Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More on Relics - and Ferial Vespers - and Food

Being in didactic mood, here's some more about relics: now, besides my earlier comments, one notable Scriptural warrant for relics is that afforded by Eliseus taking up the mantle of Elias (dropt as he set off in that fiery chariot à la Erich von Däniken) and by its instrumentality working the wonder of parting the Jordan (IV Kings ii, 13f).  And in the sub-Apostolic age, the moving account surviving of the martyrdom of great St Polycarp (see the Letter of the Smyrnæans, chapters xvii & xviii) shews us his Christian flock desiring to "touch his holy flesh", made venerable by his holy life and death (xvii, 1; cf. xiii, 2-3) and so gathering his "his bones which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold" (xviii, 2) and declaring their due veneration thereof, as expressed through their keeping his annual festival as commemoration of his triumph and training for their own trials (xviii, 3), but duly distinguishing all this from their adoration and worship of God alone to the exclusion of other pretended gods (xvii, 2-3): for that was what their aged bishop had died to defend, after all.

The Fathers adduce four reasons for venerating relics, which of course in the beginning were always the relics of martyrs: (i) in their relics one sees the saints; (ii) the relics of those who bore witness even unto death acts as a spur to one's courage and constancy in persevering in all trials; (iii) the miracles worked through relics is testimony enough of God's approval thereof; and (iv) relics are the remains of our true friends, the saints made perfect, who are so close to the Lord and yet also to us their would-be coheirs.

As is well-known, a Traditional altar will contain the relics of saints (or, in the Byzantine Rite, the antimension - answering to the corporal - contains sewn into it such relics), whether the whole body of a martyr below the mensa, or small fragments in an altar-stone upon a temporary altar.  For this reason, at his ascension to the altar, the celebrant kisses the spot beneath which the relics lie, and prays Oramus te, Domine, per merita sanctorum tuorum, quorum reliquiæ hic sunt, et omnium sanctorum, ut indulgere digneris omnia peccata mea.  (Curiously, the prayer begins in the plural and ends in the singular! - "We pray Thee, Lord, by the merits of Thy holy ones, whose relics are here, and of all the saints, that Thou deign to forgive all my sins.")  Similarly, the Suscipe sancta Trinitas mentions - after Our Lady, the Baptist and the Princes of the Apostles - istorum et omnium sanctorum, where istorum ("of these") is considered to mean those saints whose relics are enshrined in the altar.  While of course the priest in kissing the altar principally acts to worship Christ, Whom the altar signifies and represents, the thought of subordinately revering His Saints, brought to heavenly glory by His Blood alone, is not absent.

There is of course a distinction to be made between the relative dulia paid to relics of the saints (a more intense veneration, by the way, than that due to sacred images: for in the icon the saint is religiously depicted, but in his relic his very earthly remains are present) and the absolute dulia paid to the saints in heaven, where they reign with Christ.  Aquinas handily distills the Church's teaching on relics in his inimitable Summa (III, xxv, 6).

Finally, there are four types of cultus to be lawfully rendered to relics: they may be exposed for veneration (and here it may be noted that reliquaries must not closely resemble monstrances, lest the faithful confuse the altogether singular adoration paid to the Blessed Sacrament with the religious regard paid to the remains of the saints); they may be borne in procession (as at the consecration of a church or altar or otherwise during the translation of relics or the solemnity of a saint - but in a distinct manner to that of a Eucharistic procession, of course); they may be kissed as a sign of reverence (this tending to prove the distinction between such lawful dulia, the supernatural counterpart of the natural honours paid to images of one's sovereign, and the latria paid to Christ in His Sacrament - for no one would dare attempt to kiss the Host, let alone imagine the far greater and dread privilege of receiving It did not Our Lord so command His Flesh be eaten); and they may used by priests as sacred instruments with which to bless the people, as once Eliseus took up the mantle of Elias to provoke the parting of the Jordan.


Since Oliver is taking his time moving in, our chapel is still usable, so Michael and I again used it for ferial Vespers.

For the record, Guéranger tells us that Vespers of All Relics is taken wholly from the Common of Many Martyrs, adding only the proper Collect (again, see my previous post) - this must be because relics are principally the mortal remains of martyrs (though in process of time they have come to encompass such traces of confessors and virgins as well), since the sacred relics of the countless hosts of early martyrs, those dauntless athletes of Christ and sharers in His Passion, were the first relics to be accorded veneration by the primitive Church, in memory of their faithful witness to the Lord: Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus!  By a process of deduction, it seems clear that Lauds and the Little Hours would also be taken wholly from that Common, with the addition of the proper Collect; moreover, Matins would surely be of the same, but with proper Lessons for the second Nocturn at least.

I think I'll now go and pray Vespers of All Holy Relics pro pia devotione...


Oh, and I've had a pleasant enough evening of cooking - which I find relaxing and engrossing in approximately equal portions, that's the recipe for happiness - serving up chicken kiev with cauliflower, broccoli and corn-on-the-cob for dinner here, while preparing a pork mini-roast (now sliced) to provide cold cuts for sandwiches, plus a chicken curry and a mulligatawny-inspired soup, both of which will serve for meals later this week.  I've also enjoyed a pork pie as a snack after work, before settling down to this serious business of cooking...

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