St. Peter Damian thus begins his Sermon for this Feast: "We are holding in our arms the Son of the Virgin, and are honouring, with our caresses, this our Infant God. The holy Virgin has led us to the dear Crib. The most beautiful of the Daughters of men has brought us to the most beautiful among the Sons of men, [Ps. xliv. 3.] and the Blessed among women to Him that is Blessed above all. She tell us ... that now the veils of prophecy are drawn aside, and the counsel of God is accomplished. ... Is there anything capable of distracting us from this sweet Birth? On what else shall we fix our eyes? ... Lo! whilst Jesus is permitting us thus to caress him; whilst he is overwhelming us with the greatness of these mysteries, and our hearts are riveted in admiration - there comes before us Stephen full of grace and fortitude, doing great wonders and signs among the people. [Acts, vi. 8.] Is it right, that we turn from our King, to look on Stephen, his soldier? No - unless the King himself bid us do so. This our King, who is Son of the King, rises ... to assist at the glorious combat of his servant. ... Let us go with him, and contemplate this standard-bearer of the Martyrs."
The Church gives us, in to-day's Office, this opening of a Sermon of St. Fulgentius for the Feast of St. Stephen: "Yesterday, we celebrated the temporal Birth of our eternal King: to-day, we celebrate the triumphant passion of his Soldier. Yesterday, our King, having put on the garb of our flesh, came from the sanctuary of his Mother's virginal womb, and mercifully visited the earth: to-day, his Soldier, quitting his earthly tabernacle, entered triumphantly into heaven. Jesus, whilst still continuing to be the eternal God, assumed to himself the lowly raiment of flesh, and entered the battle-field of this world: Stephen, laying aside the perishable garment of the body, ascended to the palace of heaven, there to reign for ever. Jesus descended veiled in our flesh: Stephen ascended wreathed with a martyr's laurels. Stephen ascended to heaven amidst the shower of stones, because Jesus had descended on earth midst the singing of Angels. Yesterday, the holy Angels exultingly sang, Glory be to God in the highest; to-day, they joyously received Stephen into their company. ... Yesterday, was Jesus wrapped, for our sakes, in swaddling-clothes: to-day, was Stephen clothed with the robe of immortal glory. Yesterday, a narrow crib contained the Infant Jesus: to-day, the immensity of the heavenly court received the triumphant Stephen."
Thus does the sacred Liturgy blend the joy of our Lord's Nativity with the gladness she feels at the triumph of the first of her Martyrs. Nor will Stephen be the only one admitted to share the honours of this glorious Octave. After him, we shall have John, the Beloved Disciple; the Innocents of Bethlehem; Thomas, the Martyr of the Liberties of the Church; and Sylvester, the Pontiff of Peace. But, the place of honour amidst all who stand round the Crib of the new-born King, belongs to Stephen, the Proto-Martyr, who, as the Church sings of him, was the first to pay back to the Saviour, the Death suffered by the Saviour. It was just, that this honour should be shown to Martyrdom; for, Martyrdom is the Creature's testimony, and return to his Creator for all the favours bestowed on him: it is Man's testifying, even by shedding his blood, to the truths which God has revealed to the world.
In order to understand this, let us consider what is the plan of God, in the salvation he has given to man. The Son of God is sent to instruct mankind; he sows the seed of his divine word; and his works give testimony to his divinity. But, after his sacrifice on the cross, he again ascends to the right hand of his Father; so that his own testimony of himself has need of a second testimony, in order to its being received by them that have neither seen nor heard Jesus himself. Now, it is the Martyrs who are to provide this second testimony; and this they will do, not only by confessing Jesus with their lips, but by shedding their blood for him. The Church, then, is to be founded by the Word and the Blood of Jesus, the Son of God; but she will be upheld, she will continue throughout all ages, she will triumph over all obstacles, by the blood of her Martyrs, the members of Christ: this their blood will mingle with that of their Divine Head, and their sacrifice be united to his.
The Martyrs shall bear the closest resemblance to their Lord and King. They shall be, as he said, like lambs among wolves. [St Luke, x. 3.] The world shall be strong, and they shall be weak and defenceless: so much the grander will be the victory of the Martyrs, and the greater the glory of God who gives them to conquer. The Apostle tells us, that Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God [I Cor. i. 24.]; - the Martyrs, immolated, and yet conquerors of the world, will prove, and with a testimony which even the world itself will understand, that the Christ whom they confessed, and who gave them constancy and victory, is in very deed the power and the wisdom of God. We repeat, then - it is just, that the Martyrs should share in all the triumphs of the Man-God, and that the liturgical Cycle should glorify them as does the Church herself, who puts their sacred Relics in her altar-stones; for, thus, the Sacrifice of their glorified Lord and Head is never celebrated, without they themselves being offered together with him, in the unity of his mystical Body.
Now, the glorious Martyr-band of Christ is headed by St. Stephen. His name signifies the Crowned; - a conqueror like him could not be better named. He marshals, in the name of Christ, the white-robed army, as the Church calls the Martyrs; for, he was the first, even before the Apostles themselves, to receive the summons, and right nobly did he answer it. Stephen courageously bore witness, in the presence of the Jewish Synagogue, to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth; by thus proclaiming the Truth, he offended the ears of the unbelievers; the enemies of God, became the enemies of Stephen, and, rushing upon him, they stone him to death. Amidst the pelting of the blood-drawing missives, he, like a true soldier, flinches not, but stands, (as St. Gregory of Nyssa so beautifully describes it,) as though snow-flakes were falling on him, or roses were covering him with the shower of their kisses. Through the cloud of stones, he sees the glory of God; - Jesus, for whom he was laying down his life, showed himself to his Martyr, and the Martyr again rendered testimony to the divinity of our Emmanuel, but with all the energy of a last act of love. Then, to make his sacrifice complete, he imitates his divine Master, and prays for his executioners: falling on his knees, he begs that this sin be not laid to their charge. Thus, all is consummated - the glorious type of Martyrdom is created, and shown to the world, that it may be imitated, by every generation, to the end of time, until the number of the Martyrs of Christ shall be filled up. Stephen sleeps in the Lord, and is buried in peace - in pace - until his sacred Tomb shall be discovered, and his glory be celebrated a second time in the whole Church, by that anticipated Resurrection of the miraculous Invention of his Relics.
Stephen, then, deserves to stand near the Crib of his King, as leader of those brave champions, the Martyrs, who died for the Divinity of that Babe, whom we adore. Let us join the Church in praying to our Saint, that he help us to come to our Sovereign Lord, now lying on his humble throne in Bethlehem. Let us ask him to initiate us into the mystery of that divine Infancy, which we are all bound to know and imitate. It was from the simplicity he had learnt from that Mystery, that he heeded not the number of the enemies he had to fight against, nor trembled at their angry passion, nor winced under their blows, nor hid from them the Truth and their crimes, nor forgot to pardon them and pray for them. What a faithful imitator of the Babe of Bethlehem! Our Jesus did not send his Angels to chastise those unhappy Bethlehemites, who refused a shelter to the Virgin-Mother, who in a few hours was to give birth to Him, the Son of David. He stays not the fury of Herod, who plots his Death - but meekly flees into Egypt, like some helpless bondsman, escaping the threats of a tyrant lordling. But, it is under such apparent weakness as this, that he will show his Divinity to men, and He the Infant-God prove himself the Strong God. Herod will pass away, so will his tyranny; Jesus will live, greater in his Crib, where he makes a King tremble, than is, under his borrowed majesty, this prince-tributary of Rome; nay, than Caesar-Augustus himself, whose world-wide empire has no other destiny than this - to serve as handmaid to the Church, which is to be founded by this Babe, whose name stands humbly written in the official registry of Bethlehem.
The Introit is composed of the words of the holy Martyr, who, in the language of the Royal Psalmist, tells us of the plot formed against him by the wicked, and of his own humble confidence in God, whereby he triumphed over their persecutions. From the murder of the innocent Abel to the future Martyrs, who are to shed their blood in the days of Antichrist - the Church is always under persecution; in some one country, she is ever shedding her blood; but, her strength lies in her fidelity to Jesus her Spouse, and in the simplicity, which the Babe of Bethlehem is come to teach her by his own example.
|Sederunt principes,et adversum me loquebantur; et
iniqui persecuti sunt me;
adjuva me, Domine Deus meus, quia servus tuus exercebatur in tuis
Ps. Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini. V. Gloria Patri.
| Princes sat, and spoke against me; and sinners persecuted me: help me, O Lord my God, for thy servant hath practised thy
Ps. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. V. Glory, &c.
Princes sat, &c.
In the Collect, the Church asks, for both herself and her children, that divine vigour, which makes the holy Martyrs forgive their persecutors, and perfects, not only their testimony to the truth, but also their imitation of Jesus Christ. It speaks the praise of St. Stephen, who was the first to follow our Saviour's example.
|Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus: ut discamus et inimicos diligere; quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.||Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him whose memory we celebrate, so as to learn to love even our enemies; because we now solemnise his martyrdom, who knew how to pray, even for his persecutors, to our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, &c.|
Commemoration of Christmas Day.
Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem.
Let us pray.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine Only Begotten Son. Through the same, &c.
Lectio Actuum Apostolorum.
Cap. VI. et VII.
In diebus illis, Stephanus, plenus gratia et fortitudine, faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo. Surrexerunt autem quidam de synagoga, quae appellatur Libertinorum. et Cyrenensium, et Alexandrinorum, et eorum qui erant a Cilicia et Asia, disputantes cum Stephano, et non poterant resistere sapientiae, et Spiritui qui loquebatur. Audientes autem haec, dissecabantur cordibus suis, et stridebant dentibus in eum. Cum autem esset Stephanus plenus Spiritu Sancto, intendens in coelum, vidit gloriam Dei et Jesum stantem a dextris Dei. Et ait: Ecce video coelos apertos, et Filium hominis stantem a dextris Dei. Exclamantes autem voce magna continuerunt aures suas, et impetum fecerunt unanimiter in eum. Et ejicientes eum extra civitatem, lapidabant. Et testes deposuerunt vestimenta sua secus pedes adolescentis, qui vocabatur Saulus. Et lapidabant Stephanum invocantem, et dicentem: Domine Jesu, suscipe spiritum meuu. Positis autem genibus, clamavit voce magna, dicens: Domine, ne statuas illis hoc peccatum. Et cum hoc dixisset, obdormivit in Domino.
Lesson from the Acts of the
Ch. VI and VII.
In those days, Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people. Now there arose some of that which is called the Synagogue of the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen; and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke. Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him. But Stephen 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. And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying: Lord Jesus! receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord! lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord.
Thus, glorious Prince of Martyrs! thou wast led outside the gates of the City for thy sacrifice, and thy punishment was that of blasphemers. The Disciple was to be like to his Master, in all things. But neither the ignominy of such a death, nor its cruelty, could daunt thy great soul: thou didst carry Jesus in thy heart, and, with Him, thou wast stronger than all thy enemies. And what was thy joy, when thou sawest the heavens open, and this same Jesus in his glorified Humanity, standing at the right hand of God, and looking upon thee with love! A God looking complacently on the creature that is going to die for him, and the creature permitted to behold the God for whom he is dying - truly, this was more than enough to encourage thee! Let thine enemies cast their stones against thee, and bruise and tear thy flesh, as they please: - nothing can distract thee from this sight of the Eternal King, who raised himself from his throne to applaud thee, and deck thee with the Crown, which he had prepared for thee from all eternity! Now that thou art reigning in the kingdom of heaven, pray for us, that we also may be faithful, and faithful even unto death, to this same Jesus, who not only left his throne, but even came down among us as a Little Child.
Sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur: et
iniqui persecuti sunt me.
V. Adjuva me, Domine Deus meus; salvum me fac propter misericordiam tuam.
Princes sat, and spoke
against me: and the wicked
V. Help me, O Lord my God: save me for thy mercy's sake.
| Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthaeum.
In illo tempore: dicebat Jesus scribis et Pharasaeis: Ecce ego mitto ad vos Prophetas, et sapientes, et scribas; et ex illis occidetis, et crucifigetis, et ex eis flagellabitis in synagogis vestris, et persequemini de civitate in civitatem: ut veniat super vos omnis sanguis Justus, qui effusus est super terram, a sanguine Abel justi usque ad sanguinem Zachariae, filii Barachiae, quem occidistis inter templum et altare. Amen dico vobis, venient haec omnia super generationem istam. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, quae occidis Prophetas, et lapidas eos qui ad te missi sunt, quoties volui congregare filios tuos, quemadmodum gallina congregat pullos suos sub alas, et noluisti! Ecce relinquetur vobis domus vestra deserta. Dico enim vobis, non me videbitis amodo, donec dicatis: Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Sequel of the holy Gospel
according to Matthew.
At that time: Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees: Behold, I send to you Prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them you will put to death, and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. Amen, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not? Behold, your house shall be left to you desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see me, henceforth, till you say: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
The Martyrs are given to the world that they may continue the ministry of Christ on the earth, by bearing testimony to his word, and by confirming this testimony by their blood. The world has despised them; like their divine Master, they have shone in the darkness, and darkness has not understood their light. Nevertheless, many have received their testimony, and the seed of the Martyrs' blood has brought forth in them the rich fruit of Faith. The Synagogue was cast off by God for its having shed the blood of Stephen, after having imbrued its hands in that of Jesus. Unhappy, they who cannot appreciate the Martyrs! Let us, who are Christians, take in the sublime lessons taught us by their generous sacrifice; and let our respect and love for them testify, that we are grateful for the noble ministry they have fulfilled in the Church, and are still fulfilling. The Church is never without Martyrs, just as she is never without Miracles: it is the twofold testimony that she will give to the end of time, and by which she evidences the divine life she has received from her almighty Founder.
During the Offertory, the Church once more proclaims the merits and the glorious death of Stephen; and by this she teaches us that the sacrifice of the holy Deacon is united with that of Jesus himself.
|Elegerant Apostoli Stephanum Levitam, plenum fide et Spiritu Sancto; quem lapidaverunt Judaei orantem, et dicentem: Domine Jesu, accipe spiritum meum. Alleluia.||The Apostles chose Stephen, a Levite, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, whom the Jews stoned, praying and saying; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Alleluia.|
|Suscipe, Domine, munera pro tuorum commemoratione Sanctorum; ut sicut illos passio gloriosos effecit, ita nos devotio reddat innocuos. Per Dominum.||Receive, O Lord, these offerings in memory of thy Saints; and as their sufferings have made them glorious, so may our devotion render us free from sin. Through, &c.|
Commemoration of Christmas Day.
|Oblata, Domine, munera, nova Unigeniti tui nativitate sanctifica, nosque a peccatorum nostrorum maculis emunda. Per eumdem.||Sanctify, O Lord, our offerings, by the new Birth of thine Only Begotten Son, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through the same, &c.|
United by Holy Communion to her divine Spouse, the Church, too, sees the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, She sends up to this Incarnate Word the yearnings of her intense love, and derives from the heavenly Food she has received that meekness, which makes her bear with the injuries and insults put upon her by her enemies, in order that she may win them all to the faith and love of Jesus Christ. It was by partaking of this same heavenly Food, that Stephen got the superhuman strength, whereby he won his victory and crown.
|Video coelos apertos, et Jesum stantem a dextris virtutis Dei: Domine Jesu, accipe spiritum meum, et ne statuas illis hoc peccatum.||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.|
|Auxilientur nobis, Do mine, sumpta mysteria: et intercedente beato Stephano, Martyre tuo, sempitema protectione confirment. Per Dominum.||May the mysteries we have received, O Lord, be help to us: and by the intercession of the blessed Martyr Stephen, strengthen us with thy perpetual protection. Through, &c.|
Commemoration of Christmas Day.
|Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus; ut natus hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinae nobis generationis est auctor, ita et immortalitatis sit ipse largitor. Qui tecum.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as the Saviour of the world, who was born this day, procured for us a divine Birth, he may, also, bestow on us immortality. Who liveth, &c.|
The solemnity of the Christmas Octave - from which the Feast of St. Stephen has, in a manner, distracted us - returns at Vespers, in all its splendour. The Church sings the Psalms and Antiphons of Christmas Day, and the Martyr's Feast is, so to speak, suspended until she comes to the Capitulum. In this same way she celebrates the Vespers on all the Feasts which are kept during this Octave.
The Psalms and Antiphons are as given above, for Christmas day: Second Vespers of Christmas Day.
|Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat prodigia, et signa magna in populo.||But Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people.|
Deus tuorum militum
Sors, et corona, praemium,
Laudes canentes Martyris
Absolve nexu criminis.
Hic nempe mundi gaudia,
Poenas cucurrit fortiter,
Ob hoc precatu supplici
Jesu tibi sit gloria,
V. Stephanus vidit coelos apertos.
O God! thou the inheritance. Crown, and reward of
thy Soldiers! absolve from the
bonds of our sins us who sing
the praises of thy Martyr.
For, counting the joys of the world, and the deceitful bait of its caresses, as things embittered with gall, thy Martyr Stephen obtained the delights of heaven.
Bravely did he go through, and manfully did he bear, his pains; and, shedding his blood for thy sake, he now possesses thy eternal gifts.
Therefore, most merciful Father! we beseech thee, in most suppliant prayer, forgive us, thy unworthy servants, our sins, for it is the feast of thy Martyr's triumph.
Glory be to thee, O Jesus, that wast born of the Virgin! and to the Father, and to the Spirit of love, for overlaying ages. Amen.
V. Stephen saw the heavens opened.
* In the Monastic Breviary, it is as follows:
R. breve. Posuisti, Domine, * Super caput ejus.
Posuisti, Domine, * Super caput ejus.
V. Coronam de lapide pretioso. * Super caput ejus.
Posuisti, Domine, * Super caput ejus.
Deus, tuorum militum
Sors, et corona, praemium,
Laudes canentes Martyris
Absolve nexu criminis.
Hic nempe mundi gaudia,
Et blandimenta noxia,
Caduca rite deputans
Pervenit ad coelestia.
Poenas cucurrit fortiter,
Et sustulit viriliter
Pro te effundens sanguinem
Aeterna dona possidet.
Ob hoc precatu supplici
Te poscimus, Piissime,
In hoc triumpho Martyris
Dimitte noxam servulis.
Gloria tibi Domine,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre, et Sancto Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula. Amen.
|Ant. Sepelierunt Stephanum viri timorati, et fecerunt planctum magnum super eum.||Ant. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great mourning over him.|
Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus: ut discamus et inimicos diligere; quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
Let us pray.
Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him whose memory we celebrate, so as to learn to love even our enemies, because we. now solemnise his martyrdom who knew how to pray, even for his persecutors, to our Lord, Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, &c.
Commemoration of St. John.
Ant. Iste est Joannes, qui
supra pectus Domini in coena recubuit: beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta
V. Valde honorandus est
Ant. This is John, who
leaned upon the Lord's breast
at the Supper. Blessed Apostle, unto whom were revealed
V. Most worthy of honour
is the blessed John.
Let us pray.
Commemoration of Christmas Day,
|Ant. Hodie Christus natus est; hodie Salvator
apparuit; hodie in terra canunt
Angel: laetantur Archangeli: hodie exsultant justi,
dicentes: Gloria in excelsis
V. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.
|Ant. This day, Christ is born; this day, the Saviour
hath appeared; this day, the
Angels sing on earth; the Archangels rejoice; this day,
the just exult, saying: Glory
be to God in the highest, alleluia.
V. The Lord hath made
Let us pray.
In honour of our Protomartyr, we will now give a selection from the ancient Liturgical Hymns, wherein his merits were celebrated by the various Churches. We begin with the Hymn composed by St. Ambrose, and which is in the Breviary of the Church of Milan.
Stephano primo Martyri
Cantemus novum canticum,
quod dulce sit psallentibus,
Opem ferat credentibus.
Psallamus hoc discipuli,
Hic enim per Apostolos
O praeferenda gloria!
Ipse martyr egregius,
Ille levatis oculis,
Judaei magis saeviunt,
Iste paratus vertice,
Gloria tibi, Domine,
To Stephen the first Martyr,
let us sing a new canticle:
may it be sweet to them that
sing, and bring grace to them
Come, ye disciples of the Lord, thus let us sing: let us give praise to the Martyr, who was the first, after the Redeemer, to follow the cross of Jesus.
For, having been found, by the Apostles, to be fervent in God's service, he outran all others and bore off the Banner of death.
O glorious First place! O blessed victory! Stephen to be the first to follow his Lord!
The noble Martyr preaches to men for the love of Christ, with his heart full of the Holy Spirit, and his face beaming as an Angel's.
He raises his eyes, and sees the Father with the Son: he tells the people how he beholds, living in heaven, Him whom they had sought to destroy.
The Jews grow the more enraged, and, seizing up stones in their hands, they ran out to kill the holy Soldier of Christ.
He was ready, and standing up, right gladly receives the stones: he asks God to forgive them, and joyfully breathes forth his soul.
Glory be to thee, O Lord!
Glory be to thine Only Begotten Son, together with the
Holy Ghost, for everlasting
The Gallican Sacramentary, on the Feast of St. Stephen, thus glorifies God for the graces bestowed on this the first of the Martyrs.
(Missa S. Stefani.)
|Deus omnipotens, qui Ecclesiae tuae sanctum Stephanum martyrem primum messis tuae manipulum dedisti, et primitivam oblationem novellae confessionis ostendisti praeconem, quod fructus maturescentes exhibuit; praesta universo coetui, intercessione martyris meriti, ut Ecclesiam tuam juvet suffragio, quam ornavit ministerio.||O Almighty God! who didst give the holy Martyr Stephen to thy Church as the first sheaf of thy harvest, and didst make this First-offering to be the herald of a new confession, because he had yielded such quick ripened fruits, - grant to this whole assembly, by the intercession of thy well-deserving Martyr, that he may aid the Church by his prayers, as he honoured her by his ministry.|
The Gothic Church of Spain has, in her Mozarabic Missal, these magnificent praises to God in his holy Martyr.
(In natali S,. Stephani, Contestatio.)
|Dignum et justum est; aequum et justum est: te laudare, teque benedicere, tibi gratias agere, omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui gloriaris in conventu Sanctorum tuorum; quos ante mundi constitutionem praeelectos spirituali in coelestibus benedictione signasti: quosque Unigenito tuo per adsumptionem carnis, et crucis redemptionem sociasti. In quibus Spiritum tuum Sanctum regnare fecisti; per quem ad felicis martyrii gloriam pietatis tuae favore venerunt. Digne igitur tibi, Domine virtutum, festa solemnitas agitur; tibi haec dies sacrata celebratur; qua beati Stephani primi martyris tui sanguis in tuae veritatis testimonio profusus, magnificum nominis tui honorem signavit. Hic est enim illius Nominis primus Confessor, quod est supra omne nomen: in quo unicum salutis nostrae praesidium. Pater aeteme, posuisti. Hic in Ecclesia tua quam splendidum ad cunctorum animos confirmandos, unicae laudis prsecessit exemplum! Hic post passionem Domini nostri Jesu Christi, victoriae palmam primus invasit. Hic ut levitico ministerio per Spiritum Sanctum ab Apostolis consecratus est; niveo candore confestim emicuit, martyrii cruore purpureus. O benedictum Abrahae semen, Apostolicae doctrinae, et dominicae crucis prior omnium factus imitator et testis! Merito coelos apertos vidit et Jesum stantem ad dexteram Dei. Digne igitur et juste talem sub tui nominis confessione laudamus, omnipotens Deus; quem ad tantam gloriam vocare dignatus es. Suffragia ejus nobis pro tua pietate concede. Talis pro hac plebe precetur; qualem illum post trophaea venientem exsultans Christus excepit. Illi pro nobis oculi sublimentur; qui adhuc in hoc mortis corpore constituti, stantem ad dexteram Patris Filium Dei in ipsa passionis hora viderunt. Hic pro nobis obtineat, qui pro persecutoribus suis dum lapidaretur, orabat ad te, sancte Deus, Pater omnipotens, per Dominum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui pro peccatis nostris nasci carne per Virginem, et pati dignatus est mortem: ut martyres suos suo pati doceret exemplo. Cum merito omnes Angeli atque Archangeli sine cessatione proclamant, dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.||It is meet and just, it is right and just, that we praise thee, and bless thee, and give thee thanks, O Almighty and eternal God! that art glorified in the assembly of thy Saints, whom thou didst choose before the foundation of the world, and didst mark with a spiritual blessing unto heavenly things; whom also thou didst associate to thine Only Begotten Son, by his Incarnation and his redeeming the world by the cross. Thou didst make to reign in them thy Holy Spirit, under whose guidance they were led, by the sweetness of thy mercy, to the glory of happy martyrdom. It is just, therefore, God of hosts, that this festive solemnity should be kept in thy praise; that this sacred day should be devoted to thee; for on it, the blood of blessed Stephen, thy first Martyr, was shed in testimony of thy truth, and thy name thereby received exceeding honour. For this is he, who was the first Confessor of that Name, which is above all names, and in which, O Eternal Father, thou didst place the only source of our salvation. This is he, that left in thy Church an example of courage, but oh! who can say how grand is the example, and how above all praise! This is he, that was the first to seize the palm of victory, after the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is he, whom the Apostles, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, had scarce consecrated to the levitical ministry, than he straightways shone with a snow-white purity, and was vested in the scarlet of a martyr's blood. O truly noble child of Abraham! worthy to become the first follower and witness of the Apostles' teaching, and of Jesus' cross! How well did he deserve to see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God! It is, therefore, meet and just. O Almighty Lord, that, whilst giving praise to thy Name, we praise him whom thou didst graciously call to this so great glory. In thy mercy, grant that we may have him to intercede for us. May he pray for this thy people, now that he is in possession of the glory with which Christ welcomed him after his victory. May he now, for our sakes, lift up those eyes, which, during this his mortal life, and in the hour of his martyrdom, beheld the Son of God standing at the right hand of the Father. May he be heard for us, who, whilst his persecutors were stoning him, prayed for them unto thee, O Holy God, Father Almighty, through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who, for our sins, vouchsafed to be born of the Virgin, and suffer death; teaching his Martyrs, hereby, by his own example, now they should suffer. To whom most justly do all the Angels and Archangels cry out unceasingly, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy!|
Let us next listen to the Greek Church singing the praises of our Protomartyr. She thus extols him in her Menaea:
(XXVI, Decembris, in magno Vespertino, et passim,)
Mente illustratus Spiritus
gratia, forma velut Angelus
videris, Stephane, dato tibi
in corpore qui intus erat
splendore, et mente tua cernentibus manifestante fulgorem quo fruitus es, luminisque contemplationes,
coelis tibi mirabiliter apertis, o martyrum caput et gloria.
Quasi gradus scalae, ad coelestem ingressum tibi fuerunt lapidum flocci, super quos ascendens contemplatus es stantem Dominu ad Patris dexteram, tibi offerentem homonymam coronam sua vivifica dextera, cui vicinus adstas victor gloriosus, athletarumque primitiae.
Signis et miraculis corus cans, coelestibus documentis, impiorum combussisti synedrium, et ab illis necatus lapidibusque obrutus, pro injectantium tu deprecatus es venia, vocem imitatus Salvatoris, in cujus manus commendasti sacratissimum spiritum tuum, Stephane.
Regi et Domino omnium nato in terra Stephanus perlucidus offertur, non pretiosis decoratus gemmis, sed ex proprio sanguine floridus: at, o martyrum amatores, venite, decerptis carminum floribus cingamus sertis tempora, et hymnis alternantes canamus: qui sapientia et charitate coruscas mente, protomartyr Christi Dei, deprecare pro nobis pacem et magnam misericordiam.
Tn ad auxilium Apostolorum Christi digne vocatus es, et ut fidelis diaconus, o vere nominate Stephane, administrasti; tamquam Christus per sanguinem transivisti.
Clarissimus, sicut sol, O Deifer, ad orientem exorsus es, radios emittens confessionis tuae, et magnae fortitudinis atque generosissimae oppugnationis.
Illum qui ex Matre viri-nescia apud nos hospitatus est, martyrum primus, in immutabili Patris divinitate stantem et gloria, in coelis contemplatus es.
Heri apud nos per carnem hospitabatur Dominus, hodie e carne dehospitatur servus; hodie lapidatur famulus, et ideo perficitur Protomartyr divinusque Stephanus.
Stella fulgida hodie in Christi nativitate resplenduit Protomartyr Stephanus, omnes mundi fines suis illuminans fulgoribus; at Judaeorum omnem extinxit impietatem, sapientiae verbis illos animadvertens et de Scripturis disserens; illisque suadens natum ex Virgine Jesum ipsum Dei esse Filium: illorum impiam confundit malitiam Proto-martyr et divinus Stephanus.
Laudum, Stephane, omnem superasti modum, et fers ineffabiliter et sine dolo tuas victorias palmas; non enim potest mens mortalis tuis dignam praeconiis coronam intexere.
Primus in diaconis et primus in martyribus demonstratus est sanctissime Stephane; iter enim fuisti Sanctis, et multos ad Dominum perduxisti martyres; ideo coelum tibi apertum est, et Deus tibi apparuit: ipsum deprecare salvare animas nostras.
Illumined in thy soul with
the grace of the Holy Ghost,
thy face shone like that of an
Angel, O Stephen! The brightness that was within sent forth
its rays upon thy body, and
thy soul evinced to the beholders the light and contemplation thou didst enjoy, when
the heavens were miraculously
opened before thee, O thou
the leader and the glory of the
The thickly falling stones were to thee as the steps of a ladder reaching the gate of heaven, and by which ascending, thou didst behold our Lord standing on the Father's right hand, offering thee, with his own life-giving right hand, that which was thy very name - a Crown: and now thou standest near him, thou the glorious conqueror, and the first combatant.
Illustrious by thy wonders and miracles and heavenly teaching, thou didst burn the Chair of the impious. They stoned thee to death, and thou didst pray God to forgive them, using thy Jesus' own words, and into his hands commending thy own most saintly spirit, O Stephen!
To the King and Lord of all, who is born on our earth, is offered the beautiful Stephen, not adorned with precious gems, but glittering in the scarlet of his own blood. Come then, ye that love the Martyrs, cull the flowers of song, and wreathe them into hymns passed on from choir to choir. O Protomartyr of Jesus our God! thy spirit beams with wisdom and love; pray for us, that we may receive peace and plentiful mercy.
Thou wast deservedly made an aid to the Apostles of Christ, and thou didst minister to them, O well-named Stephen, as the faithful Deacon. Like Jesus, thou too didst pass through blood.
Man carrying God within thee! thou didst rise in the east like a sun of fairest light, shedding the rays of thy confession, and great fortitude, and most generous resistance.
Thou, the first of Martyrs, didst look up to heaven and see standing in the immutable divinity and glory of the Father, Him that was born of a Virgin-Mother and became a guest among us.
Yesterday, the Master became a guest among us by assuming our flesh; to-day, his servant is unguested from the flesh; he is stoned, and made the Protomartyr, the god-like Stephen.
To-day, there shone a bright star for the Birth of Christ - the Protomartyr Stephen; and all the earth was illumined by his dazzling rays. He confuted all the impiety of the Jews, showing them their errors by words of wisdom, and proving his doctrine by the Scriptures, and showing them that Jesus, who was born of the Virgin, was very Son of God. The Proto-martyr, the god-like Stephen, confounded their blasphemous impiety.
Thou art beyond all praise, O Stephen! No tongue can say how honestly was won the laurel-branch thou bearest. No mortal mind can wreathe a Crown worthy thy great acts.
Thou, most saintly Stephen! wast first of Deacons, and first of Martyrs; for thou didst open the way to the saints, and hast led the countless Martyrs to their God: therefore did the heavens open over thy head, and God appear unto thee. Pray to him for us, that he save our souls.
The Western Churches of the Middle-Ages have left us an almost endless variety of Liturgical compositions, more particularly of Proses and Sequences, in honour of St Stephen. We have no hesitation in giving our preference to the one composed by Adam of Saint Victor. We shall always think it a duty to bring into notice the works of this great Liturgical Poet, whose compositions were, for a long period, so dear to the faithful in England, France, Germany, and in almost all the Churches of northern Europe.
Heri mundus exsultavit,
Et exsultans celebravit
Heri chorus Angelorum
Protomartyr et Levita
Sub hac luce triumphavit
Fremunt ergo tamquam
Falsos testes statuunt,
Agonista, nulli cede,
Insta falsis testi bus,
Testis tuus est in coelis,
Nomen habes Coronati:
Pro corona non marcenti
Tibi fiet mors Natalia,
Plenus Sancto Spiritu,
Videns Dei gloriam,
En a dextris Dei stantem
Tibi coelos reserari,
Se commendat Salvatori
Saulus servat omnium
Ne peccatum statuatur
In Christo sic obdormivit,
Quod sex suscitaverit
Hujus, Dei gratia,
Solo fugat hic odore
Martyr, cujus est jucundum
Yesterday, the world exulted, and, m its exultation,
celebrated the Birth of Jesus.
Yesterday, the Angelic Choir, in great joy, stood round the King of heaven.
The Protomartyr and Deacon Stephen, illustrious for his faith, illustrious for his holy life, illustrious also for his miracles.
On this day triumphed, and, in his triumph, vanquished the unbelieving Jews.
These enemies of the Light rage like savage beasts, at seeing their own defeat.
This brood of vipers bring up false witnesses, and sharpen their tongues.
Flinch not, Combatant! Thou art sure of thy reward: fight and persevere, O Stephen!
Withstand the false witnesses, and confute, by thy answers, the synagogue of Satan.
Thine own Witness is in heaven, a Witness true and faithful, and he is Witness of thine innocence.
Thy name is The Crowned: it behoves thee to suffer, so to win thy Crown of glory.
For a Crown which is to last for ever, what are torments which last but an hour, and are followed by victory.
Thy death will be thy Birth; thy last pang will introduce thee into eternal life.
Full of the Holy Ghost, Stephen fixes his gaze on the heavens above:
Seeing there the glory of God, he pushes on to victory, he pants for the crown.
Behold, Stephen! on God's right hand is thy Jesus, and he is fighting for thee.
Boldly tell it to the crowd, that the heavens are opened for thee, and that Jesus shows himself to thee.
He then commends his spirit to his Saviour, for whom he deems it sweet to be thus stoned to death
Saul makes himself guardian of the garments of all that cast the stones: casting thus himself each stone they throw.
But Stephen compassionating their madness, falls on his knees, and prays that this sin be not laid to the charge of his murderers.
Thus did he sleep in Christ, who thus imitated Christ: and now for ever lives with Christ - Stephen, first of Martyrs.
St. Augustine, and common report, assure us, that he raised up six dead men to life, in Africa.
When, through God's mercy, his Relics were discovered, the earth, which was parched by a drought, received a plentiful rain.
The very fragrance that came from his Relics, put diseases and demons to flight. Truly, then, is he worthy of praise, and honour, and eternal remembrance.
O Martyr, whose name is so dear to the Church! refresh our fainting world by celestial fragrance.
With these praises, which the venerable ages of old offered to thee, O Prince and First of Martyrs! we presume to unite ours. Fervently do we congratulate thee, that thou hast had assigned thee, by the Church, the place of honour at the Crib of our Jesus. How glorious the confession thou didst make of his Divinity, whilst thy executioners were stoning thee! How rich and bright the scarlet thou art clad in, for thy victory! How honourable the wounds thou didst receive for Christ! How immense, and yet how choice, that army of Martyrs, which follows thee as its leader, and to which fresh recruits will for ever be added, to the end of time!
Holy Martyr! help us, by thy prayers, to enter
into the spirit of the mystery of the Word made
Flesh, now that we are celebrating the Birth of our
Saviour. Thou art the faithful guardsman of his
Crib:- who could better lead us to the Divine Babe,
that lies there! Thou didst bear testimony to his
Divinity and Humanity; thou didst preach this Man-God before the blaspheming Synagogue. In vain
did the Jews stop their ears; they could not stifle
thy voice, which charged them with deicide, in that
they had put to death Him, who is at once the Son
of Mary and the Son of God. Show this Redeemer
to us also, not, indeed, standing in glory at the right
hand of his Father, but the sweet and humble Babe,
as he now manifests himself to the world, into which
he has just been born, wrapped in swaddling-clothes,
and laid in a manger. We, too, wish to bear witness
to him, and to tell how his Birth is one of love and
mercy; we wish to show, by our lives, that he has
been born in our hearts. Obtain for us that devotedness to the Divine Infant, which gave thee such courage on the day of trial: we shall have devotedness, if, like thee, we are simple-hearted and fearless in our love of Jesus; for love is stronger than death. May we never forget, that every Christian ought to be ready for martyrdom, simply because he is a Christian. May the life of Christ, which has again begun within us, so grow within us, by our fidelity and our conduct, that we may come, as the Apostle expresses it, to the fulness of Christ} 1 Eph. iv. 13.
But, be mindful, O glorious Martyr! be mindful of the Holy Church in those countries, where it is the will of God that she resist even unto blood. May the number of thy fellow-martyrs be thus filled up, and let not one of the combatants grow faint-hearted. May every age and sex be staunch; that so, the testimony may be perfect, and the Church, even in her old age, win immortal laurels and crowns, as in the freshness of her infancy, when she had such a champion as thyself. But, pray, too, that the blood of these Martyrs may be fruitful, as it was in times past; pray that it be not wasted, but become the seed of abundant harvests. May infidelity lose ground, and heresy cease to canker those noble hearts, who, once in the Truth, would be the glory and consolation of the Church. Our own dear Land has had her Martyrs, who, in the hope that God would avenge their blood by restoring her to the Faith, gladly suffered and died - oh! Prince of Martyrs! pray, that this their hope may be speedily fulfilled.
We must not end this second day of the Christmas
Octave without visiting the Stable of Bethlehem, and
adoring the divine Son of Mary. Two days have scarce elapsed, since his Blessed Mother
in this humble Crib; but these two days are of more
value, for the salvation of the world, than the four
thousand years which preceded the Birth of this
Babe. The work of our Redemption has made a
great step; the cries and tears of the New-Born Child have begun the atonement of our sins. On this the Feast of the First Martyr, let us consider how the cheeks of the Infant Jesus are moistened with Tears, and how these tears are the first expression of his sufferings. "Jesus weeps," says St. Bernard, "but not like other children, certainly not for the same cause as other children. They weep from passion; He, from compassion. They weep because they are galled by the yoke, that sits heavy on all the children of Adam; Jesus weeps, because he sees the sins of the children of Adam." (3rd Sermon for the Nativity.) Oh! how dear to us ought to be these Tears of a God, who has made himself our Brother! Had we not sinned, God would not have wept. Ought not we, too, to weep over sin, which thus saddens, by the sufferings it causes to our sweet Infant Jesus, the heavenly joy of his Birth among us?
Mary, also, sees these Tears, and her maternal heart is pained. She feels that her Child is to be the Man of Sorrows; and, before many days are over, the same awful truth will be told her in prophecy. With the consolation she offers to her Babe, let us unite ours, by giving him our love. It is the one thing he seeks by all the humiliations he has taken upon himself. It is to gain our love that he has come down from heaven, and been born among us in the midst of the mysteries we are now celebrating. Let us love him, therefore, with all our love, and ask our Lady to present him our humble offering. The Psalmist has said: The Lord is great, and exceedingly to he praised: let us add, with St. Bernard: The Lord is a Little Babe, and exceedingly to be loved.
We will honour the Birth of our Jesus, to-day, by this venerable Sequence of St Gall's Monastery, written by the Blessed Notker. It recounts the combat of our Emmanuel against Satan, and his victory. This victory is the source of those won by Stephen and all the Martyrs.
Laudibus piis digna.
Hujus diei carmina,
Noctis inter nebulosa,
Quem tremunt barathra,
Gaudent in hoc die
Qui nos suam
In qua sibi laus est
Come! let us resume our
holy songs of praise in strains
worthy of this Day,
Whereon the much-loved Light rises to the world.
It is in the gloomy hour of Night, that the dark shadows of our sins are made to disappear.
This day, did the Star of the sea bring forth to the world the joy of its new salvation.
Her Child makes hell tremble; nay, cruel Death is filled with fear at the sight of Him who is to be its death.
Long-triumphant pestilence, now captive, mourns out her sighs; and the crushed serpent lets go his prey.
Fallen man, the strayed sheep, is carried back to the eternal joys.
The heavenly host of Angels
are full of joy to-day;
O Child! blessed above all! by whom mankind was redeemed. The God, who created all things, is born of a Woman.
He, whose nature is admirable, clothes himself by an admirable mystery, assuming what he was not, and remaining what he had ever been.
A divine Person puts on human nature: I beseech thee, tell me, was aught like this ever heard?
The Good Shepherd came to seek that which was lost.
He puts on the helmet, and, as a soldier, fights in armour.
The enemy is defeated and falls upon his own arrows.
The weapons he trusted in are taken from him, his booty is divided, his prey is taken from him.
Our true salvation comes of this most glorious battle of Christ;
Who, after the victory, led us to his own kingdom,
Where everlasting praise is given to him. Amen.
And now, turning towards his Blessed Mother, we will offer her the tribute of this beautiful Sequence, taken from the Cluny Missal, of 1523.
Angelicae nos respice,
O dignitatis Domina.
Cum Filio in solio
Tota affluens pietate,
Tu flebili Theophili
O mater misericordiae,
Tu decus Israel,
Ilia ejus membra
In illa oramus die
Oblaturi hic adsumus
Quorum virtute, quaesumus,
Tu bona, tu clemens,
Amen dicat mens devota.
Look down upon us, O
Queen of the Angel kingdom.
With thy Son, thou reignest for ever on the heavenly throne.
Sweet Mother Mary! truly sweet, and loving, and most gentle!
Thou art, as a fountain, full of love and clemency; and as a land flowing with honey.
Thou mercifully aidest the sorrowing Theophilus to obtain the forgiveness of his sin.
By thy prayers, the guilty one of Egypt rises from her abominations.
O Mother of Mercy! O singular hope of the fallen!
Bear up, this day, to heaven, the prayers and sighs of thy clients.
Thou art the honour of Israel, thou art the glory of the world.
Restore us to the favour of our Emmanuel,
Whom thou didst feed at thy sacred breast.
And whose sweet Infant limbs thou didst warm.
Do thou, our Mediatrix, appease him in our regard,
On the dread Day, we beseech thee.
We are here to offer up to God our Father the merits of our Jesus;
By their virtue, do thou, we beseech thee, obtain forgiveness for the guilty, and bring courage to them that fear.
Thou art our good, our merciful, Mother; thou art our hope, O Mary!
Let every devout soul respond: Amen!