Saint Maurus—one of the greatest masters of the Cenobitical Life, and the most illustrious of the Disciples of St. Benedict, the Patriarch of the Monks of the West—shares with the First Hermit the honors of this fifteenth day of January. Faithful, like the holy Hermit, to the lessons taught at Bethlehem, Maurus has a claim to have his Feast kept during the forty days which are sacred to the sweet Babe Jesus. He comes to us each January to bear witness to the power of that Babe’s humility. Who, forsooth, will dare to doubt of the triumphant power of the Poverty and the obedience shown in the Crib of our Emmanuel, when he is told of the grand things done by those virtues in the Cloisters of Fair France?
It was to Maurus that France was indebted for the introduction into her territory of that admirable Rule which produced the great Saints, and the great Men to whom she owes the best part of her glory. The children of St. Benedict, by St. Maurus, struggled against the barbarism of the Franks under the first race of her kings; under the second, they instructed, in sacred and profane literature, the people in whose civilization they had so powerfully cooperated; under the third—and even in modern times, when the Benedictine Order, enslaved by the system of Commendatory Abbots, and decimated by political tyranny or violence, was dying out amidst every kind of humiliation—they were the fathers of the poor by the charitable use of their large possessions, and the ornaments of literature and science by their immense contributions to ecclesiastical science and archæology, as also to the history of their own country.
St. Maurus built his celebrated Monastery of Glanfeuil, and Glanfeuil may be considered as the mother house of the principal Monasteries in France, St. Germain and Saint Denis of Paris, Marmoutier, Saint Victor, Luxeuil, Jumièges, Fleury Corbie, Saint Vannes, Moyen-Moutier, Saint Wandrille, Saint Waast, La Chaise-Dieu, Tirou, Cheza Benoit, Le Bec, and innumerable other Monasteries in France glories in being daughters of Monte Cassino by the favorite Disciple of St. Benedict. Cluny, which gave several Popes to the Church—and among them, St. Gregory the Seven, and Urban the Second—was indebted to St. Maurus for that Rule which gave her her glory and her power. We must count up the Apostles, Martyrs, Bishops, Doctors, Confessors, and Virgins who were formed, for twelve hundred years, in the Benedictine Cloisters of France; we must calculate the services, both temporal and spiritual, done to this great country by the Benedictine Monks, during all that period; and we shall have some idea of the results produced by the mission of St. Maurus—results whose whole glory redounds to the Babe of Bethlehem, and to the mysteries of his humility, which are the source and model of the Monastic Life. When, therefore, we admire the greatness of the Saints, and recount their wonderful works, we are glorifying our Jesus, the King of all Saints.
The Monastic Breviary, in the Office of this Feast, gives us the following sketch of the Life of St. Maurus.
Maurus was by birth a Roman. His father, whose name was Eutychius, and a Senator by rank, had placed him, when a little boy, under the care of St. Benedict. Trained in the school of such and so great a Master of holiness, he attained to the highest degree of monastic perfection, even before he had ceased to be a child; so that Benedict himself was in admiration, and used to speak of his virtues to every one, holding him forth to the rest of the house as a model of religious discipline. He subdued his flesh by austerities, such as the wearing a hairshirt, night watching, and frequent fasting; giving , meanwhile, to his spirit the solace of assiduous prayer, holy compunction, and reading the Sacred Scriptures. During Lent, he took food but twice in the week, and that so sparingly, as to seem rather to be tasting than taking it. He slept standing, or, when excessive fatigue obliged him to it, sitting, or, at times, lying down on a heap of lime and sand, over which he threw his hair shirt. His sleep was exceedingly short, for always recited very long prayers, and often the whole of the Psalms, before the midnight Office.
He gave a proof of his admirable spirit of obedience on the occasion of Placid’s having fallen into the lake, and being nearly drowned. Maurus, at the bidding of the Holy Father, ran to the lake, walked dry-shod upon the water, and, taking the child by the hair of his head, drew him safe to the bank; for Placid was to be slain by the sword as a martyr, and our Lord reserved him as a victim, which should be offered to him. On account of such signal virtues as these, the same Holy Father made Maurus share the cares of his duties; for, from his very entrance into the monastic life, he had had a part in his miracles. He had been raised to the holy order of Deaconship by St. Benedict’s command; and by placing the stole he wore on a dumb and lame boy, he gave him the power both to speak and walk.
Maurus was sent by his Holy Father into France. Scarcely had he set his foot on that land, than he had a vision of the triumphant entrance of that great saint into heaven. He promulgated in that country the Rule which St. Benedict had written with his own hand, and had given to him on his leaving Italy; though the labor and anxiety he had to go through in the accomplishment of his mission, were exceedingly great. Having built the celebrated Monastery, which he governed for forty hears, so great was the reputation of his virtues, that several of the noblest lords of King Theodobert’s court put themselves under Maurus’ direction, and enrolled in the holier and more meritorious warfare of the monastic life.
Two years before his death, he resigned the government of his Monastery, and retired into a cell near the Oratory of St. Martin. There he exercised himself in most rigorous penance, wherewith he fortified himself for the convent he had to sustain against the enemy of mankind, who threatened him with the death of his Monks. In this combat a holy Angel was his comforter, who, after revealing to him the snares of the wicked spirit, and the designs of God, bade him and his disciples win the crown prepared for them. Having, therefore, sent to heaven before him, as so many foreruners, a hundred and more of his brave soldiers, and knowing that he, their leader, was soon to follow them, he signified his wish to be carried to the Oratory, where, being strengthened by the Sacrament of Life, and lying on his hair-shirt, as a victim before the Altar, he died a saintly death. He was upwards of seventy years of age. It would be difficult to describe the success wherewith he propagated Monastic discipline in France, or to tell the miracles which, both before and after his death, rendered him glorious among men.
We give a selection of Antiphons, taken from the Monastic Office of St. Maurus.
The blessed Maurus, illustrious by birth, as being of a patrician family, esteemed the reproach of Christ our Lord to be greater riches than the treasures of this world.
The Lord clothed him with the holy stole of Levites: wherewith he made the lame walk, and the dumb speak.
Being sent into France, he enlightened all men by the teaching of the Rule, as the day-dawn lights the world, and he made it known even to distant lands.
The solitude of the new monastery bloomed with the coming of Florus and the chief nobles of the kingdom; it was glad and flowered as the lily.
When near his death, he sent before him to heaven the children he had begotten in Christ; and while in prayer, he laid down his body at the altar, his soul resting in heaven. Alleluia.
O most worthy Disciple of his Father Benedict, who made him heir of his own spirit, that he might become the chief promulgator of the Holy Rule, and the wonderful propagator of the Monastic Order in France! Alleluia.
O blessed Maurus! who, from early childhood, despised the world, and lovingly bore the yoke of the Holy Rule, and, being obedient even unto death, denied himself that he might cling unreservedly to Christ. Alleluia.
On this day, did Saint Maurus, laid before the Altar on his hair-shirt, happily breathe forth his soul. On this day, the eldest disciple of blessed Benedict, securely ascending by the path of the Holy Rule, and accompanied by choirs of Angels, was led to Christ. On this day, the obedient man, speaking victory, was rewarded by receiving the crown from his Lord. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Responsories of the same Office are equally fine. We select the following.
℟. Maurus, when quite a child, was taken to Subiaco, and consigned by his father Eutychius to the care of Saint Benedict: he imitated the virtues of his Master, and reflected them in his own conduct, * And became like unto him. ℣. He looked and did according to the image that was shown him on the mount. * And became.
℟. Placid having fallen into the lake, Maurus flees to his rescue, and was borne upon the waters by the Spirit of the Lord; * while obeying his Father in the hearing of the ear. ℣. Many waters could not quench his charity, neither could floods drown it. * While obeying.
℟. Saint Benedict sent into France his disciple Maurus, whom he loved above the rest: * And suffers himself to be deprived of his great consolation, that he may provide for his neighbor’s salvation. * Charity is kind, neither seeketh she her own, but the things that are of Jesus Christ. * And suffers.
℟. Being rapt in God, he beheld the path glittering with countless lamps, whereby Benedict was mounting to glory, * For an endless eternity. ℣. The path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even unto perfect day. * For an endless.
℟. The streams of wisdom drunk by Maurus in the bosom of the blessed Father Benedict, he poured forth in France; * And he set the shoots of the Holy Order amidst the lilies of France. ℣. As a brook out of a river, he waters the gardens of his plants. * And he set.
℟. The Most Christan King of the Franks went to the monastery, that he might hear the wisdom of the new Solomon: * And he laid the regal purple under his feet. ℣. Because he was humble in his own eyes, the Lord glorified him in the sight of kings. * And he laid.
℟. He spent the two years before his death in silence and separation from men, * And alone, he dwelt with himself under the eye of the all-seeing God. ℣. He prepared his heart, and, in the sight of the Lord, he sanctified his soul.
℟. The greater part of the brethren, who fought under the leadership of Maurus, were warned, by an Angel, of their death, and fought their last battle with the demon: * And dying in that battle, they won to themselves the triumph of heaven. ℣. They fought the good fight, they finished their course, they kept the faith. * And dying.
℟. After he had meritoriously served sixty years in the holy warfare, and death being at hand, he willed that they should carry him to the Altar, there to breathe forth, in the presence of the Lord, his prayer and his soul: he said: * My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord; ℣. Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. * My soul.
℟. Laid on his hair-shirt in the Church, he passed from the house of prayer into the place of the wonderful tabernacle, even to the house of God, * With love of whom he burned exceedingly. ℣. For he was straitened, desiring to be dissolved, and to be with Christ. * With love.
Of the three Hymns to St. Maurus, we choose this, as being the finest.
Hymn Maurus in thy canticles, O France! for he enriched thee with a new race; he is the guardian of thy fair throne, and his sacred relics protect the royal lilies.
Rising above the honors of his family, and deeming palaces beneath him, he gladly seeks the cloister: luxuries, lands, robes of state, he tramples on them all, that he may take up the yoke of Christ.
Strenuously does he express in his conduct the image he had proposed to himself—he does what his Holy Father does: the Rule of the monastic life is brightly mirrored in the actions of the youthful Maurus.
Severe to himself, he subdues the flesh by a rough hair-shirt; he bridles nature by the law of perpetual silence; he spends his wakeful nights in prayer, and whole days are passed in long unbroken fast.
He flies at his Father’s bidding, and dryshod and fearless treads upon the waters of the lake; he rescues Placid from a watery grave, and, like another Peter, sinks not as he walks.
Unending praiseful homage be to thee, O holy Trinity, that givest to the Saints the satiating Light of the Vision! Grant to thy servants, who are walking in the path of the Holy Rule, to obtain the rewards so bravely won by Maurus. Amen.
How blessed was thy Mission, O favorite and worthy disciple of the great Saint Benedict! How innumerable the Saints that sprang from thee and thy illustrious Patriarch! The Rule thou didst promulgate was truly the salvation of that great country which thou and thy disciples evangelized; and the fruits of the Order thou didst plant there have been indeed abundant. But now that from thy throne in heaven thou beholdest that fair France, which was once covered with Monasteries, and from which there mounted up to God the ceaseless voice of prayer and praise, and now thou scarce findest the ruins of these noble Sanctuaries—dost thou not turn towards our Lord, and beseech him that he make the wilderness bloom once more as of old? Oh! what has become of those Cloisters wherein were trained Apostles of Nations, learned Pontiffs, intrepid defenders of the Liberty of the Church, holy Doctors and heroes of sanctity—all of whom call thee their second Father! Who will bring back again those vigorous principles of poverty, obedience, hard work, and penance, which made the Monastic Life be the object of the people’s admiration and love, and attracted tens of thousands of every class in society to embrace it? Instead of this holy enthusiasm of the ages of faith, we alas! can show little else than cowardice of heart, love of this life, zeal for enjoyment, dread of the cross, and, at best, comfortable and inactive piety. Pray, great Saint! that these days may be shortened; that the Christians of the present generation may grow earnest by reflecting on the sanctity to which they are called; that our sluggish hearts may put on the fortitude of knowing and doing at least our duty. Then indeed will the future glories of the Church be as great and bright as our love of her makes us picture them to ourselves—for all the Church needs in order to fulfill her destinies is courageous hearts. Oh! if our God hear thy prayer, and give us once more the Monastic Life in all its purity and vigor, we shall be safe, and the evil of faith without earnestness, which is now producing such havoc in the spiritual world, will be replaced by Christian energy. Teach us, O Maurus! to know the dear Babe of Bethlehem, and to get well into our hearts his life and doctrine; for we shall then understand the greatness of our Christian vocation, and that the only way to overcome our enemy the world is that which He, our Master and Guide, followed.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)