Saturday, May 4, 2013
The Feast of The Catholic Martyrs of the Long English Reformation (1535 to 1681)
Today is the great feast honoring all of the Catholic Martyrs of the English Reformation--those canonized by Pope Paul VI and those beatified by Popes John Paul II, Pius XI, and Leo XIII--This feast was moved to this date in 2000 with a new liturgical calendar for the dioceses of England and Wales approved by the Vatican; then in 2010 it was elevated to a Feast (not just a Memorial). It is not a Feast or Memorial on the Liturgical Calendar in the USA--I think it should be!
Moving it to May 4 meant that the feast is celebrated on the anniversary of the protomartyrs of the English Reformation, the Priors of the Carthusian order, a parish priest, and the confessor and chaplain of the Brigittine order at Syon Abbey. These five men, St. John Houghton, St. Augustine Webster, St. Robert Lawrence, Blessed John Haile, and St. Richard Reynolds, were brutally executed at Tyburn before a crowd of Court witnesses. Some sources even suggest that Henry VIII was there in disguise. Drawn on hurdles from the Tower of London (whence St. Thomas More saw them depart), they were hung and quartered while still alive.
The Feast honors all the martyred saints, blessed and canonized from these protomartyrs, through all the others who suffered during the reign of Henry VIII. I call them the Supremacy Martyrs, because they suffered for their denial of Henry VIII's claim to be the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England. It includes the other Carthusians, the Observant Franciscans, St. John Stone, the Abbots of Glastonbury, Reading, and Colchester, Katerine of Aragon's Chaplains, Blessed Margaret Pole, the Prebendaries Plot victims, etc.
The Feast also honors all the martyred saints, blessed and canonized from throughout the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, those whom I call the Recusant Martyrs, because they suffered under the recusancy or penal laws passed by successive Parliaments to eliminate the Catholic faith throughout England. That group includes everyone from the three women martyrs, St. Margeret Clitherow, St. Margaret Ward, and St. Anne Line, to the great Jesuits, St. Edmund Campion, St. Robert Southwell, St. Henry Walpole, Blessed Thomas Holland, and the many laymen who died because they protected or aided a Catholic priest: St. Swithun Wells, Blesseds John Mason, Sidney Hodgson, Richard Langley, Brian Lacey, Marmaduke Bowes, and those laymen who suffered because of the stubborn recusancy: St. Philip Howard, Blesseds James Bird, John Bretton, et al.
Finally, the Feast honors all the martyred saints, blessed and canonized from the reign of Charles II, innocent victims of the Popish Plot, who suffered the double injustice of the recusancy laws and the twisted legal system of England (witnesses prevented from testifying; Oates and his conspirators' evidence valued above the Catholic witnesses, obvious anti-Catholic bias in court, etc): St. John Kemble, St. John Wall, Blessed William Howard, St. Oliver Plunkett, St. David Lewis, Blessed Richard Langhorne, et al.
The list of all these names makes quite a great litany of saints for private devotion! And this blog offers this excellent closing prayer for the litany:
Glorious English Martyrs, you had the courage to witness for Christ before men without counting the cost. Help us to have this same courage in our day.
Glorious English Martyrs, you had a profound love of truth, and would not deny it even though this meant suffering and death. Give us the same love of truth, and zeal for the faith, that you had.
Glorious English Martyrs, at the heart of all you did and endured was the love of God. Help us to know this love, and to pass it to our neighbour.
Glorious English Martyrs, you readily forgave those who persecuted you, and offered your sufferings for their conversion. Intercede for us to have something of the same spirit in the face of injustice or persecution.
Glorious English Martyrs, you persevered in your witness to the end, and joyfully accepted the sufferings that opened to you the Kingdom. Intercede for us, and those who are near to death, or undergoing a trial of faith, that we too may have the grace of final perseverance.