Homage to Saint Vincent Ferrer
Great prophet of the Last Judgment
For the six-hundredth anniversary of his return to God
Commentary on the texts of the Mass of Saint Vincent Ferrer on April 5th,
in the Dominican Missal
by Father Mortier O.P.
“In the midst of the Church the Lord opened his mouth, and filled him with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. — He clothed him with a robe of glory. — He heaped upon him a treasure of joy and gladness. ”
“O God, who granted that multitudes of the Gentiles should come to the knowledge of Your name through the wondrous preaching of blessed Vincent, Your confessor; grant, we beseech You, that him whom he foretold on earth as the judge to come, we may be worthy to have as our rewarder in heaven.”
Vincent Ferrer “opened his mouth in the Church”, but he opened it under the inspiration of God, prophetically. He is the great prophet of the Last Judgment. To understand this unique mission, it is necessary to put oneself in the situation of Saint Vincent, in the midst of the calamities, terrifying for the faith, which produced the Western Schism. The Christian peoples no longer knew who was the legitimate Head of the Church. There were two, three Popes, who were fighting over the tiara. Who was Peter’s successor, the authentic Vicar of Jesus Christ? The unity of the Church was in danger.
Kings, cardinals, and saints were actively engaged in returning to this unity. But the reality was terrifying for the faith and Christian discipline. The Western Schism appears as one of the most painful and threatening calamities that has weighed on the Church’s destiny. As such, the schism is a devastating prophecy of the end of the world.
God prophesies by deeds and by words. And the supreme calamity of the end of the world is prefigured, announced by previous world calamities, as the capture and destruction of Jerusalem, which dispersed the Jewish people; as fall of the Roman Empire allowed the barbarians to transform the nations, so the Western Schism endangered the Church herself, symbol of the antichrist at the end of time…
Vincent appears during the most acute period of this schism, when everything seems hopeless. He enters into this prophecy; he is part of it; it is incarnated, so to speak, in him. And that is why Vincent preaches to all the coming of the sovereign Judge. Fear God, he says, for the hour of his judgment has come. Still a prophetic hour, but so threatening that the people, terrified by the emphases of the man of God, massively converted. One heard Vincent, followed him, and saw throughout Europe this “Company” which did not leave him, eager to hear him. That is why Vincent also converted to the faith so many Jews, whose return to the true Messiah added one more aspect to the prophecy of the Last Judgment.
The liturgy, too, officially consecrates this extraordinary mission of Saint Vincent Ferrer.
Reading from the Book of the Apocalypse of the apostle St. John, ch. 14:6-7:
“In those days, I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell upon the earth and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him honor, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth, the sea and fountains of waters.”
One day St. Vincent was preaching before a multitude in Salamanca; he depicted the Last Judgment and quoted these words of the Angel, when suddenly he stopped. An intimate, divine light overcame his intelligence; he became conscious of himself; and in a loud voice, with the assurance of the supernatural revelation which dominated him, he exclaimed, “I myself am the Angel seen by St. John”. The affirmation was bold. There were murmurs; the crowd became turbulent. Vincent, strong from the received light, does not retreat. A woman had died in a neighboring house, and the corpse being brought over, he said: “Arise and declare to this crowd whether or not I am the Angel who must preach to everyone the Judgment Day. — Father, you are this Angel”. The corpse had risen; he had spoken.
The Church has authenticated this providential mission both in the bull of Saint Vincent’s canonization and in the liturgy.
“The mouth of the just man shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak judgment. — The law of his God is in his heart, and his steps shall not be supplanted.”
“He shone in his days as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the full moon. — And as the sun when it shines, so did he shine in the temple of God. — And as the rainbow appearing in the cloudy sky, and as the flower of roses in the springtime. — And as the lilies that are on the brink of the water, and as the sweet-smelling frankincense in summertime. — As a bright fire, and frankincense burning in the fire. — As a massive vessel of gold, adorned with every precious stone.”
In Paschal time. “Alleluia, alleluia! O glorious father Vincent, famous son of the Order of Dominic, pour forth your prayers to the sovereign judge for all the nations who are devoted to you..”
“You are the salt of the earth, etc.” from the common of Doctors in the Roman Rite.
“You have given him his heart’s desire, O Lord, and have not withheld from him the request of his lips; You have set on his head a crown of precious stones.”
“We offer to You, O Lord, these gifts of our love; and that they may be at once pleasing to You and helpful to us, may the blessed Vincent, Your confessor whom Your gifts made glorious before the world, become our devoted advocate with Your loving kindness.”
“To Vincent [to him that overcometh] I will give (Vincenti dabo) to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.”
Vincenti dabo… There is a play on words with the name of Vincent, which English cannot render.
“Filled with these divine gifts, we beseech You, O Lord, that through the glorious merits of blessed Vincent, Your confessor, we may taste the desired fruits of this saving victim”.
Fear the Lord, for his Judgment is near. The hour is coming, it sounds around us all the time. It reaches our neighbor: today for me, tomorrow for you! A personal but irrevocable judgment of which the supreme, universal, public one will only be its solemn confirmation. The book of our life, from which not one syllable is lost, will be opened before us, in the full light of truth. What will we have written on these pages? Our conscience itself will read and make the judgment. For at the Judgment of God we are, in short, under the implacable light of truth, its own judge. One sees oneself to the depths, at a glance, and one pronounces the sentence himself: worthy of God or unworthy. Everything is there. Worthy of God by His mercy which will have saved us, purified at least for the most part, the rest for Purgatory; but even with Purgatory, it is certain salvation, the eternal possession of God assured.
And then there is the other sentence, the awful one, the one where one says to oneself: I am lost!
Lost by my fault, because we see with cruel certainty that we are lost by one’s own fault. There, no remission. By one’s own weight, one goes down instead of going up; we descend into the eternal abyss. And each of us, often at the time when one least thinks of it, appears at the Judgment of God: Fear the Lord, for the hour of his judgment comes.
After twenty years of this incredible apostolate, to complete in his person the expressive figure of the end of time, on Wednesday, April 5, 1419, Vincent Ferrer died in Vannes, Brittany, France, the West of the world at that time. His death, like his life, retains the prophetic character of his mission.
(Fr. Mortier O.P., La Liturgie dominicaine ; Lille/Bruges, DDB, 1923, tome VII, p. 184 sq.)
(Translation of the Mass parts from the 1959 /Saint Dominic Missal: Latin – English)
Translation by A. A.