Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blessed Thomas Woodhouse: A Marian Priest

From the Catholic Encyclopedia: Blessed Thomas Woodhouse was a priest ordained during the reign of Mary I and a:

Martyr who suffered at Tyburn 19 June, 1573, being disembowelled alive. Ordained in Mary's reign, he was a Lincolnshire rector for under a year, and in 1560 acted as a private tutor in Wales. On 14 May, 1561, he was committed to the Fleet, London, having been arrested while saying Mass. For the rest of his life he remained in custody, uncompromising in his opposition to heresy, saying Mass in secret daily, reciting his Office regularly, and thirsting for martyrdom; but treated with considerable leniency till on 19 November, 1572, he sent the prison washerwoman to Lord Burghley's house with his famous letter. In it he begs him to seek reconciliation with the pope and earnestly to "persuade the Lady Elizabeth, who for her own great disobedience is most justly deposed, to submit herself unto her spiritual prince and father". Some days later in a personal interview he used equally definite language. Confined then by himself he wrote "divers papers, persuading men to the true faith and obedience", which he signed, tied to stones, and flung into the street. He was repeatedly examined both publicly and privately. Once, when he had denied the queen's title, someone said, "If you saw her Majesty, you would not say so, for her Majesty is great". "But the Majesty of God is greater", he answered. After being sentenced at the Guildhall either in April or on 16 June, he was taken to Newgate. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus in prison, though the Decree of the Congregation of Rites, 4 December, 1886, describes him as a secular priest. He is not to be confused with Thomas Wood.

He is the protomartyr of English Jesuits:

Thomas Woodhouse (1535-1573) was the first Jesuit to die in the conflict between pope and English crown, although he was only admitted to the Society just before his arrest. . . . At some point in 1572 he wrote the Jesuit provincial in Paris because the English mission was not yet established, and asked to become a member of the Society.

One note: Father Woodhouse was evidently an exception to the commonly accepted rule that Elizabeth's regime did not prosecute Catholic priests until after the Northern Rebellion and the Papal Bull of 1569 and 1570, for he was arrested and committed to prison for the rest of his life in 1561. Even a lenient prison sentence of 12 years is onerous, especially since his crime was saying Mass. Under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, he must have been caught saying Mass more than once--in fact, three times--if he was justly sentenced to life imprisonment under English law. He was really quite a pioneer, trying to figure out on his own what to do after his vocation as a Catholic priest had been effectively declared illegal.

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