25 February 2013

St. Joseph, pray for the Church...


Almighty God, who from the family of thy servant David didst raise up St. Joseph to be the Guardian of thy Incarnate Son and Patron of the Universal Church: Grant that by his intercession, we may receive grace to imitate his uprightness of life and to live in obedience to thy commands. Strengthen the heart of Pope Benedict, that his deepening life of prayer may turn away evil from the Church. Guide the minds and wills of the Cardinal Electors, that they may choose wisely one who will guard and proclaim the Catholic Faith. Support us all in this hour of need, that we may know the comfort of thy presence; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

23 February 2013

Trisagion


Among the many reasons for my love of our Anglican Use liturgy, not least is the thread of elements from the Eastern churches which shows itself at various times. It gives an emphasized sense of universality and timelessness and reminds us of the richness and diversity of the various liturgies in the Church.

During the Lenten sung Masses we use the Trisagion, the “Thrice Holy” in place of the Kyrie eleison. This ancient hymn is found in almost all of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox liturgies: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.” It is a preview of the Sanctus, with its roots in the angelic hymn found in St. John’s Book of the Revelation (4:8). The Coptic Church ascribes it first to Nicodemus who, when taking Christ’s body down from the cross, saw the divinity of our Lord manifested and cried out, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal!”

There is another tradition which says that during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II (408-450), Constantinople was experiencing a violent earthquake. As the people were praying for God’s help, a child was thrown up into the air by the violent quaking. Everyone cried out “Kyrie eleison!” As the child fell to the ground he was heard praying, “Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal,” after which the child died.

In the Western Church the Trisagion found its way into the Sarum rite as part of Compline from the Third Sunday in Lent until the Fifth Sunday in Lent. It was included in the Gallican rite during the Reproaches at the Good Friday liturgy, where it is still used throughout the Latin Rite.

The Trisagion has a rich history, and its place in the Anglican Use Mass is yet another chapter in that living history.

Second Sunday in Lent


O God, who before the passion of thy only-begotten Son didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount: Grant unto us that we, beholding by faith, the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Behold our Lord transfigured,
In Sacrament Divine;
His glory deeply hidden,
'Neath forms of Bread and Wine.
Our eyes of faith behold Him,
Salvation is outpoured;
The Saviour dwells among us,
by ev'ry heart adored.

No longer on the mountain
With Peter, James and John,
Our precious Saviour bids us
To walk where saints have gone.
He has no lasting dwelling,
Save in the hearts of men;
He feeds us with His Body,
To make us whole again.

With Moses and Elijah,
We worship Christ our King;
Lord, make our souls transfigured,
Let us with angels sing.
Lead us in paths of glory,
Give tongues to sing thy praise;
Lord Jesus, keep us faithful,
Now and for all our days.

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1990
Music: "Ewing" by Alexander C. Ewing, 1853

22 February 2013

St. Polycarp, Bishop & Martyr

Imagine being able to sit at the feet of the apostles and hear stories of life with Jesus from their own lips. That was what Polycarp was able to do as a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. But being part of the second generation of Church leaders had challenges that the first generation had not known. With the apostles gone, heresies sprang up pretending to be true teaching, persecution was strong, and controversies arose.

Polycarp, as a holy man and bishop of Smyrna, found there was only one answer -- to be true to the life of Jesus and to imitate that life. As Jesus often responsed strongly to the Pharisees, so Polycarp, when confronted by a heretic who demanded respect by saying, "Recognize us, Polycarp," was told by Polycarp, "I recognize you, yes, I recognize the son of Satan."

Polycarp faced persecution the way Christ did. He didn’t seek out martyrdom as some did, but he avoided it until it was God's will. One day, during a bloody martyrdom when Christians were attacked by wild animals in the arena, the crowd became so mad that they demanded more blood by crying, "Down with the atheists; let Polycarp be found." (They considered Christians "atheists" because they didn't believe in their pantheon of gods).

Polycarp was calm but others persuaded him to leave the city and hide at a nearby farm. He spent his time in prayer for people he knew and for the Church. During his prayer he saw a vision of his pillow turned to fire and announced to his friends that the dream meant he would be burned alive.

As the search closed in, he moved to another farm, but he was discovered. He had a little warning since he was upstairs in the house but he decided to stay, saying, "God's will be done."

Then he went downstairs, talked to his captors and fed them a meal. All he asked of them was that they give him an hour to pray. He spent two hours praying for everyone he had every known and for the Church, "remembering all who had at any time come his way -- small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world." Many of his captors started to wonder why they were arresting this holy, eighty-six-year-old bishop.

But that didn't stop them from taking him into the arena. As he entered the arena, the crowd roared, rather like the animals they cheered. Those around Polycarp heard a voice from heaven above the crowd, "Be brave, Polycarp, and act like a man."

The proconsul begged the old bishop to give in because of his age. "Say 'Away with the atheists'" the proconsul urged. Polycarp calmly turned to face the crowd, looked straight at them, and said, "Away with the atheists." The proconsul continued to plead with him. When he asked Polycarp to swear by Caesar to save himself, Polycarp answered, "If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian." Finally, when all else failed the proconsul reminded Polycarp that he would be thrown to the wild animals unless he changed his mind. Polycarp answered, "Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us."

Because of Polycarp's lack of fear, the proconsul told him he would be burned alive, but Polycarp knew that a fire which burned only for an hour was far preferable to the flames of eternal fire.

When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed. The fire was lit and then the eyewitnesses who reported said they saw a miracle. The fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn't being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out.

The proconsul wouldn't let the Christians have the body because he was afraid they would worship Polycarp. The witnesses reported this with scorn for the lack of understanding of Christian faith: "They did not know that we can never abandon the innocent Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners for the salvation of those in this world." After the body was burned, they took away the bones in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom and prepare others for persecution. The date was about February 23, 156.

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who didst give to thy venerable servant, the holy and gentle St. Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, after his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

21 February 2013

The Chair of St. Peter


Enshrined in the beautiful Bernini reliquary in St. Peter’s Basilica is a chair which was known in the sixth century, parts of which date to the earliest years of the Christian faith. This is the famous Chair of St. Peter, of which the feast is celebrated each year on February 22nd.

Why would the entire Catholic world celebrate a feast in honor of a chair? Surely it must be for a better reason than that an apostle sat on it. As interesting as that is, the reason is much greater than that alone. This Chair is the concrete symbol to us of the authority and primacy of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the one to whom our Lord entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and who was called the Rock on which Christ would build His Church.

The fragments of the Chair (cathedra) of St. Peter are venerated because it was from that very place that the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ, imparted the truth which had been entrusted to him by our Lord Himself, and which has been passed on in its entirety throughout the centuries, and which will continue until Christ returns in glory. The Chair of St. Peter is a reminder to us that we are not members of some man-made religion, but that we are part of the one true Church, founded by Christ upon the Rock which endures.

“…On [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?"

- St. Cyprian of Carthage, c.251 AD

Almighty Father, who didst inspire Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep thy Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

St. Peter Damian, Bishop & Doctor

Peter was orphaned when he was very young child, and had the misfortune of being taken in by one of his older brothers who was very cruel to him. Another brother named Damian, who was a priest, saw this unjust treatment, and so took Peter into his own house, and cared for him. Peter was so grateful to this brother’s kindness that he added his name to his own, and was forevermore known as Peter Damian. Because of the previous ill-treatment, Peter Damian was always very good to the poor. It was quite usual for him to invite the poor to eat with him, and he would care personally for them their needs. Also, because of his brother’s generosity to him, Peter Damian was able to receive an excellent education, and eventually became a university professor in Ravenna.

From early in his life Peter Damian was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, he fasted, and he spent many hours in prayer. Soon he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines. Peter Damian was so eager to pray, and he slept so little, that it began to take a toll on his health, and the other monks warned him to use some prudence in taking care of himself.

When his abbot died, Peter Damian was chosen to take his place, and subsequently founded five more monasteries. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a mediator in various disputes that might arise, or if some cleric or government official had a disagreement with Rome.

Eventually Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to bring about much-needed reform, by encouraging his priests to lead chaste and holy lives, and to maintain scheduled prayer and proper religious observance. He sought to restore discipline among religious and priests, warning them against excessive travel and too comfortable living. He concerned himself with what might seem to be small details – for instance, he once wrote to a bishop to point out that his clergy were sitting down for the psalms in the Divine Office – but he knew that care in small things would lead to carefulness in more important things.

He was eventually allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and he was happy to become once again a simple monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal mediator from time to time. It was when returning from such an assignment in Ravenna that he was developed a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072. In 1828 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we may so follow the teaching and example of thy blessed Confessor and Bishop, St. Peter Damian; that learning of him to despise all things earthly, we may attain in the end to everlasting felicity; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

14 February 2013

Crusader Bulletin - latest issue!

If you'd like to read all about the latest doings at The Atonement Academy, read the latest issue of the Crusader Bulletin, by going to this link.

You'll find information about academic achievements, sports, music, the upcoming Gala, gifts to the Capital Campaign, and many other things of interest.

And for those of you looking for a great school for your children -- the time to apply for enrollment is now!

13 February 2013

A personal remembrance...


Like so many others, I have my personal memory of Pope Benedict, which took place some years ago, when he was the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In November of 1983 the small Commission of which I was a member had just finished our work on The Book of Divine Worship. As is the case with the Ordinariates, the Pastoral Provision came under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, working in conjunction with the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Ratzinger had greeted us as we began our deliberations, but we saw no more of him during the time of our meetings. When we finished, however, we were told that the Cardinal Prefect would like to invite us to a dinner to celebrate our accomplishment.

We were given the name of a very nice restaurant on the Via della Conciliazione, only a block or two from where we had been meeting. We were told to be there at such-and-such a time, and we would be taken to a private dining room upstairs.

As I said, the Commission was comprised of a small group (perhaps a dozen or so), and when we entered the room we were individually greeted by Cardinal Ratzinger. I had the good fortune to have been befriended by then-Archbishop (later Cardinal) Virgilio Noe, who was the chairman of our Commission. He had always seen that I was given time to speak at our meetings, and he often showed little kindnesses during our deliberations. For this final dinner, he made sure I was seated between him and the Cardinal Prefect.

Could I have imagined at that time that I was sitting and conversing with the future Pope? Not in a million years!  It was dramatic enough to have had that time with him as a Cardinal. A few years ago I was able briefly to meet him again at one of the General Audiences, and I couldn't help but remember the time we had shared so many years before.

And now, the man with whom I was privileged to share dinner and some conversation is the Pope who is making history in such an unexpected way. From that evening onward, I felt a connection with him, and I cannot describe how happy I was when he was elected to be the Successor of St. Peter. And because of that experience with him -- fleeting though it was -- I made the mistake of feeling it personally. I know now why at first it upset me so. But over these past few days I have come not only to accept it, but to see it as part of God's plan for the Church, and for Benedict himself.

Our beloved Holy Father -- soon to be Joseph Ratzinger again -- is not retreating, nor is he easing into retirement. He is going deeper into the Heart of God, where he will pray and suffer and intercede. It is almost as when the high priest of the Temple went into the Holy of Holies to plead for God's mercy upon His people. However, unlike the high priest of old who would return, Benedict will remain veiled from us. But we will know he is there, praying for us and suffering for us and interceding for us, until his life on this earth is over.

This whole thing is a gift from God to us, even though it did not seem so at first. And the next Pope, already known by God, will be a gift as well. Such extraordinary happenings foretell extraordinary challenges ahead for the Church. But God is not letting us face the battle empty-handed and leaderless. We will have a new Pope. And we will have the man whom we have known as Benedict quietly and steadily protecting us with his prayers.

"...dust thou art..."

Thou hast mercy upon all, O Lord, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made, and winkest at the sins of men, because they should amend, and sparest them: for thou art the Lord our God. Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee.


Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Masses will be celebrated on Ash Wednesday at 7:00 a.m., 9:20 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., all at the High Altar.  There will be the Imposition of Ashes at each Mass.

12 February 2013

Lent begins, and we're ready

So Lent begins, and it seems somewhat different this year, what with the Holy Father's announced resignation, and all. It was as though the day of the announcement had a kind of surreal aspect to it, but then as it began to sink in, it started to come together for many of us.

Now it seems all right. I don't like it, but then again, I don't have to like it. It has that sense of "rightness" to it because Pope Benedict is such a man of God, such a man of prayer, such a man of discernment, that I have every confidence in his decision, knowing he made it in the presence of the God Whom he loves and obeys.

So Lent begins, and we're ready. The entombed Alleluia is being guarded by Our Lady, safely at her feet.


The ashes have been prepared, and are ready to mark the heads of the Faithful.


The triptych has been closed.


The vestments have been laid out.



Immutemur habitu. Let us change our raiment for sack-cloth and ashes: let us fast and mourn before the Lord: for our God is merciful to forgive us our offences.

11 February 2013

The Pope's resignation


I've celebrated two Masses this morning, during which I was able to meditate face-to-face with the Lord, seeking His peace and divine Wisdom in trying to understand today's announcement from the Holy Father.

On more than one occasion during those two Masses I felt tears welling, and it was difficult to form words. It seemed as though I was in mourning and yet no one had died.

The readings appointed for the Commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes were helpful. I heard Isaiah say, "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." It reassured me that comfort would come -- I didn't know when, nor how -- but comfort would come. And then in the Gospel, the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary directed me, "Do whatever he tells you..." It was the important reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church, and all that is required is that we be obedient to Him.

Pope Benedict assures us that he is being obedient to what the Lord wants, and so I draw comfort from his reassurance. I don't need to understand any more than that.

09 February 2013

St. Scholastica


(Mass at Montecassino, in the Crypt Chapel where Ss. Benedict and Scholastica are buried)

Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict, both established religious communities within a few miles from each other.

The twins were born in 480 of wealthy parents. Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left for Rome to continue his studies.

We don’t know much about Scholastica's early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino, five miles from where her brother was the abbot of a monastery.

The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters.

According to an account written by Pope St. Gregory, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day.

He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey.

Benedict cried out, "God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?" Scholastica replied, "I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it."

Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

O God, who for a testimony to the path of innocency didst cause the soul of thy holy Virgin Saint Scholastica to enter heaven in the appearance of a dove; grant unto us, that by her merits and intercession we may walk in such innocency of life; that we may be worthy to attain everlasting felicity; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


Setting foot on Monte Cassino today, you'd never know it was the site of a horrible bombing during World War II, with great loss of life and the destruction of the monastery. Founded by St. Benedict in 529 after moving from Subiaco, it was here that he wrote his famous Rule, which would become the model for monastic rules throughout the Church.

It's a wonderful place to visit, and when we do we always celebrate Mass in the Crypt Chapel where the saintly twins, Benedict and Scholastica, are buried.

The last time we were here we had many of the members of our Upper School Honors Choir with us. The chapel grew more and more full as visitors in the main church found their way down to the crypt where we were celebrating Mass, enchanted by the music.

08 February 2013

St. Josephine Bakhita



On February 8, the Church commemorates the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian Sister who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan.

Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869, in a small village in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was kidnapped while working in the fields with her family and subsequently sold into slavery. Her captors asked for her name but she was too terrified to remember so they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate” in Arabic.

Retrospectively, Bakhita was very fortunate, but the first years of her life do not necessarily attest to it. She was tortured by her various owners who branded her, beat and cut her. In her biography she notes one particularly terrifying moment when one of her masters cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to ensure that the scars remained. “I felt I was going to die any moment, especially when they rubbed me in with the salt,” Bakhita wrote.

She bore her suffering valiantly though she did not know Christ or the redemptive nature of suffering. She also had a certain awe for the world and its creator. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: 'Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?' And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.”

After being sold a total of five times, Bakhita was purchased by Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Two years later, he took Bakhita to Italy to work as a nanny for his colleague, Augusto Michieli. He, in turn, sent Bakhita to accompany his daughter to a school in Venice run by the Canossian Sisters.

Bakhita felt called to learn more about the Church, and was baptized with the name “Josephine Margaret.” In the meantime, Michieli wanted to take Josephine and his daughter back to Sudan, but Josephine refused to return.

The disagreement escalated and was taken to the Italian courts where it was ruled that Josephine could stay in Italy because she was a free woman. Slavery was not recognized in Italy and it had also been illegal in Sudan since before Josephine had been born.

Josephine remained in Italy and decided to enter Canossians in 1893. She made her profession in 1896 and was sent to Northern Italy, where she dedicated her life to assisting her community and teaching others to love God.

She was known for her smile, gentleness and holiness. She even went on record saying, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

St. Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized shortly after on October 2000 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first person to be canonized from Sudan and is the patron saint of the country.

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us, we pray thee, from an inordinate love of this world, that, inspired by the devotion of thy servant, St. Josephine Bakhita, we may serve thee with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

07 February 2013

Organ Recital


The next event of the parish Music Series will take place on Sunday, February 10th at 4:00 PM and will feature an organ recital presented by

Edmund G. Murray
Director of Music and Organist
Our Lady of the Atonement Church

The program will include works inspired by Gregorian chant and will feature members of the parish St. Gregory Schola Cantorum.

This recital is presented in commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the dedication of the church’s Casavant Frères pipe organ, Op. 2016.

For more information, contact music@atonementonline.com

05 February 2013

St. Paul Miki and Companions


Nagasaki, Japan, is known in history as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 during the last stages of World War II, killing hundreds of thousands. But some 350 years before that, twenty-six martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his church.

When Christianity first came to Japan, it was tolerated by the shoguns – the leaders – because they thought it would open up trade with the West. However, they soon decided that the Christian faith wasn’t helpful to them, so they outlawed it, and began the systematic destruction of the faith. The martyrs we celebrate today were rounded up and tortured, trying to get them to deny their faith. Each one of them had an ear cut off, and then they were marched for a thousand miles through the winter months, in the hope that they would denounce the faith, and cause others to do the same. All that accomplished was to make their faith grow stronger. The forced march ended at Nagasaki, where the Christians were then crucified on what came to be known as the Holy Mountain.

St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution. He forgave his persecutors and called people to love God and to obey Him. His final words were, "I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain."

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that even though there were no priests and no sacraments other than baptism, the people had secretly preserved the faith.

Almighty and Everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the hearts of St. Paul Miki and the Martyrs of Japan: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr


St. Agatha was born in Sicily, and is one of the many brave and faithful martyrs of the 3rd century. Her family was a wealthy and important one. Agatha was raised as a Christian, and when she was a very young girl she dedicated her life to God alone, and felt no vocation to be married. Because of her beauty and wealth, and because of the importance of her family, there were many men who sought to marry her. She resisted them all, desiring only a life of prayer and charitable service.

There was a man named Quintian, a Roman prefect, who thought his rank and power could force Agatha into a relationship with him. Knowing she was a Christian, and because this was in a time of persecution, he had her arrested and brought to trial. The judge was none other than himself. He expected Agatha to give in to him when she was faced with torture and death, but she simply rededicated herself to God.

Quintian imprisoned Agatha, locking her up with cruel and immoral women, in order to get her to change her mind. After she had suffered a month of being assaulted and humiliated she never wavered, saying that although they could physically lock her up, her real freedom came from Jesus. Quintian continued to have her tortured. He refused to allow her to have any medical care, but St. Agatha was given great comfort by God, who allowed her to have a vision of St. Peter, in which he encouraged and strengthened her.

Finally, because of the repeated torture and mutilation of her body, St. Agatha died in about the year 251, while whispering a prayer of thanks to God.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Agatha, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

04 February 2013

St. Gilbert of Sempringham


Born in about the year 1083 in Sempringham, England, into a wealthy family, St. Gilbert’s father was a Norman knight who had decided that his son would follow a different path, and so sent him to France to study and to prepare for ordination.

When St. Gilbert returned to England he was not yet ordained a priest. His father had died, and Gilbert inherited several estates, making him a wealthy man. While many might have chosen a life of ease in such circumstances, St. Gilbert chose to live a simple life, putting himself at the service of the poor by sharing with them his considerable resources. He was ordained to the priesthood, and served as the parish priest at Sempringham, where he had grown up.

There were seven young women in the congregation who had expressed to him a desire to live in community as vowed religious. St. Gilbert took their vocation seriously, and had a house built for them near the parish church. Although their communal life was one of simplicity and austerity, the community grew in numbers. They worked on the land, providing for their own needs and for the needs of the poor. It was St. Gilbert’s hope that the Community would be able to become part of the Cistercians, or one of the other established orders, that never happened. They became known as the Gilbertines, and they remained as their own order, which continued to grow until King Henry VIII ordered the suppression of all monasteries in 1538.

The Gilbertines developed a beautiful custom in their religious houses, of having what was called “the plate of the Lord Jesus.” On this plate they would place the very best portion of their meals, which would then be shared with the poor. This custom was a direct reflection of St. Gilbert’s own love for the poor, and it continued the charity he had always shown.

Although St. Gilbert came from great wealth, and through inheritance he himself was a man of means, nonetheless he lived the simple life of a devoted parish priest. He ate very little food, and spent many nights in prayer. He lived a life of hardship and sacrifice willingly, as a sign of his love for Christ and for the poor.  He died in the year 1190 at the age of 106.

O God, by whose grace thy servant St. Gilbert of Sempringham, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became a burning and a shining light in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

03 February 2013

St. Blaise, Bishop & Martyr

St. Blaise was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia. He lived in a cave on Mount Argeus and was a healer of men and animals. According to legend, sick animals would come to him on their own for help, but would never disturb him at prayer.

Agricola, governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebaste to persecute Christians. His huntsmen went into the forests of Argeus to find wild animals for the arena games, and found many waiting outside Blaise's cave. Discovered in prayer, Blaise was arrested, and Agricola tried to get him to recant his faith. While in prison, Blaise ministered to and healed fellow prisoners, including saving a child who was choking on a fish bone; this led to the blessing of throats on Blaise's feast day.

Thrown into a lake to drown, Blaise stood on the surface and invited his persecutors to walk out and prove the power of their gods; they drowned. When he returned to land, he was martyred by being beaten, his flesh torn with wool combs (which led to his association with and patronage of those involved in the wool trade), and then beheading.

St. Blaise has been extremely popular for centuries in both the Eastern and Western Churches and many cures were attributed to him. In 1222 the Council of Oxford prohibited servile labour in England on his feast. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He is invoked for all throat afflictions, and on his feast two candles are blessed with a prayer that God will free from all such afflictions and every ill all those who receive this blessing.

— Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch