Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Church is in Need of Her Saints.

     Saints have an undefined place within the Anglican Church. They are present everywhere in art or music, but the Church does not actively promote the veneration of saints in liturgy or in private devotion. Many Churches of the Anglican Communion have books for the Lesser Feasts of saints, but their use is again, undefined. Although many of the cults of saints have been suppressed since the reformation in the 16th century, the Anglican Church has had a definite place for Saints for longer than it hasn't...for one thousand years before the reformation of the 16th century. In the last thirty or forty years, several cathedrals in the Church of England and elsewhere in the British Isles have restored the shrines of the Saints whose pilgrims provided the money for the magnificent churches that still stand today.

     Most notably, the shrines restored are at St. Alban's Cathedral of St. Alban the protomartyr of Britain, Durham Cathedral of St. Cuthbert, Oxford Cathedral of St. Frideswide, St. David's Cathedral in Wales, Chichester Cathedral of St. Richard, the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, Hereford Cathedral of St. Thomas, the shrine at Pennant Melangell in Wales, and York Minster Cathedral of St. William. The saints of those churches sustained their presence across the country even through the iconoclastic trials of the Edwardian reign in the 1540s. Their images survive in sculpture and stained glass, and their stories in cathedral libraries and local legends. A revival of the veneration of saints would echo all of human's need to first mourn for their dead and second to look to those who have died as role models...especially of the Christian Faith.

     A pronounced return to the cults of Saints, both ancient and modern, would provide a stronger foundation for both congregational and personal devotion for members of the Church as well as providing another path to bring persons into the Body of Christ.

     So how would saints be included in our everyday lives or worship? Many parishes have set up small altars dedicated to their patron or an image somewhere in the church where people can contemplate the actions and life of such a saint. Although images and relics have an historically awkward place in the Anglican Church as their veneration was banned in the 39 articles, the practice of placing candles before and image of a saint is not much different from placing flowers on the graves or by the images of our own dead.

     Saints are those holy men and women who have led an exemplary Christian life. They were never seen as persons with divine status by any part of the medieval church. Rather, saints were venerated because they were seen as examples of how dedicated a Christian should be to Christ whether they were a pauper martyred as they "took up the cross" and refused to renounce Christ even unto death or a bishop who dedicated the whole of his episcopate to humbly serving the dispossessed of his diocese while his lordly colleagues enjoyed their episcopal palaces.

     The Church owes much of her existence to these men and women who died for the faith or kept clean the Church of corruption. Today by placing a candle before the image or relic of a saint we are both thanking our mortal ancestors for giving us the Church and praying that we as Christians might be able to imitate the extreme dedication to Christ that these saints exercised.

     Reviving the cults of saints also means that the Church should look for the saints who may not have been historically recognized as such. Samuel Seabury has made his way into the U.S. Episcopal Church's  "Lesser Feasts and Fasts" book. But many lesser known priests and laypeople might deserve to be recognised as saints locally. After all, many of the saints of the middle ages were local religious or laypeople who were locally seen as holy people in their dedication to Christ for the variety of acts that they performed. Saints don't have to make miracles, at least not the kind of miracle where people are healed by touching the holy person's cloak or where a spring appears on the spot where the saint died. But men and women who dedicate their life to Christ replicate in our own power various acts of Christ. These acts are the miracles that we have to look for and aim to imitate ourselves. As St. David of Wales said on his deathbed "remember the little things that I did"...St. David, the 6th century bishop of Menevia, became the most venerated saint in all of Wales and remains so today.

     Besides the devotion to saints within parishes, the saints are a way to bring parishes and dioceses to become more intimate with each other as One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church though pilgrimage. Pilgrimage to particular churches or the cathedral of the diocese not only encourages a constant religious use of the church buildings but also associates churches with the holiness of a particular saint. The Greek Orthodox Church in my area of northern New Jersey brings bishops, priests, and lay people alike together on various saints feast days at churches dedicated to that saint. The Anglican Church can create a similar aura of diocesan unity through gathering for example at a church dedicated to St. Andrew on St. Andrew's day or by having an annual pilgrimage to the diocesan cathedral or to another parish church from the parishes of the diocese on the diocese's or cathedral's patronal feast day.

     Parishes should encourage devotion to saints because saints provide examples of how a Christian life should look. The saints devoted their lives to Christ; their every action was based on Christ's own actions and commandments. The Church should encourage her flock to replicate the actions of those who have supported her in the that she can flourish and continue to proclaim the risen Christ in the future.

Dedication of the rebuilt shrine of St. David, St. David's Cathedral, Wales.
"Remember the little things that I did."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene... The Apostle of Apostles, July 22.

St. Mary Magdalene by El Greco.
St. Mary Magdalene is a peculiar figure in the New Testament, and yet was one of the most faithful disciple to Jesus. What is truly remarkable about Mary Magdalene is that although she was a sinner, she is the most important women in the bible following Mary the Blessed Virgin as one of the first human beings to see Christ after the Resurrection.

Mary Magdalene first appears as one of the many whom Jesus healed of an illness in Luke described as to have come from Galilee. The illness is described as seven demons which are really sins. And a sinner, she became very intimate with the  12 disciples and with Jesus and is present at the most important events that Christians now celebrate as Triduum. Since the Middle Ages she has been identified as one the prostitutes that was saved by Jesus and as the women who anointed the feet of Jesus at the Last supper with perfume, Mary of Bethany. She was present at the Crucifixion where she is often depicted as one of the mourning women beneath the cross. After the Crucifixion she is among those who brought ointment to bury Jesus after She, Mary the Mother, and Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus off the cross. For this reason she is often depicted holding a jar of perfume and is known to the Orthodox Churches as one of the Myrrhbearers the feast of whom is celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter. Finally Mary Magdalene is one of the first to meet Jesus after the Resurrection when she and Mary the Mother of James go revisit the tomb and find that the stone had been removed. Mary has been know as the "Apostle of Apostles" or the "first Apostle" because she was the first to speak with Jesus at the Resurrection when he told her "Go and tell the others that I am risen." And later "I is I who appeared to these women and who wanted to send them to you as apostles." Mary Magdalene is the first person to spread the good news of the resurrection of Christ.

After the Pentecost there is some controversy over what became of Mary Magdalene. The Orthodox Churches maintain that she retired with Mary the Mother of Jesus to Ephesus where she died and from which her relics were translated to Constantinople where they remain to this day.

The Western tradition holds that she came to a came to France with other Christians and worked as an apostle in what is now Provence. She then retired to a cave in "St. Baume" where she died.

The cave at St. Baume is still an important place of pilgrimage even though many know of the opposing stories. National Geographic recently cited the response of local of St. Baume when questioned on this, saying "There was a priest who lived here at the cave for many decades. He said that while it's impossible to know if Mary Magdalene truly came here in the first century, that certainly was of less importance. She's here now."

St. Mary Magdalene, as the first Apostle, is important to us today both because she is the first to proclaim the risen Christ and because she shows us how sinners and outcasts can be reconciled by the love of Christ.
The monastery at the cave of St. Baume, France.

Litany to St. Mary Magdalene

Lord, have mercy on us. 
Christ, have mercy on us. 
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. 
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
Saint Mary Magdalene, Pray for us.
Sister of Martha and Lazarus, Pray for us. 
Who didst enter the Pharisee's house to anoint the feet of Jesus, Pray for us. 
Who didst wash His feet with thy tears, Pray for us. 
Who didst dry them with thy hair, Pray for us. 
Who didst cover them with kisses, Pray for us. 
Who wast vindicated by Jesus before the proud Pharisee, Pray for us. 
Who from Jesus received the pardon of thy sins, Pray for us. 
Who before darkness wast restored to light, Pray for us.
Mirror of penance, Pray for us.
 Disciple of Our Lord, Pray for us. 
Wounded with the love of Christ, Pray for us. 
Most dear to the Heart of Jesus, Pray for us. 
Constant woman, Pray for us.
Last at the Cross of Jesus, first at His tomb, Pray for us. 
Thou who wast the first to see Jesus risen, Pray for us. 
Whose forehead was sanctified by the touch of thy risen Master, Pray for us.
 Apostle of apostles, Pray for us. 
Who didst choose the "better part," Pray for us. 
Who lived for many years in solitude being miraculously fed, Pray for us. 
Who wast visited by angels seven times a day, Pray for us. 
Sweet advocate of sinners, Pray for us. 
Spouse of the King of Glory, Pray for us.

V. Saint Mary Magdalene, earnestly intercede for us with thy Divine Master
R. That we may share thy happiness in heaven.

Let us pray. May the glorious merits of blessed Mary Magdalene, we beseech Thee, O Lord, make our offerings acceptable to Thee: for Thine only-begotten Son vouchsafed graciously to accept the humble service she rendered. Who livest and reignest with Thee and the Holy Ghost, God for ever and ever. R. Amen.

May the prayers of blessed Mary Magdalene help us, O Lord : for it was in answer to them that Thou didst call her brother Lazarus, four days after death, back from the grave to life. Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, Unity in Trinity, world without end. R. Amen.

Prayer Source: Kyrie Eleison — Two Hundred Litanies by Benjamin Francis Musser O.F.M., The Magnificat Press, 1944