Monthly Archives: April 2015

Catherine of Siena, 1380

Catherine of Siena2

Born in 1347, Catherine Benincasa was the youngest of twenty-five children of a wealthy dyer of Siena. At six years old, walking home from a visit, she stopped on the road and gazed upward, beholding a vision of “our Lord seated in glory with Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint John.” She would later say that in the vision Jesus had smiled on her and blessed her. Thenceforth, Catherine devoted herself at home to a life of prayer and penance in spite of her mother’s opposition. In response to attempts to force her to live like other girls, Catherine finally cut off her hair, said to have been her chief beauty. In the end, convinced that she would stand against all opposition, her father let her live as she wished, to close herself away in a darkened room, fasting and sleeping on boards. Eventually she became a tertiary of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.

Catherine had numerous visions and was tried severely by loathsome temptations and degrading images. She frequently felt abandoned by the Lord. At last, in 1366, Jesus appeared to her with Mary and the heavenly host, and espoused her to himself, ending her long years of lonely prayer and struggle. She began to mix with other people, first through nursing the sick in hospital (particularly lepers and those suffering from cancer) and then by gathering a group of disciples, men and women, including Dominicans and Augustinians. They accompanied her on her frequent journeys, and their influence was manifested in several spectacular conversions and in their call to reform and repentance through a renewal of the love of God.

Opinion in her home city was sharply divided about whether she was a saint or a fanatic, but when Raymond of Capua, a leading member of the Dominicans, was appointed her confessor, he helped her to win full support from the mother house of their order. Catherine was a courageous worker in time of severe plague, she visited prisoners condemned to death, and she was called upon to arbitrate feuds and to prepare troubled sinners for confession. She expressed her ideals in her Dialogue, an ecstatic mystical work, and in her letters, both of which were dictated by her, as she never learned to write. Her personal holiness, enhanced rather diminished by criticism, together with her writings, made her an influential spiritual leader of the late Middle Ages.

During the great papal schism of the fourteenth century, with rival popes in Avignon and in Rome, Catherine wrote tirelessly to princes, kings, and popes, urging them to restore the unity of the Church. She was invited to Rome by Pope Urban the Sixth, whom she had admonished to moderate his harshness and whose papacy she supported. There she wore herself out working for the cause of the Church’s unity. She suffered a paralytic stroke on April 21, 1380, and died eight days later.

Her friend, confessor, and biographer, Raymond of Capua, later Master General of the Dominicans, wrote her Life, which was influential in her canonization in 1461. She became not only Siena’s principal saint, but also a figure of international importance whose influence, it was popularly believed, was decisive in bringing about the return of the papacy to Rome. Like Bernard of Clairvaux, Catherine had prophetic vision and personal intransigence, qualities that led both of them to identify God’s cause with their own. She was declared a Doctor (Teacher) of the Church in 1970.

adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Everlasting God, you so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ’s death, and rejoice in the revelation of his glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Catherine of Siena are published on the Lectionary Page website.

The image of St. Catherine is by Giovanni di Paolo, c. 1475.

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Saint Mark the Evangelist

Saint Mark the Evangelist (Nea Moni)

A disciple of Jesus, named Mark, appears in several places in the New Testament. If all references to Mark are accepted as referring to the same person, we learn that he was the son of a woman who owned a house in Jerusalem, perhaps the same house in which Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples. Mark may have been the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul refers to “Mark the cousin of Barnabas”, who was with him in his imprisonment. Mark set out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but he turned back for reasons which failed to satisfy Paul (Acts 15:36-40). When another journey was planned, Paul refused to have Mark with him. Instead, Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus. The breach between Paul and Mark was later healed, and Mark became one of Paul’s companions in Rome, as well as a close friend of the Apostle Peter.

An early tradition recorded by Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century, names Mark as the author of the Gospel bearing his name. This tradition, which holds that Mark drew his information from the teaching of Peter, is generally accepted. In his First Letter, Peter refers to “my son Mark”, which shows a close relationship between the two men (1 Peter 5:13).

The Church of Alexandria in Egypt claimed Mark as their founder, first bishop and most illustrious martyr, and the great Church of San Marco in Venice commemorates the disciple who progressed from turning back while on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas to proclaiming in his Gospel Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God, and bearing witness to that faith as friend and companion to the apostles Peter and Paul.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Psalm 2
Quare fremuerunt gentes

Why are the nations in an uproar? *
Why do the peoples mutter empty threats?

Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt,
and the princes plot together, *
against the LORD and against his Anointed?

“Let us break their yoke,” they say; *
“let us cast off their bonds from us.”

He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; *
the Lord has them in derision.

Then he speaks to them in his wrath, *
and his rage fills them with terror.

“I myself have set my king *
upon my holy hill of Zion.”

Let me announce the decree of the LORD: *
he said to me, “You are my Son;
this day have I begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance *
and the ends of the earth for your possession.

You shall crush them with an iron rod *
and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”

And now, you kings, be wise; *
be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Submit to the LORD with fear, *
and with trembling bow before him;

Lest he be angry and you perish; *
for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Happy are they all *
who take refuge in him!

The Epistle
Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The Gospel
Mark 1:1-15

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect, and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

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Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1109

The son of a spendthrift Lombard nobleman with whom he quarrelled as a young man, Anselm was born at Aosta in the Italian Alps around 1033 and took monastic vows in 1060 at the Abbey of Bec in Normandy.  He succeeded his teacher Lanfranc as prior in 1063 and Herluin, the founder of Bec, as abbot in 1078.  As abbot he showed himself a capable spiritual director, his intuitive, sensitive mind well suited to the care of his monks.  He succeeded Lanfranc as archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, four years after Lanfranc’s death, because the English king William Rufus (William the Second) kept the primatial see vacant for that time, despite the wish of the English clergy to have Anselm succeed earlier.  Anselm’s episcopate was stormy, in continual conflict with the crown over the rights and freedom of the English Church, particularly in the matter of the investiture of bishops and clergy.  He suffered exile twice because of his conflicts with King William and his successor, King Henry the First.  Although he was not conspicuous for his political skill, Anselm secured a wider recognition for the primacy of the see of Canterbury, with the Church in Wales, Ireland, and (with some important reservations) Scotland acknowledging the primacy, while York also had to accept a papal decision favorable to Anselm and the see of Canterbury.  Among his other accomplishments as archbishop, he held councils which insisted on stricter observance of clerical celibacy, and he established a new episcopal see at Ely. During 1077-8, Anselm wrote the Monologion and the Proslogion.  The latter work has been famous for centuries for its “ontological argument” for the existence of God.  The work demonstrated the originality of Anselm’s thought and prepared the way for his later theological works.  God, writes Anselm, “is greater than which nothing greater can be thought.”  Even the fool, who in Psalm 14 says in his heart, “There is no God”, must have an idea of God in his mind, the concept of an unconditional being (ontos) that which nothing greater can be conceived, otherwise he would not be able to speak of “God” at all.  And so this something, “God”, must exist outside the mind as well, because if he did not, he would not in fact be that that which nothing greater can be thought.  Since the greatest thing that can be thought must have existence as one of its properties, Anselm asserts, “God” can be said to exist in reality as well as in the intellect, but is not dependent upon the material world for verification.  To some, the ontological argument has seemed mere deductive rationalism; to others it has the merit of showing at least that faith in God need not be contrary to human reason. Anselm’s important treatise on the Incarnation, Cur Deus Homo? was written after he returned to England from his first exile.  The work is famous for its exposition of the “satisfaction theory” of the atonement, in which Anselm explains the work of Christ in terms of the feudal society of his day.  If a vassal break his bond, he has to atone for this to his lord.  Likewise, sin violates a person’s bond with God, the supreme Lord, and atonement or satisfaction must be made.  We are of ourselves incapable of making this satisfaction, because God is perfect and we are not.  Therefore, God himself has saved us, becoming perfect Man in Christ, so that a perfect life could be offered on the Cross in satisfaction for sin. Undergirding Anselm’s theology is a profound piety, best summarized as “faith seeking understanding”.  He writes, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand (credo ut intelligam).  For this, too, I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”  This understanding of the relationship of prior faith and subsequent knowledge received new emphasis in the work of several late twentieth century theologians and philosophers both of religion and science. Anselm died on April 21, 1109.  The Canterbury calendar of c. 1165 provides the earliest known evidence for his feasts, one of them commemorating his death and the other his translation (April 7).

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Almighty God, you raised up your servant Anselm to teach the Church of his day to understand its faith in your eternal Being, perfect justice, and saving mercy: Provide your Church in every age with devout and learned scholars and teachers, that we may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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