September 2: The Carmelite Massacre of 1792: September Martyrs
Irapuato 02/09/2012 13:00:07
Today, September 2 (and tomorrow, September 3), we celebrate the feast days of the September Martyrs of the French Revolution, among them John Francis Burté, Appolinaris of Posat, Severin Girault, John Baptist Triquerie, Blessed Alexander Lenfant, Blessed John du Lau (Bishop of Arles), and hundreds of others. By the conclusion of the French Revolution, over 1500 priests and religious were martyred for their refusal to renounce the faith. Today, we remember their courage, steadfastness, and commitment to the true Word of God.
The martyrdom of the “September Martyrs” spans several years, but are celebrated on the same two days each September. While their glorious deaths did not occur simultaneously, each of the martyred religious died for the same reason—defending the faith. At that time, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1791) required all priests and religious to take an oath to the French government, placing them under the control of the government, and amounting to a denial of the faith. Each of these brave men and women refused and was subsequently executed.
From the Acts of Martyrdom: “The upheaval which occurred in France toward the close of the 18th century wrought havoc in all things sacred and profane and vented its fury against the Church and her ministers. Unscrupulous men came to power who concealed their hatred for the Church under the deceptive guise of philosophy.... It seemed that the times of the early persecutions had returned. The Church, spotless bride of Christ, became resplendent with bright new crowns of martyrdom.”
What is known in history as the Carmelite Massacre of 1792, added nearly 200 victims to this noble company of martyrs. After refusing to take the oath in support of the civil constitution, these priests and religious brothers and sisters were imprisoned in a Carmelite convent and then massacred in the space of two days by bloodthirsty revolutionary mobs. Among these priests were a Conventual, a Capuchin, and a member of the Third Order Regular.
John Francis Burte was born in the town of Rambervillers in Lorraine. At the age of 16 he joined the Franciscans at Nancy and there he also pronounced his solemn vows. In due time he was ordained a priest and for some time taught theology to the younger members of the order. Father John Francis was placed in charge of the large convent in Paris and encouraged his brethren to practice strict observance of the rule. His zeal for souls was outstanding, and he zealously guarded the rights of the Church in this troubled period of history. When the French Revolution broke out, he was reported for permitting his priests to exercise their functions after they refused to take the infamous oath required by the government, and which was a virtual denial of their Faith. He was arrested and held captive with other priests in the convent of the Carmelites.
Apollinaris of Posat, of Swiss descent was educated by the Jesuits. In 1762 he joined the Capuchins became a prominent preacher, a much-sought confessor, and an eminent instructor of the young clerics of the order. He impressed on their minds the truth that piety and learning are the two eyes of a priest, and humility was a dominating virtue in his life. On route to the far East as a missionary, he was imprisoned along with the Carmelites for refusal to take the oath.
Severin Girualt, a priest of the Third Order Regular born at Rouen in Normandy, and early in life joined the Third Order Regular of Saint. Francis. Because of his eminent mental gifts he was chosen a superior of his order. In the exercise of his priestly duties he displayed marked zeal for souls, and as chaplain of the convent of Saint Elizabeth in Paris he was a prudent director in the ways of religious perfection. Seized and detained with the others in the Carmelite convent, he became the first victim of the massacre while praying the Daily Office in the convent garden.
Blessed John du Lau was the archbishop of Arles, France. Arrested with the others, and confined to the Carmelite convent, he was praying when 150 armed men stormed the sanctuary. The “prisoners” were ordered into the garden. When they heard that the Blessed John was praying in the chapel, they called for him. When summoned, he came out and he said, “I am he whom you seek.” Thereupon, they cracked his skull, stabbed him and trampled him underfoot.
Having set an example of the blessed Archbishop, the leader set up a “tribunal” before which the imprisoned were herded and ordered to take the oath. All refused, and one by one, as they passed down the stairway, they were hacked to pieces by the murderers.
It is hard to imagine these types of massacres—the fear and horror the priests and religious must have experienced watching their fellow servants of God cut down for the faith. And yet, despite the fear, none among the nearly 200 imprisoned renounced their faith or took the oath. The steadfast courage and fortitude of these holy men and women remind us today that even in the midst of opposition and negative public opinion, our Catholic faith is strong—and the strength of our faith community comes from our own personal relationships with the Lord. He lifts us up. He gives us strength. He surrounds us with His gracious love. If God is for us, who can be against us?
God our Father,
through the prayers of our Martyrs
who bore faithful witness to the end of their lives,
inspire us to give of ourselves in joyful sacrifice.
Empower us with your Spirit
that we may grow in wisdom and integrity of character
and develop a true sense of values
through following Christ our Lord. Amen.
Inspired by the origins and spiritual history of the Holy Rosary, we continue our meditation on the psalms, one each day, in order, for 150 days.
Psalm: Psalm 130: Prayer for Pardon and Mercy
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
2 O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.