of the Feast of SAINT JOHN, Beloved Apostle and Evangelist. Day of Fast and Abstinence

          White Vestments.

    Mass for the Octave of the Feast of Saint John

    EPISTLE: Eccles. 15: 1-6
    GRADUAL: John 21: 23, 19
    GOSPEL: John 21: 19-24

See profile on St. John


Saturday, January 4, 2003

    Simple Feast of the Octave of the Feast of The Holy Innocents FIRST SATURDAY

        Violet Vestments (only Red Vestments if the feast falls on Sunday)

Mass for the Octave of the Holy Innocents

EPISTLE: Apoc. 14: 1-5
GRADUAL: Psalm 123: 7-8
GOSPEL: Matthew 2: 13-18

For the profile on The Holy Innocents, see above.

For the liturgical calendar from December 22 through December 28th, see Advent-Christmastide


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