Profiles of the Saints and Feasts

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Profiles of the Saints and Feasts

Friday, November 22, 2002

    Double Feast of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

        Red Vestments.

    Proper of the Saints:

    Mass "Loquebar" for the Common of a Virgin Martyr

    EPISTLE: Wisdom 51: 1-8, 12
    GOSPEL: Matthew 25: 1-13

Saint Cecilia

   It is under the emperor Alexander Severus that this young holy woman Saint Cecila, one of the most fragrant flowers of Christian virginity and martyrdom, suffered for the Faith she had chosen; to choose it was at that moment as certain an end to earthly felicity as it is a guarantee, at every epoch, of the eternal felicity of those who remain faithful to it. Cecilia was the daughter of an illustrious patrician, and was the only Christian of her family; she was permitted to attend the reunions held in the catacombs by the Christians, either through her parents’ condescension or out of indifference. She continually kept a copy of the holy Gospel hidden under her clothing over her heart. Her parents obliged her, however, despite her vow of virginity, which most probably they knew nothing of, to marry the young Valerian, whom she esteemed as noble and good, but who was still pagan.

   During the evening of the wedding day, with the music of the nuptial feast still in the air, Cecilia, this intelligent, beautiful, and noble Roman maiden, renewed her vow. When the new spouses found themselves alone, she gently said to Valerian, “Dear friend, I have a secret to confide to you, but will you promise me to keep it?” He promised her solemnly that nothing would ever make him reveal it, and she continued, “Listen: an Angel of God watches over me, for I belong to God. If he sees that you would approach me under the influence of a sensual love, his anger will be inflamed, and you will succumb to the blows of his vengeance. But if you love me with a perfect love and conserve my virginity inviolable, he will love you as he loves me, and will lavish on you, too, his favors.” Valerian replied that if he might see this Angel, he would certainly correspond to her wishes, and Cecilia answered, “Valerian, if you consent to be purified in the fountain which wells up eternally; if you will believe in the unique, living and true God who reigns in heaven, you will be able to see the Angel.” And to his questions concerning this water and who might bestow it, she directed him to a certain holy old man named Urban.

   That holy Pontiff rejoiced exceedingly when Valerian came to him the same night, to be instructed and baptized; his long prayer touched the young man greatly, and he too rejoiced with an entirely new joy in his new-found and veritable faith, so far above the religion of the pagans. He returned to his house, and on entering the room where Cecilia had continued to pray for the remainder of the night, he saw the Angel waiting, with two crowns of roses and lilies, which he would place on the head of each of them. Cecilia understood at once that if the lilies symbolized their virginity, the roses foretold for them both the grace of martyrdom. Valerian was told he might ask any grace at all of God, who was very pleased with him; and he requested that his brother Tiburtius might also receive the grace he had obtained; and the conversion of Tiburtius soon afterwards became a reality.

   The two brothers, who were very wealthy, began to aid the families which had lost their support through the martyrdom of the fathers, spouses, and sons; they saw to the burial of the Christians, and continually braved the same fate as these victims. In effect they were soon captured, and their testimony was such as to convert a young officer chosen to conduct them to the site of their martyrdom. He succeeded in delaying it for a day, and took them to his house, where before the day was ended he had decided to receive Baptism with his entire family and household. The two brothers offered their heads to the sword; and soon afterward the officer they had won for Christ followed them to the eternal divine kingdom. It was Cecilia who saw to the burial of all three martyrs. She then distributed to the poor all the valuable objects of her house, in order that the property of Valerian might not be confiscated according to current Roman law, and knowing that her own time was close at hand.

   She was soon arrested and arraigned, but having asked a delay after her interrogation, she assembled those who had heard her with admiration and instructed them in the faith; the Pontiff Urban baptized a large number of them. The death appointed for her was suffocation by steam. Saint Cecilia remained unharmed and calm, for a day and a night, in the calderium, or place of hot baths, in her own palace, despite a fire heated to seven times its ordinary violence. Finally, an executioner was sent to dispatch her by the sword; he struck with trembling hand the three blows which the law allowed, and left her still alive. For two days and nights Cecilia would lie with her head half severed, on the pavement of her bath, fully sensible and joyfully awaiting her crown. When her neophytes came to bury her after the departure of the executioner, they found her alive and smiling. They surrounded her there, not daring to touch her, for three days, having collected the precious blood from her wounds. On the third day, after the holy Pontiff Urban had come to bless her, the agony ended, and in the year 177 the virgin Saint gave back her glorious soul to Christ. It was the Supreme Pontiff who presided at her funeral; she was placed in a coffin in the position in which she had lain, as we often see her pictured, and interred in the vault prepared by Pope Saint Callixtus for the Church’s pontiffs. The authentic acts of her life and martyrdom were prepared by Pope Saint Anteros in the year 235. When the tomb was opened in 1599 her body was entirely intact still. To this day it remains incorrupt.

Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vie des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral; Paris, 1882). The account is based on a Histoire de Sainte Cécile, by Dom Guéranger, Abbot of Solemnes.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

    Double Feast of Pope Saint Clement I , Martyr and Patron Saint of Marble-workers and the Traditional Feast of Saint Felicitas, Martyr who was behaded shortly after her sons in 150 A.D. She was the mother of the Seven Holy Brothers.

        Red Vestments.

    Proper of the Feast:

    Mass EPISTLE: Philippians 3: 17-21; 4: 1,3
    GOSPEL: Matthew 16: 13-19

Pope Saint Clement I

   Saint Clement was a Roman of noble birth, the son of the Senator Faustinian. Saint Paul speaks of him in his Epistle to the Philippians, chapter 4, assuring that Clement had worked with him in the ministry of the Gospel, and that his name was written in the Book of Life. Later Saint Clement was consecrated bishop by Saint Peter himself. He succeeded in the supreme office to Pope Saint Linus, the immediate successor to Saint Peter, and Pope Saint Cletus. The Liber Pontificalis says that “he reigned nine years, two months and ten days, from 67 to 76, ...until the reign of Vespasian and Titus.”

   It was, we may say, with the words of the Apostles still resounding in his ears that he began to rule the Church of God; he was among the first, as he was among the most illustrious, in the long line of those who have held the place and power of Peter. Living at the same time and in the same city with Domitian, persecutor of the Church, and having to face not only external foes but to contend with schism and rebellion from within, his days were not tranquil. The Corinthian Church was torn by intestine strife, and its members were defying the authority of their clergy. It was then that Saint Clement intervened in the plenitude of his apostolic authority, and sent his famous Epistle to the Corinthians. He reminded them of the duties of charity, and above all of submission to the clergy. He did not speak in vain; peace and order were restored. Saint Clement had done his work on earth, and shortly after sealed with his blood the Faith which he had learned from Peter and taught to the nations.

Sources: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13; 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).

SUNDAY, November 24, 2002

    Semi-Double Feast of the Last Sunday After Pentecost and the Traditional Feasts of Saint John of the Cross, Confessor and Doctor of the Church, and Saint Chrysogonus, who was martyred in the 4th century.

        Green Vestments.

    Proper of the Season:

    Mass for the Day

    EPISTLE: Colossians 1: 9-14
    GOSPEL: Matthew 24: 15-35

Saint John of the Cross

   Saint John of the Cross was born near Avila in Spain. As a child, he was playing near a pond one day. He slid into the depths of the water, but came up unharmed and did not sink again. A tall and beautiful Lady came to offer him Her hand. “No,” said the child, “You are too beautiful; my hand will dirty Yours.” Then an elderly gentleman appeared on the shore and extended his staff to the child to bring him to shore. These two were Mary and Joseph. Another time he fell into a well, and it was expected he would be retrieved lifeless. But he was seated and waiting peacefully. “A beautiful lady,” he said, “took me into Her cloak and sheltered me.” Thus John grew up under the gaze of Mary.

   One day he was praying Our Lord to make known his vocation to him, and an interior voice said to him: “You will enter a religious Order, whose primitive fervor you will restore.” He was twenty-one years old when he entered Carmel, and although he concealed his exceptional works, he outshone all his brethren. He dwelt in an obscure corner whose window opened upon the chapel, opposite the Most Blessed Sacrament. He wore around his waist an iron chain full of sharp points, and over it a tight vestment made of reeds joined by large knots. His disciplines were so cruel that his blood flowed in abundance. The priesthood only redoubled his desire for perfection. He thought of going to bury his existence in the Carthusian solitude, when Saint Teresa, whom God enlightened as to his merit, made him the confidant of her projects for the reform of Carmel and asked him to be her auxiliary.

   John retired alone to a poor and inadequate dwelling and began a new kind of life, conformed with the primitive Rules of the Order of Carmel. Shortly afterwards two companions came to join him; the reform was founded. It was not without storms that it developed, for hell seemed to rage and labor against it, and if the people venerated John as a Saint, he had to accept, from those who should have seconded him, incredible persecutions, insults, calumnies, and even prison. When Our Lord told him He was pleased with him, and asked him what reward he wished, the humble religious replied: “To suffer and to be scorned for You.” His reform, though approved by the General of the Order, was rejected by the older friars, who condemned the Saint as a fugitive and an apostate and cast him into prison, from which he only escaped, after nine months’ suffering, with the help of Heaven and at the risk of his life. He took refuge with the Carmelite nuns for a time, saying his experience in prison had been an extraordinary grace for him. Twice again, before his death, he was shamefully persecuted by his brethren, and publicly disgraced.

   When he fell ill, he was given a choice of monasteries to which he might go; he chose the one governed by a religious whom he had once reprimanded and who could never pardon him for it. In effect, he was left untended most of the time, during his last illness. But at his death the room was filled with a marvelous light, and his unhappy Prior recognized his error, and that he had mistreated a Saint. After a first exhumation of his remains, they were found intact; many others followed, the last one in 1955. The body was at that time found to be entirely moist and flexible still.

   Saint John wrote spiritual books of sublime elevation. A book printed in 1923 which has now become famous, authored by a Dominican theologian,* justly attributed to Saint John and to Saint Thomas Aquinas, whom the Carmelite Saint followed, the indisputable foundations for exact ascetic and mystical theology. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1926 by Pope Pius XI.

Source: Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950). *Rev. Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Perfection chrétienne et contemplation, selon S. Thomas d’Aquin et S. Jean de la Croix (Éditions de la vie spirituelle: Saint-Maximin, 1923).

Monday, November 25, 2002

    Double Feast of Saint Catharine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr. She is the Patron Saint of Philosophers

        Red Vestments.

    Mass "Loquebar" for the Common of a Virgin Martyr

    EPISTLE: Wisdom 51: 1-8, 12
    GOSPEL: Matthew 25: 1-13

Saint Catharine of Alexandria

   Catherine was a noble virgin of Alexandria, born in the fourth century. Before her Baptism, she saw in a dream the Blessed Virgin asking Her Divine Son to receive her among His servants, but the Divine Infant turned away, saying she was not yet regenerated by the waters of Baptism. She made haste to receive that sacrament, and afterwards, when the dream was repeated, Catherine saw that the Savior received her with great affection, and espoused her before the court of Heaven, with a fine ring. She woke with it on her finger.

   She had a very active intelligence, fit for all matters, and she undertook the study of philosophy and theology. At that time there were schools in Alexandria for the instruction of Christians, where excellent Christian scholars taught. She made great progress and became able to sustain the truths of our religion against even very subtle sophists. At that time Maximinus II was sharing the empire with Constantine the Great and Licinius, and had as his district Egypt; and this cruel Christian-hater ordinarily resided in Alexandria, capital of the province. He announced a gigantic pagan sacrifice, such that the very air would be darkened with the smoke of the bulls and sheep immolated on the altars of the gods. Catherine before this event strove to strengthen the Christians against the fatal lures, repeating that the oracles vaunted by the infidels were pure illusion, originating in the depths of the lower regions.

   She foresaw that soon it would be the Christians’ turn to be immolated, when they refused to participate in the ceremonies. She therefore went to the emperor himself, asking to speak with him, and her singular beauty and majestic air won an audience for her. She said to him that it was a strange thing that he should by his example attract so many peoples to such an abominable cult. By his high office he was obliged to turn them away from it, since reason itself shows us that there can be only one sovereign Being, the first principle of all else. She begged him to cease so great a disorder by giving the true God the honor due Him, lest he reap the wages of his indifference in this life already, as well as in the next. The consequences of her hardy act extended over a certain time; he decided to call in fifty sophists of his suite, to bring back this virgin from her errors. A large audience assembled to hear the debate; the emperor sat on his throne with his entire court, dissimulating his rage.

   Catherine began by saying she was surprised that he obliged her to face, alone, fifty individuals, but she asked the grace of him, that if the true God she adored rendered her victorious, he would adopt her religion and renounce the cult of the demons. He was not pleased and replied that it was not for her to lay down conditions for the discussion. The head of the sophists began the orations and reprimanded her for opposing the authority of poets, orators and philosophers, who unanimously had revered Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva and others. He cited their writings, and said she should consider that these persons were far anterior to this new religion she was following. She listened carefully before answering, then spoke, showing that the ridiculous fables which Homer, Orpheus and other poets had invented concerning their divinities, and the fact that many offered a cult to them, as well as the abominable crimes attributed to them, proved them to be gods only in the opinion of the untutored and credulous. And then she proved that the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures had clearly announced the time and the circumstances of the life of the future Savior, and that these were now fulfilled. Prodigy; the head of the sophists avowed that she was entirely correct and renounced his errors; the others said they could not oppose their chief. Maximinus had them put to death by fire, but the fire did not consume their remains. Thus they died as Christians, receiving the Baptism of blood.

   The story of Saint Catherine continues during the time of the emperor’s efforts to persuade her to marry him; he put to death his converted wife and the captain of his guards who had received Baptism with two hundred of his soldiers. He delivered Catherine up to prison and then to tortures as a result of her firmness in refusing his overtures. The famous wheel of Saint Catherine — in reality several interacting wheels — which he invented to torment her, was furnished with sharp razor blades and sharp points of iron; all who saw it trembled. But as soon as it was set in movement it was miraculously disjointed and broken into pieces, and these pieces flew in all directions and wounded the spectators. The barbaric emperor finally commanded that she be decapitated; and she offered her neck to the executioner, after praying that her mortal remains would be respected.

   The story of Saint Catherine continues with the discovery of the intact body of a young and beautiful girl on Mount Sinai in the ninth century, that is, four centuries later. The Church, in the Collect of her feast day, bears witness to the transport of her body. A number of proofs testified to the identity of her mortal remains found in the region of the famous monastery existing on that mountain since the fifth century. Her head is today conserved in Rome.

REFLECTION: The constancy displayed by the Saints in their glorious martyrdom cannot be isolated from their previous lives, but is their logical sequence. If we wish to emulate their perseverance, let us first imitate their fidelity to grace.

Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13.


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