The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB.

Feast of Saint John before the Latin Gate – May 6

St. John before the Latin GateThe beloved Disciple John, whom we saw standing near the crib of the Babe of Bethlehem, comes before us again today; and this time he pays his delighted homage to the glorious Conqueror of death and Hell. Like Saints Philip and James, he is clad in the scarlet robe of martyrdom. The month of May, so rich in Saints, was to be graced with the palm of St. John.

Salome one day presented her two sons to Jesus, and with a mother's ambition asked Him to grant them the highest places in His Kingdom. The Savior, in His reply, spoke of the chalice which He Himself had to drink, and foretold that these two disciples would also drink of it. The elder, St. James the Greater, was the first to give his Master this proof of his love: it was today that St. John, the younger brother, offered his life in testimony of Jesus' Divinity.

But the martyrdom of such an Apostle called for a scene worthy of the event. Asia Minor, which his zeal had evangelized, was not a sufficiently glorious land for such a combat. Rome, whither St. Peter had transferred his Chair and where he died on his cross, and where St. Paul had bowed down his venerable head beneath the sword, Rome alone deserved the honor of seeing the beloved disciple march on to martyrdom, with that dignity and sweetness which are the characteristics of this veteran of the Apostolic College.

Domitian was then Emperor—a tyrant over Rome and the world. Whether it were that St. John undertook this journey of his own free choice, and from a wish to visit the Mother Church, or that he was led thither bound with chains, in obedience to an imperial edict—St. John, the august founder of the seven Churches of Asia Minor, appeared before the tribunal of pagan Rome. He was convicted of having propagated, in a vast province of the Empire, the worship of a Jew Who had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. He was considered a superstitious and rebellious old man, and it was time to rid Asia of his presence. He was therefore sentenced to an ignominious and cruel death. He had somehow escaped Nero's power; but he would not elude the vengeance of Caesar Domitian!

A huge cauldron of boiling oil is prepared in front of the Latin Gate. The sentence orders that the preacher of Christ be plunged into this bath. The hour is come for the second son of Salome to partake of his Master's chalice. St. John's heart leaps with joy at the thought that he—the most dear to Jesus, and yet the only Apostle that has not suffered death for Him—is at last permitted to give Him this earnest of his love. After cruelly scourging him, the executioners seize the old man, and throw him into the cauldron: but lo! the boiling liquid has lost all its heat; the Apostle feels no scalding; on the contrary, when they take him out again he feels all the vigor of his youthful years restored to him. The Praetor's cruelty is foiled, and St. John, a martyr in desire, is to be left to the Church for some few years longer. An imperial decree banishes him to the rugged Isle of Patmos, where God reveals to him the future of the Church, even to the end of time (the Apocalypse).

St. John on Patmos

The Church of Rome, which counts among her most glorious memories the abode and martyrdom of St. John, has marked with a Basilica the spot where the Apostle bore his noble testimony to the Christian Faith. This Basilica stands near the Latin Gate, and gives a title to one of the Cardinals.

In honor of the great Apostle of love, we give the following Sequence, composed by Adam of Saint-Victor:

The happy realm of grace, where the King of glory is seen
by the soul's unfettered gaze, gives union with God
and equality with the Angels to John,
whose revelations have made known to men the mysteries of Heaven.

He drank of the living waters that spring up to life eternal,
when he leaned on his Lord's breast.
The wonderful miracles which he wrought have made him shine
as a bright light in the Church. He quenched the heat of the boiling oil.

Men know that the torments prepared for him
are cruel beyond measure;
yet do they wonder within themselves,
how a man can be a martyr and feel no pain.

O martyr, O virgin, O guardian of the Virgin
by whom the world received Him Who is its glory!
Pray for us to Jesus, from Whom,
and in Whom, and by Whom are all things.

O thou that was loved above the rest,
by thine intercession and prayers,
render Jesus, by Whom thou was loved,
propitious unto us.

O thou that are a stream, lead us to the Fountain!
O thou that art a hill, lead us to the Mountain!
O thou whom grace made wholly pure,
pray for us that we may see the Beloved. Amen.

We are delighted to meet thee again, dear disciple of our Risen Jesus! The first time we saw thee was at Bethlehem, where thou wast standing near the Expected of Nations, the promised Savior, Who was sweetly sleeping in His crib. We then thought of all thy glorious titles: Apostle, Evangelist, Prophet, high-soaring Eagle, Virgin, Doctor of charity, and above all, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. Today we greet thee as Martyr; for if the ardor of thy love quenched the fire prepared for thy torture, thy devotion to Christ had honestly and willingly accepted the chalice of which he spoke to thee in thy younger years. During these days of Paschal Time, which are passing so rapidly, we behold thee ever close to this divine Master, Who treats thee with every mark of affection. Who could be surprised at His special love for thee? Wast thou not the only one of all the disciples who stood at the foot of the Cross? Was it not to thee that He gave the care of His Mother, making Her thine? Wast thou not present when His Heart was opened on the Cross by a spear? When, on the morning of the great Sunday, thou didst repair with St. Peter to the tomb, wast thou not, by thy faith, the first of all the disciples to honor Jesus' Resurrection? Oh, yes! thou hadst a right to all the special love wherewith Jesus treats thee; but pray to Him for us, O blessed Apostle!

We ought to love Him for all the favors He has bestowed upon us; and yet we are tepid in His love—we humbly confess it. Thou hast taught us to know the Infant Jesus; thou hast described to us the Crucified Jesus; show us now the Risen Jesus, that we may keep close to Him during these last few days of His sojourn on earth. And when He has ascended into Heaven, procure us brave hearts, that like Thee we may be prepared to drink the chalice of trials which He has destined for us.

Rome was the scene of thy glorious confession, O Holy Apostle! She is most dear to thee; join, then, with Saints Peter and Paul in protecting Holy Church. If the palm of martyrdom be in thy hand as well as the pen of the Evangelist, remember it was at the Latin Gate that thou didst obtain it. It was in the East that thou didst pass the greater part of thy life; but the West claims the honor of counting thee as one of her grandest martyrs. Bless our churches, reanimate our faith, rekindle our love, and deliver us from the Antichrists, against whom thou didst warn the faithful of thine own times, and who are causing such ravages among us. Adopted Son of Mary! thou art now enjoying the sight of thy Mother's glory: present to Her the prayers we are offering to Her during this month, which is consecrated to Her, and obtain for us the petitions which we presume to make to Her.

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