The English Martyrs

The English Martyrs

Almighty God,
who in our country raised up martyrs,
from every walk of life,
to vindicate the authority of your Church,
in teaching and worship,
grant through their intercession, we pray,
that all our people may be gathered once again
to celebrate the same sacraments
under the one Shepherd, Jesus Christ your Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.

Almighty God, who in our country raised up martyrs from every walk of life…

What is important for us to realise today is, as the Collect above reminds us, this feast remembers events in Our Country! The penal times were the most difficult of periods for the faith. Yet historians tell us that between 1570-1680 the overall number of English Catholics never ceased to grow. This can only be proof that the testimony, witness, and writings of those who were already Catholic, were truly an empowering gift to the nation.  They had the power and conviction to stand firm to their faith. When reading their recorded words we see our martyrs offer beautiful humble words that could be spoken by any faithful Catholic today. It is so easy to think of them as exclusively as people of great positions in society. Yet, as our Collect informs us again, they came from every walk of life. Such as: that of enclosed nuns, of poets, of priests from all the major orders with English missions, of many laypeople. These words that they have left us in their writings all are rooted with a deep sacramentalism. How moving then, that their words, witness and persecution, mirrors the very beliefs that brought them to such glorification. 

To vindicate the authority of your Church in teaching and in worship…  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that, ‘The Church has painstakingly collected the records of those who persevered to the end in witnessing to their faith. These are the acts of the Martyrs. They form the archives of truth written in letters of blood’. We are encouraged then to read the works given to us and see in them the delight in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Church holds this truth as her deposit for the faith in which She teaches. The words that we receive must become too our words of prayer. So that we may be able to offer a complete sacrifice of praise in order to teach and strengthen the world today.

Grant through their intercession, we pray…

The collect continues, ‘Through their intercession’. From this may we never forget the importance of this doctrine to our faith. The intercessions we give to Saints. A belief in the power of the heavenly intercessors was one piece of theology that the protestant reformers held with such great contempt. The defence of them by the martyrs brought them more closely united to Christ and enables them to dwell in heaven fixing the whole Church more firmly in holiness.  We are reminded then that we should not see the communion of saints as being only a mere title of a cherished memory. Rather, let us see that in our true devotions, an active deepening of the unity of the Church can be actually attained.  Therefore, in our Christian communion with each other, may we be also their companions and fellow disciples. 

that all our people may be gathered once again to celebrate the same sacraments…

We pray then for Christian unity in a real sense. Through bringing all to the knowledge that the Sacraments of the Church are so in a double sense. They are ‘by her’ and ‘for her’. They are ‘by the Church’ for she is the sacrament of Christ’s action at work in her through the mission of the Holy Spirit. And they are ‘for her’ in the sense that the sacraments that the Church manifests to all, above all in the Eucharist, is the mystery of communion with the God who is love, One in three persons.

under the one Shepherd, Jesus Christ your Son… 

We must have faith that all our actions, even if in martyrdom, are done under the guidance of Christ the true Shepherd of his flock. Jesus leads all of creation back to himself, even when people have chosen against His teachings and His earthly Church. The English Martyrs, not out of a negative subordinate devotion, but out of a grasp of the true Apostolic witness, never wavered in their support of believing in Lord’s commissioning of the Petrine ministry. Jesus who made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.

Today let us pray in joy with and for all martyrs of the faith in England and Wales, those who helped strengthen the Church and continue to do so in our lived tradition. Let us also pray for those in current strife in various parts of world, especially those we hear about being martyred even today for their Christian faith. And finally for those martyrs yet unknown to us, but known and loved by Jesus Christ.

Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever.