From the Church of Saint Stephen, in Jerusalem. This church was built over the place that commemorated the martyrdom of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr.
Apertae sunt inuae caeli beato Stephano, qui in numero Martyrum inventus est primus,
et ideo triumphat in caelis coronatus.
The gates of heaven were opened for blessed Stephen,who was found to be first among the number of the Martyrs and therefore is crowned triumphant in heaven.
During these 12 days of Christmastide, the church offers us a three-day feast called Comites Christi. Today we celebrate Saint Stephen the Protomartyr who was the first to witness to the truth of the gospel by the voluntary shedding of his blood. Tomorrow we celebrate Saint John the Evangelist who was spared martyrdom; however he witnessed to the truth of the Gospel through his Gospel and Epistle. On the third day we commemorate the slaughter of the Innocents who involuntarily shed their blood in witness to Jesus Christ the Messiah. Today, may we hold close to our hearts in prayer those who are being persecuted for the sake of the truth of the gospel of our Incarnate Lord Jesus.
During the twelve days of Christmas I will be sharing various Christmas carols that move my heart to pray to the Infant King.
We arrived early in the morning to celebrate Mass at the church of Saint Stephen, the first martyr.
The interior of the church built over the ruins of a 4th century church dedicated to his memory, the Church of Saint Stephen.
Saint Mary Magdalene
Saint Catherine of Siena
Saint Thomas Aquinas
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Early this morning I began my pilgrimage to Saint Stephen Basilica. The Basilica is named after Saint Stephen who was the first King of Hungary (975-1038). From the Buda side of the city the dome of the Basilica and the Parliament of equal height dominate the urban scape. No building may be built that exceeds these in height. In addition to the main bell that weighs 9 tons there are 4 additional bells. The church is of a neoclassical design.
As I approached I heard the rehearsal prior to the Chrism Mass being broadcast into the square in front of the Basilica. The basilica was full this morning. The Mass was very moving because of the beautiful congregational singing. It was beautiful to hear the voices of the people in praise of the Lord in the Hungarian language however so much of the ordinary was in Latin as well as the propers and familar hymns such as Ubi Caritas and Adoro Te and this made me feel so much at home. What they often call a dead language becomes so alive when I can worship with the woman who was seating next to me. She spoke no English and I spoke no Hungarian however we could unite our voices in a common tongue that unites us.
This morning as Mass began the bells rang then were silent until the words of consecration. A few photos capture the spirit of the morning celebration.
This evening I returned to the Basilica for the Commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. The dignity of the Mass within this setting was most stunning. When the bishop intoned the Gloria there was an incredible fanfare on the pipe organ while the bells were ringing in jubilation. From then on there was only chanting with no music or bells but only the clapper. The choir sang Werner Alajos, Miserere Mei, Maurice Durufle, Ubi Caritas, Franz List, O Salutaris, Kodaly, Zoltan, Pange Lingua. The congregation chanted so beautifully and during Communion there was a very haunting and provocative chant that sounded like a lamentation from the Eastern Church.
I was very moved by the number of people especially young couples with children kneeling on the marble floor.
During the Mass I kept thinking this is the first time in almost 40 years that I am not presiding over the Rites of Holy Week. I prayed for the four parishes that were entrusted to my care and recalled so many wonderful memories of these past forty years of parish celebrations of Triduum. Although I was sad, I was also joyful that I was given the gift of so many people who gathered to hold these days most sacred these past 40 years.
At the end of Mass the lights dimmed and the bishop began to strip the altar with a restrained dignity interspersed with a chant. The church grew even more dark. At that point a priest began to read what I think was a continuation of the Gospel of John until the time of the arrest in the garden. A stillness enveloped the church and that spirit of quiet recollection accompanied everyone as we left the church in silence. This year Saint Stephen Basilica will be my parish church for a few days where I can enter into the Commemoration of Our Lord’s death and glorious Resurrection.