Saturday, 13 October 2012

Happy Feast of the Confessor

Happy Feast of St Edward the Confessor!

When I say "Feast" I use that word as it is used in common parlance. Actually, in the English Church, today is a Memorial, which means liturgically-speaking that we don't sing the Gloria at Mass or the Te Deum at the Office of Readings as we would on a "Feast" technically so-called. We only use the prayers proper to him at Mass and the Divine Office.

Or so I thought... I've discovered (or possibly rediscovered since this time last year!) that at some point since the Breviary was published today's celebration appears to have been relegated to an Optional Memorial, meaning the priest can choose whether or not he acknowledges Edward by using his prayers in the liturgy.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems a shame that this national saint-king - the only King of England in fact to be canonised - is not observed with more ceremony! Along with our own East Anglian king St Edmund the Martyr, and Pope St Gregory the Great, St Edward was regarded as the official patron of England until St George was made so in 1351. There seems to be a lot of contention over the issue of whether St Edward was a successful monarch or not. Shortly after his death in 1066, England was conquered by the Normans. But he was apparently loved for his gentle and generous spirit. He avoided starting any wars. He did not enforce the Danegelt (a tax which Viking invaders had periodically demanded from England). He gave willingly to the poor. He loved participating in the liturgy. He built Westminster Abbey (though not as it appears today). Perhaps it was his gentleness that made him prone to pushy opportunitists like the Godwin family. Such was appropriate to his saintly gentleness, but let us not be meek on his behalf and allow him to go unnoticed!

I'm sure our historian confrere Simon could tell us more, and that more accurately, about St Edward. At any rate, let us invoke St Edward's intercession for those in government in our country, that they make decisions not based on superficial motives but out of a real love for what is true, good and beautiful. We can also pray to him, the Confessor, as a model for us in this Year of Faith. He can help us to live our faith in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, great or small.


EA Seminarians said...


I think you have the history of St Edward pretty much covered, Henry.

Indeed, it is a great shame that the patron saint of England - as he once was, and probably still is - isn't much celebrated in his country. Many countries - principally European ones, mind, have a king (or Queen) who is a saint, and they are greatly venerated.

I've always regarded St Edward as a difficult character; like many of the saints, they seem to have intolerable personalities. Though St Edward seems warm, kind and gentle (though he was not a stranger to heavy drinking, feasting and bloodsports like most of his noble contemporaries), he was not without difficulties and pains during his life.

The most troubling, I expect, was his relationship with his wife, a marriage, by his own death-bed admission, was never consummated. There were allegations made by Edward's enemies against an act of carnal sacrilege which Queen Emma was supposed to have engaged with one of England's premier bishops. The rumours were, Edward insisted, unfounded, and he remained steadfastly loyal to his wife, in spite of the scandal that it caused the royal house.

St Edward is the patron saint of difficult marriages. Perhaps, now as his country is trying to destroy that very institution that he no doubt sweated blood to uphold in his own personal life, we could beseech his intercession for the country which he, no doubt, still loves very much.

Edward once made a vow that he would make a pilgrimage to Rome, if God delivered his family from their problems. God did, but Edward's courtiers refused to let him go, and so the Pope instead absolved him from his vow, on condition that he undertook works of charity towards the poor, and endowed a new ecclesial foundation in honour of St Peter. Edward commissioned the monastic church, St Peter-outside-the-Walls in Thorney, which was erected as an abbey church, and named West Minster, being west of the city, in a boggy desolate wasteland. He is buried in his abbey church; his final illness was contracted during the consecration of the church in 1065.

And the rest is history...

Westminster remains a largely boggy and desolate wasteland.

Richard Duncan said...

When the new (OF) calendar for England was introduced (in 2000?) several celebrations were "downgraded" in response to a request from the Holy See for a "more restrained ranking" of feasts.

This is not the first time St Edward the Confessor has suffered this indignity. Before the introduction of the 1962 recension of the (EF) Roman Breviary, he was a Second Class Double in the Archdiocese of Birmingham and a First Class Double in the Archdiocese of Westminster. In the City of Westminster he had his own Octave as well. In the 1962 Breviary he was reduced to a Third Class Feast.

There was definitely a prejudice amongst the liturgical reformers (both before and after the Council) against the "overloading" of the temporal cycle by the sanctoral cycle. I can't help feeling that this was an example of the "senseless and exaggerated antiquarianism" that Pius XII rightly condemned in Mediator Dei, and a fruitless attempt to return the liturgical calendar to a supposedly "pristine" state.

EA Seminarians said...

Quite right, Brother Richard. I've never really liked green, either.

I understand that it is a solemnity in the City of Westminster.