Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Six Candles for St George

I thought I was going to be late for Mass, but arrived instead just before Fr gave Benediction; the sanctuary looked suitably mysterious, with twenty candles ablaze. Since George (happy feast day, mate!) had served the Holy Hour thus concluded, Fr Rowe popped out after the end thereof to ask if I would serve his Low Mass, and I gladly assented, quickly getting vested and putting out my hand missal on the gospel side of the footpace just before Mass...

That hand missal nearly occasioned a disaster; after giving me Holy Communion, Fr nearly tripped on it (now at the epistle side) when descending to the altar rails with the ciborium. However, he didn't seem worried afterward.

Why were the big six all alight? Well, since electrical work is going on in the school buildings next door, we had no power today, and Fr had George leave the altar candles alight, after snuffing out and removing the Exposition candelabrae, so as to be able to see! (It has been a rainy, cloudy morning.)

Why St George and the dragon? The tale as told is pretty obviously that of Perseus and Andromeda in Christian dress. But of course the iconography is symbolic: George, the military man who was martyred for Christ, fights the good fight of the Faith, and by the weapons of truth and grace, bearing the shield and armour and helmet of faith and purity, truly defeats sin, Satan, death and hell (who are the real actors behind the cruel Roman persecutor, their minion) and thus rescues the beautiful woman who is an image of the Bride of Christ, whether as the Church or as every Christian soul, that she may have eternal life with Christ Our Lord in heaven. He rides upon a white horse, just as does his Master, the Victorious Conqueror, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Who is called Faithful and True. It is another example of a true myth, which retells in allegory what really transpired when, in the eyes of the scoffing world, a fool died in torment for not obeying Caesar when the ruler of this world demanded obedience to 'the way things are' (which to the believer in Truth would have meant apostasy and idolatry). The legend thus compares to the similar tale of St Patrick casting out the snakes from Ireland, which obviously signifies his driving off that isle all pagan idolatry and wickedness.

Here are the collects from the 1962 and the 1969 Missals:

Deus, qui nos beati Georgii Martyris tui meritis et intercessione laetificas: concede propitius; ut, qui tua per eum beneficia poscimus, dono tuae gratiae consequamur. Per...

(O God, Who dost rejoice us by the merits and intercession of blessed George Thy Martyr, be pleased to grant that, as we implore through him Thy benefits, so we may follow [after him] by the gift of Thy grace. Through...)

Magnificantes, Domine, potentiam tuam, supplices exoramus, ut, sicut beatus Georgius dominicae fuit passionis imitator, ita sit fragilitatis nostrae promputs adjutor. Per...

(Magnifying, Lord, Thy power, bowing down we humbly pray that, as blessed George was made an imitator of the Lord's Passion, so he may be a prompt helper of our frailty. Through...)

The late Marquess of Bute, in a footnote to his translation of the Breviary, says: "This saint is one of the most popular in Christendom, but who he was, and indeed everything about him, except the fact of martyrdom, is enveloped in the greatest obscurity. The labours of the Bollandists tend to show that he was a soldier by profession, and that he is a martyr (otherwise anonymous) who was tortured to death for pulling down the edict of Diocletian against Christianity, at Nicomedia, in A.D. 303. He seems, says Alban Butler, to have been arrested on Good Friday, (April 16,) and after having been tortured for eight days, to have received his crown on the Friday following, April 23. He was the first victim of Diocletian's persecution."

My best wishes to all English Catholics on this 1st class feast/solemnity! I will not cry, however, without some pain, "God for England, Harry and St George!" - for yesterday was the lamented anniversary of the day when, in 1509, bad King Henry VIII ascended the throne of his Catholic forefathers, and soon enough brought heresy, schism and persecution into the realm once styled Our Lady's dowry.

Here's a nice apposite hymn, from that fine Anglo-Catholic production, The English Hymnal:

Lord God of Hosts, within Whose hand
Dominion rests on sea and land,
Before Whose word of life or death
The strength of nations is but breath:
O King, enthroned all thrones above,
Give strength unto the land we love.

Thou Breath of Life since time began,
Breathing upon the lips of man,
Hast taught each kindred race to raise
United word to sound Thy praise:
So, in this land, join, we beseech,
All hearts and lips in single speech.

To George our saint Thou gavest grace
Without one fear all foes to face,
And to confess by faithful death
That Word of Life which was his breath.
O help us, Helper of Saint George,
To fear not bonds that man can forge.

Arm us like him, who in Thy trust
Beat down the dragon in the dust;
So that we too may tread down sin
And with Thy saints a crown may win.
Help us, O God, that we may be
A land acceptable to Thee.

The Divine Office, in its Supplement for England and Wales, includes this hymn:

Leader now on earth no longer,
Soldier of th'eternal King,
Victor in the fight for heaven,
We thy loving praises sing.
Great Saint George, our patron, help us,
In the conflict be thou nigh;
Help us in that daily battle,
Where each one must win or die.

Praise him who in deadly battle
Never shrank from foeman's sword,
Proof against all earthly weapon,
Gave his life for Christ the Lord.
Great Saint George...

Who, when earthly war was over,
Fought, but not for earth's renown;
Fought, and won a nobler glory
Won the martyr's purple crown.
Great Saint George...

After Mass we repaired to the strangely named "Magic Apple" for morning tea cum early lunch. In about an hour I'm going to the bloodbank to make a donation.

And, of course, tonight is the April assembly of the Fratres Oratorii, founded late last year; this is only our fourth session, unfortunately, but hopefully we can be more regular in the future...

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