The Medal of St. Benedict
The Medal of St. Benedict has long been used as a means of fostering and expressing religious devotion. The medal is intended as a means of reminding us of God and of stirring up in us a ready willingness and desire to serve God and our neighbor. With this understanding we reject any use of it as if it were a mere charm or had some magic power to bring good luck or better health. Such is not the Christian attitude. That is not to say that devotion to God with attention to the medal is not a source of great help and power. Whoever wears this Medal with devotion, trusting in the life-giving power, may expect the powerful protection of the great patriarch of Western Monasticism in spiritual and temporal need.
Front: Saint Benedict
On the face of the medal is the image of St. Benedict. In his right hand he holds the cross, the Christian symbol of salvation. In St. Benedict's left hand is his rule for monasteries that could well be summed up in the words of the prologue exhorting us to "set out on this [God's] way, with the Gospel for our guide." On a pedestal to the right of St. Benedict is the poisoned cup, shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. On a pedestal to the left is a raven about to carry away the loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy sent to St. Benedict.
Flanking him on each side are the words:
Crux S. Patris Benedicti(The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict)
Below his feet are these words:
Ex S M Casino MDCCCLXXX
(From the Holy Mount of Cassino, 1880)
On that date, Monte Cassino was given the exclusive right to produce this medal. This is the medal struck to commemorate the 1400th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict
Inscribed in the circle surrounding Benedict are the words:
Ejus in obitu nostro presentia muniamur
(May his presence protect us in the hour of death)
Benedictines have always regarded St. Benedict as a special patron of a happy death. He himself died in the chapel at Montecassino while standing with his arms raised up to heaven, supported by the brothers of the monastery, shortly after he had received Holy Communion.
Reverse: Cross of Saint Benedict
The back side of the medal is the Cross.
The vertical beam of the Cross has five letters: C.S.S.M.L., meaning
Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux
(May the holy Cross be for me a light)
The horizontal beam of the Cross also has five letters: N.D.S.M.D., meaning
Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux
(Let not the dragon be my guide)
The four large letters at the angles of the Cross: C S P B stand for
Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti
(The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict)
Encircling the Cross in a circle around the right margin are these letters: V.R.S.N.S.M.V., meaning
Vade retro Satana; nunquam suade mihi vana
(Begone Satan! Suggest not to me thy vain things)
Around the left margin of the circle are these letters: S.M.Q.L.I.V.B., meaning
Sunt mala quae libas; ipse venena bibas
(The drink you offer is evil; drink that poison yourself)
At the top of the circle is the word
Purpose and Use
There is no special way prescribed for carrying or wearing the Medal of St. Benedict. It can be worn on a chain around the neck, attached to one's rosary, kept in one's pocket or purse, or placed in one's car or home. The medal is often put into the foundations of houses and buildings, on the walls of barns and sheds, or in one's place of business.
The purpose of using the medal in any of the above ways is to call down God's blessing and protection upon us, wherever we are, through the intercession of St. Benedict. By the conscious and devout use of the medal it becomes a constant silent prayer and reminder to us of our dignity as followers of Christ.
The medal is a prayer of exorcism against Satan, a prayer for strength in time of temptation, a prayer for peace among ourselves and among the nations of the world, a prayer that the cross of Christ be our light and guide, a prayer of firm rejection of all that is evil, a prayer of petition that we may with Christian courage walk in God's ways, with the Gospel as our guide, as St. Benedict urges us.
A profitable spiritual experience can be ours if we but take the time to study the array of inscriptions and representations found on the two sides of the medal. The lessons found there can be pondered over and over to bring true peace of mind and heart into our lives as we struggle to overcome the weaknesses of our human nature and realize that our human condition is not perfect, but that with the help of God and the intercession of the saints our condition can become better.
The Medal of St. Benedict can serve as a constant reminder of the need for us to take up our cross daily and follow "the true King, Christ the Lord," and thus learn to "share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom," as St. Benedict urges us in the prologue of his rule.
By a rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Religious (4 May 1965), lay oblates of St. Benedict are permitted to wear the Medal of St. Benedict instead of the small, black cloth scapular formerly worn. This medal is presented to oblate candidates during their candidacy ceremony.
By a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (6 March 1959), the Blessing of St. Maurus over the sick is permitted to be given with a Medal of St. Benedict instead of with a relic of the True Cross, since the latter is difficult to obtain.
From the writings of St. Gregory the Great (540-604), we know that St. Benedict had a deep faith in the cross. In his frequent combats with the evil spirit he made use of the sign of the cross and worked miracles. St. Gregory the Great, a promoter of Benedictine life, in his Dialogues (II:4) represents St. Benedict as dispelling his own temptations by the sign of the cross. It is also fitting that on the Medal of St. Benedict we should find represented the poisoned cup broken by the sign of the cross that the saint made over it when the degenerate monks of Vico Varo endeavored to kill him by mixing poison with his drink. St. Gregory says that when St. Benedict made the sign of the cross over the cup, it was shattered as if struck by a stone.
This faith in, and special devotion to, the cross was passed on to succeeding generations of Benedictines, notably Ss. Maurus and Placid, his first and most renowned disciples, who worked numerous miracles through the power of the Holy Cross and in the name of their holy founder.
Devotion to the cross of Christ also gave rise to the striking of medals that bore the image of St. Benedict holding a cross aloft in his right hand and his rule for monasteries in his left hand. Thus, the cross has always been closely associated with the Medal of St. Benedict.
Other additions were made over time, such as the Latin petition on the margin of the medal, asking that by St. Benedict's presence we may be strengthened in the hour of death. We do not know just when the first medal of St. Benedict was struck. At some point in history a series of capital letters was placed around the large figure of the cross on the reverse side of the medal. For a long time the meaning of these letters was unknown, but in 1647 a manuscript dating back to 1415 was found at the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria giving an explanation of the letters.
It Is doubtful when the Medal of St. Benedict originated. During a trial For witchcraft at Natternberg near the Abbey of Metten In Bavaria In the year 1647, the accused women testified that they had no power over Metten, which was under the protection of the cross. Upon investigation, a number of painted crosses, surrounded by the letters which are now found On Benedictine medals, were found On the walls of the abbey, but their meaning had been forgotten. Finally, In an old manuscript, written In 1415, was found a picture representing St. Benedict holding In one hand a staff which ends In a cross, And a scroll In the other. On the staff And scroll were written In full the words of which the mysterious letters were the initials. Medals bearing the image of St. Benedict, a cross, And these letters began now To be struck In Germany, And soon spread over Europe. They were first approved by Benedict XIV In his briefs of 23 December, 1741, And 12 March, 1742.
The medal just described (and pictured above) is the jubilee medal, which was struck first In 1880, to commemorate the fourteenth centenary of St. Benedict's birth. The Archabbey of Monte Cassino has the exclusive right to strike this medal. The ordinary medal of St. Benedict usually differs from the preceding in the omission of the words "Ejus in obitu etc.", and in a few minor details. Any priest may receive the faculties to bless these medals.
Blessing of the Medal
Medals of St. Benedict are sacramentals that may be blessed legitimately by any priest-not necessarily a Benedictine (Instr., 26 Sept. 1964; Can. 1168). The following English form may be used.
v. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
r. Who made heaven and earth.
In the name of God the Father + almighty, who made heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, I exorcise these medals against the power and attacks of the evil one. May all who use these medals devoutly be blessed with health of soul and body. In the name of the Father W almighty, of the Son W Jesus Christ our Lord, and of the Holy W Spirit the Paraclete, and in the love of the same Lord Jesus Christ who will come on the last day to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.
Let us pray. Almighty God, the boundless source of all good things, we humbly ask that, through the intercession of St. Benedict, you pour out your blessings + upon these medals. May those who use them devoutly and who earnestly strive to perform good works be blessed by you with health of soul and body, the grace of a holy life, and remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.
May they also with the help of your merciful love, resist the temptation of the evil one and strive to exercise true charity and justice toward all, so that one day they may appear sinless and holy in your sight. This we ask through Christ our Lord.
The medals are then sprinkled with holy water.
GUERANGER, Essai sur l'origine, la signification et les privileges de la medaille ou croix de S. Benoit (Poitiers, 1862; 11th ed., Paris, 1890); CORBIERRE, Numismatique Benedictine (Rome, 1901); KNIEL, Die St. Benediktsmedaille, ihre Geschichte, Bedeutung, Ablasse u. wunderbare Wirkungen (Ravensburg, 1905).
MICHAEL OTT, Transcribed by Herman F. Holbrook, Sancti Patris Benedicti in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur.