1 August 2009


In the old rite, we remembered the Holy Maccabees today with a commemoration - the seven pre-Christian Jewish brothers whose martyrdom, described in II Maccabees 7, reads so much like a preview of the acta of the Christian martyrs under the Roman Empire.

There is no strictly theological reason why we should not celebrate the saints of the old covenant liturgically; we claim, after all, to be in continuity with the Jewish faithful remnant who did accept their God and Messiah. The practical reason why we do not have more 'Old Testament' saints in our calendar lies in the the origin of our Sanctorale in the cult of the martyrs: they were celebrated liturgically where their bodies were venerated (see my words about S Polycarp on July 11). But I believe the Carmelites, before the Council, kept S Elias (Elijah, for my Protestant readers) on July 20. I wonder if they still do.

Interestingly, the post-conciliar revisers of the Calendar have left us an account of their thinking. I translate [my italics]: "The memoria of the Holy Maccabees, although it is extremely ancient and almost universal, is left to particular calendars: until 1960 only their commemoration happened on the feast of S Peter ad vincula; now indeed August 1 is the memoria of S Alfonso and, according to the rubrics, another memoria cannot be kept on the same day". The revisers know that this commemoration is of immemorial antiquity and amazing universality; they feel embarrassed and sheepish about abolishing it; they can't think of any defence to make, except to appeal to their own novel man-made liturgical dogma (which is out of continuity with the traditions of both East and West) that you can't combine celebrations. The totalitarian inflexibility of innovators!

The Maccabees, of course, did not then bear witness (martyrein) to Christ but to the divine covenant under which God had placed them then. But their liturgical commemoration by us does not imply the new error that Jews now, after the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, are left outside his gracious call to share the redemption and the new covenant which he, the incarnate Torah, brings to all mankind without racial distinction. It would not now be possible for a Jew to be deemed one of our martyrs because of an exclusive act of obedient witness to the old Torah and not to Christ. But there are theological consequences to be drawn from the cult of S Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the great Jewish Christian woman philosopher killed by the Nazis and one of Europe's Patrons (whose festival this year on August 9 is sadly obscured because, under the ferocious post-conciliar rubrics, Sunday Masses exclude any mention of saints classified as mere festa). She was killed not because of an explicit refusal - as far as we know - to renounce Christ, but because her murderers hated Jews. Many wondered whether she would be beatified qua martyr. I seem to remember that nobody knew what answer he would give to this question until John Paul II emerged to celebrate her beatification Mass in red vestments.

I would be interested to see the implications of this teased out.

[Her first propers did not describe Edith Stein as a 'virgin'; the present ones do. Was it just yet another of their mistakes by incompetent Vatican liturgists, or did the matter indeed require research? If so, how was it researched?]


Pastor in Valle said...

1. I think that all the great figures of the OT have their feast day, in that they are mentioned under a particular day in the Martyrology and, on a day that is not occupied by somebody very important, a Mass presumably be celebrated in their honour. Though what text one would use is puzzling.
2. Yes, I agree about St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: her treatment as a martyr has always puzzled me. There was a tendency of our last Holy Father to treat all good human acts (i.e. whether by Christians or others) as acts of God's grace and intrinsically sanctifying: it was rumoured in the mid-90s that he was actually considering beatifying Luther during one of his visits to Germany, and was talked out of it by (mirabile dictu!) the German bishops—I had this on good authority at the time. Of course, he did not do it. That, no doubt, was the operation of grace! It all fitted together with JP's passion to reconcile everything and everyone at the millennium.
3. I never thought that virginity in a religious sense meant literal virginity (i.e. with intact hymen) but moral virginity. Fr H, no doubt you would know more about this than I, but is it not true that it was the Roman custom to rape condemned virgins before their execution since there was a taboo on executing virgins? I seem to remember reading that the daughter of Sejanus had to endure that. If this is the case, then presumably some of the early virgin martyrs are not literally virgins, but morally so. It is also true that some religious orders of women require actual virginity on the part of their applicants: I'm not sure if the Carmelites do or did. Possibly the very fact of admission to a Carmel would be adequate evidence of virginity.
Sorry to ramble on.

John F H H said...

Cranmer, of course, incorporated them into the canon in 1549, subsquently to be separated as the prayer for the Church Militant here on Earth:
" And here we do give unto thee most high praise, and hearty thanks, for the wonderful grace and virtue, declared in all thy saints, from the beginning of the world: And chiefly in the glorious and most blessed virgin Mary, mother of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and in the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs, whose examples (O Lord) and steadfastness in thy faith, and keeping thy holy commandments, grant us to follow."

John UK

The Welsh Jacobite said...

"Elias (Elijah, for my Protestant readers)"

They ought to be familiar with the form Elias if they know the Authorised Version N.T. (vid. e.g. John 1.21).

Does anyone know why the N.T. (and Apocrypha) use the Greek forms, but the O.T. uses the Hebrew?

rev'd up said...

I have always found it curious that no (excepting Raphael) OT figures appear in the Litany.


As to Edith Stein, I think there's a lot of chicanery going on. Not the least of which is the claim that she was a virgin let alone a martyr. She was a devotee of Phenomenology (a pet philosophy of JP2 which in a nut shell claims all "truth" to be subjective - something Christians aren't known for) which she studied as a young woman at the knee of Husserl in the coffee houses of Göttingen. A nubile, un-chaperoned girl rubbing shoulders with the idle intellectuals of the Weimar Republic usually weren't known for their virginity. As for her martyrdom, when, where, why.?

It is beyond my ability to question whether her conversion from atheism to Catholicism was sincere(she was never an actual Jew, that is, practicing); however, just because a Catholic is murdered doesn't mean it was because of their being Catholic. Edith Stein as the phenomenological, coffee house feminist and Bolshevik sympathizer she was no doubt made a lot of enemies. The Nazis weren't the only ones who may have had reasons to want her "out of the way." Perhaps, the Nazis only played the role of Pontius Pilate; who knows? At any rate, her canonization is a farce. Might as well canonize The Little Mermaid.

BillyD said...

Actually, Rev'd Up, the biographical sketches I've read of St. Teresa Benedicta state that she was raised by a devoutly Jewish mother, but abandoned the practice of Judaism in her teens.

Oh, and your nasty rant against St Teresa Benedicta has convinced me to invest in an icon of her.

rev'd up said...

A fool and his money...

Lux Oriens said...

The order of Carmelites still celebtates St.Elias on July 20th and St.Eliseus ( Elisha for protestants) on June 14th

Independent said...

At the entrance to the monastery at Beuron there is a large Shield of David testifying to the fact that Edith Stein once spent time there. No doubt it gives great offence to anti-Christian and anti-semitic people.