Monday, May 30, 2011

The lead up to Ascension: Minor Rogation Days

Rogation days are traditionally days of prayer (with the litany of the saints being sung) and fasting.

The custom of Rogation Day processions, including the singing of the litany of the saints, in the lead up to the Feast of the Ascension ('the lesser litanies') has largely been lost these days.  The picture above is of the traditional blessing of the fields on these days (appropriate at this time of the year if you are in the Northern Hemisphere at least!), taken in Kent in 1967.  The other common practice was the "beating the bounds", in which a procession would proceed around the boundary of the parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 27: St Bede the Venerable OSB, Doctor of the Church, Class III

The reading from Matins:

"Bede the priest was born at Jarrow, on the borders of England and Scotland. When a monk, he so arranged his life as to devote himself completely to the study of the liberal arts and sacred doctrine, without in any way relaxing the discipline of the Rule. There was no kind of learning in which he was not thoroughly versed ; but his special interest was the study of the Scriptures ; and when he was made a priest, he undertook the task of explaining the holy books. In doing so, he adhered to the teaching of the holy Fathers so closely that he would say nothing not already approved by their judgment, and he even made use of their very words. Abhorring laziness, he would go straight from reading to prayer and from prayer to reading. To raise the level of morality among Christians and to defend and spread the faith, he wrote many books, which gained him such a reputation with everyone that his writings were publicly read in churches during his own lifetime. At length, worn out with age and labours, he fell asleep peacefully in the Lord. Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the universal Church."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 26: St Augustine of Canterbury OSB, Apostle of England, Class III

St Augustine (d 604) and forty monk companions were famously dispatched to convert England by Pope St Gregory the Great, who had become aware of the decline of Britain into paganism (it had after all been christianized in the Roman era) after seeing some Angles in the slavemarket.

St Augustine only got part way on his journey before getting cold feet, persuaded of the difficulties of operating in a land whose language he did not speak. St Gregory urged him onwards though, and the monks proved effective re-evangelizers, assisted by the fact that that the King of Kent had married a Christian princess and had allowed her freedom of worship.

The monks converted the locals by their preaching and example according to St Bede:

"…they began to emulate the life of the apostles and the primitive Church. They were constantly at prayer; they fasted and kept vigils; they preached the word of life to whomsoever they could….Before long a number of heathen, admiring the simplicity of their holy lives and the comfort of their heavenly message, believed and were baptized..."

St Augustine established schools and monasteries, and set about organising the missionary effort more broadly in England. His life was marked by miracles, and he was quickly acclaimed as a saint on his death.

St Augustine pray for us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25: Feast of St Gregory VII OSB

The reading from Matins:
"Pope Gregory VII, the former Hildebrand, was born near Soana in Tuscany. As noble as any of the nobility in learning, in holiness and in every kind of virtue, he was a shining light to the whole Church of God. As a young man, he donned the religious habit at the monastery of Cluny, and served God with such zeal and devotion that he was chosen Prior by the holy religious of that monastery. Later, he was made Abbot of the monastery of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls, and then Cardinal of the Roman Church, performing noteworthy services and missions under Popes Leo IX, Victor II, Stephen IX, Nicholas II and Alexander II. At the death of Alexander, he was unanimously elected Pope, and stood out as a most zealous promoter and defender of the freedom of the Church, for which he suffered many things, even having to leave Rome. His last words, as he lay dying, were : I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore I am dying in exile. He went to heaven in year of salvation 1085, and his body was buried with honour in the Cathedral of Salerno."

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 24: Our Lady Help of Christians: world day of prayer for China

Today is the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, patroness of Australia and New Zealand and other places, so do spare a prayer for the conversion of those countries if you would. 

But Pope Benedict XVI has particularly asked that this be a day of prayer for the persecuted faithful in China, and has composed a prayer to be said for this purpose:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,

venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians",
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.

We come before you today to implore your protection.

Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.

You willingly and generously cooperated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross.

Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.

Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.

May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.

Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.

Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

And for a little Australiana, a hymn composed for the feast:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19: St Peter Celestine OSB, Memorial

Curiously, this saint only gets a commemoration in the Benedictine calendar, yet in the Roman he rates third class feast! Particularly curious because his reign as a Pope was basically short but disastrous. As a monk, however, he excelled.

Today alas, the Congregation he founded, the Celestines, is down to only six monasteries.

Early life

Here some extracts from Butler's Life:

"Humility raised this saint above the world, and preserved his soul free from its poison, both amidst its flatteries and under its frowns.

He was born in Apulia about the year 1221. His parents were very virtuous, and charitable to the poor to the uttermost of their abilities. After his father's death, his mother, though she had eleven other sons, seeing his extraordinary inclination to piety, provided him with a literary education.

His progress gave his friends great expectations; but he always considered that he had only one affair in this world, and that an affair of infinite importance, the salvation of his soul: that no security can be too great where an eternity is at stake: moreover, that the way to life is strait, the account which we are to give of all our actions and thoughts most rigorous, the judge infinitely just, and the issue either sovereign happiness or sovereign misery.

He therefore made the means, by which he might best secure to himself that bliss for which alone he was created, his constant study. An eremitical state is only the vocation of souls, which are already perfect in the exercises of penance and contemplation. Peter had made the practice of both familiar to him from his tender years; and by a long noviceship was qualified for such a state, to which he found himself strongly inclined.


Therefore at twenty years of age he left the schools, and retired to a solitary mountain, where he made himself a little cell underground, but so small that he could scarce stand or lie down in it. Here he lived three years in great austerities, during which he was often assailed by violent temptations; but these he overcame by the help of such practices and austerities as the grace of God suggested to him.

Notwithstanding the care he took to sequester himself from the world, he was discovered, and some time after compelled to enter into holy orders. He was ordained priest at Rome; but in 1246 returned into Abruzzo, and lived five years in a cave on mount Morroni, near Sulmona. He received great favors from heaven, the usual recompense of contemplative souls who have crucified their affections to this world: but then they are purchased through severe interior trials; and with such Peter was frequently visited.

He was also molested with nocturnal illusions during his sleep, by which he was almost driven to despair, insomuch that he durst not say mass, and once determined to abandon his solitude; but was encouraged by the advice of a religious man, his confessor, who assured him that it was no more than a stratagem of the enemy, by which he could not be hurt if he despised it.

For further satisfaction, he determined to go to Rome to consult the pope on that subject, and received great comfort by a vision he was favored with on the road; a certain holy abbot lately deceased appearing to him, who gave him the same counsel, and ordered him to return to his cell and offer every day the holy sacrifice, which he accordingly did.

Founder of the Celestine Congregation of Benedictines

The wood on his mountain being cut down in 1251, he with two companions removed to mount Magella. There, with the boughs of trees and thorns, these three servants of God made themselves a little enclosure and cells, in which they enjoyed more solid pleasure than the great ones of the world can find in their stately palaces and gardens. The devil sometimes endeavored to disturb them; but they triumphed over his assaults.

Many others were desirous to put themselves under his direction; but the saint alleged his incapacity to direct others. However, his humility was at length overcome, and he admitted those who seemed the most fervent.


Peter spent always the greatest part of the night in prayer and tears which he did not interrupt, while he was employed in the day in corporal labor or in copying books. His body he always treated as a most dangerous domestic enemy. He never ate flesh; he fasted every day except Sunday. He kept four lents in the year, during three of which, and on all Fridays, he took nothing but bread and water, unless it were a few cabbage leaves in lieu of bread. The bread which he used was so hard, that it could only be chopped in pieces. His austerities were excessive, till he was admonished in a vision not to destroy that body which his duty to God required him to support.... St. Peter wore a shirt of horse-hair full of knots, and a chain of iron about his waist. He lay on the ground, or on a board, with a stone or log of wood for a pillow.

It was his chiefest care always to nourish his soul with heavenly contemplation and prayer; yet he did not refuse to others the comfort of his spiritual succors. He gave advice, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, and during his rents, which he passed in inviolable silence. Finding his solitude too much disturbed, he went with some of his disciples to a cavern which was almost inaccessible on the top of mount Magella. This did but increase the ardor of others to pursue him.

Wherefore he returned to mount Morroni, where many lived in scattered cells under his direction, till he assembled them in a monastery; and in 1271 obtained of pope Gregory X. the approbation of his religious order, under the rule of St. Bennet, which he restored to its primitive severity. The saint lived to see thirty-six monasteries, and six hundred monks and nuns; and this institute has been since propagated over all Europe, but is at present much mitigated.

Election as Pope

Upon the death of Nicholas IV, the see of Rome continued vacant two years and three months, when the cardinals assembled at Perugia unanimously chose our saint for his successor, out of pure regard for his eminent sanctity.

This election, on account of its disinterestedness, met with a general applause, and the saint seemed the only person afflicted on the occasion. He was indeed alarmed beyond measure at the news; and finding all the reasons he could allege for his declining the charge ineffectual, betook himself to flight in company with Robert, one of his monks, but was intercepted. He would gladly have engaged Robert still to attend him, but the good monk excused himself by an answer worthy of a disciple of the saint: "Compel me not," says he, "to throw myself upon your thorns. I am the companion of your flight, not of your exaltation."

Peter thereupon dropped his request, and sighing before God, returned to Morroni, where the kings of Hungary and Naples, besides many cardinals and princes, waited for him. Thence he proceeded to the neighboring cathedral of Aquila, to be ordained bishop of Rome, being accompanied by the two kings, and an incredible number of princes and others; yet could not be prevailed upon to travel any other way than riding on an ass: he even thought it a great deal that he did not go on foot, as he desired to do.

He was consecrated and crowned at Aquila on the 29th of August, taking the name of Celestine V., from an allusion to the Latin name of heaven, where he always dwelt in his heart: his monks have been distinguished by the name of Celestines ever since. Charles, king of Naples, persuaded him to go with him to his capital, to regulate certain ecclesiastical affairs of that kingdom, and to fill the vacant benefices.

The new pope disgusted many of the cardinals by employing strangers in the conducting matters, the care of which had been usually intrusted to them. He was sometimes led by others into mistakes, which gave occasion to complaints, and increased his own scruples for having taken upon him so great a charge, to which he found himself unequal; especially on account of his want of experience in the world, and his not having studied the canon law.

He continued his former austerities, and built himself a cell of boards in the midst of his palace, where he lived in solitude amidst the crowds which surrounded him, humble on the pinnacle of honor, and poor in the midst of riches. He shut himself up to spend the Advent in retirement, that he might prepare himself for Christmas, having committed the care of the church to three cardinals. This again was an occasion of fresh scruples, when he reflected that a pastor is bound himself to a personal attendance on the duties of his charge.

These fears of conscience, the weight of his dignity, which he felt every day more and more insupportable, and the desire of enjoying himself in solitude, moved him at length to deliberate whether he might not resign his dignity. He consulted cardinal Benedict Cajetan, a person the best skilled in the canon law, and others, who agreed in their advice, that it was in the power of a pope to abdicate.

Abdication and imprisonment

When this became public, many vigorously opposed the motion; but no solicitations or motives could make the holy man alter his resolution. Wherefore, some days after, he held at Naples a consistory of the cardinals, at which the king of Naples and many others were present: before them he read the solemn act of his abdication, then laid aside his pontifical robes and ornaments, put on his religious habit, came down from his throne, and cast himself at the feet of the assembly, begging pardon for his faults, and exhorting the cardinals to repair them in the best manner they were able, by choosing a worthy successor to St. Peter. Thus, having sat in the chair four months, he abdicated the supreme dignity in the church, on the 13th of December, 1294, with greater joy than the most ambitious man could mount the throne of the richest empire in the world. This the cheerfulness of his countenance evidenced, no less than his words. Cardinal Benedict Cajetan, the ablest civilian and canonist of his age, was chosen in his place, and crowned at Rome on the 16th of January following....

St. Celestine immediately stole away privately to his monastery of the Holy Ghost, at Morroni. But several who were offended at some acts of justice and necessary severity in the new pope, raised various reports, as if he had by ambition and fraud supplanted Celestine: others advanced that a pope could not resign his dignity. Boniface, moreover, was alarmed at the multitudes which resorted to Morroni to see Celestine, on account of the great reputation of his sanctity; and fearing he might be made a handle of by designing men, the consequence whereof might be some disturbance in the church, he entreated the king of Naples to send him to Rome.

The saint, seeing that he could not be permitted to return to his cell, betook himself to flight, and put to sea, with a view to cross the Adriatic gulf; but was driven back by contrary winds into the harbor of Vieste, where he was secured by the governor, pursuant to an order of the king of Naples, and conducted to pope Boniface at Anagni. Boniface kept him some time in his own palace, often discoursing with him, that he might discover if he had ever consented to those that called his abdication null and invalid. The saint's unfeigned simplicity bearing evidence to the contrary, many advised the pope to set him at liberty, and send him to his monastery.

But Boniface, alleging the danger of tumults and of a schism, confined him in the citadel of Fumone, nine miles from Anagni, under a guard of soldiers. The authors of the life of the saint say, that he there suffered many insults and hardships, which yet never drew from his mouth the least word of complaint. On the contrary, he sent word to Boniface, by two cardinals who came to see him, that he was content with his condition, and desired no other. He used to say, with wonderful tranquillity: "I desired nothing in the world but a cell; and a cell they have given me."

He sang the divine praises almost without interruption, with two of his monks who were assigned him for his companions. On Whit-Sunday, in 1296, after he had heard mass with extraordinary fervor, he told his guards that he should die before the end of the week. He immediately sickened of a fever, and received extreme unction. Even in that dying condition he would never suffer a little straw to be strewed on the hard boards upon which he always lay, and prayed without interruption. On Saturday, the 19th of May, finishing the last psalm of lauds at those words, Let every spirit praise the Lord, he calmly closed his eyes to this world, and his soul passed to the company of the angels, he being seventy-five years old....

(Taken from Vol. V of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 14: St Pachomius, Abbot, Memorial

Saint Pachomius (ca. 292-348) is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism.

A soldier converted by the charitable ministry of Christians, he originally set out to lead an eremitic life.  Instead, he ended up establishing a system of double monasteries in Egypt, and that subsequently spread much more widely.  St Basil the great visited him and borrowed many ideas from him for his own Rule; but he fled from St Athanasius who wished to ordain him as a priest!

Extracts from his Rules can be found here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13: St Robert Bellarmine, Memorial

St Robert Bellarmine SJ (1542-121) was an important figure of the Counter-Reformation. 

He spent a good part of his career as a theological professor, before being called to Rome and receiving a number of appointments including as an Inquisitor, and  Cardinal.  In 1602 he was appointed Archbishop of Capua.

He combatted heresy and dissent vigorously, and engaged in many controversies (including an interesting case of a priest making the oath of obedience to James I of England, which St Robert took him to task for).

From a modern perspective though, his most enduring works are surely his spiritual ones, particularly his book on the art of dying well, and his excellent commentaries on the psalms.

He was canonised only in 1930, and declared a Doctor of the Church a year later.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12 - SS Nereus, Archilleus and Pancras, Memorial

Rubens, SS Domitilla, Neus and Archilleus

SS Nereus and Achilles were soldiers in the praetorian guard who were baptized by Saint Peter and decided that they must give up fighting. They escaped from the guard, but were discovered and sent into exile first to the island of Pontia with Saint Flavia Domitilla and then to Terracina. They were beheaded in the reign of Emperor Trajan.

In the traditional Roman rite, the feast of St Domitilla is also celebrated today - she was a niece of the Emperor Domitian and was a victim of a purge that prevented one of those near misses of history for the reasons of providence, when the Empire almost became Christina two centuries earlier than it actually did.  She has since become the victim one again of a purge, namely that of the calendar in 1969!

St Pancras was born in Syria or Phrygia and died in Rome around 304. According to his legend, St Pancras was orphaned and brought to Rome by an uncle, where both were converted to Christianity. As a boy of fourteen, he was beheaded in Rome for his faith during the reign of Diocletian.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11: SS Philip and James, Apostles, Class II

St Philip, Rubens c1611

You can find the Holy Father's General Audience on these two saints here:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10: SS Gordian and Epimarchus, Martyrs, Memorial

Martyrdom of St Gordianus, c14th manuscript

SS Gordianus and Epimarchus were Roman martyrs, who were killed during the reign of Julian the Apostate around 362 AD. St Gordianus was a judge, converted by the faith of St Januarius; his body was interred in a crypt with St Epimarchus who had recently been laid there hence their conjoined veneration.

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9: St Gregory Nazienzen, Class III

St Gregory Nazianus (c325-390) was Archbishop of Constantinople, and is a doctor of the Church.  Known as one of the Cappadochian Fathers, he was a friend of Basil the Great with whom he lived a monastic life for a few years (in defiance of his father who wanted him to assist as a priest in his diocese), and an acquaintance of Emperor Julian the Apostate. 

He wrote vigorous treatises against the Emperor's rejection of Christianity and persecution of the Church, fought Arianism, and made important contributions of Trinitarian theology in particular.

Throughout his life he swung backwards and forwards over competing calls on him to play an active role in the Church politics of the time at the instigation of his father and St Basil amongst others, and the call of the contemplative life.  He played a key role in relation to the Second Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople in 381, at which he dramatically resigned from the see of Constantinople to return to Nazianus.

Pope Benedict XVI gave two General Audiences on the saint back in 2007.  You can find them here:
  • Part I provides an introduction to his life;
  • Part II gives an overview of his teachings.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 7: Office of Our Lady on Saturday in Eastertide***

Just a little note to point out that the Monastic Diurnal omits an important rubric in the Office of Our Lady during Eastertide, namely the addition of an alleluia to the end of each of the antiphons and versicles (for Prime to None).

So Lauds is as noted in the Diurnal, with the antiphons and psalms of Saturday, chapter and hymn of the Office of Our Lady on Saturday during the year, but short responsory of Eastertide, versicle and Benedictus antiphon of the season, as set out on MD (135).

At Prime to None, use the antiphons of Our Lady on Saturday with an Alleluia added to the end of each of them; chapter verses as usual; versicles with an alleluia added to the end of each line; together with the collect of Our Lady from Lauds.

NB: The opening section in the video is the Compline antiphon, not the antiphon for the Canticle at Lauds!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 5: St Pius V, Memorial

El Greco, c1600-10
Pope St Pius V is of course, renowned as a hero of the Counter-Revolution.

A Dominican, as Cardinal Ghislieri he prosecuted eight French Bishops for heresy. He also stood firm against nepotism, rebuking his predecessor Pope Pius IV to his face when he wanted to make a 13-year old member of his family a cardinal and subsidise a nephew from the Papal treasury.

As Pope he acted quickly to restore discipline and morality, and to implement effectively the decrees of the Council of Trent. 

He is most famous for promulgating the Tridentine Missal in 1570 which reflected the ancient practices of the Church of Rome, but necessarily of many other places, and thus in effect, if not in law, suppressing many legitimate rites such as the Sarum. 

He also took strong measures with rather mixed results, against Protestants.  In France he dismissed a Cardinal and several bishops who had been pursuing a policy of tolerance towards the Huguenots.  And he excommunicated Elizabeth I of England in the bull Regnans in Excelsis, and urged her subjects to rebel against her, a measure that resulted in a much tougher policy of repression and many martyrdoms.

He also formed the Holy League, which enabled the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May 4: St Monica, Memorial

St Monica was the mother of St Augustine, and is famous for her prayers and other efforts towards his conversion. As such, she is patroness, amongst other things of those who have disappointing children...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 3: Once was the Feast of the Finding of Holy Cross

Gury Nikitin, 1680

Today is not the feast of the Finding of Holy Cross.

But it should be.

The Finding of Holy Cross is one of those feasts that fell victim to the calendar reforms of the 1950s and early 1960s, when it was combined with the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross (which celebrates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcre).

It celebrated St Helena's (mother of Constantine the Great) discovery of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem, and subsequent discovery of the Cross at the site.

So a nice feast, one that is still maintained by some monasteries, and can licitly be marked by a votive mass.

May 3: SS Alexander, Eventius And Theodolus, memorial

Alexander, Eventius, and Theodolus were martyrs in Rome under Trajan, being  burned and beheaded c.113 on the Via Nomentana in Rome, Italy.  They were arrested by the tribune Quirinus, who, with his daughter, they converted to Christianity by performing miracles.  Their relics are interred in the Dominican church of Santa Sabina, Rome (pictured above).

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2: St Athanasius, Class III

St Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church is perhaps most famous as a theologian and for his struggle against the Arian heresy. From the monastic point of view, however, his Life of St Anthony was enormously influential in articulating a theology of monastic life and promoting the monastic life in the West.

Pope Benedict XVI devoted a General Audience to the saint on 20 June 2007, here are some extracts from it:

"...Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who - as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says - “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius...

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. ...At least five times - during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. - Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial. ...

Lastly, Athanasius also wrote meditational texts on the Psalms, subsequently circulated widely, and in particular, a work that constitutes the bestseller of early Christian literature: The Life of Anthony, that is, the biography of St Anthony Abbot. It was written shortly after this Saint’s death precisely while the exiled Bishop of Alexandria was staying with monks in the Egyptian desert. Athanasius was such a close friend of the great hermit that he received one of the two sheepskins which Anthony left as his legacy, together with the mantle that the Bishop of Alexandria himself had given to him.

The exemplary biography of this figure dear to Christian tradition soon became very popular, almost immediately translated into Latin, in two editions, and then into various Oriental languages; it made an important contribution to the spread of monasticism in the East and in the West.

It was not by chance that the interpretation of this text, in Trier, was at the centre of a moving tale of the conversion of two imperial officials which Augustine incorporated into his Confessions (cf. VIII, 6, 15) as the preamble to his own conversion.

Moreover, Athanasius himself showed he was clearly aware of the influence that Anthony’s fine example could have on Christian people. Indeed, he wrote at the end of this work: “The fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere, that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God. That this was the gift of God no one will deny.

“For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who dwelt hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who makes his own known everywhere, who also promised this to Anthony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all, that those who hear may thus know that the precepts of God are able to make men prosper and thus be zealous in the path of virtue” (Life of Anthony, 93, 5-6).... "

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1: St Joseph the Worker, Class I

Georges de la Tour, 1640s
Feasts of St Joseph have had a rather tumultuous history over the last two centuries. 

Traditionally in the West at least, March 19 was Saint Joseph's Day. 

But in 1870 Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph patron of the universal Church and instituted another feast, with an octave, to be held on Wednesday in the second week after Easter.

This was abolished, however, by Pope Pius XII in 1955, when he established the Feast of "St. Joseph the Worker", to be celebrated on 1 May, in order to displace socialist celebrations on that date, a feast that is perhaps arguably looking somewhat outdated today. 

In the Novus Ordo calendar, it is an optional memorial only, and so not celebrated this year being displaced by Low Sunday; but in the 1962 calendar, it remains a solemnity.  Oh well, great saints deserve lots of festivities!