Christ the Lord has promised us the Holy Spirit: come, let us adore him, alleluia.
Year: B(II). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: White.
Dunstan was a Benedictine monk, reformer and Archbishop of Canterbury. He was born near Glastonbury and educated at the abbey. He joined the king’s household, but was soon expelled from court, accused of being a magician. Later he was ordained priest at Winchester. He returned to Glastonbury briefly but was soon recalled to court. King Edmund took a great interest in Glastonbury, and when the abbacy fell vacant he appointed Dunstan as abbot. Dunstan set about restoring monastic life, which had been almost extinguished under Danish invasions, and this is considered to be one of his greatest achievements.
In 995 his fortunes changed again, and through intrigue at court he was exiled to Mont Blandin (Ghent), and he saw for the first time a reformed monastery of the continent. Recalled by King Edgar, he became successively Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. He composed the Coronation Rite for King Edgar at Bath, which is the basis of the Coronation Rite still in use. So began the fruitful collaboration between King and Archbishop which reformed the Church in England, largely through the monastic orders, and was regarded after the Conquest as a ‘golden age’. The promulgation of Regularis Concordia in about 970 marked the success of the movement Dunstan had started in Glastonbury years before. He collaborated with the king in making laws, administering justice and reforming the Church, and remained active until he died, at Canterbury, on 19 May 988. After his death his cult grew rapidly, and under Anselm’s rule it became nationwide. He was one of the most popular Anglo-Saxon saints, and many legends have grown up around him.
|St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury|
It has been said that St Dunstan was one of the three makers of England before the Norman Conquest: the others being King Alfred and King Athelstan. Dunstan himself was connected with the royal family of Wessex. Born in about the year 909, Dunstan received his schooling at Glastonbury, and as a youth was a member of King Athelstan’s court, which was itself a rich source of education, for there were many contacts there with the Continent, Wales and Scotland. Dunstan was a serious young man, avid for books and learning, but also fascinated by the arts, especially music and the illumination of manuscripts, and furthermore skilled in many kinds of handicraft. He is the patron of goldsmiths and workers in metals. Perhaps as a result of all these talents, he frequently aroused opposition among his peers. At the age of 26 he was dismissed the Court, and went to stay with the Bishop of Winchester, Ælfheah, who deserves the credit for starting Dunstan on his life’s work. Bishop Ælfheah dreamed of a revival of Benedictine monasticism in England, then at a very low ebb, and saw in Dunstan the man to do this. Dunstan however was not so sure. He preferred his life of reflection, study and artistic work – and was also considering getting married. But a severe illness brought him to a point of decision, and on his recovery he joined the monastery at Glastonbury. Bishop Ælfheah clothed him with the habit and later ordained him priest.
Three years later, in 939, King Athelstan died, and was succeeded by his half-brother Edmund, a youth of eighteen, who immediately recalled Dunstan to act as his special adviser. A second time he provoked jealousy, and the King was forced to dismiss him; but Edmund had a change of heart following a narrow escape from death while out hunting in Cheddar, and finding the courage of his convictions straightaway appointed Dunstan abbot of Glastonbury.
This has rightly been seen as a turning point in the religious history of England. Dunstan was about thirty, and he was abbot for at least thirteen years. He began by adding to and improving the Abbey buildings, and included the provision of workshops for arts and crafts. More vital, he set about reintroducing the Rule of St Benedict, with its disciplined way of life for monks, and its insistence on stability, prayer (especially in choir), study and manual work. He was seeking to restore the ancient English tradition of Bede, Cuthbert and Aldhelm.
While at Glastonbury, Dunstan was still in touch with public affairs. In 946 King Edmund was murdered; Dunstan went on to be counsellor to the next king, Eadred. But in 955 Eadred died, and his successor Eadwig, a mere youth, was indifferent to good advice, to say the least. He disgraced himself at his coronation feast by leaving his guests and going to amuse himself with the young lady whom he eventually married. Dunstan had to bring him back to the feast by main force. Once again he had made enemies, and for the third time he was banished from Court. This time he went to Flanders for a year or so, where he had first-hand experience of the work of monastic reform being achieved in Ghent.
Eadwig’s indifference to his responsibilities brought about his downfall. Mercia and Northumbria were in revolt, and elected his brother Edgar as King in the Midlands and North. Edgar immediately called Dunstan to his side, and there began a partnership between King and Bishop which was to be highly significant for the development of the Church in England. That same year (957) Dunstan became Bishop of Worcester, and two years later he was transferred to London. Then Eadwig died, and Edgar was undisputed King of the whole country. In 960 he appointed Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury.
The new archbishop was not only the King’s principal adviser; the work of monastic renewal could now go on apace. Dunstan was the controlling spirit, the King gave constant support, other bishops, particularly Oswald of Worcester and Æthelwold of Winchester, were active in reform. The most significant development was the drawing up of the Regularis Concordia, a document prescribing a uniform rule of observance of Benedictine life, to be adopted by all monasteries in England.
Dunstan still kept in touch with Glastonbury, which produced many pastors, abbots and bishops imbued with the ideals of renewal. One such was Æthelgar, successively Abbot of Winchester, Bishop of Selsey, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury on Dunstan’s death.
Throughout the reign of Edgar, known as “the Peaceful”, Dunstan was at the king’s side. Elements of Edgar’s Coronation Service, devised by Dunstan, have endured right down to the present day. Edgar died in 975, and again there were rival claimants to the throne, the half-brothers Edward and Ethelred. Dunstan supported the claim of the elder brother Edward, but in 978 the unfortunate young man was murdered at Corfe Castle, and Ethelred (“the Unready”) succeeded. From then on Dunstan withdrew more and more from affairs of state, and for the last ten years of his life he devoted himself to the care of his diocese. He died on 19th May 988, and was immediately acclaimed as a Saint. His last words were a quotation from Psalm 110, sung at Sunday Vespers: “The merciful and gracious Lord hath made remembrance of his wonderful works; he hath given food to them that fear him.”
Dunstan had made many of the wonderful works of God a reality for the English people. The quality of English life, religious, political, cultural and artistic, was the richer because of him. At Mayfield, where he had established a hospice for travellers, he built a wooden church. The story is told that when he came to dedicate it he found it incorrectly orientated; but a slight pressure of his shoulder brought the building into line. Be that as it may, one thing is very clear: amid all the activity of an immensely busy life, Dunstan was always first and foremost a man of prayer. “One thing at least of my own knowledge I can declare”, wrote his earliest biographer, “although he had spent his years here below under the veil of flesh, yet in spirit, whether awake or asleep, he lived always above this world, for ‘his homeland was in heaven’.”
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Corinthians 12:13 ©|
In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Titus 3:5,7 ©|
God saved us by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.
|Afternoon reading (None)||(Colossians 1:12-14) ©|
We thank the Father who has made it possible for us to share in the saints’ inheritance of light. He has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves. In him, we gain our freedom and the forgiveness of our sins.
Free audio for the blind
Office of Readings for 7th Thursday of Easter
Morning Prayer for 7th Thursday of Easter
Evening Prayer for 7th Thursday of Easter
Full page including sources and copyrights