The Octave Day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

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The Octave Day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger

Firmly resting upon Peter, the Church turns to him whom the Spouse has given to be her Head, and testifies to him no less veneration and love, than obedience and fidelity; such is the craving of her gratitude. Moreover she is fully aware of what is thus expressed by St. Peter Damian (or as others say by a disciple of St. Bernard), “none may pretend to intimacy with our Lord, unless he be intimate with Peter.” How admirable is this unity in God’s advance towards his creature! but, at the same time, how absolute is the law of the creature’s progress to the Life Divine. God is not found, save in Jesus; nor Jesus, save in the Church; nor the Church, save in Peter. If you had known Me, said Christ, you would, without doubt, have known my Father also; but the Jews sought God, outside of Jesus, and their efforts were vain. Since then, others have come, wanting to find Jesus, while setting aside his Church; but that which God has joined, what man shall put asunder? So these men, running after a Christ, a phantom of their own conceptions, have found neither Jesus Christ nor his Church. In fine, others are sons of the Church, yet they persuade themselves that in those pastures where, by right, the soul may feed upon God, they have none to seek, save the divine Shepherd, who dwells in heaven. By the very fact of his having committed to another, the care of feeding both lambs and sheep, Jesus seems to have had quite a different view; for these words imply, not only some, either mere beginners and the imperfect, or the strong and saints, but all, little and great, whom the heavenly Shepherd confided to Simon-Barjona, to be, by him, fed, directed, advanced, and guarded.

O thou soul that hungerest after God, go to Peter; think not, otherwise, to appease thy cravings. Formed in the school of the holy Liturgy, thou hast surely no part with such as neglect the Humanity, as they say (speaking of Mary’s Divine Son), in order to come all the more assuredly to the word; but in like manner take care, thou also, not to turn God’s Vicar into an obstacle in thy path. Jesus longs for the blissful meeting, even as thou dost; be certain, therefore, that what he places between thee and himself, on the way, is no obstacle, but a help. Just as in the adorable Eucharist, the sacred species are but to point out to thee where he is whom, of thyself, thou couldst never find here below; so too the mystery of Peter has no other end but this, to show thee with absolute certainty He Who resides for thee in the Divine Sacrament, in his proper substance, resides also for thee, in his authority and infallible guidance. These two mysteries complete one another; they walk hand in hand an will both cease at the same moment,—at the moment when our eyes may gaze at last directly upon Jesus; but, from now till then, the Church sees herein not so much an intermediary or a veil, as the most precious Sign of the invisible Spouse. Therefore, wonder not, if the homage she pays to Peter seems to rival that which she bestows on the Sacred Host; in her multiplied genuflections which she makes before both, she is indeed adoring; adoring not that man, it is true, whom we see seated on the apostolic throne, nor yet the mere species perceived by our senses on the altar; but, adoring, in both instances, the same Jesus, who is silent in the Eucharistic Sacrament, and who speaks and commands in his Vicar.

Further still, she knows that Peter alone can give her the Sacred Host. Baptism which makes us to be sons of God, and all the sacraments which multiply the divine energies within us, are a treasure which he alone has license to dispose of legitimately, either by himself or by others. It is his word, throughout the world, that, in every grade of authorized teaching, gives birth within souls to faith, the beginning of salvation, and develops it from these humble commencements right up to the luminous summits of sanctity. And because, on the mountain heights, the life of the Evangelical counsels of the chosen garden reserved to himself by the Spouse, Peter must needs likewise claim as his own, the guidance and protection, in a more special manner, of religious communities, for he is wishful to be always able himself to offer directly to Jesus, the fairest flowers of that holiness of which his exalted ministry is the very principle and support. Thus sanctified, to Peter again, does the Church address herself, when she would learn in what way to approach her Spouse, in her worship; she says to him, as heretofore, the disciples said to Our Lord: Teach us to pray, and Peter, animated with what he knows so well of the gorgeous pomp of worship in the heavenly country, regulates for us here below the sacred ceremonial, and dictates to the Bride herself the theme of her songs. Lastly, who but Peter can add to her holiness, those other marks of unity, catholicity, and apostolicity, which are, in face of the whole world, her irrefragable right and title to the throne and to the love of the son of God.

If we are truly sons of the Church, if in very deed it is from the heart of our Mother, that we draw our sentiments, let us well understand what should be our gratitude, respectful love, tender confidence, and utter devotedness of our whole being, towards him from whom, by the sweet Will of God, come all these good things. Peter, in his own person and in that of his successors, specially in him who in these our own days bears the weight of the whole world and our burdens also, ought to be the constant object of our filial reverence and homage. His glories, his sufferings, his thoughts should become ours. Forget not that He of whom the Roman Pontiff is visible Representative, has willed that every one of his members should have their invisible share in the government of his Church; the responsibility of each one in a point of such major importance, is clearly indicated in the great duty of prayer, which in God’s sight is of more value than action, and which is rendered by love, stronger than hell. Then, there is that other strict duty of alms-deeds, whereby we are obliged to come to the relief of the indigent, even of our humblest brother: if so, can we deem ourselves free with regard to the Bishop and Father of our souls, when unjust spoliation makes him know, in the necessities of his immense administration, cramping want and difficulty? Happy they who to the tribute of gold, may be allowed to add that of blood! but all are not granted such an honor!

On this, the last day of the Octave consecrated to the triumph of these two Princes of the Apostles, let us, once again, salute the city which was witness of their final combat. She is guardian of their tombs and continues to be the the See of Peter’s successors; by this double title, she is the vestibule of heaven, the capital of the spiritual empire. The very thought of the august trophies that adorn both banks of her noble river, and of all those other glorious memories that linger around her, made the heart of St. John Chrysostom exult with enthusiasm, beneath his eastern sky. We give his words as addressed to the people, in one of his Homilies: “In very deed, the heavens illumined by the fiery rays of the meridian sun, have naught comparable to Rome’s resplendent rays shed over the whole earth by these two luminaries of hers. Thence will Paul arise, thence Peter likewise. Reflect, yea tremble, at the thought of what a spectacle Rome is to witness, when Peter and Paul rising up from their graves, shall be borne aloft to meet the Lord. How brilliant in her roseate hue is Rome before the eyes of Christ! What garlands encircle this city! With what golden chains is she girded! What fountains are hers! Oh! this city of stupendous fame! I admire her, not because of the gold wherewith she abounds, nor because of her proud porticoes, but because she holds within her these two Pillars of the Church.” Then the illustrious orator goes on to remark how he burnt with longing desire to visit these sacred tombs, the treasure of the world, the secure rampart of the queen-city.

In these our own days, the bishops of God’s Church are bound by law to come at fixed intervals, from their various dioceses, throughout the world, to visit the basilicas raised over the precious remains of Peter and Paul; like this latter, they too must needs come and see Peter, still living in the Pontiff, his successor in the primacy. Although simple Christians are not subject to the same obligation to which bishops are bound by oath, yet ought every true Catholic frequently to visit in thought, at least, these blessed hills, whence flow the streams of salvation that divide and carry their waters over the whole world. One of the most consoling symptoms, at the present sad time, is the visible stir which is evidently taking hold of the masses, and urging them to the Eternal City. A movement, which must be encouraged as much as possible, because it is a return to the wisest traditions of our forefathers; and in these days the facility for such a pilgrimage, once in a lifetime, is so great, that few or none would thereby undergo any serious inconvenience, as regards either their family or social position.

But if some there be who really cannot apply to themselves in this literal sense these words of the Psalm: “I have rejoiced at the things that have been said to me, we shall go into the House of the Lord;” let them, at least, make these sentiments of true spiritual patriotism their own, and more so than did the Jews of yore: “May there be abundance for them that love thee, O true Jerusalem! Let peace be in thy strength and abundance in thy towers. For the sake of my brethren who are in thee, this is my prayer: yea this is my prayer, because thou art the house of the Lord our God.”

To pay honor to the churches of the Eternal City, where are preserved the chief memorials of the Holy Apostles, Benedict XIV fixed that on each of the days within the Octave, a pontifical mass, should be sung in one of these churches successively, the cantors and other ministers of the papal chapel attending. The festival of the Twenty-ninth of June is reserved to the sovereign pontiff himself, who celebrates in the Vatican Basilica, at the very tomb of the Prince of the Apostles; but the following day, the Bishops Assistants at the pontifical Throne, are convoked in the Basilica on the Ostian Way, built not far from the site of his martyrdom, and enclosing both the body of the Doctor of the Gentiles and his chains. The Apostolic Protonotaries are assembled on the first of July, in the Church of St. Prudentiana, formerly the house of the Senator Pudens, where, as we are informed by Benedict XIV, “Peter preached the divine word and celebrated the sacred Mysteries; thus, in a way, laying the first foundations of the Roman Church, the Mother and Mistress of all other Churches.” On the second of July the Major Domo or Master of the Sacred Palace, and the Auditors of the Rota pay homage, in like manner, at Sancta Maria in Via lata, to the memory of the two-years’ sojourn of the Apostle of the Gentiles in this place. On the fifth day, July the third, the Pontifical Mass is celebrated at Saint Peter’s ad vincula, the Clerks of the Camera assisting; on the sixth day, at the Mamertine Prison, in the presence of the Referendarii of the Segnatura; on the seventh, before the Abbreviators of the greater Parcus, at St. Peter’s in Montorio, said, by tradition, to be the very spot of the Apostle’s martyrdom. Lastly, on July the sixth, the Sacred College of Cardinals terminates the Octave with a grand solemnity at Saint John Lateran, where are exposed to public veneration, the Head of Saint Peter and that of Saint Paul, in rich reliquaries.

Let us enter into the thought which inspired the great Pontiff Benedict XIV, in his distribution of the days within the Octave of the holy Apostles, and so let us pray with him, for the City and the world, by taking from the Sacramentary of his immortal predecessor, Saint Leo I, the following two Formulæ.


Roma Petro glorietur,
Roma Paulum veneretur
Pari reverentia:
Imo tota jocundetur,
Et jucundis occupetur
Laudibus Ecclesia.

Let Rome glory in Peter, let Rome venerate Paul with equal reverence: or rather, let the whole Church be made glad, and be occupied with songs of joy.

Hi sunt ejus fundamenta,
Fundatores, fulcimenta,
Bases, epistylia;
Iidem saga, qui cortinæ,
Pelles templi jacinthinæ,
Scyphi spheræ, lilia.

Lo! here, her foundations, her founders, her buttresses, her bases, her architraves; yea, here, her costly hangings and canopies, her hyacinth-dyed skins (as of the temple), her cups, her pomegrantes, her lilies.

Hi sunt nubes coruscantes,
Terram cordis irrigantes,
Nunc rore, nunc pluvia;
Hi præcones novæ legis
Et ductores novi gregis
Ad Christi præsepia.

These are refulgent clouds watering the earth of our hearts, now with dew, now with rain. These are the heralds of the New Law, and leaders of the new flock, unto Christ’s Fold.

Laborum socii
Triturant aream,In spe denarii
Colentes vineam.

Companions in labor, they tread the threshing-floor: in hopes of the Penny, they till the vineyard.

His ventilantibus,
Secedit palea,
Novisque frugibus
Replentur horrea.

By their winnowing is the chaff separated, and the barns are filled with new harvestings.

Ipsi montes appellantur:
Ipsi prius illustrantur
Veri solis lumine,
Mira virtus est eorum:
Firmamenti vel cœlorum
Designantur nomine.

They are called Mountains: they are the first to be illumined by the rays of the True Sun, Wondrous is their power; they are entitled Firmaments, or Heavens.

Fugam morbis imperant,
Leges mortis superant,
Effugant dæmonia.
Delent idolatriam,
Reis præbent veniam,
Miseris solatia.

They command sickness to flee away, they over-rule the laws of death; demons they put to flight. To the guilty they give pardon, to the sorrowful consolation.

Laus communis est amborum
Quum sint tamen singulorum
Dignitates propriæ:
Petrus præit principatu,
Paulus pollet magistratu
Totius Ecclesiæ.

Praise is common to both of them; yet a peculiar dignity is proper unto each: Peter holds the first rank in the Primacy, Paul is famous for his teachings throughout the whole Church.

Principatus uni datur,
Unitasque commendatur
Fidei catholicæ;
Unus cortex est granorum,
Sed hæc una vis multorum
Sub eodem cortice.

Primacy is given but to one, so that thus the unity of Catholic Faith is proclaimed: one rind contains many grains, and all, in their multiplicity, have the same virtue under one single rind.

Romam convenerant
Salutis nuntii,
Ubi plus noverant
Inesse vitii,
Nihil medicinæ.
Insistunt vitiis
Fideles medici;
Vitæ remediis
Obstant phrenetici,
Fatui doctrinæ.

Unto Rome come the messengers of salvation, where they know there is much of vice and naught of remedy. The faithful physicians attack vice, yet the delirious sick reject the medicine of life, the insane refuse doctrine.

Facta Christi mentione,
Simon magus cum Nerone
Conturbantur hoc sermone,
Nec cedunt Apostolis.
Languor cedit, mors obedit,
Magus crepat, Roma credit,
Et ad vitam mundus redit,
Reprobatis idolis.

Christ’s Name being preached, Simon Magus and Nero are troubled at this word, nor will they yield to the Apostles. Sickness gives way, death obeys, Magus is dashed to pieces, Rome believes, and the world returns to life, rejecting her idols.

Fremit Nero sceleratus,
Magi morte desolatus,
Cujus error ei gratus,
Grave præcipitium,
Bellatores prælecti
Non a fide possunt flecti:
Sed in pugna stant erecti,
Nec formidant gladium.

Wicked Nero trembles with rage; aggravated at the Magician’s death, whose downfall is as annoying to him as his deception had been pleasing. But the chosen warriors can never be turned from the faith; bold they stand erect for the combat, nor dread the sword.

Petrus, hæres veræ lucis,
Fert inversus pœnam crucis,
Paulus ictum pugionis:
Nec diversæ passionis
Sunt diversa præmia.

Peter heir of the True Light, endures the penalty of the inverted cross; and Paul, the stroke of the sword: Though diverse the suffering, yet the rewards are alike.

Patres summæ dignitatis,
Summo Regi conregnatis:
Vincla nostræ pravitatis
Solvat vestræ potestatis
Efficax sententia.

O ye Fathers of surpassing worth, ye are reigning now with the Supreme King! may the efficacious sentence of your immense power loosen the chains of our guilt. Amen

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