Monday, May 4, 2015

480 Years Ago: The Protomartyrs of the English Reformation, May 4, 1535

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. Many of the beatified martyrs, especially those declared martyrs by Popes Pius XI and Leo XIII, are not well known. Perhaps all the beatified martyrs should be canonized by Pope Francis? I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning after the 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central time news break in the last segment of the EWTN broadcast to discuss this feast and these martyrs. 

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 their "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 endured exile from your country and your families for love of God and the faith. Help all who live in exile today; and help us to value our faith above our securities.

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 loved England, your country, enough to suffer exile, persecution, and death to proclaim Jesus Christ here. Intercede for England, and for all who are called to proclaim Christ today. 

Glorious English Martyrs, you had a great love of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, for which you were ready to give up your lives. Help us to have something of this same love, and never to take for granted these great gifts of God. 

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 had such a compassion for sinners that you risked all that they might be converted and live. Help us not to judge others, but to show God’s merciful love to all; help us, too, not to despair of our own sins, but to lay them humbly before the Father who loves us.

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. 


So it was 480 years ago today that St. Thomas More and his dear daughter Meg (Margaret Roper) stood at a window in the Tower of London and saw the priors, and Father Haile, and Father Reynolds being taken away to Tyburn. According to the biography written by his son-in-law William Roper:

As Sir Thomas More in the Tower chanced on a time looking out of his window to behold one Mr. Reynolds, a religious, learned and virtuous father of Sion, and three monks of the Charterhouse for the matter of the supremacy going out of the Tower to execution, he, as one longing in that journey to have accompanied them, said unto my wife, then standing there beside him, "Lo, dost thou not see (Meg) that these blessed fathers be how as cheerful going to their deaths, as bridegrooms to their marriages? Wherefore thereby mayest thou see (mine own good daughter) what a difference there is between such as have in effect spent all their days in a strait, hard, penitential, and painful life religiously, and such as have in the world, like worldly wretches, as thy poor father hath done, consumed all the time in pleasure and ease licentiously. For God, considering their long-continued life in most sore and grievous penance, will not longer suffer them to remain here in this vale of misery, and iniquity, but speedily hence take them to the fruition of his everlasting deity: whereas thy silly father (Meg) that, like a most wicked caitiff, hath passed forth the whole course of his miserable life most pitifully, God, thinking him not worthy so soon to come to that eternal felicity, leaveth him here yet, still in the world further to be plunged and turmoiled with misery." 

1 comment:

  1. There was one slight innacuracy in the article. The feast of the Blessed English Martyrs was instituted in the nineteenth century and has always been on the 4th May.