Friday, 29 December 2006

St Thomas' Day

For the English Catholic, today is one of the most irritating days of the Church's Year. It's the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury: one of our greatest saints; celebrated by Chaucer and T. S. Eliot; the Patron of the English Secular Clergy and of the Venerable English College, Rome; whose shrine was one of the most popular in the Middle Ages. At any other time of the year it would be a Feast, if not a Solemnity, at least in this country. But because it falls in the Christmas Octave, one of our most important feasts is sidelined as a 'Commemoration' - not even a Memoria. In the old days a fuller celebration was allowed since it was a Double of the Second Class in England and Wales (and First Class in Northampton and Portsmouth) and up until the introduction of the new national propers in 2000 it happily counted as a Feast.

This time last year Becket was nominated as one the 'Ten Worst Britons' by a BBC panel of 'experts,' together with Jack the Ripper and Oswald Mosley. A journalist phoned me up to get my opinion, which is recorded here.

One of my most treasured possessions is a reliquary containing relics of some of the great English saints: St Thomas of Canterbury (at the top); St Richard of Chichester; St Edward the Confessor; St Edmund, King and Martyr; St Wilfrid and St Bede the Venerable. All of these are First Class, with the exception of St Richard. I will place the reliquary on the altar when I celebrate Mass this evening:
Finally, let me mention my favourite St Thomas story. The men of Strood in Kent (now part of Rochester) sided with the King in his dispute with Becket and cut off the tail of a pack-horse carrying supplies to the Archbishop's kitchen, in order to humiliate him. One source says that several horses were mutiliated and their riders wounded; others that it was Becket's horse that was attacked. When the Archbishop heard of this, he condemned all the inhabitants of Strood (or even the whole of Kent) and their descendants to be born with tails! Another version of the story of 'Kentish Long-Tails' is that it was a punishment for their ill-treatment of St Augustine and his monks, who were beaten and had fish-tails tied to their backs, 'in revenge of which, such appendants grew to the hind parts of all that generation.' If any readers can supply evidence of modern Kentishmen with tails, then please leave a message.

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Blogger Mulier Fortis said...

I don't actually understand what the problem is... in my Breviary it's down as a Feast (England), which takes the same format as the previous three feast days we've had in the Octave...

1:47 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

It was a Feast until the new Calendarium Proprium of 2000 downgraded it to an optional memoria in view of the Christmas Octave. Any liturgical books published before 2000 are therefore misleading, but at least it means that plenty of people are probably celebrating St Thomas as a Feast!

3:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Petition your diocese to upgrade it, Father!

3:04 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

I believe things may possibly improve when the new English edition of the Missale Romanum finally comes out. I hope that's in my lifetime!

3:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely post Father. Do come to Northampton. From Beckets Park you can see the recently restored well on the Bedford Road near the site of the old town walls where St Thomas stopped to refresh himself as he fled from imprisonment.

best wishes,


5:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's particularly galling since the Church of England, having removed him from their calendar at the Deformation, has now restored him with a higher rank than the English National Calendar for Catholics.
I also find it puzzling that, since he ranks as an optional memorial in the Universal Calendar anyway, his current ranking in the National Calendar confers no distinction whatever.

5:48 pm  

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