Blessed Ildefonso for the Feria VIa infra Hebdomadam Passionis.
We have already spoken of the Basilica of SS John and Paul [wherein is the collecta], built by Bizante and Pammachius over the very house where the two martyrs suffered death for the Faith. That of St Stephen [the statio], which stands at a short distance from the former, and was called in Coelio monte, in order to distinguish it from the many churches dedicated to him in the city itself, was finished by Pope John I (523-26), who also adorned it with mosaics. Towards the year 645, when Nomentum had been devastated by the Lombards, and there seemed but little hope of that ancient city returning to normal conditions, Pope Theodore I (642-9) transferred the bodies of the two local martyrs, Primus and Felician, from there to St Stephen on the Coelian Hill, where he embellished a small chapel in their honour, the mosaic apse of which still remains. These were the first martyrs who were brought from extra-mural cemeteries into the city-- for the law forbidding burial within the city walls was generally observed under the Empire-- and whose bodies were carried triumphantly into Christian Rome.
The Introit is taken from Psalm 30, and again alludes to the mental anguish of Jesus as the hour of his Passion draws near. 'Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am troubled-- laden with the sins of the whole world, I have become the object of implacable hatred on the part of my enemies and of them that persecute me, and a sign of the offended justice and holiness of God-- deliver me from the hands of my enemies; O Lord, let me not be confounded, for I have called upon thee'. The prayer of Christ was answered; for the Eternal Father delivered him and the whole human race from the bonds of death in the day of the resurrection, when the fulness of the glorious life of Christ was transmitted also to his mystical body in such a manner as to make the spiritual resurrection of souls the beginning of their future glory. It was in this sense that the Apostle says that Christ mortuus est propter delicta nostra, resurrexit propter justificationem nostram, inasmuch as the glorious resurrection of the head is shared with the members through the grace which remits the sin and merits an eternal reward.
In the Collect we beseech God to infuse into our hearts the spirit of contrition, so that, expiating our sins in this life by means of penance, we may escape everlasting punishment. The preaching of penance formed an important part of the teaching of the Gospel. Poenitentiam agite et credite evangelio. This spirit of penance which prepares the way for grace and for the reconciliation of the soul to God is a special gift from him for which we must diligently ask in prayer. The Church sings in one of her finest Lenten hymns:Dans tempus acceptabili,
Et poenitens cor tribue;
Convertat ut benignitas
Quos longa suffert pietas.
The prophet Jeremias is a type of Christ persecuted by the Synagogue, therefore the Church places on the lips of the Redeemer in the divine offices of this last fortnight of Lent words of bitter sorrow and of desolation, yet of hope, which the prophet has expressed in his Lamentations. To-day the lesson is from chapter 17,13-18, and represents the Just One confronted with his adversaries. Jeremias never places his hope in human aid, but utters the sublime words diem hominis non desideravi, words in which another great soul, Blessed Nicholas of Prussia, O.S.B., revealed himself in his last moments. The prophet knows that all things which are of the earth are scattered like dust before the wind, or become as words written in the sand. It is God alone who suffices for the soul. As long as God be not against us, what do the judgements of the world matter?
The Gradual, from Psalm 34, describes the duplicity and malice of the enemies of the Just One: 'My enemies spoke peaceably to me; and in anger they were troublesome to me. Thou hast seen, O Lord, be not thou silent; depart not from me.' The Sanhedrim not being able to lay hands on Jesus openly for fear of the people, who were devoted to him, have recourse to the treachery of Judas, suborn false witnesses, accuse the Holiest of blasphemy and violate every legal form in the trial of the Saviour, condemning to death one who is wholly innocent, even their Creator, under the cloak of zeal for the honour of God and the rights of Caesar. The entire trial was one great prime against truth; God saw, and was not silent. The more the Jews strove to besmirch the holiness of Jesus, the more clearly it shone forth, confessed even by those who took part in the deicide. Thus was the innocence of the Son of Man testified to, in turn, by Judas, Herod and Pilate, by the centurion, and by the very earth itself, which trembled to its foundations at the death of its Lord. The Gospel (John 11,47-54) relates how the Sanhedrim assembled to devise the death of Jesus, Caiphas, turning arrogantly to the rest, taunts them with their ignorance: Vos nescitis quidquam nec cogitatis; but in prophesying the death of Christ and declaring it to be expedient, he speaks, not of himself, but as high priest, for God never fails to grant the graces necessary to our state. Whosoever is permitted to hold the office of superior, speaks in the name of God, even though he be as Caiphas. Jesus, then, must die for all mankind; Caiphas has spoken thus in prophecy, being moved thereto by the power of the Holy Ghost, quite otherwise than was intended by the crafty high priest himself. Christ is to die in order to bring together all the children of God dispersed throughout the world in one great family, which shall be neither Jew nor Greek nor Gentile, but only one holy Catholic Church, the Ecclesia Sancta Dei. Stephen, the titular saint of today’s station, receives this last wish of his divine Master, and boldly announces it to the Hellenist Synagogues of Jerusalem. The holy deacon himself falls a victim to the nationalist fury of the Jews, but the result of his last prayer will be the conversion of Paul, that Apostle who will proclaim the catholicity of the Christian faith far beyond the confines of Palestine. Jesus therefore died, not for the Jews alone, but also for the Gentiles. Let us not therefore take too much into account geographical boundaries or mere nationality. God calls his own from the uttermost parts of the earth, and his grace makes us all brothers. Even those who today profess a different faith from our own may be converted and return tomorrow to the bosom of the Church. We should therefore lay aside our prejudices, and be careful not to despise anyone nor to despair of another’s conversion, however unlikely it may appear. God holds the souls of all men in his hands, and we should welcome with open arms those whom he has brought back from a long way off, remembering how we, too, had once strayed far away, but are now converted to the Shepherd of our souls.
The Offertory comes from Psalm 118: 'Blessed art thou, O Lord; teach me thy justifications'-- by means of the Gospel and the Sacraments which cause us to participate in this divine holiness-- 'Deliver me not up to the proud who calumniate me'; grant that, though I may be exposed to temptations which are sent to prove and purify my faith, I may never yield to them; 'I will answer a word to those who upbraid me'. I will not be silent before their accusations, but will convince them of falsehood and blasphemy, showing them by word and example with whom the Truth dwelleth. This is the line of action taken by the Church when attacked by the hatred and calumnies of unbelievers, of Jews, and also of many heretics who, perverting the Gospel of Christ, preach another, which is not that of the 'kingdom' entrusted by our Lord to his Apostles, more especially to Peter. It may be the Gospel of Marcion, of Arius, of Luther, of Henry VIII, of Marx, but it is not that Gospel which the Apostles received from Christ. To all these false teachers we put, with Tertullian, the simple question: Qui estis vos? Our faith is one which has been safeguarded by an unbroken ecclesiastical tradition, and testified to by a line of infallible teachers, of whom Peter was the first. To Peter Christ committed the preaching of his Gospel, but you, who after two or fifteen or even nineteen centuries suddenly begin to preach a so-called Christian Gospel, who are you? Who has sent you? Who authorizes you, after so many years, to usurp the office bestowed on the Catholic Church-- that of guarding and interpreting the holy Scriptures?
In the Secret we beseech God that his grace may render us worthy to fulfil the sacerdotal ministry at the altar, in order that we may perfect in eternity, through the beatific vision, that eucharistic union with God which was begun in the Liturgy here on earth. This sacerdotal ministry of which the Secret speaks is, in a manner, shared by the laity, for they too, the regale sacerdotium, as St Peter calls them, together with the priest and by his hands, offer to God the holy Sacrifice, and truly participate in it in Holy Communion.
The Communion is derived from Psalm 26: 'Deliver me not over to the will of them that trouble me'. Christ prays by the mouth of the Psalmist that he may not be delivered definitely into the power of his enemies, without hope of future triumph. Jesus speaks thus chiefly on our account, for whom his resurrection was an absolute necessity. 'Unjust witnesses have risen up against me'-- those suborned by the Sanhedrim-- 'and iniquity hath lied to itself'-- that is, in confirmation of its own assertion, or rather, for its own protection, since all we who crucified Christ through sin did so in order that his precious blood might wash away our guilt. In the Post-Communion we pray that the efficacy of the Sacrament in which we have participated may never fail us, on account of our sloth or our dissipation, and that it may drive away from us all that might be hurtful to the soul. We should continue to live in the spirit of thanksgiving after having received Holy Communion, so as to maintain this spiritual union of the soul with Jesus during our whole life. It is this which the Church desires when she teaches us to pray for the grace ut in gratiarum semper actione maneamus. To 'persevere in the Eucharist' means to be transformed in it, to become a sacrifice for Jesus, even as he became a sacrifice for us. The final Oratio super populum is the same as that of the Wednesday after the Third Sunday in Lent.
Deo The question which arose in Jerusalem, immediately after the death of the divine Teacher, was that of the character of Christianity; whether, that is, it should represent merely a spiritual movement within the Synagogue, like those of the Essenes and of the Pharisees, or, whether it was to be a new religion surpassing the ancient national form of worship. St Peter decided the matter in the first place by the baptism of Cornelius; but it was Stephen who, more particularly among the Jews themselves, was foremost in carrying the question out of the immediate circle of the Apostles, and bringing it to the notice of the Hellenists, who, having been used to living amongst the Gentiles of the Diaspora, were less narrow in their views than their co-religionists. Yet the Hellenists, too, shared many of the prejudices of the Sanhedrim, so they were scandalized by what appeared to them an intolerable innovation on the part of the disciple of the Galilean. Stephen, however, stood forth fearlessly before the council, and confirmed the doctrine of catholicity, declaring that he beheld the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Then, clothed in the purple of his blood shed for Christ, he fell asleep in the Lord to awaken in the splendour of eternal glory.
Tsk; I see that I've managed to 'quote' all of Cardinal Schuster's essay for today (all the lines are centered, for one thing)-- but am not going to fuss with the formatting. And I will add his pages on today's feast, too, if I can find them. Time for Sext. I don't see that he has dedicated himself to commenting on the Office of Our Lady of Compassion or of the Seven Sorrows. Dom Prosper certainly treats of these in his commentary for today.
It is also the feast of Saint Ludger (9th century), of Saint Bercarius (7th century), and of the Blessed Maddalena (20th century).
V. Et álibi aliórum plurimórum sanctórum Mártyrum et Confessórum, atque sanctárum Vírginum. R. Deo grátias.
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