Monday, September 2, 2013

The Martyrs of September

On September 2, the Church commemorates 191 martyrs, commonly known as the "Martyrs of September," who were killed in four prisons in Paris, France, between September 2 and 3, 1792.

The Massacre of the Priests by H. de la Charlerie
Following the promulgation of the 'Civil Constitution on the Clergy' by the National Constituent Assembly (the government of the first stages of the French Revolution) in 1790, any cleric who refused to deny Papal authority and affiliate with the state-sponsored church in France was imprisoned as a traitor. All religious communities were dissolved by the government on August 15, 1792. Later that month, the citizens of Paris heard rumors of a possible invasion of the city by the Duke of Brunswick and of a mass breakout of those in its prisons, where the hundreds of clerics who refused to take the oath of allegiance were being housed alongside common criminals. Enflamed by revolutionary zeal, and unchecked by government authority, mobs massacred more than fourteen hundred men and women in the space of only a few hours. Eyewitnesses reported that the imprisoned bishops, priests, and seminarians were the focus of particular aggression and treated with extraordinary cruelty. Among those killed were Jean-Marie du Lau, archbishop of Arles, Francois de la Rochefoucald, bishop of Beauvais, Ambrose Chevreux, the last Superior General of the Maurist Benedictines, and priests of several dioceses, along with members of the Jesuits, Vincentians, Sulpician Fathers, Eudists, Christian Brothers, and a number of other religious orders.

Honored as martyrs and beatified in 1926, this group of priests, religious, and seminarians, along with Blessed Charles-Regis de la Calmette, a layman, remind us that we, as members of the Church, are each called to defend the Church's freedom from those powers which would deny her freedom to teach, worship, and serve those in need, in the spirit of Christ. Their commitment to the Church and their willingness to offer their lives rather than deny her freedom testifies to their faith: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword? As Scripture says: 'For your sake we are being slain all day long; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.' Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us" (Romans 8:35-37).

A Prayer in Honor of the Martyrs of September +
May the sight of the great number 
of your holy Martyrs gladden us, O Lord, 
making our faith stronger 
and bringing us consolation
by the prayers of them all. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[from the "Common of Several Martyrs" in The Roman Missal]

 [Adapted from my book, From Season to Season: A Book of Saintly Wisdom (Abbey Press Publications, 2012)]

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