There was no shooting star, but Christendom needed a calendar readjustment the day Saint Teresa of Avila died. Legends and astronomical facts abound about shooting stars accompanying the death or birth of certain great historical personages, or that heralded major epochal events. Notably, there was a comet that appeared in the sky even in daytime for seven days a few months after Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. Shakespeare gave the event a verse in his play Julius Caesar: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
The star appeared during the month the emperor was born, and from which he was named, Gaius Julius Caesar. August, originally called Sextilis, was renamed in 8BC by Augustus Caesar and the senate as part of his imperial deification. Our Lord was born during his reign. The other months, which are not numerically named, are named after one of the pagan gods. It may well have been that the Roman coin shown to Our Lord by the duplicitous pharisees, when they were trying to incriminate Him, had Caesar’s star engraved on it, a Roman coin with a star over the head of a man crowned with a wreath had been minted in 17BC under Augustus. When, in fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, a bright comet served as a portent of the coming chastisement.
Saint Bede, English Doctor of the Church (672-735), believed that the appearance of comets were signs of great changes that were about to happen. The “Father of English History” was quite prophetic for, in 1066, as William the Conqueror was about to invade England, a comet (Haley’s, we now know from astronomical computation) appeared: an omen for King Harold II, an augury for William the Conqueror. Many more examples could be dug up I am sure, if that were my subject, but the one star, which I wish to highlight, is that which appeared over Bethlehem 2012 years ago, and that led the Wise Men from the East to the home where the Infant King awaited them in the arms of His Mother.
The pagan diviner Balaam the Ammonite, who was forced by the Spirit of God in the days of Moses to praise Israel rather than to curse it, foresaw Israel’s victories, and then, even though he was of the devil, he was compelled to speak to the king of Moab of the Ruler to come out of Jacob: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel” (Num. 24:17). This prophecy was kept alive in the east for 1500 years until the Wise Men, who were astronomers, or magi, observed this most unusual star, which they called “his star,” the star of Him who is born King of the Jews. And they followed this star believing that its un-starlike path would take them to see the King/Child whom they wished to adore and for whom they brought gifts. This stellar phenomenon was not a comet, but, as several fathers believed, it was an angel, or perhaps a star made brighter than all others and moved by the will of an angel:“Behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was” (Matt. 2:9).
This brings me to another stellar phenomenon. It occurred on the day Saint Teresa of Avila died, October 4, in the year 1582, and it was annihilating in its scope, leaving nothing in its wake. Only one man on earth could have pulled off this stellar event and, not only have gotten away with it, but have practically the whole western world at the time, go along with it. Do you know who that man was? The Vicar of Christ, Pope Gregory XIII.
Joshua made the sun stand still for three hours, Gregory made the sun disappear for ten days. What Pope Gregory did in issuing the papal bull Inter gravissimas was to delete ten days off the Julian calendar, which had been keeping track of months and years in the west since 45 BC. The Julian calendar reformed the ancient Roman calendar and was based on the earth’s solar revolution. It accounted for 365.25 days every year. This was a huge improvement from the jumbled adaptations of the old Roman calendar, bringing the calendar within 26 seconds of an exact match with the earth’s annual trip around the sun. However, since the sun lagged behind the calendar 26 seconds annually, that accumulation, by 1582, added up to about ten days discrepancy. Due to their reactionary anti-papism, it took Protestant countries a couple of centuries to get with the program, which they all finally did. Britain, the last, didn’t surrender to common sense and international cooperation until 1752.
There is, of course, more to the Gregorian calendar reform, but what we have now will suffice for all practical purposes until the third millenium, when, from what I understand after reading some complicated articles on the subject, there will be another adjustment needed by either adding or subtracting another day to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year.
What does this have to do with Saint Teresa of Avila? Nothing. It is just a fascinating part of Church history that helps us not to forget the year of this great saint’s death and her feast day, October 15. Let me explain. Saint Teresa did not die on October 15; she was on her deathbed during the night of October 4, 1582, the feast of Saint Francis, and died in the wee hours of the next day — which the reader would reasonably assume to be October 5, the feast of Saint Placid and his companions. However, when the faithful in the West woke up the next day, it was not October 5, but October 15. Pope Gregory XIII chose that very night to erase ten days from the calendar. That’s why October 15, and not October 5 is her feast.
For those who were born between October 5 and October 15, 1582, they had to just endure a life without a birthday to celebrate. Then, again, I do not think that Catholics celebrated their birthdays in the Ages of Faith — that was something pagans did for their emperors and petty rulers, like Herod, for instance. Unless, perhaps, they gave thanks to their mother’s on their birthday. She is the one, after all, who deserves the applause, so to speak. I wonder about that. Our own dear Father Jarecki refused to cooperate in the celebration of anyone’s birthday (except Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist), rather he taught us to find out our baptismal day and make that day a cause for celebration.
Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us.