3 November 2017

November 5, is the Feast of the Holy Relics

However, this year, the Feast is displaced by a Sunday. But does that prevent homilists from expounding its themes at the Sunday Mass? After all, modern custom is to identify Sunday mainly with the Resurrection, and Resurrection is what the Feast of all the Holy Relics preserved in our churches is really about. (And the Mass can be said as a Votive on any free day ...)

What a wholesome liturgical instinct this festival represents. In the medieval English rites, it tried out various dates; May 22 or the Monday after the Ascension at Exeter; the Sunday after the Translation of S Thomas (July 7) at Hereford and Sarum - although Sarum notes that 'nuper' it occupied the Octave Day of our Lady's Nativity, with an appropriate Collect "Grant we beseech thee Almighty God, that the merits may protect us of the holy Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary and of thy Saints whose relics are kept in this church ...". The traditional Benedictine rite keeps this festival on May 13, presumably a learned allusion to the Dedication of the Pantheon in Rome, upon this day, as the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres. Before the reforms of S Pius X, this festival was to be found among the Masses For Some Places on October 26, or on the Last Sunday of October.

After S Pius X, the Feast of the Relics settled, most appropriately, onto a day within the Octave of All Saints, November 5, where it was observed by papal indult in certain places (often as a Greater Double). The colour to be used is red. This is consistent with the fact that the Office is the Common of Many Martyrs, despite the fact that not all the Saints whose relics we this day venerate were martyred. Perhaps we may relate this usage to the primitive notion that the Martyrs are the prototypical saints; that the unmartyred sancti et sanctae in a sense just piggy-back along upon the martyrs.

The Sacred Congregation of Rites sometimes felt tempted to turn to Byzantine sources to get a richer mixture than one always finds in formal Western texts (Sessio xxv of Trent is sound enough on the relics but a trifle sober). So the proper lections at Mattins for this feast are taken from that always-reliable Doctor of the Church S John of Damascus (Fr Eric Mascall once observed the propensity of Roman liturgists to resort to Eastern sources whenever they felt moved to say something 'extreme'). "For since Life itself and the Author of Life was numbered among the dead, we do not call those who finished their last day in the hope of Resurrection and of faith in Him 'Dead'. For how can a dead body utter miracles? Through relics the devils are cast out, diseases sent fleeing, the sick healed, the blind see ..." etc. etc.. The Collect is a fine composition which likewise sees the miracles performed through the relics of Saints as pledges of the Resurrection: Increase in us O Lord our faith in the Resurrection, who in the relics of thy Saints dost perform marvellous works: and make us partakers of the immortal glory of which our veneration of their ashes [cineres] is a pledge.

This celebration disappeared from Church life in the post-Conciliar period, for presumably the same reasons that at the same time caused the Jesuits, who then occupied the Church of S Aloysius in this City, to have a massive bonfire of all the relics and reliquaries in their splendid Relics Chapel (Fr Bertram's elegant booklet about those events reminds one uncannily of the similar things which happened throughout England in the late 1540s ... mercifully, the gracious spirit of S Philip Neri has now restored lost glories by filling the Alyoggers Relics Chapel with a grand new collection).

This feast is, in my view, rich in themes for evangelical preaching and teaching, and ripe for wider revival. It teaches the goodness of material things against a false 'spiritualism'; it preaches the ultimately indissoluble link between Body and Soul against the sub-Christian notion that only the soul really matters; it proclaims the transforming eschatological glory which will clothe this perishable with what is imperishable, and this mortal with what is immortal, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.


Anita Moore said...

Thank you, Father! This is of a piece with my favorite post of yours from a year or two back, about the corn, the wine and the oil -- which I hope you will re-post, periodically!

Jesse said...

Let us not forget that Votive Masses in honour of the saints whose relics are kept in the church are much older still. The original layer of the Leofric Missal (Bodley 579), copied ca. 900, includes such a set (nos. 1955–1958 in Orchard's edition).

Woody said...

Dear Father, looking East as with the liturgists, we can also see the effects of veneration of icons, especially those of the Mother of God, as may be found in some detail at these links from the Orthodox Church in America:


I hope that I may be pardoned by our Polish frineds for directing attention especially to the Kazan Icon, last linked above, and the celebration of the deliverance of Moscow from the Poles. In the performances of Glinka's immortal opera "A Life for the Tsar", the epilogue is a grand chorale, with cross procession and regal procession of the newly-elected Tsar, Michael Romanov, the massed choir singing "Glory to Great Russia", and in one of the Youtube versions (from the Bolshoi or the Mariinsky, I believe), the first procession is one where the banners of the defeated Poles are dragged through the operatic dust on stage, while the Vladimir and Kazan icons look on. Very dramatic.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Yes, Jesse; I've always wondered what the relics of the Archangels might have been [vide Collect ... I seem to recollect that in some places feathers were venerated]; but since most of the collect is later [supra rasuram? Orchard doesn't say] the original text remains tantalising. You'd've thought that inra-red technology ... But stay: Deshusses 'Textes complementaires' would tell us ... if I possessed it ...

The marginal alternative Collect 1955* seems, endearingly, to date from when the relics were actually collected! [ ... colligere curavimus ...]

Woody said...

And since today is the commemoration of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in the Russian Orthodox Church, here is a collection of links from Pravoslavie:

Anonymous said...

In the Monastic Breviary of 1901, on Oct. 30, the feast SS. Reliquiarum is found, a Duplex Majus "in Commemoratione Sanctorum, quorum Corpora et Reliquiae in Ecclesiis nostri Ordinis asservantur". The collect, which is similar to the one quoted in Father's well-fundated post, reads
Deus, qui hanc sacrosanctam Ecclesiam tot voluisti Sanctorum decorari Reliquiis: auge in nobis resurrectionis fidem; et fac nos immortalis gloriae participes, cuius in eorum cineribus pignora veneramur. Per Dominum...
The proper vesper hymn reads

Adeste Sancti, plurimo dum thure, vestra dum piis coluntur ossa ritibus, votis favete supplicum.
Non illa, quamquam tristibus imum redacta in pulverem dudum sepulchris squaleant, divina virtus deserit.
Sed sancta praesenti fovet, impletque templa numine, sed et futurae Spiritus post saecla servat gloriae.
Hinc ille, qui nostris latet cinis sub aris conditus, aegris medetur efficax, torquet fugatque daemones.
Sit summa Christe laus tibi, venture iudex saeculi, cum Patre cumque Spiritu in saeculorum saecula. Amen

Besides the proper parts, the office is taken from the comm. plur. Martyrum, the 5th to 8th reading is taken from the 5th sermon of S. Bernard in Festo Omn. SS., beginning from Quamquam, dilectissimi...and ending with the encouraging pledge

Haec vero nostra et Sanctorum cohaerentia est, ut nos congratulemur eis, ipsi compatiantur nobis: nos devota meditatione regnemus in eis, ipsi in nobis militent pia interventione.