LITURGY OF THE DAY: THURSDAY - January 1, 1998


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THURSDAY, January 1, 1998

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD: January 1

     Pope Paul VI pronounced this special feast in 1970 to supercede the Feast of the Circumcision, which had been in vogue since early in the 6th Century. The Holy Father changed the feast to bring the Latin Calendar more into accord with Eastern tradition in the Byzantine Church which emphasizes the Marian character of this feast as the octave of Christmas. This is, however, not a new feast for it had been celebrated as early as the 5th Century on the Sunday before Christmas. Late in the 7th Century Pope Saint Sergius I introduced four new Marian feasts into the Church calendar with the Birth of Mary, the Annunciation, the Purification of Mary and the Assumption as well as celebrating the Maternity of Mary on the Octave of Christmas. It wasn't until the 14th Century that the Feast of the Circumcision was introduced and eventually squeezed out, so to speak, the Marian celebration. His Holiness Pope Paul VI stated in his encyclical Marialis Cultus, issued in 1974 "is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the 'holy Mother...through whom we were found worthy...to receive the Author of life." The Holy Father took this occasion to also institute that a World Day of Peace be celebrated on this same day "bringing forth fruits of peace in the hearts of many." Seven years later Our Lady herself confirmed this union of her solemnity as the Mother of God and the fruits of peace when she began appearing in Medjugorje, proclaiming herself the "Queen of Peace."

FRIDAY, January 2, 1998

Feast of Saints Basil and Saints Gregory

The blood brother of Saint Basil the Great was Saint Gregory of Nyssa, but it was another Gregory whom Basil would accomplish so much with - Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, a good friend of both brothers and whom we shall detail below. First of all Basil was born in 330 into a very holy family of saints during the pontificate of Saint Sylvester I. He was one of ten children born to his father Saint Basil the Elder and his mother Saint Emmelia, residents of Caesarea in Asia Minor. He was educated by both his father and his great grandfather Saint Macrina the Elder. Two of his classmates would play a pivotal part in his life - one of course was St. Gregory of Nazianzen and the other was Julian the Apostate. In 357 Basil established a popular school of rhetoric in Caesarea. It was the beginning of the intellectual influence in the last half of the 4th Century. Basil was ordained a priest in 363 and wrote two Rules for monastic life, leading the monastic movement in the east much the same way as Saint Benedict would in the west. A two year feud between Basil and Saint Eusebius fermented for they had disagreed vehemently over something and had remained apart until 365 when Gregory of Nazianzen asked Basil to help him fight the growing heresy of Arianism. Through Gregory Basil reconciled with Eusebius. On November 22, 365 Pope Felix died and many felt the Church would unite again but Pope Liberius' attempts to reconcile hit a snag when he passed on to his Heavenly reward on September 24, 366. He was succeeded by Pope Saint Damasus I on October 1, 366. Almost immediately the Arians countered by selecting the antipope Ursinus, but he lived only one year. Three years later Damasus elevated St. Basil to Bishop of Caesarea where the people embraced him totally. But this didn't stop the emperor Valens from testing the saint to the "enth" degree. He ordered Basil to receive the Arians back into the good graces of the Church without them repenting or ceasing from spreading heresy. Naturally, Basil refused. This infuriated Valens who first tried to bribe him, then threatened seizure of his property and even death. Basil laughed in the face of the devil, remarking that he owned nothing but his clothes and a few books and that he welcomed martyrdom. Valens knew his hands were tied because to follow through on his threat would mean absolute revolt by the people which he could not afford because he was also consumed with fighting the hordes on the eastern front. It was here that Valens was fatally wounded on the battlefield in 378. His successor was the Emperor Theodosius who had seen the unrest and disharmony caused by the Arians and had grown steadfastly opposed to this heretical sect. Unfortunately Basil did not live to see the fruits for he died a year later in 379, the same year his life-long friend St. Gregory of Nazianzen was appointed Bishop of Constantinople.

Like Saint Basil the Great a close friend throughout life, Saint Gregory Nazianzen was also born into a family of saints. A year older than Basil, Gregory was born in 329 at Nazianzus to his father Saint Gregory Nazianzen the Elder, then the bishop of Nazianzus, and his mother Saint Nonna. Young Gregory was more drawn to contemplation than the limelight and chose to spend most of his time in prayer with Basil in Pontus. Not really wanting to be ordained for active life but adhering the will of his saintly father, Gregory was ordained in 362 and helped his father run the diocese until two years before the elder's death when the younger Gregory was appointed Bishop of Sasima which was in Arian territory. Because of his deep love for his father he stayed on in Caesarea acting as coadjutor to his father. This seemed to be the only riff between Basil and Gregory and when Gregory's father died in 374 the son went into a state of depression, turning inward to prayer for the only answers. He suffered burn-out in 375 and, because of persecution by the Arians, spent the next five years in seclusian at Seleucia in Isauria. When the Eastern Emperor Valens died, he was asked by a group of stalwart bishops to come to Constantinople and preach to the people, revitalizing the Church in the East by restoring the proper Orthodoxy. Also like Basil, whenever he could he'd get away from the hustle and bustle of city ecclesial administration and politics, opting for the solitude of contemplative prayer for he had always wanted only that - to lead a solitary life. But the call of the Church and the people led him to an active life, including presiding at the First Ecumentical Council of Constantinople in 381. Throughout his episcopacy, just as with Basil, Arian bishops did all they could to discredit these saints and only through the grace of God were Gregory and Basil able to persevere and bear many fruits. Gregory's teaching resulted in over half the city converting to Catholicism. This, aided by Emperor Theodosius' decree that Arianism be abolished and all churches be given back to the true faith, solidly secured Constantinople as a Catholic city. With this accomplished, Gregory, noted for his brilliant writings in defending the true faith and theological brilliance on explaining the Trinity in his sermons, finally retired and settled in Asia Minor where he spent the remainder of his life in prayer, passing on peacefully in 391.


January 1, 1998