St Athanasius, Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church
The Court of our divine King, during this grandest of Seasons, is brilliant beyond measure: and, to-day, it is gladdened by the arrival of one of the most glorious champions that ever fought for his holy cause. Among the guardians of the Word of Truth, confided by Jesus to the earth, — is there one more faithful than Athanasius? Does not his very name remind us of dauntless courage in the defence of the sacred deposit, of heroic firmness and patience in suffering, of learning, of talent, of eloquence, — in a word, of everything that goes to form a Saint, a Bishop, and a Doctor of the Church? Athanasius lived for the Son of God; the cause of the Son of God was that of Athanasius: he who blessed Athanasius, blessed the eternal Word; and he insulted the eternal Word, who insulted Athanasius. Never did our holy Faith go through a greater ordeal, than in the sad times immediately following the peace of the Church, when the Bark of Peter had to pass through the most furious storm that hell has, so far, let loose against her. Satan had vainly sought to drown the Christian race in a sea of blood; the sword of persecution had grown blunt in the hands of Dioclesian and Galerius; and the Cross appeared in the heavens, proclaiming the triumph of Christianity. Scarcely had the Church become aware of her victory, when she felt herself shaken to her very foundation. Hell sent upon the earth a heresy which threatened to blight the fruit of three hundred years of Martyrdom. Arius began his impious doctrine, — that he, who had hitherto been adored as the Son of God, was only a creature, though the most perfect of all creatures. Immense was the number, even of the clergy, that fell into this new error; the Emperors became its abettors; and had not God himself interposed, men would soon have set up the cry throughout the world, that the only result of the victory gained by the Christian Religion, was to change the object of idolatry, and put a new idol, called Jesus, in place of the old ones. But He who had promised, that the gates of hell should never prevail against his Church, faithfully fulfilled his promise. The primitive faith triumphed; the Council of Nicaea proclaimed the Son to be consubstantial to the Father; but the Church stood in need of a man in whom the cause of the Consubstantial Word should be, so to speak, incarnated, — a man, with learning enough to foil the artifices of heresy, and with courage enough to bear every persecution without flinching. This man was Athanasius: and every one that adores and loves the Son of God, should love and honor Athanasius. Five times banished from his See of Alexandria by the Arians, who even sought to put him to death, he fled for protection to the West, which justly appreciated the glorious Confessor of Jesus’ Divinity. In return for the hospitality accorded him by Rome, Athanasius gave her of his treasures. Being the admirer and friend of the great St. Antony, he was a fervent admirer of the Monastic Life, which, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, had flourished so wonderfully in the deserts of his vast Patriarchate. He brought the precious seed to Rome, and the first Monks seen there were the ones introduced by Athanasius. The heavenly plant became naturalised in its new soil; and though its growth was slow at first, it afterwards produced fruit more abundantly than it had ever done in the East. Athanasius, who has written so admirably upon that fundamental dogma of our Faith, — the Divinity of Christ, — has also left us most eloquent treatises on the mystery of the Pasch: they are to be found in the Festal Letters, which he addressed, each year, to the Churches of his Patriarchate of Alexandria. The collection of these Letters, which were once thought to have been irretrievably lost, was found, a few years back, in the Monastery of St. Mary of Scete, in Egypt. The first, for the year 329, begins with these words, which beautifully express the sentiments we should feel at the approach of Easter: Come, my beloved Brethren, celebrate the Feast; the season of the year invites you to do so. The Sun of Justice, by pouring out his divine rays upon you, tells you that the time of the Solemnity is come. At such tidings, let us keep a glad feast; let not the joy slip from us, with the fleeting days, without our “having tasted of its sweetness.”
During almost every year of his banishment, Athanasius continued to address a Paschal Letter to his people. The one in which he announces the Easter of 338, and which he wrote at Treves, begins thus: Though separated from you, my Brethren, I cannot break through the custom which I have always observed, and which I received from the tradition of the Fathers. I will not be silent; I will not omit announcing to you the time of the holy annual Feast, and the day on which you must keep the Solemnity. I am, as you have doubtless been told, a prey to many tribulations; I am weighed down by heavy trials; I am watched by the enemies of truth, who scrutinize everything I write, in order to rake up accusations against me and, thereby, add to my sufferings; yet notwithstanding, I feel that the Lord strengthens and consoles me in my afflictions. Therefore do I venture to address to you the annual celebration; and from the midst of my troubles, and despite the snares that beset me, I send you, from the further- most part of the earth, the tidings of the Pasch, which is our salvation. Commending my fate into God’s hands, I will celebrate this Feast with you; distance of place separates us, but I am not absent from you. The Lord who gives us these Feasts, who is himself our Feast, who bestows upon us the gift of his Spirit, — he unites us spiritually to one another, by the bond of concord and peace. How grand is this Pasch, celebrated by Athanasius an exile on the Rhine, in union with his people who keep their Easter on the banks of the Nile! It shows us the power of the Liturgy, to unite men together, and make them, at one and the same time, and despite the distance of countries, enjoy the same holy emotions, and feel the same aspirations to virtue. Greeks or Barbarians, we have all the same mother- country, — the Church; but what, after Faith, unites us all into one family, is the Church’s Liturgy. Now there is nothing, in the whole Liturgy, so expressive of unity, as the celebration of Easter. The unhappy Churches of Russia and the East, by keeping Easter on a different day from that on which it is celebrated by the rest of the Christian World, show that they are not a portion of the One Fold of which our Risen Jesus is the One Shepherd.
The Liturgical Year – Dom Gueranger
Feast of St. Athanasius – Third Saturday after the Octave of Easter
Double / White – Missa ‘In medio ecclesiae’
INTROIT Ecclesiasticus 15: 5
In medio ecclesiæ aperuit os ejus: et implevit eum Dominus Spiritu sapientiæ, et intellectus: stolam gloriæ induit eum. Ps. 91: 2 Bonum est confiteri Domino: et psallere nomini tuo, Altissime. Gloria Patri.
In the midst of the Church the Lord opened his mouth: and filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding: He clothed him with a robe of glory. Ps. It is good to give praise to the Lord: and to sing to Thy Name, O Most High. Glory be to the Father.
Graciously hear our Prayers, we beseech Thee, O Lord, which we bring before Thee on the solemnity of blessed Athanasius, Thy confessor and pontiff, and, by the merits and intercession of him who had the grace to serve Thee worthily, absolve us of all our sins. Through our Lord.
Lesson from St. Paul to the Corinthians
II Corinthians – 4: 5-14
Brethren, We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus. For God, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God and not of us. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not; always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake; that the life also of Jesus, may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, as it is written, I believed, for which cause I have spoken, we also believe, for which cause we speak also: knowing that He who raised up Jesus will raise up us also with Jesus, and place us with you.
PASCHAL ALLELUIA – Psalm 109: 4
Alleluia, alleluia. Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. Alleluia.
ALLELUIA – James 1: 12
Alleluia. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life. Alleluia.
† Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew
Matthew – 10: 23-28
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: When they shall persecute you in this city, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you shall not finish all the cities of Israel till the Son of man come. The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the good man of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household? Therefore fear them not; for nothing is covered that shall not be revealed; nor hid that shall not be known. That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light; and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops. And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him that can destroy both soul and body into hell.
OFFERTORY Psalm 88: 24, 22
I have found David my servant: with my holy oil I have anointed him; for my arm shall help him, and my hand shall strengthen him, alleluia.
May the annual solemnity of Saint Athanasius, Thy confessor, commend us to Thy loving kindness, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that, by this office of pious atonement, a blessed reward may follow him, and he may obtain for us the gifts of Thy grace. Through our Lord.
PREFACE OF EASTER
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God: through Christ our Lord. Through Whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, the Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the Heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with them we entreat Thee, that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted, while we say in lowly praise:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth. Pleni sunt cæli et terra glória tua. Hosánna in excélsis. Benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini. Hosánna in excélsis.
COMMUNION Matthew 10: 27
That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light, saith the Lord; and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops, alleluia.
O God, the rewarder of faithful souls grant that, by the prayers of blessed Athanasius, Thy confessor and bishop, whose august festival we celebrate, we may obtain pardon. Through our Lord.