4th Sunday of Advent
My next reflection on the 50 Saints with an Obligatory
Memorial or Feast
and full set of orations is on Saint Stephen, the First Martyr,
who is rightly given a most special Feast Day: the day after Christmas, December 26. One of our first seven Deacons he wears a deacon’s dalmatic, often swinging a thurible as Deacons may do, holding the Book of the Gospels, which Deacons are privileged to proclaim at holy Mass – although such vestments and appurtenances were developed long after his death in AD 34. A palm branch and/or crown signify martyrdom, as we read in the last book of the Bible’s image of heaven: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count … they stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” [Revelation 7:9]
Here are his orations.
Collect – Saint Stephen, the First Martyr
Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may
imitate what we worship, and so learn
to love even our enemies, for we celebrate
the heavenly birthday of a man who knew
how to pray even for his persecutors.
Through our Lord … for ever and ever. Amen.
“LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.”
These words, spoken by Jesus [C.f.: Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:35] were so poignantly echoed by Saint
as he was being stoned to death; he does not hold a rock to seek revenge, but to forgive! While dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Acts 7:59]
which paraphrased Jesus’ dying words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” [Luke 23:46]
In a homily written by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe [died 533], read on 12/26 by those who pray the Office of Readings, Saint Stephen
is credited with sowing the seeds that led to the conversion of Saul, the staunch anti-Christian Pharisee, who ‘oversaw’ the Saint’s stoning, to convert; we now know that man as the great Saint Paul the Apostle!
So we should never underestimate the power of our prayers … even for our enemies!
Prayer over the Offerings – Saint Stephen
May these offerings of our devotion today,
be acceptable to you, we pray, O Lord, for they
are prompted by the glorious commemoration
of Saint Stephen the Martyr.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
WHAT IS OUR SIGN OF DEVOTION?
The Church names each Saint the ‘patron’ of certain things, based on that Saint’s life and/or how he or she died. Not surprisingly, Saint Stephen, whose Hebrew name, Kelil,
or Stephanos in Greek, means ‘crown’
– and who was stoned to death – is patron saint of stonemasons, bricklayers, casket makers, headache sufferers, as well as Deacons. He’s also called upon to silence long homilists; his ‘Discourse’ to the same Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus to death, found in Acts 7:2-53, is 1,200 words … one of the longest biblical homilies! [Some say they killed him just to shut him up!] If we are ever canonized a Saint, of what would we be named the special patron? So be careful how you live your life … and how you die!
Prayer after Communion – Saint Stephen
For the many mercies which surround us
we give thanks to you, O Lord, who
save us through the Nativity of your Son
and gladden us with the celebration
of the blessed Martyr Stephen.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.
We often forget the main reason for the season: at Christmas, God became man in Jesus so that – at Easter, He could suffer and die to redeem us and rise again to reveal the Resurrection. By serving widows, speaking Truth to power, enduring ridicule, slander and physical pain for Jesus, Saint Stephen
became the Protomartyr or first martyr: the first to give his life for Christ, who gave His life to save us! As his Office of Readings explains: what a beautiful exchange of Christmas gifts: today, a soldier suffered and died for the King who was born to suffer and die for us! Saint Stephen, the First Martyr, pray for us and for all who are persecuted or martyred for the Christian Faith.
In His holy Name,
Rev. Thomas J. Serafin, KHS