- Friday, 31 December 2010 10:28
The feast day of Saint Sylvester, located so close to the Christmas liturgical cycle was an early decision of the Fathers of the Church, but it has no relation to the Mystery of the Incarnation. Today’s feast Saint Sylveser, according to Pius Parsch is among the oldest in the Church’s liturgical life because his memory was among the first to receive public recognition by the laity due to his exemplary holiness and concern for the welfare of the faithful, especially the poor. He’s considered to be a confessor of the faith but also acknowledged as a martyr. Sylvester’s feast day was for a long time a holy day of obligation.
Sylvester was elected bishop of Rome in AD 314. He succeeded Saint Miltiades who was pope for 2 years (July 2, 311 – 10 January 314) and was succeed by Saint Mark who only served for 263 days. One of the first things he did as pope was to teach the virtue of peace and to live by example.
Notable about Pope Sylvester was that he lived in Rome as its bishop when the Council of Nicea I was held; recall that the Council of Nicea called to order not by the pope by the emperor, who by the way was a friend of Sylvester’s. During his papacy the great churches of St John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, St Paul’s, St Lawrence’s and the first St Peter’s were built, among others.
Several things are attributed to Sylvester:
- taught the orthodox Catholic faith in the face of heresy and schism
- taught that the sign of the Cross was given to him by the Lord
- cared for the poor and expected the clergy to do the same
- cared for those in the Order of Virgins and Widows
- determined that bishops had the exclusive right to consecrate chrism
- instructed priests, when baptizing, also were to anoint with chrism
- determined that deacons were to wear the dalmatic with a linen maniple
- determined that bread was to be consecrated as Eucharist only a linen corporal
- determined those ordained should be stable in that order before taking a higher order
- instructed the laity should not sue the clergy
- instructed the clergy should not sue another in civil court
- called the 1st and 7th days of the week the “Lord’s Day” and the “Sabbath”
- among the first use the word “feria” (a free day) for weekdays of the liturgical calendar without a commemoration.
Some of these things perdure today.
When Pope Sylvester died in AD 335 he served the Church as bishop of Rome for 21 years, 11 months, 1 day. He was first lair to rest in the catacomb of Saint Priscilla and later moved to the church of Saint Symmachus.
- Wednesday, 29 December 2010 06:20
Today is the feast of King David, the revered Old Testament king and prophet. The Orthodox Church remembers King David on December 26th. The Latin Church, however, does not typically commemorate David as a saint on the universal calendar but he is listed in the Roman Martyrology (2005). It is the Eastern Church that recalls and commemorates more seriously King David in the Liturgy than the Latin Liturgy does. In any event, the Roman Martyrology says:
Commemoratio sancti David, regis et prophetae, qu, filius Iesse Bethlehemitae, gratiam invenit ante Deum et oleo sancto a Samuele propheta unctus est, ut populum Israel regeret; in civitatem Ierusalem Arcam foederis Domini transtulit ac Dominus ipse mox ei iuravit semen eius in aeternum mansurum esse, eo quod ex ipso Iesus Christus secundum carnem nasciturus esset
The commemoration of Holy David, king and prophet, who, the son of Jesus of Bethlehem, found favor before God was anointed with holy oil by the prophet Samuel, so that he might rule the people of Israel; he brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant into the city of Jerusalem and the Lord vowed to him that his seed would endure forever; thus from it Jesus should be born according to the flesh.
We should recall what the Catechism
says, “the shepherd who prays for his people and prays in their name” (2579), pointing to the figure of David at an OT figure of Jesus.
- Monday, 27 December 2010 07:51
This is John who reclined on the Lord’s breast at the Supper. O blessed Apostle, to whom were revealed heavenly secrets! (Magnificat antiphon)
The Roman Martyrology speaks of John in this way: “Sixty-eight years after the passion and death of His Lord, he died at a ripe old age. He was buried near Ephesus.” He was the lone of the 12 Apostles to die of natural causes, though he did suffer for Christ.
Perhaps no other of the Twelve than John has anyone been so close, so well-attuned to the Lord’s life, love and mission. To John was given the responsibility to mind Mary, the Mother of Jesus and thus to guide the Church in her in abiding in the Lord. It is not lost on us that the symbol of Saint John the Evangelist is the eagle who scales the heights and keenly aware of all things. In John’s case, he so sharply looks into reality and sees with profound depth the meaning of things.
About Saint John’s self-giving sacrifice we read:
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- Sunday, 26 December 2010 07:22
In the blood of the holy Levite Stephen “the Church dedicates the first-fruits of martyrdom” to the King of martyrs.
The day following Christmas, December 26, is observed liturgically by the Church as Saint Stephen’s Day. Saint Stephen’s feast is located so close to Christmas because of his very close connection with the Lord. Stephen is the first martyr –the protomartyr– of the New Testament (See Acts 6-7).
Today in 2010, the liturgical observance of Sunday is maintained as the Lord’s Day and is not trumped by a saint’s feast. The overlaying of the Holy Family feast today –observed on the Sunday following Christmas– doesn’t replace the Sunday observance nor the Scripture readings but today is the feast of the Holy Family and it is a rich feast nonetheless. But we don’t forget Saint Stephen!
The Polish children would imitate the stoning of Stephen by throwing walnuts at each other. In agricultural countries horses and horse food (hay and oats, and salt) are blessed. In the UK, Saint Stephen’s day is also known as “boxing day” because priests in medieval times they gave alms collected in Church to the poor. All shared in the Lord’s blessings. This charitable gesture of the priests was adopted by the laity who also gave alms to the poor. What you see here is the beauty of the gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles realized in concrete ways. Money is counted and given freely, hence the breaking of the alms boxes became known as “boxing day” because it was an invitation to be mindful of the less fortunate. German children had piggy banks made of clay taking on the same sensibility as the British children knew. The Germans sometimes call today the “pig’s feast” because the clay pig bank was broken to gain access to the monetary savings to be given to others in need.
Since the saints always and unreservedly point to Christ, theologically we’d say that the Christ Child, the Divine Child, gave His blessings. Latin Americans would call the infant Jesus as “el Niño Jesús” or the Germanic peoples would call Him the “Christkind” or the diminutive “Christkindel” (and you see the origins of the word Kris Kringle and Santa Claus).
Whether the customs of the UK or Germanic countries prevail, the connection to Saint Stephen is maintained: as a deacon of the nascent Church, Stephen cared for the widow, the orphan, the outcast –the needy. Indeed, deacons looked after the temporal needs of all people, and he preached Jesus’ Good News of Salvation. The gesture of giving is form of witness to the abundant blessings of God, it is also a sermon not in words, but in concrete actions. The diakonia of Saint Stephen is recognized in the medium of giving away what one has received for the well-being of another. So, today is traditional days to honor those ordained to the Order of Deacon.