Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies
THE COLLECTS OF THE ROMAN MISSAL: DECEMBER 31st, 2017 A.D. - ST. THOMAS BECKETT
For this week's meditation on the Collects of the Roman Missal, we consider the Collect for the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (MR '62). Below is the translation of this Collect from the Angelus Press edition of the Daily Roman Missal :
"O God, for the sake of Whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas fell by the sword of ungodly men: grant, we beseech Thee, that all who implore his aid, may obtain the good fruit of their petition. Through our Lord, etc. Amen."
Within the joy and splendor of the Church's Christmas Octave, there are several feast days of martyrs. We have St. Stephen on the 26th, St. John the Apostle on 27th, (not a martyr, but he nevertheless endured an attempted martyrdom and eventually died in exile), the Holy Innocents on the 28th, and finally, St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury on the 29th. St. Thomas died in defense of the superior authority of the Church over the Crown, and more specifically, the legitimate authority of the Church's canonical discipline independent of civil interference. He was hacked down by some of King Henry II's soldiers in his own cathedral during Solemn Vespers on December 29, 1170. The red poinsettias adorning our altar fittingly complement the red vestments worn to commemorate our beloved martyrs.
To an outsider, all of these feasts of martyrs might seem too close in proximity to the joys of Christmas, as if to conflict with the central tone of the season, but this is not so. The martyrs' great love for Christ is the supreme witness to Christ's love for us. The red vestments that solemnly commemorate the precious blood of these saints draws us into the mystery of Our Lord's Precious Blood shed for us on the Cross, for which cause He took on flesh at Christmas.
These solemn feast days of the martyrs are full of Christmas joy, because we celebrate their triumph and their entrance into heavenly glory. As we contemplate the visible face of the Christ Child, we celebrate the fact that they now see that same Lord face-to-face. This, in turn, impels us onward in hope, so that we, too, might one day see Our Lord's glorious face.
When my wife Ellen and I visited Canterbury in May 2016, it was a great joy to venerate both the exact spot of St. Thomas' martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral, as well as a few of his relics in the Catholic Parish of St. Thomas Becket near the Cathedral. As any Catholic who has been on pilgrimage knows, it is absolutely thrilling to visit the places where our beloved saints lived and died. This principle stems from the Incarnation- Christ became Man at a specific time and in a specific place. Therefore, these holy sites, whether those linked directly with Our Lord or those linked to the saints, are irrevocably part of salvation history, and their story becomes part of ours (even if we are unable to travel). These places allow us to draw near to Christ and His saints in new ways, and therefore, they can serve as instruments for our own conversion and growth in grace. (cf. Thomas Howard, On Being Catholic, pp. 175-176, where he makes some similar points on the practice of pilgrimage).
This incarnational principle is especially true for the holy sites of martyrs. The merits of their deaths participate in a supreme way in the infinite merits of the Blood of Christ. Thus, to venerate their relics and the spots where they shed their blood for Him, and to offer there our own petitions and thanksgivings, is to participate in an powerful and fruitful way in their heavenly intercession for ourselves and those dear to us. This is the sense of the Collect above. It is not that the saints do for us whatever we ask them. Rather, it is this: as we joyfully and lovingly honor them, we seek the purifying effect of their prayers upon our own. Even as we make specific requests, we ultimately trust to receive answers to our prayers that will conform us more perfectly to the loving will of God.
|Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.