The Church of Spain, the fair pearl of Christendom, brings before us on this same tenth of December her illustrious Martyr Eulalia, the glory of Merida, the ornament of Iberia, the joy of the universal Church. She is the third of those Wise Virgins, whose names are most prominent in the Church’s liturgy during the season of Advent. She is the worthy companion of Bibiana, and Barbara, and that heroic Lucy whose feast we shall keep on the thirteenth. We give the whole of the beautiful poem on the life and martyrdom of Eulalia, written by Prudentius. Never, perhaps, did this prince of Christian poets write finer verses than these; nor can we be surprised that the Mozarabic Liturgy, in its admiration of this exquisite canticle, should have made but one Hymn of its forty-five stanzas. As it gives the Life of our Saint, we shall not add the Legend of the Proper Office as used in the Churches of Spain.
Eulalia, noble by birth, but still nobler by her death, was born at Merida; and this city the holy virgin adorns with her relics, and cherishes with her loving protection.
Where the sun sets, there lies the birth-place of this splendid heroine: it is a powerful and populous city, but its proudest title to fame is that there the Saint shed her blood, and there rests her shrine.
But thrice four winters had passed over Eulalia, when she braved the fierce tortures of fire, and made her executioners tremble by her courage, suffering as though it were sweet to suffer.
Already had she proved to men that she would have no Spouse but God, and that earthly nuptials were too poor for her. Though but a girl, she despised the toys and sports of children.
Perfumes and wreaths of roses, and golden trinkets, all were beneath her. Her look demure, her gait modest, her whole conduct, even at that tender age, as though the gravity of old age were upon it.
But when a rabid persecution began to threaten the servants of God, and the Christians were commanded to burn incense and the flesh of victims before the dead gods of the pagans.
Oh! then did Eulalia’s soul chafe within her, and her high spirit thirst for the battle! She, a girl, defies the threats of men that talk of war, for her heart pants after God.
But her fond mother trembles for her courageous child, and insists on her keeping at home. She takes her into the country, as far as may be from the city, lest the dauntless child, that longed to die for Christ, should seek to purchase that glory at the price of her blood.
She ill brooks this quiet, this shelter which seems to her so unchristian: the night comes on; she is alone; she forces open the doors, and escaping from her enclosure, she tends she knows not whither.
The paths are rugged, and thorns prick her feet at every step; yet on she goes, with Angels in her company. All is silent in the dark grim night; but she has light which leads her.
As our fathers, that brave Hebrew band, had of old a pillar of light, which piercing the murky gloom of night, led them on by its bright blaze, and turned darkness into day;
So this holy maid; in her midnight journey, God gave her light; and as she fled from the land of Egypt, to enter into that of heaven, she was not hindered by the darkness.
Many a mile had she walked with her hasty step, before the day-dawn broke upon the world: and scarce had morn begun, when there stood before the tribunal, amidst the ensigns of the empire, the fearless Virgin.
“What madness is this,” she cried, “which makes you lose your unthinking souls? wasting away your love in adoring these chiseled lumps of stone, while you deny God the Father of all?”
“O wretched men! you are in search of the Christians: lo! I am one; I hate your worship of devils: I trample on your idols; and with heart and mouth I acknowledge but one God.
“Isis, Apollo, Venus, all are nothing; Maximian, too, is nothing; they, because they are idols; he, because he worships idols; both are vain, both are nothing.
“Maximian calls himself lord, and yet he makes himself a slave of stones, ready to give his very head to such gods. And why does he persecute them that have nobler hearts?
“This good Emperor, this most upright Judge, feeds on the blood of the innocent. He gluts himself on the bodies of the saints, embowelling those temples of purity, and cruelly insulting their holy faith.
“Do thy worst, thou cruel butcher; burn, cut, tear asunder these clay-made bodies. It is no hard thing to break a fragile vase like this. But all thy tortures cannot reach the soul.”
At these words the Prætor, maddening with rage, cried out: “Away, Lictor, with this senseless prattler, and punish her in every way thou canst. Teach her that our country’s gods are gods, and that our sovereign’s words are not to be slighted.
“Yet stay, rash girl! Would I could persuade thee to recall thy impious words before it is too late! Think on all the joys thou thus wilt obtain; think on that noble marriage which we will procure thee.
“Thy family is in search of thee, and thy noble house weeps and grieves after thee, their tender floweret so near its prime, yet so resolved to wither.
“What! are nuptials like these I offer not enough to move thee? Wilt thou sent the grey hairs of thy parents into the tomb by thy rash disobedience? Tremble at least at all these fearful instruments of torture and death.
“There is a sword which will sever thy head; there are wild beasts to tear thee to pieces; there are fires on which to burn thee, leaving to thy family but thy ashes to weep over.
“And what do we ask of thee in order that thou mayest escape these tortures? Do, I beseech thee, Eulalia, touch but with the tip of thy finger these grains of salt and incense, and not a hair of thy head shall be hurt.”
The Martyr answered him not: but full of indignation, spat in the tyrant’s face; then, with her foot, upsets idols, cakes, and incense.
Scarce had she done it, two executioners seize her: they tear her youthful breast, and, one an each side, cut off her innocent flesh even to the very ribs. Eulalia counts each gash, and says:
“See, dear Jesus, they write thee on my flesh! Beautiful letters, that tell of thy victory! O, how I love to read them! So, this red stream of my blood speaks thy holy name!”
Thus sang the joyous and intrepid virgin; not a tear, not a moan. The sharp tortures reach not her soul. Her body is all stained with the fresh blood, and the warm stream trickles down the snow-white skin.
But this was not the end. It was not enough to plough and harrow up her flesh: it was time to burn: torches, then, are applied to her sides and breast.
Her beauteous locks disheveled fell veiling her from worse than all their butchery, the stare of these wretches.
The crackling flame mounts to her face, and, running through her hair, surrounds and blazes over her head. The virgin, thirsting for death, opens her mouth and drinks it in.
Suddenly is seen a snow-white dove coming from the martyr’s mouth, and flying up to heaven. It was Eulalia’s spirit, spotless, eager, innocent.
Her soul is fled: her head droops, the fire dies out: her lifeless body sleeps in peace, while her glad spirit keeps feast in its ethereal home, and this sweet dove rests in the house of her most High God.
The executioners, too, see the dove issuing from the martyr’s mouth: astonished and trembling they flee from the spot. The lictor, too, is seized with fear and takes to flight.
’Tis winter, and the snow in thick flakes falls on the forum, covering the tender corpse of Eulalia, which lay stiffening in the cold, with its fair pall of crystal.
Ye men that mourn at funerals, weeping and sobbing out your love for the dead, ye are not needed here: give place. God bids his elements, O Eulalia, do the honors of thy exequies.
Her tomb is now at Merida, illustrious city of Vettonia, whose beautiful walls are washed by the swift green waters of Ana, that celebrated stream.
’Tis there, in a temple rich with its polished marbles, both of Spain and foreign lands, that repose in a venerable tomb the holy relics of the martyr.
The roof, above, glitters with its golden pendants; and the pavements, with its mosaics, looks like a meadow strewed with the gayest flowers.
Cull the purple violet, and the golden crocus, which even winter spares us, and with its hours of sunshine lets our fields yield plentifully enough to deck our Eulalia’s altar.
Twine them into your green garlands, and these be your offering, dear children! Mine shall be these verses for our choir; poor I know they are and savoring of the dullness of my own old age; still, they suit a feast.
Thus will we venerate Eulalia’s relics and Eulalia’s altar: she, standing before the throne of God, will be pleased with our offerings, and hearing our hymns and prayers will protect her devoted people.
Nothing can surpass the magnificence of the prayers of the Missal and Breviary of the Mozarabic Liturgy for this feast. Out of a score of examples which we could here insert, we select, almost at hazard, two from the Missal; but they will give only a faint idea of the eloquence with which the love for her Martyr Eulalia inspired this ancient Church of Spain.
Let virginity be glad in thee, O Lord, we beseech thee; and with it let rejoice its sister-virtue of continency. Battles like these are won not by sex but by courage; not by them that can well wield the sword, but by them that can be chaste; not by the combatant’s title, but by his motive. An innocent conscience fears not an armed legion. He that has vanquished sin, will not flinch at a sword. He that has conquered himself, easily conquers others: and if it be praiseworthy when a man does a virtuous act, it is more so when a virgin does a manly deed. The holy virgin Eulalia stands before a tribunal of ungodly men; and with God alone in her heart, she bids defiance to all their tortures. There comes a Lictor as lustful as he is cruel: he punishes this spouse of Christ as we may indeed call her, by the torture of his impure looks; and she that could have no adultery to atone for, suffered its punishment from him that had. He reserves to the last what he knew was the worst; he exposes her body to the gaze of the spectators, and the stream of blood from the open gashes on her sides stains her flesh before the knife can open deeper wounds. Then was confounded the design of the wicked tormentor, and his torments are insulted by the victim. Impiety strips our Martyr, but modesty veils her. Let all, then, learn from this virgin to cultivate not beauty but virtue, nor form but faith. He that would please the Lord must be tried not for how much comeliness he possesses, but for how much modesty he has. And yet, O Jesus! since it was from thee that Eulalia had all her merits, and from thee all that she achieved (for it is in vain that we would repel the darts of our enemies, unless we be shielded by thy divine mercy); grant, we beseech thee, that, as this thy most holy martyr won, by her combat, the reward of chastity, we also may be forgiven the uncleanness of our sins, and obtain the rewards thou hast promised.
It is meet and just that we give thee thanks, O Lord, our God! who hast raised to the highest glory this most wise virgin that was loyal to the faith. Thus didst thou, that madest Mary be the Mother of Jesus, make Eulalia be a Martyr of Jesus. The Mother was happy in giving him birth; the Martyr in giving him her lire. The Mother ministered to his Incarnation; the Martyr imitated his Passion. Mary believed the Angel that appeared to her; Eulalia withstood the enemy that tormented her. Mary was chosen by whom Christ should be born; Eulalia was elected by whom the devil should be conquered. Eulalia, the Martyr and Virgin, was indeed worthy to please her Lord, for, by the protection of the Holy Ghost, she, a young maiden, waged a fierce war; she, that with more than human strength, made herself, for thy love, a victim of suffering; she, that for the sake of thy beloved Son, shed her blood in the noble confession of her faith, and offered to him, as a fragrance of sweetest incense, the flesh which fire could not consume. She goes unbidden to the tribunal of the cruel persecutor. As fit as was the place for a triumph, so bold was her spirit to speak the secret of her faith. She wants a kingdom, she cares not for tortures, she would find Him she longs for, she would see Him that she confesses. Fearless of pain, certain of a crown, happy on her rack, hopeful of her prize. She is questioned, she confesses; men put her to death, God gives her the crown. By an admirable miracle, the Virgin’s spirit, which thy divine Majesty didst draw from its prison by a flame, thou didst take to thyself as a Dove; thus, under the same symbol whereby thou didst show thy Son to the earth, did thy Martyr ascend into heaven. Neither did the elements withhold their homage; but over her body, which remained on the earth, they form a snowy canopy, that that beautifies, and covers, and hides that body where there had ever been the inflexibility of virtue and the unsullied lily of virginity. While thus her body lay palled in the coverlet of heaven’s making, her soul was placed, by the mercy of our Redeemer, on its throne. Rich compensation for the burial which men denied her!
And we too, O glorious Martyr, would join our humble praises with these sublime expressions of the Church’s love for thee. The love of Jesus so filled thy heroic soul, that torments could not torture thee; nay, they satisfied thy love by giving thee to suffer for him, until thy whole heart should be filled by possessing him. And yet, with all this ardor which heeds no obstacle, with all this noble daring which makes thee confront a tyrant and a furious rabble, nothing is more gentle and meek than thy loving spirit. Pray for us to Him who made thee thus worthy to be his Spouse, that we also may be courageous in the fight against the enemies of our salvation, and full of that tender love for Jesus which can alone preserve us from hardness and pride of heart.
O thou, the glory of Iberia! O Dove of Peace, have pity on that Catholic land which prepared thee for heaven. Suffer not that the ancient faith grow dim in a country which, for ages, stood so prominent in the Catholic Church, as the faithful and fervent Spain. Pray for her, that the days of her trial may be shortened; that God may bring to nought the sacrilegious attempts of men, who have sworn to destroy his kingdom on earth; that he give to the clergy of Spain the courage and energy of former days; that he render fruitful the blood of her martyrs, who have already suffered; that he take away those scandals, which so readily mislead the simple and the weak; and lastly, that he efface not thy beloved Spain from the number of Catholic nations, but spare, for the sake of the fathers, those among her children that are degenerate.
RESPONSORY OF ADVENT
(Ambrosian Breviary, Fourth Sunday of Advent)
℟. A message was announced to the Virgin Mary by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel; and she conceived the Word from heaven: * And the womb of a tender Virgin contained Him, whom the world was too little to contain. ℣. The Holy Ghost shall enter within thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: * And the womb of a tender Virgin contained Him, whom the world was too little to contain.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)