The Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden by an Unknown Italian Miniaturist, c. 1400
I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are equity, and in Thy truth Thou hast humbled me: pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear, I am afraid of Thy judgments.
(From the introit of the day’s Mass, Ps. 118. 75, 120)
Collect of the Day
Dómine, Deus noster, qui beátæ Birgíttæ per Fílium tuum unigénitum secréta cœléstia revelásti: ipsíus pia intercessióne da nobis fámulis tuis; in revelatióne sempitérnæ glóriæ tuæ gaudére lætántes. Per Dóminum…
O Lord our God, who through Thine only-begotten Son didst unveil heavenly secrets to blessed Bridget: grant through her loving intercession, that we Thy servants may rejoice with gladness when Thine everlasting glory is unveiled. Through…
Epistle – 1 Timothy, 5. 3-10 / Gospel – St. Matthew, 13. 44-52
The Liturgical Year
by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.
“Who, O Lord, has treated Thee thus?” “They that despise me and forget My love.” This was the first revelation of the Son of God to Bridget of Sweden. Francis of Assisi, raising before the world the standard of the cross, had announced that Christ was about to recommence the dolorous way; not now in His own Person, but in the Church, who is flesh of His flesh. The truth of this declaration Bridget experienced from the very opening of that fatal fourteenth century, during which such innumerable disasters, the results of crime, fell at once upon the west.
Born in the year when Sciarra Colonna, a new Pilate’s servant, dared to strike the Vicar of Christ, Bridget’s childhood was contemporaneous with those sad falls, which caused the Church to be despised by her enemies. There were no saints in Christendom comparable to the great ones of old; in the preceding age the Latin races had exhausted their vitality in producing flowers; but where were the promised fruits? Ancient Europe had nought but affronts for the Word of God; this feast, this apparition of Jesus in cold Scandinavia, seems to point to His flight from the habitual center of His predilection Bridget was ten years old, when the Man of sorrows sought a resting-place in her heart: and at that very time, the death of Clement V and the election of John XXII in a foreign land, fixed the papacy in its seventy years’ exile.
Rome meanwhile, widowed of her Pontiff, appeared the most miserable of cities: “The ways of Sion mourn, because there are none that come to the solemn feast” (Lam. I. 4). Sacked by her own sons, she was daily losing some remnant of her ancient glory; her public roads were scenes of bloodshed; solitude reigned amid the ruins of her crumbling basilicas; sheep grazed in St. Peter’s and the Lateran. From the seven hills anarchy had spread throughout Italy, transforming the towns into haunts of brigands, and the country parts into deserts. France was doomed to expiate, in the horrors of the hundred years’ war, the captivity of the sovereign Pontiff.
Unfortunately, the captivity was loved; the court of Avignon did not mourn like the Hebrews by the rivers in Babylon; richer in gold than in virtues, it were well, had they not, for a long time, shaken the influence of the Holy See over the nations. The German empire and Louis of Bavaria could easily refuse obedience to the ward of the Valois; the Fratricelli accused the Pope of heresy; while, countenanced by the doctors of the law, Marsillus of Padua attacked the very principle of the papacy. Benedict XII discouraged by the troubles of Italy, abandoned his design of returning to Rome; and built upon the rock of Doms the famous castle, at once fortress and place, which seemed to fix the residence of the Popes forever on the banks of the Rhone. The misery of Rome, and the splendour of Avignon, reached their height under Clement VI who entered into a contract with Jane of Naples, Countess of Provence, securing to the Church the definitive possession of Avignon. At that time the papal court surpassed all others in luxury and worldliness. God in His justice visited the nations with the scourge of the Black Death; while in His mercy He sent warnings from heaven to Pope Clement:
“Arise; make peace between the kings of France and England; and go into Italy to preach the year of salvation, and to visit the places watered by the blood of saints. Consider how, in the past, thou hast provoked My anger, doing thy own will and not thy duty; and I have held My peace. But now my time is at hand. If thou wilt not obey, I shall require of thee an account of the unworthiness wherewith thou has passed through all the degrees by which I permitted thee to be exalted in glory. Thou wilt be answerable for all the avarice and ambition that have been rife in the Church in thy days. Thou couldst have done much towards a reformation, but being carnal-minded thou wouldst not. Repair the past by zeal during the rest of thy life. Had not My patience preserved thee, thou wouldst have fallen lower than any of thy predecessors. Question thy conscience, and thou wilt see that I speak the truth” (Birgett. Revelations, Liber VI. Cap. LXIII).
This severe message, dictated by the Son of God to the prophetess Bridget of Sweden, came from that northern land where sanctity seemed to have taken refuge during the past half century. Through incurring such reproaches, the Pope still had great faith, and he accordingly received with generous courtesy the messengers from the princess of Nericia. But, though he promulgated the celebrated Jubilee of the half-century, Clement VI allowed the holy year to pass away without going himself to prostrate at the tombs of the apostles, to which he convoked the entire world. The patience of God was at an end. The judgment of that soul was revealed to Bridget; she saw its terrible chastisement, which however was not eternal, and was tempered by hope.
Hitherto wholly engaged with the supernatural interests of her own country, Bridget suddenly found her mission embrace the whole world. In vain, by her prayers to God, by her warnings to princes, had the saint striven to avert from Sweden the trials that were to end in the union of Calmar. Neither Magnus II nor his consort Blanche of Dampierre, took to heart the menaces of their noble relative: “I saw the sun and the moon shining together in the heavens, until both having given their power to the dragon, the sky grew pale, reptiles filled the earth, the sun sank into the abyss, and the moon disappeared, leaving no trace behind” (Birgett. Revelations. Liber VIII. Cap. XXXI).
The criminal coldness of the south had been the occasion of grace for the north; but the latter in its turn did not profit by the time of its visitation: and Bridget quitted it forever. She herself was a city of refuge to our Lord. Taking up her abode in Rome, she there, by her holiness, prepared the way for the return of Christ’s vicar. There for twenty years she, as it were, personified the eternal city, enduring all its bitter sufferings, knowing all its moral miseries, presenting its tears and prayers to our Lord; continually visiting the tombs of the apostles and martyrs throughout the peninsula; and at the same time never ceasing to transmit to Pontiffs and kings the message dictated to her by God.
At length the horizon appeared to be brightening: while the just and inflexible Innocent VI reformed the papal court, Albornoz was restoring peace in Italy. In 1367 Bridget had the great joy of receiving in the Vatican the blessing of Urban V. Unhappily, in three short years Urban quitted the threshold of the apostles to return to his native land; but, as Bridget foretold, he re-entered Avignon only to die. He was succeeded by the nephew of Clement VI, Roger de Beaufort, under the name of Gregory XI who was destined to put an end to the exile and break the chains of the Roman Pontiffs.
But Bridget’s hour had come. Another was to reap in joy what she had sown in tears; Catharine of Siena was to bring back to the holy city the vicar of our Lord. As to the valiant Scandinavian, who had never lost courage or faltered in faith through the failure of her missions, she was inspired by her divine Spouse to visit the holy places, the scenes of His Passion. It was on her return from this last pilgrimage, that, far from her native land, in that desolate Rome whose widowhood she had striven in vain to terminate, she was called to her heavenly reward. Her body was carried back to Scandinavia by her daughter St. Catharine of Sweden. It was laid in the yet unfinished monastery of Vadstena, a mother-house of that projected Order of our Saviour, the foundations of which, like all the undertakings imposed by God upon Bridget, was not to be completed until after her death. Twenty-five years before, she had received almost simultaneously the command to found, and the command to quite, this holy retreat; as though the Lord would give her a glimpse of its blessed peace, only to crucify her the more in the very different path into which He immediately led her. Such is God’s severity towards His dear ones, and such His sovereign independence with regard to His gifts. In the same manner, He had allowed the saint, in her early years, to be attracted by the beautiful lily of virginity, and had then signified His will that the flower should not be hers. “When I cry,” said the prophet, in the captivity figurative of that whereof Bridget felt all the bitterness, “when I cry and entreat, He hath shut out my prayer. He hath shut up my ways with square stones, He hath turned my paths upside down” (Lam. III. 8,9).
Before reading the liturgical legend, let us call to mind that St. Bridget died on July 23, 1373; October * is the anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in her honour by Pope Boniface IX on the day following her canonization. Martin V confirmed the Acts of Boniface IX in her honour; and approved her Revelations, which had been violently attacked in the Councils of Constance and Basle, only to come forth with a higher recommendation to the piety of the faithful. Many Indulgences are attached to the rosary which bears the saint’s name. These are now, by the favour of the apostolic See, frequently applied to ordinary rosaries; but it must be remembered that the true rosary of St. Bridget is composed of the Ave Maria recited sixty-three times, the Pater noster seven times, the Credo seven times, in honour of the supposed number of our Lady’s years on earth, and of her joys and sorrows. It was also from a desire of honouring our Lady, that the saint vested in the abbess the superiority over the double monasteries in the Order of our Saviour.
Bridget was the daughter of princely and godly parents, and was born in Sweden, in the year of our Lord 1304. Her life was a very holy one. When she was still in the womb, her mother was for her sake saved from shipwreck. When she was ten years old, she heard a sermon upon the sufferings of the Lord, and the following night she saw Jesus on the Cross, covered with fresh Blood, and heard Him speaking to her of His same sufferings. From that time forth the thought of them touched her so keenly, that she could never again call them to mind without weeping.
When she was sixteen years of age she was given in marriage to Ulpho, Prince of Nericia. She moved her husband to godly works, as well by her noble example as by her earnest words. She expended the most motherly care upon the up-bringing of her children. She opened an hospital, in which she carefully tended the poor, especially the sick, and would wash and kiss their feet. She made a pilgrimage with her husband to Compostella, to visit the grave of the holy Apostle James. On their way back Ulpho fell grievously sick at Arras, and St Denys appeared in the night to Bridget, to tell her as well that her husband would be healed, as divers other things to come.
(In the year 1344) her husband died, after having become a Cistercian monk. Bridget, having heard the voice of Christ in a dream, took upon herself an harder way of life. During her life God made known to her many hidden things. She founded the monastery of Wastein, under the Rule of the Holy Saviour, a Rule which she had received from the Lord Himself. By the command of God she went to Rome, where she stirred up many by her example to seek the love of God. Thence she went to Jerusalem, and then returned again to Rome. From this pilgrimage she caught a fever, of which she lay sick an whole year in sharp sufferings, and then, laden with good works, and after foretelling the day of her own death, she departed from earth to heaven, upon the 23rd day of July, in the year 1373. Her body was taken to the monastery of Wastein. She was famous for miracles, and Boniface IX. enrolled her name among those of the Saints.
O valiant woman! Support of the Church in most unhappy times, mayst thou now be blest by all nations! When the earth, grown poor in virtue, no longer paid its debts to the Lord, thou wast the treasure discovered and brought from the uttermost coasts to supply for the indigence of many. Thou didst earn the good-will of heaven for the hitherto despised north. Then the holy Spirit was moved by the prayers of apostles and martyrs to lead thee to the land which their blood had not sufficed to render fruitful for the Spouse; thou didst appear as the merchant’s ship bringing bread from afar to countries wasted and barren. At thy voice, Rome took heart again; after thy example, she expiated the faults which had wrought her ruin; thy prayers and hers won back to her the heart of her Spouse and of His vicar.
Thine own portion was one of suffering and labour. When, to the joy of all, thy work was consummated, thou hadst already quitted this world. Thou didst resemble the heroes of the Old Testament, saluting from afar the promises that others were to see fulfilled, and acknowledging themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Like them thou didst seek, not the fatherland thou hadst abandoned and wither thou couldst have returned, but the only true home which is heaven. Moreover God made it a glory to be called thy God.
From the eternal city where thine exile is at an end, preserve in us the fruit of thy example and teachings. Thy Order of our Saviour perpetuates them in the countries where it still exists though so much diminished; may it revive at Vadstena in its primitive splendour! By it and its rivals in holiness, bring back Scandinavia to the faith, now so unhappily lost, of its apostle Anscharius, and of Eric and Olaf its martyr kings. Lastly, protect Rome whose interests were so specially confided to thee by our Lord; may she never again experience the terrible trial which cost thee a life-time of labour and suffering!
October 8.—ST. BRIDGET OF SWEDEN.
ST. BRIDGET was born of the Swedish royal family, in 1304. In obedience to her father, she was married to Prince Ulpho of Sweden, and became the mother of eight children, one of whom, Catherine, is honored as a Saint. After some years she and her husband separated by mutual consent. He entered the Cistercian Order, and Bridget founded the Order of St. Saviour, in the Abbey of Wastein, in Sweden. In 1344 she became a widow, and thenceforth received a series of the most sublime revelations, all of which she scrupulously submitted to the judgment of her confessor. By the command of Our Lord, Bridget went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and amidst the very scenes of the Passion was further instructed in the sacred mysteries. She died in 1373.
Reflection.—”Is confession a matter of much time or expense?” asks St. John Chrysostom. “Is it a difficult and painful remedy? Without cost or hurt, the medicine is ever ready to restore you to perfect health.”
As a devotee of Saint Bridget, to celebrate her feast day please allow me to offer the following excerpts from one of my past articles on the spirit of Christian chivalry, which she so magnificently extolled on specific instruction by Our Lord Himself.
Excerpt from an article by Alberto Carosa:
But what is this spirit of chivalry all about? In a nutshell, it’s the ideal of the disinterested and self-denying service for the common good. In other words, our contemporaries would have again to come to accept and even live this ideal, whose first model was Our Saviour with his supreme sacrifice. What better common good than reopening the gates of Heaven for mankind?
However unpalatable the idea of a Christian spirit of chivalry (with the concommitant spirit of Christian combat, which must always be primarily seen as a spiritual combat, first and foremost against one’s own defects) may be to many post-Vatican II religious and lay people alike, Our Lord has a thoroughly different opinion. In a vision, He gently reproached St. Bridget for having misunderstood His words in her transcript, saying it’s not correct for her to write that “knighthood is dear to Me,” because “a knight who keeps the laws of his order is exceedingly dear to Me. For if it is hard for a monk to wear his heavy habit, it is still harder for a knight to wear his heavy armour” (p. 180).
The vocation to carry weapons for defensive purposes (as was the case the nobility of yore) is not for all, evidently, but the spirit underlying the vocation is indeed for all. A spirit that should inspire all Christians as the best and safest, if not perhaps the sole, recipe for one’s real sanctification. And, as already said, the spirit of chivalry is primarily meant as an interior attitude of the soul to accomplish God’s will whatever the cost, a disposition of mind whereby, in the revelations of St. Bridget, the faithful knight and the self-denying, cloistered nun are described as having the same worth in the eyes of God and therefore receiving the same everlasting reward.
To prove the point, listen to the words of another, more recent holy figure, St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), also known as “Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.” She was canonized in 1925 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997. Nobody could have ever even suspected that, in her short lifetime, this frail little girl, who had an ardent desire to be a nun since she was three but could only join the Carmel of Lisieux in 1889, where she died of tuberculosis at 24, hid such an indomitable temper. In her spiritual autobiography, she epitomised her religious legacy in the following terms: “I feel in my soul the courage of a crusader, of a Pontifical zouave, I would like to die on a battlefield in defence of the Church.”
As St. Bridget herself explains, the knight is “the warrior of Christ, ready to give his life for the cause of justice and to shed his blood for the Faith. He orders his life according to the commandments of Christ, he represses the wicked and helps the humble in the community to obtain their rights. He shall therefore enter into everlasting joy. Christ himself is the head of the Christian knight’s army.the Cross his royal banner. Christ’s Passion is Christ’s fight against the enemy of mankind ” (p. 391). Therefore, all those who, irrespective of their backgrounds, are prepared to carry their cross and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord, are “warriors of Christ” in a truly Catholic spirit.