Forever Means Forever!
The Seventh Friday of Ordinary Time; the Memorial of Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest & Doctor of the Church; the Memorial of Saint Gregory VII, Pope; or, the Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, Virgin.*
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• James 5: 9-12.
• Psalm 103: 1-4, 8-9, 11-12.
• Mark 10: 1-12.
If a Mass for St. Bede is taken, lessons from the feria as above, or from the proper:
• I Corinthians 2: 10-16.
• Psalm 119: 9-14.
• Matthew 7: 21-29.
…or, any lessons from the common of Doctors of the Church; or, the common Holy Men & Women for a Monk.
If a Mass for Pope St. Gregory is taken, lessons from the feria as above, or from the proper:
• Acts 20: 17-18, 28-32, 36.
• Psalm 110: 1-4.
• Matthew 16: 13-19.
…or, any lessons from the common of Pastors for a Pope.
If a Mass for St. Mary Magdalene dé Pazzi is taken, lessons fron the proper:
• I Corinthians 7: 25-35.
• Psalms 148: 1-2, 11-14.
• Mark 3: 31-35.
…or, any lessons from the common of Virgins for One Virgin, or the common of Holy Men & Women for Religious.
Ember Friday of Pentecost.**
Lessons from the Octave, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Joel 2: 23-24, 26-27.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• [Sequence] Veni, Sancte Spiritus…***
• Luke 5: 17-26.
11:09 PM 5/25/2018 — Of the three saints whose memorials all fall on this day—and from which the Roman Missal requires us to choose—I've chosen who is probably the least popular, Saint Bede. Most of you who follow the Roman Calendar with interest were probably hoping for Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, of whom I know very little, and I doubt any of you were hankering for Pope Saint Gregory VII. But Father Bede is by far my favorite, and since I'm the priest, there's not a whole lot you can do about it.
Born in England in 672, he entered the Benedictine monastery of Saints Peter and Paul in Northumberland in the remote North of England where he is remembered as the happiest monk anyone ever encountered; but, that's not why he's a saint. He was a tremendous theologian and scholar, whose writings are so full of sound doctrine that he was known as “venerable” even while he was still alive. He wrote treatises on theology, as well as many commentaries on Holy Scripture. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that, next to Saint Jerome, no one knew the Bible better.
But, his most influential writings by far are his historical works. He is, in fact, recognized as the “Father of English History” even by non-Catholics, and most of what we know about the history of England before the seventh century we owe to Bede. When we are reading or discussing historical events, we use the abbreviations BC, meaning “before Christ,” and AD, meaning anno Domini or “the year of the Lord,” automatically without thinking, completely oblivious to the fact that we own our debt for those convenient designations to Saint Bede, who invented them. There's been a movement in the last fifty years or so by secularists to replace those designations with abbreviations which don't refer to Christ: CE for “common era” and BCE for “before the common era”; but, we owe it to Saint Bede, I think, to do all we can to resist that anti-Christian movement.
But what I really want to reflect on with you today is the Gospel lesson, in which our Lord gives us His unequivocal teaching on divorce.
This may seem rather conceited, but had I been involved in putting together the lectionary of the Roman Missal, I wouldn’t have separated today’s Gospel lesson from tomorrow’s, in which our Lord blesses little children. They follow one after another in Mark’s Gospel, and there is, in fact, a Sunday—coming up in Lent, I believe—in which they are read together as one; but, I think it’s a mistake to ever separate them since, taken as a whole, they provide the Scriptural basis for everything the Church has ever taught about marriage and family, particularly in the very lucid and important teachings of the late Pope Saint John Paul II. But, for better or worse, they are separated here in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, so I’ll talk about them separately as best I can, both today and tomorrow.
In asking our Lord the question about divorce, Saint Mark tells us the Pharisees were “testing” our Blessed Lord. There was a long-standing tradition, based on the Law of Moses, by which divorce was allowed in specific circumstances. In answering their question, our Lord takes them back to the Book of Genesis and the second account there of the creation. Remember that there are two accounts of the creation of the world in Genesis: one stretches the whole process out over seven days; in the other, God creates the world all at one moment, and He puts man into it, but then realizes that man needs some sort of companion; and, all the animals are created for this purpose, but they turn out not to be suitable; so, God puts the man to sleep, and, out of his rib, he brings forth a woman, and the human author of Genesis specifically says that this is the reason for marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (2: 24 NABRE), and this is the verse quoted by our Lord in the Gospel lesson. So, the joining of a man and a woman in marriage represents man returning to his original created state, with man and woman ceasing to be two separate individuals, but becoming one individual as they were originally created by God. And this becomes the basis of our Lord's rather draconian teaching on divorce, namely, that there is no such thing, that what Moses allowed in Deuteronomy 24 (vs. 1-10) was done because of the hardness of man's heart, and not because God wanted it.
In my last assignment I heard confessions every day, and I'm not betraying any confidences nor breaking the seal of confession by telling you that a day didn’t go by without hearing some tale of woe rising out of that wailing and gnashing of teeth called married life. If anything, it always makes me eternally grateful that the Church only ordains single men to the Holy Priesthood. But what I find fascinating is that, when a marriage goes sour and becomes a source of pain rather than joy, which one hopes is temporary, it's usually because the purposes of creation have been confounded, and the two people involved have each become obsessed with their own needs. And what I mean by that is illustrated by the Gospel lesson for today being linked to tomorrow’s, in which our Lord blesses children. People aren't supposed to marry simply because they've fallen in love and want to be together, they're supposed to marry in order to cooperate with God in the process of creation; or, to put it more romantically, their love should be so complete and so intense that it can't be contained in a relationship of only two, but must overflow into the creation of new life. I hesitate to say it because childless marriages are a reality, and can be very fruitful in many ways; but, in a theological sense only, a marriage without children is an oxymoron. Pope Saint John Paul II addressed that whole issue by pointing out that couples who are not able to have children also participate in the act of creation by means by other forms of generosity, sometimes through adoption, but also through giving of themselves in service to the Church, and often assisting others who may be unequal to the task in helping them with their children.
Let us pray today, then, that those who have taken the leap of faith into married life—or those who may be in the process of preparing for it—may find, through grace, the joy that God intended for them from the beginning of their creation.
* A Benedictine from Tuscany, Pope Saint Gregory VII promulgated a reform against the evils of clerical marriage, simony (the granting of ecclesiastical offices to friends and relatives, or the buying and selling of the same), lay investiture (the appointment of bishops by monarchs), and greatly expanded the practical authority of the Holy See over local Churches, all of which put him on a collision course with the Holy Roman Emeror, Henry IV, whom he eventually excommunicated, and who exiled Pope Gregory from Rome in revenge. He died in exile in 1085; but, the veto authority of kings over the appointment of bishops was effectively ended due to his efforts, and is regarded as the turning-point in medieval civilization.
Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was a Carmelite mystic from Florence who led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the reform of the Church and encouraging her fellow sisters in holiness. Intrumental in the reform of the Camelite Order, she died in 1607.
** In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, at the beginning of the four seasons of the year, the fast days known as "Ember Days" thank God for blessings obtained during the past year and implore further graces for the new season; and, their importance in the Church was formerly very great. They are fixed on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of specific weeks in their respective seasons: after the First Sunday of Lent for Spring, after Whitsunday (Pentecost) for Summer, after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross (Sept. 14th) for Autumn, and after the Third Sunday of Advent for Winter. At one time, the Ember Days were obligatory days of fasting; this requirement was dropped in the Missal of St. John XXIII in 1962, but violet vestments are sill worn on Ember Days even when they occur outside the seasons of Advent and Lent, with the exception of the Ember Days that occur during the Octave of Pentecost.
The significance of the Ember Days as days of voluntary fasting is multiple: not only are they intended to consecrate to God both the liturgical seasons and the various seasons in nature, they also serve as a penitential preparation for those preparing for the Holy Priesthood. Ordinations in the extraordinary form generally take place on the Ember Days, and the Faithful are encouraged to pray on these days for good priests.
*** Cf. the footnote attached to the post here for a translation of the sequence.