St. Sylvester

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St. Sylvester

Pope and Confessor
A.D. 335.

ST. SYLVESTER, whom God appointed to govern his holy church in the first years of her temporal prosperity and triumph over her persecuting enemies, was a native of Rome, and son to Rufinus and Justa. According to the general rule with those who are saints from their cradle, he received early and in his infancy the strongest sentiments of Christian piety from the example, instructions, and care of a virtuous mother, who, for his education in the sound maxims and practice of religion, and in sacred literature, put him young into the hands of Charitius or Carinius, a priest of an unexceptionable character and great abilities. Being formed under an excellent master, he entered among the clergy of Rome, and was ordained priest by Pope Marcellinus, before the peace of the church was disturbed by Dioclesian, and his associate in the empire. His behaviour in those turbulent and dangerous times recommended him to the public esteem, and he saw the triumph of the cross by the victory which Constantine gained over Maxentius within sight of the city of Rome on the 28th of October, 312. Pope Melchiades dying in January, 314, St. Sylvester was exalted to the pontificate, and the same year commissioned four legates, two priests, and two deacons, to represent him at the great council of the Western Church, held at Arles in August, in which the schism of the Donatists, which had then subsisted seven years, and the heresy of the Quarto-decimans were condemned, and many important points of discipline regulated in twenty-two canons. These decisions were sent by the council before it broke up with an honourable letter to Pope Sylvester, and were confirmed by him and published to the whole church. The general council of Nice was assembled against Arianism in 325. Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret, say that Pope Sylvester was not able to come to it in person on account of his great age, but that he sent his legates. Gelasius of Cyzicus mentions that in it “Osius held the place of the bishop of Rome, together with the Roman priests Vito and Vincentius.” These three are named the first in subscriptions of the bishops in the editions of the acts of that council, 6 and in Socrates, who expressly places them before Alexander, patriarch of Alexandria, and Eustathius, patriarch of Antioch. St. Sylvester greatly advanced religion by a punctual discharge of all the duties of his exalted station during the space of twenty-one years and eleven months; and died on the 31st of December, 335. He was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla. St. Gregory the Great pronounced his ninth homily on the gospels on his festival, and in a church which was dedicated to God in his memory by Pope Symmachus. Pope Sergius II. translated his body into this church, and deposited it under the high altar. Mention is made of an altar consecrated to God in his honour at Verona about the year 500; and his name occurs in the ancient Martyrology, called St. Jerom’s, published by Florentinius, and in those of Bede, Ado, Usuard, &c. Pope Gregory IX., in 1227, made his festival general in the Latin church; the Greeks keep it on the 10th of January.

After a prodigious effusion of Christian blood almost all the world over daring the space of three hundred years, the persecuting kingdoms at length laid down their arms, and submitted to the faith and worship of a God crucified for us. This ought to be to us a subject of thanksgiving. But do our lives express this faith? Does it triumph in our hearts? It is one of its first precepts that in all our actions we make God our beginning and end, and have only his divine honour and his holy law in view. All our various employments, all our thoughts and designs must be referred to, and terminate in this, as all the lines drawn from the circumference of a circle meet in the centre. We ought therefore so to live that the days, hours, and moments of the year may form a crown made up of good works, which we may offer to God. Our forgetfulness of him who is our last end, in almost all that we do, calls for a sacrifice of compunction in the close of the year: but this cannot be perfect or acceptable to God, unless we sincerely devote our whole hearts and lives to his holy love for the time to come. Let us therefore examine into the sources of former omissions, failures, and transgressions, and take effectual measures for our amendment, and for the perfect regulation of all our affections and actions for the future, or that part of our life which may remain.

The Lives of the Saints. Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XII: December. 1866.

St. Melania the Younger

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St. Melania the Younger


MELANIA the Elder was of a most noble Spanish family, though descended of a Roman pedigree, and a relation of St. Paulinus of Nola, second to no one in Aquitain and Spain in riches or nobility. Being married young, she was left a widow at twenty-three years of age. Upon the death of her husband she said to God: “Now, O Lord, I shall be at liberty to devote myself without distraction to thy service.” Having put her son Publicola into the hands of good tutors, she embarked with Rufinus for Egypt in 371: and after spending six months in visiting the monks of those parts, went into Palestine, but so much disguised, that the governor of Jerusalem cast her into gaol for visiting certain prisoners, till she made herself known to him, and then he treated her with the greatest respect. After some time she built a monastery at Jerusalem, wore a coarse habit, and had no other bed than a rough cloth spread on the floor, without any other cover than a sackcloth. Thus she lived in Palestine twenty-seven years, making prayer and the meditation of the holy scriptures her principal employment. Her son Publicola grew up, and becoming most accomplished in the necessary qualifications of mind and body, was married to Albina, by whom he had two children, a son and a daughter, this latter being our saint. She was married at thirteen years of age to Pinian, the son of Severus, who had been prefect of Rome. Her children both died young, and by her moving discourses and entreaties she gained his consent that they should bind themselves by mutual vows to serve God in perpetual chastity. The elder Melania, at this news, left the East, and returned to Rome, after having been thirty-seven years absent. She was met at Naples by a train of the most illustrious personages of the nobility of Rome, who attended her from thence glittering in rich attire, and sumptuous equipages. The humble Melania travelled at their head, meanly mounted on horseback, and clothed with coarse and threadbare garments. During her stay in Rome it was her first care to caution Pinian and her granddaughter against the heresies of that age. She staid in the West four years, during which interval she took a journey into Africa. There she received news of the death of her son Publicola. At her return to Rome she advised Pinian and our saint to give what they possessed to the poor, and to choose some remote retirement. This council they readily embraced, and were imitated by Albina. Avita, a niece of Melania, after converting her husband from the errors of idolatry, induced him to join her in a vow of perpetual continency. Their son Asterius, and their daughter Eunomia, followed the same example. All these fervent and illustrious persons went together to pay a visit to St. Paulinus at Nola. So many wonderful conversions astonished not only Rome, but all Christendom. The elder Melania had no sooner completed this great work, but she hastened back to her dear solitude. The tumult of Rome made that great city seem to her a place of exile, and a true prison; nor was she able to bear the noise of the world, and the distraction of visits. Rufinus accompanied her as far as Sicily, where he died. Melania arrived at Jerusalem, distributed the residue of her money among the poor, and shut herself up in a monastery. But exchanged this mortal life for a better, forty days after, in the year 410, being about sixty-eight years old. Melania the Elder seemed some time too warmly engaged with Rufinus in the defence of Origen. The commendations which St. Austin, St. Paulinus, and others bestow on her, bear evidence to her orthodoxy and her edifying virtue, though her name has never been placed among the saints, unless she be meant on the 8th of June in the manuscript calendar mentioned by Chiffletius, as Papebroke and Joseph Assemmani take notice.

Albina, Melania the Younger, and Pinian first made over their estates in Spain and Gaul, reserving those which they possessed in Italy, Sicily, and Africa. They made free eight thousand of their slaves, and those who would not accept of their freedom, they gave to the brother of Melania. Their most precious furniture they bestowed on churches and altars. Their first retreat was in retired country places in Campania and Sicily, and their time they spent in prayer, reading, and visiting the poor and the sick, in order to comfort and relieve them. For this end they also sold their estates in Italy, and passed into Africa, where they made some stay, first at Carthage, and afterwards at Tagasté, under the direction of St. Alypius, who was at that time bishop of this city. In a journey they made to Hippo, to see St. Austin, the people there seized Pinian, demanding that St. Austin would ordain him priest; but he escaped out of their hands, by promising that if he ever took holy orders, it should be to serve their church. The poverty and austerity in which they lived seven years at Tagasté appeared extreme. Melania by degrees arrived at such a habit of long fasting, as often to eat only once a week, and to take nothing but bread and water, except that on solemn occasions to her bread she added a little oil. Their occupation was to read and copy good books; Pinian also tilled his garden. In 417 they left Africa and went to Jerusalem, where they continued the same manner of life. St. Melania buried her mother Albina in 433, and her husband Pinian two years after. She survived him four years, shutting herself up in a monastery of nuns, which she built and governed. Her cell was her paradise; yet she left it to go to Constantinople, to convert her uncle Volusian, who was an idolater, and she had the comfort to see him baptised, and die full of hope and holy joy. After she had closed his eyes, she made haste back to Jerusalem. She went to Bethlehem to pass Christmas-day at the holy crib, and came back the day following; and found herself seized with her last sickness, which she discovered to those about her. A great number of holy monks and others visited her, whom she exhorted, and when she saw them weep, tenderly comforted. She departed to our Lord in the year 439, the fifty-seventh of her age, on a Sunday, which was the 31st of December, on which day her name stands in the Roman Martyrology. See Palladius in Lausiac, and several letters of St. Paulinus, St. Jerom, St. Austin, &c. Her Greek Acts, extant in Metaphrastes, are translated in Lipomannus, t. 5. Other Greek acts of the same age are mentioned and commended by Allatius. See Fabricius, Bibl. Gr. t. 6, p. 548, and Fontanini, Hist. Eccl. Aquil. l. 4.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XII: December.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

King David

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King David

In the Bible the name David is borne only by the second king of Israel, the great-grandson of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:18 sqq.). He was the youngest of the eight sons of Isai, or Jesse (1 Samuel 16:8; cf. 1 Chronicles 2:13), a small proprietor, of the tribe of Juda, dwelling at Bethlehem, where David was born. Our knowledge of David’s life and character is derived exclusively from the pages of Sacred Scripture, viz., 1 Samuel 16; 1 Kings 2; 1 Chronicles 2, 3, 10-29; Ruth 4:18-22, and the titles of many Psalms. According to the usual chronology, David was born in 1085 and reigned from 1055 to 1015 B.C. Recent writers have been induced by the Assyrian inscriptions to date his reign from 30 to 50 years later. Within the limits imposed it is impossible to give more than a bare outline of the events of his life and a brief estimate of his character and his significance in the history of the chosen people, as king, psalmist, prophet, and type of the Messias.

The history of David falls naturally into three periods: (1) before his elevation to the throne; (2) his reign, at Hebron over Juda, and at Jerusalem over all Israel, until his sin; (3) his sin and last years. He first appears in sacred history as a shepherd lad, tending his father’s flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, “ruddy and beautiful to behold and of a comely face”. Samuel, the Prophet and last of the judges, had been sent to anoint him in place of Saul, whom God had rejected for disobedience. The relations of David do not seem to have recognized the significance of this unction, which marked him as the successor to the throne after the death of Saul.

During a period of illness, when the evil spirit troubled Saul, David was brought to court to soothe the king by playing on the harp. He earned the gratitude of Saul and was made an armour-bearer, but his stay at court was brief. Not long afterwards, whilst his three elder brothers were in the field, fighting under Saul against the Philistines, David was sent to the camp with some provisions and presents; there he heard the words in which the giant, Goliath of Geth, defied all Israel to single combat, and he volunteered with God’s help to slay the Philistine. His victory over Goliath brought about the rout of the enemy. Saul’s questions to Abner at this time seem to imply that he had never seen David before, though, as we have seen, David had already been at court. Various conjectures have been made to explain this difficulty. As the passage which suggests a contradiction in the Hebrew text is omitted by Septuagint codices, some authors have accepted the Greek text in preference to the Hebrew. Others suppose that the order of the narratives has become confused in our present Hebrew text. A simpler and more likely solution maintains that on the second occasion Saul asked Abner only about the family of David and about his earlier life. Previously he had given the matter no attention.

David’s victory over Goliath won for him the tender friendship of Jonathan, the son of Saul. He obtained a permanent position at court, but his great popularity and the imprudent songs of the women excited the jealousy of the king, who on two occasions attempted to kill him. As captain of a thousand men, he encountered new dangers to win the hand of Merob, Saul’s eldest daughter, but, in spite of the king’s promise, she was given to Hadriel. Michol, Saul’s other daughter, loved David, and, in the hope that the latter might be killed by the Philistines, her father promised to give her in marriage, provided David should slay one hundred Philistines. David succeeded and married Michol. This success, however, made Saul fear the more and finally induced him to order that David should be killed. Through the intervention of Jonathan he was spared for a time, but Saul’s hatred finally obliged him to flee from the court.

First he went to Ramatha and thence, with Samuel, to Naioth. Saul’s further attempts to murder him were frustrated by God’s direct interposition. An interview with Jonathan convinced him that reconciliation with Saul was impossible, and for the rest of the reign he was an exile and an outlaw. At Nobe, whither he proceeded, David and his companions were harboured by the priest Achimelech, who was afterwards accused of conspiracy and put to death with his fellow-priests. From Nobe David went to the court of Achis, king of Geth, where he escaped death by feigning madness. On his return he became the head of a band of about four hundred men, some of them his relations, others distressed debtors and malcontents, who gathered at the cave, or stronghold, of Odollam (Adullam). Not long after their number was reckoned at six hundred. David delivered the city of Ceila from the Philistines, but was again obliged to flee from Saul. His next abode was the wilderness of Ziph, made memorable by the visit of Jonathan and by the treachery of the Ziphites, who sent word to the king. David was saved from capture by the recall of Saul to repel an attack of the Philistines. In the deserts of Engaddi he was again in great danger, but when Saul was at his mercy, he generously spared his life. The adventure with Nabal, David’s marriage with Abigail, and a second refusal to slay Saul were followed by David’s decision to offer his serves to Achis of Geth and thus put an end to Saul’s persecution. As a vassal of the Philistine king, he was set over the city of Siceleg, whence he made raids on the neighbouring tribes, wasting their lands and sparing neither man nor woman. By pretending that these expeditions were against his own people of Israel, he secured the favour of Achis. When, however, the Philistines prepared at Aphec to wage war against Saul, the other princes were unwilling to trust David, and he returned to Siceleg. During his absence it had been attacked by the Amalecites. David pursued them, destroyed their forces, and recovered all their booty. Meanwhile the fatal battle on Mount Gelboe (Gilboa) had taken place, in which Saul and Jonathan were slain. The touching elegy, preserved for us in 2 Samuel 1 is David’s outburst of grief at their death.

By God’s command, David, who was now thirty years old, went up to Hebron to claim the kingly power. The men of Juda accepted him as king, and he was again anointed, solemnly and publicly. Through the influence of Abner, the rest of Israel remained faithful to Isboseth, the son of Saul. Abner attacked the forces of David, but was defeated at Gabaon. Civil war continued for some time, but David’s power was ever on the increase. At Hebron six sons were born to him: Amnon, Cheleab, Absalom, Adonias, Saphathia, and Jethraam. As the result of a quarrel with Isboseth, Abner made overtures to bring all Israel under the rule of David; he was, however, treacherously murdered by Joab without the king’s consent. Isboseth was murdered by two Benjamites, and David was accepted by all Israel and anointed king. His reign at Hebron over Juda alone had lasted seven years and a half.

By his successful wars David succeeded in making Israel an independent state and causing his own name to be respected by all the surrounding nations. A notable exploit at the beginning of his reign was the conquest of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, which he made the capital of his kingdom, “the city of David”, the political centre of the nation. He built a palace, took more wives and concubines, and begat other sons and daughters. Having cast off the yoke of the Philistines, he resolved to make Jerusalem the religious centre of his people by transporting the Ark of the Covenant from Cariathiarim. It was brought to Jerusalem and placed in the new tent constructed by the king. Later on, when he proposed to build a temple for it, he was told by the prophet Nathan, that God had reserved this task for his successor. In reward for his piety, the promise was made that God would build him up a house and establish his kingdom forever.
No detailed account has been preserved of the various wars undertaken by David; only some isolated facts are given. The war with the Ammonites is recorded more fully because, whilst his army was in the field during this campaign, David fell into the sins of adultery and murder, bringing thereby great calamities on himself and his people. He was then at the height of his power, a ruler respected by all the nations from the Euphrates to the Nile. After his sin with Bethsabee and the indirect assassination of Urias, her husband, David made her his wife. A year elapsed before his repentance for the sin, but his contrition was so sincere that God pardoned him, though at the same time announcing the severe penalties that were to follow. The spirit in which David accepted these penalties has made him for all time the model of penitents. The incest of Amnon and the fratricide of Absalom brought shame and sorrow to David. For three years Absalom remained in exile. When he was recalled, David kept him in disfavour for two years more and then restored him to his former dignity, without any sign of repentance. Vexed by his father’s treatment, Absalom devoted himself for the next four years to seducing the people and finally had himself proclaimed king at Hebron. David was taken by surprise and was forced to flee from Jerusalem. The circumstances of his flight are narrated in Scripture with great simplicity and pathos. Absalom’s disregard of the counsel of Achitophel and his consequent delay in the pursuit of the king made it possible for the latter to gather his forces and win a victory at Manahaim, where Absalom was killed. David returned in triumph to Jerusalem. A further rebellion under Seba at the Jordan was quickly suppressed.

At this point in the narrative of 2 Samuel we read that “there was a famine in the days of David for three years successively”, in punishment for Saul’s sin against the Gabaonites. At their request seven of Saul’s race were delivered up to be crucified. It is not possible to fix the exact date of the famine. On other occasions David showed great compassion for the descendants of Saul, especially for Miphiboseth, the son of his friend Jonathan. After a brief mention of four expeditions against the Philistines, the sacred writer records a sin of pride on David’s part in his resolution to take a census of the people. As a penance for this sin, he was allowed to choose either a famine, an unsuccessful war, or pestilence. David chose the third and in three days 70,000 died. When the angel was about to strike Jerusalem, God was moved to pity and stayed the pestilence. David was commanded to offer sacrifice at the threshing-floor of Areuna, the site of the future temple.

The last days of David were disturbed by the ambition of Adonias, whose plans for the succession were frustrated by Nathan, the prophet, and Bethsabee, the mother of Solomon. The son who was born after David’s repentance was chosen in preference to his older brothers. To make sure that Solomon would succeed to the throne, David had him publicly anointed. The last recorded words of the aged king are an exhortation to Solomon to be faithful to God, to reward loyal servants, and to punish the wicked. David died at the age of seventy, having reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years. He was buried on Mount Sion. St. Peter spoke of his tomb as still in existence on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended on the Apostles (Acts 2:29). David is honoured by the Church as a saint. He is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on 29 December.
The historical character of the narratives of David’s life has been attacked chiefly by writers who have disregarded the purpose of the narrator in I Par. He passes over those events that are not connected with the history of the Ark. In the Books of Kings all the chief events, good and bad, are narrated. The Bible records David’s sins and weaknesses without excuse or palliation, but it also records his repentance, his acts of virtue, his generosity towards Saul, his great faith, and his piety. Critics who have harshly criticized his character have not considered the difficult circumstances in which he lived or the manners of his age. It is uncritical and unscientific to exaggerate his faults or to imagine that the whole history is a series of myths. The life of David was an important epoch in the history of Israel. He was the real founder of the monarchy, the head of the dynasty. Chosen by God “as a man according to His own heart”, David was tried in the school of suffering during the days of exile and developed into a military leader of renown. To him was due the complete organization of the army. He gave Israel a capital, a court, a great centre of religious worship. The little band at Odollam became the nucleus of an efficient force. When he became King of all Israel there were 339,600 men under his command. At the census 1,300,000 were enumerated capable of bearing arms. A standing army, consisting of twelve corps, each 24,000 men, took turns in serving for a month at a time as the garrison of Jerusalem. The administration of his palace and his kingdom demanded a large retinue of servants and officials. Their various offices are set down in 1 Chronicles 27. The king himself exercised the office of judge, though Levites were later appointed for this purpose, as well as other minor officials.

When the Ark had been brought to Jerusalem, David undertook the organization of religious worship. The sacred functions were entrusted to 24,000 Levites; 6,000 of these were scribes and judges, 4000 were porters, and 4000 singers. He arranged the various parts of the ritual, allotting to each section its tasks. The priests were divided into twenty-four families; the musicians into twenty-four choirs. To Solomon had been reserved the privilege of building God’s house, but David made ample preparations for the work by amassing treasures and materials, as well as by transmitting to his son a plan for the building and all its details. We are told in I Par. how he exhorted his son Solomon to carry out this great work and made known to the assembled princes the extent of his preparations.

The prominent part played by song and music in the worship of the temple, as arranged by David, is readily explained by his poetic and musical abilities. His skill in music is recorded in 1 Samuel 16:18 and Amos 6:5. Poems of his composition are found in 2 Samuel 1, 3, 22, 23. His connection with the Book of Psalms, many of which are expressly attributed to various incidents of his career, was so taken for granted in later days that many ascribed the whole Psalter to him. The authorship of these hymns and the question how far they can be considered as supplying illustrative material for David’s life will be treated in the article PSALMS.

David was not merely king and ruler, he was also a prophet. “The spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me and his word by my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2) is a direct statement of prophetic inspiration in the poem there recorded. St. Peter tells us that he was a prophet (Acts 2:30). His prophecies are embodied in the Psalms he composed that are literally Messianic and in “David’s last words” (2 Samuel 23). The literal character of these Messianic Psalms is indicated in the New Testament. They refer to the suffering, the persecution, and the triumphant deliverance of Christ, or to the prerogatives conferred on Him by the Father. In addition to these his direct prophecies, David himself has always been regarded as a type of the Messias. In this the Church has but followed the teaching of the Old Testament Prophets. The Messias was to be the great theocratic king; David, the ancestor of the Messias, was a king according to God’s own heart. His qualities and his very name are attributed to the Messias. Incidents in the life of David are regarded by the Fathers as foreshadowing the life of Christ; Bethlehem is the birthplace of both; the shepherd life of David points out Christ, the Good Shepherd; the five stones chosen to slay Goliath are typical of the five wounds. The betrayal by his trusted counsellor, Achitophel, and the passage over the Cedron remind us of Christ’s Sacred Passion. Many of the Davidic Psalms, as we learn from the New Testament, are clearly typical of the future Messias.

Corbett, J. (1908). King David. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

“On the First Day of Christmas…”

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“On the First Day of Christmas…”

Alexis Reyes

We are all familiar with the carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

We have all smiled indulgently at the extravagance of the lover who showered upon his beloved so many fantastic and inconvenient gifts. Every day of the Christmas season she received a new token of his love, each more fabulous than the last and increasingly numerous until she was the proud possessor of twenty-three birds, some valuable jewellery, a varied assortment of musicians and entertainers, and eight milkmaids.

But it is more than a rhapsody of strange and delightful nonsense. It is a song of Catholic instruction. Dating back to the 16th or 17th century, it was created as a memory aid to help children learn their Faith. The “true love” is no earthly suitor, but God Himself, Who gives His wondrous gifts to “me,” every baptised person.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

A partridge in a pear tree…

The partridge is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who comes to us on the first day of Christmas. He is fittingly represented as a partridge, a bird which will feign injury in order to draw predators to itself and away from its young. By offering Himself on the Cross, “He hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters. He will overshadow thee with His shoulders: and under His wings thou shalt trust.” (Psalms 90:4)

The pear tree is the Cross itself. When King David wished to free his people from the scourge of the Philistines, the Lord told him that the moment would come “when thou shalt hear the sound of one going in the tops of the pear trees, then shalt thou join battle: for then will the Lord go out before thy face to strike the army of the Philistines.” (II Kings 5:24)

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Two turtle doves…

The two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments which look to each other with admiration and complement one another.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Three French hens…

The three French hens symbolise the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Four calling birds…

The four calling birds are the four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – because they spread everywhere the good news of the Gospel. “Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Psalms 18:5)

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Five golden rings…

The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, is represented by five golden rings. These books tell the history of man from the creation to the time of Moses and the expectation of the Messiah that was accomplished in the birth of Our Lord,

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Six geese a laying…

Six geese a laying are the six days of creation. The eggs of the geese hold the promise of life to come; which represents the maintenance and expansion of God’s creation.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Seven swans a swimming…

Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven sacraments. Sailing majestically on the seas of grace of which they are the guardians, custodians, and dispensers of these living waters. “Go, and wash seven times in the Jordan, and thy flesh shall recover health, and thou shalt be clean.” (IV Kings 5:10)

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Eight maids a milking…

Eight maids a milking symbolise the eight beatitudes. The good that we can draw from the attitudes praised in the Sermon on the Mount are as rich and wholesome as our mother’s milk. We must observe these precepts, “…that thou mayst enter into the land which Thy Lord God will give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as He swore to thy fathers.” (Deut. 27:3)

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
Nine ladies dancing…

Nine ladies dancing stand for the nine choirs of angels. As a dancer is swift and elegant, so do the Angels of God execute His orders, moving to the music of Heaven.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Ten lords a leaping…

Ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments. If we keep these Commandments, we can leap from the bonds of this earth even to the heights of Heaven.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Eleven pipers piping…

Eleven pipers piping are the first eleven faithful Apostles. Like players in an orchestra, we must do our part in the great symphony of God’s plan for us. We play each the song that we are given and it becomes a part of a greater harmony, taking care not to strike a false note.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Twelve drummers drumming…

Twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of belief in the Apostle’s Creed, which constitutes the stirring, throbbing undercurrent that binds the Catholic Faith together. It is the foundation upon which the Church is built.

With the due explanation, the apparent nonsense of the carol becomes a treasure of precious stones. A summary of the principal points of the Catholic doctrine is accessible to a child under the form of an innocent Christmas song.

It is an example of the Catholic wisdom that was sprinkled onto everything in Christendom. It is an invitation for you to enjoy even more this charming song.

Angelus ad Virginem

Angelus ad Virginem

Angelus ad Virginem is a medieval Christmas song that remains popular today. The text of the song is essentially a poetic enhancement of the Hail Mary. It has been found in several different English hymn books from the 14th century and is believed to have been of Irish Franciscan origin.

Latin Lyrics:

Angelus ad Virginem,
Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinem,
Demulcens inquit: “Ave,
Ave Regina Virginum,
Coeliteraeque Dominum,
Concipies et paries intacta,
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta Coeli facta,
Medella criminum.”

“Quomodo conciperem,
Quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
Quae firma mente vovi?”
“Spiritus Sancti gratia,
Perficiet haec omnia.
Ne timeas, sed gaudeas, secura,
Quod castimonia,
Manebit in te pura,
Dei potentia.”

Ad haec Virgo nobilis,
Respondens inquit ei:
“Ancilla sum humilis,
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
Consentiens et cupiens videre,
Factum quod audio.
Parata sum parere,
Dei consilio.”

Angelus disparuit,
Etstatim puellaris,
Uterus intumuit,
Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero,
Novem mensium numero.
Hinc exiit et iniit conflictum,
Affigens humero,
Crucem, qua dedit ictum,
Hosti mortifero.

Eia, Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti,
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti.
Tuum exora Filium,
Ut se nobis propitium,
Exhibeat, et deleat peccata,
Praestans auxilium,
Vita frui beata,
Post hoc exsilium.


The angel appeared to the Virgin,
While entering into her chamber.
He calmed her fear,
When he said to her: “Hail,
Hail, Queen of Virgins.
The Lord of Heaven and Earth,
You will conceive and give birth unharmed,
Bringing the salvation of mankind.
You will be the Door of Heaven,
The remedy for all crimes.”

“How can I conceive,
Since I do not know man?
How can I break,
What I have firmely vowed?”
“The grace of the Holy Spirit
Will accomplish all this.
Do not fear but rejoice securely,
Because chastity,
Will remain undefiled in you,
Through the power of God.”

To this the noble Virgin,
Responding said to him:
“I am the humble slave,
Of Almighty God.
By your heavenly announcement,
I became aware of so many secrets,
I give my consent and want to see,
Accomplished what I heard.
I am ready to obey,
God’s will.”

The angel disappeared,
And at once the Maiden,
Conceived in her womb,
The fruit of salvation.
In her womb He lied enclosed,
For nine months.
From it He came forth entering the battle,
He fastened His shoulders,
On the cross, which gave the blow,
Fatal to the enemy.

Rejoice, Mother of the Lord,
Who has restored peace,
To angels and men,
When you bore Christ.
Exhort your Son,
That He be propitious to us,
Let Him wash away our sins,
Giving us help,
To enjoy the blissful life,
After this exile.