DEUS, PRO CUJUS ECCLESIA
gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit : præsta, quæsumus; ut omnes, qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutarem consequantur effectum. Per Dominum.
Today is one of those days when the Divine Office goes a little bit odd. Throughout the Octave of Christmas, we say the Office of the Day, but Vespers of Christmas . . . except today, when for some unexplained reason there is a single proper Antiphon provided for Vespers.
OK; that might not be surprising if it was only in The Divine Office, as that is at least primarily for England; but it’s in Liturgia Horarum as well. In other words, S. Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas Becket) is distinguished above S. Stephen, S. John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents, by having an element proper to his feast included in the Christmas Vespers.
I don’t know why that should be; but as an Englishman, I’m very touched that it is. (And if anyone does know the reason, I’d be very interested to hear it.)
That apart, I find S. Thomas Becket a very reassuring saint. For much of his life, although admittedly a cleric, he was successful in a very secular milieu; the law : and he went on to become Chancellor of England, and a prominent courtier.
So; what was it that brought him to martyrdom close to the High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral ? Well, put quite shortly, it can only have been the ‘grace of state’.
Having been proposed as Archbishop of Canterbury by his old friend and companion the King, whose interests he had long defended against the Church, everyone – and certainly the King – expected that Becket would continue to support the King against the Church.
However, the Holy Ghost had other ideas; and Becket became, with no apparent prompting, an exemplary and ascetic Archbishop, and a fierce defender of the rights of Holy Mother Church against the King – a defiance which, ultimately, led to his death.
For a lawyer, it’s perhaps reassuring that two Chancellors of England have been canonised (both, interestingly, named Thomas); it goes to show that there must be some hope, even for lawyers : but more importantly, Becket’s death as a martyr proves that, however we start out, we may hope, through the Grace of God, to end well.
May we pray God to give all of us that blessing; and, as S. Thomas is Patron of the English Pastoral Clergy, may we also - especially in this Year of Priests - pray for them, and give Him grateful thanks for their ministry.