Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

St. Peter's Chains
and the Holy Machabees

On August 1 we recall two different things: the liberation of St. Peter from his imprisonment in Jerusalem, and the Seven Holy Machabees.

Today's feast is known in Latin as “Sancti Petri ad Vincula," and in English as both "St. Peter's Chains" and as "Lammas." On this day, we commemorate the escape of St. Peter from the chains that imprisoned him after he was arrested by Herod Agrippa I, son of Aristobulus IV, and nephew of Herod Antipas, who had St. John the Baptist put to death. We read in Acts 12 that Herod Agrippa had murdered St. James, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, then:

seeing that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take up Peter also. Now it was in the days of the Azymes. And when he had apprehended him, he cast him into prison, delivering him to four files of soldiers to be kept, intending, after the pasch, to bring him forth to the people.

Peter therefore was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him: and a light shined in the room: and he striking Peter on the side, raised him up, saying: Arise quickly. And the chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said to him: Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals. And he did so. And he said to him: Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

The chains that bound St. Peter were given to the Emperor Valentinian III's mother-in-law, by Iuvenalis, the Bishop of Jerusalem. The mother-in-law gave them to her daughter, who gave them to Pope St. Leo the Great. When Pope Leo brought the Jerusalem chains together with the chains St. Peter was bound with in Rome, by Nero, before his martyrdom, it's said that the two chains miraculously bound themselves together.

Many other miracles involving St. Peter's Chains are recounted throughout history, and we shouldn't wonder at their power: in Acts 5, we're told of the power of even St. Peter's shadow -- 

And the multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord, was more increased: Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities.

-- about which the Roman Breviary says “if the shadow of [St. Peter’s] body could then bring help, how much more now the fullness of power?...Rightly is that iron of the chains of punishment considered to be more precious than gold throughout the churches of Christ.”

Pope St. Leo built a church to house these chains, a church known in Rome as San Pietro in Vincoli. Consecrated in A.D. 439 by Pope Sixtus III, it was the building of this basilica that inspired the Feast celebrated today. But there are many reasons to keep this feast and recall St. Peter's liberation; the Golden Legend lists a few, and among them is this:

The fourth cause of the institution of this feast may be assigned here in this wise. For our Lord delivered S. Peter out of his chains by miracle, and gave him power to bind and to unbind. For we be holden and bounden unto the bond of sin and have need to be assoiled. Therefore we worship the solemnity of the chains aforesaid. For as he deserved to be unbound of the bonds of his chains, so received he power of our Lord Jesu Christ to assoil us.

One of the antiphons of today's Divine Office recounts what is said to have happened when St. Peter escaped his imprisonment in Rome: he was liberated by St. Processus and St. Martinian, and was told to leave before he could be recaptured and killed. On his route down the Appian Way to the port of Brindisi, where he wanted to get on a ship and head back to the Middle East, he met Christ. Shocked, he asked Him, "Domine, quo vadis?" ("Lord, where are you going?"). Jesus replied to him, "Venio Romam iterum crucifigi. ("I'm going to Rome to be crucified again.") At those words, St. Peter returned to Rome and embraced his martyrdom.

The Seven Machabees

The day is also focused on the seven Holy Machabees, members of a family whose story is recounted in the two Books of Machabees, which cover the years between 175 and 135 B.C. The Machabees were a priestly family that led Israel to keep the faith while under the yoke of Seleucid Empire. They were a family of fighters -- their name, which you'll also see spelled as "Maccabees," means "Hammer" -- and the aspect of their story that's relevant to today's feast is the martyrdom of seven particular Machabees -- the seven brothers and their mother.

The story begins when an old scribe named Eleazar was told he must eat pork, in violation of the law. He refused. And those who stood by, watching, took some pity on him and, so, tried to get him to merely feign obedience to the king by eating meat that just looked like pork. But Eleazar, as II Machabees 6:23-26 tells us,

began to consider the dignity of his age, and his ancient years, and the inbred honour of his grey head, and his good life and conversation from a child: and he answered without delay, according to the ordinances of the holy law made by God, saying, that he would rather be sent into the other world. For it doth not become our age, said he, to dissemble: whereby many young persons might think that Eleazar, at the age of fourscore and ten years, was gone over to the life of the heathens. And so they, through my dissimulation, and for a little time of a corruptible life, should be deceived, and hereby I should bring a stain and a curse upon my old age. For though, for the present time, I should be delivered from the punishments of men, yet should I not escape the hand of the Almighty neither alive nor dead.

For his disobedience, Eleazar was put to death.

In the next chapter of II Machabees, we're told that King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had a woman and her seven sons arrested and tried to get them, too, to eat pork. Tortured by whips and scourges, the oldest boy said, "What wouldst thou ask, or learn of us? we are ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of God, received from our fathers."

This only brought on more torture -- and stunning martrydom:

Then the king being angry commanded fryingpans, and brazen caldrons to be made hot: which forthwith being heated,  He commanded to cut out the tongue of him that had spoken first: and the skin of his head being drawn off, to chop off also the extremities of his hands and feet, the rest of his brethren, and his mother, looking on.

And when he was now maimed in all parts, he commanded him, being yet alive, to be brought to the fire, and to be fried in the fryingpan: and while he was suffering therein long torments, the rest, together with the mother, exhorted one another to die manfully...

One after the other, six of the sons were slaughtered. And their mother?

Now the mother was to be admired above measure, and worthy to be remembered by good men, who beheld seven sons slain in the space of one day, and bore it with a good courage, for the hope that she had in God: And she bravely exhorted every one of them in her own language, being filled with wisdom: and joining a man's heart to a woman's thought, She said to them: I know not how you were formed in my womb: for I neither gave you breath, nor soul, nor life, neither did I frame the limbs of every one of you. But the Creator of the world, that formed the nativity of man, and that found out the origin of all, He will restore to you again in His mercy, both breath and life, as now you despise yourselves for the sake of His laws.

Antiochus then came up with the idea of promising the last boy that he'd make him rich and happy if he'd just turn away from the laws of his fathers. The King told this to the mother as well, telling her to counsel her last remaining son to take him up on his offer. But the mother leaned over to her boy and said, 

My son, have pity upon me, that bore thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee suck three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age. I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also: So thou shalt not fear this tormentor, but being made a worthy partner with thy brethren, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again with thy brethren.

He, too, refused, and he was martyred along with his mother. Some of their relics can be venerated today in the same basilica that holds St. Peter's chains -- San Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome.

At a time when Christians are being persecuted all over the world, the story of the Machabees is a deeply important one. Remember them always.


One of the most important things you can do today is to think deeply about the qualities of virtue you possess -- or don't possess -- and become very conscious of and purposeful about acquiring the virtues the Machabees so valiantly displayed.

As to more folksy customs, you must know that the second English name for this day -- Lammas -- stems from the Old English hlaf, meaning "loaf," and męsse, meaning "Mass." Breads were made and blessed on this day (a 9th c. martyrology refers to August 1 as hlafsenunga, or "'blessing of bread"), with some of them being destined for the altar.
Gratitude to God for the harvest of "first fruits" -- the wheat needed for bread-making, the blueberries and blackberries that begin to ripen at ths time, etc., is one of the popular focuses of the day.

So, the baking of bread and having it blessed -- or, at least, marking it with a Cross before eating it -- would be a lovely thing to do. A no-knead recipe you can try:

No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (+ a bit extra for later), aerated before measuring (just stir so air is incorporated)
1/4 teaspoon yeast (active dry or instant)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups hot water, at about 125° F (no hotter than 140°!)

Mix well together flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours.

After at least 3 hours, when dough is dotted with bubbles, transfer it  to a well-floured surface and sprinkle with a little flour. Fold dough over 10-12 times & shape into a rough ball, using a scraper to include all the dough. Place in a parchment paper-lined bowl, cover with a towel, and let stand for about 35 minutes.

Put a Dutch oven (one that's somewhere between 3 1/2 qt to 5 1/2 qt size should do) with an oven-safe lid in a cold oven and preheat to 450° F. When the oven and Dutch oven are both hot, carefully remove lid from the latter and place the dough inside along with the parchment paper it's sitting on. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove lid and parchment, return uncovered to the oven, and bake 10 to 15 minutes more. Cool and eat.

Serve with a vegetable-filled soup, and finish with a dessert of blueberries topped with honey-vanilla Greek yogurt, with cinnamon-raisin granola on top.

-- and save a small piece of that loaf you make: you can use some of its crumbs and two pieces of wood to keep mice away -- at least you can according to the words of an 11th c. psalter found in a Winchester monastery 1:

[Take two] long pieces of four-edged wood, and on each piece write a Pater Noster, on each side down to the end. Lay one on the floor of the barn, and lay the other across it, so that they form the sign of the cross. And take four pieces of the hallowed bread which is blessed on Lammas day, and crumble them at the four corners of the barn. This is the blessing for that; so that mice do not harm these sheaves, say prayers over the sheaves and do not cease from saying them. 'City of Jerusalem, where mice do not live they cannot have power, and cannot gather the grain, nor rejoice with the harvest.' This is the second blessing: 'Lord God Almighty, Who made heaven and earth, bless these fruits in the Name of the Father and the Holy Spirit.' Amen. And [then say] a Pater Noster.

Given the theme of first fruits, a fun activity for your children is the making of cornhusk dolls from corn husks ("corn" here refers to maize. Sweet corn is ready for picking now, but these dolls are also popular around Thanksgiving time, when field corn -- "dent corn," i.e., corn that is used to feed animals -- comes into season).  If you start a week ahead of time, you can dye some of the corn husks using fabric dye, such as Rit Dye, letting the husks dry out and then proceeding per the instructions linked to above. This will allow your corn husk dolls to wear brightly-colored clothing and make them more like the ones American pioneers used to make. Corn silk could also be added for hair, etc. And now for a native American story to tell your children while making cornhusk dolls, one claimed by various Indian nations. It's a lesson in humility, and explains why cornhusk dolls made in the Indian style don't have faces (you can, of course, paint faces on yours if you like):

The three sisters -- Corn, Beans, and Squash -- did such a great job sustaining the people, and God was very pleased with them. Corn, especially, did well, so God asked her what she would like. She told Him that she would love for a doll to be made of her husks -- a doll that would bring joy to little girls and boys. So God let Corn make Cornhusk Doll.

Cornhusk Doll was a beautiful thing, and as she went about the world, people would praise her. "Oh, Cornhusk Doll, you are so gorgeous!" They would say to each other, "Have you ever seen a more beautiful doll than Cornhusk Doll?" And no one had.

The more she heard this, the more conceited she became. She would brag, and she would spend hours at the lake, gazing into the waters so she could marvel at her lovely reflection. God became angry at Cornhusk Doll, and told her she'd better cut it out and get some humility or she would be punished.

But Cornhusk Doll didn't listen. On and on she went, admiring herself, and acting all uppity. So once more, God warned her. "Cornhusk Doll, if you don't behave, you will be punished!" But did Cornhusk Doll listen? No. Cornhusk Doll did what she wanted.

After a few years of this, God finally told Cornhusk Doll that it was time for her to be punished. So what do you think happened to Cornhusk Doll? No, she wasn't struck by lightning. No, she didn't get a case of the boils. And no, fire didn't come from the sky and burn her up. In fact, she felt nothing at all. So she went on her way, thinking all was well, carrying on as she usually did -- like she was the queen of the world. Then she came to her favorite spot: the lake. But when she looked into the waters to see her beautiful face, she saw that she had no face at all.

A few tid-bits: rain on Lammas is considered to be good luck. An old proverb relates that

A frosty winter and a dusty March, and a rain about April;
And another about Lammas time, when the corn begins to fill;
Is worth a plough of gold and all her pins theretil.

Lammas Eve -- that is, July 31 -- is the birthday of Juliet Capulet, the girl who was foolishly in love with Romeo in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."  Act I, Scene III of the play includes a discussion between Lady Capulet (Juliet's mother) and the Nurse that gives away that fact:

Lady Capulet: ...Thou know'st my daughter's of a pretty age.
Nurse: Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour.
Lady Capulet: She's not fourteen.
Nurse: I'll lay fourteen of my teeth,--
And yet, to my teeth be it spoken, I have but four--
She is not fourteen. How long is it now
To Lammas-tide?
Lady Capulet: A fortnight and odd days.
Nurse: Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.

Finally, you should know that there are many churches and chapels built in honor of St. Peter's chains. There is the already mentioned minor basilica in Rome -- San Pietro in Vincoli -- which houses St. Peter's actual chains (and Michelangelo's statue of Moses), of course, but among the most famous of these is the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Not only are St. Thomas More2 and St. John Fisher interred there, but so are many others who were executed -- usually by beheading -- at the Tower, including Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and Thomas Cromwell. Apropos of nothing other than the fact that the play takes place in the Tower's St. Peter ad Vincula chapel, I present an episode of the old "Dark Fantasy" radio show: "The Headless Dead" (note: the show mistakenly says that Sir Walter Raleigh is buried in the chapel; he is not). It's very silly, but -- here it is anyway:


Feast of St. Peter's Chains
From "The Liturgical Year"

By Dom Prosper Gueranger

Rome, making a god out of the man who had subjugated her, consecrated the month of August to Caesar Augustus. When Christ had delivered her, she placed at the head of this same month, as a trophy of her regained liberty, the Feast of the chains wherewith, in order to break hers, St. Peter the Vicar of Christ had once been bound. O Divine Wisdom, Who hast a better claim to reign over this month than had the adopted son of Caesar, Thou couldst not have more authentically inaugurated Thy Empire. Strength and sweetness are the attributes of Thy works, and it is in the weakness of Thy chosen ones that Thou dost triumph over the powerful. Thou Thyself, in order to give us life, didst swallow death; Simon, son of John, became a captive, to set free the world entrusted to him. First Herod, and then Nero, showed him the cost of the promise he had once received, of binding and loosing on earth as in Heaven: he had to share the love of the Supreme Shepherd, even to allowing himself, like Him, to be bound with chains for the sake of the flock, and be led "where he would not."

St. Peter in ChainsGlorious chains! never will you make St. Peter's successors tremble any more than St. Peter himself; before the Herods and Neros and Caesars of all ages you will be the guarantee of the liberty of souls. With what veneration have the Christian people honored you, ever since the earliest times! One may truly say of the present Feast that its origin is lost in the darkness of ages. According to ancient monuments, St. Peter himself first consecrated on this date the basilica on the highest of the seven hills, known today as St. Peter in Chains. The name Title of Eudoxia, by which the venerable Church is often designated, seems to have arisen from certain restorations made on occasion of the events mentioned in the Breviary Lessons. As to the sacred chains which are its treasure, the earliest mention now extant of honor being paid to them occurs in the beginning of the 2nd century. Balbina, daughter of the tribune Quirinus, keeper of the prisons, had been cured by touching the chains of the holy Pope Alexander; she could not cease kissing the hands which had healed her. "Find the chains of St. Peter, and kiss them rather than these," said the Pontiff. Balbina, therefore, having fortunately found the Apostle's chains, lavished her pious veneration upon them, and afterwards gave them to the noble Theodora, sister of the Martyr, St. Hermes (Feast—August 28).

The irons which had bound the arms of the Doctor of the Gentiles, without being able to bind the word of God, were also after his martyrdom treasured more than jewels and gold. From Antioch in Syria, St. John Chrysostom, thinking with holy envy of the lands enriched by these trophies of triumphant bondage, cried out in a sublime transport: "What more magnificent than these chains? Prisoner for Christ is a more beautiful name than that of Apostle, Evangelist, or Doctor. To be bound for Christ's sake is better than to dwell in the heavens; to sit upon the twelve thrones is not so great an honor. He that loves can understand me; but who can better understand these things than the holy choir of Apostles? As for me, if I were offered my choice between these chains and the whole of Heaven, I should not hesitate; for in them is happiness. Would that I were now in those places, where it is said the chains of these admirable men are still kept! If it were given me to be set free from the care of this church, and if I had a little health, I should not hesitate to undertake such a voyage only to see St. Paul's chains. If they said to me: which would you prefer—to be the angel who delivered St. Peter or St. Peter himself in chains? I would rather be St. Peter, because of his chains."

Though always venerated in the great Basilica which enshrines his tomb, St. Paul's chain has never been made, like those of St. Peter, the object of a special Feast in the Church. This distinction was made due to the preeminence of him who alone received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to communicate them to others, and who alone continues, in his successors, to bind and loose with sovereign power throughout the whole world. The collection of letters of St. Gregory the Great proves how universally, in the 6th century, was spread the devotion to these holy chains, a few filings of which enclosed in gold or silver keys was the richest present the Sovereign Pontiffs were wont to offer to the principal churches, or to princes whom they wished to honor. Constantinople, at some period not clearly determined, received a portion of these precious chains; she appointed a Feast on January 16, honoring on that day the Apostle Peter, as the occupant of the first See, the foundation of the faith, the immovable basis of dogma.

The following are the lessons of the Feast in the Roman Breviary:

During the reign of Theodosius the younger, Eudocia, his wife, went to Jerusalem to fulfill a vow, and while there she was honored with many gifts, the greatest of which was an iron chain adorned with gold and precious stones, and affirmed to be that wherewith the Apostle Peter had been bound by Herod. Eudocia piously venerated this chain, and then sent it to Rome to her daughter Eudoxia. The latter took it to the Sovereign Pontiff, who in his turn showed her another chain, which had bound the same Apostle, under Nero.

When the Pontiff thus brought together the Roman chain and that which had come from Jerusalem, they joined together in such a manner that they seemed no longer two chains, but a single one, made by one same workman. On account of this miracle the holy chains began to be held in so great honor that a church at the title of Eudoxia on the Esquiline was dedicated under the name of Saint Peter ad Vincula, and the memory of its dedication was celebrated by a Feast on the Kalends of August.

St. Peter's ChainsFrom that time Saint Peter's chains began to receive the honors of this day, instead of a pagan festival which it had been customary to celebrate. Contact with them healed the sick, and put the demons to flight. Thus in the year of salvation 969, a certain count, who was very intimate with the Emperor Otto, was taken possession of by an unclean spirit, so that he tore his flesh with his own teeth. By command of the Emperor he was taken to the Pontiff John, who had no sooner touched the count's neck with the holy chain than the wicked spirit was driven away, leaving the man entirely free. On this account devotion to the holy chains was spread throughout Rome.

Put thy feet into the fetters of Wisdom, and thy neck into her chains, said the Holy Ghost under the ancient alliance… and be not grieved with her bands… For in the latter end thou shalt find rest in her, and she shall be turned to thy joy. Then shall her fetters be a strong defence for thee… and her bands are a healthful binding. Thou shalt put her on as a robe of glory (Eccli. 6:25-32). Incarnate Wisdom, applying the prophecy to the Prince of the Apostles, declared that in testimony of his love, the day would come when he should suffer constraint and bondage. The trial of St. Peter was a convincing one for eternal Wisdom, who proportions her requirements to the measure of her own love. But St. Peter, too, found her faithful; in the days of the formidable combat, wherein she wished to show her power in his weakness, she did not leave him in bands; in her arms he slept so calm a sleep in Herod's prison; and, going down with him into the pit of Nero, she faithfully kept him company up to the hour when, subjecting the persecutors to the persecuted, she placed the scepter in his hands, and on his brow the triple crown.

From the throne where thou, St. Peter, reignest with the Man-God in Heaven, as thou didst follow Him on earth in trials and anguish, loosen our bands, which—alas—are not glorious ones such as thine; break these fetters of sin which bind us to Satan, these ties of all the passions which prevent us from soaring towards God. The world, more than ever enslaved in the infatuation of its false liberties which make it forget the only true freedom, demands more "rights" now than in the times of pagan Caesars: be once more its deliverer, now that thou art more powerful than ever. May Rome, especially, now fallen the lower because precipitated from a greater height, learn again the emancipating power which lies in thy chains; they had become a rallying standard for her faithful children not long ago (Archconfraternity of St. Peter's Chains, erected June 18, 1867). Make good the word once uttered by her poets, that "encircled with these chains, she will ever be free" (Arator. De Act. Apost., L. 1, v. 1070-1076).

Feast of the Holy Machabees
From "The Liturgical Year"
By Dom Prosper Gueranger

The August heavens glitter with the brightest constellations of the sacred cycle. Even in the 6th century, the Second Council of Tours remarked that this month was filled with the Feasts of Saints. My delights are to be with the children of men, says Wisdom; and in the month which echoes with her teachings, she seems to have made it her glory to be surrounded with blessed ones, who, walking with her in the midst of the paths of judgment, have in finding her found life and salvation from the Lord. This noble court is presided over by the Queen of all grace, whose triumph consecrates this month and makes it the delight of that Wisdom of the Father, Who, once enthroned in Mary, never quitted Her. What a wealth of divine favors do the coming days promise to our souls! Never were our Father's barns so well filled as at this season, when the earthly as well as the heavenly harvests are ripe.

Shrine of MachabeesWhile the Church on earth inaugurates these days by adorning Herself with St. Peter's chains as with a precious jewel, a constellation of seven stars appears for the third time in the heavens. The seven brothers Machabees preceded the seven sons of St. Symphorosa and the seven sons of St. Felicitas in the bloodstained arena; they followed Divine Wisdom even before she had manifested her beauty in the flesh. The sacred cause of which they were the champions, their strength of soul under the tortures, their sublime answers to the executioners were so evidently the type reproduced by the later martyrs, that the Fathers of the first centuries with one accord claimed for the Christian Church these heroes of the synagogue, who could have gained such courage from no other source than their faith in the Christ to come. For this reason they alone of all the holy personages of the Old Covenant have found a place on the Christian cycle of Saints; all the martyrologies and calendars of East and West attest the universality of their cultus, while its antiquity is such as to rival that of St. Peter's Chains in that same basilica of Eudoxia, where their precious relics lie.

At the time when in the hope of a better resurrection they refused under cruel torments to redeem their lives, other heroes of the same blood, inspired by the same faith, flew to arms and delivered their country from a terrible crisis. Several children of Israel, forgetting the traditions of their nation, had wished it to follow the customs of strange peoples; and the Lord, in punishment, had allowed Judea to feel the whole weight of a profane rule to which it had guiltily submitted. But when King Antiochus, taking advantage of the treason of a few and the carelessness of the majority, endeavored by his ordinances to blot out the divine law which alone gives power to man over man, Israel, suddenly awakened, met the tyrant with the double opposition of revolt and martyrdom. Judas Machabeus in immortal battles reclaimed for God the land of his inheritance, while by the virtue of their generous confession, the seven brothers also, his rivals in glory, recovered, as the Scripture says, the law out of the hands of the nations, and out of the hands of the kings (1 Mach. 2:48). Soon afterwards, craving mercy under the hand of God and not finding it, Antiochus died, devoured by worms, just as later on were to die the first and last persecutors of the Christians, Herod Agrippa and Galerius Maximian.

Persecuted JewsThe Holy Ghost, who would Himself hand down to posterity the acts of the protomartyr of the New Law, did the same with regard to the passion of Stephen's glorious predecessors in the ages of expectation. Indeed, it was he who then, as under the law of love, inspired with both words and courage these valiant brothers, and their still more admirable mother, who, seeing her seven sons one after the other suffering the most horrible tortures, uttered nothing but burning exhortations to die. Surrounded by their mutilated bodies, she mocked the tyrant who, in false pity, wished her to persuade at least the youngest to save his life; she bent over the last child of her tender love and said to him: My son, have pity upon me, that bore thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee suck three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age. I beseech thee, my son, look upon Heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing and mankind also: so thou shalt not fear this tormentor, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again with thy brethren (2 Mach. 7:27, 28, 29). And the intrepid youth ran in his innocence to the tortures; and the incomparable mother followed her sons.

The Breviary Lesson is taken from a sermon of St. Gregory Nazianzen:

What [shall I say] of the Machabees? For this festal day is celebrated in their name by this present congregation. Although by many they are not held in honor, because they did not enter on the conflict after Christ, yet they are worthy to be honored by all, because they showed courage and constancy in defense of the laws and institutions of their fathers. For if they suffered martyrdom before the Passion of Christ, what would they have done, if they had suffered persecution after Christ, and if they had had, as a model to be imitated, His death, which He accepted for our salvation? For, if they showed such and so great a courage, when they had no example before them, would they not have been even more courageous in the battle, if they had had that example before their eyes? There is even a certain mystical and hidden reason, which seems highly probable to me, and to all who love God, that none of those who suffered martyrdom before the coming of Christ could have attained to it without faith in Christ.


1 Quote from Karen Louise Jolly, "The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England," ed. Catherine E. Karkov, Sarah Larratt Keefer, and Karen Louise Jolly (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press), p. 79; via a translation made by the author of the blog "A Clerk of Oxford," URL:

2  St. Thomas More's body is buried there; his head is interred at St. Dunstan's Church in Canterbury.

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