Wednesday 20 February 2013

Lent with Saint Patrick

But Patrick, having now become a monk, forgetting all things that were past, applied to the future, and, as if little accounting his former conversation, hastened to the height of perfection. For by incredible abstinence, by his lengthened fasts, and by the exercise of his other virtues, he afflicted himself, and continually bore in his heart and on his body the mortification of that cross which his habit displayed. But the most high Pastor, who intended to raise him to the head of the holy Church, that he might learn to think humbly of himself, to walk with the lowly, and to bear with the weak, permitting him to feel his own inferiority; so that the more deeply he was fixed on the foundation of true humility, the more firmly he might stand in the height of perfection. For a desire of eating meat came upon him, until, being ensnared and carried away by his desire, he obtained swine's flesh, and concealed it in a certain vessel, thinking rightly that he might thus satisfy his appetite privily, which should he openly do he would become to his brethren a stone of offence and a stumbling-block of reproach. And he had not long quitted the place when, lo! one stood before him having eyes before and eyes behind, whom when Patrick beheld, having his eyes so wonderfully, even so monstrously, placed, he marvelled who he was, and what meant his eyes fixed before and fixed behind, did earnestly ask; and he answered, I am the servant of God. With the eyes fixed in my forehead I behold the things that are open to view, and with the eyes that are fixed in the hinder part of my head I behold a monk hiding flesh-meat in a vessel, that he may satisfy his appetite privily. This he said, and immediately disappeared. But Patrick, striking his breast with many strokes, cast himself to the earth, and watered it with such a shower of tears as if he had been guilty of all crimes; and while he thus lay on the ground, mourning and weeping, the angel Victor, so often before mentioned, appeared to him in his wonted form, saying, Arise, let thine heart be comforted; for the Lord hath put away thine offence, and henceforward avoid backsliding.

Then Saint Patrick, rising from the earth, utterly renounced and abjured the eating of flesh-meat, even through the rest of his life; and he humbly besought the Lord that He would manifest unto him His pardon by some evident sign. Then the angel bade Patrick to bring forth the hidden meats, and put them into water; and he did as the angel bade; and the fleshmeats, being plunged into the water and taken thereout, immediately became fishes. This miracle did Saint Patrick often relate to his disciples, that they might restrain the desire of their appetites. But many of the Irish, wrongfully understanding this miracle, are wont, on Saint Patrick's Day, which always falls in the time of Lent, to plunge flesh-meats into water, when plunged in to take out, when taken out to dress, when dressed to eat, and call them fishes of Saint Patrick. But hereby every religious man will learn to restrain his appetite, and not to eat meat at forbidden seasons, little regarding what ignorant and foolish men are wont to do.

The Life and Acts of Saint Patrick by Jocelin, Chapter XXIII, Of the Flesh-meat changed into Fishes.

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Wednesday 13 February 2013

Lent with Saint Brigid

Below is an episode from the hagiography of Saint Brigid referring to the Lenten fast, which I first published as part of a 'Lent with the Irish Saints' series at my former blog Under the Oak. There is another version of this story, taken from the work of John, Canon O'Hanlon, along with similar episodes from the lives of other Irish saints at my new blog Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae.

One day in Lent, because of the previous harvest having failed, [Brigid's] community found themselves on the brink of starvation. Being forced to make some provision, Brigid set out with two of the sisters to visit a neighbouring monastery, then in charge of Ibar, and beg from him the loan of a supply of corn. The distance between the two churches was great and the nuns arrived exhausted and famished at the monastery. Famine was prevalent in the district. A meal - all that was available, bread and bacon - was set before the guests, and Brigid thankfully began on it. Presently she noticed that her two nun-companions were pointedly refraining from the bacon. There was a sniff in their attitude, implying, "Well, we're going to keep Lent anyhow, whatever you do".

Not to avail of dispensation accorded under such circumstances of such stress was really more than Brigid could stand. Rebuking the nuns sharply and with vehemence, she even turned them out of the room! In all the mass of legendary stories and traditions concerning Brigid, this is the sole instance recorded where she displayed anger. What provoked it is worth remembering: pharisaical formalism masquerading as piety.

Alice Curtayne, St. Brigid of Ireland (rev.ed., Dublin, 1955), 99-100.

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Friday 8 February 2013

Saint Brigid: Her Work and her Memory

To mark the octave day of the Feast of Saint Brigid, below is a tribute to her work and her memory taken from a 1913 publication by the Edinburgh firm T.N. Foulis as part of their 'Iona books' series. The volume has a simple paperback cover decorated with a interlacing cross in silver and hand cut paper pages. It is very much a product of the Celtic revival and reflects the romanticism of the movement and the conviction that a barely-disguised paganism lay just beneath the surface of early Irish Christianity. In this extract, however, the author, James Wilkie, who was a solicitor and antiquary from Leven in Fife, looks at what Saint Brigid's feminine touch brought to the Church:

More enduring than any shrine, however splendid, is the work accomplished by holy Bridget of Kildare and the fragrant memory she left behind. Beyond the glamour of legend that has gathered round her, as round all earth's greatest in the course of ages, the most critical eye can discern a life spent after the image of Him she served, according to the light that was given to her: healing the sick, caring for the afflicted in mind, body or estate, shrinking from no peril or loathsome disease, succouring lepers even as in our time Father Damien gave all for them, loving too and caring, like the Blessed St Francis of Assisi, for the humble creatures of field and forest and for the birds of the air, setting the example of holy living and serene dying, worthily carrying into other spheres the work St Patrick began, adding a white radiance to the lustre of the Isle of Saints and sending Christ's Evangel into rude Pictavia many years before the coracle of Good Colum Cille was beached on the green pebbles of the Port-na-Curaich. Kings and Saints sought her counsel, and her influence was potent in the political as well as the spiritual destinies of these islands. She stands out, as Olden has said, "the first woman engaged permanently in the work of the Church", a remark certainly true of the Church of her native land. Into it she must have carried some touch of a gentler and more pitying hand, some finer intuition, some tenderer sympathy. She deepened in a rude age that reverence of man for woman which the adoration of the Blessed Mother of Our Lord brought to the ideals of Chivalry. Within her Religious Houses learning flourished, though what part she had in it and in the encouragement of art we cannot now say with certitude. Yet she had been other than she was had she not realised that He who made the earth so fair must be worshipped in beauty, as well as in spirit and in truth: that no glory of colour, no wealth of adornment, no rhapsody of music, no fragrance of incense were too rare to be offered to Him before whose majesty the angels veil their faces and who yet on His Mother's knee received gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. The very fact that in the Celtic mind she is confused or identified with the goddess of the Danaans, the patroness of learning and poetry, of music and all the arts, bears witness to her encouragement of these.
J. Wilkie, Saint Bride: The Greatest Woman of the Celtic Church (Edinburgh, 1913), 24-26.

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Thursday 7 February 2013

'Brigide was base Daughter of Dubtachus' - a 16th century English View

There is an interesting 16th-century view of Saint Brigid recorded in the work of an English writer, which I reproduce below. The writer is himself accounted among the saints for he is none other than the English martyr Edmund Campion (1540-1581). Campion spent a few months in Ireland under the protection of the Stanihurst family and produced a short history of Ireland in which he devotes a chapter to its saints. Unfortunately, the History relied heavily on the work of the 12th-century Anglo-Norman chronicler, Gerald of Wales, and tended to echo the colonialist tone of his view of the natives. This incensed Irish priest and historian, Geoffrey Keating (c.1569-1644), who placed Campion's name on a list of those who had defamed the Irish people and their achievements.  In the extract below, taken from an early 19th-century reprint of A Historie of Ireland, written in the year 1571, I have not modernized the spelling as the text is quite readable. I note that there is no use of the apostrophe to denote possession as in modern English, but this archaic language has a charm of its own. I particularly enjoyed the description of Saint Brigid as having 'allured' others to her fellowship and the depiction of her father's wife as a 'shrewe'.  Interestingly, despite expressing this rather negative view of female nature, Saint Edmund does not hesitate to pay tribute to the wisdom of Saint Brigid saying that 'not onely the multitude, but a whole synode of Bishoppes assembled by Dublin, used her advice in weighty causes, and highly esteemed her'.  He has also selected the account of her giving away the royal sword to aid the poor, a fitting illustration indeed of the charity and humanity of Ireland's patroness. This episode also demonstrates Saint Brigid's courage, something the English martyr himself would need in the trials that lay ahead. The piece ends with what may be a reference to the 'Book of Kildare':
Brigide was base Daughter of Dubtachus a Captaine in Leinster, who perceiving the Mother with child, sold her secretly, fearing the jealousy of his wife, to a Irish Poet, reserving to himselfe, the fruite of her wombe, she was there delivered of this Brigide, whom the Poet trained up in letters, and so conveyed her home to her father. The Damosell was schooled in the faith by S. Patricke, preaching then in those parts, she became so religious, and so ripe in judgement, that not onely the multitude, but a whole synode of Bishoppes assembled by Dublin, used her advice in weighty causes, and highly esteemed her. One fact of hers being yet a childe, made her famous. The King of Leinster had given to Dubtachus in token of singular affection, for his good service, a rich sword. Now it befell, that the maiden visiting her sicke neighbours, diversly distressed for hunger, (her father being a sterne man, his Lady a shrewe) she saw none other helpe to releive these wretched people, but to part the Iewels of that idle sword among them. This matter was haynously taken, and came to the Kings eares, who (comming shortly after to a Banquet in her fathers house) demaunded the Girle, not yet nine yeares old, how she durst presume to deface the gift of a King, shee answered, that it was bestowed upon a better King, then hee was, whom (quoth she) finding in such extremity, I would have given all my father hath, and all that thou hast, yea your selves and all, were yee in my power to give, rather then Christ should starve.

At convenient age she professed virginity, and allured other noble Virgins to her fellowship, with whom she lived in her owne Monastery, untill the yeare of our Lord 500. and was buried at Downe, in the Tombe of S. Patricke, what Cambrensis reporteth of his own knowledge and sight, I will be bold to add  hereunto.

Among her reliques, was found a concordance of the 4. Evangelists, seeming to bee written with no mortall hand, beautified with mysticall pictures in the margent, whose colours and workemanship, at the first blush were darke and unpleasant, but in the view wonderful liuely and artificiall.

A Historie of Ireland, written in the yeare 1571 (Dublin, 1809), 61-63.

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Wednesday 6 February 2013

Hymn to Saint Brigid

The series of hymns from the work of Sister Mary Francis Cusack concludes with a nineteenth-century composition. This one received the endorsement of the then Archbishop of Westminster, Henry Edward Manning, one of the famous Anglican converts to Catholicism in Victorian England.  Unlike modern hymns which depict concern for the protection of the environment as Saint Brigid's main priority, this one views her as a helper in the Christian struggle against sin and the devil and extols the idea of perseverance in the face of suffering. I note too that our male patron Saint Patrick is at her side:


Saint Brigid, Saint most holy,
Dear Patron of our Isle,
Oh, keep us meek and lowly
Whatever foes beguile!
Watch o'er our sea-girt island,
Thy mantle spread around,
As once thou didst extend it
On Curragh's holy ground.  

Ask that God's saints may bless us
With blessings not a few;
What can we fear of evil
With Patrick and with you?
Make the holy still more holy,
Make the pure ones still more pure-
With thy protection, Brigid,
Of blessings we are sure.

Pray for us, saintly maiden.
Pray for thy own dear isle.
And keep us from the tempter.
From sin and every guile.
Oh, make our faith still stronger.
Our patience yet more sure.
And teach us that the victor
Must to the end endure.

Pray for us, then, St. Brigid,
Thy children we would be.
And guide us up to heaven.
To Patrick and to thee.
We fight for crowns eternal,
We suffer but to win,
And he must fight who conquers
The tempter and the sin.*

Hail, Mary.

* “We hereby grant an Indulgence of Forty Days to all who shall devoutly recite the Hymn of St. Brigid, with one Hail Mary.


"Archbishop of Westminster
February 20th, 1868."

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Tuesday 5 February 2013

From the Metrical Life of Saint Brigit

The fourth hymn pays tribute to Saint Brigid's single-minded Christian devotion: 


"Brigit, Saint of highest fame,
For Christ the world despised;
Like bird on high she sat and sang,
And only virtue prized.

“Her only thought was heaven and God,
Her only thought was pure;
She sought bright mansions in the skies,
And life for aye secure.

“And in her waking and her sleep,
She pined for Christ, her love;
And for His Passion grieved alone,
With cry like captive dove.

"O Brigit! near to Christ my Lord,
Of earthly souls the best,
Pray still for me that I may come
To His eternal rest." *

*Metrical Lives of the Irish Saints, which run to very great length, may be found in Colgan's Trias Thaumaturgus where the originals of these Hymns may be seen. For full particulars of the Lives of St. Patrick, St. Brigit, and St. Columba, we must refer the reader to our large illustrated Lives of these Saints, published by Mr. Murdock, 41 Castle Street, Holborn, London; also, to our new and enlarged illustrated History of the Irish Nation, by the same publisher, which contains a full account, with facsimiles of all the early Celtic Manuscripts, both historical and religious.

Sister Mary Francis Clare, Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children (London and Dublin, 1881), 42.

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Monday 4 February 2013

Brigida Nomen Habet

The third hymn in the series alludes to the traditional interpretation of the root of Saint Brigid's name as 'bright':



Resplendent is great Brigit's name
Like flash of diamond bright!
Resplendent is great Brigit's name,
Shining in heavenly light!

A virgin of the Lord is she —
A virgin crucified;
A virgin of the Lord is she,
To His Cross closely tied.

Sister Mary Francis Clare, Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children (London and Dublin, 1881), 41.

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Sunday 3 February 2013

Christus in Nostra Insula

We continue the series of hymns in honour of Saint Brigid with the famous Christus in Nostra Insula.



There is an alphabetical hymn in honour of St. Brigit, but only a part of this composition remains, unless, indeed as has been conjectured, the hymn consisted of only three verses. This hymn, or what remains of it, is both quoted and referred to in very ancient manuscripts at present extant in Continental libraries.

Christ in our isle was shown to men,
By Brigit's saintly life;
Excelling all who came before,
She conquered in the strife.

Like her no other saint was found,
But Jesu's mother blest;
Her virtues and her wondrous fame
Can never be expressed.

With holy fervour girdled round,
The victor's palm she gains
And like the glorious sun above.
In heaven refulgent reigns.

Then listen to this virgin's praise:
To Christ she gave her vow,
Faithful she kept it; her reward
Is reigning with Him now.

O queen, enthroned in heaven above
Look on thy children dear;
And help them to eternal life,
In God's most holy fear.

Christ Jesus, author of all good,
Have mercy upon me;
That with Thy angels up in heaven,
I may Thy mercy see.

Sister Mary Francis Clare, Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children (London and Dublin, 1881), 39-40.

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Saturday 2 February 2013

Pro Nobis Precetur Brigida

I would like to mark the Feast of Saint Brigid with an octave of posts in her honour. I will begin with a series of medieval hymns in honour of the saint as translated by the 19th-century writer, Mary Frances Cusack, 'The Nun of Kenmare'. She used this material in both her 1877 biography of Saint Brigid and in an 1881 volume Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children.  I was disappointed that there was no foreword to this latter volume as it is intriguing to see such relatively high-brow sources included in a collection aimed at a young audience and I would like to have had an insight into her thinking. We begin with a translation of the concluding verses of the first and metrical Life of Saint Brigid, for an overview of the various Lives see the summary here:


Pro Nobis Precetur Brigida.

The first and metrical life of the Saint is too long for insertion here, but we give a few of the concluding verses.

For us may holy Brigit pray,
And keep us safe from harm,
Until we see God's Spirit blest,
Where fears no more alarm.

Against the demons may she be
A fiery sword and strong,
Until her prayers shall bring us safe
To join the angel throng.

To praise God in His Holy Church,
Be still our constant task:
Like holy Brigit, let us not
For earthly pleasures ask.

With all Kildare's holy ones,
To Brigit I will pray,
That she may save from pain and loss
On the great judgment-day.

O holy Saint! who Currah's plains
Hast in thy lifetime trod;
There's none but Mary ever blessed
Has come so near to God.

In Brigit, then, oh let us trust,
She will protect us all;
For not in vain shall Erin's hosts
On holy Brigit call.

To praise Christ is a glorious work —
Then louder be our lays,
And special grace be given to all
Who thus St. Brigit praise.

And they who praise God and His Saints
From God and Brigit too,
In Heaven above shall have reward,
And honour as is due.

Two virgins are in heaven above,
Their client I would be;
Mary and Brigit I invoke,
Protection give to me.

With exaltation see she scorns
The world, and all its joys! 
With exaltation see she scorns
Earth's passing shows and toys! 

She dreaded earthly pomp and state.
Its riches she despised;
She dreaded earthly pomp and state,
For God alone she prized.

She looked for everlasting joys,
She sought a great reward;
She looked for everlasting joys
With Christ, her love and Lord.

She heard the echoing shouts of heaven,
The triumph of the blest!
She heard the echoing shouts of heaven-
Of those with Christ at rest!

Oh! pray for us; kind virgin, pray
That we may joy with thee.
Oh! pray for us; kind virgin, pray
That Christ we too may see. *

*The repetition of the first line is in the original.

Sister Mary Francis Clare, Cloister Songs and Hymns for Children (London and Dublin, 1881), 36-38.

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Friday 1 February 2013

Goffine's Devout Instruction on the Feast of Saint Brigid

Below is the instruction on the Feast of Saint Brigid as published in a nineteenth-century edition of the work of Father Leonard Goffine (1648-1719). The author was a German Norbertine priest who published his Handpostille oder Christkatholische Unterrichtungen auf alle Sonn und Feyer-tagen des ganzen Jahrs (brief commentaries in the form of question and answer on the Proper of the Mass, principally on the Epistle and Gospel of the day) in the 1680s. The work was translated into English and went through a number of editions, the content changing as it did so. In the 1880 edition there is a full account of Saint Brigid's life, followed by the texts of the Mass for her feast day and Goffine's question and answer commentary. The entry was illustrated by a picture of the saint which I have also reproduced, but I note that she is shown wearing the distinctive headdress of the Order of Saint Bridget of Sweden. Interestingly, the frontispiece to Canon O'Hanlon's 1877 Life of Saint Brigid also depicts our patroness in the Swedish Brigittine headdress, although the illustration was not reprinted when he reproduced the text of this biography in Volume II of his Lives of the Irish Saints. This leads me to wonder if these illustrations were inserted by the printer rather than the author, as I am sure that Canon O'Hanlon would have known that the metal crown is unique to the order of Saint Bridget of Sweden, whose founder lived nine hundred years after our Irish patroness.



[February 1]

ST. BRIDGET was born at Fochard, in Ulster, soon after Ireland had been blessed with the light of the faith. It was about the year 453 that she saw for the first time the light of this world. Her parents, Dubtach and Bronchessa, were both Christians. By her father she was lineally descended from "Con of the Hundred Battles," and her mother, Bronchessa, was descended from the noble house of the O'Connors.

Bridget spent her early years in Connaught, and was reared by a nurse who fortunately for her, was a Christian. She grew up beautiful in appearance, but still more so in her heavenly virtues, her meekness, humility and sweetness of manner. Her mother and her nurse carefully instructed her in the Christian religion; and deeply impressed upon her young mind  the goodness and mercy of Jesus, and the loving tenderness of His holy mother Mary. And when told not to offend Jesus or Mary, with childlike simplicity she would ask how she could please them, and when told, would reply that she would never do anything to offend them. Thus were the purest impressions made on her infant mind, and as she grew in years, she became rich in all the Christian virtues.

Bridget, even when a child, accustomed herself to prayer and pious works, and loved to retire in solitude to commune with God. She was exceedingly modest, and the least indelicacy of word or action hurt her tender soul very deeply. No wonder she was admired and loved by everybody.

Our saint was never more happy then when she found ways and means to assist the sick and the poor. Her charity knew no bounds. One time when visiting the sick neighbors, (she was then only nine years of age) it happened that she had nothing to relieve the wants of the needy; so she gave them the jewels from a precious sword which the king of Leinster had given her father, as a token of his good will and liking for his valiant service. The king heard of this and was angry, and shortly afterward came to a banquet in her father's house, and calling the little maid he asked her how she dared to deface the gift of a king in such a manner as she had done the gift to her father. She fearlessly replied that she had given the jewels to a better king than he was, "whom” she continued, "finding in such extremities, I would have given all that my father has, and all that you have, yea, yourself too and "all you have, were it in my power to give them, rather than Christ or His children, the poor, should starve." The king was so touched with her answer that he said to her father that his whole possessions would not be an equivalent for his daughter; and that he should let her have her own way in future, and not restrain the extraordinary graces God had conferred on her. He then gave Dubtach another sword more valuable than the former, as a mark of the esteem he entertained for him and his daughter.

When Bridget approached maturity, her father wished that she should wed a certain young man. Our saint was astonished at such a proposal, and firmly refused, and told her father that she was resolved to consecrate her virginity to God. All her relations opposed this resolution for a long time, but seeing that Bridget was determined they finally consented, and allowed her to choose her state of life. She made known her intention to several pious virgins, all of whom resolved to accompany her. Bishop Mel, nephew and disciple of St. Patrick, gave her the veil. It is said that she made her vows in the sixteenth year of her age.

Bridget's first community was established at Bridget's-Town or Ballyboy, near Ussna Hill. Her community soon became celebrated for its piety and charity. The poor flocked around her, and even the sick came from afar to be cured by St. Bridget's prayers. Several bishops requested her to establish communities in their dioceses. She visited Munster and established several convents there. While there she cured by her prayers a man who had been blind for years. Then she passed into the county Waterford, and established in the neighborhood of the present village of Tramore a community of nuns. We next find her in the county of Limerick establishing convents.

Society in Ireland in pagan times was divided into freemen and slaves; the former regarded the latter as beings of an inferior order, and treated them as mere chattels, as is the case in all slave countries even in our own times. The Catholic Church endeavored from the beginning to abolish this barbarous custom, and finally succeeded. St. Bridget labored hard to obtain the freedom of poor culprits, or at least to mitigate the bitterness of their captivity.

Her numerous miracles and the respect and veneration entertained for her, gave power to her influence, which seldom failed in gaining the boon of mercy. St. Bridget was great in miracles, great in Christian charity. She shares with St. Patrick the glory and sanctity of being the first to bring the pious young virgins of Ireland into conventual communities. Her success in this holy work was wonderful, for soon religious establishments of the kind extended over all the land. Thus she aided powerfully the work of St. Patrick in christianizing the inhabitants of Ireland. No wonder that after her death many churches were dedicated to God under her name. A portion of her relics was kept with great veneration in a monastery of regular canons at Aburnethi, once the capital of the kingdom of the Picts. Her body was found with those of SS. Patrick and Columba, in a triple vault in Down-Patrick, in 1185. The head of St. Bridget is now kept in the church of the Jesuits at Lisbon.

The Introit of the Mass reads: Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King. (Ps. xliv.) Glory be &c.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation: that, as we rejoice in the festivity of the blessed Bridget, Thy virgin, we may be instructed in the affection of a loving devotion. Through, etc.

LESSON, (ii Cor. x. ry-xi. i, 2.) BRETHREN, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved; but he whom God commendeth. Would to God you could bear with some little of my folly, but do bear with me. For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

EXPLANATION. The Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to avoid all self-praise and vainglory. To acknowledge our merits, however, is not wrong, provided we attribute such merits to the grace of God, giving all honor to Him, who works the good in us. Self-praise is no proof that we are faithful servants of God; we are no more than what we are in the eyes of God. St. Paul indeed endeavors to draw the attention of the Corinthians to his dignity and merits, but does it to honor God, and to save for Christ those whom he had by their conversion to Christianity brought to Christ as a spouse to her bridegroom; he speaks of his dignity, and is jealous to oppose the heretics who tried to lessen his influence by decrying his merits, and who endeavored to make the Christians abandon the true faith. When self-praise proceeds from a motive of honoring God and saving the souls of our neighbors it is allowable.

GOSPEL. (Matt. xxv. i 13.) AT THAT TIME, Jesus spoke to his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven shall be like to ten virgins, who, taking their lamps, went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise: but the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering, said: Amen, I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye, therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.

Who is the bridegroom?

Christ the Lord who has united Himself to His Church, and enters into an intimate union with every soul of the faithful who keeps His commandments.

Why is the kingdom of heaven compared to virgins?

Because virginity is similar to the integrity of holy faith. Only those who preserve the faith inviolate will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Why does Christ make mention of “ten" virgins?

The number ten was in ancient times made use of to express a whole. Here according to SS. Jerome and Ambrose all the faithful are to be understood. This is evident from the words of Christ who says of the virgins that they had lamps. The lamp signifies the light of faith. This holy faith is infused into the soul in baptism.

Who are the wise and who the foolish virgins?

The wise are all those of the faithful who not only believe in the doctrine of Christ, but also live according to the faith, performing good works; the foolish are those Christians who have indeed the true faith, but not the works according to the faith.

What is understood by the oil?

It means good works, especially works of charity.
Without good works our faith does not shine forth, is, therefore, not burning light, but dead as St. James says: "Faith without works is dead."

What mean the vessels that contain the oil?

Our conscience, which is the seat and receptacle of good works.

What does His coming at midnight signify?

It signifies the time when we least expect; for who would suppose the coming of the bridegroom at that unexpected hour when every one is asleep! Let us, therefore, be careful that we are not wanting in faith and good works, let us take warning also from the words of Christ to be ever ready, as we know not the day nor the hour when we shall be called upon to appear before our Judge.