Category Archives: Today in Catholic History

Today in Catholic History – The First Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart

On 31 August 1670, the first feast of the Sacred Heart Mass was celebrated at the Grand Seminary of Rennes. With this Mass, the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus became a public devotion for the whole Catholic Church.

St. John Eudes had played a key role in spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Though the devotion can be traced to the earlier writings of Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure and Gertude and the Church Fathers. A key theme for the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart would be the love of Jesus for all humanity.

In 1856, Pope Pius IX will make celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart obligatory. Pius XII would raise the Feast to the status of a Solemnity. The Feast of the Sacred Heart has become particularly linked to the priesthood and the recent Year of the Priest began on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

Today in Catholic History – St. Cyprian is taken before the Roman proconsul

On 30 August 257, under the rule of Roman Emperor Valerian, St. Cyprian of Carthage was brought before the Roman proconsul Aspasius Paternus to defend his faith.

As bishop of Carthage, Cyprian had strongly urged his fellow Christians to prepare for martyrdom in his De exhortatione martyrii. Before the proconsul, Cyprian will be ordered to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods and to inform the Roman authorities of the names of other Christian priests. In both cases, Cyprian will refuse. Instead, he will proclaim his faith in Christ and his loyalty to the Roman emperor.

I am a Christian and a bishop. I know no other gods beside the one, true God who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. This is the God we Christians serve, to this God we pray day and night for you and for all mankind, and for the well-being of the emperors themselves.

Cyprian was banished to the city of Curubis and after spending a long period in exile and in prison was martyred on 14 September 258.

Today in Catholic History – The crowning of Pope Celestine V and the end of the Celestine year

On 29 August 1294, Pietro da Morrone was crowned as Pope Celestine V. Pietro had been living an austere life as a hermit and had written a letter to the cardinals warning them that a great tragedy would befall them if they did not quickly elect a successor to Nicholas IV. So, when the cardinals received Pietro’s letter, they immediately chose him. It was a responsibility he did not want and indeed tried to flee the cardinals who had elected him but was eventually persuaded to accept his election.

Celestine was deeply sympathetic to the Franciscan friars who wished to live a more strict poverty and defended the right of the Pope to abdicate the papacy. Celestine was also the first pope to offer the opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence without visiting the holy land.

Celestine V would only serve as pope for five months and eight days before resigning due to “the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life”. Some suspected that his resignation was encouraged by his successor as pope – Boniface VIII. Boniface VIII, fearing that Celestine might seek to return to the papacy would have Celestine imprisoned for ten months before Celestine died. Some historians suspect that Boniface may have had Celestine murdered. Philip IV persuaded Pope Clement V to canonize Celestine in 1313 in order to cause shame to the memory of Boniface VIII.

Celestine’s importance for today is primarily centered on his decision to abdicate the papacy. On 28 April 2009, Pope Benedict XVI left the pallium he wore at his papal inauguration as a gift to the church where Celestine is buried. He would proclaim the Celestine year which would last from 28 August 2009 to 29 August 2010 in honor of the 800th birthday of the saint.

More on St. Celestine and Benedict XVI’s visit to his relics.

Today in Catholic History – Auctorem Fidei

On 28 August 1794, Pope Pius VI issued the bull Auctorem Fidei condemning the acts of the Synod of Pistoia in 1786.

Auctorem Fidei defended the authority of the pope against those who wished to limit papal authority and wished remove bishops from papal jurisdiction. Auctorem Fidei also condemned certain liturgical canons that the Synod of Pistoia had supported such as calling for churches to have only one altar, celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular and celebrating only one Mass on Sundays. The Synod of Pistoia also wanted to abolish all religious orders except for the Benedictines.

With Auctorem Fidei, Jansenism recieved one of its strongest condemnations.

Auctorem Fidei

Today in Catholic History – Albino Luciani is elected to the papacy

On 26 August 1978, Patriarch Albino Luciani of Venice was elected to the papacy after four ballots. He will take the name of Pope John Paul I in honor of his two predecessors – John XXIII and Paul VI.

Luciani was chosen as a compromise candidate and when he was asked whether he would accept the papacy, he is said to have responded, “May God forgive you for what you have done”, before accepting his election.

This conclave was important as the first conclave since 1721 at which three future pontiffs would participate – Luciani and Cardinals Wojtyła [Pope John Paul II] and Ratzinger [Benedict XVI].

Since it the conclave took place in the summer, it became very hot. Cardinal John Cody of Chicago took three showers in one night to cool himself.

After the conclave, one of the cardinals asked the newly elected pope for permission to smoke. While this was against protocol, the new pope gave his approval on the condition that the “smoke was white.”

Today in Catholic History – Crowning of Marcian

On 25 August 450, Emperor Marcian was crowned by Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople. This was the first time in history that a secular authority was crowned by a religious figure. It will serve as an example and model for the establishment of the Christian coronation ceremony used both in the East and the West. It would also demonstrate the growing ties between church and state.

Marcian’s reign will include the important Council of Chalcedon, at which he supported the position of Pope St. Leo I. Moreover, Marcian will be considered one of the good Emperors and will later be canonized by the Orthodox Church.

Today in Catholic History – St. Teresa establishes monastery in Avila

On 24 August 1562, St. Teresa of Avila established her first monastery in Avila in response to advice she received from St. Peter of Alcantara marking the beginning of the Carmelite reform with four novices. The monastery was dedicated to St. Joseph.

The beginnings of the Carmelite reform, or the Discalced [Barefoot] Carmelites, was initially me with much opposition because St. Teresa placed her community under the authority of the local bishop and not under the prioress of the Incarnation monastery where Teresa had been attached. Later, however, the prioress of the Incarnation monastery will support her and her call for a more austere Carmelite life.

There was also opposition from the townspeople of Avila. They were concerned that religious houses were springing up faster than they could be supported. But after Teresa was able to convince the local people that her monastery was self sufficient, they would support her.

Today in Catholic History – Mass at St. Nicholas Cole Abbey

On 23 August 1153, Mass was held at St. Nicholas Cole Abbey in London. This was the first Mass permitted in England since the Reformation. While Catholic liturgies had been forbidden under the reigns of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI. Under Queen Mary I, Catholicism was again to be the official religion of the Kingdom of England.

Diarist Henry Machyn described the event in these words, ‘Mass at St. Nicholas Cole Abbey goodly sung in Latin, tapers set on the altar and a cross, and all this not by commandment but by the people’s devotion.’

When Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne in 1558, she would rescind Mary’s decree making Catholicism the established church of the kingdom.

Today in Catholic History – St. Columba sees the Loch Ness Monster

In his life of St. Columba of Iona, St. Adomnan recounts how on the 22 August 565, “a certain water beast was driven away by the power of the blessed man’s [St. Columba] prayer”.

According to St. Adomnan, St. Columba encountered the burial of a man who had been attacked and killed by a savage beast at the River Ness. Despite knowing this, St. Columba ordered one of his followers to swim across the Ness, a command that was immediately obeyed. The follower of St .Columba was attacked by a monster in the river. But before the beast could injure his follower, St. Columba made the sign of the cross in the air and said, “You will go no further. Do not touch the man; turn back speedily”. This caused the monster to swim away and caused those who witnessed what St. Columba had done to glorify God.

This account was written around 690, over a century after St. Columba’s death, and is the first recorded reference to a monster in Loch Ness. The account has been used both as a support for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster by some and viewed with great skepticism by others. Stories of saints encountering strange and terrifying beasts are common in early literature and are intended not to present historical events as we would understand them today but to show the power of God over forces which appear frightening or threatening.

St. Adomnan’s account of St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster
The St. Columba Western Rite Orthodox Church has an icon of St. Columba confronting the Loch Ness Monster

Today in Catholic History – The End of the Sacrament House

On 21 August 1863, the Sacred Congregation of Rites prohibited the placing of the Blessed Sacrament in what was called a Sacrament House.

For much of Catholic History there were no uniform regulations regarding the placement of the Blessed Sacrament other that the location where the Sacrament was kept be secure and visible. Some churches kept the Blessed Sacrament in the sacristy, some in receptacles above the altar, some in tabernacles on the altar and some in cabinets in walls constructed like a tower called the “Sacrament House”. Sacrament Houses were particularly popular in churches built in medieval Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium.

These towers would be close to the altar but not attached to it. Usually on the north side of the church. The Blessed Sacrament would be kept behind a door of metal lattice so that the faithful could see the reserved Sacrament at all times.

The chief reason why the Sacred Congregation of Rites came to prohibit Sacrament Houses was the desire to move to the common use of tabernacles as the proper location for the placement of the Blessed Sacrament.

Here are some examples of Sacrament Houses.