Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saint Bede the Venerable

The Feast of Pentecost rightly gets the attention this day in the Church. For it is one of the three greatest feasts of the year. At the moment, though, I’d like to say a word about the saint that is commemorated today because it is his day on the sanctoral cycle, namely, Saint Bede the Venerable, Confessor and Doctor of the Church.

When I say that Saint Bede is commemorated today, what I mean is that, since his feast (27 May on the calendar) is this year obscured by the more important Feast of the Pentecost, the collect for his feast is said after the Collect for Pentecost in the Mass. Commemoration involves a couple of other things as well in the Divine Office, but more on that some other time.

Another question that might come up at this point involves the dating of this feast. Lutheran Service Book has followed the modern Roman Catholic Church in moving the Feast of Saint Bede from 27 May to 25 May. Why? That would have to be answered by those responsible for LSB. I would simply offer a few thoughts on the question.

1. If the rationale was to move the feast to a more historically sensible place, my response would be that, in fact, neither 27 nor 25 May is Bede’s birthday. He was actually born to eternal life on 26 May.

2. Such historical arguments, even when they are accurate (as I say, this time it is not accurate) are not weighty enough, in my view, to make for a compelling case to move the date of a feast that has been in place for so long.

3. A final thought on the question of the date of the feast: I cannot help noticing that LSB gives two options for the feast of the Visitation of the BVM. Those who keep to the old calendar are given the date of 2 July, and those who keep the modern, post-Vatican II calendar, are given the date of 31 May. Whether or not it makes any sense to give two options for such a thing (I don’t think it makes any sense, but this is not the occasion to develop that topic), the question this brings up is why give the option for that feast, but not for other feasts they have changed on us?

As I say, this day, 27 May, is traditionally the day of Saint Bede, Confessor and Doctor of the Church. I do find it interesting that his feast does fall this year on Pentecost, the feast of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples. Invoking the Holy Ghost turned out to be the last prayer of Bede’s life in this world, as you will see in the following account from Dom Gueranger:

“On the Tuesday before the Ascension he grew worse, and it was evident that the end was near. He was full of joy and spent the day in dictating and the night in prayers of thanksgiving. The dawn of Wednesday morning found him urging his disciples to hurry on their work. At the hour of Terce they left him to take part in the procession made on that day with the relics of the saints. One of them, a child, who stayed with him, said: ‘Dear master, there is but one chapter left; hast thou strength for it?’ ‘It is easy,’ he answered with a smile; ‘Take thy pen, cut it and write-but make haste.’ At the hour of None, he sent for the priests of the monastery and gave them little presents, begging them to remember him at the altar. All wept. But he was full of joy, saying: ‘It is time for me, if it so please my Creator, to return to him who made me out of nothing, when as yet I was not. My sweet Judge has well ordered my life, and now the time of dissolution is at hand. I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. Yea, my soul longs to see Christ my king in his beauty.’

“So did he pass this last day. Then came the touching dialogue with Wibert, the child mentioned above. ‘Dear master, there is yet one sentence more.’ ‘Write quickly.’ After a moment: ‘It is finished,’ said the child. ‘Thou sayest well,’ replied the blessed man. ‘It is finished. Take my head in thy hands and support me over against the Oratory, for it is a great joy to me to see myself over against that holy place where I have so often prayed.’ They had laid him on the flood or the cell. He said: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,’ and when he had named the Holy Ghost, he yielded up his soul.” (vol. 8: 614-615)

Some know Bede from his history of the English Church up to his time (he fell asleep in 735). Some know him from his sermons and commentaries. Some know him by way of his legacy as a Benedictine contemplative, who had many brothers under his tutelage. I’d like to end this tribute by quoting Father Lasance, “Historians relate of him that he passed no time in idleness and never ceased to study; he always read, always wrote, always thought, and always prayed.”

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