Thursday, December 26, 2013

Celebrating the Feast of St. Stephen with Good King Wenceslas

Many of you may have forgotten (I know I almost did!) that today is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who's life and death is accounted for us in Acts 6 and 7. Well, a popular Christmas carol gives us a helpful reminder. Listen via the YouTube video below. Follow along with the lyrics underneath.



Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing


The "fisheaters" website has more on the connection between St. Stephen and Good King Wenceslas:
Because St. Stephen was the first Deacon, and because one of the Deacons' role in the Church is to care for the poor, St. Stephen's Day is often the day for giving food, money, and other items to servants, sevice workers, and the needy (it is known as "Boxing Day" in some English-speaking parts of the world).

Fittingly, then, St. Wenceslaus came to be associated with Stephen's Feast. The Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslaus," which uses an old medieval melody -- that of the 13th century song about springtime, "Tempus adest floridum" (click here to hear melody) mentions this Feast as it tells a tale of charity. St. Wenceslaus was a Bohemian prince born ca. A.D. 903 during a pagan backlash. He was persecuted by his mother, Drahomira, and his brother because of their hatred for his Christianity, and was eventually killed by his brother in front of the doors of the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian in A.D. 938. Many miracles have been attributed to his intercession, and he is now the patron of Czechoslovakia (his Feast is on 28 September).

For more on St. Stephen, see the following resources:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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