9 - 13 minutes readAugust 18 – Fourth Day Within the Octave of the Assumption & St. Agapitus, Martyr ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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August 18 – Fourth Day Within the Octave of the Assumption

In the eternal decrees Mary was never separated from Jesus; together with him, she was the type of all created beauty. When the Almighty Father prepared the heavens and the earth, his Son, who is his Wisdom, played before him in his future humanity as the first exemplar, as measure and number, as starting-point, center and summit of the work undertaken by the Spirit of Love; but at the same time the predestined Mother, the woman chosen to give to the Son of God from her own flesh his quality of Son of Man, appeared among mere creatures as the term of all excellence in the various orders of nature, of grace, and of glory. We need not then be astonished at the Church putting on Mary’s lips the words first uttered by Eternal Wisdom: “From the beginning and before the world was I created.”

The divine ideal was realized in her whole being, even in her body. To form out of nothing a reflection of the divine perfections, is the purpose of creation and the law even of matter. Now, next to the Face of the most beautiful of the sons of men, nothing on earth so well expressed God as the Virgin’s countenance. St. Denis is said to have exclaimed on seeing our Lady for the first time: “Had not faith revealed to me thy Son, I should have taken thee for God.” Whether it be authentic or not to place it in the mouth of the Areopagite, this cry of the heart expresses the feeling of the ancients. We shall be the less surprised at this, if we remember that no son ever resembled his mother as Jesus did; it was the law of nature doubled in him, since he had no earthly father. It is now the delight of the Angels, to behold in the glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary, new aspects of eternal beauty, which their own immaterial substances could not reflect.

Now the unspeakable perfection of Mary’s body sprang from the union of that body with the most perfect soul that ever was, excepting of course the soul of our Lord her Son. With us, the original Fall has broken the harmony that ought to exist between the two very different elements of our human being, and has generally displaced, and sometimes even destroyed, the proportions of nature and grace. It is very different where the divine work has not thus been vitiated from the beginning; so that in each blessed spirit of the nine choirs, the degree of grace is in direct relation to his gifts of nature. Exemption from sin allowed the soul of the Immaculate One to inform the body of his own image with absolute sway, while the soul itself, lending itself to grace to the full extend of its exquisite powers, suffered God to raise it supernaturally above all the Seraphim, even to the steps of his own throne.

For in the kingdom of grace, as in that of nature, Mary’s super-eminence was such as became a Queen. At the first moment of her existence in the womb of St. Anne, she was set far above the highest mounts; and God, who loves only what he has made worthy of his love, loved this entrance, this gate of the true Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. It was indeed impossible that the Word, who had chosen her for his Mother, should, even for an instant, love any creature more, as being more perfect. Throughout her life there was never in Mary the least want of correspondence with her preventing graces; so great perfection could not brook the least failing, the least interruption, the least delay. From the first moment of her most holy Conception till her glorious death, grace operated in her without hindrance, to the utmost of its divine power. Thus, starting from heights unknown to us, and doubling her speed at each stroke of her wings, her powerful flight bore her up to that nearness to God, where our admiring contemplation follows her during these days.

Our Lady, moreover, is not only the first-born, the most perfect, the most holy, of creatures and their Queen—or rather she is all this, only because she is also the Mother of the Son of God. If we wish only to prove that she alone surpasses all the united subjects of her vast empire, we may compare her with men and with Angels, in the order of nature and of grace. But all comparison is out of the question, if we try to follow her to the inaccessible heights, where, still the handmaid of the Lord, she participates in the eternal relations which constitute the Blessed Trinity. What mode of divine charity is that, whereby a creature loves God as her Son? But let us listen to the Bishop of Meaux, not the least of whose merits is, to have understood as he did the greatness of Mary: “To form the holy Virgin’s love, it was necessary to mingle together all that is most tender in nature and most efficacious in grace. Nature had to be there, for it was love of a son; grace had to elect, for it was love of a God. But what is beyond our imagination is, that nature and grace were insufficient; for it is not in nature to have God for a son; and grace, at least ordinary grace, cannot love a son as God: we must therefore rise higher. Suffer me, O Christians, to raise my thoughts today beyond nature and grace, and to seek the source of this love in the very bosom of the Eternal Father. The divine Son, of whom Mary is Mother, belongs to her and to God. She is united with God the Father by becoming the Mother of his only begotten Son, who is common to her and the Eternal Father by the manner of his conception. But to make her capable of conceiving God, the Most High had to overshadow her with his own power; that is, to extend to her his own fecundity. In this way, Mary is associated in the eternal generation. But this God, who willed to give her his Son, was obliged also, in order to complete his work, to place in her chaste bosom a spark of the love he himself bears to his only Son, who is the splendor of his glory and the living image of his substance. Such is the origin of Mary’s love: it springs from an effusion of God’s heart into hers; and her love of her Son is given to her from the same source as her Son himself. After this mysterious communication, what hast thou to say, O human reason? Canst thou pretend to understand the union of Mary with Jesus Christ? It has in it something of that perfect unity which exists between the Father and the Son. Do not attempt any more to explain that maternal love which springs from so high a source, and which is an overflow of the love of the Father for his only begotten Son.”

Palestrina, the ancient Preneste, sends a representative to Mary’s court today, in the person of its valiant and gentle martyr, Agapitus. By his youth and his fidelity, he reminds us of that other gracious athlete, the acolyte Tarcisius, whose victory, gained on the 15th August, is eclipsed by the glory of Mary’s queenly triumph. During the persecution of Valerian, and just before the combats of Sixtus and Laurence, Tarcisius, carrying the Body of our Lord, was met by some pagans, who tried to force him to show them what he had; but, pressing the heavenly treasure to his heart, he suffered himself to be crushed beneath their blows rather than “deliver up to mad dogs the members of the Lord.” Agapitus, at fifteen years of age, suffered cruel tortures under Aurelian. Though so young, he may have seen the disgraceful end of Valerian; while the new edict, which enabled him to follow Tarcisius to Mary’s feet, had scarcely been promulgated throughout the empire, when Aurelian, in his turn, was cast down by Christ, from whom alone kings and emperors hold their crown.

Lætetur Ecclesia tua, Deus, beati Agapiti Martyris tui confisa suffragiis: atque ejus precibus gloriosis, et devota permaneat, et secura consistat. Per Dominum. Let thy Church rejoice, O God, relying on the intercession of blessed Agapitus, thy martyr; and by his glorious prayers, may she remain devout, and be securely supported. Through, &c.

As we return from Palestrina to the Eternal City, we pass on our left the cemetery of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, where were first deposited the holy relics of the pious empress Helena, who entered heaven on this day. The Roman Church deemed no greater honor could be given her, than to mingle, so to say, her memory on the 3rd May with that of the sacred Wood which she restored to our adoring love. We shall not then speak today about the glorious Invention, which, after three centuries of struggle, gave so happy a consecration to the era of triumph. Nevertheless, let us offer our homage to her who set up the standard of salvation, and placed the Cross on the brow of princes who were once its persecutors.

Domine Jesu Christe, qui locum, ubi crux tua latebat, beatæ Helenæ revelasti, ut per eam Ecclesiam tuam hoc pretioso thesauro ditares: ejus nobis intercessione condede; ut vitalis ligni pretio æternæ vitæ præmia consequamur. Qui vivis. O Lord Jesus Christ, who unto blessed Helena didst reveal the place where thy Cross lay hid: thus choosing her as the means to enrich thy Church with that precious treasure: do thou, at her intercession, grant that by the price of the Tree of Life we may attain unto the rewards of everlasting life. Who livest and reignest, &c.

But let us return to the empress of heaven, for Helena is but her happy handmaid and the martyrs are her army. Adam of St. Victor offers us this sweet Sequence wherewith to praise her and pray to her in the midst of this stormy sea.

Ave, Virgo singularis,
Mater nostri salutaris,
Quæ vocaris stella maris,
Stella non erratica;
Nos in hujus vitæ mari
Non permitte naufragari,
Sed pro nobis salutari
Tuo semper supplica.
Hail, matchless Virgin, Mother of our salvation, who art called Star of the Sea, a star that wandereth not; permit us not in this life’s ocean to suffer shipwreck, but ever intercede for us with the Savior born of thee.
Sævit mare, fremunt venti,
Fluctus surgunt turbulenti;
Navis currit, sed currenti
Tot occurrunt obvia!
Hic sirenes voluptatis,
Draco, canes, cum piratis,
Mortem pene desperatis
Hæc intenant omnia.
The sea is raging, the winds are roaring, the boisterous billows rise; the ship speeds on, but her swift course what fearful odds oppose! Here the sirens of pleasure, the dragon, the sea-dogs, pirates, all at once menace well-nigh despairing man with death.
Post abyssos, nunc ad cœlum,
Furens unda fert phaselum;
Nutat malus, fluit velum,
Nautæ cessat opera;
Contabescit in his malis
Homo noster animalis:
Tu nos, mater spiritalis,
Pereuntes libera.
Down to the depths and up to the sky does the raging surge bear the frail bark; the mast totters, the sail is snatched away, the mariner ceases his useless toil; our animal man faints amid so great evils: do thou, O Mother, who art spiritual, save us ere we perish.
Tu, perfusa cœli rore,
Castitatis salvo flore,
Novum florem novo more
Protulisti sæculo.
Verbum Patri cœquale,
Corpus intrans virginale,
Fit pro nobis corporale
Sub ventris umbraculo.
The dew of heaven being sprinkled on thee, thou, without losing the flower of thy purity, didst in a new manner give to the world a new flower. The Word co-equal with the Father, entering thy virginal body, took for our sakes a body in the secret in thy womb.
Te prævidit et elegit
Qui potenter cuncta regit,
Nec pudoris claustra fregit,
Sacra replens viscera;
Nec pressuram, nec dolorem,
Contra primæ matris morem,
Pariendo Salvatorem,
Sensisti, puerpera.
He who rules all things in his power, foresaw and elected thee. He filled thy sacred bosom without breaking the seal of thy virginity. Unlike the first mother, thou, O Mother, didst feel neither anguish nor pain in bringing forth the Savior.
O Maria, pro tuorum
Dignitate meritorum,
Supra choris angelorum
Sublimaris unice:
Felix dies hodierna
Qua conscendis ad superna!
Pietate tu materna
Nos in imo respice.
O Mary, by the dignity of thy merits, thou alone art raised far above the choirs of Angels: happy is this day whereon thou didst ascend to such heights! Oh! in thy motherly love, look down upon us here below.
Radix sancta, redix viva,
Fios, et vitis, et oliva,
Quam nulla vis insitiva,
Juvit ut fructificet;
Lampas soli, splendor poli,
Quæ splendore præes soli,
Nos assigna tuæ proli,
Ne districte judicet.
O holy root, O living root, O flower and vine and olive, no ingrafted energy made these fruitful; light of the earth and brightness of heaven, thou outshinest the sun in splendor; present us to thy Son, that he judge us not sternly.
In conspectu summi Regis,
Sis pusilli memor gregis
Qui, transgressor datæ legis,
Præsumit de venia:
Judex mitis et benignus,
Judex jugi laude dignus
Reis spei dedit pignus,
Crucis factus hostia.
In presence of the Most High King, be mindful of the little flock, which, though it has transgressed the law given it, dares to hope for pardon; the Judge, who is mild and merciful, Judge, worthy of everlasting praise, becoming the victim of the Cross, gave to the guilty the pledge of hope.
Jesu, sacri ventris fructus,
Nobis inter mundi fluctus
Sis dux, via et conductus
Liber ad cœlestia:
Tene clavum, rege navem;
Tu, procellam sedans gravem,
Portum nobis da suavem
Pro tua clementia.
O Jesus, fruit of a holy Mother, to us amid the world’s billows be a guide, a way and a free passage to heaven: take the helm and guide the ship: and stilling the tempest, do thou in thy clemency lead us to a pleasant harbor.
Amen. Amen.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)