‘When the Almighty God meant to stoop so low as to be fixed in our centre, he chose for his mother a holy person and a maid. She received the angel’s message with such sublimity of faith that her faith was turned to vision, her hopes into actual possession, and her grace into glory. She who was full of God, bearing God in her virgin womb and the Holy Spirit in her heart, arose with haste and gladness to communicate that joy which was designed for all the world. Let us notice how light and airy was the coming of the Virgin, as she made haste over the mountains; her very little burden which she bear hindered her not but that she might make haste enough; her spirit was cheerful, and her body full of life. And there is this excellency in religion, that when we carry Christ within us, his presence is not so peevish as to disturb our health, nor so sad as to discompose our cheerfulness, but he re-creates our body by charity and fills us with serenity. For as the virgin climbed mountains easily, so there is no difficulty in our life so great but it may be managed by those assistances we receive from the holiest Jesus, when we carry him about us.
Mary found no one so fit as her cousin Elisabeth to share the first emanations of her overjoyed heart, for she was to be the mother of the Baptist, who was sent as forerunner to prepare the way of the Lord her son. It is not easy to imagine what collision of joys was at this blessed meeting; two mothers of two great princes, the one the greatest that was born of woman, and the other his Lord. When these who were made mothers by two miracles came together, they met with joy and mysteriousness. The mother of our Lord went to visit the mother of his servant, and the Holy Ghost made the meeting festival. Never, but in heaven, was there more joy and ecstacy. For these women were hallowed and made big with religion and they met to unite their joy and their eucharist. By this God would have us know that when the blessings of God descend upon us, they should be published in the communion of the saints, so that our charity and eucharist may increase that of others, and the praises of God be sung aloud, till the sound strike at heaven and join with the alleluias which the morning stars in their orbs pay to their great creator’.
Jeremy Taylor, 1613-1667 (Anglican Bishop of Down and Connor, 1661-1667)
O God, who didst lead the Blessed Virgin Mary to visit Elizabeth, to their exceeding joy and comfort: grant unto thy people; that as Mary did rejoice to be called the Mother of the Lord, so we may ever rejoice to believe the Incarnation of thine Only Begotten Son; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘If we compare the indifference shown by the Catholics of the present age for the Rogation Days, with the devotion wherewith our ancestors kept them, we cannot but acknowledge that there is a great falling off in faith and piety. Knowing, as we do, the importance attached to these Processions by the Church, we cannot help wondering how it is that there are so few among the Faithful who assist at them. Our surprise increases when we find persons preferring their own private devotions to these public Prayers of the Church, which to say nothing of the result of good example, merit far greater graces than any exercises of our own fancying.
The whole Western Church soon adopted the Rogation Days. They were introduced into England at an early period; so, likewise, into Spain, and Germany. Rome herself sanctioned them by her own observing them; this she did in the 8th century, during the Pontificate of St Leo the Third. She gave them the name of the Lesser Litanies, in contradistinction to the Procession of the 25th of April, which she calls the Greater Litanies. With regard to the Fast which the Churches of Gaul observed during the Rogation Days, Rome did not adopt that part of the institution. Fasting seemed to her to throw a gloom over the joyous forty days, which our Risen Jesus grants to his Disciples; she therefore enjoined only abstinence from flesh-meat during the Rogation Days. The Church of Milan, which, as we have just seen, so strictly observes the Rogations, keeps them on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after the Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension, that is to say, after the forty days devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection.
If, then, we would have a correct idea of the Rogation Days, we must consider them as Rome does, - that is, as a holy institution which, without interrupting our Paschal joy, tempers it. The purple vestments used during the Procession and Mass do not signify that our Jesus has fled from us, but that the time for his departure is approaching. By prescribing Abstinence for these three days, the Church would express how much she will feel the loss of her Spouse, who is so soon to be taken from her’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
O Almighty God, who hast created the earth for man, and man for thy glory: mercifully hear the supplications of the people, and be mindful of thy covenant; that both the earth may yield her increase, and the good seed of thy word may bring forth abundantly, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Gregory VII — his name had been Hildebrand before becoming Pope — was born about the year 1020. For two years he was a Benedictine monk of Cluny (1047-1049), then he became a cardinal, and finally, in 1073, Pope. A strong character with a remarkable personality, he easily takes a place with the greatest popes in the Church’s history.
His life was one long struggle to purify and unify the Church, and to make her free and independent of secular powers. He enacted strict prohibitions against simony (the purchasing of ecclesiastical preferments), clerical concubinage, and lay investiture (appointment to ecclesiastical offices by civil authorities). On this later score he soon became involved in a dispute with the Emperor Henry IV which caused him untold trouble and which finally resulted in banishment and death. But his stand cleansed the Church and restored its status. Gregory died in exile with these words on his lips: "I loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile”.
Concerning him the Protestant historian Gregorovius wrote: “In the history of the papacy, there will always be two shining stars to reveal the spiritual greatness of the popes. The one is Leo, before whom the terrible destroyer Attila drew back; the other is Gregory, before whom Henry IV knelt in the garb of a penitent. Each of these world renowned men, however, engenders a different reaction. Where Leo inspires highest reverence for pure moral greatness, Gregory fills one with admiration because of an almost superhuman personality. The monk who won without weapons has more right to be admired than Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon.
“The battles fought by medieval popes were not waged with weapons of iron and lead, but with moral weapons. It was the application and operation of such lofty, spiritual means that occasionally raised the Middle Ages above our own. Alongside Gregory, Napoleon appears as a bloody barbarian… Gregory's accomplishment is a distinctly medieval phenomenon, to study it will always be exciting. The history of the Christian world would lose one of its rarest pages if this stalwart character, this artisan’s son in the tiara, were missing”’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O God, the strength of them that put their trust in thee, who didst stablish thy blessed Confessor and Pope Gregory the Seventh with the strength of constancy to defend the freedom of thy Church: grant we pray thee; that by his prayers and good example, we may valiantly conquer all things contrary to our salvation; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you’. – St John xvi.23
‘The real meaning of the prayer of intercession is that we seek in it to put the power of our own wills and the energies of our own affections at God’s disposal as a means of blessing for His world. Putting ourselves at His disposal, we implore His efficacious grace for the conversion of souls, for the spread of the holy Faith throughout the world, or for the welfare of our country, our friends, our family – for He would have us come to Him as persons with the individual petition which is the secret of each separate soul. But this petition will never have the character of reminding or instructing Him, but will rather be the soul’s confidence in His interest in the personal life, hopes, fears, and yearnings of each individual soul.
As every true act of satisfaction or reparation will always be in union with the everlasting Sacrifice of the Divine Son, so the prayer of petition will seek to unite itself with the intentions of the Sacred Heart, knowing that there is ever proceeding from Jesus our Lord the energy of a perpetual desire that all the human nature which He came to redeem may be wholly responsive to His Father’s love and wholly receptive of His Father’s blessing, and seeking to unite its own love, its own petition, with the stream of that desire’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
O Lord, from whom all good things do come: grant to us thy humble servants; that by holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Rogation Sunday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘In this history it shall appear in what faith your noble Realme was christened…, your highness shall see in how many and weighty points the pretend reformers of the Church in your Grace’s dominion have departed from the pattern of that sound and catholic faith planted first among Englishmen,… and described truly and sincerely by Venerable Bede so called in all Christendom for his passing virtue and rare learning, the author of this history’.
from the first English preface to The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 731
by St Bede the Venerable, c.672-735
The preface above, addressed to Elizabeth I, was written in 1565 by Thomas Stapleton, a Catholic in exile, who was the first to translate Bede’s work into English.
O God, who hast caused thy Church to shine with the learning of blessed Bede, thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant that we thy servants may ever be enlightened by his wisdom, and holpen for his merits’ sake; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘[W]e have heard and received report from the relation of diverse rumours that your bishops are not at all in harmony with the rule of the Catholic Faith according to the precepts of Scripture, and, on account of their animosities and verbal assaults, a grave schism and cruel scandal may arise in the Church of Christ, which the maxim of the Psalmist detests that says, “Much peace have they that love thy law and to them there is no stumbling block”. For truly, obedient harmony in religious matters unites with charity, just as harsh strife contaminates it. For the Psalmist enjoins the unity of brotherhood upon the followers of truth, saying, “God who maketh men of one manner to dwell together in a house”. This house, according to allegory, is understood to be the Church, spread throughout all points of the world. For indeed, heretics and schismatics, foreign to the society of the Church, sprouting up in the world and like, so to speak, the dreadful seed of darnels sown in the midst of a fertile crop, defile the harvest of the Lord by their contentious arguments. But the Apostolic Trumpet [Saint Paul] curbs the disgrace of altercation of this sort: “But if any man seems to be contentious”, he says, “we have no such custom nor does the Church of God… which does not have spot or wrinkle”. Indeed, the evangelical oracles proclaim that peace is the mother of Catholics and the authoress of the children of God’.
from a letter to King Geraint by St Aldhelm, c.639-709
O God, who as on this day didst exalt thy blessed Bishop Saint Aldhelm to everlasting felicity: we pray thee; that by his merits and intercession, thy mercy may bring us unto that place whither he is gone before; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Having laid the foundation of a virtuous education in Wales, his native country, [Petroc] passed into Ireland, and there spent twenty years in sacred studies, and in the most fervent exercises of devotion and penance. For his further improvement he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and returning to Cornwall, shut himself up in a monastery of which he was himself the founder, at a place since called from him Petrocs-Stow, now Padstow, which stands at the mouth of the river Alan or Camel on the Bristol Channel.
...Bodmin, a flourishing town almost in the centre of Cornwall, about twelve miles from each of the two seas, was also illustrious for having been some time the dwelling-place of St Petroc, whom some distinguish from St Petroc of Padstow, because Dugdale calls him a bishop. But it was not uncommon in Ireland at that time, for eminent abbots to be raised to the episcopal dignity in their own monasteries by the neighbouring bishops. And Sir James Ware and Mr Harris find, in some Irish legends, the title of bishop promiscuously used for that of abbot. At least, neither in the registers or archives of Exeter, nor in Godwin, Le Neve, or any others is his name found in the lists of the bishops of Cornwall. And all accounts in Leland and others suppose the same St. Petroc to have retired from Padstow to Bodmin, and there founded a second monastery and a great church which king Athelstan afterwards favoured with great benefactions and singular privileges. In this place St Petroc ended his mortal course about the year 564, on the 4th of June. His shrine and tomb in Leland’s time, in the reign of Henry VIII, remained in the eastern part of the church of Bodmin, not far from the high altar. At Padstow he had, among others, three eminent holy disciples, Credan, Medan, and Dachan. From his numerous monastery at Bodmin, that place was anciently called Bosmana, or Bodmanachie, that is, the mansion of monks. This great church was originally served by monks: after king Athelstan’s munificent benefactions by secular clergy, and in the reign of Henry I it became a flourishing monastery of regular canons of St Austin. The relics of St Petroc were carried privately to St Meen’s monastery in Brittany in 1178; but upon the complaint of Roger, prior of the regular canons at Bodmin, the king of England procured them to be brought back and restored to the great church of Bodmin the year following, where it was still standing in Leland’s time.
St Petroc is titular saint of a church in Nivernois in France, Bodmin, and several other churches and chapels in Cornwall, Devonshire, &c.’.
from The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Fr Alban Butler, 1710-1773
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that the prayers of thy holy Abbot, blessed Petroc, may commend us unto thee: that we, who have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, may by his advocacy find favour in thy sight; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘St Rita’s hidden, simple life in religion was distinguished by obedience and charity; she performed many extreme penances. After hearing a sermon on the Passion of Christ she returned to her cell; kneeling before her crucifix, she implored: “Let me, my Jesus share in Thy suffering, at least of one of Thy thorns”. Her prayer was answered. Suddenly one of the thorns detached and fastened itself in her forehead so deeply that she could not remove it. The wound became worse, and gangrene set in. Because of the foul odour emanating from the wound, she was denied the companionship of the other Sisters, and this for fifteen years.
Miraculous power was soon recognised in Rita. When Pope Nicholas IV proclaimed a jubilee at Rome, Rita desired to attend. Permission was granted on condition that her wound would be healed. This came about only for the duration of the trip. Upon her return to the monastery the wound from the thorn reappeared, and remained until her death.
As St Rita was dying, she requested a relative to bring her a rose from her old home at Rocca Porrena. Although it was not the season for roses, the relative went and found a rose in full bloom. For this reason roses are blessed in the Saint’s honour.
After St Rita’s death, in 1457, her face became beautifully radiant, while the odour from her wound was as fragrant as that of the roses she loved so much. The sweet odour spread through the convent and into the church, where it has continued ever since. Her body has remained incorrupt to this day; the face is beautiful and well preserved.
When St Rita died the lowly cell was aglow with heavenly light, while the great bell of the monastery rang of itself. A relative with a paralysed arm, upon touching the sacred remains, was cured. A carpenter, who had known the Saint, offered to make the coffin. Immediately he recovered the use of his long stiffened hands.
As one of the solemn acts of his jubilee, Pope Leo XIII canonised St Rita on the Feast of the Ascension, May 24, 1900’.
from ‘Heavenly Friends’, 1958, by Rosalie Marie Levy
Bestow upon us, we pray, O Lord, the wisdom and strength of the Cross, with which thou wert pleased to endow Saint Rita: so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ, we may participate ever more deeply in his Paschal Mystery; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘[T]he beacons blazed news of the discovery to the capital and post-horsemen carried it throughout Christendom. Te Deums were sung in the imperial basilicas. No one who watched that day, while the Empress calmly divided her treasure, could have discerned her joy. Her work was finished. She had done what only the saints succeed in doing; what indeed constitutes their patent of sanctity. She had completely conformed to the will of God. Others a few years back had done their duty gloriously in the arena. Hers was a gentler task, merely to gather wood. That was the particular, humble purpose for which she had been created. And now it was done. So with her precious cargo she sailed joyfully away’.
from the novel ‘Helena’, 1950, by Evelyn Waugh, 1903-1966
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst reveal to blessed Helena the place where thy Cross lay hid, that through her, thou mightest enrich thy Church with this precious treasure: grant unto us at her intercession; that by the ransom of the life-giving Tree we may attain unto the rewards of eternal life; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘By this action Christ our Master teaches us how in prayer we ought to use gestures by which the mind may be moved and uplifted, as we raise our eyes above, and join our hands, and bend our knees, using outward actions. Not that these outward signs make our prayer more effectual with God, for God is a searcher of hearts and he has not moved by outward signs. But these actions are done, or to be done, so that you may know that body and soul are united in prayer: for through the outer outward actions the body is conformed to the soul; and also that you, on your side, ought to help yourself to the utmost of your power; and then God will help you too. For he inspires you, and you ought to recognise his inspirations, and help yourself by following them; and you ought not to pray for yourself only, but for others also’.
from a sermon on St John 11:41, ‘Jesus raised his eyes to heaven’,
by St Bernardine of Siena, 1380-1444
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst endue blessed Bernardine, thy Confessor, with pre-eminent love of thy most holy Name: we beseech thee; that, by the virtue of his merits and intercession, thou wouldest graciously pour into our hearts the spirit of love towards thee; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Is there no fixed point on which we can concentrate our gaze and prevent ourselves from becoming completely dazzled and nauseated in the vortex of ceaseless change? Indeed there is. We pray that our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. If the temporal world is always on the move, stability can be found in the eternal.
…[I]nstability is countered for the Christian by the fact that his true home is in heaven. There he has an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. There is his fixed point, his absolute standard. So he learns to look not upon the things that are seen, but upon the things that are not seen. For the things that are seen are temporal but the things that are not seen are eternal.
To ensure this stability then we must have our hearts (our attention) fixed on the eternal abode where true and lasting joys are to be found. If this seems a somewhat vague and indefinite instruction, we are enlightened as to the way in which it can be done. We must learn to love what God commands and desire what he promises. The promises are not of much value to us if they only guarantee things that we do not find attractive. And since God’s promises cannot be altered we pray that our own disposition may be so developed that we actually like the things he commands and long for the things he promises.
In other words we need to have “the same mind that is in Christ Jesus”. If we can learn to think with his mind, we shall want, like him, the things his Father gives. Our affections and desires will be attuned to his will, and since it is his will that organises the universe we shall find in him all the stability there is’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
‘Pope St John ruled the Church from 523 to 526. He travelled to Constantinople to seek aid from Emperor Justinian II against the Arian king, Theodoric. On his return, Theodoric invited him to Ravenna; upon his arrival he was seized and thrown into prison, where in the midst of filth and hunger, he died on May 18, 526. His body was transferred to St Peter’s, Rome. Pope John’s efforts to further the veneration of martyrs were well rewarded. When he visited the Emperor at Constantinople, the Greeks acknowledged the primacy of the Roman see. From his hands Justinian accepted the Emperor’s crown, and on the feast of Easter he celebrated Mass there according to the Roman rite’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O everlasting Shepherd, mercifully look upon thy flock: and through blessed John, thy Martyr and Supreme Pontiff, whom thou didst appoint to be shepherd of the whole Church, keep her with thy perpetual protection; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulchre and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.
On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn’.
from The Everlasting Man, 1925, by G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936
‘Living as we do in an age of reductionism, when many theologians think that the Christian faith must be secularised and made as inoffensive as possible, we may think that Paul has been somewhat reckless in making everything depend on the reality of Christ’s resurrection. Is not that one of the weakest and most vulnerable articles in the creed? In this enlightened modern age, surely everyone knows that dead men do not rise. To say that Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection of our Lord is to offer an unbearable offence to the modern mind. Incidentally, it seems to have been an offence to the ancient mind too, for when Paul preached on the resurrection at Athens, the sophisticated people there laughed at him. They knew as well as people today that dead men do not rise.
Would it not then have been much safer and simpler if Paul had said that Christianity stands or falls by the beauty of Christ’s moral teaching or the integrity of his character or something else acceptable to the liberal secularised mind? Yes, it would have been safer, but it would not have been very exciting and it would not have made many converts to the new faith… Where everything is explained and made acceptable so that Christianity is no more than what reasonable people have always believed from the beginning of civilisation, then it is deprived of interest and is no longer something to get excited or passionate about. Resurrection may be something very difficult to believe and an offence to the rationalist, but at least one can say that it is a really stupendous idea. If Christ has risen, then something has happened that is of first-class significance for every human being, something that should stir us to the very depths’.
John Macquarrie, 1919-2007
Once more I hear the everlasting sea
Breathing beneath the mountain’s fragrant breast,
Come unto Me, come unto Me,
And I will give you rest.
We have destroyed the Temple and in three days
He hath rebuilt it – all things are made new:
And hark what wild throats pour His praise
Beneath the boundless blue.
We plucked down all His altars, cried aloud
And gashed ourselves for little gods of clay!
Yon floating cloud was but a cloud,
The May no more than May.
We plucked down all His altars, left not one
Save where, perchance (and ah, the joy was fleet),
We laid our garlands in the sun
At the white Sea-born’s feet.
We plucked down all His altars, not to make
The small praise greater, but the great praise less,
We sealed all fountains where the soul could slake
Its thirst and weariness.
‘Love’ was too small, too human to be found
In that transcendent source whence love was born:
We talked of ‘forces’: heaven was crowned
With philosophic thorn.
‘Your God is in your image’, we cried, but O,
’Twas only man's own deepest heart ye gave,
Knowing that He transcended all ye know,
While – we dug His grave.
Denied Him even the crown on our own brow,
E’en these poor symbols of His loftier reign,
Levelled His Temple with the dust, and now
He is risen, He is risen again,
Risen, like this resurrection of the year,
This grand ascension of the choral spring,
Which those harp-crowded heavens bend to hear
And meet upon the wing.
‘He is dead’, we cried, and even amid that gloom
The wintry veil was rent! The new-born day
Showed us the Angel seated in the tomb
And the stone rolled away.
It is the hour! We challenge heaven above
Now, to deny our slight ephemeral breath
Joy, anguish, and that everlasting love
Which triumphs over death.
Alfred Noyes CBE, 1880-1958
‘Matthias was one of the first to follow our Saviour; and he was an eyewitness of all His divine actions up to the very day of the Ascension. He was one of the seventy-two disciples; but our Lord had not conferred upon him the dignity of an apostle. And yet, he was to have this great glory, for it was of him that David spoke, when he prophesied that another should take the bishopric left vacant by the apostasy of Judas the traitor. In the interval between Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Ghost, the apostolic college had to complete the mystic number fixed by our Lord Himself, so that there might be the twelve on that solemn day, when the Church, filled with the Holy Ghost, was to manifest herself to the Synagogue. The lot fell on Matthias; he shared with his brother-apostles the persecution in Jerusalem, and, when the time came for the ambassadors of Christ to separate, he set out for the countries allotted to him. Tradition tells us that these were Cappadocia and the provinces bordering on the Caspian Sea.
The virtues, labour, and sufferings of St Matthias have not been handed down to us: this explains the lack of proper lessons on his life, such as we have for the feasts of the rest of the apostles. Clement of Alexandria records in his writings several sayings of our holy apostle. One of these is so very appropriate to the spirit of the present season, that we consider it a duty to quote it. “It behooves us to combat the flesh, and make use of it, without pampering it by unlawful gratifications. As to the soul, we must develop her power by faith and knowledge”. How profound is the teaching contained in these few words! Sin has deranged the order which the Creator had established. It gave the outward man such a tendency to grovel in things which degrade him, that the only means left us for the restoration of the image and likeness of God unto which we were created, is the forcible subjection of the body to the spirit. But the spirit itself, that is, the soul, was also impaired by original sin, and her inclinations were made prone to evil; what is to be her protection? Faith and knowledge. Faith humbles her, and then exalts and rewards her; and the reward is knowledge’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
O Almighty God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the twelve Apostles: grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”: [this] beautiful prayer begins with these words, evoking the nomadic environment of sheep-farming and the experience of familiarity between the shepherd and the sheep that make up his little flock. The image calls to mind an atmosphere of trust, intimacy and tenderness: the shepherd knows each one of his sheep and calls them by name; and they follow him because they recognise him and trust in him (cf. Jn 10:2-4).
He tends them, looks after them as precious possessions, ready to defend them, to guarantee their well-being and enable them to live a peaceful life. They can lack nothing as long as the shepherd is with them. The Psalmist refers to this experience by calling God his shepherd and letting God lead him to safe pastures: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps 23:2-3).
The vision that unfolds before our eyes is that of green pastures and springs of clear water, oases of peace to which the shepherd leads his flock, symbols of the places of life towards which the Lord leads the Psalmist, who feels like the sheep lying on the grass beside a stream, resting rather than in a state of tension or alarm, peaceful and trusting, because it is a safe place, the water is fresh and the shepherd is watching over them.
And let us not forget here that the scene elicited by the Psalm is set in a land that is largely desert, on which the scorching sun beats down, where the Middle-Eastern semi-nomad shepherd lives with his flock in the parched steppes that surround the villages. Nevertheless the shepherd knows where to find grass and fresh water, essential to life, he can lead the way to oases in which the soul is “restored” and where it is possible to recover strength and new energy to start out afresh on the journey.
As the Psalmist says, God guides him to “green pastures” and “still waters”, where everything is superabundant, everything is given in plenty. If the Lord is the Shepherd, even in the desert, a desolate place of death, the certainty of a radical presence of life is not absent, so that he is able to say “I shall not want”. Indeed, the shepherd has at heart the good of his flock, he adapts his own pace and needs to those of his sheep, he walks and lives with them, leading them on paths “of righteousness”, that is, suitable for them, paying attention to their needs and not to his own. The safety of his sheep is a priority for him and he complies with this in leading his flock.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we follow the “Good Shepherd” — no matter how difficult, tortuous or long the pathways of our life may seem, even through spiritual deserts without water and under the scorching sun of rationalism — with the guidance of Christ the Good Shepherd, we too, like the Psalmist, may be sure that we are walking on “paths of righteousness” and that the Lord is leading us, is ever close to us and that we “shall lack nothing”. For this reason the Psalmist can declare his calm assurance without doubt or fear: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me”.
Those who walk with the Lord even in the dark valleys of suffering, doubt and all the human problems, feel safe. You are with me: this is our certainty, this is what supports us’.
from a general audience, 5th October 2011, by Pope Benedict XVI
A Better Resurrection
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
‘Contemplate the process of resurrection. In one sense, resurrection is an instantaneous act, as the Incarnation was an instantaneous act, and as is our regeneration. But as our Lord lived on earth many years, so we to have to rise gradually to the glory of our resurrection, as the continuous action of our will stablishes us in union with Christ. It is a process, instantaneous in its origin, but continually carried out by all the acts of the Christian life, till its perfect development at the last great day in the redemption of our bodies. As our nature takes into itself the substance of the resurrection life of Christ, we are incorporated into Christ. Christ must be incorporated into us till there remains no faculty that is not full of Christ.
The resurrection of Christ is no mere pledge of a future resurrection. It is the principle of resurrection now going on within us, and in which we must act, moment by moment. The world would have no power over us if we would but realise that we indeed bear within ourselves him who is himself all that future glory’.
Richard Meux Benson SSJE, 1824-1915
Fr Frederick Faber, Cong. Orat., 1814-1863
The English Catholic Hymn Book no.881
‘“No man ever saw God and lived”. And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him I shall never die. What have I ever seen in this world, that hath been truly the same thing that it seemed to me? I have seen marble buildings, and a chip, a crust, a plaster, a face of marble hath pulled off, and I see brick-bowels within, I have seen beauty, and a strong breath from another tells me that that complexion is from without, not from a sound constitution within. I have seen the state of princes, and all that is but ceremony. As he that fears God, fears nothing else, so he that sees God, sees everything else: when we shall see God, we shall see all things as they are. We shall be no more deluded with outward appearances: for, when this sight, which we intend here comes, there will be no delusory thing to be seen. All that we have made as though we saw in this world, will be vanished, and I shall see nothing but God, and what is in him; and him I shall see in the flesh.
Our flesh, even in the resurrection, cannot be spectacles, a telescope to the soul. We shall see the humanity of Christ with our bodily eyes, then glorified; but that flesh, though glorified, cannot make us see God better nor clearer than the soul alone hath done all the time from our death to our resurrection. But as an indulgent father, or as a tender mother, when they go to see the king in any solemnity, delight to carry their child, which is flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone, with them, and though the child cannot comprehend it as well as they, they are as glad that the child sees it, as that they see it themselves; such a gladness shall my soul have that this flesh (which she will no longer call her prison nor her tempter but her friend, her companion, her wife) that this flesh, that is, I, in the re-union and reintegration of both parts, shall see God; for then one principal clause in her rejoicing and acclamation shall be, that this flesh is her flesh, In my flesh I shall see God’.
from a sermon, 1620, by John Donne, 1572-1631
‘[I]f the dead bodies of Christians are honourable, so doubtless are the living; because they have had their blessedness when living, therefore have they in their sleep. He who does not honour his own body as something holy unto the Lord, may indeed revere the dead, but it is then a mere superstition, not an act of piety. To reverence holy places (right as it is) will not profit a man unless he reverences himself. Consider what it is to be partaker of the Body and Blood of Christ. We pray God, in our Church’s language, that “our sinful bodies may become clean through His body”; and we are promised in Scripture, that our bodies shall be temples of the Holy Ghost. How should we study, then, to cleanse them from all sin, that they may be true members of Christ! We are told that the peril of disease and death attends the unworthy partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Is this wonderful, considering the strange sin of receiving it into a body disgraced by wilful disobedience? All that defiles it, intemperance or other vice, all that is unbecoming, all that is disrespectful to Him who has bought our bodies with a price, must be put aside Hear St Paul’s words, “Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more… likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin… let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof”. (Rom. vi.9-12). “If the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His indwelling Spirit… If ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. (Rom. viii.11).
Work together with God, therefore, my brethren, in this work of your redemption. While He feeds you, prepare for the heavenly feast; “discern the Lord’s body” when it is placed before you, and suitably treasure it afterwards. Lay up year by year this seed of life within you, believing it will one day bear fruit. “Believe that ye receive it, and ye shall have it”. (Mark xi.24). Glorious, indeed, will be the spring time of the Resurrection, when all that seemed dry and withered will bud forth and blossom’.
from Sermon XXI, ‘The Resurrection of the Body’, by Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Today, in the Ordinariate (in England & Wales, and Canada), is the Memorial of ‘St John the Apostle in Eastertide’. It was, until its removal by Pope St John XXIII from the revised General Roman Calendar of 1960, kept throughout the Catholic Church as ‘Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, before the Latin Gate’, a name that survived in Archbishop Cranmer’s Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer as ‘St John the Evangelist Ante Portam Latinam’. It also appeared in the calendars of the Anglican and English Missals of the early 20th century, and thus – in those places where that tradition was the practise – the feast continued to be celebrated long after it was dropped in 1960. As was once related to me by a certain Canadian monsignor (and this explains the Canadian patrimonial provision for today’s observance), the Anglican Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Canada kept today as their feast day, rather than the 27th December, because that date was both too close to Christmas and in Northern Ontario, too cold for much festivity!
How fitting then, that such a day, no longer universally observed by the majority of Catholics, should find harbour and be celebrated (with the same old Mass propers) in the ordinariates; a practical illustration indeed of that call to ‘maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift’.
‘One day Salome presented her two sons, James and John, to Jesus, and with a mother’s ambition asked Him to grant them the highest places in his Kingdom. In reply, the Saviour spoke of the chalice which He Himself would have to drink, and foretold that these two disciples would also drink of it. The elder, James the Great, was the first to give his Master this proof of his love. John, the younger brother, offered his life in testimony of Jesus’ divinity.
But the martyrdom of the latter Apostle called for a scene worthy of the event. Asia Minor, which his zeal had evangelised, was not a sufficiently glorious land for such a combat. Rome, whither Peter had transferred his Chair and where he died on his cross, and where Paul had bowed down his venerable head beneath the sword, alone deserved the honour of seeing the beloved disciple march on to martyrdom, with that dignity and sweetness which are the characteristics of this veteran of the Apostolic College.
In the year 95 John appeared before the tribunal of pagan Rome. He was convicted of having propagated, in a vast province of the Empire, the worship of a Jew who had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. He was considered a superstitious and rebellious old man, and it was time to rid Asia of his presence. He was, therefore, sentenced to an ignominious and cruel death.
A huge cauldron of boiling oil was prepared in front of the Latin Gate. The sentence ordered that the preacher of Christ be plunged into this bath. The hour had come for the second son of Salome to partake of his Master’s chalice. John’s heart leapt with joy. After cruelly scourging him, the executioners seized the old man, and threw him into the cauldron. But, lo! the boiling liquid lost all its heat; the Apostle felt no scalding. On the contrary, when they took him out again he felt all the vigour of his youthful years restored to him.
The praetor’s cruelty was foiled, and John, a martyr in desire, was to be left to the Church for some few years longer. An imperial decree banished him to the rugged Isle of Patmos, where God revealed to him the future of the Church even to the end of time’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
O God, who with the oil of gladness didst anoint blessed John a companion in the tribulation and patience of the Lord Jesus: grant us likewise to rejoice in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, we may be glad with exceeding joy; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Saint John the Apostle in Eastertide, Divine Worship: The Missal.
Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive his inestimable benefit; and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The Collect was composed in 1549 and is based on the Epistle and Gospel [in the Book of Common Prayer].
In the collect today we still dwell on the accomplished work of Christ - His sacrifice and perfect example. We pray that we may thankfully receive the benefits of His great sacrifice and follow His perfect example. To endeavour ourselves is the old English way of saying bind ourselves; “devoir” is an old Norman word for duty. So then to say I endeavour myself means I make it my duty.
Our Collect today still continues the Easter message; in it we speak of how God has given to us His only Son to be unto us a sacrifice for sin. He made Himself a sacrifice for sin when He offered up Himself on the Cross on Good Friday. Our sins were borne by Him upon the Altar of the Cross, so that He might die for our sins. He rose again that we might have a new birth unto righteousness. One thing, however, we can never forget, and that is His sacrifice for sin, because we continually plead that sacrifice in the Eucharist.
Thy offering still continues new
Before the righteous Father’s view;
Thyself the Lamb for ever slain,
Thy Priesthood doth unchanged remain;
Thy years, O God, can never fail,
Nor Thy blest work within the veil. (Charles Wesley)
The Collect calls this Sacrifice. “His inestimable benefit”, because we can never really estimate the great benefit that the world throughout the ages, and in the ages to come, has and will derive from His great sacrifice. It surpasses understanding’.
from Teaching the Collects, 1965, by H.E. Sheen
‘Let us praise God, then, for the martyrs who are our fellow Englishmen, in heaven. These are no distant figures from stained-glass windows; they are men of our blood, sharing our common speech and our national ways of thought. Blessed Thomas More, with his hearty good humour, and his jokes on the scaffold; John Kemble, asking leave to smoke a last pipe before his execution - could they be of any race but ours? And surely, if they have not forgotten among the delights of eternity the soft outlines and the close hedgerows and the little hills of the country that gave them birth, their prayers still rise especially, among all the needs of a distracted world, for our fellow countrymen and theirs, whom error blinds or sin separates from God. It is Mary’s month; she too, while a world lies prostrate at her feet, will not forget the land that was once called her dowry. May her intercession and theirs strengthen us and give us the confidence that never loses hope; and may our separated brethren, so long sought, so patiently wooed by the divine grace, return at last to their true allegiance, and make England a shrine of martyrs and a nursery of saints once more’.
from a sermon preached at English Martyrs, Sparkhill, Birmingham, May 1924
by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
O merciful God, who, when thy Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin, didst raise up men and women in England who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy: give unto thy Church that peace which is thy will, and grant that those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven and be partakers together in the vision of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Feast of the English Martyrs, Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon