July 16, 2012
Last week I wrote about the blessing for the medal of St. Benedict, and its use in the Blessing of St. Maurus for the Sick. Today I will explain the rich symbolism on the Jubilee Medal itself. You can wear this medal devoutly without knowing the symbolism, but I think it increases devotion to be aware of its properties.
On the face of the medal St. Benedict holds a cross in his right hand, symbolizing our salvation. The cross is the most powerful evangelizing tool the Christian has because it contains the central message of salvation- Jesus died for our sins and opened the gates of heaven to us. St. Benedict holding the cross represents the civilizing of Europe (and the West) through the monasteries, especially from the 6th to 9th centuries when Benedictine monasteries were founded all throughout the land.
In his left hand he holds his Holy Rule in which he instructs us to “prefer nothing to Christ.”
Near the Holy Rule is a raven just below and on his right is a pedestal with a cup. St. Benedict was a reformer of monastic life, which didn’t go over well in some of the monasteries he visited. Rather than stab him to death with a sword or farm tool, monks tried to kill him with poison, a sneaky and deceptive way to get somebody out of the way without being blamed. In one case, a raven swept in and carried off poisoned bread. In another, monks served him a cup of poisoned wine. When St. Benedict made the sign of the cross over the cup, it broke. You can find these stories in the Life and Miracles of St. Benedict (Book Two of the Dialogues) written by Pope St. Gregory the Great, a Benedictine himself, which I referenced in the post on the St. Maurus blessing.
Above the cup and the raven are the words, Crux s. patris Benedicti, meaning “The Cross of our holy father Benedict.”
St. Benedict has always been viewed as a patron of a happy death. Tradition has it that he died in front of the altar, supported by Sts. Maurus and Placidus, just after receiving Holy Communion (another story recounted in the Dialogues). To commemorate this the Jubilee Medal has these words around the edge of the medal: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!). We never know when we will die, so it is a comfort to know that by wearing this medal devoutly we express our intention of having his presence to assist us with the right disposition whenever God calls us.
Beneath St. Benedict’s feet is this marking: ex SM Casino MDCCCLXXX (from holy Monte Cassino, 1880). This tells us it is the medal designed under the monks of Monte Cassino for the 1400th anniversary of his birth.
On the back of the medal the prominent design is the cross. The initials on the body of the cross are the first letters of a Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!).
In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict). This is the same symbol as what is written in full on the front of the medal. I think perhaps the monks designing it really wanted to emphasize how much St. Benedict loved the Cross and that we should venerate it as much as he did.
One of the Benedictine mottos is “Peace” (Pax). Peace applies to the world, to the individual, and to communities. Can you imagine how hard it would be to live with a bunch of people in a monastery or convent and everybody being able to get along without placing an emphasis on peace? Preferring nothing to Christ means we choose peace in Christ in our families, communities, nations and the world at large. So… above the cross on the back of the Jubilee Medal is the word, Pax.
Around the edge of the back of the medal are these initials: V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B. They stand for a powerful exorcism prayer: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!) (A reference to the poison cup incident.)
I love this exorcism prayer. We aren’t ever supposed to address Satan directly ourselves, but St. Benedict could because he was an exorcist. In fact, he tore down the temple of Apollo which had a lot of demonic activity going on in and around it and built Monte Cassino on top of the ruins, exorcising the demons in the process. When we wear this medal Satan and his demons know it and it acts as a repellant to him and his wiles. I like to think of it as St. Benedict taking care of me in the face of evil. Of course, any duly appointed exorcist always acts in the name of Jesus Christ and never under his own authority. St. Benedict was no different. When I am wearing my medal I have peace knowing that through the exorcism prayer of the Church I am telling Satan to get lost should he try to tempt me.
St. Gregory the Great was a Benedictine monk who became Pope. He lived soon enough after the death of St. Benedict to have faithfully recorded the consistent oral tradition of incidents in the life of St. Benedict. I highly recommend the Dialogues. These are not fairy stories or legends and St. Gregory makes reading them fun. Pretty good for a fellow who lived in the sixth century.
This picture shows the Beuronese style Jubilee Medal available from Liturgical Press. The Beuron Abbey produced the medals designed by Monte Cassino in 1880.
Trivia: Beuron was almost completely destroyed by bombs in World War II. They had a unique style of art that is found in only a few places around the world. Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri has restored Beuron style art painted by Father Lucas Etlin, called the Apostle of the Eucharist. Father Etlin died in a car accident in 1927, but the Abbey Basilica is still enriched with his gifted art.
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