6 August 2017

The Battle of Belgrade and S Xystus

August 6; the Transfiguration; an oriental feast brought into the Roman Calendar by Calixtus III in 1457 to commemorate the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Belgrade in 1457 (rather as the Feast of the Holy Rosary commemorates the Battle of Lepanto ... whatever would we do without all those defeats of the Turks?). Late Medieval England developed a great devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, especially with the encouragement of the Lady Margaret, mother of Henry VII. So here in England, the following day became the Feast of the Holy Name. A good idea, in my view. Just as Corpus Christi needed to be extracted from Maundy Thursday and given the opportunity to be celebrated at a time not preoccupied with the progress of Triduum (call it duplication if you like), so the Holy Name can do with being extracted from the Christmas/Circumcision/Naming sequence and given space to stand alone. What a shame the Ordinariate Calendar missed this opportunity. Actually, if you follow the Novus books, you could say a votive Mass and Office of the Holy Name on August 7.

What went under, what got lost in all this, was poor old Xystus. One of the martyr-popes in the Canon Romanus; the Pontiff whose own martyrdom preceded that of his own Archdeacon, S Lawrence, a few days later. The story is a poignant one: the arrest of the pontiff while preaching from his cathedra; his leading away to 'sacrifice to the gods'; his refusal. He was then brought back to be martyred at his own altar, together with two of his deacons; as he was being prepared for death, Archdeacon Lawrence said "Why do you abandon me, Father, you who never offer the Holy Sacrifice without your deacon?" "You will follow me in three days", said S Xystus. S Lawrence is one of three great patrons of the Roman Church; Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima being dedicated, as their liturgical propers demonstrate, to SS Lawrence, Paul, and Peter. Celebrating S Xystus on the 6th and S Lawrence on the 10th is both elegant and moving.

But, in the Novus Ordo, you can't. The novel fad for confining one day to one theme, unknown to the classical Roman and Byzantine rites, led the reformers to move S Xystus back off the Transfiguration (on the 6th) to the 5th and then to change their minds and move him to the 7th. I can only say that I consider this a great shame. What on earth is wrong with the old custom of keeping the Transfiguration on the 6th with a commemoration of S Xystus? He's much more likely to be noticed there than as an optional memorial competing for attention ... and on the wrong day.


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