Saturday, December 29, 2007

Murder in the Cathedral

A pity that today is no longer St Thomas à Becket's feast; I suppose the late pre-Conciliar liturgical reformers felt it intruded into the Christmas Octave in a way that the first-millennium, immemorially celebrated feasts of St Stephen, St John, and the Holy Innocents didn't.

In any case, after making my humble confession this morning, I was delighted to read the start of the Epistle to the Romans (1:1-19, at the end of Matins; vide infra), and after some more psalms and such the collect of the Octave, followed soon by the collect of the Saint, while saying Lauds, since both proved so apposite:

Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet; quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet.  Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum.  R/.  Amen.

(Grant, we beseech, almighty God, that the new birth of Thy Onlybegotten in the flesh may deliver us, whom the old bondage doth hold under the yoke of sin.  Thro' Christ our Lord.  R/.  Amen.)

As Ven. Jean-Jacques Olier used to say forcefully, "We must slay the old man" – thus terrifying the gardener, who was listening at the chapter-room window while weeding!  Only Christ, by His Nativity coming to us in the flesh, can so apply the merits of His passion to us via the physical instrumentality of His Humanity so we can be delivered from the age-old slavery to sin, Satan, death and hell.  We pray that His will may be done in us, that our earth become His heaven.

Deus, pro cujus Ecclesiæ gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit: præsta, quæsumus; ut omnes, qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutaris consequantur effectum.  Per Christum Dominum nostrum.  R/.  Amen.

(O God, for Whose Church the glorious Pontiff Thomas was slain by the swords of the ungodly: grant, we beseech Thee, that all, who implore his aid, may obtain the saving effect of their petition.  Through Christ our Lord.  R/.  Amen.)

I pictured to myself all England, if not all Christendom, in past ages making their way to the glorious shrine of the blessed martyr at Canterbury, as Chaucer has immortalized it, there to pray for relief from all their troubles, confident in receiving ready aid – and we too can turn to the holy martyr in like confidence, as a very friend of God, elect and precious; and then I recalled how wicked Henry VIII despoiled the shrine and burnt the sacred relics within.  How the children of the world hate the children of the Kingdom...

In charity we pray that Henry will not burn world without end, tho' it seems likely that that tyrant, so given to lust, schism, heresy and murder, may well, alas, have remained resistant to grace until the last.  Mors peccatorum pessima.  A warning to the would-be penitent not to return to his old path like a dog to its vomit!

To return to Romans 1:1-19... I was struck, first, by the wonderful dense description the Apostle gives of the Son of God: "made of the seed of David according to the flesh... predestinated to be the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification... Jesus Christ our Lord"; second, by the realization that, given how greatly St Paul must have prayed "for all the churches" while on earth, how much greater it must be in heaven, where he lives and reigns as a saint amongst saints; third, that the Good News of Jesus Christ "is the power of God unto salvation unto every believer" – and why? – because God's wrath has been revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, not in blazing anger, not in eternal condemnation, but in a Babe born for us, a Son given for us: Who hath taken our sin upon Himself, thus appeasing Divine justice and fulfilling Divine love – the two are one – as the spotless Lamb, Who taketh away the sins of the world (cf. Dix, Power of God; wherein he takes these verses as the start for his meditations on the Seven Last Words).

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