Friday, September 30, 2011

September 30: St Jerome

Cavarozzi, C17th
The first of two General Audience's on the saint given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007:

"Today, we turn our attention to St Jerome, a Church Father who centred his life on the Bible: he translated it into Latin, commented on it in his works, and above all, strove to live it in practice throughout his long earthly life, despite the well-known difficult, hot-tempered character with which nature had endowed him.

Jerome was born into a Christian family in about 347 A.D. in Stridon. He was given a good education and was even sent to Rome to fine-tune his studies. As a young man he was attracted by the worldly life (cf. Ep 22, 7), but his desire for and interest in the Christian religion prevailed.

He received Baptism in about 366 and opted for the ascetic life. He went to Aquileia and joined a group of fervent Christians that had formed around Bishop Valerian and which he described as almost "a choir of blesseds" (Chron. ad ann. 374). He then left for the East and lived as a hermit in the Desert of Chalcis, south of Aleppo (Ep 14, 10), devoting himself assiduously to study. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, began learning Hebrew (cf. Ep 125, 12), and transcribed codices and Patristic writings (cf. Ep 5, 2). Meditation, solitude and contact with the Word of God helped his Christian sensibility to mature. He bitterly regretted the indiscretions of his youth (cf. Ep. 22, 7) and was keenly aware of the contrast between the pagan mentality and the Christian life: a contrast made famous by the dramatic and lively "vision" - of which he has left us an account - in which it seemed to him that he was being scourged before God because he was "Ciceronian rather than Christian" (cf. Ep. 22, 30).

In 382 he moved to Rome: here, acquainted with his fame as an ascetic and his ability as a scholar, Pope Damasus engaged him as secretary and counsellor; the Pope encouraged him, for pastoral and cultural reasons, to embark on a new Latin translation of the Biblical texts. Several members of the Roman aristocracy, especially noblewomen such as Paula, Marcella, Asella, Lea and others, desirous of committing themselves to the way of Christian perfection and of deepening their knowledge of the Word of God, chose him as their spiritual guide and teacher in the methodical approach to the sacred texts. These noblewomen also learned Greek and Hebrew.

After the death of Pope Damasus, Jerome left Rome in 385 and went on pilgrimage, first to the Holy Land, a silent witness of Christ's earthly life, and then to Egypt, the favourite country of numerous monks (cf. Contra Rufinum, 3, 22; Ep. 108, 6-14). In 386 he stopped in Bethlehem, where male and female monasteries were built through the generosity of the noblewoman, Paula, as well as a hospice for pilgrims bound for the Holy Land, "remembering Mary and Joseph who had found no room there" (Ep. 108, 14). He stayed in Bethlehem until he died, continuing to do a prodigious amount of work: he commented on the Word of God; he defended the faith, vigorously opposing various heresies; he urged the monks on to perfection; he taught classical and Christian culture to young students; he welcomed with a pastor's heart pilgrims who were visiting the Holy Land. He died in his cell close to the Grotto of the Nativity on 30 September 419-420.

Jerome's literary studies and vast erudition enabled him to revise and translate many biblical texts: an invaluable undertaking for the Latin Church and for Western culture. On the basis of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, and thanks to the comparison with previous versions, he revised the four Gospels in Latin, then the Psalter and a large part of the Old Testament. Taking into account the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Septuagint, the classical Greek version of the Old Testament that dates back to pre-Christian times, as well as the earlier Latin versions, Jerome was able, with the assistance later of other collaborators, to produce a better translation: this constitutes the so-called "Vulgate", the "official" text of the Latin Church which was recognized as such by the Council of Trent and which, after the recent revision, continues to be the "official" Latin text of the Church. It is interesting to point out the criteria which the great biblicist abided by in his work as a translator. He himself reveals them when he says that he respects even the order of the words of the Sacred Scriptures, for in them, he says, "the order of the words is also a mystery" (Ep. 57, 5), that is, a revelation. Furthermore, he reaffirms the need to refer to the original texts: "Should an argument on the New Testament arise between Latins because of interpretations of the manuscripts that fail to agree, let us turn to the original, that is, to the Greek text in which the New Testament was written. "Likewise, with regard to the Old Testament, if there are divergences between the Greek and Latin texts we should have recourse to the original Hebrew text; thus, we shall be able to find in the streams all that flows from the source" (Ep. 106, 2). Jerome also commented on many biblical texts. For him the commentaries had to offer multiple opinions "so that the shrewd reader, after reading the different explanations and hearing many opinions - to be accepted or rejected - may judge which is the most reliable, and, like an expert moneychanger, may reject the false coin" (Contra Rufinum 1, 16).

Jerome refuted with energy and liveliness the heretics who contested the tradition and faith of the Church. He also demonstrated the importance and validity of Christian literature, which had by then become a real culture that deserved to be compared with classical literature: he did so by composing his De Viris Illustribus, a work in which Jerome presents the biographies of more than a hundred Christian authors. Further, he wrote biographies of monks, comparing among other things their spiritual itineraries as well as monastic ideal. In addition, he translated various works by Greek authors. Lastly, in the important Epistulae, a masterpiece of Latin literature, Jerome emerges with the profile of a man of culture, an ascetic and a guide of souls.

What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ". It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture. This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us. However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ's Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

I thus conclude with a word St Jerome once addressed to St Paulinus of Nola. In it the great exegete expressed this very reality, that is, in the Word of God we receive eternity, eternal life. St Jerome said: "Seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in Heaven" (Ep. 53, 10). "

Saturday, September 24, 2011

September 24-25: Fourth Sunday in September/Fifteenth after Pentecost

Judith with the head of Holophernes,
Cristofano Allori (1577–1621)
Matins moves this Sunday to the Book of Judith, hence the salutation in the Magnificat antiphon for I Vespers:

Adonai Domine, Deus magne et mirabilis, qui dedisti salutem in many feminae, exaudi preces servorum tuorum.

O Adonai, Lord God, great and wonderful, Who didst give salvation by the hand of a woman, hear the prayers of Thy servants.

Mattias Gerung, 1500-1570
Sunday's Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons refer to the Gospel, St Luke 7:11-16, the raising of the son of the widow of Naim.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 17-18: Third Sunday of September/Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tobias and St Raphael
del Verrochio, 1470-75
The Magnificat antiphon for I Vespers points us to the wonderful book of Tobit, which is started at Matins this Sunday:

Ne reminiscaris Domine delicta mea, vel parentum meorum: neque vindictam sumas de peccatis meis.
Remember not, Lord mine offences, nor the offences of my forefathers, neither take Thou vengeance of my sins.

The Benedictus (Nolite solliciti esse/Do not be anxious) and Magnificat (Quaerite primum regnum Dei/Seek ye first the Kingdom of God) antiphons for Sunday refer to the Gospel, St Matthew 6:24-33, part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16: SS Cornelius, Pope and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs, memorial

Pope St Cornelius was elected in 251, two years after the death of Pope St Fabian - in the intervening period persecution had made a fresh election impossible.  The major issue he dealt with during his reign was whether apostates could be reconciled, and his decision that they could sparked the rebellion of the anti-pope, Novation. 

St Cornelius won out though, with the support of St Cyprian, an African bishop. 

St Cornelius was exiled a year later due to a new outbreak of persecution, and died a martyr.  St Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, and a number of his important writings have survived. 

He was martyred in 258.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 10-11: Second Sunday of September/Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; SS Protus and Hyacinth, Martyrs, Memorial

c11th English

The Magnificat antiphon for I Vespers refers to the Matins readings, from the book of Job.  The Lauds and II Vespers canticle antiphons refer to the Gospels for today, St Luke 17: 11-19 (the healing of ten lepers).

c14th manuscript
Saints Protus and Hyacinth were Christian martyrs during the persecution of Emperor Valerian I (257–259 AD). The saints were brothers who served as chamberlains to Saint Eugenia, and were baptized along with her by Helenus, Bishop of Heliopolis. They lived with the hermits of Egypt and later accompanied Eugenia to Rome. There, they were arrested for their Christianity and were first scourged and then beheaded.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 3-4: First Sunday of September/Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

c11th Bamburg manuscript
of St Gregory the Great's
Moralia in Job
At Matins this Sunday we start reading the Book of Job, and the second Nocturn readings are from St Gregory the Great's famous commentary on it.  The Magnificat antiphon at I Vespers highlights Job's acceptance of his sufferings:

Cum audisset Job nuntiorum verba, sustinuit patienter, et ait: Si bona suscepimus de manu Domini, mala autem quare non sustineamus? In omnibus his non peccavit Job labiis suis, neque stultum aliquid contra Deum locutus est.

When Job heard the words * of the messengers, he suffered it patiently, * and said: What ! shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his ups, nor charged God foolishly.

c18th Russian icon
The Gospel for this Sunday, to which the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons refer, is from St Luke 10:23-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

September 3: St Pius X, Pope, Class III

Pope St Pius X, whose feast we celebrate today, lived from 2 June 1835 to 20 August 1914, and was Pope from 1903 onwards. He was the first pope since Pope Pius V to be canonized.   His life perhaps illustrates the problems associated with canonising popes! 

On the one hand, Pope his tough stance against modernism, promotion of traditional devotional practices and Gregorian chant, promotion of Thomism, and catechism have won him many traditionalist fans.  But his wreckovation of the traditional Roman Breviary, fiddling with the order of the sacraments, encouragement of frequent communion, and other liturgical innovations, arguably laid the ground work for the liturgical revolution of the twentieth century.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on the saint in 2010:

"Today I would like to reflect on my Predecessor, St Pius X whose liturgical Memorial we shall be celebrating next Saturday and to underline certain features that may be useful to both Pastors and faithful also in our time.

Giuseppe Sarto, that was his name, was born into a peasant family in Riese, Treviso, in 1835. After studying at the Seminary in Padua he was ordained a priest when he was 23 years old. He was first curate in Tombolo, then parish priest at Salzano and then canon of the Cathedral of Treviso with the offices of episcopal chancellor and spiritual director of the Diocesan Seminary. In these years of rich and generous pastoral experience, the future Pontiff showed that deep love for Christ and for the Church, that humility and simplicity and great charity to the needy which characterized his entire life. In 1884 he was appointed Bishop of Mantua, and in 1893, Patriarch of Venice. On 4 August 1903, he was elected Pope, a ministry he hesitated to accept since he did not consider himself worthy of such a lofty office.

Pius X's Pontificate left an indelible mark on the Church's history and was distinguished by a considerable effort for reform that is summed up in his motto: Instaurare Omnia in Christo, "To renew all things in Christ". Indeed, his interventions involved various ecclesiastical contexts. From the outset he devoted himself to reorganizing the Roman Curia; he then began work on the Code of Canon Law which was promulgated by his Successor Benedict XV. He later promoted the revision of the studies and formation programme of future priests and founded various Regional Seminaries, equipped with good libraries and well-qualified teachers. Another important sector was that of the doctrinal formation of the People of God. Beginning in his years as parish priest, he himself had compiled a catechism and during his Episcopate in Mantua he worked to produce a single, if not universal catechism, at least in Italian. As an authentic Pastor he had understood that the situation in that period, due partly to the phenomenon of emigration, made necessary a catechism to which every member of the faithful might refer, independently of the place in which he lived and of his position. As Pontiff, he compiled a text of Christian doctrine for the Diocese of Rome that was later disseminated throughout Italy and the world. Because of its simple, clear, precise language and effective explanations, this "Pius X Catechism", as it was called, was a reliable guide to many in learning the truths of the faith.

Pius X paid considerable attention to the reform of the Liturgy and, in particular, of sacred music in order to lead the faithful to a life of more profound prayer and fuller participation in the Sacraments. In the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini (1903), the first year of his Pontificate, he said that the true Christian spirit has its first and indispensable source in active participation in the sacrosanct mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church (cf. AAS 36[1903], 531). For this reason he recommended that the Sacraments be received often, encouraging the daily reception of Holy Communion and appropriately lowering the age when children receive their First Communion "to about seven", the age "when a child begins to reason" (cf. S. Congr. de Sacramentis, Decretum Quam Singulari: AAS 2 [1910] 582).

Faithful to the task of strengthening his brethren in the faith, in confronting certain trends that were manifest in the theological context at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Pius X intervened decisively, condemning "Modernism" to protect the faithful from erroneous concepts and to foster a scientific examination of the Revelation consonant with the Tradition of the Church. On 7 May 1909, with his Apostolic Letter Vinea Electa, he founded the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The last months of his life were overshadowed by the impending war. His appeal to Catholics of the world, launched on 2 August 1914 to express the bitter pain of the present hour, was the anguished plea of a father who sees his children taking sides against each other. He died shortly afterwards, on 20 August, and the fame of his holiness immediately began to spread among the Christian people.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Pius X teaches all of us that at the root of our apostolic action in the various fields in which we work there must always be close personal union with Christ, to cultivate and to develop, day after day. This is the essence of all his teaching, of all his pastoral commitment. Only if we are in love with the Lord shall we be able to bring people to God and open them to his merciful love and thereby open the world to God's mercy. "