The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Year: C(II). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: White.
St Dunstan (909 - 988)
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’.”
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 continued 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.
Other saints: Blessed Raphael Louis Rafiringa (1856 - 1919)
Firinga was born in Antananativo, Madagascar, on 1 May 1856. His father Rainiantoandro was a member of the noble tribe of Hova and an important functionary at the court of Queen Ranavalona I of Imerina (now called Madagascar). He was in charge of the royal slaves. Firinga received his early education from the Queen’s sorcerers. In 1866, he met some missionaries from the Christian Brothers and saw that they were greater than his teachers. He chose baptism at the age of 14, in 1869. He took the baptismal name Raphael and added the prefix “Ra” to his name (meaning “Mr” or “Sir”), becoming Rafiringa.
He taught at the de la Salle Brotherhood’s school from the age of 17, and later joined the order, becoming the first native of Madagascar to do so.
The Christian missionaries were expelled from Madagascar in 1883, and Brother Raphael was put in charge of the nascent Christian community on the island, a responsibility he shared with Victoria Rasoamanarivo, the daughter of the prime minister and a convert to Christianity against her family’s wishes.
A treaty between Madagascar and France allowed the missionaries to return in 1886, and thanks to the labours of Raphael and Victoria they found a strong and numerous Christian community.
Raphael took his final vows in November 1889 and devoted himself to intense literary work, defending the rights of the Catholic Church in his country. He also wrote general textbooks for the schools and various religious works. He was named a member of the Madagascar Academy and received the Medal of Civil Merit for his role in facilitating peace between Madagascar and France.
In late 1915 he was arrested on suspicion of belonging to a secret nationalist sect. At his trial in February 1916 he was acquitted, but his time spent in prison damaged his health to the point that his superiors sent him to their house at Fianarantsoa to recover, and he died there on 19 May 1919.
Raphael Rafaringa was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 7 June 2009.
Other saints: St. Francis Coll Guitart OP (1812 - 1875)
19 May (where celebrated)
Dominican Friar and Priest.
Saint Francis Coll was born at Gombreny in the Catalan Pyrenees in 1812 and, after studying at the diocesan seminary at Vich, entered the Dominican Order at the priory of Gerona in 1830. In 1835 the anticlerical government closed the house of studies at Gerona and dispersed the Dominican students. From that day until his death he maintained a heroic fidelity to his Dominican vocation without the support offered by Dominican community life. Eventually he was ordained at the diocesan seminary at Vich in 1836. After several years of parish ministry he pursued itinerant preaching along with his friend Saint Anthony Claret. He founded the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation to teach the children of the poor in the villages where he preached. In December, 1869, Blessed Francis suffered a stroke which left him completely blind. He died at Vich on April 2, 1875.
Today's Mass reading: Theological science
Outsiders are often under the impression that the Church decides things. For instance, they think that saying that this or that kind of action is morally right or wrong is a decision, a decision rather than a determination of fact. (Indeed, the word ‘determine’, at least in American usage, sits nicely on the hinge of the question, since when the government determines the rate of income tax and when the Surgeon General determines that smoking is harmful, they are two different kinds of ‘determination’, reached in different ways, one reformable, one irreformable).
It is convenient, in a world where journalists see everything as politics, to treat doctrine as what we decide to believe. But it is dangerous, because in the end the whole point of our encounter with God is that it is an encounter with Truth Itself, whereas if everything is politics, then nothing is definitely true: if we argue for long enough, we can decide that apples fall upwards.
Theology is a science. It determines things in the Surgeon General sense, not in the tax sense. When we decide that we all need to celebrate Easter on the same date, and then argue about which date, that is like tax or deciding which side of the road to drive on. It is not science, and it is not truth. But then again, it is not theology either, but religion. Theology asks ‘What is true?’ while religion asks ‘What shall we do about it?’, rather as engineering asks ‘What shall we do about it all?’ about the laws of physics.
Theology is a science, and it uses the methods of science. That is not some unrealistic aspiration. It is not an invention of mediaeval academics. We see it in action at the Council of Jerusalem in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
A science has data, and a scientific discussion starts from the data and makes sense of them. So the Council hears one important item of data – the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the family of the Gentile Cornelius – which conflicts with certain ideas of what it means to be chosen, and righteous, and justified – ideas which have themselves come from other data, from the accumulation of scripture and salvation history.
The scientific task is to make sense of the whole.
Even in Luke’s compressed account, it is clear that the Council is not having a ‘What shall we choose to say?’ discussion but a ‘What is true?’ discussion: that is to say, a scientific one. Such discussions are of a fundamentally different nature from political or decision-making ones. It is not about getting a majority on the committee. It is about taking the data, however discordant they may seem, and making sense of them all. That is what science is. Is this an impossible goal, or a possible one? In the case of the physical world we believe that it can be done because we believe that the physical world really exists. When it comes to theological matters we know that it can be done because we know that we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our mind: that is to say, we are told that God makes sense.
Arguments will never cease, of course. That is the glory of having one race made up of many minds. But we do need to remember that when we believe, the root of our belief is not decision (let’s all drive on the right, or let’s all drive on the left) but truth. Then our arguments, and even our disagreements, can be truly scientific in the original, root sense, of the word: ‘productive of knowledge’.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: Saint Gaudentius of Brescia (- c.410)
Gaudentius was Bishop of Brescia from about 387 until about 410. He was a friend of St John Chrysostom. His Easter sermons were written down after delivery at the request of Benivolus, the chief of the Brescian nobility, who had been prevented by ill health from hearing them delivered. They are simple, clear and straightforward.
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)||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.