Friday, December 11, 2015
Feast of St. Damasus I

Saint Damasus I, (304-384). Roman pope (366-384). Engraving by Capuz. Colored. (Photo by: Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Semidouble (1954 Calendar): December 11

Today is the Feast of St. Damasus I, and the Church also commemorates today the Octave of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope St. Damasus I was born c. 306 to a pious family - the son of a priest in Rome.  He served as a deacon in his father's church for some time before becoming a priest and the assistant to Pope Liberius.  He was thereafter chosen as the 37th Pope of the Catholic Church.

During his reign, he governed amid the violence from those who adhered to anti-pope Ursinus.  And at this time the Arian heresy grew in strength leading to schisms in Antioch, Constantinople, Sardinia, and Rome.  Yet it was - with great jubilation - that Christianity was declared the state religion of the Roman Empire during his reign.

St. Damasus restored catacombs, shrines, and the tombs of martyrs, and wrote poetry and metrical inscriptions about and dedicated to martyrs.  He considered himself too unworthy to be buried near the martyrs who suffered so much for the Faith. Ten of his letters, personal and pontifical, have survived.

Pope St. Damascus is famous for having commissioned Saint Jerome to translate the Scriptures into Latin.  The letters from Jerome to Damasus are examples of the primacy of the See of Peter:
Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord. Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors who share your faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.

Traditional Matins Reading:

Damasus was a Spaniard, a man of highest worth, and learned in the Scriptures. He called the first Council of Constantinople, in which he condemned the impious heresy of Eunomius and Macedonius. He also condemned the Council of Rimini, which had already been rejected by Liberius, inasmuch as it was in this assembly of Rimini, as St. Jerome tells us, that mainly by the craft of Valens and Ursacius, was published a condemnation of the faith which had been taught by the Nicene Council, and thus the whole world grieved to find itself made Arian.

He built two basilicas; one dedicated to St. Laurence, near Pompey’s theatre, and this he endowed with magnificent presents, with houses and with lands: the other, on the Ardeatine Way, at the Catacombs. The bodies of SS. Peter and Paul lay for some time in a place richly adorned with marbles; this place he dedicated, and composed for it several inscriptions in beautiful verses. He also wrote on virginity, both in prose and verse, and several other poems.

He established the law of retaliation for cases of false accusation. He decreed that, as was the custom in many places, the psalms should be sung in all churches in alternate choirs, day and night; and that at the end of each psalm, there should be added: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.’ It was by his order that St. Jerome translated the new Testament from the Greek text. He governed the Church seventeen years, two months, and twenty-six days; and five times during this period, he gave ordinations, in the month of December, to thirty-one priests, eleven deacons, and sixty two bishops, for divers places. Conspicuous for his virtue, learning, and prudence, and having lived little short of eighty years, he slept in the Lord, during the reign of Theodosius the Great. He was buried in the basilica which he had built on the Ardeatine Way, where also lay his mother and sister. His relics were afterwards translated to the church of Saint Laurence, called after him St. Laurence’s in Damaso. 


O Eternal Shepherd, who appointed blessed Damasus shepherd of the whole Church, let the prayers of this confessor and supreme pontiff move You to look with favor upon Your flock and to keep it under Your continual protection. Through Our Lord . . .

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

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