Sunday, December 28, 2003

St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore beati Thomae Martyris: de cujus passione gaudent Angeli, et colaudant Filium Dei.

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, and celebrate this festival in honour of Blessed Thomas the Martyr: for whose martyrdom the Angels rejoice, and praise the Son of God.
-Introitus for the old proper Mass of St. Thomas of Canterbury





December 29 is still the feast of the"holy and blissful martyr", St. Thomas of Canterbury, although it is now reduced in the new rite to an "optional memorial". A short version of his life can be found here and a more complete one here.

The Legenda Aurea relates his life here as the medieval would have heard it. This is how it tells of his martyrdom:

And these four knights aforesaid came to Canterbury on the Tuesday in Christmas week about Evensong time, and came to S. Thomas and said that the king commanded him to make amends for the wrongs that he had done, and also that he should assoil all them that he had accursed anon, or else they should slay him. Then said Thomas: All that I ought to do by right, that will I with a good will do, but as to the sentence that is executed I may not undo, but that they will submit them to the correction of holy church, for it was done by our holy father the pope and not by me. Then said Sir Reginald: But if thou assoil the king and all other standing in the curse, it shall cost thee thy life. And S. Thomas said: Thou knowest well enough that the king and I were accorded on Mary Magdalene day, and that this curse should go forth on them that had offended the church.

Then one of the knights smote him as he kneeled before the altar on the head. And one Sir Edward Grim, that was his crossier put forth his arm with the cross to bear off the stroke, and the stroke smote the cross asunder and his arm almost off, wherefore he fled for fear, and so did all the monks, that were that time at compline. And then smote each at him, that they smote off a great piece of the skull of his head, that his brain fell on the pavement. And so they slew and martyred him, and were so cruel that one of them brake the point of his sword against the pavement. And thus this holy and blessed Archbishop S. Thomas suffered death in his own church for the right of all holy church. And when he was dead they stirred his brain, and after went in to his chamber and took away his goods, and his horse out of his stable, and took away his bulls and writings, and delivered them to Sir Robert Broke to bear into France to the king. And as they searched his chamber they found in a chest two shirts of hair made full of great knots, and then they said: Certainly he was a good man; and coming down into the churchward they began to dread and fear that the ground would not have borne them, and were marvellously aghast, but they supposed that the earth would have swallowed them all quick. And then they knew that they had done amiss.



Abbot Gueranger has an extensive section on St. Thomas. Included is this "prose" taken from the Sarum Breviary. (The translation is that of Dom Laurence Shephard, O.S.B.)

R/. Jacet granum opressum palea, justus caesus pravorum framea.

+Coelum domo commutans lutea.

V/. Cadit custos vitis in vinea, dux in castris, cultor in area.

+Coelum domo commutans lutea.

Prosa. Clangat pastor in tuba cornea,
Ut libera sit Christi vinea,
Quam assumpsit, sub carnis trabea,
Liberavit cruce purpurea.
Adversatrix ovis erronea,
Fit pastoris caede sanguinea.
Pavimenta Christi marmorea
Sacro madent cruore rubea.
Martyr, vitae donatus laurea,
Velut granum purgatum palea,
In divina transfertur horrea.

+Coelum domo commutans lutea.

R/. The grain of wheat lies smothered by the chaff, the just man slain by the sword of sinners.

+ Changing his house of clay for heaven.

V/. The vine-keeper dies in his vineyard, the general in his camp, the husbandman on the place of his toil.

+ Changing his house of clay for heaven.

PROSE. Let the Pastor, trumpet-tongued, cry out to men
That Christ's vineyard must be free:
The vineyard that he took unto himself, when he clothed himself with our flesh,
And made free by the blood he shed upon the Cross.
A lost sheep, become an enemy,
Is blood-stained by the murder of his Shepherd.
The marble pavement of Christ's sanctuary
Is purpled with the stream of holy blood.
The Martyr, decked with the laurel-crown of life,
Is, like wheat well winnowed from its chaff,
Carried into the garner-house of heaven.

+ Changing his house of clay for heaven.