The Fatima visionaries, poor little peasant mites, are unlikely to have known this; but, in the first millennium, May 13 was sometimes a festival of our Lady within the Roman Rite.
I incline to share S John Paul's view that in the workings of Providence there are no coincidences, so to me, naturally, this seems interesting.
This is how it happened. In 609, Pope S Boniface IV dedicated the old Roman Pantheon, built originally by Marcus 'Actium' Agrippa but subsequently rebuilt after a fire, as the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres. He did this in collaboration with the emperor Phocas.
Phocas donated an Ikon of our Lady which is still enthroned above the Altar of that Church; and the relics of many of the martyrs were disinterred and brought into the church; hence its name. This was the period when Marian Ikons, and relics of Saints, used to be processed round the wall of Constantinople when barbarian enemies appeared on the scene; I rather suspect that Pope S Boniface had in mind to construct a defensive powerhouse in Old Rome rather than merely to stimulate pious devotion. Pre-modern, and particularly First Millennium, Christianity has a very practical and down-to-earth side to it. Possibly Pope and Emperor may even have had in mind the idea that, just as Actium had (according to the Augustan PR machine) saved Rome, so the Theotokos and the Martyrs might do the same in their own Christian time.
In the early centuries of the English Church, this festival on May 13 seems to have been important. The Leofric Missal, the Altar Book of the early Archbishops of Canterbury, based on texts brought to England by S Augustine, includes it and, interestingly, demonstrates the continuing relevance of this festival by including in the text later scribal additions and adaptations. Perhaps the Church of S Mary in Canterbury emulated the mother church in Rome. Something similar appears to have happened in Exeter (to which the Leofric Missal was later taken), where a Saxon church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres lay, I think, West of the present Cathedral and on the same axis.
Two of the Exeter liturgical formulae indicate that the celebrations on May 13 were accompanied by the carrying of many lights.
I am sure that the suggestiveness of the ad Martyres will have struck readers. The Third Secret of Fatima is full of the theme of Martyrs and Martyrdom; indeed, we are still living in an Age of Martyrs which rivals any earlier such age.
I would draw the attention of those who do not know it to the official CDF documentary collection of 2000, The Message of Fatima, and especially to the fine and elegant exposition by Cardinal Ratzinger.
Father H.: Any thoughts on the meeting of the two popes? And the assertion by the Roman Pope that the 21 Coptic martyrs are now on our team? I saw comments by some with objections based on the Council of Chalcedon. I have read Martin Mosebach's superb book on those martyrs, and I notice he never dared make a magisterial pronouncement, but the evidence he supplies is convincing. If the Coptic martyr's faith (and that of their families and communities) is "deficient," then deficiency looks pretty good in this age of Pachamama.
''If the Coptic martyr's faith (and that of their families and communities) is 'deficient', then deficiency looks pretty good in this age of Pachamama''. Very well put! We donot see the Coptic Pope of Alexandria venerating the amazonian fertility idol, after all... It is now generally agreed, that the doctrinal difference regarding the two natures of Christ at Chalcedon between the Copts, Syrians and Armenians on one side, and the Greeks and Romans on the other side, was due to a misunderstanding of terminology. The christological faith of the ''Oriental Orthodox'' is no longer considered heretical by us. The Coptic Martyrs are true Martyrs of Christ our God.
@Gregory. The relationship between the Alexandrian Church and Rome is I think at this moment fairly ambiguous. Documents have been signed by both sides that essentially state they believe the same thing with regard to Christology but they haven't yet lifted the anathemas that came out of Chalcedon. For example the Copts still, officially at least, anathematize Leo the Great for the Tome of Leo which many of them at the present moment seem to realize was a giant error on their part but they won't lift their anathemas until we lift our anathemas or at least the anathemas are lifted together in some joint service.
This was a great post Father thank you. I too am a big fan of first millennium Christianity. Phocas was in a tough spot having usurped the throne and murdered his predecessor (nobody is perfect) and facing war on two fronts from Persia and the revolt of Heraclius in North Africa and I think he was trying to gain favor in Italy by doing this.
I do have major issues with the 2000 release of documents regarding Fatima and the third part of its Secret and the biggest is this: it is abundantly clear from what Lucia publicly stated that Our Lady said something to the children and no words of hers were included in this release.
@Eric: I was a tonsured reader in the Chalcedonian Orthodox world before swimming the Tiber. (Not bragging, just to set the stage.) Since then, it has appeared to me that the Copts (and I had to study all about the different "mono" heresies) are more honest than the Byzantines or the Slavs, who resolutely define themselves apophatically: We are NOT Roman Catholics. The Copts seem to have less to prove and I think they may have benefitted from escaping Byzantine control. They know who they are and live it. That is the basis for a healthy ecumenism.
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