The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Clad in his bright coat of mail, mounted on his warsteed, and spearing the dragon with his lance,— George, the intrepid champion of our Risen Jesus, comes gladdening us to-day with his Feast. From the East,—where he is known as The great Martyr,— devotion to St. George soon spread in the Western Church, and our Christian Armies have always loved and honoured him as one of their dearest Patrons. His martyrdom took place in Paschal Time; and thus, he stands before us as the Guardian of the glorious Sepulchre, just as Stephen, the Protomartyr, watches near the Crib of the Infant God.
The Roman Liturgy gives no Lessons on the life of St. George; but, in their stead, reads to us a passage from St. Cyprian, on the sufferings of the Martyrs. This derogation from the general rule dates from the 5th century. At a celebrated Council held in Rome, in the year 496, Pope St. Gelasius drew up, for the guidance of the Faithful, a list of books, which might or might not be read without danger. Among the number of those that were to be avoided, he mentioned the “Acts of St. George,” as having been compiled by one, who besides being an ignorant man, was also a heretic. In the East, however, there were other “Acts” of the holy Martyr, totally different from those current in Rome; but they were not known in that City. The cultus of St. George lost nothing, in the Holy City, by this absence of a true Legend. From a very early period, a church was built in his honour; it was one of those that were selected as Stations, and gave a Title to a Cardinal; it exists to this day, and is called Saint George in Velabro (the Veil of Gold). Still the Liturgy of to-day’s Feast, by the exclusion of the Saint’s Life from the Office, perpetuates the remembrance of the severe Canon of Gelasius.
The Bollandists were in possession of several copies of the forbidden “Acts;” they found them replete with absurd stories, and, of course, they rejected them. Father Papebroke has given us other and genuine “Acts,” written in Greek, and quoted by St. Andrew of Crete. They bring out the admirable character of our Martyr, who held an important post in the Roman army, during the reign of the Emperor Dioelesian. He was one of the first victims of the great Persecution, and suffered death at Nicomedia. Alexandra, the Emperor’s wife, was so impressed at witnessing the Saint’s courage, that she professed herself a Christian, and shared the crown of martyrdom with the brave soldier of Christ.
As we have already said, devotion to St. George dates from a very early period. St. Gregory of Tours gives us several proofs of its having taken root in Gaul. St. Clotilde had a singular confidence to the holy Martyr, and dedicated to him the Church of her dear Abbey of Chelles. But this devotion became more general and more fervent during the Crusades, when the Christian armies witnessed the veneration in which St. George was held by the Eastern Church, and heard the wonderful things that were told of his protection on the field of battle. The Byzantine historians have recorded several remarkable instances of the kind; and the Crusaders returned to their respective countries publishing their own experience of the victories gained through the Saint’s intercession. The Republic of Genoa chose him for its Patron; and Venice honoured him as its special Protector, after St. Mark. But nowhere was St. George so enthusiastically loved as in England. Not only was it decreed in a Council held at Oxford, in the year 1222, that the Feast of the Great Martyr should be observed as one of Obligation; not only was devotion to the valiant Soldier of Christ encouraged, throughout Great Britain, by the first Norman Kings;—but there are documents anterior to the invasion of William the Conqueror, which prove that St. George was invoked as the special Patron of England even so far back as the 9th century. Edward III did but express the sentiment of the country when he put the Order of the Garter, which he instituted in 1330, under the patronage of the Warrior Saint. In Germany, King Frederic III founded the Order of St. George in the year 1468.
St. George is usually represented as killing a Dragon; and, where the representation is complete, there is also given the figure of a Princess, whom the Saint thus saves from being devoured by the monster. This favourite subject of both sacred and profane Art is purely symbolical, and is of Byzantine origin. It signifies the victory won over the devil, by the Martyr’s courageous profession of faith; the Princess represents Alexandra, who was converted by witnessing the Saint’s heroic patience under his sufferings. Neither the “Acts” of St. George nor the Hymns of the Greek Liturgy, allude to the Martyr’s having slain a Dragon and rescued a Princess. It was not till after the 14th century, that this fable was known in the West; and it arose from the putting a material interpretation on the emblems wherewith the Greeks honoured St. George, and which were introduced among us by the Crusaders.
Let us, in honour of our glorious Patron, recite the following stanzas, taken from the Menaea of the Greek Church.
Hymn – Die XXIII Aprilis
|Faithful friend of Christ,— Prince of his soldiers,—most brilliant luminary of earth,— star of fairest light, — watchful guardian of such as honour thee! be thou our guardian, O Martyr George.
Blessed George! we celebrate. thy combat, whereby thou didst destroy the Idols, and bring to nought the manifold errors that were spread by the demons, O most glorious Martyr of Christ.
Thou hast been made a member of the heavenly army, O Blessed George! Thou now contemplatest, as far as may be, the Divine. Nature. Vouchsafe to protect all us who venerate thee.
Out of ardent love for Christ, his King,—who gave his life for the world’s salvation, —the great Soldier George longed to suffer death for his sake. He delivered himself up, for his heart was inflamed with divine zeal. Let us, therefore, full of faith, celebrate his praise in our hymns, as our earnest defender, as the glorious servant of Christ, as the faithful imitator of his Lord, as he that is ever beseeching God to grant to us the forgiveness and pardon of our sins.
The angelic host is in admiration at thy combat, O thou Prince of Warriors! The very King of Angels, struck with admiration, desired thy beauty, O martyr !—therefore did he deign to make thee his companion for ever in his kingdom.
Imitating thy Lord, O Martyr, thou cheerfully and. willingly deliveredst thyself up to the battle. Thou didst gain the victory, and didst merit to become the guardian of the Church of Christ, which thou unceasingly defendest and protectest.
As the invincible Martyr,— as the prize-bearing victor,— as the unconquerable defender of the faith,—be now an impregnable tower to them that celebrate thy praise, O wise George! and protect them from all dangers by thy intercession.
Decked with a brilliant crown, beautified with a royal diadem and sceptre, and clad in a purple robe reddened with thy blood, thou, O happy Martyr, now reignest in heaven with the King of the angelic hosts.
Come, all ye people, let lis celebrate in festive song the bright and glorious Resurrection of the Lord; let us also festively celebrate the bright memory of George the Martyr: let us crown him, as the invincible soldier, with the flowers of Spring ; that by his prayers, we may deserve to be freed from tribulation and sin.
Spring is come; let us exult with joy: the Resurrection of Christ hath shone upon us; let us rejoice in gladness : the Feast of the prize-bearing Martyr George hath appeared, gladdening the Faithful with its brightness; come, then, let us, who love his Feast, celebrate it with our spiritual canticles. For, like a brave Soldier, George stood with manly courage before the tyrants, and covered them with confusion, being an imitator of the Passion of our Saviour Jesus Christ. He had no pity on the clayey vessel of his body, but wholly transformed it by delivering it to torments, as brass is melted by fire. Thus, then, let us cry out unto him: O prize-bearing Martyr! beseech God that he save our souls.
|Fidelis amice Christi, princeps athletarum ejus, splendidissimum luminare terrae, astrum lucidissimum, vigilans honorantium te custos, custodi nos, martyr Georgi.
Beate Georgi, tua celebramus certamina, quibus idolorum simulachra destruxisti, et omnem dsemoniorum errorem ad nihilum redegisti, gloriosissime martyr Christi
Coelestis exercitus particeps effectus, beate Georgi, et divinam substantiam in quantum possibile est, contemplans, omnes nos te cum fide venerantes, protegere digneris.
Magnus miles Georgius, desideranter diligens Christum regeiu, qui animam suam pro mundi salute posuit, mortem propter ipsum subire festinat. Divino enim zelo inflammatus in corde, seipsum tradidit. Hunc ergo nos etiam cum fide hymnis celebremus, ut ardentem defensorem nostrum, ut gloriosum Christi ministrum, ut fidelem Domini sui imitatorem, et apud Deum semper intercedentem, ut omnibus largiatur remissionem et veniam peccatorum.
Certamina tua angelorum exercitus admiratur, princeps militiae; et rex angelorum admiratione perculsus, tuam concupivit pulchritudinem, martyr; ideo dignatus est te regno suo in seternum consociare.
Dominum tuum imitatus, martyr, libens et sponte tua ad certamina temetipsum tradidisti; et victoriam reportans, Ecclesiae Christi custos effici meruisti; illam semper defensione tua et protectione custodiens.
Ut martyr invictus, ut praemia ferens, ut insuperabilis fidei propugnator, nunc esto turris inconcussa pro celebrantibus te, sapiens Georgi, illos undique tuis supplicationibus protegens.
Corona radiante redimitus, et regio diademate et sceptro decoratus, et veste purpurea tuo sanguine rubicuuda indutus, beate martyr, nunc in ccelis regnas cum rege angelicarum virtutum.
Venite omnes, festive splendidam, gloriosam resurrectionem Domini hymnis celebrantes; iterum etiam splendidam festive celebremus memoriam Georgii martyris; et illum vernis coronemus floribus, ut invictum athletam ; ut ejus precibus tribulationum simul et peccatorum liberationem accipere mereamur.
Ver advenit nobis, gaudio exsultemus ; resurrectio Christi illuxit nobis, laetabundi gaudeamus; memoria martyris Georgii praemia ferentis, fideles suo splendore lsetificans apparuit; ideo omnes festivitatis amantes, venite, illam mysticis celebremus canticis. Ipse enim Georgius, velut fortis miles, contra tyrannos virilem ostendit fortitudinem; et illos confusione perfudit, imitator factus passionis Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi. Pro vase corporis lutosonon est misericordia commotus; sed illud in tormentis velut seneum fundens, penitus transformavit. Illi ergo clamemus: Martyr prsemia ferens, Deum deprecare ut salvet animas nostras.
Thou, O George, art the glorious type of a Christian Soldier. Whilst serving under an earthly Monarch, thou didst not forget thy duty to the King of heaven. Thou didst shed thy blood for the faith of Christ; and he, in return, appointed thee Protector of Christian Armies. Be their defender in battle, and bless with victory them that fight in a just cause. Protect them under the shadow of thy standard; cover them with thy shield; make them the terror of their enemies. Our Lord is the God of Hosts; and he frequently uses War as the instrument of his designs, both of justice and mercy. They alone win true victory, who have heaven on their side; and these, when on the battle-field, seem to the world to be doing the work of man, whereas it is the work of God they are furthering. Hence are they more generous, because more religious, than other men. The sacrifices they have to make, and the dangers they have to face, teach them unselfishness. What wonder, then, that Soldiers have given so many Martyrs to the Church!
But there is another warfare, in which we Christians are all enlisted, and of which St. Paul speaks, when he says: Labour as a good Soldier of Christ; for no man is crowned save he that striveth lawfully.(II Tim. 2:5) That we have thus to strive and fight during our life, the same Apostle assures us of it in these words: Take unto you the A rmour of God, that ye may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the Breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. In all things taking the Shield of Faith, wherewith ye may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the Helmet of the hope of salvation, and the Sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.(Eph. 6:13-17) We, then, are Soldiers, as thou wast, O holy Martyr! Before ascending into heaven, our divine Leader wishes to review his troops; do thou present us to him. He has loaded us with honours, notwithstanding our past disloyalties; we must, henceforth, prove ourselves worthy of our position. In the Paschal Communion which we have received, we have a pledge of victory; how can we ever be so base, as to permit ourselves to be conquered! Watch over us, O sainted Warrior! Let thy prayers and example encourage us to fight against the dragon of hell. He dreads the Armour we wear; for it is Jesus himself that prepared it for us, and tempered it in his own precious Blood: oh! that, like thee, we may present it to him whole and entire, when he calls us to our eternal rest.
There was a time, when the whole Christian world loved and honoured thy memory with enthusiastic joy: but now, alas ! this devotion has grown cold, and thy Feast passes by unnoticed by thousands. O holy Martyr! avenge this ingratitude, by imitating thy divine King, who maketh his sun to rise upon both good and bad;—take pity on this world, perverted as it is by false doctrines, and tormented at this very time by the most terrible scourges. Have compassion on thy dear England, which has been seduced by the Dragon of hell, and by him made the instrument for effecting his plots against the Lord and his Christ. Take up thy Spear, as of old ; give the Monster battle, and emancipate the Isle of Saints from his slavish yoke. Heaven and earth join in this great prayer;—in the name of our Risen Jesus, aid thine own, and once devoted people, to a glorious resurrection!