The Cross, the Passion, and the Most Holy Eucharist
Today’s Saint Silvester Guzzolini (1177-1267), founder of the so-called Blue Benedictines (from the colour of their habit) or Silvestrines, exemplifies the monastic spirituality of the thirteenth century. Nourished by the Word of God, Silvester filled the gaze of his soul with the mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord, contemplating His wounds and desiring nothing so much as to follow Him along the way of the Cross. So strong was this desire of his that on one occasion he was mystically transported to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As one might expect, Silvester’s devotion to the Passion of Jesus found its highest expression in the ardent love he had for the Most Holy Eucharist. This is reflected in the beautiful Secret for his feast:
With all reverence, O Lord, do we offer these gifts to Thy divine Majesty: praying that by the devout preparation of our minds and purity of heart, we may be made imitators of the blessed Silvester, and so deserve to receive in a holy manner the Body and Blood of Thy Son.
The Mother of God
Silvester nurtured a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Mercy, to whom he entrusted himself entirely. Our Lady responded by demonstrating her maternal love for him with singular graces. On one occasion, he fell in the staircase while descending to the Night Office. The Blessed Virgin came to help him and, in the twinkling of an eye, Silvester found himself safe and sound back in his cell. One hears of similar episodes in the lives of modern saints such as Saint Padre Pio, Blessed Maria Pierina, Marthe Robin, and Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit.
Communion from the Hands of Our Lady
The most famous Marian prodigy in his life took place when, of a night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream and said, “Silvester, dost thou desire to receive the Body of my Son?” With trepidation he answered, “My heart is ready, O Lady; let it be done unto me according to thy word.” What I find most extraordinary is that Saint Silvester, being a monk already steeped in the Word of God through the familiar repetition of it in the Sacred Liturgy, answered Our Blessed Lady in two phrases already held and pondered within her Immaculate Heart. The first phrase, taken from Psalm 107:2 —Paratum cor meum Deus paratum cor meum— “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready” is the perfect act of preparation for Holy Communion. The second phrase is Our Blessed Lady’s own acquiescence to the mystery of the Incarnation as recorded in Luke 1:30 —Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum— “Be it done to me according to thy word”. Receiving her very own words from the lips of her servant Silvester, the Mother of God gave him Holy Communion. Claudio Ridolfi painted the episode in 1632.
There are two Collects for today’s feast. The first alludes to the horrifying experience that caused Silvester to change his way of life and embrace the monastic state. In 1227, as a fifty year old canon of the cathedral of Osimo, he saw the decomposing body of a man who, in life, had been comely and strong. Silvester then said to himself: “What he was thou art, and what he is, thou shalt be.” With that, he decided to withdraw into solitude.
O most clement God, Who, when the holy abbot Silvester, by the side of an open grave, stood meditating on the emptiness of the things of this world, didst vouchsafe to call him into the wilderness and to ennoble him with the merit of a singularly holy life; most humbly we beg of Thee, that like him, we may despise earthly things, and enjoy fellowship with Thee for evermore.
The second prayer, found in the new Antiphonale Monasticum, reflects the two principle graces of his life: solitude and community. The Latin text has this magnificent conclusion: et in humili caritate ad aeterna tabernacula festinare!
O God who bestowed upon Saint Silvester zeal for the sweetness of solitude and for the labours of the cenobitical life, grant us, we beseech Thee, to seek Thee always with a sincere mind and in humble charity hasten toward the eternal tabernacles.