Alleluia! The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world. Come, let us adore him, alleluia.
Year: A(I). Liturgical Colour: Red.
The fiftieth day
The name “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” Like Easter, it is tied to a Jewish feast. 49 days (7 weeks, or “a week of weeks”) after the second day of Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).
Passover celebrates the freeing of the Jews from slavery; Shavuot celebrates their becoming God’s holy people by the gift and acceptance of the Law; and the counting of the days to Shavuot symbolises their yearning for the Law.
From a strictly practical point of view, Shavuot was a very good time for the Holy Spirit to come down and inspire the Apostles to preach to all nations because, being a pilgrimage festival, it was an occasion when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from many countries.
Symbolically, the parallel with the Jews is exact. We are freed from the slavery of death and sin by Easter; with the Apostles, we spend some time as toddlers under the tutelage of the risen Jesus; and when he has left, the Spirit comes down on us and we become a Church.
Other saints: Blessed Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1473 - 1541)
Arundel & Brighton, Christchurch, Havant
Margaret Plantagenet was the niece of King Edward IV, and was born in 1473. These were troubled times. Her father, the Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason, by the King, his own brother, while she was still a small child. Her brother Edward of Warwick might have been King of England but for the establishment of the House of Tudor by Henry VII after Bosworth Field in 1485. She herself could have posed a threat to the new dynasty, but instead of having her imprisoned or executed the King arranged for her marriage to a loyal supporter of his, Sir Richard Pole. The couple lived at Lordington, near Chichester, where probably their children, including the future Cardinal, were born.
Before long the Poles were appointed to the household of Prince Arthur and his wife Catherine of Aragon. Margaret and Catherine became firm friends. But within a year Arthur died; and within three years her husband also died, leaving her to bring up their five children. However, for a time all went well. Margaret successfully petitioned for the restoration of her titles and property, confiscated at her father’s attainder, and was admitted to her title of Countess of Salisbury. No doubt because of her friendship for Queen Catherine, whom Henry VIII had married after the death of Arthur (with papal dispensation), she was appointed as governess and head of the household to Princess Mary, (later Queen Mary Tudor). At that time the King used to say that his kingdom did not contain a nobler woman than the Countess.
But in the 1530’s came the King’s “great matter”, his divorce from Queen Catherine. Needless to say, Margaret disapproved strongly, as did her son Reginald, who was forced to take refuge on the Continent from the King’s anger. The divorce and Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn brought England into schism. The King tried hard to get Reginald on to his side, but of course to no avail. His book “De unitate” enraged the King, and when the Pope made him a Cardinal, that was the last straw. He vented his anger on the Cardinal’s family. It was now the year 1539. Margaret’s eldest son, Lord Montague, and other relatives, were executed for treason; and Margaret herself was subjected to a long period of interrogation, first at her own home near Havant, and then at Cowdray Park near Midhurst, the property of one of her interrogators, the Earl of Southampton. They sought evidence of treason, whether by support of her son the Cardinal, or by proving some involvement with the uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
The reports of the interrogators give us some indication of the remarkable steadfastness of this elderly lady, now approaching seventy years of age. Not only did her questioners fail to extract any admission of guilt, even after rough handling; it is clear that they both feared and grudgingly respected her. Cromwell was unable to bring her to trial for lack of evidence, so he persuaded a subservient Parliament to pass an Act of Attainder by which she was condemned purely on suspicion, without any trial.
The Countess was taken to the Tower. The sentence for treason was death, but Henry forbore to have it executed, and for two years she was kept in the Tower, suffering greatly from the cold and damp.
It was finally the fact of her royal blood that brought about her execution. The King feared a rebellion of Yorkist sympathizers, following a Rising in the North. Margaret, the “last of the Plantagenets”, must be eliminated, and he ordered her execution. She was beheaded on East Smithfield Green, within the precincts of the Tower, on 27th May 1541, and buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula.
But the underlying cause of her death was undoubtedly the fact that the King could not silence the opposition to him in Europe, in which her son the Cardinal had so large a part, coupled with her own indomitable refusal, from the time of the divorce onwards, to compromise the unity of the Church. Her last words were, “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake”.
The Church formally gave her the title Blessed in 1886.
Other saints: Bl. Mary Bartholomew Bagnesi OP (1514 - 1577)
28 May (where celebrated)
Virgin and Lay Dominican.
Blessed Mary Batholomew Bagnesi was born in Florence on August 15, 1514, and there received the habit of a Dominican Sister of Penance in 1547. For forty-five years she was confined to her bed and with great courage bore the pains she suffered. By her spirit of faith and acceptance of God’s will, she was able to encourage and console many who came to her. She died on May 28, 1577, and was buried at the Carmelite monastery in Florence.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Irenaeus (130 - 202)
Irenaeus was born in Smyrna, in Asia Minor (now Izmir in Turkey) and emigrated to Lyons, in France, where he eventually became the bishop. It is not known for certain whether he was martyred or died a natural death.
Whenever we take up a Bible we touch Irenaeus’s work, for he played a decisive role in fixing the canon of the New Testament. It is easy for people nowadays to think of Scripture – and the New Testament in particular – as the basis of the Church, but harder to remember that it was the Church itself that had to agree, early on, about what was scriptural and what was not. Before Irenaeus, there was vague general agreement on what scripture was, but a system based on this kind of common consent was too weak. As dissensions and heresies arose, reference to scripture was the obvious way of trying to settle what the truth really was, but in the absence of an agreed canon of scripture it was all too easy to attack one’s opponent’s arguments by saying that his texts were corrupt or unscriptural; and easy, too, to do a little fine-tuning of texts on one’s own behalf. Irenaeus not only established a canon which is almost identical to our present one, but also gave reasoned arguments for each inclusion and exclusion.
Irenaeus also wrote a major work, Against the Heresies, which in the course of denying what the Christian faith is not, effectively asserts what it is. The majority of this work was lost for many centuries and only rediscovered in a monastery on Mount Athos in 1842. Many passages from it are used in the Office of Readings.
Liturgical colour: red
Red is the colour of fire and of blood. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate the fire of the Holy Spirit (for instance, at Pentecost) and the blood of the martyrs.
|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)||2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ©|
Remember it is God himself who assures us all, and you, of our standing in Christ, and has anointed us, marking us with his seal and giving us the pledge, the Spirit, that we carry in our hearts.