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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

1 Maccabees 1, 54-64

On the fifteenth day of Chislev in the year 145 the king built the appalling abomination on top of the altar of burnt offering; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah

and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets.

Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned.

Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practising the Law, the king's decree sentenced him to death.

Month after month they took harsh action against any offenders they discovered in the towns of Israel.

On the twenty-fifth day of each month, sacrifice was offered on the altar erected on top of the altar of burnt offering.

Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict

with their babies hung round their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them.

Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food.

They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed.

It was a truly dreadful retribution that visited Israel.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

If you believe, you will see the glory of God,
thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This passage begins with a date that remained fixed in the memory of the Jews because of the gravity of what happened. On Antiochus’ birthday, December 25, 167 B.C., an idol, “a desolating sacrilege,” was put on the altar of burnt offering of the Temple, and its worship was inaugurated. In the very heart of the Temple, the covenant that Judah had established with God was betrayed. The covenant would be re-established three years later, on the same day by Judah who would celebrate the dedication of the new altar (4:52). But this first sacrilegious act was unfortunately followed by many others in various cities of Judah. In order to definitively erase even the memory of God, Antiochus commanded the destruction of the books of the Law. Antiochus’ servants set to work and “the books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire.” They understood that the Jews kept those books in high consideration, for the sacred scrolls kept the words of the Covenant that were to be passed down from generation to generation. More than in the walls or altars, the word of God was kept in these scrolls. As they realized it, the King and his servants left no stone unturned in their search of the scrolls: “Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king.” The hunt for the scrolls and for pious Jews went hand-in-hand. However many believers faced the persecutors with courage and remained faithful to the Lord. Surprisingly, that which happened then still happens today. A number of Christians (be they Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant) are killed for having a Bible. Indeed, having a Bible sometimes is a crime. There are even now martyrs of the Word of God. One just needs to think about what happened in Central America in the 1980s when many catechists and religious had to hide their Bibles because having one was a cause for death. Turkey and Central Asia also come to mind where some Christians were killed because they carried a Bible. One might say that the “enemy” knows just how powerful the Holy Scriptures are, be they Jewish or Christian, for in them is the Word of God: to block it, impede it from making an impact, means rendering the community mute and depriving the world of light. Listening to the Holy Scriptures and putting them into practice is the way Christians welcome and communicate to people everywhere the dream that God has for the world. The opposition and persecutions that the author describes as “[A] very great wrath came upon Israel” are truly a dramatic reality that purifies and strengthens the testimonies of the believers.

Sunday Vigil