The Liturgical Year: Saint Damasus, Pope and Confessor

Pope Saint Damasus11 December

This great Pontiff comes before us in the Liturgical Year, not to bring us tidings of Peace, as Saint Melchiades did, but as one of the most illustrious defenders of the great Mystery of the Incarnation. He defends the faith of the Universal Church in the divinity of the Word, by condemning, as his predecessor Liberius had done, the acts and the authors of the celebrated Council of Rimini. With his sovereign authority, he bears witness to the teaching of the Church regarding the Humanity of Jesus Christ, and condemned the heretic Apollinaris, who taught that Jesus Christ had only assumed the flesh and not the soul of man. He commissioned Saint Jerome to make a new translation of the New Testament from the Greek, for the use of the Church of Rome; here, again, giving a further proof of the faith and love which he bore to the Incarnate Word. Let us honour this great Pontiff, whom the Council of Chalcedon calls the ornament and support of Home by his piety. Saint Jerome, too, who looked upon Saint Damasus as his friend and patron, calls him a man of the greatest worth; a man whose equal could not be found, well versed in the holy Scriptures, and a virgin Doctor of the virgin Church. The Legend of the Breviary gives us a brief account of his life –

Damasus was a Spaniard, a man of highest worth and learned in the Scriptures. He called the first Council of Constantinople, in which he condemned the impious heresy of Eunomius and Macedonius. He also condemned the Council of Rimini, which had already been rejected by Liberius, inasmuch as it was in this assembly of Rimini, as Saint Jerome tells us, that mainly by the craft of Valens and Ursascius, was published a condemnation of the faith which had been taught by the Nicene Council, and thus the whole world grieved to find itself made Arian.

He built two Basilicas; one dedicated to Saint Laurence, near Pompey’s theatre, and this he endowed with magnificent presents, with houses and with lands: the other, on the Ardeatine Way, at the Catacombs. The bodies of Saints Peter and Paul lay for some time in a place richly adorned with marbles; this place he dedicated, and composed for it several inscriptions in beautiful verses. He also wrote on Virginity, both in prose and verse, and several other poems.

He established the law of retaliation for cases of false accusation. He decreed that, as was the custom in many places, the Psalms should be sung in all churches in alternate choirs, day and night; and that at the end of each Psalm, there should be added: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. It was by his order that Saint Jerome translated the New Testament from the Greek text. He governed the Church seventeen years, two months, and twenty days; and five times during this period, he gave Ordinations, in the month of December, to 31 Priests, 11 Deacons, and 62 Bishops for divers places. Conspicuous for his virtue, learning, and prudence, and having lived little short of 80 years, he slept in the Lord, during the reign of Theodosius the Great. He was buried in the Basilica which he had built on the Ardentine Way, where also lay his mother and sister. His relics were afterwards translated to the Church of Saint Laurence, called after him, Saint Laurence’s in Damaso.

Petitation to Pope Saint Damasus

Holy Pontiff Damasus, during your life on earth, you were the Light, which guided the children of the Church; for you taught them the mystery of the Incarnation, and guarded them against those perfidious doctrines, wherewith hell ever strives to corrupt that glorious Symbol of our faith, which tells us of God’s infinite mercy towards us, and of the sublime dignity of man thus mercifully redeemed. Seated on the Chair of Peter, you confirmed your brethren, and your faith failed not; for Jesus had prayed to his Father for you. We rejoice at the infinite recompense with which this divine Prince of Pastors has rewarded the unsullied purity of your faith, O you virgin Doctor of the virgin Church! O that we could have a ray of that light which now enables thee to see Jesus in his glory! Pray for us, that we may have light to see him, and know him, and love him under the humble guise in which he is so soon to appear to us. Obtain for us the science of the sacred Scriptures, in which you were so great a Master; and docility to the teachings of the Bishop of Rome, to whom, in the person of Saint Peter, Christ has said: Launch out into the deep!

Obtain also for all Christians, you the successor of this Prince of the Apostles, that they be animated with those sentiments, which Saint Jerome thus describes in one of his letters addressed to you: “It is the Chair of Peter that I will consult, for from it do I derive that faith, which is the food of my soul. I will search for this precious pearl, heeding not the vast expanse of sea and land which I must pass over. Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together. It is now in the West that the Sun of justice rises. I ask the Victim of salvation from the Priest, and from the Shepherd the protection of the sheep. On that rock I know the Church is built. He that eats the Lamb in any house but this, is profane. He that is not in Noah’s Ark, shall perish in the waters of the deluge. I know not Vitalis, I reject Meletius, I pass by Paulinus. He that gathers not with you, Damasus, scatters; for he that is not of Christ, is of Anti-Christ.”

Advent Meditation

Let us contemplate our divine Saviour in the womb of his most holy Mother Mary. Let us, together with the holy Angels, adore him in this state of profound humiliation, to which his love for us has brought him. See him there offering himself to his Father for the redemption of mankind, and commencing at once to fulfill the office of our Mediator, which he has taken upon himself. What an excess of love is this of our Jesus, that he is not satisfied with having humbled himself in assuming our nature, and which alone would have sufficed to redeem a million worlds! The eternal Son of God wills to remain, as other children, nine months in his Mother’s womb: after that, to be born in poverty, to live a life of labour and suffering, and to be obedient to death even to the death of the Cross. O Jesus, may you be praised and loved by all creatures for this your immense love of us! You have come down from heaven the Victim that is to take the place of all those which were hitherto offered, but which could not efface man’s sin. At length, the earth possesses its Saviour, though as yet unseen. No, God will not curse the earth, which, though covered with crime, is rich in such a treasure as this. Still repose, O Jesus, in the chaste womb of Mary, that living Ark which contains the true Manna sent for the food of man. But the time is approaching for you to leave this loved sanctuary. The tender love which you have received from Mary, must be changed for the malice wherewith men will treat you; yet it must needs be that you be born on the day which you had decreed: it is the will of your eternal Father, it is the expectation of the world, it is the salvation of all who shall love thee.

Prose in Honour of the Blessed Virgin

Hail, you glory of the world;
   hail, Virgin Mother;
   hail, most merciful Mary!
Hail, full of grace;
   hail, Queen of the Angels;
   hail, most glorious Mary!
Hail, Virgin of Virgins;
   hail, protectress of men;
   hail, most powerful Mary!
Hail, Mother of the Lord;
   hail, parent of the Most High;
   hail, most prudent Mary!
Hail, Mother of glory;
   hail, Mother of mercy;
   hail, most blessed Mary!
Hail, source of pardon;
   hail, fount of pity;
   hail, most clement Mary!
Hail, Mother of light;
   hail, honour of the firmament;
   hail, gate of heaven;
   hail, most gentle Mary!
Hail, fair lily;
   hail, precious fragrance;
   hail; sweet incense;
   hail, most resplendent Mary!
Hail, O meek;
   hail, O sweet;
   hail, O merciful;
   hail, O joyous;
   hail, O most beautiful Mary!
Hail, gate of heaven;
   hail, branch prophetic;
   hail, flaming bush;
   hail, mystic fleece;
   hail, most happy Mary!
Hail, beautiful pearl of heaven;
   hail, fruitful abode of Christ;
   hail, most comely Mary!
Hail, branch of Jesse;
   hail, mystic ladder that reaches to heaven;
   hail, most noble Mary!
Hail, daughter of a kingly race;
   hail, Mother of a Son who is God;
   hail, full of joy at the birth of this Son;
   hail, most unrivalled Mary!
Hail, peerless Virgin;
   hail, lovely source of our happiness;
   hail, wonderful in your graces;
   hail, most admirable Mary!
Hail, spotless Dove, pure in your chastity, yet fruitful in charity;
   hail, immaculate Mary!
Hail, empress of the world;
   hail, mediatrix of men;
   hail, protectress of the world;
   hall, joy of our hearts!

– taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523

Prayer for the Time of Advent

The tidings we have heard of your Incarnation, O Jesus, have filled us with gladness and joy. We beseech you, grant that we who are expecting the manifestation of your power, may enjoy the abundant sweetness of charity; that thus corresponding to the grace of the mystery announced to us, we may not be confounded when your glory shall appear to us. Amen.

– from the Mozarabic Breviary

– from the book The Liturgical Year: Advent, by the Very Reverend Dom Prosper Gueranger, Abbot of Solesmes, translated from the French by the Revered Dom Laurence Shepherd, Monk of the English-Benedictine Congregation, 2nd edition; published in Dublin Ireland by James Duffy, 15 Wellington-Quay, 1870