St. Telesphorus - A Christmas Father

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 St Telesphorus was a Greek who had been an anchorite. He ruled the Church in the time of Emperor Antoninus Pius. To St. Telesphorus are attributed some church practices which endure down to this day. According to the "Liber Pontificalis" St. Telesphorus ordered a fast for seven weeks before Easter. That the Lenten fast goes back even before the time of Telesphorus, St. Irenaeus gives testimony. But the length of the fast varied considerably in those early days. It is probable enough that Pope St. Telesphorus did make some regulation as to the length of the Lenten fast.

A custom much loved even today is also attributed to St. Telesphorus. He is said to have ordered that although Mass was not celebrated before the hour of tierce (i.e., 9 to 12 o'clock in the morning) at Christmas time Mass should be celebrated at night. This is the first mention of the beloved midnight Mass. However, scholars doubt whether this decree actually does go back to the time of St. Telesphorus.

St. Telesphorus is said also to have decreed that the Gloria in excelsis should be sung at the Christmas Mass and only at the Christmas Mass. This magnificent hymn of praise is not said at all Masses even today. As late as the eleventh century, though the Pope could say it oftener, priests were not allowed to say it except at Easter.

St. Telesphorus died a martyr as is known not only from the "Liber Pontificalis" but also from the earlier testimony of St. Irenaeus. He was buried near St. Peter on the Vatican. His feast is kept on January 5 in the Roman liturgy and February 22 in the Greek.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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