The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger
Saint Matthew – Apostle and Evangelist
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matt. 1:1) The Eagle and the Lion have already risen in the heavens of the holy Liturgy; today we salute the Man ; and next month the Ox will appear, to complete the number of the four living creatures, who draw the chariot of God through the world, (Ezech. 1) and surround his throne in heaven. These mysterious beings, with their six seraph-wings, are ever gazing with their innumerable eyes upon the Lamb who stands upon the throne as it were slain; and they rest not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come. St. John beheld them giving to the elect the signal to praise their Creator and Redeemer; and when all created beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, have adoringly proclaimed that the Lamb, who was slain, is worthy of power and divinity and glory and empire forever, it is they that add to the world’s homage the seal of their testimony, saying: Amen, so it is! (Apoc. 4 & 5)
Great and singular, then, is the glory of the Evangelists. The name of Matthew signifies one who is given. He gave himself when, at the word of Jesus “follow me”, he rose up and followed him; but far greater was the gift he received from God in return. The Most High, who looks down from heaven upon the low things of earth, loves to choose the humble for the princes of his people. Levi, occupied in a profession that was hated by the Jews and despised by the Gentiles, belonged to the lowest rank of society; but still more humble was he in heart, when, laying aside the delicate reserve shown in his regard by the other Evangelists, he openly placed his former ignominious title beside the glorious one of Apostle. By so doing, he published the magnificent mercy of him, who had come to heal the sick not the healthy, and to call not the just but sinners. For thus exalting the abundance of God’s grace, he merited its superabundance: Matthew was called to be the first Evangelist. Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he wrote, with that inimitable simplicity which speaks straight to the heart, the Gospel of the Messias expected by Israel, and announced by the prophets; — of the Messias the teacher and Saviour of his people, the descendant of its kings, and himself the King of the daughter of Sion; — of the Messias who had come not to destroy the Law, but to bring it to its full completion in an everlasting, universal covenant.
In his simple-hearted gratitude, Levi made a feast for his divine Benefactor. It was at this banquet that Jesus, defending his disciple as well as himself, replied to those who pretended to be scandalized: Can the children of the Bridegroom mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast. (Matt. 9:15) Clement of Alexandria bears witness to the Apostle’s subsequent austerity; assuring us, that he lived on nothing but vegetables and wild fruits. (Clem. Alex. Poedag. II, 1) The legend will tell us moreover of his zeal for the Master who had so sweetly touched his heart, and of his fidelity in preserving for him souls inebriated with the wine springing forth virgins. (Zach. 9:16) This fidelity, indeed, cost him his life: his martyrdom was in defense and confirmation of the duties and rights of holy virginity. To the end of time the Church in consecrating her virgins, will make use of the beautiful blessing pronounced by him over the Ethiopian princess, which the blood of the Apostle and Evangelist has imbued with a peculiar virtue. (Pontificale rom. De benedict. Et consecrate. Virginum: Deus plasmator corporum, afflator animarum)
The Church gives us this short account of the life better known to God than to men.
Matthew, also named Levi, was an Apostle and Evangelist. He was sitting in the customhouse at Capharnaum when called by Christ, whom he immediately followed; and then made a feast for him and his disciples. After the resurrection of Christ, and before setting out for the province which it was his lot to evangelize, Matthew was the first to write the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote it in Hebrew, for the sake of those of the circumcision, who had been converted. Soon after, he went into Ethiopia, where he preached the Gospel, and confirmed his teaching by many miracles.
One of the greatest of these was his raising to life the king’s daughter, whereby he converted the king and his wife, and the whole country. After the king’s death, his daughter Iphigenia was demanded in marriage by his successor Hirtacus who, finding that through Matthew’s exhortation she had vowed her virginity to God and now persevered in her holy resolution, ordered the Apostle to be put to death, as he was celebrating the holy mysteries at the altar. Thus on the eleventh of the Kalends of October, he crowned his apostolate with the glory of martyrdom. His body was translated to Salerno; and in the time of Pope Gregory VII it was laid in a Church dedicated in his name, where it is piously honoured by a great concourse of people.
How pleasing must thy humility have been to our Lord; that humility which has raised thee so high in the kingdom of heaven, and which made thee, on earth, the confidant of Incarnate Wisdom. The Son of God, who hides his secrets from the wise and prudent and reveals them to little ones, renovated thy soul by intimacy with himself, and filled it with the new wine of his heavenly doctrine. So fully didst thou understand his love, that he chose thee to be the first historian of his life on earth. The Man-God revealed himself through thee to the Church. She has inherited thy glorious teaching as she calls it in her Secret; for the Synagogue refused to understand both the Divine Master and the Prophets his heralds.
There is one teaching, indeed, which not all, even of the elect, can understand and receive; just as in heaven not all follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, nor can all sing the new canticle reserved to those whose love here on earth has been undivided. 0 Evangelist of holy virginity, and martyr for its sake! watch over the choicest portion of our Lord’s flock. Remember also, O Levi, all those for whom, as thou tellest us, the Emmanuel received his beautiful name of Saviour. The whole redeemed world honours thee and implores thy assistance; Thou hast recorded for us the admirable Sermon on the mountain: by the path of virtue there traced out, lead us to that kingdom of heaven, which is the ever recurring theme of thy inspired writing.