Wednesday, July 8, 2009

St Elizabeth of Portugal

To-day Holy Mother Church bids us venerate a Queen and Widow, a peacemaker; not she who is Queen of Queens and yes, wonderful to say, Widow of St Joseph, her well-beloved spouse, and moreover Immaculate Virgin Mother of He Who Is our Peace, but a dear spiritual daughter of Our Lady, to whom she appeared to forewarn her of her death: that is to say, St Elizabeth of Portugal (or, of Aragon), "the Peacemaker".  (Her great-aunt and namesake is St Elizabeth of Hungary; however, in Spain and Portugal she is known as Isabel, Elizabeth not being a common Iberian name.)

The Breviary gives us the clue to why this St Elizabeth (1271-1336) deserves a universal cult among Christians: for her Office begins with a proper Invitatory - "Let us praise our God in the holy works of blessed Elizabeth".  Yes, as is proper for a widow, according to St Paul, she had "the witness of her good works" (I Tim. v, 10) and diligently "pursued every good work" (ibid.): her own special grace was the God-given ability to bring peace to warring parties among her royal relatives, over and above her perseverance in righteousness, prayer and alms-deeds.  Having since her youth prayed the whole Divine Office, and seeking after ever greater perfection, upon her husband's death she retired to a cloister of Poor Clares, but came forth therefrom, when already nigh unto death, to bring peace yet once more to her feuding relations.  "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God."  (St Matthew v, 9.)  At her death, she went to be with her heavenly Father, who called home His adopted daughter, a true sister of His Son.  It was for her bright-shining miracles, signifying this, the Lord's everlasting delight in her virtues, that, centuries later, Urban VIII wrote her name among those of the Saints.

Her true royalty derives not from her blue blood, but from God crowning her, so crowning His own gifts.  She rightly imitates her namesake the mother of the Baptist: we, her neighbours and kinsfolk in Christ, in the fellowship of the Saints, rejoice with her that God's mercy has been so magnified in her (cf. St Luke i, 58), for she and her dear husband King Denis, once a sinner but converted by her example, "were just before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord" (St Luke i, 6).  How is this possible to men?  Because the Holy Ghost dwells in the heart of the Christian, gracing and supernaturalizing, enabling us to fulfil the New Law of love.

The Hours of St Elizabeth provide selections from Proverbs xxxi, the pæan to the Valiant Woman, and also feature two proper hymns (well worth serious consideration, with verses like "...Blessed charity, able to place us in the ark of stars for all ages.."), plus a proper Collect - which reminds us to seek the one thing necessary, the Kingdom of God, over and above all other good things, which we ask in and through and because of Jesus Christ, our King and Lord:

Clementissime Deus, qui beatam Elisabeth reginam, inter ceteras egregias dotes, bellici furori sedandi prærogativa decorasti: da nobis, ejus intercessione: post mortalis vitæ, quam suppliciter petimus, ad æterna gaudia pervenire.  Per...

(Most clement God, Who beautified blessed Elizabeth the Queen, amongst other illustrious endowments, with the prerogative of calming warlike fury: give to us, at her intercession, what we suppliantly entreat: to come to eternal joys after this mortal life.  Through...)

[This is, I think, a beautiful prayer: note the regal terms "Queen" and [royal] "prerogative", the feminine terms "beautified" and "dowries"...]

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