St. Ethelbert, Confessor

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St. Ethelbert, Confessor

First Christian King among the English

HE was king of Kent, the fifth descendant from Hengist, who first settled the English Saxons in Britain, in 448, and the foundation of whose kingdom is dated in 455. Ethelbert married, in his father’s life-time, Bertha, the only daughter of Charibert, king of Paris, and cousin-german to Clotaire, king of Soissons, and Childebert, king of Austrasia, whose two sons, Theodobert, and Theodoric, or Thierry, reigned after his death, the one in Austrasia, the other in Burgundy. Ethelbert succeeded his father Ermenric, in 560. The kingdom of Kent having enjoyed a continued peace for about a hundred years, was arrived at a degree of power and riches, which gave it a pre-eminence in the Saxon heptarchy in Britain, and so great a superiority and influence over the rest, Ethelbert is said by Bede to have ruled as far as the Humber, and Ethelbert is often styled king of the English. His queen Bertha was a very zealous and pious Christian princess, and by the articles of her marriage had free liberty to exercise her religion; for which purpose she was attended by a venerable French prelate, named Luidhard, or Lethard, bishop of Senlis. He officiated constantly in an old church dedicated to St. Martin, lying a little out of the walls of Canterbury. The exemplary life of this prelate, and his frequent discourses on religion, disposed several Pagans about the court to embrace the faith. The merit of the queen in the great work of her husband’s conversion is acknowledged by our historians, and she deserved by her piety and great zeal to be compared by St. Gregory the Great, to the celebrated St. Helen. 1 1 Continue reading

Give Us Back Our Days: Gregory’s Calendar Reform

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Give Us Back Our Days: Gregory’s Calendar Reform

Give us back our eleven days!” protesters shouted. Bristol rioted. In a satirical painting, Hogarth shows a man getting drunk beside a poster demanding back the days.

Because the Julian calendar (promulgated by Julius Caesar) made the year too long by several minutes, it experienced three full days of displacement every 400 years. In 1582 it was out of sequence with the equinoxes by ten days and with Caesar’s original dates by fourteen days. Several church councils had already discussed the problem but done nothing about it.

Gregory XIII was an energetic pope. Long active in Church affairs and a patron of education, he was not one to let the matter continue indefinitely. He determined to correct the problem and on this day February 24, 1582,* acting on the recommendations of a special council, issued a bull requiring all Catholic countries to follow October 4 with October 15 that year. To illiterate people, it seemed as if real days were being stolen from them.

Although the papal commission, advised by Jesuit scientist Christopher Clavius, aided the Pope in making the reform, a similar plan had actually been propounded by Bishop Robert Grosseteste of England three hundred years earlier. This fact was not generally known and resulted in an irony. The English, afraid of appearing to give too much deference to the Pope by adopting his calendar, rejected the Gregorian calendar and retained the Julian for another two centuries, oblivious to the fact it had been the proposal of their own native son Grosseteste. Britain and its American colonies adopted the new calendar only in 1752. By then, English calendars were eleven days off. Calendar reform even became an issue in political elections.

The Gregorian calendar was intended primarily for the benefit of the Church which needed to plot the variable date of its most important feast, Easter (Paschal). At Easter, Christ suffered for our sins and rose from the dead; and to this event, Christians attribute all their hope of salvation. Nonetheless, the calendar reform affected the entire world. Although some nations, like China Japan and Russia, did not adopt the reform until the twentieth century, all nations now use it for international business and for recording historical events.

St. Milburge, Virgin in England

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St. Milburge, Virgin in England

Seventh Century.

ST. MILBURGE was sister to St. Mildred, and daughter of Merowald, son of Penda, king of Mercia. Having dedicated herself to God in a religious state, she was chosen abbess of Wenlock, in Shropshire, which house she rendered a true paradise of all virtue. The more she humbled herself, the more she was exalted by God; and whilst she preferred sackcloth to purple and diadems, she became the invisible glory of heaven. The love of purity of heart and holy peace were the subject of her dying exhortation to her dear sisters. She closed her mortal pilgrimage about the end of the seventh century. Malmesbury and Harpsfield write that many miracles accompanied the translation of her relics, in 1101, on the 26th of May, which Capgrave and Mabillon mistake for the day of her death: but Harpsfield, who had seen the best ancient English manuscripts assures us that she died on the 23rd of February, which is confirmed by all the manuscript additions to the Martyrologies of Bede and others, in which her name occurs, which are followed by the Roman on this day. The abbey of Wenlock was destroyed by the Danes: but a monastery of Cluni-monks was afterwards erected upon the same spot, by whom her remains were discovered in a vault in 1101, as Malmesbury, who wrote not long after, relates.

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

Blessed Robert of Arbrissel

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Blessed Robert of Arbrissel

Abbot
(1045-1117)

Blessed Robert, one of the principal historical figures of his time and one of the most astonishing Saints of the Church, was born at Arbrissel, now Arbressec, a short distance from Rennes, in about 1045. He studied in Paris, sustained in his poverty by the assistance of charitable benefactors, and became there a celebrated doctor in the sacred sciences. His remarkable gifts were everywhere appreciated. It is supposed that he was ordained a priest in Paris, before the bishop of his native diocese of Rennes recalled him in 1085 to assist him in reforming his flock. There in Brittany, as archpriest, Robert devoted himself to the healing of feuds, the suppression of simony, lay investiture, clerical concubinage and irregular marriages. He was compelled, by the hostility his reforming zeal had caused, to leave the diocese when his bishop died in 1093.

After teaching theology for a time in Angers, in 1095 he became a hermit near Laval with several others, two of whom later founded monasteries, as he himself did in 1096, at the site where they were then dwelling in the forest of Craon near Roe. The reputation of the solitaries had attracted many to visit them, and the piety, kindness, eloquence and strong personality of Robert in particular drew many followers; it is said that the forest of Craon became the dwelling-place of a multitude of anchorites, as once the deserts of Egypt were. Continue reading

Saint Matthias

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Saint Matthias

Apostle
(† 63)

After our Blessed Lord’s Ascension His disciples came together, with Mary His mother and the eleven Apostles, in an upper room at Jerusalem. The little company numbered no more than one hundred and twenty souls. They were waiting for the promised coming of the Holy Ghost, and they persevered in prayer. Meanwhile there was a solemn act to be performed on the part of the Church, which could not be postponed. The place of the fallen Judas had to be filled, that the number of the Apostles might be complete. Saint Peter, therefore, as Vicar of Christ, arose to announce the divine decree. What the Holy Ghost had spoken by the mouth of David concerning Judas, he said, must be fulfilled. Of him it had been written, His bishopric let another take. A choice, therefore, was needed of one among those who had been their companions from the beginning, who could bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus.

Two were named of equal merit, Joseph called Barsabas, and Matthias. After praying to God, who knows the hearts of all men, to show which of these He had chosen, they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, who was thereby numbered with the Apostles. It is recorded of the Saint, wonderfully elected to so high a vocation, that he was remarkable for his mortification of the flesh. It was thus that he made his election sure.

He preached in Judea where he was persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles, and died by stoning, a victim of their pursuits, in the year 63. His body was taken to Rome by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, some 250 years later. A church there bears his name.

Reflection. Our ignorance of many points in Saint Matthias’s life serves to fix the attention all the more firmly upon these two — the occasion of his call to the apostolate, and the fact of his perseverance. We then naturally turn in thought to our own vocation and our own end: may it be like his, a holy death in reward for our fidelity.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

*On leap years, St. Matthias’ feast day is celebrated on February 25

Prayer to St. Matthias the Apostle

O Almighty God, who into the place of Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the Twelve: Grant that thy Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever.