The Liturgical Calendar is filled with so many wonderful examples of holiness, and on the 23rd of January we receive one of the many of these glorious holy souls for veneration from that great and awesome order of Saint Dominic. This is the order that has given us three Doctors of the Church: Saint Albert the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Catherine of Sienna; and has blessed us with the devotion to the Holy Rosary and is the custodian of its Archconfraternity as well as the Confraternity of Angelic Warfare which is dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Thomas Aquinas. And it is by today’s Saint, a true son of Saint Dominic, that we were given the foundations of Canon Law, Moral Theology for Confessors, and one of the greatest of those orders of charity: the Order of Our Lady of Mercy for the Redemption of Captives (Mercedarians).
The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Saint Raymund of Penafort
The glorious choir of Martyrs, that stands round our Emmanuel, till the day of his Presentation in the Temple, opens its ranks, from time to time, to give admission to the Confessors, whom divine Providence has willed should grace the Cycle, during this sacred season. The Martyrs surpass all the other Saints in number; but, still, the Confessors are well represented. After Hilary, Paul, Maurus, and Antony, comes Raymund of Penafort, one of the glories of the Order of St. Dominic and of the Church, in the 13th century.
According to the saying of the Prophets, the Messias is come to be our Lawgiver; nay, he is himself our Law. His words are to be the rule of mankind; he will leave with his Church the power of legislation, to the end that she may guide men in holiness and justice, in all ages. As it is his Truth that presides over the teaching of the Faith, so is it his Wisdom that regulates Canonical Discipline. But the Church, in the compilation and arrangement of her laws, engages the services of men, whom she judges to be the most competent for the work, by their knowledge of Canon Law and the holiness of their lives.
St. Raymund has the honour of having been entrusted to draw up the Church’s Code of Canon Law. It was he who, in the year 1234, compiled, by order of Pope Gregory the Ninth, the five Books of the Decretals; and his name will ever be associated with this great work, which forms the basis of the actual discipline of the Church.
Raymund was a faithful disciple of that God, who came down from heaven to save sinners, by calling them to receive pardon. He has merited the beautiful title, conferred on him by the Church, of excellent Minister of the Sacrament of Penance. He was the first who collected together, into one body of doctrine, the maxims of christian morality, which regulate the duties of the confessor with regard to the Faithful, who confess their sins to him. The Sum of Penitential Cases opened the series of those important Treatises, in which learned and holy men have carefully considered the claims of law and the obligations of man, in order to instruct the Priest how to pass judgment, as the Scripture says, between leprosy and leprosy. (Deut. 17:8)
In fine, when the glorious Mother of God, who is also the Mother of men, raised up, for the Redemption of Captives, the generous Peter Nolasco—whom we shall meet, a few days hence, at the Crib of our Redeemer—Raymund was an important instrument in this great work of mercy; and it is with good reason, that the Order of Mercy looks upon him as one of its Founders, and that so many thousand captives, who were ransomed by the Religious of that Order from the captivity of the Moors, have honoured him as one of the principal authors of their liberty.
Let us now read the account of the actions of this holy man, whose life was indeed a full one, and rich in merit. The Lessons of his Feast thus abridge his history.
The blessed Raymund born at Barcelona, of the family of Penafort. Having been imbued with the rudiments of the christian faith, the admirable gifts he had received, both of mind and body, were such that even when quite a boy, he seemed to promise great things in his after life. Whilst still young, he taught humanities in Barcelona. Later on, he went to Bologna, where he applied himself with much diligence to the exercises of a virtuous life, and to the study of canon and civil law. He there received the Doctor’s cap, and interpreted the sacred canons so ably, that he was the admiration of his hearers. The holiness of his life becoming known far and wide, Berengarius, the Bishop of Barcelona, when returning to his diocese from Rome, took Bologna in his way, in order to see him; and, after most earnest entreaties, induced Raymund to accompany him to Barcelona. He was, shortly after, made Canon and Provsot of that Church, and became a model, to the clergy and people, by his uprightness, modesty, learning, and meekness. His tender devotion to the Holy Mother of God was extraordinary, and he never neglected an opportunity of zealously promoting the devotion and honour which are due to her.
When he was about forty five years of age, he made his solemn profession in the Order of the Friars Preachers. He then, as a soldier but just entered into service, devoted himself to the exercise of every virtue, but, above all, to charity to the poor, and this mainly to the captives, who had been taken by the infidels. It was by his exhortation, that St. Peter Nolasco (who was his penitent) was induced to devote all his riches to this work of most meritorious charity. The Blessed Virgin appeared to Peter, as also to blessed Raymund and to James the First, King of Arragon, telling them, that it would be exceedingly pleasing to herself and her divine Child, if an Order of Religious men were instituted, whose mission it should be to deliver captives from the tyranny of infidels. Whereupon, after deliberating together, they founded the Order of our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom of Captives; and blessed Raymund drew up certain rules of life, which were admirably adapted to the spirit and vocation of the said Order. Some years after, he obtained their approbation from Gregory the Ninth, and made St. Peter Nolasco, to whom he gave the habit with his own hands, first General of the Order.
Raymund was called to Rome by the same Pope, who appointed him to be his Chaplain, Penitentiary, and Confessor. It was by Gregory’s order that he collected together, in the volume called the Decretals, the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs, which were to be found separately in the various Councils and Letters. He was most resolute in refusing the Archbishopric of Tarragon, which the same Pontiff offered to him, and, of his own accord, resigned the Generalship of the Dominican Order, which office he had discharged, in a most holy manner, for the space of two years. He persuaded James, the King of Arragon, to establish in his dominions the Holy-Office of the Inquisition. He worked many miracles ; among which is that most celebrated one of his having, when returning to Barcelona from the island of Majorca, spread his cloak upon the sea, and sailed upon it, in the space of six hours, the distance of a hundred and sixty miles, and having reached his convent, he entered it through the closed doors. At length, when he had almost reached the hundredth year of his age, and was full of virtue and merit, he slept in the Lord, in the year of the Incarnation 1276. He was canonised by Pope Clement the Eighth.
We take the following Hymn from the Dominican Breviary.
Grande Raymundi celebrate nomen
Praesules, Reges, populique terrae:
Cujus aeternae fuit universis
Quidquid est alta pietate mirum
Exhibet purus, niveusque morum:
Omne virtutum rutilare cernis
Lumen in illo.
Sparsa Summorum monimenta Patrum
Colligit mira studiosus arte:
Quaeque sunt prisci sacra digna cedro Dogmata juris.
Doctus infidum solidare pontum,
Currit invectus stadio patenti:
Veste componens, baculoque cymbam,
Da, Deus nobis sine labe mores,
Da vitae tutum sine clade cursum:
Da perennalis sine fine vitae
Tangere portum. Amen.
Prelates, Kings, and people of the earth! celebrate glorious name of Raymund to whom the salvation of all mankind was an object of loving care.
His pure and spotless life reflected all the marvels of the mystic life; and the light of every virtue shines brightly forth in him.
With admirable study and research, he collects together the scattered Decrees of the Sovereign Pontiffs, and all the sacred maxims of the ancient Canons, so worthy to be handed down to all ages.
He bids the treacherous sea be firm, and on her open waters carry him to land; he spreads his mantle, and his staff the mast, he rides upon the waves.
Grant us, O Lord, to traverse through the sea of life with innocence and safety, and reach at length the port of life eternal. Amen.
Faithful dispenser of the Mystery of reconciliation! it was from the Heart of an Incarnate God, that thou didst draw the sweet charity, which made thee the friend of the sinner. Thou didst love thy fellowmen, and didst labour to supply all their wants, whether of soul or body. Enlightened by the rays of the Sun of Justice, thou hast taught us how to discern between good and evil, by giving us those rules whereby our wounds are judged and healed. Rome was the admirer of thy knowledge of her laws, and it is one of her glories that she received from thy hand the sacred Code whereby she governs the Churches of the world.
Excite in our hearts, O Raymund! that sincere compunction, which is the condition required of us when we seek our pardon in the Sacrament of Penance. Make us understand both the grievousness of mortal sin, which separates us from our God for all eternity, and the dangers of venial sin, which disposes the tepid soul to fall into mortal sin. Pray, that there may abound in the Church men filled with charity and learning, who may exercise that sublime ministry of healing souls. Preserve them from the two extremes, of rigorism which drives to despair, and of laxity which flatters into sloth. Revive amongst them the study of the holy Canons, which can alone keep disorder and anarchy from the fold of Christ . Oh! thou that hadst such tender love for captives, console all that are pining now in exile or in prison; pray for their deliverance; and pray that we all may be set loose from the ties of sin, which but too often make them, who boast of their outward liberty, be slaves in their souls.
Thou wast the confidant of the Heart of Mary, the Queen of Mercy, and she made thee share with her in the work of the Redemption of Captives. Thou hast great power with this Heart, which, after the Heart of Jesus, is our hope. Pray for us to this incomparable Mother of God, that we may have the grace to love the Divine Child she holds in her arms. May she be induced, by thy prayers, to be our Star on the Sea of this world, more stormy far than that which Thou didst pass, when sailing on thy miraculous bark.
Remember, too, thy dear Spain, where thou didst pass thy saintly life. Her Church is in mourning, because she has lost the Religious Orders which made her so grand and so strong: pray that they may be speedily restored to her, and assist her as of old. Protect the Dominican Order, of whose Habit and Rule thou wast so bright an ornament. Thou didst govern it with great prudence, whilst on earth; now that thou art in heaven, be a father to it by thy love. May it repair its losses. May it once more nourish in the universal Church, and produce, as in former days, those fruits of holiness and learning, which made it one of the chief glories of the Church of God.