Memory of the Mother of the Lord

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.
The child you shall bear will be holy.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

2 Maccabees 6, 18-31

Eleazar, one of the foremost teachers of the Law, a man already advanced in years and of most noble appearance, had his mouth forced open, to make him eat a piece of pork.

But he, resolving to die with honour rather than to live disgraced, walked of his own accord to the torture of the wheel,

having spat the stuff out, as befits those with the courage to reject what is not lawful to taste, rather than live.

The people supervising the ritual meal, forbidden by the Law, because of the length of time for which they had known him, took him aside and privately urged him to have meat brought of a kind he could properly use, prepared by himself, and only pretend to eat the portions of sacrificial meat as prescribed by the king;

this action would enable him to escape death, by availing himself of an act of kindness prompted by their long friendship.

But having taken a noble decision worthy of his years and the dignity of his great age and the well-earned distinction of his grey hairs, worthy too of his impeccable conduct from boyhood, and above all of the holy legislation established by God himself, he answered accordingly, telling them to send him at once to Hades.

'Pretence', he said, 'does not befit our time of life; many young people would suppose that Eleazar at the age of ninety had conformed to the foreigners' way of life

and, because I had played this part for the sake of a paltry brief spell of life, might themselves be led astray on my account; I should only bring defilement and disgrace on my old age.

Even though for the moment I avoid execution by man, I can never, living or dead, elude the grasp of the Almighty.

Therefore if I am man enough to quit this life here and now, I shall prove myself worthy of my old age,

and I shall have left the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.' So saying, he walked straight to the wheel,

while those who were escorting him, recently so well disposed towards him, turned against him after this declaration, which they regarded as sheer madness.

He for his part, just before he died under the blows, gave a sigh and said, 'The Lord whose knowledge is holy sees clearly that, though I might have escaped death, from awe of him I gladly endure these agonies of body under the lash, and that in my soul I am glad to suffer.'

This was how he died, leaving his death as an example of nobility and a record of virtue not only for the young but for the greater part of the nation.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Look down, O Lord, on your servants.
Be it unto us according to your word.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Eleazar was an old scribe, a man faithful to the Law of the Lord. For this reason, breaking the rule against eating pork, which was prescribed in the code of purity, as Leviticus notes, means he had to distance himself from his faith to subscribe to idolatrous practices. Rather than obey the order of the king to violate the Law, he prefers to die. And so he is inscribed into [or joins] the tribe of believer martyrs, those who love God more than their own lives. Some fathers of the Church have seen Eleazar as an early martyr, coming before the advent of Christ, a little like Stephen was for the Christian martyrs. Even in the Letter to the Hebrews, when all the acts of faith of the ancestors are listed, Eleazar is alluded to using a term that goes back to today’s reading: "others were then tortured" (Heb 11: 35). This is a long line which passes through the centuries and which in our times has become particularly prolific. Eleazar shows in his defence his conviction of desiring death in a way that is dignified for his age, leaving the youth an example: "Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example" (v. 27). From his words we see a certain fidelity to the law but above all to the Lord to whom "neither alive nor dead" can he escape. While he groans in torture he turns to God "in his holy knowledge" (v. 30), to God who knows everything and who is faithful to those who love him. Whoever does not reason according to God cannot understand what Eleazar is living and witnessing: "Those who a little before had acted towards him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness" (v.29) We should not forget that a bit of heroism (in this sense, folly) is exactly part of the radicalism of the Christian faith, already evident in the biblical tradition.