5 November 2023

November 5, Feast of the Holy Relics

What a wholesome liturgical instinct this glorious 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 dear old 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.

In the Leofric Missal, copied probably from texts brought to England in S Augustine's rucksack, there is a Votive for use in a Church or Oratory where relics are held. Its Collect lists all those categories of Saints of whom we might possess relics ... including our Lady and the Angelic Powers! A couple of its texts use the word patrocinium apparently to mean "our hoard of relics", and one phrase reminds God that we have gone to the trouble to collect them (colligere curavimus)!

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 (the late 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 (en atomoi), in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.


Albertus said...

Happy feastday of the Holy Relics! May the Saints comfort you in your ailment. Today we celebrated this feast day with a procession within the church. Two of us as deacons carried a reliqusry of many Saints, and a group of our youngest children, drest up astheir patron Saints - SS Martin, Michael, Carolus, Agnes, Zita, Bridget, Philomena, etc, took part in the procession., as the litany of All Saints was sung by the cantor and chour. Very uplifting.

Moritz Gruber said...

I do not, please, reverend Father, mean it in a "hill to die on" thing, but I do not think November 5th is most appropriate for the feast of the Holy Relics (which it would be fine if we had).

It's logical, sure. One day in the Octave of the Saints for the Relics of the Saints, with the chance to celebrate martyrdom as the prototypic form of sancticty in red vestments. Great. Buut...

1. It has the feeling of being too logical.

2. The relics are one aspect of devotion to the sense, but they sort of should lead to it, so some time before the feast would make more sense. In fact, if we have a pre-1954 attitude to Vigils and need to fix fitting feasts on Vigils in order for them not to be free for whichever feast happens to be "also we would like to celebrate", it might make sense to actually fix it on Halloween. It would not quite be unfitting to the somewhat grisly atmosphere which this day folkloristically, and at least in part rightly, has (death is a gloomy matter). Statio, of course, apud St. Stephanum in Monte Caelio! But then, this would practically mean that the beautiful Vigil Mass for All Saints is only said in monasteries. Well, since 1955 it is not said at all. Oops. But I do think that this was a mistake at least for all saints is not so much in dispute.

3. Also, with a sufficient pre-1911 mindset it's "if we have such a feast at all, it's important enough that at least once in seven years, it should be on a Sunday for all the people to celebrate it and hear it". After all, the usefulness of the veneration of relics is a dogma, and the Catholics actually seem to love it, though the less informed, under the influence of the progressives with there "isn't that much to grisly to venerate dead bones, etc." may have induced them to think it's a guilty pleasure. Also, the need to combat that attitude is another matter

For a proof that the wider populace does not share idea of the well-behaved decent-citizen-minded Catholic-but-not-too-Catholic progressive Church ideologies, that death and the like is best not talked about and we have to smoothe our way somehow through this all-to-harsh life by soothing topics, "mindfulness", harmony and the like, see Halloween, Heavy Metal, and rock-songs about the end of the world (off the top of my head, "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, "It's the end of the world" by R. E. M., "In the Year 2525" by Zager & Evans, and of course Johnny Cash's most excellent and expressly religious piece "The Man Comes Around"). We, the Church, have all been here, as the hedgehog's wife said to the hare. But I digress.

But it can't be celebrated on Sunday, October 31st, because that is and should remain the feast of Christ the King.

4. And with a sufficiently pre-1911 mindset, we might think it should be even fixed to a Sunday. After all, one Sunday of 52 for the relics of all Saints does not seem to much, does it?

Which is why the best day is probably ... see the next comment.

Moritz Gruber said...

- But before, some other reasons:

4. November 5th is a day in the Octave of All Saints, with texts in its own right.

5. It's probably the day that should be made the feast of St. Felix of Valois. In the Old Calendar, he is right now on the 20th, but his actual natalis was on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo (whose actual natalis apparently was the day before, but a] he's been on the 4th for ever since his feast exists, b] the 3rd is every now and then All Souls, c] hunting and caring for the wild beasts is also important, and we don't want to forget St. Hubertus entirely, even if he's only on the martyrology). Now we ought to have a feria in November somewhen, especially in a month themed with the very ferial theme of All-Souls.

But surely St. Felix is not that important, the other founder of his order, St. John of Matha, has a feast in February? Surely he could be reduced to a simple, and that should suffice for our purposes? And it would be a commemoration by 1955 rules?

Yes, as long as St. John of Matha does have his feast in February yes. But not if he himself is reduced to a commemoration of St. Josephine Bakhita (the freer-of-slaves to the freedwoman)...

6. On Sunday, there is the Sunday. And those are rather important Sundays: the "Penultimate Sunday" which sets the tone for the catch-up-after-Epiphany Sundays, with its Gospel of the Resurrection and "just the rim of His clothing", etc; the "Preach on precisely when you must, may, or must not obey civil authorities" Sunday (22nd after P.); the Sunday with the parable that makes us most directly think of Purgatory (21st after P.); the "passage of time while our Lord appears to us to sleep" Sunday (4th after E., caught-up).

On weekdays, there still is the idea of "mass of the preceding Sunday" (though according to the rubrics, this is only possible now the Octave is abolished, and still not on Saturday which is our Lady's Saturday), especially on Thursday, Friday and (theoretically) Saturday, where the Sunday before was occupied and it's those same important Sundays.

7. On Friday and Saturday, people will in addition want to celebrate the First Friday in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the First Saturday in Reparation for Sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary; also, to a less extent, on Thursday the First Thursday of Prayer for Priests, Priest-Candidates and Vocations-to-Priesthood.

8. People won't, in general, have much time and energy on November 5th for more time-intensive devotions to the Relics: they are busy devoutly visiting Cemeteries. And so they should. (Incidentally, they rather need to be reminded not to treat the relics of the non-canonized as, in our usual colloquial sense, relics.)

Moritz Gruber said...

When, then? I don't think "one could do so many nice things, a feast of the Holy Relics would be one of those but let's rather do other things" is the thing to do...

On the Sunday following the Translation of the Relics of St. Thomas of Canterbury. This date shares the following plus-points:

1. Eastertide is over. (The celebration of Saints is of course very much Eastertide-ish, but the specific idea of their relics does have a "per annum" feeling to it.)

2. It doesn't conflict with Corpus Christi, "Ordinationtide", Peter & Paul and so on.

3. The prototypical relic is something stained with the blood of a martyr; and after all, it is a "many martyrs" commons, and red vestments. This makes for a nice link to the feast of the Blood of Christ, which had its traditional external celebration(*) on the previous Sunday.

[* Used to be the feast itself, and surely this is not a matter to apply a "no fixed feasts on Sunday" rule, and the perpetually occupied Octave of St. John is a pity. So, I'd be all for returning to the practice, but I'm not, for the following reasons: a) When the civil year begins with the first drop of Blood Christ shed, how nice it is that it second half begins - directly, not only within a week - with the feast of All the Blood? b) July 1st is the actual commemorative day of St. Aaron the High Priest. How fitting is it that on the day of the priest who shed the blood the Old Covenant Lambs we celebrate the Blood shed by the Lamb of God Himself? c) External celebrations are not obligatory, you can have a Mass of the day; and the feast of our Lady's Visitation should sometimes be celebrated by Sunday Churchgoers.]

4. The day use as a reference point is a feast of translations of relics (though admittedly a local one).

5. Farmers are, I believe, not really so much occupied with the harvest yet. Others usually are not yet in their summer vacation, but still the stress-level at work as rather low already. So, they are at home, and have the possibility to celebrate the relics they actually have there.

Assuming a sufficiently pre-1911 mindset, we would want to celebrate St. Bonaventure on a Sunday some time; after all, he apparently had even a fixed-one in the Middle Ages (for a reason I do not know). But he's on the 14th. And if we put him on the 15th, his actual natalis (moving St. Henry to his actual natalis; after all, Ven. Pius XII was right about this at least that the second feast of St. Cletus really could be deleted), then the 14th logically becomes the feast of St. Camillus (it's his actual natalis), and we'll be probably wanting to celebrate him on a Sunday too, after all, he's the co-patron of those caring for the sick, and St. John of God, the principal patron of them, is in Lent or very occasionally Shrovetide. (Also, maybe even St. John Gualbert, because there aren't actually so many classical abbots on the calendar, St. Benedict himself is in Lent**, and St. John Gualbert has a proper Gospel not heard, I believe, for any other saint.)

[** Unless, as the N. O. does, the feast of his translation is used; but that is actually in the same week.]

Moritz Gruber said...

Oh... and all the best wishes for your health! May God bless you and the saints intercede for you.