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Jerome Emiliani: On the Saints of Mercy and Their Masses

The traditional Roman liturgical calendar at this time in July presents us with a “triduum” of saints of mercy: St. Camillus de Lellis (July 18), St. Vincent de Paul (July 19), and St. Jerome Emiliani (July 20). Always ahead of any age and its needs, the Church gives us exemplars from the past who are remarkably suited for the present. About St. Camillus’s example of ministering to the sick and dying, I have already spoken. St. Vincent needs no introduction. St. Jerome, however, is perhaps not as well known as he ought to be. My St. Andrew Daily Missal gives us the following sketch:

Born at Venice, of the patrician family of Emiliani, Jerome unreservedly gave himself up to the influence of divine grace “which on the ruins of the corrupt man, raised him as a new man made in the image of God” (Secret). Filled with the Spirit of adoption, which makes us children of the Father, he was chosen by heaven to be the Father of orphans and of the poor (Collect). As Jesus had asked the young man in the Gospel to do, he left everything and, like his Master, made little children come unto him (Gospel). He founded at Somascha, between Milan and Bergamo, a Congregation whose object was to educate youth in orphanages and colleges. Wherefore the Introit, applying to him the words of Jeremias, shows him full of compassion for children who, thanks to him, learned to praise the Lord. Dividing his bread with those who were hungry, and covering the naked, he opened asylums for the poor and gave them abundant alms with the help of the nobility of Pavia and Milan (Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia). He died of the plague in 1537, having borne on his shoulders the plague-stricken to their burial place (Offertory). Let us have recourse to the Father of mercies so that we may be filled like St. Jerome, with holy charity for the poor and for children.

Once more, we see a priest who, like St. Camillus, was willing to lay down his life for his flock in a time of pestilence, rather than deprive even the least Christian of his ministrations.

Note how the St. Andrew Missal so freely refers to different parts of the Mass of the day. One of the features of the traditional Latin Mass that is most striking to Catholics who, until then, have known only the Novus Ordo is the existence of what we may truthfully call Masses of the saints. By this, I mean that the variable texts of the Mass are fully worked-out with regard to the saint, or at least to the category of saint to which he or she belongs. The Mass of the saint comprises not only the three great orations (Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion), but also the five Propers (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion) and both readings (Epistle and Gospel).

In other words, in keeping with Western tradition, but quite unlike the Eastern rites, the historic Roman rite, especially in the Mass of the Catechumens, decisively places the saint front and center.  It offers us a liturgical “icon” through which we gaze into the kingdom of Heaven, the assembly of the saints gathered around Mount Sion. In the image of this man or woman, transformed by divine grace, we behold yet another facet of the inexhaustible holiness and majesty of Christ the King as He is glorified in His saints. We see the full beauty of His face, too bright to gaze at uninterruptedly, refracted in the mirrors of those who imitated Him and reign with Him in the City of God. There is no conflict whatsoever between the worship of God and the veneration of His saints; on the contrary, as John Henry Newman pointed out in his masterful Letter to Pusey, in those lands where devotion to Our Lady waned, an Arian reduction of Christ soon entered in, while Catholic peoples who exalted Our Lady as her divine motherhood warranted still worship Christ as God. The same rule applies to all the saints, in keeping with the rule of the Apostle Paul: “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

While the Missal of Paul VI includes feasts, memorials, and optional memorials, only the feasts, which require related readings, have retained some semblance of being “Massses of the saints.” Yet even the feasts are seldom thoroughly consistent due to the nearly universal abolition of the Propers. Sometimes the “entrance antiphon” and the “communion antiphon” will be recited by the priest, or a lector, or the congregation, but this is a sad substitute for the fixed contemplative constellation of the Introit (with its verse and doxology), the Gradual, the Alleluia, the Offertory (which doesn’t even exist in the missal), and the Communion. The nature of memorials and optional memorials, the lectio continua of the gargantuan lectionary, and the likelihood of some or all of the Propers being omitted blurs the festivity and makes of the event neither fully festal nor fully ferial: a generic Mass punctuated by three orphaned prayers.

Let us, then, take a look at the wonderful Mass of this day in the usus antiquior. One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the texts and prayers offered to us by the Church. Moved herself by the Spirit of God, she freely draws upon the Psalms, the Lamentations, Isaias, Proverbs, Tobias, Matthew, and James, like an organist pulling now one stop, now another, to play the sacred symphony!

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INTROIT (Lam. 2:11; Ps. 112:1)

Poured out upon the earth is my liver, for the destruction of the daughter of my people, when the child and the suckling fainted away in the streets of the city. Ps. Praise the Lord, ye children: praise ye the name of the Lord. Glory be to the Father … Poured out …


O God, the Father of mercies, grant, by the merits and prayers of blessed Jerome, whom Thou didst raise up to be the father and helper of orphans, that we may faithfully keep the spirit of adoption, whereby we are both in name and in deed Thy children. Through our Lord Jesus Christ …

Commemoration of St. Margaret of Antioch. May blessed Margaret, Virgin and Martyr, who was ever pleasing to Thee by her merit of chastity and by her extolling of Thy power, implore Thy forgiveness for us, we beseech Thee, O Lord. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

EPISTLE (Is. 58:7–11)

Thus says the Lord: Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up. Then shalt thou call and the Lord shall hear: thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am. If thou wilt take away the chain out of the midst of thee, and cease to stretch out the finger, and to speak that which profiteth not. When thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday. And the Lord will give thee rest continually, and will fill thy soul with brightness, and deliver thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail.

GRADUAL (Prov. 5:16; Ps. 111:5–6)

Let thy fountains be conveyed abroad, and in the streets divide thy waters. Acceptable is the man that showeth mercy and lendeth, he ordereth his words with judgment; because he shall not be moved forever.

ALLELUIA (Ps. 111:9)

Alleluia, alleluia. He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor; his justice remaineth forever and ever. Alleluia.

GOSPEL (Mt. 19:13–21)

At that time, little children were presented to Him, that He should impose hands upon them, and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to Me; for the kingdom of Heaven is for such. And when He had imposed hands upon them, He departed from thence. And behold one came to Him, and said to Him: Good master, what good shall I do, that I may have life everlasting? Who then said to him: Why askest thou Me concerning good? One is good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to Him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith to Him: All these things have I kept from my youth; what is yet wanting to me? Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven: and come, follow Me.

OFFERTORY (Tob. 12:12)

When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and hide the dead by day in thy house, and bury them by night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord.


Most merciful God, Who didst destroy the old man in blessed Jerome and didst vouchsafe to renew him after Thine own image: grant by his merits that we, renewed in like manner, may offer this atoning Victim as a most sweet odour unto Thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Commemoration. Graciously accept, O Lord, the sacrifices dedicated to the merits of blessed Margaret, Thy Virgin and Martyr, and grant them as a perpetual aid in our behalf. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

COMMUNION (Jas. 1:27)

Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation, and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world.


Refreshed with the Bread of Angels, we humbly ask of Thee, O Lord, that we, who joyfully celebrate the annual memory of blessed Jerome, Thy Confessor, may also imitate his example and be enabled to obtain a most abundant reward in Thy kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Commemoration. Filled with the divine gift of Thy bounty, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God, that, by the intercession of blessed Margaret, Thy Virgin and Martyr, we may ever live by the participation thereof. Through our Lord Jesus Christ …

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This proper Mass, like that of St. Camillus, was — need it be said? — abolished by the liturgical reformers, who evidently believed that it was “too local” and not of sufficient “universal importance” or “relevance.” The small plans of small men always turn out badly. We can see, on the contrary, how this trio of saints of mercy could never cease to be relevant; if anything, they shine still more brightly in our times, calling us to conversion, voluntary poverty, mortification, and good works, and rebuking our worldliness.

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