Three centuries before Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher went to their death because they dared to stand up for the liberty of the Church against King Henry VIII they were preceded by the great Saint whose feast is celebrated on the 29th of December during the Octave of Christmas. He seems to be little know today, however, apart from the classic film of 1964 which bears his name (Becket), but he is a Saint that Catholics in England and all around the world ought to pray and come to know. To this end let us consider the entry for this feast from The Liturgical Year and for further study one might also read the entry for this saint in Butler’s Lives of the Saints: St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr.
The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger
Saint Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr
Another Martyr comes in today, to take his place round the Crib of our Jesus. He does not belong to the first ages of the Church:—his name is not written in the Books of the New Testament, like those of Stephen, John, and the Innocents of Bethlehem. Yet does he stand most prominent in the ranks of that Martyr-Host, which has been receiving fresh recruits in every age, and is one of those visible abiding proofs of the vitality of the Church, and of the undecaying energy infused into her by her divine Founder. This glorious Martyr did not shed his blood for the faith; he was not dragged before the tribunals of Pagans or Heretics, there to confess the Truths revealed by Christ and taught by the Church. He was slain by Christian hands; it was a Catholic King that condemned him to death; it was by the majority of his own Brethren, and they his countrymen, that he was abandoned and blamed. How, then, could he be a Martyr? How did he gain a Palm like Stephen’s? He was the Martyr for the Liberty of the Church.
Every Christian is obliged to lay down his life rather than deny any of the Articles of our holy Faith: it was the debt we contracted with Jesus Christ, when he adopted us, in Baptism, as his Brethren. All are not called to the honour of Martyrdom, that is, all are not required to bear that testimony to the Truth, which consists in shedding one’s blood for it: but all must so love their Faith, as to be ready to die rather than deny it, under pain of incurring the eternal death, from which the grace of our Redeemer has already delivered us. The same obligation lies still more heavily on the Pastors of the Church. It is the pledge of the truth of their teachings. Hence, we find, in almost every page of the History of the Church, the glorious names of saintly Bishops, who laid down their lives for the Faith they had delivered to their people. It was the last and dearest pledge they could give of their devotedness to the Vineyard entrusted to them, and in which they had spent years of care and toil. The blood of their Martyrdom was more than a fertilising element—it was a guarantee, the highest that man can give, that the seed they had sown in the hearts of men was, in very truth, the revealed Word of God.
But beyond the debt, which every Christian has, of shedding his blood rather than deny his Faith, that is, of allowing no threats or dangers to make him disown the sacred ties which unite him to the Church and, through her, to Jesus Christ—beyond this, Pastors have another debt to pay, which is that of defending the Liberty of the Church. To Kings, and Rulers, and, in general, to all Diplomatists and Politicians, there are few expressions so unwelcome as this of the Liberty of the Church; with them, it means a sort of conspiracy. The world talks of it as being an unfortunate scandal, originating in priestly ambition. Timid temporising Catholics regret that it can elicit any one’s zeal, and will endeavour to persuade us, that we have no need to fear anything, so long as our Faith is not attacked. Notwithstanding all this, the Church has put upon her altars and associated with St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, this our Archbishop, who was slain in his Cathedral of Canterbury, in the 12th century, because he resisted a King’s infringements on the extrinsic Rights of the Church. She sanctions the noble maxim of St. Anselm, one of St. Thomas’ predecessors in the See of Canterbury: Nothing does God love so much in this world, as the Liberty of his Church; and the Apostolic See declares by the mouth of Pius the 8th, in the 19th century, the very same doctrine she would have taught by St. Gregory the 7th, in the 11th century: The Church, the spotless Spouse of Jesus Christ the immaculate Lamb, is, by God’s appointment, Free, and subject to no earthly power. (Litterae Apostolicae ad Episcopos Provinciae Rhenanae. 30 Junii, 1830.)
But in what does this sacred Liberty consist? It consists in the Church’s absolute independence of every secular power in the ministry of the Word of God, which she is bound to preach in season and out of season, as St. Paul says, to all mankind, without distinction of nation, or race, or age, or sex :—in the administration of the Sacraments, to which she must invite all men, without exception, in order to the world’s salvation :—in the practice, free from all human control, of the Counsels, as well as of the Precepts, of the Gospel:—in the unobstructed intercommunication of the several degrees of her sacred hierarchy :—in the publication and application of her decrees and ordinances in matters of discipline :—in the maintenance and development of the Institutions she has founded:—in the holding and governing her temporal patrimony:—and lastly, in the defence of those privileges, which have been adjudged to her by the civil authority itself, in order that her ministry of peace and charity might be unembarrassed and respected.
Such is the Liberty of the Church. It is the bulwark of the Sanctuary. Every breach there, imperils the Hierarchy, and even the very Faith. A Bishop may not flee, as the hireling, nor hold his peace, like those dumb dogs, of which the Prophet Isaias speaks, and which are not able to bark. (Is. 56:10) He is the Watchman of Israel: he is a traitor if he first lets the enemy enter the citadel, and then, but only then, gives the alarm and risks his person and his life. The obligation of laying down his life for his flock, begins to be in force at the enemy’s first attack upon the very out-posts of the City, which is only safe when they are strongly guarded.
The consequences of the Pastor’s resistance may be of the most serious nature; in which event, we must remember a truth, which has been admirably expressed by Bossuet, in his magnificent Panegyric on St. Thomas of Canterbury, which we regret not being able to give from beginning to end. “It is an established law, he says, that every success the Church acquires costs her the life of some of her children, and that in order to secure her rights, she must shed her own blood. Her Divine Spouse redeemed her by the Blood he shed for her; and he wishes that she should purchase, on the same terms, the graces he bestows upon her. It was by the blood of the Martyrs that she extended her conquests far beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. It was her blood that procured her, both the peace she enjoyed under the Christian, and the victory she gained over the Pagan, Emperors. So that, as she had to shed her blood for the propagation of her teaching, she had also to bleed for the making her authority accepted. The Discipline, therefore, as well as the Faith, of the Church, was to have its Martyrs.”
Hence it was, that St. Thomas, and the rest of the Martyrs for Ecclesiastical Liberty, never once stopped to consider how it was possible, with such weak means as were at their disposal, to oppose the invaders of the rights of the Church. One great element of Martyrdom, is simplicity united with courage; and this explains how there have been Martyrs amongst the lowest classes of the Faithful, and that young girls, and even children, can show their rich Palm-branch. God has put into the heart of a Christian a capability of humble and inflexible resistance, which makes every opposition give way. What, then, must that fidelity be, which the Holy Ghost has put into the souls of Bishops, whom he has constituted the Spouses of his Church, and the defenders of his beloved Jerusalem? “St. Thomas,” says Bossuet, “yields not to injustice, under the pretext that it is armed with the sword, and that it is a King who commits it; on the contrary, seeing that its source is high up, he feels his obligation of resisting it to be the greater, just as men throw the embankments higher, when the torrent swells.”
But, the Pastor may lose his life in the contest! Yes, it may be so—he may possibly have this glorious privilege. Our Lord came into this world to fight against it and conquer it—but he shed his blood in the contest, he died on a Cross. So likewise were the Martyrs put to death. Can the Church, then, that was founded by the Precious Blood of her Divine Master, and was established by the blood of the Martyrs— can she ever do without the saving laver of blood, which reanimates her with vigour, and vests her with the rich crimson of her royalty? St. Thomas understood this: and when we remember how he laboured to mortify his flesh by a life of penance, and how every sort of privation and adversity had taught him to crucify to this world every affection of his heart, we cannot be surprised at his possessing, within his soul, the qualities which fit a man for martyrdom— calmness of courage, and a patience proof against every trial. In other words, he had received from God the Spirit of Fortitude, and he faithfully corresponded to it.
“In the language of the Church”, continues Bossuet, “Fortitude has not the meaning it has in the language of the world. Fortitude, as the world understands it, is the undertaking great things; according to the Church, it goes not beyond the suffering every sort of trial, and there it stops. Listen to the words of St. Paul: Ye have not yet resisted unto blood; as though he would say: ‘You have not yet gone the whole length of your duty, because you have not resisted your enemies unto blood.’ He does not say, ‘You have not attacked your enemies and shed their blood;’ but, ‘Your resistance to your enemies has not yet cost you your blood.’
“These are the high principles of St. Thomas; but see how he makes use of them. He arms himself with this sword of the Apostle’s teaching, not to make a parade of courage, and gain a name for heroism, but simply because the Church is threatened, and he must hold over her the shield of his resistance. The strength of the holy Archbishop lies not, in any way, either in the interference of sympathisers, or in a plot ably conducted. He has but to publish the sufferings he has so patiently borne, and odium will fall upon his persecutor: certain secret springs need only to be touched by such a man as this, and the people would be roused to indignation against the King! but the Saint scorns both plans. All he has on his side is the prayer of the poor, and the sighs of the widow and the orphan: these, as St . Ambrose would say, these are the Bishop’s defenders, these his guard, these his army! He is powerful, because he has a soul that knows not either how to fear or how to murmur. He can, in all truth, say to Henry, King of England, what Tertullian said, in the name of the whole Church, to a magistrate of the Roman Empire, who was a cruel persecutor of the Church: We neither frighten thee, nor fear thee; we Christians are neither dangerous men, nor cowards; not dangerous, because we cannot cabal, and not cowards, because we fear not the sword.”
Our Panegyrist proceeds to describe the victory won for the Church by her intrepid Martyr of Canterbury. We can scarcely be surprised when we are told, that during the very year in which he preached this eloquent Sermon, Bossuet was raised to the episcopal dignity. We need offer no apology for giving the following fine passage.
“Christians! give me your attention. If there ever were a Martyrdom, which bore the resemblance to a Sacrifice, it was the one I have to describe to you. First of all, there is the preparation: the Bishop is in the Church with his Ministers, and all are robed in the sacred Vestments. And the Victim? The Victim is near at hand—the Bishop is the Victim chosen by God, and he is ready. So that all is prepared for the sacrifice, and they that are to strike the blow enter the Church. The holy man walks before them, as Jesus did before his enemies. He forbids his Clergy to make the slightest resistance, and all he asks of his enemies is, that they injure none of them that are present: it is the close imitation of his Divine Master, who said to them that apprehended him: If it be I whom ye seek, suffer these to go their way. And when all this had been done, and the moment for the sacrifice was come, St. Thomas begins the ceremony. He is both Victim and Priest—he bows down his head, and offers the prayer. Listen to the solemn prayer, and the mystical words, of the sacrifice: And I am ready to die for God, and for the claims of justice, and for the Liberty of the Church, if only she may gain peace and, Liberty by this shedding of my blood! He prostrates himself before God: and as in the Holy Sacrifice there is the invocation of the Saints our Intercessors, Thomas omits not so important a ceremony; he beseeches the Holy Martyrs and the Blessed Mary ever a Virgin to deliver the Church from oppression. He can pray for nothing but the Church; his heart beats but for the Church; his lips can speak nothing but the Church; and, when the blow has been struck, his cold and lifeless tongue seems still to be saying: The Church!”
Thus did our glorious Martyr, the type of a Bishop of the Church, consummate his sacrifice, thus did he gain his victory; and his victory will produce the total abolition of the sinful laws, which would have made the Church the creature of the State, and an object of contempt to the people. The tomb of the Saint will become an Altar; and at the foot of that Altar, there will one day kneel a penitent King, humbly praying for pardon and blessing. What has wrought this change? Has the death of Thomas of Canterbury stirred up the people to revolt? Has his Martyrdom found its avengers? No. It is the blood of one, who died for Christ, producing its fruit. The world is hard to teach, else it would have long since learnt this truth—that a Christian people can never see with indifference a Pastor put to death for fidelity to his charge; and that a Government, that dares to make a Martyr, will pay dearly for the crime. Modern diplomacy has learnt the secret; experience has given it the instinctive craft of waging war against the Liberty of the Church with less violence and more intrigue—the intrigue of enslaving her by political administration. It was this crafty diplomacy which forged the chains, wherewith so many Churches are now shackled, and which, be they ever so gilded, are insupportable. There is but one way to unlink such fetters—to break them. He that breaks them, will be great in the Church of heaven and earth, for he must be a Martyr: he will not have to fight with the sword, or be a political agitator, but simply, to resist the plotters against the Liberty of the Spouse of Christ, and suffer patiently whatever may be said or done against him.
Let us give ear once more to the sublime Panegyrist of our St. Thomas: he is alluding to this patient resistance, which made the Archbishop triumph over tyranny.
“My Brethren, see what manner of men the Church finds rising up to defend her in her weakness, and how truly she may say with the Apostle: When I am weak, then am I powerful. (II Cor. 12:10) It is this blessed weakness, which provides her with invincible power, and which enlists in her cause the bravest soldiers and the mightiest conquerors this world has ever seen—I mean, the Martyrs. He that infringes on the authority of the Church, let him dread that precious blood of the Martyrs, which consecrates and protects it.”
Now, all this Fortitude, and the whole of this Victory, come from the Crib of the Infant Jesus: therefore it is, that we find St. Thomas standing near it, in company with the Protomartyr Stephen. Any example of humility, and of what the world calls poverty and weakness, which had been less eloquent than this of the mystery of God made a Little Child, would have been insufficient to teach man what real Power is. Up to that time, man had no other idea of power than that which the sword can give, or of greatness than that which comes of riches, or of joy than such as triumph brings: but when God came into this world, and showed himself weak, and poor, and persecuted—every thing was changed. Men were found who loved the lowly Crib of Jesus, with all its humiliations, better than the whole world besides: and from this mystery of the weakness of an Infant God they imbibed a greatness of soul, which even the world could not help admiring.
It is most just, therefore, that the two laurelwreaths of St. Thomas and St. Stephen should intertwine round the Crib of the Babe of Bethlehem, for they are the two trophies of his two dear Martyrs. As regards St. Thomas, divine Providence marked out most clearly the place he was to occupy in the Cycle of the Christian Year, by permitting his martyrdom to happen on the day following the Feast of the Holy Innocents; so that, the Church could have no hesitation in assigning the 29th of December as the day for celebrating the memory of the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury. As long as the world lasts, this day will be a Feast of dearest interest to the whole Church of God; and the name of Thomas of Canterbury will be, to the day of judgment, terrible to the enemies of the Liberty of the Church, and music breathing hope and consolation to hearts that love that Liberty, which Jesus bought at the price of his Precious Blood.
We will now listen to this dear Mother of ours, the Church, who gives us, in her Divine Office, a short history of the life and sufferings of St. Thomas.
Thomas was born in England, in the city of London. He succeeded Theobald as Bishop of Canterbury. He previously acquitted himself with much honour as Chancellor, and was strenuous and unflinching in his duty as Bishop; for when Henry II, King of England, in an assembly of the Bishops and Nobles of the realm, passed certain laws inconsistent with the interests and the honour of the Church, the Bishop withstood the King’s avarice so courageously, that neither fair promises nor threats could draw him over to the King’s side, and, being in danger of imprisonment, he privately withdrew. Not long after, all his relatives young and old, all his friends, and household, were banished, and such of them; as had attained the age of discretion, were made to promise on oath that they would go to Thomas, as perhaps he, who could not be made to swerve from his holy purpose, by any personal consideration, might relent at the heart-rending spectacle of the sufferings of them who were dear to him. But he regarded not the demands of flesh and blood, neither did he permit the feelings of natural affection to weaken the firmness required of him as Bishop.
He, therefore, repaired to Pope Alexander III, from whom he met with a kind reception, and who commended him, on his departure, to the Cistercian Monks of Pontigny. As soon as Henry came to know this, he strove to have Thomas expelled from Pontigny, and, for this purpose, sent threatening letters to the General Chapter of Citeaux. Whereupon, the holy man, fearing lest the Cistercian Order should be made to suffer on his account, left the Monastery of his own accord, and betook himself to the hospitable shelter to which he had been invited by Louis, King of France. There he remained, until, by the intervention of the Pope and Louis the King, he was called home from his banishment, to the joy of the whole kingdom. Whilst resuming the intrepid discharge of the duty of a good Shepherd, certain calumniators denounced him to King Henry as one that was plotting sundry things against the country and the public peace. Wherefore, the King was heard frequently complaining, that there was only one Priest in his kingdom with whom he could not be in peace.
Certain wicked satellites concluded from this expression of the King, that he would be pleased at their ridding him of Thomas. Accordingly, they stealthily enter Canterbury, and finding the Bishop was in the Church, officiating at Vespers, they began their attack. The Clergy were using means to prevent them from entering the Church, when the Saint, coming to them, forbad their opposition, and, opening the door, thus spoke to them : The Church is not to be guarded like a citadel, and I am glad to die for God’s Church. Then turning to the soldiers, he said: I command you, in the name of God, that you hurt not any of them that are with me. After this, he knelt down, and commending his Church and himself to God, to the Blessed Mary, to St. Denis, and to the other Patron Saints of his Cathedral, with the same courage that he had shown in resisting the King’s execrable laws, he bowed down his head to the impious murderers, on the Fourth of the Calends of January (December 29th), in the Year of our Lord 1171. His brains were scattered on the floor of the entire Church. God having shown the holiness of his servant by many miracles, he was canonized by the same Pope, Alexander III.
The solemn Introit of to-day’s Mass shows the transport of joy, wherewith the Church celebrates the Feast of our holy Martyr. The words, and the chant, which accompanies them, are only used about four times in the year. Both words and music bespeak enthusiasm and joy: and the Church on earth is elated at the thought, that she and the Angels are making one choir to the praise of the victory of Thomas of Canterbury.
Introitus – Ps 32:1
Gaudeámus omnes in Dómino, diem festum celebrántes sub honóre beáti Thomæ Mártyris: de cujus passióne gaudent Angeli et colláudant Fílium Dei. Exsultáte, justi, in Dómino: rectos decet collaudátio. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculórum. Amen. Gaudeámus omnes…
Introitus – Ps 32:1
Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honor of blessed Thomas the Martyr: at whose martyrdom the angels rejoice, and praise the Son of God. Exult, you just, in the Lord; praise from the upright is fitting. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Let us all rejoice…
In the Collect, the holy Church emphasises the merit of the glorious Martyr, by saying, that it was for the very Spouse of the Son of God that he shed his blood. After this, she expresses the special confidence she has in his intercession.
Deus, pro cujus Ecclesia, gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit; praesta quaesumus: ut omnes, qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suae salutarem consequantur tum. Per Dominum.
O God, in defence of whose Church the glorious Pontiff Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance, may find comfort in the grant of their petition. Through, &c.
Léctio Epístolæ beáti Pauli Apóstoli ad Hebraeos – Hebreaorum 5:1-6
Fratres: Omnis póntifex ex homínibus assúmptus, pro homínibus constitúitur in iis, quæ sunt ad Deum: ut ófferat dona, et sacrifícia pro peccátis: qui condolére possit iis, qui ígnorant et errant: quóniam et ipse circúmdatus est infirmitáte: et proptérea debet, quemádmodum pro pópulo, ita étiam et pro semetípso offérre pro peccátis. Nec quisquam sumit sibi honórem, sed qui vocátur a Deo, tamquam Aaron. Sic et Christus non semetípsum clarificávit, ut Póntifex fíeret: sed qui locútus est ad eum: Fílius meus es tu, ego hódie génui te. Quemádmodum et in álio loco dicit: Tu es sacérdos in ætérnum, secúndum órdinem Melchísedech. R. Deo gratias
Lesson from the letter of St Paul the Apostle to the Jews – Hebrews 5:1 – 6
Brethren: For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for me in the things pertaining to God, that he may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring, because he himself also is beset with weakness, and by reason thereof is obliged to offer for sins, as on behalf of the people, so also for himself. And no man takes the honor to himself; he takes it who is called by God, as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself with the high priesthood, but He Who spoke to Him, Thou art My Son, I this day have begotten Thee. As He says also in another place, Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedec. R. Thanks be to God.
When we meet, in the Annals of the Church, with the names of those great Bishops, who have been the glory of the Christian Pontificate, we are at once sure, that these men, the true images of the great High-Priest Jesus our Lord, did not intrude themselves, uncalled, into the dread honours of the Sanctuary. The history of their Lives shows us, that they were called by God himself, as Aaron was: and when we come to examine, how it was that they were so great—we soon find, that the source of their greatness was their humility, that led them to refuse the honourable burden, which others would put upon them. God assisted them in the day of trouble and trial, because their exaltation to the episcopacy had been his own work.
Thus was it with St. Thomas, who sat on his episcopal throne of Canterbury, the dignified and courageous Primate. He began by declining the high honour that was offered him. He boldly tells the King, (as St. Gregory the Seventh, before ascending the Papal Throne, told the Emperor who fain would see him Pope,) that, if forced to accept the proffered dignity, he is determined to oppose abuses. He thought by this to frighten men from putting him into the honours and responsibilities of the Pastoral charge, and hoped that they would no longer wish him to be a Bishop, when they suspected that he would be a true one:—but, the decree of God had gone forth, and Thomas, called by God, was obliged to bow down his head, and receive the holy anointing. And what a Bishop he, that begins by humility, and the determination to sacrifice his very life in the discharge of his duty! He is worthy to follow, and that to Calvary, the God-Man, who, being called, by his Father, to Priesthood and to Sacrifice, enters this world, saying: Behold! I come to do thy will, O God! (Heb. 10:9)
The Gradual, in its first Versicle, applies to St. Thomas, the encomium given by the Sacred Scripture to Abraham. These words, which speak the praises of one, who surpassed all others in merit, are singularly applicable to our illustrious Martyr, whose glory exceeds that of most other holy Bishops, whose memory is celebrated by the Church.
The Alleluia-Verse repeats the words of our Saviour, in which he declares himself to be the Good Shepherd. Why does the Church use them on this Feast? She would, thereby, tell us, that St. Thomas was a faithful representation of Him, whom St. Peter calls the Prince of Pastors. (I Peter 5:4)
Graduale – Ecclus 44:16, 20; Jn. 10:14
Ecce sacérdos magnus, qui in diébus suis plácuit Deo. Non est invéntus símilis illi, qui conserváret legem Excélsi. Allelúia, allelúia. Ego sum pastor bonus: et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meæ. Allelúia.
Gradual – Ecclus 44:16, 20; Jn. 10:14
Behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God. There was not found the like to him, who kept the law of the Most High. Alleluia, alleluia. I am the Good Shepherd: and I know My sheep, and Mine know Me. Alleluia.
Evangelium – John 10:11-16
Sequéntia ✝ sancti Evangélii secundum Joannem R. Gloria tibi Domine!
In illo témpore: Dixit Jesus pharisaeis: Ego sum pastor bonus. Bonus pastor ánimam suam dat pro óvibus suis. Mercennárius autem, et qui non est pastor, cujus non sunt oves própriæ, videt lupum veniéntem, et dimíttit oves et fugit: et lupus rapit et dispérgit oves; mercennárius autem fugit, quia mercennárius est et non pértinet ad eum de óvibus. Ego sum pastor bonus: et cognósco meas et cognóscunt me meæ. Sicut novit me Pater, et ego agnósco Patrem, et ánimam meam pono pro óvibus meis. Et álias oves hábeo, quæ non sunt ex hoc ovíli: et illas opórtet me addúcere, et vocem meam áudient, et fiet unum ovíle et unus pastor.
R. Laus tibi, Christe!
S. Per Evangelica dicta, deleantur nostra delicta.
Gospel – John 10:11 – 16
Continuation ☩ of the Holy Gospel according to John R. Glory be to Thee, O Lord.
At that time, Jesus said to the Pharisees: I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. But the hireling, who is not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches and scatters the sheep; but the hireling flees because he is a hireling, and has no concern for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for My sheep. And other sheep I have that are not of this fold. Them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd.
R. Praise be to Thee, O Christ.
S. By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out.
All the strength of the Pontiffs and Pastors of the Church consists in their imitation of Jesus. It is not enough, that they have in them the character of his Priesthood; they must, also, be ready, like Him, to lay down their lives for their sheep. The Shepherd who thinks more of his own life than of the salvation of his flock, is a hireling—he is not a shepherd: he loves himself, and not his sheep. His flock has a claim upon his shedding his blood for them; and if he will not, he is no longer an image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. See how calmly St. Thomas lays down his life! He bows down his ‘head to receive the blows of his executioners, as though he were simply acquitting himself of a duty, or paying a debt. After the example of Jesus, he gives his blood for the deliverance of his people; and no sooner has the sword done its work, than the Church, over which God had placed him, is set free: his blood has brought peace. (Col. 1:20) He withstood the wolf, that threatened destruction to his flock; he vanquished him; the wolf himself was turned into a lamb, for the king visited the Tomb of his victim, and sought, in prostrate supplication, the Martyr’s blessing.
Thomas knew his sheep, that is, he loved them; it was a happiness to him, therefore, to die for them. He was made Pastor, on the condition that he would die for them; just as our Emmanuel was made High-Priest in order that he might offer Sacrifice, in which, too, he was both Priest and Victim. Jesus’ sheep know their divine Shepherd—they know that he came in order to save them; therefore is it, that his Birth at Bethlehem is so dear to them. The Shepherd of Canterbury, too, is also known by his sheep; and, therefore, the Feast of his triumphant martyrdom is very dear to them, not only in the century when it happened, but even now, and so will it ever be, even to the end of time. In return for this love and devotion, paid him by the Church on earth, Thomas blesses her from heaven. We cannot doubt it—the wonderful return to the ancient Faith, which we are now witnessing in our dear England, is due, in no little measure, to the powerful intercession of St. Thomas of Canterbury; and this intercession is the return, made by our glorious Martyr, for that fervent and filial devotion, which is shown him, and which the faithful will ever show to him who was so heroically, what only the true Church can produce—a true Pastor.
In the Offertory, the holy Church sings of the crown of glory, wherewith our Emmanuel encircled the brow of his Martyr. The Pastor gave his blood to purchase that crown; and his death gave him life.
Offertorium – Ps 20:4-5
Posuísti, Dómine, in capite ejus corónam de lápide pretióso: vitam pétiit a te, et tribuísti ei, allelúja.
Offertorium – Ps 20:4 -5
You placed on his head, O Lord, a crown of pure gold. He asked life of You and You gave it to him. Alleluia.
The Secret shows us that the merits of the Martyr are united with those of the Divine Victim. Whilst offering the Blood of the Lamb to the Eternal Father, we remind him of that shed by his Martyr.
Múnera tibi, Dómine, dicáta sanctífica: et, intercedénte beáto Thoma Mártyre tuo atque Pontífice, per éadem nos placátus inténde. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum: qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
O Lord, through the intercession of blessed Thomas, Your martyr and bishop, sanctify the offerings dedicated to You, and because of them, look upon us with mercy. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
In the Communion-Verse, we have our Divine Pastor Jesus speaking to us, the same that has just been giving himself to his sheep, as their food. It is by this Holy Sacrament, that the Sheep more intimately know their Shepherd, and that the Shepherd, who has just been born in the House of Bread, (Bethlehem,) receives a proof of their love to him.
Communio – John 10:14
Ego sum Pastor bonus: et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meae.
Communio – John 10:14
I am the Good Shepherd: and I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.
In the Postcommunion, the Church once more pronounces the name of our great Martyr. She prays that she may obtain, through his intercession, the grace of receiving more fully, than ever, the effects of the divine Mystery, which cleanses our souls, and is the remedy of their infirmities.
Hæc nos commúnio, Dómine, purget a crímine: et, intercedénte beáto Thoma Mártyre tuo atque Pontífice, coeléstis remédii fáciat esse consórtes. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum: qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
May this Communion, O Lord, cleanse us from sin and, by the intercession of blessed Thomas, Your martyr and bishop, impart to us heavenly healing. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
As we might expect, the Liturgy of our English Church honours her beloved Martyr with an affectionate and enthusiastic homage. We copy from the ancient Salisbury Breviary several passages, and we begin with some of the Antiphons of Matins and Lauds. The whole office is rhymed, according to the custom observed in the 13th century, the time when this Office of St. Thomas was composed.
Summo sacerdotio Thomas sublimatus, et in virum alium subito mutatus.
Monachus sub clerico clam ciliciatus, carnis, carne fortior, edomat conatus.
Cultor agri Domini tribulos evellit, et vulpes a vincis arcet et expellit.
Nec in agnos sustinet lupos desaevire. nec in hortum olerum tineam transire.
Exulantis praedia praeda sunt malignis, sed in igne positum non exurit ignis.
Satanae satellites irrumpentes templum, inauditum perpetrant sceleris exemplum.
Strictis Thoma sensibus obviam procedit, non minis, non gladiis, sed nec morti cedit.
Felix locus, felix ecclesia in qua Thomae vivit memoria: Felix terra quae dedit praesulem, felix illa quae fovit exulem.
Granum cadit, copiam germinat frumenti: alabastrum frangitur, fragrat vis unguenti.
Totus orbis Martyris certat in amorem, cujus signa singulos agunt in stuporem.
Thomas being raised to the fulness of the Priesthood, was suddenly transformed into a new man.
A monk, wearing the hairshirt secretly under his cleric’s dress, he subdues the rebellion of his flesh, for he was not a slave to the flesh.
Husbandman of the Lord’s vineyard, he roots up the brambles, and drives the foxes from the vines.
He neither suffers wolves to prowl among the lambs, nor slugs to crawl in the garden.
He is sent into exile, and his possessions made over to wicked men ; but the fire of tribulation burns him not.
The satellites of Satan rush into the Temple, and perpetrate the unheard-of crime.
Thomas advances to meet the unsheathed swords: nor threats, nor swords, nor very death can make him yield.
Happy Canterbury! Happy Church that cherishes the memory of her Thomas! Happy Land that gave such a Bishop, and happy, too, the country that harboured such an exile!
The grain of wheat falls, and bringeth forth much fruit: the precious vase is broken, and perfumes all the earth!
The whole earth seeks how most to love our Martyr, and men look in wonder at each other as they hear or see the miracles that are wrought.
Our next selection is of passages equally interesting, as showing the affection and confidence of the Faithful in our glorious Martyr.
Ant. Pastor, caesus in gregis medio, pacem emit cruoris pretio: laetus dolor in tristi gaudio! Grex respirat, pastore mortuo: plangens plaudit mater in filio, quia vivit victor sub gladio.
R. Mundi florem a mundo conteri, Rachel plorans, jam cessa conqueri; Thomas caesus dum datur funeri, novus Abel succedit veteri.
Ant. Salve, Thoma, virga justitiae, mundi jubar, robur Ecclesiae, plebis amor, cleri deliciae. Salve, gregis tutor egregie, salva tuae gaudentes gloriae.
Ant. The Shepherd, slain in the midst of his flock, purchaseth peace at the price of his blood. O joyful mourning, O mournful joy! The Shepherd dead, new life is in the Flock! The Mother speaks, through her tears, the praises of her Son, for still he lives, the conqueror of the sword.
B. Cease now to mourn, that the flower of the world hath been broken by the world, O sorrowing Rachel! The tomb of thy martyred Thomas gives thee back an Abel for the Abel thou didst lose.
Ant. Hail; O Thomas! sceptre of justice, light of the earth, strong champion of the Church, beloved of the people, favourite of the clergy! Hail, admirable keeper of the Flock! keep in safety all us who rejoice in thy glory.
We cannot resist adding the following Responsory from the same Salisbury Breviary. It is remarkable for its containing an entire Prose, inserted as a Verse, with the repetition of the Caelum domo at the end. We need scarcely draw the attention of our readers to the freshness and beauty of this liturgical gem.
R. Jacet granum oppressum palea, justus caesus pra vorum framea. * Coelum domo commutans lutea.
V. Cadit custos vitis in vinea, dux in castris, cultor in area. * Coelum domo commutans lutea.
Prosa. Clangat pastor in tuba cornea,
Ut libera sit Christi vinea,
Quam assumpsit, sub carnis trabea,
Liberavit cruce purpurea.
Adversatrix ovis erronea.
Fit pastoris caede sanguinea.
Pavimenta Christi marmorea
Sacro madent cruore rubea.
Martyr, vitae donatus laurea,
Velut granum purgatum palea.
In divina transfertur horrea.
* Coelum domo commutans lutea.
R. The grain of wheat lies mothered by the chaff, the just man slain by the sword of sinners. * Changing his house of clay for heaven.
The vine-keeper dies in his vineyard, the general in his camp, the husbandman on the place of his toil. * Changing his house of clay for heaven.
Prose. Let the Pastor, trumpet-tongued, cry out to men,
That Christ’s vineyard must be free:
The vineyard that he took unto himself, when he clothed himself with our flesh,
And made free by the Blood he shed upon the Cross.
A lost sheep, become an enemy.
Is blood-stained by the murder of his Shepherd
The marble pavement of Christ’s sanctuary
Is purpled with the stream of holy blood
The Martyr, decked with the laurel-crown of life,
Is, like wheat well winnowed from its chaff,
Carried into the garnerhouse of heaven.
* Changing his house of clay for heaven.
The Church of France, also testified, by its Liturgy, its admiration for our illustrious Martyr. Adam of Saint-Victor composed as many as three Sequences in honour of his triumph over the enemies of God. We will give two today, reserving the third for the Octave-Day. They breathe the warmest sympathy for the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, and prove how dear was the Liberty of the Church to the Faithful of those days, and how the cause, for which St. Thomas was the Martyr, was then looked upon as the cause of the whole of Christendom.
Gaude, Sion, et laetare,
Voce, voto jocundare
Tuus Thomas trucidatur:
Pro te, Christe, immolatur
Archipraesul et legatus,
Nullo tamen est elatus
Dispensator summi Regis,
Pro tutela sui gregis
Telo certans pastorali,
Ense cinctus spiritali,
Hic pro Dei sui lege,
Et pro suo mori grege,
Tunc rectore desolatam,
Et pastore viduatam,
Se plangebat Cantua.
Versa vice, plausu miro,
Exsultavit tanto viro
Quo absente infirmatur,
Sic nos, pastor, reliquisti,
Nec a vero recessisti
Quondam coetu curiali
Primus eras, et regali
Plebis aura favorali,
Et, ut mos est, temporali
Consequenter es mutatus,
Novus homo reparatus
Ex adverso ascendisti,
Et te murum objecisti,
Caput tuum obtulisti
Carnis tuae morte spreta,
Triumphalis es athleta;
Palma tibi datur laeta,
Quod testantur insueta
Cleri gemma, clare Thoma,
Motus carnis nostrae doma
Ut in Christo, vera vite,
Radicati, vera vite
Capiamus praemia. Amen.
Rejoice, O Sion! and be glad: in voice and heart make holiday on this joyous solemnity.
Thy Thomas, O Jesus! is slain: for thee is he immolated, as a saving host.
He is Archbishop and Legate—yet is he humble amidst all these great honours.
Steward of the Almighty King, he is sentenced to exile, for having defended his flock.
He combats with a Pastor’s weapons; he is girt with the sword of the spirit; he deserved his victory.
He sought to fight and die for the law of his God, and for the flock entrusted to him.
Then did Canterbury weep to see herself left lonely without her guide, and widowed of her Shepherd.
Whilst she wept, another city was in strangest joy :—it was Sens in France, exulting in her possession of so great a man.
While he was absent, the Liberty of the Church was weakened, and being weakened, was trampled on.
Thus, dear Shepherd, didst thou leave us, nor ever didst thou turn from off the right path of justice.
There was a time when thou wast first Lord of the Court, serving as a faithful minister in the palace of a King.
Thou didst enjoy the public favour and praise—short-lived things, as they ever are.
But being raised to the episcopal dignity, thy whole heart is changed. It was a happy barter of office, for it made thee a new man.
Thou didst set thyself up as a wall against iniquity: thou didst offer thy head as a sacrifice to Christ.
The death of thy body was a small thing in thy eyes, brave champion and conqueror! Thou didst receive a splendid Palm, as thy extraordinary and numerous miracles testify.
O glorious Martyr Thomas! thou pearl of priests, tame the rebellion of our flesh by thy powerful prayers.
That so, being rooted in the True Vine, Jesus, we may receive the solid rewards of eternal life. Amen.
Pia mater plangat Ecclesia Quod patravit major Britannia
Factum detestabile; Pietate movetur Francia; Fugit coelum, tellus et maria, Scelus; execrabile!
Scelus, inquam, non dicendum, Grande scelus et horrendum Perpetravit Anglia. Patrem suum praedamnavit, Et in sede trucidavit Restitutum propria.
Thomas totius Angliae Flos vernans, et Ecclesiae Specialis gloria, In templo Cantuariae Pro legibus justitiae Fit sacerdos et hostia.
Inter templum et altare, Templi super liminare Concutitur, non frangitur; Sed gladiis conscinditur Velum templi medium. Eliseus decalvatur, Zacharias trucidatur, Pax tradita dissolvitur, Et organum convertitur
In lamentum flentium. Prope festum Innocentum, Innocenter ad tormentum Pertrahitur, concutitur, Et cerebrum effunditur
Cuspide mucionis. Ad decoris ornamentum,
Templi rubet pavimentum. Quod sanguine respergitur, Dum Sarcerdos induitur
Veste passionis. Furor ingens debacchatur, Sanguis justus condemnatur, Ense caput dissecatur
In conspectu Domini; Cum sacrabat, hic sacratur, Immolator immolatur, Ut virtutis relinquatur
Hoc exemplum homini. Holocaustum medullatum, Jam per orbem propalatum, In odorem Deo gratum
Est pontifex oblatus; Pro corona quae secatur Duplex stola praeparatur, Ubi sedes restaurateur Archiepiscopatus.
Synagoga derogat, ridet paganismus, Insultant idolatrae, quod Christianismus Foedus violaverit, Nec patri pepercerit Christianitatis.
Rachel plorat filium, non vult consolari, Quem in matris utero vidit trucidari; Super cujus obitum Dant in netu gemitum Mentes pietatis.
Hic est ille Pontifex, Quem supernus artifex In coeloram culmine Magnum stabilivit, Postquam pertransivit Gladios Anglorum.
Cum mori non timuit, Sed cervicem praebuit In suo sanguine; Ut abhinc exivit, Semel introivit In Sancta sanctorum. Cujus mortem pretiosam Testantur miracula: Christe, nobis suffragetur Per aeterna saecula. Amen.
Our loving mother the Church weeps over Britannia’s hateful deed. France is moved to compassion, and Heaven, earth, and sea, turn away from the execrable crime.
Yea, England perpetrated a crime too great to tell—a heinous, horrid crime. She gave sentence against her own Father, and having restored him to his See, she slew him.
Thomas, England’s fair flower—the Church’s special glory—is made Priest and Victim, for the law’s of justice, in Canterbury’s Church.
Between the temple and the altar, on the threshold of God’s House, he is struck, but is not vanquished; it is the rending of the veil of the temple by the edge of the sword. Tis Eliseus made bald, ’tis Zacharias slain. The kiss of peace just given, is broken, and the voice of the organ is changed into lamentation and weeping.
‘Twas the morrow of the Innocents’ Feast, when this innocent victim was dragged to execution, and struck down, and his brains picked out with a sword’s point. The pavement of God’s House is enriched with rubies: it is sprinkled with blood, as its Priest puts on the vestment of the Passion.
The murderers are wild with rage; the blood of the just man is condemned, and his head is split with a sword, in the very Presence of our Lord. He that celebrates the sacred rite, is himself made sacred; the sacrificer is made the sacrifice, leaving the world this example of courage.
The Pontiff is offered up a holocausts full of marrow—the whole world is filled with its fame, and its fragrance is most sweet unto God. For the blow which cut off the top part of his head, whereon was marked the tonsure-crown, he receives a twofold robe, when the Archiepiscopal See is restored.
The Jews scoff, and Pagans laugh, and Idolaters reproach a Christian people that broke the sacred vow and murdered a Bishop of the Christian Church. Rachel bewails her Son, nor will she be comforted, for she saw him murdered whilst in her sacred lap: and every feeling heart sheds o’er this glorious death the tears of its sad grief.
This is the Pontiff, who, after he had passed the English swords, was magnified, in high heaven, by the supreme Creator.
Not having feared to die and shed his blood, he left this world, and entered once and for ever into the Holy of Holies.
Miracles attest how precious was this death; may it, O Jesus! draw down thy grace upon us for eternity. Amen.
O glorious Martyr Thomas! courageous defender of the Church of thy divine Master! we come on this day of thy Feast, to do honour to the wonderful graces bestowed upon thee by God. As children of the Church, we look with delighted admiration on him who so loved her, and to whom the honour of this Spouse of Christ was so dear, that he gladly sacrificed his life in order to secure her independence and Liberty. Because thou didst so love the Church, as to sacrifice thy peace, thy temporal happiness, and thy very life, for her; because, too, thy sacrifice was for nothing of thine own, but for God alone;—therefore, have the tongues of sinners and cowards spoken ill of thee, and heaped calumnies upon thee. O Martyr truly worthy of the name! for, the testimony thou didst render was against thine own interests. O Pastor! who, after the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, didst shed thy blood for the deliverance of thy flock ! we venerate thee, because the enemies of the Church insulted thee; we love thee, because they hated thee; and we humbly ask thee to pardon them that have been ashamed of thee, and have wished that thy Martyrdom had never been written in the History of the Church, because they could not understand it!
How great is thy glory, O faithful Pontiff! in being chosen, together with Stephen, John, and the Innocents, to attend on the Infant Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem! Thou didst enter on the battle-field at the eleventh hour; and far from being, on that account, deprived of the reward granted to the earliest of thy brother-combatants, thou art great even amongst the Martyrs. How dear must thou not be to the Divine Babe, whose Birth-Day we are keeping, and who came into the world that he might be the King of Martyrs! What will he refuse to his grand Martyr of Canterbury? Then, pray for us, and gain us admission into Bethlehem. Our ambition is to love the Church, as thou didst—that dear Church, for love of which, Jesus has come down upon the earth—that sweet Church our Mother, who is now unfolding to us such heavenly consolations, by the celebration of the great Mysteries of Christmas, with which thy name is now inseparably associated. Get us, by thy prayers, the grace of Fortitude, that so we may courageously go through any suffering, and make any sacrifice, rather than dishonour our proud title of Catholic.
Speak for us to the Infant Jesus—to Him that is to bear the Cross upon his shoulders, as the insignia of his government (Is. 9:6)—and tell him that we are resolved, by the assistance of his grace, never to be ashamed of his cause, or its defenders; that, full of filial simple love for the Holy Church, which he has given us to be our Mother, we will ever put her interests above all others; for, she alone has the words of eternal life, she alone has the power and the authority to lead men to that better world, which is our last end, and passes not away, as do the things of this world; for, everything in this world is but vanity, illusion, and, more frequently than not, obstacles to the only real happiness of mankind.
But, in order that this Holy Church of God may fulfil her mission, and avoid the snares, which are being laid for her along the whole road of her earthly pilgrimage—she has need, above all things else, of Pastors like thee, O Holy Martyr of Christ! Pray, therefore, the Lord of the vineyard, that he send her labourers, who will not only plant, and water what they plant, but will also defend her from those enemies that are at all times seeking to enter in and lay waste, and whose character is marked by the sacred Scripture, where she calls them, the wild boar (Ps. 79) and the fox. (Cant. 2:15) May the voice of thy blood cry out more suppliantly than ever to God, for, in these days of anarchy, the Church of Christ is treated in many lands as the creature and slave of the State.
Pray for thine own dear England, which, three hundred years ago, made shipwreck of the faith through the apostacy of so many Prelates, who submitted to those usurpations, which thou didst resist even unto blood. Now that the Faith is reviving in her midst, stretch out thy helping hand to her, and thus avenge the outrages offered to thy venerable name, by thy country, when she—the once fair Island of Saints—was sinking into the abyss of heresy. Pray also for the Church of France, for she harboured thee in thy exile, and, in times past, was fervent in her devotion to thee. Obtain for her Bishops the spirit that animated thee; arm them with episcopal courage, and, like thee, they will save the Liberty of the Church. Wheresoever, and in what way soever, this sacred Liberty is trampled on or threatened, do thou be its deliverer and guardian, and, by thy prayers and thine example, win victory for the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ.