Category Archives: Saints

Cum sanctis tuis (XIV)

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CHAPTER XIV. How the Night-Office is to Be Said on Saints’ Days17 Feb. 18 June. 18 Oct.
On the Festivals of Saints, and all other solemnities, let the Office be ordered as we have prescribed for Sundays: except that the Psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said. Their number, however, shall remain as we have appointed above.

Festivals of the Saints
Saint Benedict distinguishes the festivals of saints from “other solemnities”, presumably those of the Lord. In Saint Benedict’s day there were far fewer festivals of saints than there are in the present liturgical calendar. Saint Benedict’s monks would have known the most ancient festivals of the Mother of God on January 1st and August 15th. They would have celebrated the feast of Saint John the Baptist, of the Apostles, of the greater martyrs and of local ones, and of some confessors such as, for example, Saint Martin of Tours.

Oratories and Relics
Saint Benedict’s first act upon arriving at Monte Cassino in 529 was to destroy the idol and altar that he found in the there in the temple dedicated to Apollo. On that site he built a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and an oratory dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. This indicates that Saint Benedict already celebrated the liturgical cultus of these two monastic saints. Saint Benedict’s liturgical devotion to the saints appears in Chapter LVIII, on the reception of new brethren, where he alludes to “the saints whose relics are in the altar.”

Ordering the Night Office
Saint Benedict orders that the Night Office of the festivals of saints be celebrated with proper psalms, antiphons, and lessons, while keeping the order established for Sundays. This detail reveals a keen sensitivity to the liturgical cultus of the saints, and to the already high development of the choral Office celebrated by Saint Benedict and his monks. With the progressive enrichment of the sanctoral cycle, it became necessary to devise various ways of ranking the festivals of saints, and of ordering their celebration. Over time this gave rise to the current practices by which certain greater festivals are marked by a complete proper Office, or by one taken from the Common suited to the particular saint, whereas on other days, only the invitatory antiphon, hymn, lesson, responsory, and collect would be of the saint.

Benedictine Devotion to the Saints
Our Lord would not have us journey on earth without heavenly companions. First of all, through the liturgical calendar and, then, through an interplay of affinities and attractions, Our Lord engages us in conversation, in spiritual exchanges, and in real friendship with the saints. More often than not, it happens that, by circumstances that appear random or coincidental, a saint presents himself or herself to us to offer us friendship and assistance. Know, too, that there exist in the communion of the saints what I can only call families of souls; these are marked by a shared affinity, by the distinctive traits of their spiritual physiognomy. Our Lord would have us find in the saints a true friendship, a friendship that is all pure, a friendship that does not disappoint. Through the saints and by their intercession for us before the glorious Face of Christ, we can hope, at length, to make our way through this valley of tears to be with Him in glory. Our Lord asked this for us on the night before He suffered:

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world.(John 17:24)

Benedictine piety has long been characterised by an affective and effective devotion to the saints. For a taste of this one has only to read the prayers of Saint Anselm addressed to Our Lady, Saint Mary, to Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist, Stephen, Nicholas, Benedict, and Mary Magdalene. (See The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, translated by Benedicta Ward, Penguin Books, 1973). In her introduction to The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, Benedicta Ward writes: “What Anselm honours in each of the saints is what God has done in them, and that is the basis on which he asks their prayers”. Later, one finds Saint Gertrude the Great addressing the saints and living the daily round of liturgical prayer in their company. In the nineteenth century, Dom Guéranger’s Liturgical Year is rich in prayers to the saints of the day. By writing some prayers in the form of the popular Italian supplica, I have tried, from the beginning of our monastery, to make the invocation of the saints and the veneration of their relics and images a characteristic element of our life. God forbid that any one of us should hold himself aloof from the companionship of the saints. Invoke the saints frequently, seek from them the help you need in your struggles. You will, in this regard, want, first of all, to make use of the liturgical collect of the saint. In heaven the saints will be glad for having helped us make our way to the throne of God and of the Lamb.

The Companionship of the Saints
An authentic Benedictine piety delights in the cultus of the saints, of their relics, and of their altars. I remember being moved, in my monastic youth, by the simple devotion of monks who, inspired by the old Cluniac devotion, would go, either before Matins or after Compline, in pilgrimage, as it were, from altar to altar, and from image to image, honouring the saints and seeking their intercession. One does well, from the very beginning of one’s monastic life, to develop the habit of never passing before the image of a saint without asking, however briefly, for that saint’s intercession.

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo

presentation_cope_ildefonsus_hi.jpgDoctor of the Virginity of Mary
Today is the feast of Saint Ildephonsus, Archbishop of Toledo (+ 23 January 667). Dom Guéranger calls him the Doctor of the Virginity of Mary. Saint Ildephonsus established the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is still kept in some places on December 18th.

At the Altar
It is recounted that on this feast of the Mother of God, Archbishop Ildephonsus, together with some of his clergy, hastened to church before the hour of Matins to honour Our Blessed Lady with their songs. Arriving close to the church, they found it all ablaze with a heavenly radiance. This so frightened the little band that all fled, except for Archbishop Ildephonsus and his two faithful deacons. Deacons, take note! With wildly beating hearts, these entered the church and made their way to the altar. A great mystery was about to unfold.

A Chasuble from the Treasury of Heaven
There, seated on the Archbishop’s throne, was the august Queen of Heaven surrounded by choirs of angels and holy virgins. The chants of paradise filled the air. Our Blessed Lady beckoned Ildephonsus to approach her. Looking upon him with tenderness and majesty, she said: “Thou art my chaplain and faithful notary. Receive from me this chasuble, which my Son sends you from His treasury.” Having said this, the Immaculate Virgin clothed Ildephonsus in the chasuble, and instructed him to wear it for the Holy Sacrifice on her festivals.

The acel_greco_ildefonso.jpgcount of this apparition, and of the miraculous chasuble, was deemed so certain and utterly beyond doubt, that news of it spread through the Church, even reaching the Ethiopians. The Church of Toledo honoured the event with a special proper Mass and Office. What was the miraculous chasuble like? Artists through the ages have sought to depict it, more often than not in rich brocades of gold and blue.

Gifts from Heaven
Sceptics may smile condescendingly and dismiss the story as a pious fabulation. Serious studies of the various gratiae gratis datae — graces freely given — are not without evidence of the phenomenon of material gifts brought from heaven. One finds examples of it as recently as in the life of Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit (1901-1951). A classic example of the phenomenon would be the cincture of the Angelic Warfare with which angels girded Saint Thomas Aquinas after his victory over a temptation of the flesh.

The Prayer of Saint Ildephonsus
I have used the celebrated prayer of Saint Ildephonsus to renew my total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I am thy slave, because Thy Son is my Master. Therefore thou art my Lady, because thou art the handmaid of my Lord. Therefore I am the slave of the handmaid of my Lord, because thou, my Lady, didst become the Mother of my Lord. Therefore I have become thy slave, because thou didst become the Mother of my Maker.

You will find the full text of the prayer here together with Murillo’s depiction of Our Lady’s bestowal of the chasuble from heaven.

Saint Antony of the Desert, Father of Monks

anthonySaint Antony and Signor Siciliano
Isn’t this a wonderful painting of Saint Antony? Flemish Jan Gossaert painted it in Rome in 1508 as the right panel of a diptych. The left panel (not shown) depicts the Mother of God. What interests me is the tender spiritual relationship that the artists depicts between Saint Antony and the donor, one Antonio Siciliano.

The Ear of the Heart
Notice the holy abbot’s right hand gently touching Signor Siciliano’s shoulder. In his left hand Saint Antony holds the book of the Scriptures and his prayer beads. Antony’s face is sweet and gentle. Does he not have a lovely smile? His ear is exposed: that ear through which the Word of God entered his mind and descended into his heart.

Precocious Piety
The donor, in contrast, appears sincere, but stiff; he is looking toward the Madonna on the other panel. His rigid piety lacks the seasoned humanity of the old abbot, tried by temptation and marked by compassion. I have known many young men, precociously pious and fascinated by the monastic life, but harsh and rigid in their piety and perfectionism. It takes, sometimes, years — even decades — of humiliating failures and falls before one learns the secret of abandonment to the mercy of Christ that makes one patient, compassionate, and tender.  Signor Siciliano’s handsome dog is wearing a stylish red collar. He (or is it she?) is gazing at his master, fascinated by what is going on. Picture yourself in the place of Signor Siciliano. Let the hand of Saint Antony bless and guide you today.

Jan_Gossaert_-_St_Anthony_with_a_Donor_-_WGA09762A Certain Primacy Among the Saints
The sacred liturgy makes it clear that Saint Antony of the Desert holds a certain primacy among the saints. The 1970 Missal gives a complete set of proper texts; the reformed Lectionary gives proper readings. (Is there a possibility of mutual enrichment here?) Saint Antony is a primary reference, a model of how we are to hear the Word of God, an inspiration in spiritual combat, a radiant icon of holiness for the ages.

No Rest From Spiritual Combat
The feast of Saint Antony, falling between the Christmas festivities and Septuagesima, is an invitation to shake off the sluggishness that comes with winter, a bracing reminder that there is no rest from spiritual combat, and that “the monk’s life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character” (RB 49:1). It is the custom in some monasteries on the feast of Saint Antony to go out to the barn to bless the animals. He is the patron of horses, pigs, cattle, and other domestic animals. Icons of Saint Antony often show his little pet pig nestled in the folds of his tunic. Our little staffie, Hilda, will undoubtedly receive her Saint Antony Day blessing very meekly.

Ice on the Holy Water
Making a trip to the barn in the mid-January cold may be as much of a blessing for the monks as for the animals. It is a wake-up call. One has to use the aspergillum to break the ice that forms on the Holy Water. One sees the animals shudder when the cold water hits them. These are very physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot afford to become cozy and comfortable in a spirituality of feather comforters for the soul. From time to time we, like the barn animals, need the salutary shock of cold Holy Water splashed in our face!

The Life of Antony
More than forty years ago dear Trappist Father Marius Granato (+ 10 November 2003) of Spencer introduced me to the Life of Antony by Saint Athanasius. Heady reading for a fifteen year old boy! Shortly thereafter a wise Father told me that one should read the Life of Antony once a year. These seasoned monks knew exactly what they were doing: they were proposing a model of holiness perfectly adapted to the ideals of a youth starting out on the spiritual journey. After all, the Life of Antony begins with an account of his boyhood. He was about “eighteen, or even twenty” when, going into church one day, he heard the Gospel being chanted, and understood that it was Christ speaking to him. “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me” (Mt 19:21).

0117anthony.jpgA Book For All Ages
Why counsel an annual reading of the Life of Antony? Because it is a text that, in some way, grows with us. If it is suitable for the eager young seeker, it is just as suitable to the Christian wrestling with the oppressive noon-day devil or with the cunning demons of midlife. For the Christian faced with the onset of old age, it is a comforting book. The Life of Antony belongs on the bookshelf of every priest; it should be within the reach of all monks, and even of our Benedictine Oblates.

He Never Looked Gloomy
The portrait of Saint Antony at the end of his life shows a man transfigured: “His face,” says Saint Athanasius, “had a great and marvelous grace. . . . His soul being free of confusion, he held his outer senses also undisturbed, so that from the soul’s joy his face was cheerful as well, and from the movements of the body it was possible to sense and perceive the stable condition of the soul, as it is written, ‘When the heart rejoices, the countenance is cheerful.” Antony . . . was never troubled, his soul being calm, and he never looked gloomy, his mind being joyous” (Life of Antony, 67). This serenity of countenance is what monastic life is supposed to produce!

 

Epiphany Novena Asking for Priest Adorers

One–hundred–sixty–one years ago, on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1857, Saint Peter Julian Eymard inaugurated the solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament by which his Society of the Blessed Sacrament came to life. The movement of Thursdays of Adoration and Reparation for Priests, begun eleven years ago, on October 29, 2007, inspired the following novena. The desire of the Heart of Jesus is that there should be priest adorers and reparators: priests who will adore for those who do not adore, priests who will make reparation for those who do not. Our Lord asks souls to remain in adoration before His Eucharistic Face, offering all the priests of the Church to His Open Heart present in the Sacrament of His Love.

January 6 — 14
Antiphon: And when they were come into the house, they found the Child with Mary His Mother, and fell down and adored Him.
V. Arise, shine, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come.
R. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Let us pray.
O God, who by the leading of a star, didst manifest Thine Only-Begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, having been led unto Him by the light of faith, may, with grateful hearts, ceaselessly adore Him present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Who is our Mighty King, our Great High Priest, and our Immaculate Victim, and Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Antiphon: The Priests shall be holy; for the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer, therefore they shall be holy.
V. Pray for us, Saint Peter Julian.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray.
O God, Who through the preaching and example of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, didst renew the priesthood of Thy Church in holiness and inflame many souls with zeal for the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar; we beseech Thee, through his intercession, to gather priests of one mind and one heart, from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof, to keep watch in adoration before the Eucharistic Face of Thine Only-Begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ and to abide before His Open Heart, in reparation for those who forsake Him, hidden in the tabernacles of the world, and in thanksgiving for the mercies that ever stream from the Sacred Mysteries of His Body and Blood. Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Wreathe the Door of Thy Heart

1226Stephen Angelico.jpgDecember 26
Saint Stephen the Protomartyr

The painting is by Blessed Fra Angelico (1400-1455). Blessed Fra Angelico’s paintings are theological; they are a holy preaching and a revelation of the mysteries of the faith. Here, Saint Peter is ordaining Stephen to the diaconate while Saint John the Beloved (whose feast we will keep tomorrow), holding his Gospel, looks on. The composition is remarkable: the three heads of Peter, John and Stephen form a triangle, a symbol of communion in the Three Divine Persons. Peter is handing over the chalice and paten; they are very large. Fra Angelico makes the Most Holy Eucharist central; he paints what Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, i.e. that the unity of the Church is constituted and held together by participation in the adorable Body and Blood of Christ.

The Holy Ghost at Christmas
The liturgy of Christmas, while drawing our gaze to the Son, the Word made flesh, in no way obscures or minimizes the presence and the work of the Holy Ghost. Quite by chance, I came upon this astonishing text of Saint Ephrem the Syrian: “At this feast of the Nativity let each person wreathe the door of his heart so that the Holy Ghost may delight in that door, enter in and make there his dwelling; then by the Spirit we will be made holy”.

Fear Not, For Thou Hast Found Grace With God
Already on the First Sunday of Advent, we sang in the Benedictus Antiphon, “The Holy Ghost will come upon thee, O Mary. Do not be afraid”. And on the Second Saturday of Advent, Blessed Isaac of Stella explained that “what is said in the particular case of the Virgin Mother Mary, is rightly understood of the Virgin Mother Church universally (Sermon 51). Today’s feast of Saint Stephen is the liturgy’s way of repeating now to the Virgin Mother Church the mysterious words of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mother Mary: “Fear not, for thou hast found grace with God’ (Luke 1:30).

Grace and Power
It is remarkable that Saint Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, describes Saint Stephen as “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). The phrase refers back to Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation. To Mary, “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), the angel Gabriel says: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). The words addressed to the Virgin Mary in a particular way hold universal import for the Church. On this second day of Christmas, Stephen, “full of grace and power”(Acts 6:8) is the radiant icon of the Church indwelt and overshadowed by the Holy Ghost. Without leaving Mary and the Infant Christ, we pass to Stephen and the Infant Christ, to Stephen and the Infant Church.

The Spirit of Truth
Saint Luke tells us that those who disputed Stephen “could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10). Stephen of the growing Church, like Jesus at the age of twelve (Luke 2:42) opens his mouth in the midst of the people, the elders, and the scribes, and his utterance is evidence of the Holy Ghost sent to the Church in fulfillment of Jesus’ promises. “But when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me” (John 15:26). Saint Matthew, in today’s Gospel expresses the same reality: “But when they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).

Full of the Spirit, Stephen Gazed into Heaven
We generally interpret this promise of Our Lord as having to do with the witness given by those who are delivered up to the enemies of His name and persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, and this is indeed the first meaning of the text, but the use of the text in this liturgy of Saint Stephen suggests yet another meaning to us, one that is, at a first glance, perhaps less apparent. Saint Luke clarifies his initial description of Stephen as “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8) by making it explicit in his description of Stephen’s martyrdom: “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54).

“Full of grace and power” is synonymous with “full of the Holy Ghost”. The indwelling and overshadowing of the Holy Ghost enables us to speak rightly and boldly in the hour of our need (Matthew 10:19-20). Those who are “full of the Holy Ghost” are also those who gaze into heaven,  and see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:54).

The Boldness That Comes from the Holy Ghost
The first effect corresponds to Saint Paul’s experience of the indwelling Holy Ghost. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings” (Romans 8:26). How we are to speak and what we are to say come from the Holy Ghost not only when we are facing persecutors but also when, gathered in Christ, we turn to face the Father in prayer. In both instances the Church is in need of the παρρησίαthe boldness — that comes from the Holy Ghost.

Tu Solus Sanctus
The Church, indwelt and overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, the Church “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8), knows how to speak and what to say, for the Spirit helps her in her weakness, giving her to pray as she ought. This is why in the Gloria of the Mass the Church gazes into the heavens and seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, sings “Thou alone art the Holy One, thou alone art Lord, thou alone art the Most High: Jesus Christ, with the Holy Ghost: in the glory of God the Father” (Gloria). The Church-at-prayer sings of that which she beholds, with the eyes of faith.

The Prayer of Christ
The work of the Holy Ghost, first of all through the sacred liturgy, is to align us with the prayer of Christ to the Father, to empty us of all that is our own prayer — narrow, subjective, constrained — and to fill us with the utter fullness of the prayer of Christ, a prayer that is immense, universal, all-encompassing, all-powerful and always and everywhere pleasing to the Father. In his martyrdom, Saint Stephen reveals this. “Thus they stoned Stephen; he, meanwhile, was praying; Lord Jesus, he said, receive my spirit; and then, kneeling down, he cried aloud, Lord, do not count this sin against them.” (Acts 7:59-60).

Designedly, Saint Luke, in his account of the death of Stephen, reproduces his own account of the prayer of the dying Jesus from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, and “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:34 and 46). There is, however, a subtle theological difference. Whereas the dying Jesus addresses the Father, the dying Stephen addresses the living Christ, the risen and ascended Jesus whom he beholds “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Stephen’s prayer at the hour of death is a confession of the resurrection and lordship of Christ. The Communion Antiphon of today’s Mass expresses this: the prayer of Christ in Stephen becomes the prayer of Christ in the Church:

I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of the power of God: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, and lay not this sin to their charge. (Acts 7:55, 58, 60).

Under the Overshadowing of the Holy Spirit
The Virgin Mother Mary and the protomartyr Saint Stephen are given us as living signs of the indwelling and overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. Now to the Church, as once to the Virgin Mary, is said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). To us is given, “wisdom and the Spirit” (Acts 6:10), which no earthly power or wisdom can withstand.

Body of Christ, Voice of Christ, Prayer of Christ
By our communion in the Holy Sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood, we, like Saint Stephen, are filled with the Holy Ghost. Herein is the transforming effect of Holy Mass: we are no longer many individuals speaking many words and praying many prayers. We are, by the action of the Holy Ghost, a single Body with a single voice and single prayer: the Body of Christ, the voice of Christ, the prayer of Christ. Amen.

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Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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