When one thinks today of England and Christianity the image in our minds are dominated by King Henry VIII and the protestant revolt. This, I truly believe, is one of the greatest tragedies in all of human history. This is because if one spends even a short time studying English history you will see how filled it was with so many amazing and wonderful saints. At one time England was known as the “Island of the Saints”, which many today might still think of Ireland in such a way but from the time of the conversion of King Saint Ethelbert by Saint Augustine of Canterbury up until the break from Rome by King Henry VIII England was just as deeply Catholic and Holy as Ireland ever was. Consider that Saint Patrick himself grew up in England (though he was in actually the son of a Roman). It has been fortolled, however, in several prophesies that one day England will be converted back from its heresy and what a glorious day that will be!
Now today is a wonderful day to celebrate one of those great Saints who gave England its one time monicer. Today we see a King Saint who was the son of a Saintly Martyr King who was very holy and resembles in some ways King Saint Louis IX of France whose feast we celebrated just over a month ago.
The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger
Saint Edward the Confessor King of England
This glorious Saint was like a beautiful lily, crowning the ancient branch of the kings of Wessex. The times had progressed since that sixth century, when the pagan Cerdic and other pirate chiefs from the North Sea scattered with ruins the Island of Saints. Having accomplished their mission of wrath, the Anglo-Saxons became instruments of grace to the land they had conquered. Evangelized by Rome, even as before them the Britons they had just chastised, they remembered, better than the latter, whence their salvation had come; a spring-tide blossoming of sanctity showed the pleasure God took once more in Albion, for the constant fidelity of the princes and people of the heptarchy towards the See of Peter. In the year of our Lord 800, Egbert, a descendant of Cerdic, had gone on pilgrimage to Rome, when a crown, beside the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, at whose feet Charlemagne, at that very time, was restoring the Empire. As Egbert united under one scepter the power of the seven kingdoms, so St. Edward, his last descendant, represents to-day in his own person the glorious holiness of them all.
Nephew to St. Edward the Martyr, our holy king is known to God and man by the beautiful title of the Confessor. The Church, in her account of his life, sets forth more particularly the virtues which won him so glorious an appellation; but we must remember moreover that his reign of twenty four years was one of the happiest England has ever known. Alfred the Great had no more illustrious imitator. The Danes, so long masters, now entirely subjugated within the kingdom, and without, held at bay by the noble attitude of the prince; Macbeth, the usurper of the Scotch throne, vanquished in a campaign that Shakespeare has immortalized; St. Edward’s Laws, which remain to this day the basis of the British Constitution; the Saint’s munificence towards all noble enterprises, while at the same time he diminished the taxes :—all this proves with sufficient clearness, that the sweetness of virtue, which made him the intimate friend of St. John the Beloved disciple, is not incompatible with the greatness of a monarch.
Edward, surnamed the Confessor, nephew to St. Edward king and martyr, was the last king of the Anglo Saxon race. Our Lord had revealed that he would one day be king, to a holy man named Brithwald. When Edward was ten years old, the Danes, who were devastating England, sought his life; he was therefore obliged to go into exile, to the Court of his uncle the Duke of Normandy. Amid the vices and temptations of the Norman court, he grew up pure and innocent, a subject of admiration to all. His pious devotion towards God and holy things was most remarkable. Be wary of a very gentle disposition, and so great a stranger to ambition that he was wont to say he would rather forego the kingdom than take possession of it by violence and bloodshed.
On the death of the tyrants who had murdered his brothers and seized their kingdom, he was recalled to his country, and ascended the throne to the greatest satisfaction and joy of all his subjects. He then applied himself to remove all traces of the havoc wrought by the enemy. To begin at the sanctuary, he built many churches, and restored others, endowing them with rents and privileges; for he was very anxious to see religion, which had been neglected, flourishing again. All writers assert that, though compelled by his nobles to marry, both he and his bride preserved their virginity intact. Such were his love of Christ and his faith, that he was one day permitted to see our Lord in the Mass, shining with heavenly light and smiling upon him. His lavish charity won him the name of the father of orphans and of the poor; and he was never so happy as when he had exhausted the royal treasury on their behalf.
He was honoured with the gift of prophecy, and foresaw much of England’s future history. A remarkable instance is, that when Sweyn, king of Denmark, was drowned in the very act of embarking on his fleet to invade England, Edward was supernaturally aware of the event the very moment it happened. He had a special devotion to St. John the Evangelist, and was accustomed never to refuse anything asked in his name. One day St. John appeared to him as a poor man begging an alms in this manner; the king, having no money about him, took off his ring and gave it to him. Soon afterwards the Saint sent the ring back to Edward, with a message that his death was at hand. The king then ordered prayers to be said for himself; and died most piously on the day foretold by St. John, the Nones of January, in the year of salvation 1066. In the following century Pope Alexander III enrolled him, famous for miracles, among the Saints. Innocent XI ordered his memory to be celebrated by the whole Church with a public office, on the day of his Translation, which took place thirty-six years after his death, his body being found incorrupt and exhaling a sweet fragrance.
Thou represented on the sacred Cycle the nation which Gregory the Great foresaw would rival the Angels; so many holy kings, illustrious virgins, grand Bishops, and great monks, who were its glory, now form thy brilliant court. Where are now the unwise in whose sight thou and thy race seemed to die? (Wis. 3:2) History must be judged in the light of heaven. While thou and thine reign there eternally, judging nations and ruling over peoples ; (Wis. 3:8) the dynasties of thy successors on earth, ever jealous of the Church, and long wandering in schism and heresy, have become extinct one after another, sterilized by God’s wrath, and having none but that vain renown, whereof no trace is found in the book of life. How much more noble and more durable, O Edward, were the fruits of thy holy virginity! Teach us to look upon the present world as a preparation for another, an everlasting world; and to value human events by their eternal results. Our admiring worship seeks and finds thee in thy royal Abbey of Westminster; and we love to contemplate, by anticipation, thy glorious resurrection on the day of judgment, when all around there so many false grandeurs will acknowledge their shame and their nothingness. Bless us, prostrate in spirit or in reality, beside thy tomb, where heresy, fearful of the result, would fain forbid our prayer. Offer to God the supplications rising to-day from all parts of the world, for the wandering sheep, whom the Shepherd’s voice is now so earnestly calling back to the one Fold!
Prayers to Saint Edward and for England…
Collect for the Feast of Saint Edward the Confessor
O God, Who hast set upon the head of thy blessed Confessor King Edward a crown of everlasting glory, grant unto us, we beseech thee, so to use our reverence for him here upon earth, as to make the same a mean whereby to come to reign with him hereafter in heaven. 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.
Prayer said after Low Mass in England in addion to the usual Leonine Prayers
R. Et exaudi nos in die, qua invocaverimus te.Oremus.Quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut famula tua Elisabeth regina nostra, quae tua miseratione suscepit regni gubernacula, virtutum etiam omnium percipiat incrementa; quibus decenter ornata, et vitiorum monstra devitare, (hostes superare,) et ad te, qui via, veritas, et vita es, cum principe consorte et prole regia, gratiosa valeat pervenire: per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
V. O Lord, save Elizabeth our Queen.
R. And hear us in the day when we call upon Thee.
Prayer for England to the Blessed Virgin Mary
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England thy Dowry and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee.
By thee it was that Jesus our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross.
O sorrowful Mother! Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the supreme Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.
Pray for us all, dear Mother that by faith fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee, in our heavenly home. Amen.