VOTIVE MASS OF SAINT AUGUSTINE, BISHOP, APOSTLE OF ENGLAND
SHRINE OF SAINT AUGUSTINE
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OF RAMSGATE AND MINSTER
9 MARCH 2015
1 Thes 2, 2-9
Lk 10, 1-9
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
How great a blessing to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the Shrine of Saint Augustine, Apostle of England, so near to the place at which he, together with some forty other monks, arrived in the year 597 on a mission received from the Roman Pontiff, Pope Gregory the Great: the mission of the new evangelization of the British Isles. Here we witness directly the unfailing activity of the glorious Christ in His Church. Saint Augustine and his companions, not unlike the 72 disciples in the Gospel, were sent forth by the Vicar of Christ on earth to bring Christ alive in the Church to a faraway land. Venerating the tomb of Saint Augustine, we receive the grace of missionary zeal which is most fully and perfectly expressed in the offering of the Holy Mass.
From historical accounts, we know how much Pope Saint Gregory the Great desired to bring the truth and love of Christ to the English nation. He had seen the English youth brought as slaves to Rome, and his heart was filled with compassion for them and for their fellow countrymen. He felt in his heart, the sentiment of the Lord who exhorted the seventy-two disciples for the mission with these words:
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.(1)Thus, he called upon the monks of the Roman Monastery of Saint Andrew, from which he had been called to the See of Peter and of which Saint Augustine was the Prior, to undertake the long and difficult journey to England and to preach the Gospel in a place totally unknown to them.(2)
One can imagine that his instructions to Saint Augustine and the other monks were, in substance, the same as those of the Lord to the disciples:
Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”(3)Thanks be to God, Saint Augustine and his companions carried out the mission with total obedience. The integrity with which they carried out their priestly labors is well described in the words of Saint Paul in today’s Epistle:
For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.(4)They never doubted that their work was Christ’s, not their own. The measure of their ministry, therefore, was Christ alone, His truth and His love. Thus, their preaching of the Gospel and their ministration of the Sacraments has unceasingly borne fruit for centuries in the British Isles and far beyond.
Dom Prosper Guéranger, in his commentary on the feast of Saint Augustine, reflects upon the enduring fruits of their missionary labors with these words:
Thus the new race that then peopled the island received the faith, as the Britons had previously done from the hands of a Pope; and monks were their teachers in the science of salvation. The word of Augustine and his companions fructified in this privileged soil. It was some time of course before he could provide the whole nation with instruction; but neither Rome nor the Benedictines abandoned the work thus begun. The few remnants that were left of the ancient British Christianity joined the new converts; and England merited to be called, for long ages, the “Island of Saints.”(5)One thinks, for example, of illustrious figures like the Venerable Bede and Saint Thomas Becket.
Contemplating the saints who were the illustrious fruit of the apostolic ministry of Saint Augustine and his companions, we recall also how many suffered, even to the shedding of their blood, to be true to the apostolic faith handed down to them in an unbroken line from the Apostles and, in particular, from Pope Saint Gregory the Great, heroic Successor of Saint Peter, and Saint Augustine of Canterbury, illustrious successor of the Apostles. In a most particular way, we recall the figures of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher who held fast to the tradition of the faith received from the Vicar of Christ on earth, when so many betrayed and abandoned the apostolic faith. At his trial on July 1, 1535, Saint Thomas More held firmly to the living Tradition of the Church, which forbade him, in conscience, to acknowledge King Henry VIII with the title of Supreme Head of the Church. When, during the trial, the Chancellor rebuked him, citing the acceptance of the title by so many bishops and nobles of the land, Thomas More replied: “My lord, for one bishop of your opinion I have a hundred saints of mine; and for one parliament of yours, and God knows of what kind, I have all the General Councils for 1,000 years, ….”(6) The English Martyrs gave up their lives in martyrdom rather than giving up their greatest and lasting treasure, the life of Christ alive for us in His holy Church. Many others, both canonized saints and unknown heroes of the faith, selflessly and enduringly practiced the Catholic faith brought to the British Isles by Saint Augustine and his companions.
Surely, too, we are conscious of the great challenges in living the apostolic faith in our time. Truly, Satan, “a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies”(7), cannot stand the truth and love of Christ shining forth in His holy Church. He never takes repose from his deceitful and hateful labors. He is always trying to corrupt the truth, the beauty and the goodness which Christ never ceases to pour forth into our Christian souls from His glorious pierced Heart. The pervasive confusion and grave error about the most fundamental truths, the most beautiful realities, and the lasting goods of human life and its cradle, the human family, as they come to us from the hand of God, are the tragic signs of Satan’s presence in our midst. When we see how he has succeeded in corrupting a culture which was once Christian and in sowing the seeds of confusion and error even within the Church herself, we can easily become frightened and discouraged.
But, as Saint Augustine and his companions knew and preached, there is another presence which always conquers Satan. It is the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in His holy Church and, most perfectly and fully of all, in the Most Blessed Sacrament: His Real Presence. Holding fast to Christ and to His truth and love, even in the face of persecution, the victory over sin, the victory of eternal life will surely be ours. Our Lord Himself, when he placed his Church upon the solid foundation of the Petrine Office, promised us that the forces of evil would not prevail against her.(8) The last chapter of the history of the Church is already written. It is the story of the victory of Christ, when he returns in glory to bring to consummation his saving work, to inaugurate “a new heaven and a new earth.”(9) The intervening chapters are ours to write, with Christ and as His faithful and generous disciples. They will certainly be the story of suffering for the truth and love of Christ, but they will also always be the story of divine grace at work in every Christian soul, filling it with joy and peace even in the face of great suffering and death itself. Let us not give way to fear or discouragement, but let us, with Saint Paul, rejoice to fill out in our time the sufferings of Christ for the glory of God and for the salvation of the world.(10)
Coming on pilgrimage to this shrine, I cannot fail to note the example of the Catholic architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, architect of this beautiful church which is also the place of his burial. Augustus Pugin was attracted to the truth of the Catholic faith through its reflection in the beauty of the great Church architecture of the Middle Ages. He, in turn, sought to express and inspire by his architecture the nobility and beauty of a Christian culture during a time in which the Christian foundations of society were already under serious threat from the radical secularism of the thinking of the so-called Enlightenment. Offering Holy Mass is this church which can rightly be called his, let us thank God for him and for the great treasure of the beauty of the faith which he has given to us.
Christ now makes sacramentally present His Sacrifice on Calvary. Christ now offers to us the great fruit of His Sacrifice, which He first offered to the Apostles at the Last Supper and which Saint Augustine brought to England in 597: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ Who alone is the Savior of the world. As the glorious Christ descends to the altar of this great sanctuary, let us lift up our hearts to His glorious pierced Heart. As He offers up His life for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, let us, with Him, offer our lives as an oblation of love to God the Father for the salvation of all our brothers and sisters. With the Virgin Mary, Mary of the Annunciation venerated as Our Lady of Walsingham on this beloved island, let us be one in heart with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. In the Heart of Jesus our hearts will find the courage and strength to remain true to the apostolic faith for the glory of God and for the salvation of England and of all the world.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in Thee, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Foster-Father of Jesus, pray for us.
Saint Gregory the Great, pray for us.
Saint Augustine, Apostle of England, pray for us.
Raymond Leo Cardinal BURKE
1. Lk 10, 2.
2. Cf. Prosper Guéranger, L’année liturgique, Le temps pascal, Tome III, 19ème éd. (Tours : Maison Alfred Mame et Fils, 1925), p. 571. [Hereafter, Guéranger]. English version: Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Paschal Time, Book II, tr. Laurence Shepherd (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2000), p. 606. [Hereafter, GuérangerEng].
3. Lk 10, 8-9.
4. 1 Thes 2, 3-4
5. “Ainsi la nouvelle race qui peuplait cette île recevait à son tour la foi par les mains d’un pape : des moines étaient ses initiateurs à la doctrine du salut. La parole d’Augustin et de ses compagnons germa sur ce sol privilégié. Il lui fallut, sans doute, du temps pour étendre à l’île tout entière ; mais ni Rome, ni l’ordre monastique n’abandonnèrent l’œuvre commencée ; les débris de l’ancien christianisme breton finirent par s’unir aux nouvelles recrues, et l’Angleterre mérita d’être appelée longtemps l’île des saints.” Guéranger, p. 570. English translation: GuérangerEng, p. 605.
6. Gerard B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith, eds. A Thomas More Source Book, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004, p. 354.
7. Jn 8, 44.
8. Cf. Mt 16, 18.
9. Rev 21, 1. Cf. 2 Pet 3, 13.
10. Cf. Col 1, 24-26.