11 July 2009

Relics

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of two friends, one on each side of the Herring Pond, S Thomas's is no longer a relic-free zone. Two complementary benefactions have brought this about: the gift of an altar stone which will be let into the wooden table which currently does duty as our Rood Altar, dominated as it is by a giant crucifix which was in the chapel of our convent before its closure. This is the altar at which EF masses, private masses, and those masses at which I do not anticipate a congregation of more three are said; it is within a defined liturgical space with good acoustics.

Our second benefactor gave us a frame with quite a number of relics; this can be moved about (as can a relics corporal, not unlike a Byzantine antimension, given by the former benefactor) to the other altars in the church, which are of stone but, as far as I can see, do not have relics let into them. When not travelling elsewhere, this frame lives behind the middle altar card on the Rood Altar, since two of its relics, of S Ignatius and S Felicity, are named in the Canon Romanus and it seems nice to have them around when they're mentioned. So Yah Boo to the cynical papist correspondent who suggested that, in the prayer at the start of Mass, I should simply say ... quorum reliquiae hic non sunt ... ( ... whose relics are not here ...). Incidentally, the relics in the stone are of SS Modestus and Castus. Google offers several candidates for these names; I suspect that the most likely candidates are two who had shrines in Italy.

It is a relief to be able to be ecumenical, to conform to the consensus of the Latin West and the Byzantine East that one should sacrifice over, as it were, the tombs of the martyrs. If a custom was good enough for the shell-shocked Church which in the fourth century emerged, metaphorically, from the catacombs with an overwhelming sense of being surrounded and supported by a great crowd of witnesses, martyres, then that custom is good enough for me. Even if the post-conciliar Church has gone a bit soggy on relics.

Not that the veneration of relics is as late as the fourth century. The contemporary account of the martyrdom of S Polycarp, the disciple of S John, embodied in the Encyclical which his Church at Smyrna sent to the entire Catholic world in the middle of the second century, links the desire of the faithful for his relics with the doctrine of the Communio Sanctorum, the Communion of Saints: "they hoped to koinonesai* with his holy flesh". So, although the hatred of the local Jewish community drove the Romans to burn his body, his people gathered up even the ashes and placed them where they could meet for Mass annually on the genethlion* of his martyrion*, for a mneme* of those who had proathlekoton* and the askesis* and preparation of those who were going to bear witness.

Pre-conciliar local calendars often made November 5 the Feast of the Relics; according to Sarum it was on the Sunday after the Translation of S Thomas, i.e. next Sunday; at Exeter on the Monday after Ascension Day.

*Greek key: share fellowship with; birthday; act of witness=martyrdom; monument; previously competed as athletes [a regular term for martyrdom]; training. I cannot restrain myself from a catty comment that the current post-conciliar Roman regulations would not have permitted such tiny relics as those that survived S Polycarp to be used in altars.

1 comment:

webmasterNW52HR said...

A Byzantine Antimension was blessed and signed by an Orthodox Bishop. If it so signed, then, by definition it was stolen - and should be immediately returned to the nearest Orthodox Bishop.

Fr. Michael