The lights of hope and joy, the shadows of despondency and sorrow are ever flitting over the surface of human life, teaching the heart the solemn lesson of detachment from earth and giving it glimpses of heaven, that city of perpetual brightness whose “light is the Lamb,” the uncreated splendor of the Father. We need this succession of light and shade; continual prosperity would make us love the world, and we would forget that the days of our pilgrimage are few and evil, whilst lasting adversity would deaden the elasticity of the heart and drive it to despair. The Church knows the requirements of our nature in this respect and provides for them. The penitential seasons of Advent and Lent are succeeded by the joys of Christmas and the glories of Easter. The sorrows of Holy Week are interrupted by the Gloria of Holy Thursday, and then again the last notes of the Angelic Hymn die away in the wail of the Miserere of Tenebræ and the Improperia of Good Friday. Advent has its Gaudete Sunday, when the Church bids her children rejoice in the Lord always, because He is near, because He is soon to be manifested to the world as the Babe of Bethlehem; so too on the fourth Sunday of Lent a cry of joy resounds through the office, Rejoice O! Jerusalem! Rejoice thou barren that bearest not. The time for the reconciliation of the penitents is approaching; the children that were dead in sin will come to life and be restored to the arms of their mother, and in anticipation her heart beats high with gladness. Then her eye turns to Palestine, ranges the dark sky that overhangs the scenes of the Passion and rests on the horizon just reddening with the 1st faint streaks of light from the Easter Sun. Sorrow and penance yield for a moment to the exultation of triumphant love and from her lips breaks forth an anthem of gladness—Lætare, Lætare, Rejoice, Rejoice.
This fourth Sunday of Lent is set apart in Rome for the blessing of the Golden Rose. Gold of the purest quality is fashioned into a rose by the hands of a skilful artist. The Sovereign Pontiff blesses it with appropriate prayer and unctions and then sends it to some princes or princess, church or city, as a pledge of his paternal affection.
Antiquarians do not agree on the origin of this ceremony, but it seems that, as far back as the twelfth and eleventh century, the Popes used to carry a golden rose when walking in procession on Lætare Sunday. Alexander III. sent one, towards the end of the twelfth century, to Louis VII. of France in acknowledgment of the services which that King had rendered the Church. The solemn blessing of the Rose appears to be of later date. It was in use at the beginning of the sixteenth century, because Pope Julius II. expressly alludes to it in 1510, when he sent the Golden Rose to Henry VIII. of England. Little did the Pontiff suspect that ere many years the pestilential blasts of schism and heresy would kill the roses of Catholic faith and devotion in that kingdom. If the report of the public journals be true, his present Holiness, Pius IX., has sent three Roses to European princesses; one to Maria Teresa, Queen of Naples, to thank her for the kindness and affection with which she and her royal consort Ferdinand received him at Gaeta when he fled from Rome in 1848; one to the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III., and one to Elizabeth, Empress of Austria.
No more fitting present could be made to prince or princess. Gold is the emblem of sovereignty, and for this reason the Magi offered it to our Infant Lord to own His supreme dominion over heaven and earth. The Rose, on the one hand, is the queen of flowers. The papal gift reminds its royal recipient that the lustre of his virtue ought to be like the glitter of gold among metals and the brilliancy of the rose among flowers. Balsam, mixed with musk, is poured over the Golden Rose to teach the sovereign that his lofty station requires him to spread abroad the sweet odor of royal virtue, and that, like balm, he ought to heal up the wounds of the State, and, as it does for material bodies, preserve the political body from corruption. The Golden Rose is anointed by the hand of Christ’s Vicar that the Catholic prince may learn that communion with Home and loving obedience to St. Peter’s successor are necessary conditions for the Christian exercise of his high prerogative. Let him break the holy tie that binds him to Peter’s chair and that moment he falls, like a rose from its stem, to wither and to die. He sets the example of disobedience, and he will soon find it followed at home. The French revolution was prepared by Louis XIV., when, in his political Jansenism, he would make the French Church independent of Rome. Henry VIII. of England scoffed at Papal Authority—his race became extinct, the crown was transferred to the brow of the Stuarts, and the first Charles of that unfortunate race learned on the scaffold how the sins of kings are visited on their successors.
Whilst the symbolical properties of this holy sacramental are, in an especial manner, applicable to princes, they contain lessons for all Christians. The prayer with which it is blessed is, like all the prayers of the Church, full of meaning and beauty. It represents the Rose as an emblem of Jesus Christ and of that spiritual joy which should fill the heart on Lætare Sunday. “O God! by whose Word and power all things have been created, by whose will all things are directed, Thou who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty that Thou wouldst vouchsafe in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this Rose, most delightfiil in odor and appearance, which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy. . . . . May Thy Church, as the fruit of good works, give forth the perfume of His ointments who is the Flower sprung from the Root of Jesse, the Flower of the field and the Lily of the valley.”
The Gospel of Sunday relates how our Lord fed five thousand persons with five loaves and two fishes. This miracle foreshadowed the Blessed Eucharist in which Jesus Christ gives Himself as the food of the soul. The Golden Rose is allied then to the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord, in that pledge of love, is truly a rose wafting the perfume of heaven over the deserts of the world, and refreshing in a more special manner those who approach Him closer by Visiting Him in the churches in which He dwells.
[For several of the particulars of this article we are indebted to a manuscript kindly placed at our disposal by a Reverend friend.]