The name of Marcellus is brought before us by the Calendar today — he was a successor of the glorious Hyginus in the papacy, and in martyrdom, and their Feasts fall in the same season of the year. Each Christmastide shows us these two Pontiffs offering their Keys in homage to our Jesus, the invisible Head of the Church they governed. In a few days hence, we shall find our Christmas list of Saints giving us the name of a third Pope and Martyr — Fabian. These three valiant Vicars of Christ are like the three generous Magi — they offered their richest presents to the Emmanuel, their blood and their lives.
Marcellus governed the Church at the close of the last general Persecution. A few months after his death, the tyrant Maxentius was vanquished by Constantine, and the Cross of Christ glittered in triumph on the Labarum of the Roman Legions. The time for Martyrdom was, therefore, very short; but Marcellus was in time; he shed his blood for
Christ, and won the honour of standing in Stephen’s company over the Crib of the Divine Infant, waving his palm-branch in his venerable hand. He withstood the tyrant Emperor, who bade him abdicate the majesty of the supreme Pontificate, and this in the very City of Rome; for Rome was to be the capital of another King — of Christ — who, in the person of his Vicar, would take possession of it, and her old Masters, the Caesars, were to make Byzantium their Rome. It is three hundred years since the decree of Caesar- Augustus ordered the census of the world to be taken, which brought Mary to Bethlehem, and where she gave birth to an humble Babe; and now, the Empire of that Babe has out-grown the Empire of the Caesars, and its victory is upon the point of being proclaimed. After Marcellus, we shall have Eusebius; after Eusebius, Melchiades; and Melchiades will see the triumph of the Church.
The Acts of Marcellus are thus given in the Lessons of his Feast.
Marcellus was a Roman, and governed the Church from the reign of Constantius and Galerius to that of Maxentius. It was by his counsel that a Roman Matron, named Lucina, made the Church of God the heir of all her property. He established in the City, five and twenty Titles, as so many districts, for the administration of baptism and penance to Pagans converted to the Christian religion, and for the providing burial to the Martyrs. All this irritated Maxentius, and he threatened Marcellus with severe punishment, unless he laid down his Pontificate, and offered sacrifice to the idols.
Marcellus heeded not the senseless words of man, and was, therefore, sent to the
stables, there to take care of the beasts, which were kept at the public expense. In this
place Marcellus spent nine months, fasting and praying without ceasing, and visiting
by his letters the Churches he could not visit in person. He was thence delivered by some
of his clergy, and was harboured by the blessed Lucina, in whose house he dedicated a
Church, which is now called the Church of St. Marcellus. Here did the Christians assemble for prayer, and the blessed Marcellus preach.
Maxentius, coming to hear these things, ordered that Church to be turned into the stable for the beasts, and Marcellus to be made its keeper. Sickened by the foul atmosphere, and worn out by his many cares, he slept in the Lord. The blessed Lucina had his body buried in the Priscilla cemetery, on the Salarian Way, the seventeenth of the Calends of February (January 16). He sat five years, one month, and twenty-live days. He wrote a letter to the Bishops of the Antioch province, concerning the Primacy of the Church of Rome, which he proves ought to be called “the Head of the “Churches.” In the same letter
there occurs this passage, that no Council may be rightly celebrated, without the authority of the Roman Pontiff. He ordained at Rome, in the month of December, twenty-
five Priests, two Deacons, and twenty-one Bishops for various places.
What must have been thy thoughts, O glorious Marcellus, when imprisoned in a stable, with poor dumb brutes for thy companions! Thou didst think upon Jesus, thy Divine Master, how he was born in a stable, and laid in a manger between two senseless
animals. Thou didst appreciate the humiliations of Bethlehem, and joyfully acknowledge that the Disciple is not above his Master. (Matt 10:24) But, from that stable wherein the tyranny of an Emperor had thrust it, the majesty of the Apostolic See was soon to be set free, and its glory made manifest to the whole earth. Christian Borne, insulted in thy per-
son, was soon to receive an additional consecration by thy martyrdom, and God was on the point of making over to thy successors the palaces of that proud City, which then knew not the glorious destiny that awaited her. O Marcellus! thou didst triumph, like the Babe of Bethlehem, by thy humiliations. Like Him, too, thou hadst thy cross, and gavest thy life for thy sheep. Forget not the Church of thy unceasing love — bless that Rome, which venerates so profoundly the spot, where thou didst suffer and die. Bless all the Faithful children of Christ, who keep thy Feast during this holy Season, praying thee to obtain for them the grace of profiting by the mystery of Bethlehem. Pray for them, that they may imitate Jesus, conquer pride, love the Cross, and be faithful in all their trials.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)