29 May 2015

Our fine young men...

At the Academy students' Mass on Friday morning all the Eighth Grade boys vested and processed. They have been serving regularly at Mass, some of them for many years. Although most of them will be staying with us for their high school years, some will be going elsewhere, and we wanted them at the altar all together one last time as Eighth Graders. Here's a picture taken afterwards in the courtyard.

24 May 2015

St. Bede the Venerable

A man venerated as an example of holiness even before his death, the name of St. Bede describes his life. From the Old English word bēd, which means prayer, he was devoted to God, to His worship, and to the study of His truth. Living from about the year 672 until 26 May 735, Bede was born on the lands of the Northumbrian monastery in which he died. Brilliant by the standards of any age, he was regarded for his goodness as much as for his scholarship. He died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips, and some time before, he had written what is known as his Death Song:

Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

Before the unavoidable journey there, no one becomes
wiser in thought than him who, by need,
ponders, before his going hence,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his day of death, will be judged.

Heavenly Father, who didst call thy servant St. Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to thy service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship; Grant that as he laboured in the Spirit to bring the riches of thy truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make thee known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

23 May 2015

Fr. Hunwicke on Pentecost

On the Solemnity of Pentecost last year, Fr. Hunwicke preached this sermon, which is well worth hearing again.

16 May 2015

The Ascension of Our Lord

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that like as we do believe thy Only Begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

A hymn of glory let us sing;
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.

The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
And with His followers they see,
Jesus’ resplendent majesty.

To whom the angels, drawing nigh:
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?”
Alleluia! Alleluia!
“This is the Savior,” thus they say,
“This is His noble triumph day.”

“Again shall ye behold Him so
As ye today have seen Him go,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky.”

The Venerable Bede (673-735);
Trans. by Benjamin Webb, 1854

14 May 2015

Novena to the Holy Ghost

The first novena was prayed by the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the small company of those who had been with the Lord Jesus. After His ascension, they "devoted themselves to prayer," until the coming of the Holy Ghost. 
This year the Novena should begin on Friday, May 15th. The prayers of the Novena may be abbreviated by using only the Proper Prayer each day, and the concluding Collect.

In the Name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Each day, the Novena begins with this prayer:

O HOLY SPIRIT, our Lord and our God, we adore thee and humbly acknowledge here in thy sacred presence that we are nothing, and can do nothing, without thy operation within us. Come, great Paraclete, thou Father of the poor, thou Comforter of the blest, fulfill the promise of our Saviour, who would not leave us orphans, and enter our minds and hearts as thou didst descend on the day of Pentecost upon the Holy Mother of Jesus and upon His first disciples. Grant that we may have a part in those gifts which thou didst so graciously bestow upon them.

Take from our hearts all that is not pleasing to thee and make of them a worthy dwelling-place for Jesus. Illumine our minds, that we may see and understand the things that are for our eternal welfare. Inflame our hearts with the pure love of the Father, that, cleansed from attachments to all unworthy objects, our lives may be hidden with Jesus in God. Strengthen our wills, that they may be conformed to the will of our Creator and guided by thy holy inspirations. Aid us to practice the heavenly virtues of humility, poverty, and obedience which are taught to us in the earthly life of Jesus.

Descend upon us, O mighty Spirit, that, inspired and encouraged by thee, we may faithfully fulfill the duties of our various states in life, carry our particular crosses with patience and courage, and accomplish the Father's will for us more perfectly. Make us, day by day, more holy and give to us that heavenly peace which the world cannot give.

O Holy Spirit, thou Giver of every good and perfect gift, grant to us our special intentions of this novena of prayer. May the Father's will be done in us and through us; and mayest thou, O mighty Spirit of the living God, be praised and glorified for ever and ever. Amen.

Here is said or sung the Veni Creator Spiritus:

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire,
thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blesséd unction from above,
is comfort, life, and fire of love,
enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face
with the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home;
where thou art Guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but One;
that through the ages all along,
this may be our endless song:

Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

OUR FATHER, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy Name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Here is said the Proper Prayer for the Day:

Come, O Holy Ghost, the Lord and Lifegiver; take up thy dwelling within our souls, and make of them thy sacred home. Make us live by grace as adopted children of God. Pervade all the energies of our souls, and create in us fountains of living water, springing up unto eternal life.

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to our souls the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, and power, and beauty. Teach us to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Show us the way by which we may be able to attain to them, and possess them, and hold them hereafter, our own forever.

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation, and may merit at last to see the eternal light in thy light; and in the light of glory to have the clear vision of thee and the Father and the Son.

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide us in all our ways, that we may always do thy holy will. Incline our hearts to that which is good, turn them away from all that is evil, and direct us by the path of thy commandments to the goal of eternal life.

Come, O Spirit of Fortitude, and give courage to our souls. Make our hearts strong in all trials and in all distress, pouring forth abundantly into them the gifts of strength, that we may be able to resist the attacks of the devil.

Come, O Spirit of Knowledge, and make us to understand and despise the emptiness and nothingness of the world. Give us grace to use the world only for thy glory and the salvation of thy creatures. May we always be faithful in putting thy rewards before every earthly gift.

Come, O Spirit of Piety, possess our hearts, and incline them to a true faith in thee, to a holy love of thee, our God. Give us thy grace, that we may seek thee and find thee, our best and our truest joy.

Come, O Spirit of holy Fear, penetrate our inmost hearts, that we may set thee, our Lord and God, before our faces forever; and shun all things that can offend thee, so that we may be made worthy to appear before the pure eyes of thy divine Majesty in the heaven of heavens.

Come, O Holy Comforter, and grant us a desire for holy things. Produce in our souls the fruits of virtue, so that, being filled with all sweetness and joy in the pursuit of good, we may attain unto eternal blessedness.

The following prayer concludes the Novena each day:

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth with thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

13 May 2015

Feast of St. Matthias

St. Matthias had been a follower of Jesus and was probably one of the seventy-two disciples. After our Lord’s ascension into heaven, the nascent Church was gathered in prayer and St. Peter said that it was right to choose an apostle to replace Judas. He said it should be someone who had been with Jesus from the time of His baptism in the Jordan until the ascension. Two names were proposed: one was Matthias, and the other was Joseph, called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus). Both of them were good men, but since the Church needed only one, they prayed and asked God to reveal the right choice. This is where the “casting of lots” came in. Sometimes people have the mistaken notion that this was akin to gambling, or some kind of game of chance, and there are those who think perhaps it wasn’t the most appropriate means of determining God’s Will in the matter.

Actually, casting lots was a fairly common way of making a decision. When we look back through Scripture, we come across it quite often. It was the method used to choose the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:8); it was used to determine the priests’ duties in the temple (I Chronicles 24:5); during the terrible storm at sea, poor Jonah was determined to be the guilty one by the casting of lots (Jonah 1:7). For us, it has the unsavoury connection with the crucifixion, since it was by casting lots that the soldiers divided our Lord’s clothing (St. Matthew 27:35). In the case of choosing a replacement for Judas, it was settled in this way because of the very fact that both candidates were equally good. Casting lots was done in different ways, but a common way of doing it was to put the necessary number of polished stones of different colour in a container, and to shake it until one stone fell out, determining the choice. Whatever we might think of the method, it certainly worked. St. Matthias proved to be such a good apostle that after spreading the Gospel in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), Egypt and Ethiopia, he was so successful he ended up being martyred for his efforts.

There are plenty of things we can get out of the account of the choosing of Matthias, but I like the thought that the dignity of apostleship seemed to hang by the thread of chance – and yet it wasn’t really chance, was it? God had His plan all worked out, and Peter (along with the others) knew that. They could have pushed their own human will and agenda into the situation: (“Hey, that Joseph Barsabbas is a really nice guy. Let’s choose him!”). In fact, the very fact that Christ’s original choice for that particular seat in the College of Apostles didn’t work out – at least by human standards – shows that God is very much in control of every detail. I mean, would we have planned things that way? The betrayal by Judas which led to the sacrifice which has atoned for man’s sin wouldn’t have been at the top of my list for a good plan. Finding an apostolic replacement by shaking some stones in a container isn’t something I would have thought of.

It seems like we’re rarely prepared for the twists and turns which define God’s plan, and yet that’s the way He works. Why are we surprised when things don’t follow the meticulous plan we’ve worked out in our own minds? After all, even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not My Will, but Thine be done.” And isn’t it our universal experience that, in the end, God’s plan is always best? Quite so.

O Almighty God, who into the place of Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Saint Matthias to be of the number of the Twelve: Grant that thy Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

12 May 2015

The Crusader Times

Here is the link to the latest issue of The Crusader Times, which is a weekly publication from The Atonement Academy.

11 May 2015

Ss. Nereus and Achilleus

The story begins with a young woman named Flavia Domitilla. She was the niece of the emperor, she was very beautiful, and she was engaged to be married to a young man named Aurelianus. The young man was very much a product of society at that time – he had little respect for Domitilla, and was marrying her mainly because she was the niece of the emperor. He had relationships with other women at the same time, and had no intention of breaking them off.

Nereus and Achilleus were Roman soldiers in the household of Flavia Domitilla. They were instructed and baptized by St. Peter. These two soldiers admired Domitilla, and began to tell her about the Christian faith. They helped her to understand her own human dignity, and she decided that she really wanted to give herself to Christ completely, and that she wouldn’t marry. Aurelianus reported all three to the Roman authorities as being Christians. They were beheaded, martyred out of hatred for the Christian faith.

Domitilla owned some property outside the city of Rome, and she had given this land to the Christians as a cemetery, and to this day it is the site of one of the major catacombs. Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla were buried there.

Grant, O Lord, that this holy festival of thy blessed Martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, may ever assist us in thy service: and that we may thereby be rendered worthy to walk after thy commandments; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

To Love As Christ Loves

This is the sermon preached on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

(If there is no image, you may go to this link for the video.)

10 May 2015

Congratulations, Dr. Feulner!

Professor Hans-Jürgen Feulner, professor of liturgics at the University of Austria, and a very good friend of our parish, has been awarded a papal knighthood. He was awarded the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great for his work on the Anglicanae Traditiones Commission, which recently completed the revision of the Book of Divine Worship. This liturgy, now called simply Divine Worship, is to be used by the Ordinariates, and also the parishes of the Pastoral Provision. We are so pleased that the Holy Father has given Professor Feulner this honor, and we shout out our heartiest congratulations!

04 May 2015

A homily by Fr. Stravinskas

This homily was delivered as part of the twentieth anniversary of The Atonement Academy at Our Lady of the Atonement Church in San Antonio, Texas, on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 3 May 2015, by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.

In 1993 during the weekend of celebrations for this parish’s tenth anniversary, I stood in this church and observed that many of you were asking what more you could or should be doing as a parish community to become even “more Catholic.”  I challenged you: “Open a Catholic school.”  I used the rest of that homily to explain why the Church considers Catholic education to be so important and what I thought a new Catholic school could do for the life of your then-fledgling Anglican Use parish.  True pioneers, real men and women of faith, under the dauntless leadership of Father Phillips, and following the example of great American saints like Mother Cabrini, Mother Seton and Bishop John Neumann, you determined to walk by faith, not by sight.  Like the Psalmist with whom we sang today, you took as your guiding principle: “Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn that he has wrought it.” You were not content to love merely “in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”  Put bluntly, you put your money where your mouth was, having “confidence in God” that you would “receive from him whatever [you] ask.”

Now that we have come to the twentieth anniversary of The Atonement Academy, let’s take this opportunity to review the goal of a Catholic school and to renew our communal commitment.

“The days have come. . . in which the school is more necessary than the church.”  Does that statement startle you?  Who could say that?  The answer is that it did indeed startle people the first time it was said – and over 150 years ago – by Archbishop John J. Hughes of New York.  In many ways, it was his insight and foresight that launched the Catholic community in America on an endeavor unparalleled in the history of the Church.  Archbishop Hughes felt that if he lost the children, there would be little hope for the future of the Church in this country.

The rationale behind this stringent injunction was explained clearly by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (On the Christian Education of Youth): “The so-called ‘neutral’school from which religion is excluded, is contrary to the fundamental principles of education.  Such a school moreover cannot exist in practice; it is bound to become irreligious.”  While this kind of thinking has been characterized as a “fortress” or “siege mentality,” few observers can doubt that the American so-called public school is a potent example of a “neutral” school system becoming “irreligious” de facto and, some would add, de jure.

Now, pragmatic people will want to ask, "Has it been worth all the blood, sweat and tears?  Has this school really accomplished anything?"  If The Atonement Academy is no better and no worse than the average Catholic school in the United States, here's what you should have begun to see, according to all the sociological data available:  Its graduates will have picked up the basics of the Catholic Faith in a God-centered environment; they are more committed to the Catholic Church, demonstrated in better church attendance, more generous financial giving to their parish, greater involvement in the life and mission of the Catholic Church.  Not only do they excel in the three r's, but in that all-important fourth "r" – religion – because they were taught the lesson St. John never tired of repeating – that we are truly "children of God."

Unfortunately, most youngsters in our society are not taught that they have the inestimable dignity of being the adopted children of their Heavenly Father; that they are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; that they, therefore, have both a natural and a supernatural dignity.  No, most other schools in our country do not and, even more sadly, cannot by law teach about how man is made in the image and likeness of God or about God's commandments which contain within them the blueprint for human happiness and fulfillment.  Those schools do not challenge children to greatness and to lives of virtue; they merely provide them with the techniques of so-called "safe sex."  Well, it seems to me that every penny spent by every parent and by this parish community has been a marvelous investment in human potential which seeks the good – indeed, the ultimate Good which is God Himself.  And so, I ask you, "Can you conceive of a better way to have expended so much time and energy?"  I can't.

Pope Paul VI's bicentennial message to the Church in the United States contained praise for the American Catholic school system and an encouragement to continue the tradition: “The strength of the Church in America (is) in the Catholic schools.”  Nor was it sheer coincidence that the two Americans Paul VI canonized in observance of our bicentennial, Bishop John Neumann of Philadelphia and Mother Seton of New York, were prime movers in the parochial school effort.

Pope John Paul II's esteem for the American Catholic school system was demonstrated with great regularity.  Just months after his installation, he sent a videotaped message to Catholic educators gathered in Philadelphia for the annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association, in which he said that he hoped to give “a new impulse to Catholic education throughout the vast area of the United States of America.”  He went on to say: “Yes, the Catholic school must remain a privileged means of Catholic education in America. . . , worthy of the greatest sacrifices.”  Later that year during his first pastoral visit to the States, with 20,000 Catholic school students at Madison Square Garden, he seized the opportunity “to tell (them) why the Church considers it so important and expends so much energy in order to provide . . . millions of young people with a Catholic education.”  It is for no other purpose, he said, than to “communicate Christ” to them.  He likewise referred to the Catholic school as “the heart of the Church.” 

Pope Benedict XVI, at the Catholic University of America in 2008, weighed in on this topic as well:

Dear friends, the history of this nation includes many examples of the Church's commitment in this regard. The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. . . . Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.

This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.

How do Catholic schools “nurture the soul of a nation”?  It seems to me that believers must be convinced – and then must convince everyone else – that the Fathers of Vatican II got it right when they declared in Gaudium et Spes: “Without the Creator, the creature vanishes” (n. 36).  History supports that assertion.  Just look at the bloodshed of every godless movement of modernity from the French Revolution to the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War to the murderous campaigns of the Nazis and Communists.  Clearly, “without the Creator, the creature vanishes.”   And an education devoid of God is an anti-education. 

Nor has Pope Francis been silent on the importance of Catholic education.  Indeed, as a Jesuit and former high school teacher, he has repeatedly highlighted this issue.  Just last week, he applauded the bishops of Benin for their establishment of Catholic schools and encouraged them to continue along that path.

Has The Atonement Academy had its failures?  Probably.  Are all its alumni loyal sons and daughters of the Church?  Probably not.  But even our Divine Savior Himself did not bat 1000 when it came to selecting faithful apostles.  The test of Atonement is not whether or not every graduate has accepted the Gospel of Christ and lived it, but whether or not the saving message of Christ has been presented in all its truth, in its fullness, in its surpassing beauty.  After all, if we had no failures, perhaps we would be engaged in brain-washing more than evangelization.

Anniversaries, my friends, are joyous times of remembering, of rekindling the first fervor and enthusiasm, of re-committing to the original ideals.  And I hope everyone will do that this Sunday.  But anniversaries are also times to assume new challenges for the future.  In that spirit, permit me to offer a few challenges to all connected in any way with The Atonement Academy since this school is no longer an infant that needs to be nurtured but is moving toward full maturity; therefore, everyone has a right to expect some concrete, positive results.

To the graduates:  If you had the gift of faith cultivated at Atonement, have you lived that faith fully?  Are you committed to Sunday Mass?  Are you a strong witness to Christ, His Gospel and His Church in the daily circumstances of your life?  Are you a credit to The Atonement Academy and to the holy Catholic Church which that school represents?  Having had the great privilege of an education grounded in Jesus Christ, are you any different from the pagans around whom and among whom you live and work and study?  Last Sunday, the Church Universal observed World Day of Prayer for Vocations, so I must also ask, "When will the first graduate enter the seminary or the convent?"  After all, one of the strongest indicators of a healthy Catholic school has always been the priestly and religious vocations it produces.  What a proud day it will be for Atonement when its first alumnus returns to celebrate Mass for the student body and the whole parish. 

To parents:  If you have not availed yourself of the opportunity for the Catholic education of your children, let me remind you – in the name of Christ's Church – how important the Church considers this to be.  As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, listen to what the bishops had to say in this regard:  "Catholic parents are reminded of their duty to send their children to Catholic schools. . . " (Gravissimum Educationis, n. 8).  And all the Popes since then, and the Code of Canon Law, and the American bishops in numerous pastoral statements have never ceased to teach this truth.

To the loyal and generous parishioners:  Please realize the tremendous possibilities for good which exist in your school – and it is “your” school.  Always deem it an honor to be part of that project; never see it as a burden.  Encourage as many parents as possible to send their children to this school; do all you can to keep this school within the financial reach of every parent and child.  Remember:  Catholic education is not the primary responsibility of parents who happen to have their children in a Catholic school; it is the concern of every devout Catholic.  Once more, the Council Fathers can help us understand this as we read:  "The sacred Synod earnestly exhorts the pastors of the Church and all the faithful to spare no sacrifice in helping Catholic schools to become increasingly effective, especially in caring for the poor, for those who are without the help and affection of family, and those who do not have the Faith" (GE, n. 9).

To the teachers:  The overwhelming majority of faculty and administration here have been lay people; never allow that to intimidate you into thinking that you are second-class teachers.  Recall that Mother Seton was a laywoman – not a nun – when she began the glorious parochial school movement in our land.  But do be sure that you appreciate in the deepest sense the tremendous confidence placed in you by the Church and by parents in confiding the formation of Catholic youth to you.  Therefore, know the Catholic Faith well and completely, and see it as your most sacred trust to impart that Faith and to live it in such a way that your students have the very finest teacher of Catholic doctrine and morality, setting for yourself no less a model than Christ the Divine Teacher Himself.  The personal and financial sacrifices you have made – and will continue to make – show that you have learned your lessons at the feet of Christ the Teacher; the Catholic community owes you a debt of gratitude, which debt shall be credited to your glory in the Kingdom.

Today, then, let us thank Almighty God for the gift of faith which gave birth to an institution which has been "communicat[ing] Christ" to young believers for twenty years.  I have always counted it a rare privilege to have been part of beginning a new Catholic school; it is an equally great privilege to have been able to share my reflections with you today as we have looked into the past and gazed into the future – all with one goal:  To put flesh and bones on the desire of Our Lord that “you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”  May Christ Jesus grant that every young Christian trained in this school of His, having been “pruned because of the word” spoken here, will always remain in Christ “the true vine,” “bear much fruit and become [His] disciples.”

Of all the Anglican Use parishes in our nation, bar none, Our Lady of the Atonement is the most successful.  I submit that the principal reason for its success has been the commitment of your pastor and you good people to your parish school.  With Saint Paul, I happily assert: “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Ph 1:6).

The English Martyrs

The English Martyrs include 284 men and women who gave their lives during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were martyred simply because they remained steadfast in their Catholic faith. What had happened?

King Henry VIII had proclaimed himself supreme head of the Church in England, claiming for himself and his successors power over his subjects not only in civil matters, but also in spiritual things. He took to himself a spiritual power that can belong only to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and Successor of St. Peter. The Catholics at that time wanted to be loyal subjects of the Crown, but their consciences could not allow them to grant the power of spiritual supremacy. It is as though, in the United States, the president and Congress took upon themselves the power to determine what we as Catholics believe, and how we worship. We could not allow Congress to pass laws that changed the Church’s teaching about the Mass, or what we believe about God. But this was what had happened in England and Wales. This was what led many people to face death courageously rather than act against their consciences and deny their Catholic faith.

This firm attitude in defense of their freedom of conscience and of their faith in the truth of the Holy Catholic Church is identical in all these Martyrs, although they were a diverse group of people – priests, religious, laymen, housewives and mothers, some highly educated, some very simple laborers. But they all shared the same faith, and the same determination to keep that faith – and for that, they were put to death. And this persecution was not only under Henry VIII, but it continued under Elizabeth I and her successors, all the way into the Commonwealth under Cromwell.

The torments they endured were horrible. Most of them were killed in extremely violent ways – the priests, for instance, were hanged, drawn and quartered. Others were tortured for long periods of time before their deaths. But every one of them remained steadfast in their Catholic faith, and they died praying for their executioners, and even praying for the monarch who had ordered their deaths.

O Merciful God, who, when thy Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin, didst raise up men and women in England who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy: give unto thy Church that peace which is thy will, and grant that those who have been divided on earth may be reconciled in heaven and be partakers together in the vision of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.