Christ the Lord has promised us the Holy Spirit: come, let us adore him, alleluia.
Year: B(II). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: White.
Other saints: St Dunstan (909 - 988)
England: 19 May
Portsmouth: 17 May
Shrewsbury: 20 May
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.
Other saints: St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury
England: 19 May
Portsmouth: 17 May
Shrewsbury: 20 May
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’.”
Other saints: Saint Milburga (-c.715)
St Milburga, virgin and elder sister of St Mildred, founded the nunnery of Wenlock in Shropshire (now known as Much Wenlock), assisted by endowments from her uncle, Wulfhere, the King of Mercia, and by her father, Merewald.
Installed as abbess by St Theodore, the saint’s monastery is said to have flourished like a paradise under her rule, partly because of the virtues she cultivated and the spiritual gifts with which she was blessed. The saint, who was educated in France, was noted for her humility, and was endowed with the gift of healing and restored sight to the blind, according to popular stories. Through the strength of her exhortations she was also reputed to bring sinners to repentance. She organised the evangelisation and pastoral care of south Shropshire.
Fantastic stories surround the saint. One tells of how she overslept and woke to find the sun shining on her. Her veil slipped but instead of falling to the ground was suspended on a sunbeam until she collected it. Another story relates how she was surrounded by “fire from heaven” as she knelt in prayer beside the body of a dead child and when the flames abated she returned the child back alive to its mother.
St Milburga was credited with having power over birds and after her death was invoked for the protection of crops against their ravages.
In her final years, St Milburga was afflicted by a painful and lingering disease which she bore with serenity. Her last words were: “Blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers.”
Her tomb was long venerated until her abbey was destroyed by invading Danes. After the Norman conquest Cluniac monks built a monastery on the site – the ruins at Much Wenlock are those of the later house – and during the excavations St Milburga’s bones were discovered.
Butler’s Lives of the Saints notes that “while many native saints of more historical importance are little noticed in our English calendars, Milburga’s name appears in quite a number of them, beginning with the Bosworth Psalter”, written in about 950. Her extensive cult owed much to the testimony of St Boniface and of a Medieval papal legate who witnessed miraculous cures at her tomb.
St Milburga was a grand-daughter of the pagan King Penda of Mercia, who slew St Oswald at Oswestry, Shropshire. A third sister of the family was also recognised as a saint but all that is known of St Mildgytha was that she was a nun and that “miraculous powers were often exhibited” at her tomb in Northumbria.
Other saints: St Ivo or Yves (1253 - 1303)
Ivo was born at the manor of Kermartin in the parish of Minihy-Tréguier in Brittany, to a noble family. In 1267 he was sent to the University of Paris, where he studied civil law. His contemporaries at the university included the scholars St John Duns Scotus and Roger Bacon. In 1277 he moved to Orléans to study canon law, and having completed his studies he returned to Brittany and he was appointed an “official” (an ecclesiastical judge) of the archdeanery of Rennes. He protected orphans and widows, defended the poor, and rendered fair and impartial verdicts. Although it was common at the time to give judges “gifts,” Ivo refused such bribes. He often helped disputing parties settle out of court so they could save money He also represented the helpless in other courts, paid their expenses, and visited them in prison.
Meanwhile Ivo contiued his religious studies and in 1284 he was ordained to the priesthood. Ivo was soon invited by the Bishop of Tréguier to become his official, and accepted the offer in 1284. He displayed great zeal and rectitude in the discharge of his duty and did not hesitate to resist taxation by the king, which he considered an encroachment on the rights of the Church. In addition to this post he was appointed parish priest of Tredrez in Brittany in 1285 and of Louannec eight years later. He died in Louannec of natural causes after a life of hard work and repeated fasting.
On the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the birth of St Ivo, Pope John Paul II said, “The values proposed by St Ivo retain an astonishing timeliness. His concern to promote impartial justice and to defend the rights of the poorest persons invites the builders of Europe today to make every effort to ensure that the rights of all, especially the weakest, are recognized and defended.”
Saint Ivo is the patron of lawyers.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Gregory of Agrigentum (late 6th century)
Gregory was born near Agrigentum (Girgenti) in Sicily. He was ordained deacon while on a pilgrimage to Palestine, by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and was ordained Bishop of Agrigentum while on a visit to Rome. Pope St Gregory the Great addressed several letters to him.
There is a long biography of him, written some years after his death, but it is short on the kind of dry biographical detail that is valued in the modern West and long on the stories of personalities, feuds, injustice, divine assistance and eventual vindication which may well be true (there is no reason for them not to be) but which do not accord well with our current ideas of what history ought to be. Even the date of Gregory’s death is uncertain. By 594 he was no longer Bishop, but whether this was due to death, dismissal or retirement, nobody knows.
On the other hand, the “Gregory of Agrigentum” who wrote the exposition on Ecclesiastes which appears among the Second Readings may be another Gregory of Agrigentum from the late seventh, and not the late sixth, century. Or he may even be someone else altogether, from later still.
Faced with such rich material for controversy among scholars, this is one of those cases when it is better not to worry too much about the exact authorship, instead absorbing and deriving spiritual benefit from the rich line of interpretation which this work provides. It is the quality of the Exposition on Ecclesiastes, not the identity of its author, which has secured it its place in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Liturgical colour: white
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)||Romans 5:10-11 ©|
When we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, we were still enemies; now that we have been reconciled, surely we may count on being saved by the life of his Son? Not merely because we have been reconciled but because we are filled with joyful trust in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have already gained our reconciliation.
|Noon reading (Sext)||1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ©|
Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ.
|Afternoon reading (None)||2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ©|
The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead. The reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.