Skip to comments.Church to celebrate feast of first martyr
Posted on 12/20/2009 1:45:34 PM PST by NYer
.- On Saturday, December 26, the universal church will commemorate the death of St. Stephen, the first man to give his life in witness to the Faith.
St. Stephen was a deacon in the early church. The sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles says that, Stephen was a man filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit... filled with grace and fortitude. The Bible also notes that Stephen was a gifted orator and that his logic was sound. The conversions of many people are attributed to him.
However, his outspokenness provoked the ire of some of his listeners and he was accused of blaspheming against Moses and against God. He was brought before the high priest and many false witnesses testified against him.
In his defense, he gave an eloquent analysis of Salvation History and the love and mercy of God. He also recounted Israel's repeated ungratefulness towards their God. However, it didn't sway his accusers who proceeded to take him outside the city and stone him.
As he was about to die, Stephen looked up to heaven and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. Then, as he was being stoned, he cried out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
His last words, as the stoning had brought him to his knees were, Lord, do not hold this sin against them.
St. Stephen, pray for us!
“In the crowd was a man who would later be known as Saint Paul.”
Saint Stephen the Martyr
Died c. 33
Also known as: Stephen the Deacon
First Christian Martyr. Deacon. Preacher. All we know of him is related in the Acts of the Apostles. While preaching the Gospel in the streets, angry Jews who believed his message to be blasphemy dragged him outside the city, and stoned him to death. In the crowd was a man who would later be known as Saint Paul.
Died: stoned to death c.33
Name Meaning: crown
Patronage: casket makers, coffin makers, deacons, headaches, horses, masons, diocese of Owensboro Kentucky, stone masons
Representation: deacon carrying a pile of rocks; deacon with rocks gathered in his vestments; deacon with rocks on his head; deacon with rocks or a book at hand; stones; palm of martyrdom
At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit....
Now Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. Then they instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
They presented false witnesses who testified, “This man never stops saying things against (this) holy place and the law. For we have heard him claim that this Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Stephen preaches to the Sanhedrin, concluding: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.”
When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
- Acts 6:1-15, 7:51-60
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier. Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvelous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches. And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.
Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.
My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.
from a sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe
It was a general practice among the farmers in Europe to decorate their horses on Stephen’s Day, and bring them to the house of God to be blessed by the priest and afterward ridden three times around the church, a custom still observed in many rural sections. Later in the day the whole family takes a gay ride in a wagon or sleigh (St. Stephen’s ride). In Sweden, the holy deacon was changed by early legend into the figure of a native saint, a stable boy who is said to have been killed by the pagans in Helsingland. His name — Staffan — reveals the original saint. The “Staffan Riders” parade through the towns of Sweden on December 26, singing their ancient carols in honor of the “Saint of Horses.”
Horses’ food, mostly hay and oats, is blessed on Stephen’s Day. Inspired by pre-Christmas fertility rites people threw kernels of these blessed oats at one another and at their domestic animals. In sections of Poland they even toss oats at the priest after Mass. Popular legends say this custom is an imitation of stoning, performed in honor of the saint’s martyrdom. The ancient fertility rite, however, can still be clearly recognized in the Polish custom of boys and girls throwing walnuts at each other on Saint Stephen’s Day.
In the past centuries water and salt were blessed on this day and kept by farmers to be fed to their horses in case of sickness. Women also baked special breads in the form of horseshoes (St. Stephen’s horns: podkovy) which were eaten on December 26.
In some parts of the British Isles, Saint Stephen’s Day is the occasion for boys (the Wren Boys) to go from house to house, one of them carrying a dead wren on a branch decorated with all kinds of gay, streaming ribbons. Stopping in front of each door they sing a song and receive little gifts in return. The wren is “stoned” to death in memory of Saint Stephen’s martyrdom. Actually, though, this represents a relic of the ancient Druidic sacrifice of wrens at the time of the winter solstice.”
From Stockings to Stoning: The Story of Saint Stephen [Catholic Caucus]
Angelus: St. Stephen
Pope Benedict remembers persecuted Christians on the Feast of St. Stephen Martyr
He Teaches Us to Love the Cross [St. Stepehen]
Saint Stephen, First Martyr
The Martyrdom of St Stephen
1603-04 - Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre, Paris
St. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church and was the first Christian martyred for his faith. He was one of the seven deacons who helped the apostles (Acts 6:1-6) and was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," and was "full of fortitude" (Acts 6:5,8). Stephen died praying for his executioners. The similarities between Stephen's martyrdom and the crucifixion of Our Lord emphasize his imitation of Christ even unto the complete gift of self. His name is included in the Roman Canon.
Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003
today we celebrate the entrance of St. Stephen
into eternal glory.
He died praying for those who killed him.
Help us to imitate his goodness
and to love our enemies.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
First Reading: Acts 6:8-10;7:54-59
And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 31:3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Be thou a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
Yea, thou art my rock and my fortress;
for thy name's sake lead me and guide me,
Into thy hand I commit my spirit;
thou hast redeemed me,
O LORD, faithful God.
I will rejoice and be glad for thy steadfast love,
because thou hast seen my affliction,
My times are in thy hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors!
Let thy face shine on thy servant;
save me in thy steadfast love!
Gospel Reading: Matthew 10:17-22
Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Related Link on the Vatican Website: