Two Saints at the Start of Advent: Bibiana and Francis Xavier

By Peter Kwasniewski, PhD

In the traditional calendar, December 2 is the feast of St. Bibiana, Virgin and Martyr. Having been imprisoned for her faith, she refused the sexual advances of her jailer, and was beaten to death with lead-loaded thongs. The Collect for her feast is magnificent:

Deus, omnium largitor bonorum, qui in famula tua Bibiana cum virginitatis flore martyrii palmam conjunxisti: mentes nostras ejus intercessione tibi caritate conjunge; ut, amotis periculis, præmia consequamur æterna. Per Dominum…

O God, the giver of all good gifts, who didst unite in Thy servant Bibiana the flower of virginity with the palm of martyrdom: deign, through her intercession, to unite our souls by charity to Thee, that, dangers being removed, we may obtain the eternal reward. Through Our Lord…

Such a Collect shows us everything beautiful about the Roman rhetorical style: God is first addressed by some attribute or perfection of His (here, that He is the “giver of all good gifts”), then He is acknowledged as the one who bestowed some attribute or perfection on His saint (here, with elegant parallelism, the united gifts of “the flower of virginity” and “the palm of martyrdom”); on the basis of His goodness and her intercession, we then beg Him to do for us what He did for her—namely, to “unite our souls to Thee by charity, that, dangers being removed, we may obtain the eternal reward.” With just a few pithy phrases, an entire portrait of Christian life is conveyed.

The Epistle for her Mass (from the Common “Me Expectaverunt”) is one of those marvelous instances in the old rite where the entire reading is a prayer:

O Lord my God, Thou hast exalted my dwelling place upon the earth, and I have prayed for death to pass away. I called upon the Lord, the Father of my Lord, that He would not leave me in the day of my trouble, and in the time of the proud without help. I will praise Thy Name continually, and will praise it with thanksgiving, and my prayer was heard. And Thou hast saved me from destruction, and hast delivered me from the evil time. Therefore I will give thanks and praise to Thee, O Lord our God (Ecclesiasticus 51:13-17).

I have often pointed out that the readings in the old Mass are offered as if they are prayers to God, even when they are also instructional for us. We raise up the words He has inspired to honor Him, to thank Him for this lesson, to ask His grace in fulfilling it. It is not uncommon in the Bible to see holy men reminding God of His promises so that He will be “held” to them! But there are particular moments when the lesson is directly and obviously a prayer, and at such times the eastward stance of the priest or subdeacon reading the lesson is seen to be all the more appropriate.

Then on December 3 comes the feast of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of the missions. As we’ve learned to expect, there’s quite an interesting difference between the old Collect and the one that was substituted for it in the Novus Ordo.

The traditional Collect:

O God, Who wast pleased to gather into Thy Church the nations of the Indies by the preaching and miracles of blessed Francis, mercifully grant that we, who venerate his glorious merits, may also imitate the example of his virtues. Through our Lord…

The one from 1969:

O God, who through the preaching of Saint Francis Xavier won many peoples to yourself, grant that the hearts of the faithful may burn with the same zeal for the faith and that Holy Church may everywhere rejoice in an abundance of offspring. Through our Lord…

Nothing heterodox about the new oration (and it’s sure nice to see the word “zeal” mentioned positively for a change). But note how the neo-collect has suppressed “miracles” and “venerate his glorious merits”; how it omits to say that God “was pleased” to work through the saint, emphasizing the primacy of divine grace; and how it replaces the “gathering of the nations into the Church,” which is a robust sentiment, with the Church “rejoicing in offspring,” which does not have the same oomph. I would describe it as less vertical, hagiocentric, and supernatural. This, indeed, is the general trend in the modern rite of Paul VI, matching the horizontal humanism and modernism for which he and the other liturgical reformers were infamous.

The rest of the traditional Mass propers for the feast are not too remarkable, being drawn from various Commons. But it is worth pointing out the ingenious stroke of appointing as the Epistle the same reading (Romans 10:10-18) that was just read a few days before on the feast of St. Andrew.

This Epistle, first of all, shatters the Protestant position:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent?

In other words: the Apostles are sent by Christ, and they, in turn, send their successors, empowering them through ordination and jurisdiction, all the way down to a missionary like St. Francis Xavier, who does not “come in his own name” but in the name of Christ and His Church. The most devastating question one can ever ask a Protestant minister is: “Who sent you to preach the Gospel of Christ?” Either they will point to a human being who appointed them minister, in which case the same question may be repeated of him; or he will say that Christ or the Holy Spirit sent him. “Well, then, what is your proof that Christ Himself sent you? Do you mean He appeared to you and instructed you as He did St. Paul? And that you have performed and can perform miracles to support your claim?” etc.

Now, the use of the same reading on November 30 and December 3 underlines the apostolicity of the Church as the origin and validation of the mission “ad gentes.” How fitting, then, that it is read first on the feast of a great patron of the Eastern Church, which shares the same apostolic foundations as the Roman Church, and then on the feast of a great Jesuit of the Counter-Reformation! They belong alike to the one Church of Christ, outside of which are only wolves masquerading as sheep.

The Epistle (thus reiterated for emphasis—another fine trait of the usus antiquior, which understands that repetition is a strength, not a weakness) also happens to shatter the fashionable heresy of universalism, because it starts off by saying that the ones who are saved are those who “believe with the heart and confess with the mouth”; that whoever “calls on the Lord’s name” shall be saved; that this won’t happen unless a preacher comes and preaches the Gospel to them; that faith comes by hearing the word; and finally, that “NOT ALL have obeyed the Gospel.”

St. Paul is going out of his way to say that salvation is a gift given by Christ through His Church to those who actively receive it—and not in any other way. Sorry, postconciliar Balthasarianism: we do not “dare hope that all men be saved,” regardless of whether or not they believe in Christ (since it is quite obvious that many people do not believe in Christ before they depart this life). We hope, rather, and pray, that all men may hear the word of God preached to them and accept it in faith, so that they might be saved by the grace of Christ.

The intersection of the temporal and sanctoral cycles in the traditional Roman Rite is one of its greatest strengths. For those who wish to live more “in sync” with the saints, I cannot recommend too highly the Illustrated Liturgical Year Calendar from Sophia Institute Press. It’s extraordinary in every way.

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