Although the modern world seems to only give St. Francis of Assisi the title of the Saint of the environment and animals, the whole truth is that this holy Saint should be known for so much more…
From the Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi
with comment by Brother Leo of Assisi 1882
Of the Value and Dignity of the Soul
The greatest care ought to be taken of the soul, for man has not many, but only one. If God had given us two souls, as He has given us two eyes, or two feet, then should one be lost or taken away, we might guard and save the other. But as we have received only one, very weak and languishing, assailed by three most powerful enemies, and exposed to the fiery darts of the world, the flesh, and the devil, it is not lawful for it to repose securely for one single day, but it must always be striving and fighting. The Apostle gives us to understand how continual this warfare must be, when he says: ‘Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.’
In war, or in a battle, some time is granted to the soldiers to refresh their bodies, to lay aside their arms, to rest from their labours, and to recruit their strength; nor are they, during severe cold, compelled to rest at night exposed to the inclemency of the season, but are allowed to pass the winter in the city. But it is different with wrestlers; for then only can they be permitted to breathe, when one being overcome and thrown to the earth, the other goes away in triumph. The strife with our enemies can never cease, the time of fighting is the whole time of our life, the end of our life will be the beginning of rest; and only after death will the demonwrestler retire, after having endeavoured most strenuously to conquer us in death. Let us, therefore, most earnestly beseech Our Lord to protect us by His grace, and, in the midst of so many dangers, mercifully to defend us from our enemies. Nothing, alas! is more vile than the price for which we sell our precious souls. On the slightest occasion we cast it into hell, and for the smallest and most insignificant reward we deprive it of the inestimable treasure of Divine grace.
Therese Martin was the last of nine children born to Louis and Zelie Martin on January 2, 1873, in Alencon, France. However, only five of these children lived to reach adulthood. Precocious and sensitive, Therese needed much attention. Her mother died when she was 4 years old. As a result, her father and sisters babied young Therese. She had a spirit that wanted everything.
At the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1886, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love, instead of keeping herself happy. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her whole life to God. She took the religious name Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Living a hidden, simple life of prayer, she was gifted with great intimacy with God. Through sickness and dark nights of doubt and fear, she remained faithful to God, rooted in His merciful love. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: “My God, I love You!”
The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, “Story of a Soul”. She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood.” She lived each day with an unshakable confidence in God’s love. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds, but great love.” Therese lived and taught a spirituality of attending to everyone and everything well and with love. She believed that just as a child becomes enamored with what is before her, we should also have a childlike focus and totally attentive love. Therese’s spirituality is of doing the ordinary, with extraordinary love.
Therese saw the seasons as reflecting the seasons of God’s love affair with us. She loved flowers and saw herself as the “little flower of Jesus,” who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God’s garden. Because of this beautiful analogy, the title “little flower” remained with St. Therese.
Her inspiration and powerful presence from heaven touched many people very quickly. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925. Had she lived, she would have been only 52 years old when she was declared a Saint.
“My mission – to make God loved – will begin after my death,” she said. “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.” Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese’s signature. Countless millions have been touched by her intercession and imitate her “little way.” She has been acclaimed “the greatest saint of modern times.” In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a Doctor of the Church – the only Doctor of his pontificate – in tribute to the powerful way her spirituality has influenced people all over the world.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and her “Little Way” is a spirituality that the modern world can embrace and with it, find our way to Heaven. When we look at this young woman from a time long ago, we might doubt it, but take a moment, learn about her spirituality that allowed her to become a Doctor of the Church. I think you will be very surprised that she was indeed, “the greatest Saint of modern time”. (Pope Pius XII)
There are seven Archangels in all, but only the three mentioned in Sacred Scripture are commemorated liturgically; St. Gabriel’s Feast is on 24 March, and St. Raphael’s Feast is on 24 October (the Guardian Angels are remembered on 2 October. The other archangels, whom we know from the Book of Enoch, are Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jeramiel.) Today, though, we honor St. Michael the Archangel, whose very name in Hebrew means, “Who is Like God.” St. Michael is described in the Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, thus:
For like as Daniel witnesseth, he shall arise and address in the time of Antichrist against him, and shall stand as a defender and keeper for them that be chosen. [Daniel 10:13, 12]
He also fought with the dragon and his angels, and casting them out of heaven, had a great victory. [Apocalypse 12:7-9]
He also had a great plea and altercation with the devil for the body of Moses, because he would not show it; for the children of Israel should have adored and worshipped it. [Jude 1]
He received the souls of saints and brought them into the paradise of exultation and joy.
He was prince of the synagogue of the Jews, but now he is established of our Lord, prince of the church of Jesu Christ.
And as it is said, he made the plagues of Egypt, he departed and divided the Red Sea, he led the people of Israel by the desert and set them in the land of promission, he is had among the company of holy angels as bannerer. And bearing the sign of our Lord, he shall slay by the commandment of God, right puissantly, Antichrist that shall be in the Mount of Olivet. And dead men shall arise at the voice of this same archangel. And he shall show at the day of judgment the Cross, the spear, the nails and the crown of thorns of Jesu Christ.
Expounding on St. Michael’s final victory over the Antichrist, the Golden Legend continues:
The fourth victory is that the archangel Michael shall have of Antichrist when he shall slay him. Then Michael, the great prince, shall arise, as it is said Danielis xii.: “He shall arise for them that be chosen as a helper and a protector, and shall strongly stand against Antichrist.” And after, as the Gloss saith: “Antichrist shall feign him to be dead, and shall hide him three days,” and after, he shall appear saying that he is risen from death to life, and the devils shall bear him by art magic, and shall mount up into the air, and all the people shall marvel and worship him. And at the last he shall mount up on the Mount of Olivet, and when he shall be in a pavilion, in his siege [seat], entered into that place where our Lord ascended, Michael shall come and shall slay him. Of which victory is understood, after St. Gregory, that which is said in the Apocalypse. The battle is made in heaven.
This word of the treble battle in heaven is expounded of the battle that he had with Lucifer when he expulsed him out of heaven, and of the battle that he had with the devils that torment us.
St. Michael is our warrior against the Evil One, and is the one we call on in times of temptation, especially with our Prayer to St. Michael:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits, who wander throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This great champion of Israel has made many important appearances throughout the years. In A.D. 590, during the reign of Pope Gregory, a great pestilence swept through Rome.
During a procession and litanies led by the Holy Father there, St. Michael appeared over the Castel Sant’Angelo — a building which was in Normandy, France formerly Hadrian’s tomb, but which was converted to papal use, connected to the Vatican by a long tunnel. A statue of St. Michael sits atop the building today.
Mont St. Michel was built to St. Michael’s honor off the coast of Normandy, France. Our warrior Saint is said to have appeared there in 708 to St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches.
He also, along with SS. Margaret and Catherine, appeared to St. Joan of Arc (d. 1431) when she was thirteen years old, encouraging her to assist Charles VII in defeating the English. She later told her judges, “I saw them with these very eyes, as well as I see you.”
St. Michael is patron of knights, policemen, soldiers, paramedics, ambulance drivers, etc., and also danger at sea, for the sick, and of a holy death. He is usually depicted in art carrying a sword and/or shield, battling Satan.
At this time of year, the Aster (Aster nova-belgii) blooms, and it has become known as the Michaelmas Daisy . The Michaelmas Daisy comes in many colors, from white to pink to purple. An old verse goes:
The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.
(The Feast of SS. Simon and Jude is 28 October) An old custom surrounds Michaelmas Daisies; one plucks off the petals one by one thus: pull a petal while saying “”S/he loves me,” then pull of the next while saying “S/he loves me not,” and repeat until all petals are gone. The words one intones while pulling off the last petal lets one know if one’s love is requited.
As to foods, geese were, at least at one time, plentiful during this time of year, so roast goose dinners are traditional (eating them on this day is said to protect against financial hardship, according to Irish and English folk belief). It was also the time (at least in Ireland) when the fishing season ended, the hunting season began, and apples were harvested, so eating apples today with that goose would be a nice touch.
Roast Goose with Apples (serves 8)
1 13-lb. goose, giblets and neck discarded (you’ll need 1 lb per person)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 golden delicious apples, peeled, each cut into 6 wedges
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 TBSP sugar
1/4 cup calvados (apple brandy)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Rinse goose inside and out; pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Using knife, cut small slits all over goose; place garlic slices into slits. Place goose on rack, breast side down, in large roasting pan. Roast goose 2 hours 45 minutes, basting occasionally with drippings and removing excess fat; reserve 6 tablespoons fat. Turn goose over. Roast until brown and thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 175°F, basting occasionally with drippings, about 45 minutes longer. Meanwhile, toss apples and lemon juice in large bowl. Pour 6 tablespoons goose fat into 15 x 10 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Using slotted spoon, transfer apples to baking dish; toss apples in goose fat. Add sugar, Calvados and cinnamon to apples; toss. Bake apples alongside goose until very tender and golden, about 1 hour. Serve goose with caramelized apples and a Bordeaux wine.
When you cut up your apples, cross-section a few and show your children how the 5 seeds inside the 5-pointed star found inside represent the Five Wounds of Christ. Another fun thing to do with apples is to make those little apple dolls that always resemble old people:
Peel an apple (Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples work well), cutting away any bruises (some people say to core the apple, others say not to. Experiment for yourself). Carve as life-like a face as possible into the apple (don’t cut too deeply so as to avoid rotting). Don’t forget the little things that make a face so human — the little lines running from nose to mouth, the hollows of the eyes, the depressions caused by cheekbones, etc. Depending on the “skin” tone desired, soak the carved apple for about 45 minutes in a mixture of lemon juice (or cider vinegar) and water (the longer you soak, the lighter the “skin” tone will be).
Hang the apple up in the dryest, darkest room of your home. Come back in 3 to 4 weeks to see what you have! (Hallowe’en would be perfect time for the unveiling!) It should have shrunk by about two thirds its original size, darkened some, and show the wizened features of an old woman or man. When thoroughly dry, decorate using very diluted food colorings for rouge; corn silk, cotton, or yarn for hair; cloves or food colorings for eyes; fabric triangles for scarves, etc. Secure onto a “body” made of a bottle, styrofoam cone, wooden dowel, etc., and make clothes as desired.
For the Irish, the next food du jour is St. Michael’s Bannock, a scone-like bread, cooked in a frying pan.
St. Michael’s Bannock
1 1/3 C. barley flour
1 1/3 C. oat meal
1 1/3 C. rye meal
1 C. flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 scant tsp baking soda
2 1/2-3 C. buttermilk
3 TBSP honey or brown sugar
1 C. cream
4 TBSP melted butter
Mix the barley flour, oat meal, and rye meal. Add flour and salt. Mix the soda and buttermilk (start with the 2 1/2 C) and then add to the dry mixture. Stir in honey. Turn out onto floured board and mix (as with all breads, don’t over-mix), adding more buttermilk if too dry, or more flour if too sticky).
Divide dough in half, and roll each, on a floured board, into an 8″ circle (about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick). While heating a lightly greased skillet, mix the eggs, cream, and melted butter. Spread onto one of the bannocks and place the bannock, egg-side down, in the skillet and cook til the egg-side is browned. Put the egg mixture on the top side, flip the bannock and cook ’til the second side is golden. Repeat this application of the egg wash and flipping and cooking until each side has been cooked three times. Do the same with the second bannock. Serve warm with butter and honey.
According to an old Irish folk tale, blackberries were supposed to have been harvested and used up by this date, too, since it is told to children that when Satan was kicked out of Heaven, he landed in a bramble patch — and returns each year to curse and spit on the fruits of the plant he landed on, rendering them inedible thereafter. So a dessert with blackberries would be perfect.
Blackberry Crumble (serves 4)
2 cups washed blackberries (thawed if frozen)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Put blackberries in a 1-quart baking dish with half of the sugar. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Cream butter, remaining sugar, flour, and salt together; sprinkle over berries. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold with cream, ice cream, or dessert sauce.
Finally, I have to tell you about a charming Bavarian Michaelmas tradition from Augsburg, as described by Dorothy Gladys Spicer’s “The Festivals of Western Europe” (1958):
On September 29, Saint Michael’s Day, the city of Augsburg holds an annual autumn fair to which hundreds of peasants from far and near come for trade and pleasure. Chief among the day’s attractions is the hourly appearance of figures representing the Archangel and the Devil. The figures are built in the foundation of Perlach Turm, or Tower, called Tura in local dialect. This slender structure, which rises to a height of two-hundred-and-twenty-five-feet and stands next to the Peter’s Kirche, north of the Rathaus, originally was a watch tower. In 1615 the watch tower was heightened and converted into a belfry.
Almost a hundred years earlier the group depicting the saint and the devil had been installed in the tower’s understructure. Annually on his feast day the archangel’s armor-clad figure, holding a pointed spear, appeared whenever the tower bell struck, and stabbed at the devil writhing at his feet.
During World War II the historic figures–the delight of generations of fair-goers–were destroyed. Since then a new group has been made and installed. Today, as for over four centuries, spectators continue to gather about the Tura and to watch breathlessly the symbolic drama of Michael, head of the Church Triumphant, dealing death blows to the dragon which brings evil and destruction to the world of men.
Note: “Michaelmas” is pronounced “MICKel-mus.”
Today is also one of the 4 English “Quarter Days,” days which fall around the Equinoxes or Solstices and mark the beginnings of new natural seasons (i.e., Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall) and which were used in medieval times to mark “quarters” for legal purposes, such as settling debts. The other days like this are: Lady Day (the Feast of the Annunciation) on March 25, the Feast of St. John on June 24, and Christmas on December 25.
Editor’s Note: With storms in our forecasts often causing loss of life, injury and loss of home and property, we thought we would feature this post previously published.
While praying this prayer, note that the Crosses featured in the prayer are a direction to bless oneself with the Sign of the Cross wherever indicated. Our Always Catholic Prayer Warriors which include Religious as well praying for our readers intentions.
Jesus Christ The King of Glory has come in Peace. † God became man, † and the Word was made flesh. † Christ was born of a Virgin. † Christ suffered. † Christ was crucified. † Christ died. † Christ rose from the dead. † Christ ascended into Heaven. † Christ conquers. † Christ reigns. † Christ orders. † May Christ protect us from all storms and lightning † Christ went through their midst in Peace, † and the word was made flesh. † Christ is with us with Mary. † Flee you enemy spirits because the Lion of the Generation of Judah, the Root David, has won. † Holy God! † Holy Powerful God! † Holy Immortal God! † Have mercy on us. Amen!
Those are the words that poet Sally Read said to an icon of Jesus in 2010. Read, a British poet and atheist, had stopped into a church in Santa Marinella, Italy. She felt burdened. Her young daughter was having health issues. Her husband Fabio was enduring some stress at work.
“There was this incredible experience where this presence almost came down, and my tears just stopped, just dried,” Read tells CNSNews.com. “I felt almost physically carried up. It was as if someone walked into the room. I knew this person. I knew that I was a Christian.”
Up to that point Read, now 46, had been an atheist. “Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story.” “At ten I could tell you that religion was the opiate of the masses; it was [driven] into me to never kneel before anyone or anything…As a young woman I could quote Christopher Hitchens and enough of the Bible to scoff at.”
Read was born in 1971 and raised in Suffolk, England. As a young woman she worked as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital and became a critically acclaimed poet, winning the Eric Gregory Award in 2001. A few years later Read married an Italian man, Fabio, and the couple, along with new daughter Florenzia, moved to Santa Marinella, a town 30 miles from Rome.
In her 30s and raising her daughter, Read began working on a book on women’s health and sexuality. Wanting to interview a wide swath of women for the book, Read contacted orthodox Catholic women. When the women declined to be interviewed, largely due to the graphic nature of Read’s subject matter, Read approached a Byzantine-Catholic priest, Fr. Gregory Hrynkiw, for advice. Fr. Gregory and Read became friends, with the priest answering questions the author had about faith.
It was around this time that Read found something fresh in one of her favorite books, “I Capture the Castle.” “The book was written for children, and I read it almost every year,” Read says. “I read the book for comfort. There’s one scene where the protagonist Cassandra, whom I’ve always identified with, has this conversation with this vicar. I never noticed what he said to her – it was about art as being the ultimate attempt at communion with God. It really hit me. It just broke through.”
She adds, “In retrospect, I think that God works through things very specifically. It’s no coincidence that that book grew with me.”
Then, in 2010, Read had the experience in the church where she felt the presence Christ. She became more interested in the Catholic Church.
“I was passionately in love with Christ, and I knew that I was a Christian. It was a question of ‘What does God what me to do with that?’ I read the Gospels, and I read St. John of the Cross.” Reading Thomas Aquinas, Read says she saw “the logic behind the love.”
She adds, “Running alongside the reading I just felt this presence in Catholic churches. I just knew the best way to get close to Christ was though communion.”
In December 2012, Read was received into the Catholic Church at the Vatican.
The poet is now working on a novel. She says her new life has made her a better artist. “As a poet from a mostly secular culture, I have come to know the Church as the ultimate poem,” she says. “An intricate composition of allegory and reality, that tries to give image to God’s presence on earth.”
Edith Stein, saintly Carmelite, profound philosopher and brilliant writer, had a great influence on the women of her time, and is having a growing influence in the intellectual and philosophical circles of today’s Germany and of the whole world. She is an inspiration to all Christians whose heritage is the Cross, and her life was offered for her own Jewish people in their sufferings and persecutions.
Born on October 12, 1891, of Jewish parents, Siegried Stein and Auguste Courant, in Breslau, Germany, Edith Stein from her earliest years showed a great aptitude for learning, and by the time of the outbreak of World War I, she had studied philology and philosophy at the universities of Breslau and Goettingen.
After the war, she resumed her higher studies at the University of Freiburg and was awarded her doctorate in philosophy Suma Cum Laude. She later became the assistant and collaborator of Professor Husserl, the famous founder of phenomenology, who greatly appreciated her brilliant mind.
In the midst of all her studies, Edith Stein was searching not only for the truth, but for Truth itself and she found both in the Catholic Church, after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. She was baptized on New Year’s Day, 1922.
After her conversion, Edith spent her days teaching, lecturing, writing and translating, and she soon became known as a celebrated philosopher and author, but her own great longing was for the solitude and contemplation of Carmel, in which she could offer herself to God for her people. It was not until the Nazi persecution of the Jews brought her public activities and her influence in the Catholic world to a sudden close that her Benedictine spiritual director gave his approval to her entering the Discalced Carmelie Nuns’ cloistered community at Cologne-Lindenthal on 14 October 1933. The following April, Edith received the Habit of Carmel and the religious name of “Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce,” and on Easter Sunday, 21 April 1935, she made her Profession of Vows.
When the Jewish persecution increased in violence and fanaticism, Sister Teresa Benedicta soon realized the danger that her presence was to the Cologne Carmel, and she asked and received permission to transfer to a foreign monastery. On the night of 31 December 1938, she secretly crossed the border into Holland where she was warmly received in the Carmel of Echt. There she wrote her last work, The Science of the Cross.
Her own Cross was just ahead of her, for the Nazis had invaded neutral Holland, and when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland. Edith was taken from the Echt Carmel on 2 August 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, the conditions in the box cars being so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on 9 August 1942.
We no longer seek her on earth, but with God Who accepted her sacrifice and will give its fruit to the people for whom she prayed, suffered, and died. In her own words: “Once can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.” We can say that in the fullest sense of the word, Sister Teresa was “Benedicta a Cruce” — blessed by the Cross.
Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on 1 May 1987, and canonized her on 11 October 1998.
Novena Of The Holy Spirit
by St. Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
Who are you, sweet light, that fills me And illumines the darkness of my heart? You lead me like a mother’s hand, And should you let go of me, I would not know how to take another step. You are the space That embraces my being and buries it in yourself. Away from you it sinks into the abyss Of nothingness, from which you raised it to the light. You, nearer to me than I to myself And more interior than my most interior And still impalpable and intangible And beyond any name: Holy Spirit eternal love!
Are you not the sweet manna That from the Son’s heart Overflows into my heart, The food of angels and the blessed? He who raised himself from death to life, He has also awakened me to new life From the sleep of death. And he gives me new life from day to day, And at some time his fullness is to stream through me, Life of your life indeed, you yourself: Holy Spirit eternal life!
Are you the ray That flashes down from the eternal Judge’s throne And breaks into the night of the soul That had never known itself? Mercifully relentlessly It penetrates hidden folds. Alarmed at seeing itself, The self makes space for holy fear, The beginning of that wisdom That comes from on high And anchors us firmly in the heights, Your action, That creates us anew: Holy Spirit ray that penetrates everything!
Are you the spirit’s fullness and the power By which the Lamb releases the seal Of God’s eternal decree? Driven by you The messengers of judgment ride through the world And separate with a sharp sword The kingdom of light from the kingdom of night. Then heaven becomes new and new the earth, And all finds its proper place Through your breath: Holy Spirit victorious power!
Are you the master who builds the eternal cathedral, Which towers from the earth through the heavens? Animated by you, the columns are raised high And stand immovably firm. Marked with the eternal name of God, They stretch up to the light, Bearing the dome, Which crowns the holy cathedral, Your work that encircles the world: Holy Spirit God’s molding hand!
Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror Next to the Almighty’s throne, Like a crystal sea, In which Divinity lovingly looks at itself? You bend over the fairest work of your creation, And radiantly your own gaze Is illumined in return. And of all creatures the pure beauty Is joined in one in the dear form Of the Virgin, your immaculate bride: Holy Spirit Creator of all!
Are you the sweet song of love And of holy awe That eternally resounds around the triune throne, That weds in itself the clear chimes of each and every being? The harmony, That joins together the members to the Head, In which each one Finds the mysterious meaning of his being blessed And joyously surges forth, Freely dissolved in your surging: Holy Spirit eternal jubilation!
St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross is Patroness of Europe; loss of parents; converted Jews; martyrs; World Youth Day
Here is a story of when government decides that God either doesn’t exist or if He does He has no place in public life. While reading this, remember it happened in 1792 but know this: change the names of the tyrants in charge and the dates and it could be now.
Included here is a prayer for today’s Feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne. They were executed by the guillotine on July 17, 1792 the day after the great Carmelite Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The government at the time decided the Church was an obstacle to their “progressive” ways. so it started with curtailing Catholics. The rest is history, known as the “Reign of Terror”. Don’t think it can’t happen today.
It has already started.
Prayer for the feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne – July 17th
Lord God, you called Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine and her companions to go on in the strength of the Holy Spirit from the heights of Carmel to receive a martyr’s crown. May our love too be so steadfast that it will bring us to the everlasting vision of your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne posted at Catholic Fire
January 26, 1957, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan was the site of a new opera by noted French Catholic composer François Poulenc. Le Dialogue des Carmélites (The Dialogue of the Carmelites) was based in part on a screenplay written by the Catholic writer Georges Bernanos and inspired by Gertrud von le Fort’s German novella, Die Letzte am Schafott (” The Last on the Scaffold”). The new work presented a seemingly odd choice for its subject—the execution of sixteen French Carmelite nuns from Compiègne during the darkest days of the French Revolution.The opera was recognized immediately as one of the greatest of the twentieth century and opened to rave reviews both in Italy and France. At the heart of Poulenc’s opera is the harrowing approach of death for the nuns in the Carmelite cloister of Compiègne and the way that each of them makes her own spiritual journey to martyrdom, despite the chances to surrender her faith and so live. The opera ends, like the lives of the nuns, upon the scaffold in Paris, with the nuns singing a hymn. One by one their voices are silenced, but the power of their message sings on into eternity.
Poulenc’s effort remains a powerful and frequently performed work of classical opera. Its very success reminds us that the deaths of some French nuns during French Revolution have not been forgotten, and the examples of faith in the face of repression and anti-Catholic persecutions are eternal ones.
Faith under Fire
The facts surrounding the death of these women are straightforward. On July 17, 1794, in the final days of Maximilien Robespierre’s fiendish leadership over revolutionary France, fourteen Carmelite nuns and two female servants were guillotined at the Place du Trône Renversé (now called the Place de la Nation), in Paris. Their official condemnation listed assorted crimes against the state, and their remains were placed in a common grave along with the over 1,300 other victims of the guillotine.
In the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 and the establishment of the Revolutionary government centered in the Assemblée nationale (the National Assembly), the Church was placed in an increasingly difficult position. French Catholicism had long enjoyed a position of national prominence and possessed seemingly vast wealth. As such, the Revolutionary leadership sought both to strip the Church of her holdings and to curb the influence of Catholics in the new order.
The first to be targeted were the religious orders—the monks and nuns?who held extensive properties and who were condemned by the Enlightenment philosophers for serving no practical purpose for society. It was incomprehensible that monks and nuns, most so the contemplative orders, were of any benefit to the world as they did nothing but sit in their houses and pray. In his work, Georges Bernanos has the former prioress of the Compiègne Carmelites, Mother Henriette of Jesus, declare to her revolutionary captors: “We are not an enterprise for mortification or the preservation of the virtues, we are a house of prayer; those who do not believe in prayer cannot but assume we are impostors or parasites.”
On October 28, 1789, the Assembly prohibited the taking of vows in France’s monasteries; on February 13, 1790, religious orders with solemn vows were suppressed. The religious men were then compelled to enter monasteries without regard to their former orders or were given paltry pensions. The women religious, meanwhile, were allowed at first to remain in their houses under severe conditions, including the requirement that they adopt secular dress.
The devastation of the monasteries?like the dissolution of the monasteries in England under King Henry VIII?was merely the start of even greater oppression, in the form of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed by the Assembly on July 12, 1790. This measure placed the Church in France entirely in the thrall of the state. Faithful Catholics opposed the harsh measures, especially the oath of loyalty to the state imposed on all clergy in November 1790. In the end, the Assembly and its increasingly radical leaders suppressed all religious orders, banished the priests who would not take the oath (the so-called “non-juring priests”), and even punished “juring” priests who ran afoul of local officials.
Far worse were the murders of priests and bishops, such as the 225 slaughtered in the September Massacres of 1792. The social and political chaos took its inevitable course with the rise of the infamous Robespierre as the most influential member of the Committee of Public Safety (the Comité de salut public), set up on April 6, 1793 to oversee the trials and execution of the growing lists of “enemies of the State.” Under Robespierre, France sank into the Reign of Terror that lasted from September 1793 to July 28, 1794. The Terror led to the deaths of thousands at the guillotine, as well as fresh anti-Catholic outrages such as the adoption of the Revolutionary Calendar and the grotesque celebration that installed the goddess “Reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral in the form of a half-naked prostitute.
Evicted and Imprisoned
Such was the storm that engulfed the houses of religious women in France, and one of them, in the relatively small city of Compiègne in northern France, was a convent of Discalced Carmelites. The community at Compiègne had been founded in the spirit of zeal that followed the first arrival of the Carmelites in France in 1604. The sisters of the community at the time of the French Revolution came from a variety of backgrounds. Mother Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise Gabrielle de Croissy) was the grand-niece of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, one of the most powerful ministers to King Louis XIV. Most of the nuns, however, were from humble families of cobblers, carpenters, and common laborers. They were thus far from being sympathizers of the ancien régime, even if authorities cited as damning evidence of their treason the presence in the convent of an old painting of the executed King Louis XVI.
In fact, as was the common practice for all houses of religious in France, the nuns took care to obey the letter of the laws being imposed upon the Church. At the same time, though, they found their own ways to practice resistance. When, for example, authorities arrived after the suppression of vows to encourage each sister to leave the community, they found the members uncommunicative and disinclined to accept their offer. In a foreshadowing of what was to come, the officials returned with soldiers to threaten the determined religious should they refuse to abandon their habits.
The darker events in the country continued apace, and soon the houses of religious were dispersed. The nuns at Compiègne were evicted from the convent on September 14, 1792, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The nuns had anticipated this next development and had, at the prayerful suggestion of Sister Teresa of St. Augustine, made a collective act of consecration by which they offered their lives as a holocaust on behalf of the Church in an age of suffering.
Ostensibly in obedience to the law, the nuns lived outside of the house in four groups and dressed like simple French women. They met in common prayer and never wavered in their private fidelity to the rules of the Carmel, even if they had to live as exiles from the convent. Known and hated by the fervent anti-Catholics in the region, the nuns were watched. It was only a matter of time before their prayer life, their devotion to the Sacred Heart, and their acts of charity led to their arrest by the local Committee of Public Safety. On July 12, they were transferred to Paris, and the city beheld the spectacle of sixteen defenseless women being led to jail by a force of gendarmes and nine hard-bitten dragoons.
The procession reached its destination: the dreaded Conciergerie, the somber prison for those poor souls who had fallen into the hands of Robespierre’s Committee. The charges against the Carmelites were conspiracy and treason against the nation by supposedly corresponding with counter-revolutionary conservative elements, being royalists, and keeping in their possession the writings of the liberticides of the ancien régime. Ironically, the only member of the convent with royal blood, Sister Marie of the Incarnation, was away at the time of the arrests. She would later chronicle the events that followed.
Song and Silence
The trial was a pre-ordained condemnation, as the tribunal met without granting the nuns any lawyers or even witnesses. After a brief discussion, the judges found the nuns guilty, but to the list of “crimes” for which they stood condemned to death, Mother Henriette of Jesus demanded and succeeded in adding the charge of “attachment to your Religion and the King.” She then turned to her sisters and declared proudly, “We must rejoice and give thanks to God for we die for our religion, our faith, and for being members of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”
On July 17, 1794, the sixteen Carmelites were led through the streets of Paris in a tumbrel, the traditional open cart that left condemned prisoners subject to the mockery, abuse, and jeers of the crowds lining the avenues leading to the guillotine. With utter serenity, the nuns made their way to the Place du Trône Renversé and were removed from the cart. Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, who was seventy-eight and could barely walk, was tossed to the ground by one of her guards, but in response told him that she forgave him and assured him of her prayers.
The mob that had gathered for its customary fun, however, was soon reduced to stunned silence by the actions of the Carmelites. The women religious did not cower in fear before the blade of the guillotine. Rather, they sang as each one mounted the steps to her death. Some accounts declare that they sang the Veni Creator, others that it was the Salve Regina. In his recent work To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne Guillotined July 17, 1794, William Bush argues that they sang Psalm 117: “O praise the Lord all ye nations! / Praise him all ye people! / For His mercy is confirmed upon us / And the truth of the Lord remaineth forever! / Praise the Lord!”
The first to sing as she ascended was the youngest of the Carmelites, Sister Constance. Called by the executioners, she knelt before her Mother Superior, asked her blessing and permission to die, and then placed herself beneath the guillotine without any need of assistance or force. Each of the remaining nuns followed in exactly the same manner. The next-to-last was thirty-four-year-old Sister Henriette. As infirmarian, she assisted her sisters up the steps. Finally, the venerable Mother placed her head in the device and waited for the blade to drop.
During the executions, no sounds could be heard save the singing of the sisters, their chorus reduced one by one, and the remorseless slicing of the guillotine. The customary drum roll did not take place, and no one in the crowd cheered, laughed, or mocked the victims. When it was done, the crowd dispersed in further silence, and a pervasive sense of unease settled over the city. The remains of the sisters were taken away from Paris and interred in a deep sand-pit in a cemetery at Picpus, where they joined the other victims of the guillotine.
The murder of the Carmelites was the climactic moment of the Reign of Terror and its apparently greatest victory over superstition and the Church. And yet, within ten days, Robespierre fell from power and died himself beneath the guillotine. The Reign of Terror was brought to a sudden and unexpected end.
A Lasting Witness
Sixteen victims of the thousands murdered by the French Revolution, the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne were from the time of their executions remembered with an intense fervor and revered for their holiness and courage. Indeed, credit for the shocking close to the Terror was given to the Carmelites of Compiègne by those in the Conciergerie who had come to know them well. As religious orders were still forbidden in England, English Benedictine nuns founded a home at Cambrai, France. Like the Carmelites, they had been imprisoned in Paris in October 1793 and had met the nuns from Compiègne in the Conciergerie’s dungeon. They loved and venerated the martyred Carmelites and preserved with devotion the secular clothes the women left behind. When the Reign of Terror halted so abruptly, the English Benedictines gave thanks for the holiness and the act of offering made by their beloved sisters. The Benedictines also took the few second-class relics of the Carmelites with them when they were permitted to go back to England in 1795. Because the Carmelites were buried in the common grave at Picpus, no first-class relics have ever been recovered.
Over the next century, the Carmelites were honored by the Carmelites of France, by the Benedictine nuns of England, and by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower and Doctor of the Church. The movement for their cause for canonization gained swift ground in France, and in 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared them venerable. A mere four years later, after the confirmation of several miracles, they were beatified by Pope St. Pius X on May 27, 1906, the first martyrs of the French Revolution to be so honored. Their cause for canonization continues.
For apologists today, the Carmelite martyrs—as with all martyrs for the faith—remind us that their example is not confined to a bygone age of suffering and war in a Europe gone mad with the Enlightenment. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote with veneration of the Compiègne Carmelites. Like the Benedictine nuns before her, the future martyr g.asped the significance of their act of spiritual consecration and their willingness to be martyrs for the faith that evil was trying to expunge. Rather than being forgotten, the nuns inspired Catholics and artists over the next two centuries as Christians died at the hand of the Nazis, Communists in Spain and the Soviet Empire, and extremists the world over. As François Poulenc’s opera brings to riveting operatic life, the Carmelites of Compiègne demonstrate to all Christians that even as we should be willing to follow Christ in every way that we live, it is just as important to follow Christ in how we die.
Matthew E. Bunson is a former contributing editor to This Rock and the author of more than 30 books. He is a consultant for USA Today on Catholic matters, a moderator of EWTN’s online Church history forum, and the editor of The Catholic Answer.
THE SIXTEEN DISCALCED CARMELITE MARTYRS OF COMPIEGNE (X 1794) BLAMELESS VICTIMS OF A REVOLUTION GONE AWRY
There was something eerie in the air as the tumbrils passed through the streets of Paris that led to Place du Trône Renversé. It was, in fact, too eerie that the normally noisy and violent crowd was “in a respectful silence such as has never been accorded throughout the Revolution.” No rotten fruit was pelted and no clamorous insult was raised on the condemned women and men. That evening one only heard the ethereal chanting of sixteen Discalced Carmelite nuns on their way to death.
These women could hardly be recognized as nuns. Wrapped in their white mantles, they did not, however, wear their veils. Their wimples had been cut away, exposing their necks to facilitate the truculent job of the guillotine’s blade.
At around eight in the evening, after a ride of two hours, the tumbrils finally arrived at the place of execution. A horrid stench of rotting flesh from the common graves in nearby Picpus and of putrifying blood beneath the scaffold greeted them. The crowd remained reverently silent. The Carmelites have finally come face to face with the dreaded guillotine. Led by their courageous prioress, Mo. Thérèse of St. Augustine, they sang the Christian hymn of praise: “You are God: we praise you; You are the Lord: we acclaim you; You are the eternal Father: all creation worships you…. The glorious company of apostles praises you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praises you. The white-robed army of martyrs praises you…
WINDS OF AN INEVITABLE REVOLUTION
Many historians agree that the twentieth century traces its foundations to the events that shook France from 1789 to, strictly speaking, 1795. The French Revolution took place amid an in social disarray. Historian Edward Tannenbaum capsulized: “Many people knew that something was wrong. There was an economic crisis aggravated by population pressure; the aristocratic resurgence exasperated sections of the bourgeoisie and the peasantry; enlightened political ideas were raising constitutional issues, and enlightened despotism was not working very well.
With the rising of the masses, an era of radical ideas unconceived beforehand was ushered – equality of all before the law; freedoms of speech, religion and opinion; resistance to oppression; rights to property, security and liberty. A new epoch practically began with this “mother of revolutions.”
The clash, however, of the old and new orders produced a violent friction. Reforms were plenty, indeed, but violence also abounded, caused by years of bottled hatred or plain paranoia. Soon, freedoms highly idealized by the revolution like choice, conscience and religion were trampled upon. There were too many victims in the process, many of whom were commoners exercising their democratic rights. Among them were the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne.
The twenty-one nuns of the Carmel of the Annunciation externally appeared unperturbed by the melee outside the walls of their monastery. They continued with the routine life that had been followed by their predecessors since the monastery was established in 1641. They were composed of fifteen choir nuns, three converses (lay sisters or sisters of the white veil), and one choir novice.There were also two
The nuns came from every social stratum of French society and each had her unique personality.“Taken as a whole, the community does not present an exceptional milieu. Their fathers were a master purse-maker, shoemaker, turner, laborer, clerk, and an employee of the observatory. Only one is a counselor of the king, one a noble squire. Few were blue-blooded; most were commoners. The grille sheltered, both from the psychological and social points of view, a world in a nutshell.” The lone novice was of peasant stock, but she had for her formator the grandniece of the great aristocrat Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The pretty and young assistant infirmarian laughed at the whims of the beloved old sister “philosopher”. The well-balanced prioress had for her assistant a nun passionately in love with the divine office.
The Constituent Assembly provisionally suspended the profession of vows in all monasteries on 29 October 1789. Mother Thérèse was distressed that the decree prevented Sr. Constance, the lone novice, from making her profession. She wrote to a former postulant: Sr. Constance remains always a novice here. Troubles have not been lacking on the side of her family: now they do not want her letters anymore or to hear her spoken of. The Lord permits this to be assured of her fidelity, and she accounts herself happy if they leave her in peace as at present. She hopes that the good God will at last touch their hearts and that they will look on her perseverance without sorrow.
THE CIVIL CONSTITUTION OF THE CLERGY
On 12 July 1790, the National Assembly implemented the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Among its articles was a provision for the suppression of the monastic orders and the liberation of monks and nuns who would choose to renounce their vows. On 15 August, the members of the Directory of the Compiègne district came to the monastery to interrogate each nun and offer her liberty.
The unanimous reply of the religious was to remain and keep their vows. Some of the nuns made their declarations more vivid:
“For fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite. I desire to have the same number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord.” (Sr. of Jesus Crucified)
“I became a religious by my own will. I have made up my mind to go on wearing this habit, even if I have to purchase this joy with my own blood.” (Sr. Euphrasie)
“A good spouse desires to remain with her husband. I do not wish to abandon my spouse.” (Sr. Saint Francis Xavier)
“If I will be able to double the bonds of my attachment to God, then, with all my strength and zeal, I will do so.” (Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary)
In February of the following year, the nuns were ordered to elect, in the presence of the municipal officers, a prioress and a bursar. Mo. Thérèse was unanimously re-elected; Mo. Henriette was voted bursar. The state then provided the eighteen intern nuns with decent pensions.
ENEMIES OF THE REPUBLIC
Another provision of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy required priests and religious to take a loyalty oath that required them “to be faithful to the nation, the law and the king; and to maintain the constitution with all their power.” What the ambiguous statement meant was that they were to give the revolutionary government the right to control and democratize the Church in complete disregard of Papal jurisdiction. Pope Pius VI issued on 10 March 1791 a condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and forbade the clergy to take it. A schism was inevitable. The clergy was split between the “juring” (those who took the oath) and “non-juring” bishops and priests.
Two weeks after Easter of 1792, the guillotine was installed in Paris. Everyone was talking about it, even in the Carmel of Compiègne, and everyone feared it. In September, around 1,400 “enemies of the Republic” were killed during the infamous September Massacre; among them were hundreds of non-juring priests.
A belief that they would all be called to martyrdom someday prevailed in the community. Between June and September of that year, Mo. Thérèse proposed that the community offer their lives to God with an act of oblation “in order that the divine peace which Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the State.” All promised to unite themselves to it, except for Sr. of Jesus Crucified and Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection, the two most senior nuns. Trembling and fearful that they would end more than fifty years of peaceful life in Carmel with a bloody death, both withdrew from the community. Before the day ended, however, they prostrated themselves before the prioress and tearfully asked forgiveness for their momentary weakness. All the nuns renewed the act until the very day of their death.
UNITED IN SPITE OF DISPERSION
On 14 August 1792, the Convention ordered all French citizens receiving state pension to take the Oath of Liberté-Egalité which required them “to be faithful to the nation and to maintain liberty and equality or to die defending them.” Three days later, all religious houses were ordered vacated.
At this point in time, the Carmelites of Compiègne had been reduced to nineteen with the death of two sisters. The remaining nuns left the monastery and garbed secular clothes on 14 September 1792. They divided themselves into four groups with the prioress, sub-prioress, bursar and another nun heading each.
On 19 September, with the permission of Fr. Rigaud, their ecclesiastical superior, they all took the Oath of Liberté-Egalité. Thus, all, including the tourières, were eligible to receive pension from the state. Only Sr. Constance, the novice, was excluded from this right because the members of the Directory of Compiègne did not consider her a full religious.
For two years, each community strove to continue being faithful to their regular observances. “The beautiful accord which reigned among all the sisters ensured that each one never deviated from her duties. One could say that obedience was practiced with all the exactitude of the cloister.” It was difficult to find a priest to celebrate the Eucharist; nonetheless, the sisters faithfully recited the divine office at the appointed hours. Since their houses were not far apart, they managed to be in frequent contact with one another. Secretly, they sustained the members of the Confraternity of the Scapular and continued its enrollment. The extern sisters continued to buy provisions and to share these out among the different houses. The dynamism of the entire community was sustained by the daily renewal of the act of oblation and the solicitude of Mo. Thérèse.
REIGN OF TERROR
Situations worsened when Maximilien Robespierre and his henchmen, the radical and fanatical Jacobins, came into power during the summer of 1793. The Committee of Public Safety was established to protect the republic from foreign invasions and to control prices and wages all over the country. Along with this was institutionalized the infamous Reign of Terror. It not only apprehended and punished with death those who refused to be conscripted into the army but also anyone suspected of any unpatriotic behavior – or thoughts!
Within its brief one-year and one-month existence, over 300,000 were imprisoned of whom 50,000 were executed by musketry or in the dreaded guillotine or died in prison. France was literally transformed into an abattoir for her own people. Obsession replaced reality as the radical leaders sought to establish a utopistic society.
Anticlericalism reached its apex and, later, the revolution began to take the guise of a religion. First there was the abolition of the Gregorian calendar. Then churches were turned into “Temples of Reason”. Next, the juring clergy were ordered to marry (about 20,000 heeded). Finally, Robespierre established the Cult of the Supreme Being in an attempt to totally de-christianize France.
In March 1794, Sr. Marie of the Incarnation went to Paris to settle a serious family problem.Her stay was prolonged until June. Mother Thérèse was also obliged to go to the capital on 13 June to bid farewell to her old and widowed mother who was to return to Franche-Comté, the cradle of her family. During that sojourn, the two nuns were by chance in the streets when tumbrils carrying those to be guillotined passed before them.Sr. Marie tried to get Mother Thérèse to avoid the sight.The prioress, however, refused to move:“My good sister, allow me the sad consolation of seeing how martyrs go to their death.”Sr. Marie later wrote that two of the condemned fixed a deep gaze on them as if to say, “Soon, you will follow us.”
On the evening of 21 June, Mother Thérèse promptly returned by stagecoach to Compiègne.She was met by some of the nuns who informed her that members of the Committee for Revolutionary Surveillance had searched all their four abodes that very morning and seized all their papers.The search continued the following day. A portrait of the guillotined king, a copy of his will, letters from their deported non-juring confessor and scapulars of the Sacred Heart were found and branded “seditious”.They also took the food prepared for the nuns, depriving them of nourishment that day.
As previously mentioned, nineteen of the Carmelites of Compiègne were still alive by the middle of 1792.During the time of the arrest, Sr. Marie of the Incarnation was still in Paris. Since March 1794, Sr. Thérèse of Jesus and Sr. Stanislas of Providence were in Rosières.Thus only sixteen were arrested. Through the biography written by Sr. Marie, we were not only able to know much about the arrest and execution of her community (in this entire chapter, unless noted otherwise, her accounts are enclosed in quotations)but also about their lives.
Mother Thérèse of St. Augustine (Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine; b. 22 September 1752 in Paris), a woman “so loved by God,” was serving her second term as prioress when the Revolution struck. Her correspondences reveal a woman of great human and supernatural qualities.
Mother St. Louis (Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau; b. 07 December 1751 in Belfort), the sub-prioress, was given to silence and gentleness. She celebrated the divine office with admirable remembrance and exactitude.
Mother Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise de Croissy;b. 18 June 1745 in Paris), the novice mistress, was the predecessor of Mother Thérèse. She “made herself esteemed for the qualitites of her heart, her tender piety, zeal, the happy combination of every religious virtue.”
Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection (Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret;b. 16 September 1715 in Mouy, Oise), the most senior member of the community, possessed a lively temperament. Fond of frequenting balls in her youth, she entered Carmel “after a tragic event.”She served as infirmarian to the point of developing a spinal column deformation that she endured until death.
Sr. of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt; b. 09 December 1715 in Paris) was younger than Sr. Charlotte by a few months but was senior to her by profession. She occupied the office of sacristan for many years.Speaking about their persecutors, she said: “How can we be angry with them when they open the gates of heaven for us?”
Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary (Marie Hanisset; b. 18 January 1742 in Reims), first sister of the turn and third bursar, was endowed with wisdom, prudence and discernment.
Sr. Thérèse of St. Ignatius (Marie-Gabrielle Trezel; b. 04 April 1743 in Compiègne), the “hidden treasure” of the community, was undoubtedly a mystic. Asked why she never brought a book for meditation, she replied: “The good God has found me so ignorant that none but He would be able to instruct me.”
Sr. Julie-Louise of Jesus (Rose Cretien de Neuville; b. 30 December 1741 in Evreux) entered Carmel as a widow. She dreaded the guillotine but she chose to stay with her sisters.
Sr. Marie-Henriette of Providence (Marie-Annette Pelras; b. 16 June 1760 in Cajarc, Lot), the assitant infirmarian, first entered the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers but left it for the more secluded Carmelite life. Youngest among the choir nuns, she possessed a most exquisite beauty.
Sr. Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception (Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard; b. 12 May 1736 in Bourth, Eure),the “philosopher” and “joie de vivre of the recreation,”admitted that she was filled for some time with resentment against her prioress. She worked very hard on herself that in the end she was able to overcome her negative disposition.
Along with these ten choir nuns were three lay sisters. Sr. Marie of the Holy Spirit (Angélique Roussel; b. 03 August 1742 at Fresne-Mazancourt, Somme) was afflicted by atrocious pains throughout her body, which she heroically bore up until her death. Sr. St. Martha (Marie Dufour, b 02 October 1741 at Bannes, Sarthe) edified her companions with her virtues. Sr. St. Francis Xavier (Elisabeth-Juliette Vérolot; b. 13 January 1764 at Lignières, Aube) was frank, lively, and full of goodness.
The youngest member of the community was Sr. Constance(Marie-Geneviève Meunier; b. 28 May 1765 at Saint Denis, Seine)Circumstances forced her to remain as a novice for seven years. Her parents wanted her to return home and even sent the police for this purpose. Sr. Constance told them: “Gentlemen, I thank my parents if, out of love, they fear the danger that may befall me. Yet nothing except death can separate me from my mothers and sisters.”
The two tourières were blood sisters. Anne-Catherine Soiron (b. 02 February 1742 in Compiègne)tearfully begged the prioress not to let her and her sister be separated from the community during those crucial hours. Thérèse Soiron,(b. 23 January 1748 in Compiègne) possessed such a rare beauty and charming personality that the ill-fated Princess de Lamballe wanted her to be attached to her court. She responded: “Madame, even if your Highness would offer me the crown of France, I would prefer to remain in this house, where the good God placed me and where I found the means of salvation which I would not find in the house of your Highness.
On 23 June, the sixteen nuns were forcibly reunited in the Maison de Reclusion, a former monastery of the Visitation Nuns. In the room next to theirs were imprisoned a group of English Benedictine Nuns from Cambrai. The following day, the Carmelites retracted before the town mayor the Oath of Liberté-Égalité they had made – thus signing their own death warrant. Meanwhile, their captors waited for instructions from the Committee for Public Safety in Paris.
The three-week imprisonment was very harsh. The food was hardly palatable and the sick were not given any special diet. A few straws on the bare floor served as their beds. The two communities of nuns were forbidden to communicate with each other, yet the abbess of the Benedictines, Mother Mary Blyde, somehow was able to converse with the Carmelites on two occasions. Fresh clothing was denied the nuns, yet they were forbidden to wash their soiled clothes. After many solicitations, they were finally granted a particular day to do their washing – but they never even had the chance to finish their laundry.
At 10:00 a.m. of 12 July, members of the Revolutionary Committee of Compiègne came with orders from Paris to transfer the Carmelites to the dreaded Conciergerie at the capital. Mother Thérèse protested the untimely order.Their civilian clothes had just been put to soak. She requested permission to seek fresh clothing for her sisters to bring along. This was straightforwardly refused. Therefore, the nuns had to go to Paris wearing part of what was once their religious habits, the only dry clothing that was available.
After finishing their meager repast, the sixteen bade adieu to their Benedictine companions. With hands bound behind their back, they were herded into two carts for the long journey to Paris. Along with them was arrested a citizen named Mulot de la Ménardière, accused as an accomplice of the nuns. A great number of women, many of whom the nuns helped in many ways, sneered at them: “They do well to destroy them. They are useless mouths. Bravo! Bravo!” Mother Thérèse meanwhile calmed Catherine Soiron who was outraged by the way they were being maltreated.
The caravan arrived at the Conciergerie between three to four in the afternoon of the following day. With their hands still tied behind them, the sisters went down one by one and stood waiting in the prison courtyard. However, the octogenarian Sr. Charlotte, deprived of her crutch and with no one to assist her, could not descend from the cart. An impatient soldier jumped aboard and callously threw her upon the paving stones where she laid motionless. Fearing he had killed her, the soldier lifted up the old nun whose face was covered with blood. “Believe me,” she told him, “I am not angry with you. On the contrary, I thank you for not having killed me for if I have died in your hands, I would have been deprived of the joy and glory of martyrdom.”
While waiting for their trial, the nuns occupied themselves with prayers and works of charity. They sought the sick among the imprisoned and attended to them even until late in the night. During daylight, they continued to celebrate the divine office faithfully. The other prisoners woke in the middle of the night hearing the nuns chanting Matins. Sr. Julie-Louise celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (16 July) by composing a canticle to the tune of the Marsellaise. Mother Thérèse continually supported the sisters with her exemplary courage, calmness, and maternal attention to the needs of their distressed bodies.
At around 9:00 a.m. of 17 July, the sixteen were brought to the Courtroom of Liberty where the Revolutionary Tribunal performed its functions. They were led before the three judges and the notorious Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, the Terror’s implacable public prosecutor. He read the Act of Accusation:
With regard the ex-Carmelite religious Lidoine, Thouret, Brard, Dufour and the others, they kept up, although separated by their abodes, anti-revolutionary meetings and cabal among themselves and wish others whom they brought together and, by taking up again their spirit of sisterhood, conspired against the Republic. A voluminous correspondence found in their possession proves that they did not cease to plot against the Revolution. A portrait of Capet [Louis XVI], his will, the hearts, which are the rallying signs of the Vendean rebels, fanatical puerility, accompanied by the letter of an émigré priest dated 1793, proved that they were in correspondence with the external enemies of France. Such are the marks of the Confederacy formed among themselves. They lived under obedience to a superior and, as for their principles and vows, their letters and writings bear witness to them…. They are more than a band, an assembly of rebels, with criminal hope of seeing the French people returned to the chains of tyrants and to the slavery of bloodthirsty priests who are impostors as well.
Sr. Marie-Henriette did not fail to ignore the phrase “fanatical puerility”. She asked Fouquier-Tinville to explain:
What I mean is your attachment to your childish beliefs, your stupid religious practices.”
She then turned to the other nuns and said to them: “My dear Mother and sisters, let us rejoice in the Lord for this. We are going to die for the cause of our holy religion, our faith, our reliance in the holy Roman Catholic Church.”
Mother Thérèse addressed the judges: “The letters that we have received are from the chaplain of our house condemned by your law to be deported. These letters contain nothing more than spiritual advises. At most, if these correspondences be a crime, this should be considered as mine, not of the community as our Rule forbids the sisters from making any correspondence, even with their nearest relations, without the permission of their superior. If therefore you must have a victim, here she is: it is I alone whom you must strike. My sisters are innocent.”
They are your accomplices!” was the blunt reply of the presiding judge. In the end, the sixteen were convicted as enemies of the people. A sentence was given: death by guillotine.
The nuns received their penalty with serenity and joy. However, Thérèse Soiron fainted. Tension, fatigue, and lack of sleep and nourishment finally broke her down. The prioress quickly asked a constable for a glass of water for the tourière. When she regained consciousness, Thérèse asked pardon for her weakness and assured them she was ready to be faithful to the end.
After that incident, it became quite clear that the nuns needed something to eat. After all, they had not eaten anything since the break of dawn. With the permission of the prioress, Mother St. Louis bartered a pelisse in exchange for sixteen cups of chocolate. Thus, while the executioner carried out on the other condemned prisoners the last “toilet” – the trimming away of hair and ripping of any clothing that may impede the decapitation of their heads – the nuns had the opportunity to dine in common before their execution.
The sentence was to be completed that same evening. The community was praying the Office for the Dead when they were summoned. The nuns bade farewell to the other prisoners, among them was a devout Catholic named Blot: “How come our dear Blot is crying? Rather, you should rejoice to see us at the end of our trials. Recommend us well to the good God and the most holy Virgin that they may assist us in these final hours. We will pray for you when we are in heaven.”
Cloaked in their white mantles and with hands bound at their backs, the sixteen recollectedly boarded the tumbrils that would bring them to Place du Trône Renversé where the guillotine awaited them. Along the way, priests disguised as sans-culottes gave them absolution. The journey was long… but the air was permeated by their solemn chants of the sixteen, singing as they did in choir: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense…. Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy….”
The guillotine had been standing for more than a month already at the Barrière du Trône. Upon arriving there, Sr. Constance suddenly accused herself before Mother Thérèse of not having finished her divine office.ioress, told her: “Be strong, daughter.You will finish it in Paradise!” Twenty-four others were executed that day but we do not know any detail concerning them.
At the foot of the scaffold, the prioress asked the executioner if she might die last so that she could encourage and support her sister. She also asked for a few minutes to prepare them.This time her requests were granted. They sang once more, invoking the Holy Spirit: “Creator Spirit, come….” Afterward, they all renewed their religious vows.The ceremony completed, one unknown sister was overheard saying: “O my God! I am just too happy if this little sacrifice calms your wrath and lessens the number of victims.”
One by one, from the youngest to the oldest, the nuns were called.
Citizeness Marie Geneviève Meunier!”
Summoned by her real name, Sr. Constance knelt before Mother Thérèse and asked for her blessing and the permission to die. This being given, the novice kissed a small red-clay statuette of the Virgin and Child that Mother Thérèse had been concealing in her hand.
Sr. Constance mounted the scaffold singing the psalm the nuns chanted daily to announce their coming into the house of God: “O praise the Lord, all you nations…”
Her sisters followed: “…acclaim him, all you peoples! Strong is his love for us; he is faithful for ever.”
All the sisters followed the example of the novice. They each went to their death joining the song of those waiting for their turn.While the blade of the guillotine snuffed their lives one by one, the chorus progressed into a decrescendo. As she ascended the scaffold, Sr. of Jesus Crucified was assisted by the assistants of the executioner.“My friends,” she told them, “I forgive you with all my heart, as I desire forgiveness from God.”
Finally, only one voice was left.
“Citizeness Marie Madeleine Claudine Lidoine!”
Having seen fifteen of her daughters precede her to the scaffold, Mother Thérèse followed them to the guillotine. At the sixteenth thud, there was nothing left… but silence. On that day, it was said, more than one religious vocation was born and just as many conversions took place.
Ten days later, amidst cacophonous shouts and screams, an infuriated and disillusioned crowd led a man to his death on the guillotine. “Down with the tyrant!” they cried. This time, it was the turn of Maximilien Robespierre. More than a week later, an enervated Antoine Fouquier-Tinville followed his fate on the very instrument where he had sent hundreds to their death. And with the inglorious end of these two died, also, the Reign of Terror.
THE DECREE ON THE MARTYRDOM OF MARIE-MADELEINE-CLAUDINE LIDOINE (THÉRÈSE OF ST. AUGUSTINE) AND HER SIXTEEN COMPANION MARTYRS WAS PROMULGATED ON 24 JUNE 1905.
SALVATION IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE OUR SOULS ARE IMMORTAL
My friends, our souls are immortal. They are spirits that will live forever. Material things are subject to decay and death, but spirits will never die. The universal longing for immortality was planted in the human heart by God. It could not arise from error or misconception. The spirituality of the soul is quite evident from our actions. The actions of inferior creatures are governed by fixed laws, which God has implanted in their very nature. When subjected to the same external conditions, a flower blooms to-day as it did at the dawn of creation, and birds build their nests in our age as their ancestors did in the garden of Eden. But we, with our intelligence and free will, can produce actions that transcend matter. We can form ideas, reason and deliberately exercise dominion over our human actions. And, if we thus produce the actions of spirits, the principle of life within us must be a spirit, though it is not revealed by the surgeon’s knife, nor by the chemist’s test-tube. This teaching of reason is emphasized by the Holy Ghost, who says: “God made man incorruptible, and to the image of His own likeness He made him” (Wis. ii. 23). Now, as the cradle and the grave of every one is in the vestibule of eternity, we should seriously meditate on those words of our Saviour in which He asks: “What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matt. xvi. 26). For we “were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, but with the precious Blood of Jesus Christ” (i Peter i. 18, 19).
SALVATION IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT IS THE OBJECT OF OUR EXISTENCE
My Brethren, God said to the Israelites of old: “I place before thee this day life and good, and on the other hand death and evil” (Deut. xxx. 15). He says the same to us to-day: “I place before you life and death.” We must enter eternity. Before us is the happiness of heaven, or the misery of hell. Every step we take, every breath we draw, brings us nearer the brink of eternity. Enter eternity we must. We cannot return to that nothingness from which God created us. We cannot stray so far away from Him that His all-seeing eye will not be upon us, or that His all-powerful hand cannot arrest us and bring us to judgment. We must go on in existence forever and forever, for “man shall go into the house of his eternity” (Eccles. xii. 5). We must now choose between an eternity in heaven and an eternity in hell. With death the time of our trial will come to an end. As we now sow, so shall we then reap. To encourage us to work for Heaven now, St. Paul said: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (i Cor. ii. 9). God was even more explicit when He said to Abraham: “Fear not, I am thy protector, and thy reward exceeding great” (Gen. xv. i). The fact is that we can find our happiness only in God. In creating us He has implanted in our hearts a longing for an endless possession of an infinite good. This He alone can satisfy. St. Augustine acknowledged this longing when he said: “Thou hast created me, O God, and my heart will never rest till it rest in Thee!” If we are interested in our own happiness we will, therefore, not content ourselves with loving God in a negative way by striving to avoid sin. We will ever give Him the first place in our mind’s esteem and in our heart’s affection. We will resolutely turn away from all inordinate concupiscence and avoid the voluntary occasions of sin. Knowing that we can do nothing without God’s help, we should daily renew our consecration to Him and make Him the source of our strength, by fidelity in the practice of our devotions.
SALVATION IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE OF THE WORTH OF OUR SOULS
Another reason, my dear Brethren, why the salvation of our souls should be the most important affair of our daily life is found in their objective value. We treasure an article in proportion to its intrinsic value. Even a child knows how to choose between a penny, a dime, and a dollar. Now, the fact is, our souls are the most valuable things in this world. This is evident from the history of creation. When God created the sun, the moon, and the earth, with its varied vegetable and animal life, He merely said: “Let them be,” but when He came to the creation of man, the Almighty considered the work of so great importance that the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity first held a consultation. Only then did they say: “Let us make man to our image and likeness” (Gen. i. 26). Again, in proportion to the value of an article we wish to send, we take precaution that it reaches its destination. A postal card may suffice for a message, but an article of importance we send by registered mail or entrust to the keeping of one of our own household. Now, this precaution God took when He created your immortal soul and sent it on the journey to eternity. He entrusted it to the guardianship of an angel, one of His own household. Though Providence watches over the grass in the fields, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the forest, He entrusted man alone to the special protection of a guardian angel.
In the second place, the value of the human soul is evident from the work of the Redemption. You and I might go to a sale and later on regret the rashness of our purchase. But Jesus Christ is the God of infinite wisdom. He could make no mistake nor do a foolish thing. In the parable of the merchant who went into a far-off country in search of pearls He teaches us the objective value of human souls. For He himself is that merchant, who left His starry throne in heaven and came into this country of misery and sin in search of the pearls of our immortal souls. And when He found them, defiled by original sin and steeped in the mire of ignorance and vice, He deliberately estimated their value as immortal images of His Father in Heaven. He then sold everything He had as man to buy those pearls. He sold His honor by allowing Himself to be mocked, reviled and spit upon. He sold His liberty by permitting Himself to be taken prisoner. He sold His virginal flesh by submitting to a cruel scourging and an ignominious crowning with thorns. He sold His very life by consenting to die the shameful death of the Cross. Remember that He said: “No man taketh my life from me: but I lay it down of myself” (John x. 18). The great St. Bernard, therefore, truly says: “O Christian soul, do you wish to know your true value? Then go in spirit to Calvary’s heights. Consider the life of the Saviour on earth, His prayers, His labors, His sacrifices. Yes, estimate this human life of the Son of God at its true value, and you will find the value at which He has estimated your own soul in particular, for He gave this life for your redemption.”
Finally, if we must have an object-lesson in our day to convince us of the importance of saving our immortal souls, we need but look at the Church which our Saviour has instituted to carry on His work on earth. Behold not only those costly temples that have been erected by the faith and sacrifice of the faithful to give “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will” (Luke ii. 14), but concentrate your attention rather on those living temples of the Most High, those other Christs, priests and religious, who have consecrated their lives to the salvation of mankind. With St. Peter they can say to the Master: “Behold we have left all things, and have followed Thee” (Mark x. 28). While other men and women were busy about many things, they thought of the one thing necessary. While others planned their own temporal happiness, they planned for the eternal happiness of all redeemed by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ. While many others spent their youth in pursuing the follies of life, they, like the Master, spent their time in prayer, in study, and in self-discipline, to prepare themselves for their sublime ministry. Thanks to the ministry of the priest, you were born to the spiritual life in holy Baptism, cleansed from your actual sins in the tribunal of Penance, and nourished with the living bread that came down from Heaven. He ministers to you the countless blessings of Jesus Christ during life, consoles you in the hour of death and hastens your entrance into Heaven. Behold that countless number of generous women that “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” (Apoc. xiv. 4). As the holy women in the Gospel ministered to the Saviour, so these minister to the least of His brethren to-day. They teach our children to know, to love, and to serve God. They adopt our orphans and cherish them with maternal love. Like true angels of charity they minister to the sick and the dying, and they shelter even the aged and the outcast and serve them with filial love. We read in the life of the great St. Francis Xavier, Apostle of India, that he said, when he learned that a child he had baptized had died: “If I had no other recompense for all my labors, privations and prayers than the assurance that a single soul, redeemed by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, has been saved, I would consider my life well spent.”
Ah, my dearly beloved brethren, only when we consider the importance of salvation in the light of faith do our souls appear in their true perspective. In the balance of eternity the things that end with time dwindle into insignificance. God and the soul remain. God is eternal; the soul is His immortal image. We now have time, grace and opportunity to save our souls. If now we hearken to the voice of Christ we shall be happy for all eternity; if not, it were better for us if we had never been born. Judas was destined to save countless souls as an Apostle. By betraying his Master for a few pieces of silver he lost his own immortal soul. On the other hand, the good thief heard the Master’s voice only when he saw Him dying at his side. Others had witnessed stupendous miracles, he beheld the Redeemer lay down His life for the human race and humbly begged to be remembered. His faith was rewarded by the promise of Paradise. My friends, what are we prepared to do for our eternal happiness? If there be anyone among you, my hearers, who is not seriously looking toward that end or who has turned away from it, let him take to heart, the warning of St. Paul, who exhorts us that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil, ii. 12.) “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. vi. 2).
Prayer to Venerate With Solemn Worship The Price of Our Salvation
Almighty, and everlasting God, who hast appointed thine only- begotten Son to be the Redeemer of the world, and hast been pleased to be reconciled unto us by His Blood, grant us, we beseech Thee, so to venerate with solemn worship the price of our salvation, that the power thereof may here on earth keep us from all things hurtful, and the fruit of the same may gladden us for ever hereafter in heaven Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen
(An Indulgence of 5 Years –Roman Missal)
Through the Holy Spirit
He Offered Himself Without Blemish to God
To the One Who Love Us
Who Washed Our Sins Through His Blood
And Made Us Kings and Priests of God His Father
To Him Be Glory and Power. Amen
Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Dom Gueranger, 1866
John the Baptist has pointed out the Lamb, Peter has firmly fixed His throne, Paul has prepared the Bride; this their joint work, admirable in its unity, at once suggests the reason for their feasts occurring almost simultaneously on the cycle. The alliance being now secured, all three fall into shade; whilst the Bride herself, raised up by them to such lofty heights, appears alone before us, holding in her hands the sacred cup of the nuptial-feast.
This gives the key of today’s solemnity; revealing how its illumining the heavens of the holy Liturgy, at this particular season, is replete with mystery. The Church, it is true, has already made known to the sons of the New Covenant, and in a much more solemn manner, the price of the Blood that redeemed them, its nutritive strength, and the adoring homage which is its due. Yes; on Good Friday, earth and heaven beheld all sin drowned in the saving stream, whose eternal flood-gates at last gave way, beneath the combined effort of man’s violence and of the love of the divine Heart. The festival of Corpus Christi witnessed our prostrate worship before the altars whereon is perpetuated the Sacrifice of Calvary, and where the outpouring of the Precious Blood affords drink to the humblest little ones, as well as to the mightiest potentates of earth, lowly bowed in adoration before it. How is it, then, that Holy Church is now inviting all Christians to hail, in a particular manner, the stream of life ever gushing from the sacred fount? What else can this mean, but that the preceding solemnities have by no means exhausted the mystery? The peace which the Blood has made to reign in the high places as well as in the low; the impetus of its wave bearing back the sons of Adam from the yawning gulf, purified, renewed, and dazzling white in the radiance of their heavenly apparel; the Sacred Table outspread before them, on the waters’ brink, and the Chalice brimful of inebriation; all this preparation and display would be objectless, all these splendours would be incomprehensible, if man were not brought to see therein the wooings of a love that could never endure its advances to be outdone by the pretensions of any other. Therefore, the Blood of Jesus is set before our eyes, at this moment, as the Blood of the Testament; the pledge of the alliance proposed to us by God (Exod. xxiv. 8; Heb. ix. 20); the dower stipulated upon by Eternal Wisdom for this divine union to which He is inviting all men, and whereof the consummation in our soul is being urged forward with such vehemence by the Holy Ghost.
“Having therefore, Brethren, a confidence in the entering into the Holies by the Blood of Christ,” says the Apostle, “a new and living way which He hath dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, let us draw near with a pure heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with clean water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he is faithful that hath promised. Let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and to good works (Heb. x. 19-24). And may the God of peace who brought again from the dead the great pastor of the sheep, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Blood of the everlasting Testament, fit you in all goodness, that you may do His will: doing in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom is glory for ever and ever. Amen!” (Ibid. xiii. 20, 21)
Nor must we omit to mention here, that this feast is a monument of one of the most brilliant victories of Holy Church, in our own age. Pius IX. had been driven from Rome in 1848, by the triumphant revolution; but the following year, just about this very season, his power was re-established. Under the aegis of the Apostles on June 28th and the two following days, the eldest daughter of the Church, faithful to her past glories, swept the ramparts of the Eternal City; and on July 2nd, Mary’s festival, the victory was completed. Not long after this, a twofold decree notified to the City and to the world the Pontiff’s gratitude and the way in which he intended to perpetuate, in the sacred Liturgy, the memory of these events. On August 10th, from Gaeta itself, the place of his exile in the evil day, Pius IX, before returning to re-assume the government of his States, addressing himself to the invisible Head of the Church, confined her in a special manner to His divine care, by the institution of this day’s Festival; reminding Him that it was for His Church that He vouchsafed to shed all His Precious Blood.
Then, when the Pontiff re-entered his Capital, turning to Mary, just as Pius V. and Pius VII. had done under other circumstances, he, the Vicar of Christ, solemnly attributed the honour of the recent victory to Her who is ever the “Help of Christians,” for on the Feast of Her Visitation it had been gained; and he now decreed that this said Feast of July 2nd should be raised from the rite of double-major to that of second class throughout the whole world. This was but a prelude to the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which the immortal Pontiff had already in project, whereby the crushing of the serpent’s head would be completed.
The Nativity of St. John, the Baptist
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
In the holy Gospel, the nativity of St. John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Christ, is described by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, not only for our instruction, but also that we may rejoice in the Lord our God. In the mountains of Judaea, at Hebron, eight miles from Jerusalem, lived Zachary and Elizabeth. They were just people, and lived in accordance with the commandments of God, but had no children, although they had prayed for them many years. The great age which they had attained, naturally gave them no longer any hope of issue. But still they continued their prayer. One day, when Zachary, who was a priest, offered incense in the Temple at Jerusalem, he saw at the right side of the altar, an angel, whose appearance filled the pious old man with fear and trembling. The angel, however, said to him: ” Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard. Elizabeth, thy wife, shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. He shall bring thee joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. He shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. He shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God: and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias: that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.”
Zachary listened with great astonishment: the angel’s promise seemed to him to be out of the course of nature. Hence, he said: “Whereby shall I know this? For, I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered: “I am Gabriel, who stand before God, and I am sent to speak to thee and bring thee these good tidings. And behold, thou shalt be dumb and not able to speak until the day wherein these things shall come to pass, because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their time.” After this the angel disappeared, and Zachary, mute from that hour, returned home after he had discharged his priestly functions.
The words of the Archangel Gabriel came to pass. Elizabeth conceived and gave praise and thanks to God that He had removed from her the disgrace of being barren. Six months later, the Most High sent the angel Gabriel to the blessed Virgin, at Nazareth, to announce to her that she should become the mother of the long expected Messiah. He at the same time informed her that her cousin Elizabeth, although she was old and barren, had conceived a son, as to God nothing was impossible. After Mary had resigned herself with deep humility to the will of the Almighty, and become the mother of the Son of God, she went into the mountains of Judaea, to the house of Elizabeth and Zachary. She did not go to see if the angel’s words in regard to Elizabeth were true, but to congratulate her happy cousin, and render her such services as she would need. The Gospel assures us that when the Virgin Mother entered the dwelling of Zachary and greeted Elizabeth, John, the yet unborn child, leaped for joy in his mother’s womb, as soon as Mary’s words of salutation reached Elizabeth’s ear, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost. This leaping of the unborn Saint, was, according to the holy fathers, a sign that John, by special favor of the Almighty, knew the Saviour, yet concealed from the eyes of the world, and rejoicing in His presence, adored Him. Hence they teach that John was at that moment cleansed from original sin and filled with the Holy Ghost, and thus fulfilled the words of the angel and was sanctified in the womb of his mother.
At length came the time when he was to see the light of day, and Elizabeth gave birth to him whom the angel had promised and prophesied. When the neighbors and relatives heard how gracious God had been to Elizabeth, they all went to see her and congratulate her. On the eighth day the child was circumcised according to the law. As children, on this occasion, received a name, the relatives wished to give him that of his father, but Elizabeth opposed it, saying: ” John is his name!” “But there is none among thy kindred that is called by this name,” said her friends. Elizabeth, however, remained inflexible. Turning to the still mute Zachary, they desired to know how he would have him called. Zachary asked for a writing-table and wrote; “John is his name.” And at the same time his speech returned, and filled with the Holy Ghost, he gave thanks to God in the beautiful hymn which is one of the daily prayers of the Church, and begins: ” Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people.” All those present marvelled at these events, praised God, and spread among the people all that they had heard and seen, and concluded from it that the new-born child was destined to be great among them. Hence they said to each other: “What do you think shall this child be? for the hand of the Lord is with him.”
Thus writes St. Luke, in his gospel, of the nativity of St. John, and then adds that, “he grew and was strengthened in spirit;” and was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel, by his preaching and baptizing.
Several holy fathers write that Elizabeth fled with her child into the desert, to conceal herself from the cruelties of king Herod; and that John was nourished and kept either by an angel or in some other manner by divine Providence. Others write that, in his third or at most in his fifth year, he had voluntarily gone into the desert, eager to serve God more perfectly and to prepare himself for his mission. No one ought to think this incredible; since, even before he was born, he was gifted with the use of his reason, and comprehended the great mission to which he was called by the Almighty. So much is certain that he was from his most tender years in the wilderness. The holy Evangelists and the holy fathers tell us what manner of life he led there. He subsisted on wild honey and locusts, which are used as food in the East; but he ate so little, that our Lord said of him, that he had neither taken food nor drink. His drink was water; his garments, a coat of camels’-hair, which was fastened round his loins by a leathern belt. The ground was his bed, and he employed day and night in prayer and meditation. By fasting and other austere penances, he prepared himself for his mission. St. Augustine remarks that the severe life of penance of John was the model after which the hermits regulated their lives; hence they acknowledge him as their founder.
When in his thirtieth year, St. John was admonished by God to leave the wilderness and commence his mission. Going to the river Jordan, he preached penance and baptized the penitents. This baptism was not that which Christ instituted in the course of time: neither had it the power which the baptism of Christ has; but was only a sign of penance. In the Gospel it is related how great a multitude of people came to St. John; what he preached; how he exhorted them to do penance: how he had the honor to baptize Christ Himself, and what occurred during this event. The splendid testimony is spoken of, which he gave at different times, to the effect that Christ was the true Messiah. It is also recorded what he answered to those who were sent to him to ask whether he was the promised Messiah; for, his life was so holy and wonderful, that many believed him to be the long promised Redeemer. The events of the latter part of the life of this Saint will be related in the chapter for the day on which the church commemorates his decapitation.
Among the writings of the holy Fathers we find many sermons which contain magnificent praises of the virtues of St. John, the Baptist. They call him an angel in the flesh; an apostle in his sermons; a miracle of penance; the first hermit who induced so many thousands to imitate him; the first preacher of repentance, and proclaimer of the heavenly kingdom. They praise his fearlessness in reproving vice, both in high and in low; his deep humility, by which he deemed himself not worthy to baptize Christ, or even to unloose the latchet of His shoes; his angelic purity; his continual penance and his unwearied zeal for the honor of God and the welfare of men. But what should inspire every one with the greatest reverence towards this Saint is the fact, that Christ our Lord Himself praised the greatness and holiness of St. John so frequently, and said that among men there had been none greater than John the Baptist. What more can be said in his praise?
At the time when the Divine Mother visited her holy cousin Elizabeth, the yet unborn John was cleansed from original sin and sanctified by the grace of the Almighty. What an inexpressibly great grace! You partook of the same after your birth, when you received holy baptism. You were at that time cleansed from the stain of original sin, and from a child of wrath became a child of God, a temple and a dwelling of the Holy Ghost, and obtained the right to eternal happiness. ” Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called and should be the sons of God;” writes the holy Apostle John (John iii.) Consider this unspeakably great favor which God in His mercy has shown to you, in preference to so many thousands. But have you ever made manifest to God your gratitude for this great mercy? Commence this day to offer your thanks to Him, and repeat them yearly on the day of your birth or of your baptism. Take heed that you turn not again to a child of wrath from a child of God, and that from “a dwelling of the Holy Ghost you become not a habitation for the devil; and thus, by sin, forfeit the claim you had on heaven. “By baptism, you have become a temple and a dwelling of the Holy Ghost,” says St. Leo; “do not drive away so noble an inhabitant and become again a slave of the devil.”
St. John kept the grace and innocence which he received in the womb of his mother unimpaired, and yet led a most austere life from his tenderest years until his end. How does it happen that you have such an aversion to all penances, as you certainly must know that you have long since lost the grace and innocence received in holy baptism? Why will you not mortifiy your body either by fasts or other acts of self-denial? Why do you persist in allowing yourself all that your body desires; and why do you avoid every thing that is in the least burdensome or hard for you? “John punished and mortified his innocent body so severely;” says St. Bernard, “and you desire to adorn your sinful body with silk and velvet, and nourish it with delicate food.” How is this? How do you suppose you will be able to render an account of your doings to God? Truly, if we could save our souls as easily without all self-denial, by enjoying the pleasures of the world, and living in comfort and luxury, we might say that John did not act wisely in leading so severe a life. But who dares even think this of one who before he was born was already filled with the Holy Ghost? We act very unwisely if we flatter ourselves that, living so different a life, shall obtain a place in heaven near him. “Hence,” says the above-cited holy teacher, “let us encourage ourselves to do penance,” in consideration of the austere penances, of St. John. “Let us stimulate ourselves to mortify our bodies, that we may escape the awful judgment of the living God.”
Homily of St. Ambrose
Elizabeth brought forth a son, and her neighbors rejoiced with her. The birth of Saints brings joy to very many, since it is a benefit to all; for justice is a virtue for all. And so, in the birth of a just man, a token of his future life is foreshown, and the grace of the virtue to come is expressed by the prophetic joy of the neighbors. It is fitting that there should be mention of the time when the Prophet was in the womb, lest the presence of Mary should not be remembered; but nothing is told of the time of his childhood, for he did not know the disabilities of childhood. And so we read nothing of him in the Gospel, except his birth, and his announcement, the leaping in the womb, the voice in the wilderness.
For he did not experience the helplessness of childhood, he who supernaturally, outstripping his age, began from the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ, when still tying in his mother’s womb. It is strange how the holy Evangelist thought it necessary to tell us that many considered that the child should be called by his father’s name of Zachary; in order that you might notice that the mother would not have the name of any relative, but only that given by the Holy Ghost, which the Angel had previously announced to Zachary. And indeed, the latter, still dumb, could not tell his wife the name of their son; but Elizabeth learned by prophecy what she had not learned from her husband.
John, he says, is his name; that is, it is not for us to give a name to the one who has already received a name from God. He has his name, which we know, but we did not choose it. To receive a name from God is one of the rewards of the Saints. So Jacob was called Israel, because he saw God. So our Lord Jesus was named before he was born; not an Angel, however, but his Father gave him his name. You see that Angels announce what they have heard, not what they take upon themselves. Do not wonder, that the woman pronounced a name she had not heard; when the Holy Ghost, who had commanded the Angel, revealed it to her.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Christ hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven,
Have mercy on us.*
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,*
God the Holy Ghost,*
Holy Trinity, one God,*
Pray for us.**
Queen of Prophets,**
Queen of Martyrs,**
St. John the Baptist,**
St. John the Baptist, glorious forerunner of the Son of justice,**
St. John the Baptist, minister of baptism to Jesus,**
St. John the Baptist, burning and shining lamp of the world,**
St. John the Baptist, angel of purity, before thy birth,**
St. John the Baptist, special friend and favorite of Christ,**
St. John the Baptist, heavenly contemplative, whose element was prayer,**
St. John the Baptist, intrepid preacher of truth,**
St. John the Baptist, miracle of mortification and penance,**
St. John the Baptist, example of profound humility,**
St. John the Baptist, glorious martyr of zeal for God’s holy law,**
St. John the Baptist, glorious patron of this State,**
Lamb of God, Who Takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God! Who takest away the sins of the world,
Hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God! Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us;
Christ, graciously hear us.
V. Pray for us, O glorious St. John the Baptist,
R. That we may be made worth of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray.
O God, Who hast honored this world by the birth of St. John the Baptist, grant that Thy faithful people may rejoice in the way of eternal salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
A Novena to St. John the Baptist
O Glorious precursor of Jesus Christ! great prophet of the Most High! angel of the Lord! who wert created to go before his face, and to prepare his ways, how high must thy throne be in heaven, since even on earth thou wert so exalted! Thou art truly the first and greatest amongst those born of woman, since the Searcher of hearts pronounced thee such. Thou wert great in thy miraculous birth and wonderful life–great in thy penance and in thy zeal; but thou wert much greater in thy purity of heart, and in the depth of thy humility. Thou didst enter this world of sin in the friendship of thy Creator, and never had the misfortune to offend him–thou wert the minister of baptism to Jesus Christ, yet thou didst humbly acknowledge thyself unworthy to loose the latchet of his shoe. O great saint! that glory which always follows the humble, has been abundantly granted to thee. Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed thy praises, and the whole world, to the end of time, will rejoice in thy sacred birth. O miracle of God’s power and grace! I conjure thee to raise for us and for all the people of this state, of which thou art the special patron, that powerful voice, which once crying in the wilderness, penetrated the heavens in favor of sinners; and to implore for us the intentions of this Novena, N.N.
O blessed contemplative, whose sweet communications with God were earlier than thy birth; thy food and thy life were the heavenly exercise of prayer; thou wert by excellence the friend of the bridegroom, and canst therefore obtain all things of Him, Who so ardently loved thee. Deign then to take all my spiritual necessities under thy protection, and to obtain for us all the graces we stand in need of, particularly perfect docility to the voice of those who preach to us, as thou didst to the Jews, the baptism of penance for the remission of our sins.
O burning lamp! may our hearts be at length inflamed with the fire of love which consumed thee, and which is cast also amongst us by the zealous preaching of those whom the Lord has sent amongst us, to show us the way to Him. O shining lamp! enlighten us by thy prayers, that w may know ourselves but infinitely more, that we may know our God and His only Son Jesus Christ our Lord whom He hath sent, obtain for us to participate frequently and worthily in the holy communion, and with the purity of heart, which enables thee to discover the Lamb of God, though he was then hidden from all others. O blessed martyr of Jesus Christ, though I am most unworthy to lay down my life for his love as thou didst, yet I entreat of thee to intercede for me that I may live and die in the happy martyrdom of Christian mortification, and the faithful discharge of every duty required by the divine law. Amen
Prayer to St. John the Baptist
O glorious Saint John the Baptist, greatest prophet among those born of woman, although thou wast sanctified in thy mother’s womb and didst lead a most innocent life, nevertheless it was thy will to retire into the wilderness, there to devote thyself to the practice of austerity and penance; obtain for us of thy Lord the grace to be wholly detached, at least in our hearts, from earthly goods, and to practice Christian mortification with interior recollection and with the spirit of holy prayer.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc.
O most zealous Apostle, who, without working any miracle on others, but solely by the example of thy life of penance and the power of thy word, didst draw after thee the multitudes, in order to dispose them to receive the Messias worthily and to listen to His heavenly doctrine; grant that it may be given unto us, by means of the example of a holy life and the exercise of every good work, to bring many souls to God, but above all those souls that are enveloped in the darkness of error and ignorance and are led astray by vice.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.
O Martyr invincible, who, for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, didst with firmness and constancy withstand the impiety of Herod even at the cost of thine own life, and didst rebuke him openly for his wicked and dissolute life; by thy prayers obtain for us a heart, brave and generous, in order that we may overcome all human respect and openly profess our faith in loyal obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, our divine Master.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.
V. Pray for us. Saint John the Baptist,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray.
O God, who hast made this day to be honorable in our eyes by the Nativity (or commemoration) of blessed John, grant unto Thy people the grace of spiritual joy, and direct the minds of all Thy faithful into the way of everlasting salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
Indulgence of 3 years; indulgence of 5 years once a day, if the prayers are said with the intention of completing a triduum; plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, at the close of the triduum.
Hymn: Antra deserti
Thou, in thy childhood, to the desert caverns
Fleddest for refuge from the cities’ turmoil,
Where the world’s slander might not dim thy luster,
Camel’s hair raiment clothed thy saintly members;
Leathern the girdle which thy loins encircled;
Locusts and honey, with the fountain-water,
Daily sustained thee.
Oft in past ages, seers with hearts expectant
Sang the far-distant advent of the Daystar;
Thine was the glory, as the world’s Redeemer
First to proclaim him.
Far as the wide world reacheth, born of woman,
Holier was there none than John the Baptist;
Meetly in water laving him who cleanseth
Man from pollution.
Praise to the Father, to the Sole-begotten,
And to the Spirit, equal power possessing,
One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages,
Ever resoundeth. Amen.
A Mother’s Prayer to St. John the Baptist
St. John, child of saintly parents, child of prayer and grace, gift of heaven, forerunner of Jesus Christ, preacher of penance, preparer of the way of the Lord! You are the model of all those that, with an upright heart, seek Jesus and desire to belong to Him. Although innocent and pure as an angel, you performed during your whole life the strictest penance. Scanty and poor was your nourishment. You abstained entirely from intoxicating beverages. You perseveringly shunned all occasions and dangers of falling into sin, and spent your time in converse with God, in meditation and prayer. You daily increased in wisdom, courage, and strength of soul, and daily exercised yourself in the practice of those high virtues demanded of you by your vocation. You, by the holiest actions, proved the truth of your enlightened teaching, your glowing admonitions, and your menacing warnings. You aroused hearts to faith in Jesus Christ, inflamed them with His love, and incited them to His imitation.
O holy St. John, take my children, take me, and all my dear ones under your protection and guidance! Show Jesus to our hearts. Teach us to believe firmly in Him, to repose unshaken confidence in Him, and to love Him with our whole soul! Be, finally, our mediator with Jesus Christ. Oh, obtain for us the pardon of our sins, worthy fruits of penance, entire satisfaction for all the offenses committed against God, faithful imitation of your life, strict curbing of our evil fancies and perverse inclinations, an ardent desire for heavenly riches, perseverance in grace, fervent imitation of Jesus, the patient bearing of our cross, and in the hour of death your blessed company for all eternity. Obtain this for us, O well-beloved of our Divine Savior! Obtain it by your high rank in the Kingdom of God, by your superabundant merits, by the love you bear our souls, and by the ardent desire you have to see us all enclosed in the Heart of Jesus, there to be preserved, guarded, and saved forever! Amen.
Prayer to St. John the Baptist as your Patron Saint
Saint John the Baptist, whom I have chosen as my special patron, pray for me that I, too, may one day glorify the Blessed Trinity in heaven. Obtain for me your lively faith, that I may consider all persons, things, and events in the light of almighty God. Pray, that I may be generous in making sacrifices of temporal things to promote my eternal interests, as you so wisely did.
Set me on fire with a love for Jesus, that I may thirst for His sacraments and burn with zeal for the spread of His kingdom. By your powerful intercession, help me in the performance of my duties to God, myself and all the world.
Win for me the virtue of purity and a great confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Protect me this day, and every day of my life. Keep me from mortal sin. Obtain for me the grace of a happy death. Amen
The Festival of Corpus Christi by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
The same reason which caused the Festival of the Holy Trinity, induced the Catholic Church to institute the festival of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate today. She requires that we shall confess and renew today the faith which we have in the Blessed Eucharist, and that we bestow all possible honors upon the Most Holy Sacrament and give due thanks to our Saviour for its institution. In order that this just requirement of the Church may be more fully complied with, we shall here give some explanation of the above reasons. In regard to the first reason, the following are the facts, which the church especially desires to call to our memory by this joyous festival. Our dear Saviour, on the same evening when His bitter suffering for the redemption of man began, instituted the Blessed Eucharist, out of His immeasurable love for us. In it He is truly and substantially present with body and soul, with flesh and blood, as God and Man, under the form of bread and wine. Under the form of bread, not only His holy body, but also His holy blood is present; because a living body cannot exist without blood. Hence he receives it, who partakes of holy communion only in the form of bread, not less than he who receives it in two forms, as the priests, when they say holy Mass. The latter partake of holy communion under two forms, in order that the passion and death of our Saviour, during which His blood flowed from His wounds, might be more vividly represented.
From the moment that the priest speaks the prescribed holy words, in the name of Christ, over the bread and wine, the Lord is present in the Holy Sacrament. Bread and wine change their substance miraculously into the true body and blood of the Saviour, in such a manner, that all that remains of the bread and wine is their form, color and taste. The presence of Christ lasts so long as the bread and the wine are unconsumed. It is further to be considered that our Lord is present in a small host as well as in a large one, as well in a portion of a host as in a whole one. Hence he who receives an entire host, has no more than he who receives only a part of one, the latter has just as much as the former. The same is the case with those who by inadvertence receive more than one Host, while others receive only one. It is only to be remarked that in case a consecrated Host is broken or divided, the holy body of the Saviour is not broken nor divided, but the form of the bread only: even as Christ will not again die, so his holy body can neither be broken nor divided. All these points are articles of faith in the Catholic Church, and are explained in sermons, in religious instructions and in many books, and are especially demonstrated by the word of God. All true Catholics believe this without any doubt, as the Almighty, who is eternal and infallible truth, has revealed it, and as that Church assures us, which on account of the assistance of the Holy Ghost, promised to her by Christ, cannot err.
Those who are not Catholics teach in many points quite differently. They especially reject the real presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine, and also the transubstantiation of these latter into the real body and blood of the Lord. They maintain it to be impossible that bread and wine can be changed into the body and blood of Christ, or that Christ can be really present at the same time, in so many different places, in so small a compass as the holy Host. If we ask them why they consider it impossible, they answer: “because we cannot conceive, cannot comprehend, how it can be possible.” But if they believe impossible all which they cannot understand, they must, besides many other articles of faith, reject the creation of the world; the humanity and resurrection of Christ; the Holy Trinity; because all these are just as inconceivable for the mind of man, as the transubstantiation of the bread and wine and the substantial presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It matters not in articles of faith whether we are able to comprehend them or not so long as they are revealed by God.
That which the Almighty has revealed must be true, whether I can understand it or not: for He is omniscient, hence infallible, and cannot be deceived, while our understanding can as easily be deceived as our senses. God is truth: therefore can not deceive. He is omnipotent; hence He can do more than the human mind can comprehend. “With God all things are possible,” said Christ Himself. “Let us admit that God can do more than we are able to fathom,” says St. Augustine, while St. Cyril of Alexandria writes; “The Lord says by the prophet Isaias: ‘My counsel is not like yours, neither are my ways like your ways: for as the heaven is above the earth, so are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.’ Cannot therefore the works of Him, who stands so high above us in wisdom and power, exceed in their greatness the limits of our understanding?”
The same is taught by all the Holy Fathers. They also refer to many occurrences in nature, which, although we cannot comprehend them, nevertheless take place. They speak of the creation of the world, and say, if we believe that God created a whole world out of nothing, how can we hesitate to believe that He can change bread and wine, or that He can be present in that form? The water at Cana was changed into wine: why then should He not possess the power to transform bread and wine into His holy body and blood? Truly, whoever believes that God is omnipotent, infallible and infinite, cannot doubt this article of faith. We Catholics believe so, and hence we cannot doubt any of the above mentioned points of the true faith. This faith we this day renew and confess publicly. The Catholic Church requires it, and has for this reason instituted today’s Festival. She further demands that we unanimously, bestow today all possible honor upon the Blessed Sacrament, and that we praise and glorify with all the powers of our soul, the Saviour therein concealed. And is not this justly demanded of us? of us who firmly believe that our Lord is present in His double nature as God and as man, in the Blessed Sacrament? All honor, all praise belongs to the true God.
King David, in the Old Testament, bestowed great honor upon the Ark of the Covenant, in which a part of the manna was preserved, as Holy Writ relates. The manna of the Old Testament was only a feeble type of our Most Holy Sacrament, as Christ Himself teaches: hence we owe so much greater honor to it. The wise man said, many thousand years ago: “Glorify the Lord, as much as you can . . . Bless ye the Lord, exalt Him as much as you can.” (Eccl. xliii.) As we are assured by our faith that our God and Lord is truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament, it is natural that we honor, praise and glorify Him with all our strength. We are bound to do this not merely today, but during the whole year. Who is there, however, that can say of himself that he has not sometimes been remiss in this sacred duty? Hence the Holy Church requires that we, remembering our duty this day, kindle anew our zeal, if it has abated, and thus with united hearts, honor, praise and exalt the Most Holy Sacrament. For this purpose she has also ordained that the Blessed Sacrament shall be carried through the streets in solemn processions.
Everything connected with this ceremony is intended to honor our Lord in every possible manner. The Church tries, by this public manifestation, to atone somewhat for the many and great wrongs to which the Blessed Sacrament is so frequently subjected by heretics as well as by Catholics. One cannot, without horror, think how this sacred mystery has been assailed and dishonored in centuries gone by, and down to our days. A pious Christian dares not even relate the wrongs done to it, which are great enough to deserve hell. And what does our Saviour, concealed in the Blessed Sacrament, suffer from those who believe in his presence? The irreverence and levity with which many Christians conduct themselves in presence of the Blessed Eucharist, tend to dishonor and disgrace our Saviour. The unworthy communions which unhappily take place, offend Him in a most grievous manner. The misuse of the body, especially of the tongue and mouth, which are so often sanctified by partaking of the true body and blood of Christ, cannot but excite the wrath of the Lord. For these, as well as other wrongs done to the Blessed Sacrament, the Church of Christ seeks to make amends by these solemn processions, and by all the other pious exercises she has ordained for this festival and during the whole octave. Hence, every pious Christian should be solicitous to conform to the ordinances of the Church, and not only assist in the procession and all other devout exercises, but also endeavour to contribute to render them what the Church desires.
Those who are not Catholics disapprove of every thing that we do today in honor of the blessed Sacrament, and accuse us of idolatry, as we according to them, worship bread. They say also that all that we do in this regard cannot be agreeable to God, because it was not ordained by Him. We, Catholics, are, however, not disturbed by this, for we know that we do not worship bread, but Him whom three wise men worshipped in the manger, namely, Jesus Christ, true God and Man. We know also that though what we do this day in honor of the blessed Sacrament is not especially and expressly ordained in Holy Writ, still we are assured that a voluntary worship of it is in accordance with reason and the laws of God, pleasing and agreeable to His Majesty. And this is made clear to us from the above-mentioned example of the three Wise Men, and from the acts with which King David honored the Most High, on the solemn return of the Ark of the Covenant; not to mention that Christ gave us a general command to worship God, in the words: “The Lord thy God shalt thou adore and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matth. iv.) This command we fulfil today by our actions, as they all aim at one end, namely, the honor of the Lord, who is concealed in the Blessed Sacrament. The more we are blamed and derided by the heretics for our adoration of the Holy Eucharist, the more fervent should we become in our zeal. When King David was derided by Michol, on account of his devotion at the return of the Ark of the Covenant, he said: “Before the Lord who chose me . . . . I will both play and make myself meaner than I have done, and I will be little in my own eyes.” (II. Kings vi.)
We will still add in a few words, what the true Church further demands of us. We today give humble thanks to the Lord for the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. This is no more than our duty: for if we are obliged to thank God for the smallest benefit He confers upon us, we are surely under much greater obligation when the benefit is great and of especial importance. Who can tell, who can comprehend the greatness of the benefit, which Christ our Saviour and Lord bestowed upon us by the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. It is as great as it is unfathomable: great as He who devised it; as Christ our Lord, true God and man, the King of all Kings, the Lord of all who reign. Great and inconceivable is the miracle by which the substance of bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, and the miraculous presence of the Lord in the form of bread and wine. St. Thomas of Aquinas calls the Blessed Sacrament a miracle, and the greatest that Christ ever wrought.
Inexpressibly great must have been the love which induced the Saviour not only to institute it at the time He chose for it, namely, the evening before His Passion. Since the world was created, there has never been found a parent willing to nourish his children with his own body, much as he may have loved them. Such excess of love Christ alone manifested. “Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end,” writes St. John (John, xiii.). Already had He loved them and had given them many indubitable proofs of His love; but at the end of His life, He gave them one which surpassed all others, namely, having nourished them with His own body and blood, He instituted a sacrament, by means of which all the faithful might partake of this divine food. And when did He institute this? St. Paul writes: “In the night when He was delivered into the hands of the embittered Jews.” The last night of His life was approaching, and the time when his enemies would seize Him, scourge Him most cruelly, crown Him with thorns, and nail Him like the greatest malefactor to the Cross. All this was known to the Lord. He knew also the wrong which would be done to Him in the Blessed Eucharist to the end of time: and yet this was not sufficient to prevent Him from instituting it.
Truly, a love which surpasses all the bounds, not only of human, but angelic understanding. Love seeks to be always with the loved ones and to enjoy their presence. Jesus Christ, who out of love to us had descended from heaven upon earth, had remained with us for 33 years: and it was the will of His heavenly Father that, after having accomplished our Redemption, He should return to heaven. This also took place; but His infinite love for us found a means by which He will remain with us in the world until the end of time. This means is the Blessed Sacrament, which He instituted before the commencement of His bitter passion. In it He is God and Man, as He is in heaven, truly and substantially present in every Church where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. By this same blessed Sacrament, He unites Himself most closely with us, when we partake of it, because He gives Himself to us as food, and nourishment. And this union with us is, according to the opinion of the Holy Fathers, a still greater proof of His love for us, than His presence in the Sacrament. It is the property of love to unite closely those who love one another: can there be a more intimate union than ours is with Christ, by virtue of the Holy Sacrament?
When Christ became man, He united His divine nature, in an incomprehensible manner, with humanity. When we partake of the Blessed Eucharist, He unites His divine and human natures with our nature, although not in the same manner as when He became Man. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood,” says He, “abideth in me, and I in him.” (John, vi.) How wonderful a union! How incomprehensibly great a love!
Besides the love which induced our Lord to institute the Most Holy Sacrament, the end for which He instituted it, and with which we have already become partly acquainted, is also great and most excellent. Our adorable Saviour would leave us in it an eternal memorial of His love and of His bitter passion and death, as His own words make clear to us: “Do this for a commemoration of me.” (Luke, xxn.) He desired to remain constantly with us, in order that we might, in all our cares, go to Him with greater confidence, and opening our hearts to Him, request and receive from Him, comfort, strength and help. It was His wish that His holy flesh and blood should nourish and strengthen our souls. This was the intention, the end and aim of our Lord in instituting the Most Holy Eucharist. As the religion He founded is holy and most perfect, and as no true religion can exist without sacrifice, He would leave us for evermore the most divine sacrifice, namely, His own flesh and blood that we might sacrifice it in holy Mass in honor of the Majesty of God, as a thanks-offering for all graces and benefits bestowed upon us; for the pardon of our sins, for the obtaining of new grace, and for the comfort of all, living and dead. How high, how admirable an end and aim! Had Christ been willing to remain among us, in the Blessed Eucharist, only in one place on earth, in order that we might there lay our burdens more trustingly at His feet, He would then have conferred on us a favor, which we could never sufficiently esteem, and for which we could never be sufficiently thankful. How much greater, therefore, is the grace that He dwells among us in so many different places of the world, to nourish our souls and to serve as sacrifice, and this not once only, but as often as we desire. How inexpressibly great a favor! How wonderful an invention of truly Divine love!
Just as great and excellent are the results of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord expressed it all in a few words when He said: “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.” (John, vi.) Which means: Whoever worthily partakes of this holy Sacrament, shall receive the special grace of God to preserve the life of his soul, or to remain in the sanctifying grace of God, and hence obtain life everlasting. By virtue of this Sacrament, man receives strength to abstain from sin, to resist temptation and to serve the Most High with constant fidelity. Therefore it is called by the Council of Trent, a medicine, by the strength of which we are freed from our daily iniquities, and protected and guarded against great crimes. “This divine mystery,” says Albert the Great, “strengthens man in grace and succors him when he is in danger of committing sin.” The pious Thomas a Kempis writes: “This most holy and venerable Sacrament conduces to the well-being of body and soul. It is the remedy for spiritual weakness. It heals the wounds of vice, it keeps within bounds all evil inclination, it conquers temptations, gives more abundance of grace, multiplies virtue, strengthens faith, augments hope, and inflames love.”
Other teachers say, that Christ instituted the Blessed Sacrament under the form of a bodily food, that we might more easily perceive its effects. For, as bodily food preserves the life of the body, renews strength, refreshes man: thus is the spiritual life of the soul preserved by the holy Eucharist, the soul is strengthened, and all the inner faculties of man inflamed with new zeal in the service of the Almighty. The true Church has not hesitated, for causes already mentioned, to call it a pledge of future glory, so that those who worthily partake of Holy Communion, receive, so to speak, an assurance of eternal salvation. I say, who partake worthily of the Holy Communion; for, one who receives it when not in the state of grace, will not only fail to share in the benefits it imparts, but becomes guilty of eternal punishment, according to the words of St. Paul: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself” (i Cor. xi.) that is, as St. Chrysostom and other holy fathers teach, damnation.
Whoever reflects on what we have said, cannot but come to the conclusion, that the Lord, by instituting the Blessed Eucharist, has bestowed upon us an inexpressibly great gift. Hence, it is only our duty to give Him our most humble thanks, to which effect the Church has ordained today’s festival, demanding of us to give thanks to the Lord for the institution of this Blessed Gift.
So much for the reason which gave rise to the ordinance of the festival of Corpus Christi. Only one point must I yet touch upon, to confirm the true faith and at the same time give an instruction. The non-Catholics maintain that we act wrongly in not administering the Blessed Sacrament in two forms, as Christ our Lord instituted it and commanded it to be partaken of in such a manner. To this I answer, Luther himself more than once said that the real Blessed Eucharist was to be found in the Catholic Church; and that it mattered not whether it is administered under one form or under two. It is true that Christ instituted it in two forms, but that He commands all to receive it in two forms is false. From the act of the institution of the Eucharist this cannot be proved: for, Christ instituted and adminstered it after washing his disciples’ feet. He gave it only to the men, the strong, and this after they had partaken of supper, and yet the non-Catholics do not say that it is a commandment to wash the feet before Holy Communion, or administer it only to men, the strong, and after supper. The non-Catholics may rest assured that we are more favored when we partake of Holy Communion in one form than they, even if they received it in a hundred: for we receive under one form really the flesh and blood of Christ, while they, under two forms, neither partake of the Saviour’s holy flesh nor of His blood, because they possess no priests to whom Christ gave power to consecrate.
You have considered the aim and end of today’s festival and also the reasons that gave rise to it: hence, prepare your devotions accordingly. First, exercise yourself today in the virtue of faith. Confess to God and the whole world that you believe everything that God the Lord has revealed of the Blessed Eucharist, and which His true Church explains to you; and that you will believe it for no other reason than because the infallible truth has revealed it. Confess openly, that you willingly give your reason up in the service of the Almighty. Oppose, in advance, all temptations by which the Evil One might endanger the peace of your soul, during your life, or while on your death-bed in regard to the Blessed Eucharist or other articles of faith. Manifest openly the faith which you bear in your heart and be not ashamed of it in the presence of heretics. Hence, accompany the procession today with due reverence, and assist, today and always, in all public devotions ordained in honor of the Holy Eucharist. In the churches where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, show your faith in the presence of the Lord by your modesty and reverence. Whoever is wanting in this is wanting also in faith.
Secondly, endeavor especially today to honor, with every power of your soul, the Most Holy Sacrament, but let not your devotion cease with this day: continue in it as long as your life lasts. Accompany the Holy Eucharist devoutly when it is carried in processions; frequently visit the churches where it is kept; worship it in deepest humility. Assist at Holy Mass, if possible, daily. Receive the Holy Communion as often as your confessor will permit; but always with a heart purified and adorned by exercises of virtue. Take time for devotions before and after Holy Communion. Guard yourself in the presence of the Holy Sacrament, from everything that might be displeasing to Him who is concealed in it: as, unrestrained roving of the mind and eyes; the volubility of the tongue; irreverent manner, &c. Take care that you do not, by using indecent language, soil your tongue, which has been purified by partaking of the Holy Sacrament. Before all things, however, take care that you do not receive the Holy Eucharist while a mortal sin weighs upon your soul, for this would be the greatest insult, the most frightful disgrace to your loving Jesus, and to you it might bring eternal damnation. Beg your Saviour also to pardon every irreverence of which during your past life, you have been guilty in presence of the Blessed Sacrament, or in your Communions. To this end, offer to Him everything that is done in the whole world today and during the entire Octave, to His honor and glory, and make the firm resolution to amend all your faults by redoubled zeal in honoring the holy Sacrament.
Thirdly: In consideration of the infinite benefit which our Lord has conferred upon us in instituting the Blessed Eucharist, return Him your most fervent thanks. Give thanks to Him that He made you a member of that Church, which alone is in possession of the Blessed Eucharist. Thank Him also that He gives you time and opportunity to partake frequently of the Holy Sacrament. And as everything connected with it is great and holy, so on your side, all in regard to it should be great and holy. Great must be your faith in the real presence of Christ; great your zeal to worship Him; great your reverence for the church in which He dwells; great your devotion to Him in the Sacrament; great your preparation to receive it. Let all the powers of your mind be directed towards one end: cleanse your soul from every stain of sin, and adorn it most beautifully by exercises of virtue, to make it a fit dwelling for your Saviour. When King Solomon was about to erect a temporal dwelling for the Most High, he collected gold and silver, precious stones and other treasures, saying: “I have prepared, according to my strength, all that is necessary for the dwelling of my Lord.” Why? He gives his reason in the following words: “For, it is a great work, because we erect a house, not for man, but for God.” (I. Par. 29.) Through Holy Communion, your soul becomes a much more real temple of God than the Temple which Solomon erected: hence your care in preparing this dwelling should be much greater than that of Solomon. Finally, great should be your solicitude, after Holy Communion, to remain with Christ in your heart, and to thank, praise and love Him. Oh! exert all the powers of your soul; “for it is a great work!”
Litany of the Blessed Sacrament
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven,
Have mercy on us. *
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, *
God, the Holy Ghost, *
Holy Trinity, one God, *
Living Bread, that camest down from heaven, *
Hidden God and Saviour, *
Wheat of the elect, *
Wine of which virgins are the fruit, *
Bread of fatness and royal dainties, *
Perpetual Sacrifice, *
Clean Oblation, *
Lamb without spot, *
Most pure Feast, *
Food of Angels, *
Hidden manna, *
Memorial of the wonders of God, *
Supersubstantial Bread, *
Word-made-Flesh, dwelling among us, *
Sacred Host, *
Chalice of benediction, *
Mystery of faith, *
Most high and most adorable Sacrament, *
Most holy of all sacrifices, *
True propitiation for the living and the dead, *
Heavenly antidote against the poison of sin, *
Most stupendous of all miracles, *
Holy commemoration of the Passion of Christ, *
Singular pledge of Divine Love, *
Gift of God, exceeding all fulness, *
Affluence of Divine bounty, *
Overflow of Divine liberality, *
Most august and holy Mystery, *
Medicine of immortality, *
Awful and life-giving Sacrament, *
Bread-made-Flesh by the omnipotence of the Word, *
Unbloody Sacrifice, *
Our Food and our Guest, *
Sweetest banquet, at which angels minister, *
Sacrament of piety, *
Bond of unity and charity, *
Priest and Victim, *
Offerer and Oblation, *
Spiritual sweetness, tasted in its very source, *
Refreshment of holy souls, *
Viaticum of those who die in the Lord, *
Pledge of future glory, *
Spare us, O Lord,
Graciously hear us, O Lord
From an unworthy reception of Thy Body and Blood,
Deliver us, O Lord. **
From the lust of the flesh, **
From the lust of the eyes, **
From the pride of life, **
From every occasion of sin, **
Through the desire wherewith Thou didst long to eat this pasch with Thy disciples, **
Through that profound humility wherewith Thou didst wash their feet, **
Through that ardent charity whereby Thou didst institute this DivineSacrament, **
Through Thy Precious Blood, which Thou hast left us on our altars, **
Through the five Wounds which Thou didst receive for us in this Thy most holy Body, **
Beseech Thee to hear us.
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to preserve and increase our faith, reverence and devotion toward this admirable Sacrament,
We beseech Thee, hear us. ***
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to conduct us, through a true confession of our sins, to frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, ***
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to deliver us from all heresy, perfidy, and blindness of heart, ***
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to impart to us the precious and heavenly fruits of this most Holy Sacrament, ***
That Thou wouldst confirm us in Thy grace, ***
That Thou wouldst preserve us from all snares of the enemy, ***
That at the hour of death Thou wouidst strengthen and defend us by this heavenly Viaticum, ***
That Thou wouldst preserve us unto eternal life, ***
Son of God, ***
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Spare us, O Jesus!
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Hear us, O Jesus!
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Have mercy on us, O Jesus!
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
V. Thou hast given them Bread from Heaven,
R. Containing in Itself all sweetness.
Let us pray:
O God, Who in this wonderful Sacrament has bequeathed to us a perpetual memorial of Thy Passion: grant us the grace, we beseech Thee, so to venerate the Sacred Mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, that we may ever feel within us the fruits of Thy redemption. Who livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.
Indulgenced Prayers to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament
O sacrament most holy! O sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.
(Indulgence 100 days, once a day)
I adore Thee at every moment, O living bread of heaven, great sacrament! Jesus, heart of Mary, I pray you, bless my soul. Holiest Jesus, my Saviour, I give Thee my heart.
(Indulgence 100 days, three times a day)
An Act for Spiritual Communion
by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
My Jesus, I believe that thou art in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love thee above all things, and in my soul I desire thee. Since I cannot receive thee now sacramentally, come at least spiritually to my heart. I embrace thee as already there and unite myself wholly to thee; do not permit that I may ever be separated from thee. Jesus, all my good and all my love, Wound, inflame this heart of mine, that it may all and always burn for Thee.
(An Indulgence of 60, once a day)
Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
O Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, thou glory of the Christian people, joy of the universal Church, salvation of the whole world, pray for us, and awaken in all believers a lively devotion toward the Most Holy Eucharist, that so they may be made worthy to partake of the same daily.