29 December 2023

St Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury & Martyr

From Dom Prosper Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Another Martyr comes in today to take his place round the Crib of our Jesus. He does not belong to the first ages of the church: his name is not written in the Books of the New Testament, like those of Stephen, John, and the Innocents of Bethlehem. Yet does he stand most prominent in the ranks of that Martyr-Host, which has been receiving fresh recruits in every age, and is one of those visible abiding proofs of the vitality of the Church, and of the undecaying energy infused into her by her divine Founder. This glorious Martyr did not shed his blood for the faith; he was not dragged before the tribunals of Pagans or Heretics, there to confess the Truths revealed by Christ and taught by the Church. He was slain by Christian hands; it was a Catholic King that condemned him to death; it was by the majority of his own Brethren, and they his countrymen, that he was abandoned and blamed. How, then, could he be a Martyr? How did he gain a Palm like Stephen’s? He was the Martyr for the Liberty of the Church.

Every Christian is obliged to lay down his life rather than deny any of the Articles of our holy Faith: it was the debt we contracted with Jesus Christ when he adopted us, in Baptism, as his Brethren. All are not called to the honor of Martyrdom, that is, all are not required to bear that testimony to the Truth, which consists in shedding one’s blood for it: but all must so love their Faith as to be ready to die rather than deny it, under pain of incurring the eternal death from which the grace of our Redeemer has already delivered us. The same obligation lies still more heavily on the Pastors of the Church. It is the pledge of the truth of their teachings. Hence we find, in almost every page of the History of the Church, the glorious names of saintly Bishops who laid down their lives for the Faith they had delivered to their people. It was the last and dearest pledge they could give of their devotedness to the Vineyard entrusted to them, and in which they had spent years of care and toil. The blood of their Martyrdom was more than a fertilizing element—it was a guarantee, the highest that man can give, that the seed they had sown in the hearts of men was, in very truth, the revealed Word of God.

But beyond the debt which every Christian has of shedding his blood rather than deny his Faith, that is, of allowing no threats or dangers to make him disown the sacred ties which unite him to the Church, and, through her, to Jesus Christ—beyond this, Pastors have another debt to pay, which is that of defending the Liberty of the Church. To Kings and Rulers and, in general, to all Diplomatists and Politicians, there are few expressions so unwelcome as this of the Liberty of the Church; with them, it means a sort of conspiracy. The world talks of it as being an unfortunate scandal, originating in priestly ambition. Timid temporizing Catholics regret that it can elicit anyone’s zeal, and will endeavor to persuade us that we have no need to fear anything, so long as our Faith is not attacked. Notwithstanding all this, the Church has put upon her altars and associated with St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, this our Archbishop, who was slain in his Cathedral of Canterbury, in the 12th century, because he resisted a King’s infringements on the extrinsic Rights of the Church. She sanctions the noble maxim of St. Anselm, one of St. Thomas’ predecessors in the See of Canterbury: Nothing does God love so much in this world, as the Liberty of his Church; and the Apostolic See declares by the mouth of Pius the 8th, in the 19th century, the very same doctrine she would have taught by St. Gregory the 7th, in the 11th century: The Church, the spotless Spouse of Jesus Christ the immaculate Lamb is, by God’s appointment, Free, and subject to no earthly power (Litterae Apostolicae ad Episcopos Provinciae Rhenance, 1830).

But in what does this sacred Liberty consist? It consists in the Church’s absolute independence of every secular power in the ministry of the Word of God, which she is bound to preach in season and out of season, as St. Paul says, to all mankind, without distinction of nation, or race, or age, or sex—in the administration of the Sacraments, to which she must invite all men, without exception, in order to the world’s salvation—in the practice, free from all human control, of the Counsels, as well as of the Precepts, of the Gospel—in the unobstructed intercommunication of the several degrees of her sacred hierarchy—in the publication and application of her decrees and ordinances in matters of discipline—in the maintenance and development of the Institutions she has founded—in the holding and governing her temporal patrimony—and lastly, in the defense of those privileges which have been adjudged to her by the civil authority itself, in order that her ministry of peace and charity might be unembarrassed and respected.

Such is the Liberty of the Church. It is the bulwark of the Sanctuary. Every breach there imperils the Hierarchy, and even the very Faith. A Bishop may not flee, as the hireling, nor hold his peace, like those of dumb dogs, of which the Prophet Isaias speaks, and which are not able to bark. (Isaiah 56:10) He is the Watchman of Israel: he is a traitor if he first lets the enemy enter the citadel and then, but only then, gives the alarm and risks his person and his life. The obligation of laying down his life for his flock begins to be in force at the enemy’s first attack upon the very outposts of the City, which is only safe when they are strongly guarded.

The consequences of the Pastor’s resistance may be of the most serious nature; in which event, we must remember a truth, which has been admirably expressed by Bossuet, in his magnificent Panegyric on St. Thomas of Canterbury, which we regret not being able to give from beginning to end: “It is an established law,” he says, “that every success the Church acquires costs her the life of some of her children, and that in order to secure her rights, she must shed her own blood. Her Divine Spouse redeemed her by the Blood he shed for her; and he wishes that she should purchase, on the same terms, the graces he bestows upon her. It was by the blood of the Martyrs that she extended her conquests far beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. It was her blood that procured her both the peace she enjoyed under the Christian, and the victory she gained over the Pagan, Emperors. So that, as she had to shed her blood for the propagation of her teaching, she had also to bleed for the making her authority accepted. The Discipline, therefore, as well as the Faith, of the Church, was to have its Martyrs.” (Panégyriques des Saints)

Hence it was that St. Thomas, and the rest of the Martyrs for Ecclesiastical Liberty, never once stopped to consider how it was possible, with such weak means as were at their disposal, to oppose the invaders of the rights of the Church. One great element of Martyrdom is simplicity united with courage; and this explains how there have been Martyrs amongst the lowest classes of the Faithful, and that young girls, and even children, can show their rich Palm-branch. God has put into the heart of a Christian a capability of humble and inflexible resistance, which makes every opposition give way. What, then, must that fidelity be, which the Holy Ghost has put into the souls of Bishops, whom he has constituted the Spouses of his Church, and the defenders of his beloved Jerusalem? “St. Thomas,” says Bossuet, “yields not to injustice, under the pretext that it is armed with the sword, and that it is a King who commits it; on the contrary, seeing that its source is high up, he feels his obligation of resisting it to be the greater, just as men throw the embankments higher when the torrent swells.”

But the Pastor may lose his life in the contest! Yes, it may be so—he may possibly have this glorious privilege. Our Lord came into this world to fight against it and conquer it—but he shed his blood in the contest, he died on a Cross. So likewise were the Martyrs put to death. Can the Church, then, that was founded by the Precious Blood of her Divine Master, and was established by the blood of the Martyrs—can she ever do without the saving laver of blood, which reanimates her with vigor, and vests her with the rich crimson of her royalty? St. Thomas understood this: and when we remember how he labored to mortify his flesh by a life of penance, and how every sort of privation and adversity had taught him to crucify to this world every affection of his heart, we cannot be surprised at his possessing, within his soul, the qualities which fit a man for martyrdom—calmness of courage, and a patience proof against every trial. In other words, he had received from God the Spirit of Fortitude, and he faithfully corresponded to it.

“In the language of the Church,” continues Bossuet, “Fortitude has not the meaning it has in the language of the world. Fortitude, as the world understands it, is the undertaking great things; according to the Church, it goes not beyond the suffering every sort of trial, and there it stops. Listen to the words of St. Paul: Ye have not yet resisted unto blood; a though he would say: ‘You have not resisted your enemies unto blood.’ He does not say, ‘You have not attacked your enemies and shed their blood;’ but, ‘Your resistance to your enemies has not yet cost you your blood.’

“These are the high principles of St. Thomas; but see how he makes use of them. He arms himself with this sword of the Apostle’s teaching, not to make a parade of courage, and gain a name for heroism, but simply because the Church is threatened, and he must hold over her the shield of his resistance. The strength of the holy Archbishop lies not, in any way, either in the interference of sympathizers, or in a plot ably conducted. He has but to publish the sufferings he has to patiently borne, and odium will fall upon his persecutor: certain secret springs need only to be touched by such a man as this, and the people would be roused to indignation against the King! but the Saint scorns both plans. All he has on his side is the prayer of the poor, and the sighs of the widow and the orphan: these, as St. Ambrose would say, these are the Bishop’s defenders, these his guard, these his army! He is powerful, because he has a soul that knows not either how to fear or how to murmur. He can, in all truth, say to Henry, King of England, what Tertullian said, in the name of the whole Church, to a magistrate of the Roman Empire, who was a cruel persecutor of the Church: We neither frighten thee, nor fear thee: we Christians are neither dangerous men, nor cowards; not dangerous, because we cannot cabal, and not coward, because we fear not the sword.”

Our Panegyrist proceeds to describe the victory won for the Church by her intrepid Martyr of Canterbury. We can scarcely be surprised when we are told that during the very year in which he preached this eloquent Sermon, Bossuet was raised to the episcopal dignity. We need offer no apology for giving the following fine passage.

“Christians! give me your attention. If there ever were a Martyrdom which bore the resemblance to a Sacrifice, it was the one I have to describe to you. First of all, there is the preparation: the Bishop is in the Church with his Ministers, and all are robed in the sacred Vestments. And the Victim? The Victim is near at hand—the Bishop is the Victim chosen by God, and he is ready. So that all is prepared for the Sacrifice, and they that are to strike the blow enter the Church. The holy man walks before them, as Jesus did before his enemies. He forbids his Clergy to make the slightest resistance, and all he asks of his enemies is that they injure none of them that are present: it is the close imitation of his Divine Master, who said to them that apprehended them: If it be I whom ye seek, suffer these to go their way. And when all this had been done, and the moment for the sacrifice was come, St. Thomas begins the ceremony. He is both Victim and Priest—he bows down his head, and offers the prayer. Listen to the solemn prayer, and the mystical words, of the sacrifice: And I am ready to die for God, and for the claims of justice, and for the Liberty of the Church, if only she may gain peace and Liberty by this shedding of my blood! He prostrates himself before God: and as in the Holy Sacrifice there is the invocation of the Saints our Intercessors, Thomas omits not so important a ceremony; he beseeches the Holy Martyrs and the Blessed Mary ever a Virgin to deliver the Church from oppression. He can pray for nothing but the Church; his heart beats but for the Church; his lips can speak nothing but the Church; and when the blow has been struck, his cold and lifeless tongue seems still to be saying: The Church!

Thus did our glorious Martyr, the type of a Bishop of the Church, consummate his sacrifice, thus did he gain his victory; and his victory will produce the total abolition of the sinful laws which would have made the Church the creature of the State, and an object of contempt to the people. The tomb of the Saint will become an Altar; and at the foot of that Altar there will one day kneel a penitent King, humbly praying for pardon and blessing. What has wrought this change? Has the death of Thomas of Canterbury stirred up the people to revolt? Has his Martyrdom found its avengers? No. It is the blood of one, who died for Christ, producing its fruit. The world is hard to teach, else it would have long since learned this truth—that a Christian people can never see with indifference a Pastor put to death for fidelity to his charge; and that a Government that dares to make a Martyr will pay dearly for the crime. Modern diplomacy has learned the secret; experience has given it the instinctive craft of waging war against the Liberty of the Church with less violence and more intrigue—the intrigue of enslaving her by political administration. It was this crafty diplomacy which forged the chains wherewith so many Churches are now shackled, and which, be they ever so gilded, are insupportable. There is but one way to unlink such fetters—to break them. He that breaks them will be great in the Church of heaven and earth, for he must be a Martyr: he will not have to fight with the sword, or be a political agitator, but simply, to resist the plotters against the Liberty of the Spouse of Christ, and suffer patiently whatever may be said or done against him.

Let us give ear once more to the sublime Panegyrist of our St. Thomas: he is alluding to this patient resistance, which made the Archbishop triumph over tyranny.

“My Brethren, see what manner of men the Church finds rising up to defend her in her weakness, and how truly she may say with the Apostle: When I am weak, then am I powerful. (2 Corinthians 12:10) It is this blessed weakness which provides her with invincible power, and which enlists in her cause the bravest soldiers and the mightiest conquerors this world has ever seen—I mean, the Martyrs. He that infringes on the authority of the Church, let him dread that precious blood of the Martyrs, which consecrates and protects it.”

Now, all this Fortitude, and the whole of this Victory, come from the Crib of the Infant Jesus: therefore it is that we find St. Thomas standing near it, in company with the Protomartyr Stephen. Any example of humility, and of what the world calls poverty and weakness, which had been less eloquent than this of the mystery of God made a Little Child, would have been insufficient to teach man what real Power is. Up to that time, man had no other idea of power than that which the sword can give, or of greatness than that which comes of riches, or of joy than such as triumph brings: but when God came into this world and showed himself weak and poor and persecuted—everything was changed. Men were found who loved the lowly Crib of Jesus, with all its humiliations, better than the whole world besides: and from this mystery of the weakness of an Infant God they imbibed a greatness of soul which even the world could not help admiring.

It is most just, therefore, that the two laurel-wreaths of St. Thomas and St. Stephen should intertwine round the Crib of the Babe of Bethlehem, for they are the two trophies of his two dear Martyrs. As regards St. Thomas, divine Providence marked out most clearly the place he was to occupy in the Cycle of the Christian Year by permitting his martyrdom to happen on the day following the Feast of the Holy Innocents; so that the Church could have no hesitation in assigning the 29th of December as the day for celebrating the memory of the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury. As long as the world lasts, this day will be a Feast of dearest interest to the whole Church of God; and the name of Thomas of Canterbury will be, to the day of judgment, terrible to the enemies of the Liberty of the Church, and music breathing hope and consolation to hearts that love that Liberty, which Jesus bought at the price of his Precious Blood.

We will now listen to this dear Mother of ours, the Church, who gives us, in her Divine Office, a short history of the life and sufferings of St. Thomas.

Thomas was born in England, in the city of London. He succeeded Theobald as Bishop of Canterbury. He had previously acquitted himself with much honor as Chancellor, and was strenuous and unflinching in his duty as Bishop; for when Henry II, King of England, in an assembly of the Bishops and Nobles of the realm, passed certain laws inconsistent with the interests and the honor of the Church, the Bishop withstood the King’s avarice so courageously, that neither fair promises nor threats could draw him over to the King’s side, and, being in danger of imprisonment, he privately withdrew. Not long after, all his relatives young and old, all his friends, and household, were banished, and such of them, as had attained the age of discretion, were made to promise on oath that they would go to Thomas, as perhaps he, who could not be made to swerve from his holy purpose, by any personal consideration, might relent at the heart-rending spectacle of the sufferings of them who were dear to him. But he regarded not the demands of flesh and blood, neither did he permit the feelings of natural affection to weaken the firmness required of him as Bishop.

He, therefore, repaired to Pope Alexander 3rd, from whom he met with a kind reception, and who commended him, on his departure, to the Cistercian Monks of Pontigny. As soon as Henry came to know this, he strove to have Thomas expelled from Pontigny, and, for this purpose, sent threatening letters to the General Chapter of Citeaux. Whereupon, the holy man, fearing lest the Cistercian Order should be made to suffer on his account, left the Monastery of his own accord, and betook himself to the hospitable shelter to which he had been invited by Louis, King of France. There he remained, until, by the intervention of the Pope and Louis the King, he was called home from his banishment, to the joy of the whole kingdom. While resuming the intrepid discharge of the duty of a good Shepherd, certain calumniators denounced him to King Henry as one that was plotting sundry things against the country and the public peace. Wherefore, the King was heard frequently complaining, that there was only one Priest in his kingdom with whom he could not be in peace.

Certain wicked satellites excluded from this expression of the King, that he would be pleased at their ridding him of Thomas. Accordingly, they stealthily enter Canterbury, and finding the Bishop was in the Church, officiating at Vespers, they began their attack. The Clergy were using means to prevent them from entering the Church, when the Saint, coming to them, forbade their opposition, and, opening the door, thus spoke to them: The Church is not to be guarded like a citadel, and I am glad to die for God’s Church. Then turning to the soldiers, he said: I command you, in the name of God, that you hurt not any of them that are with me. After this, he knelt down, and commending his Church and himself to God, to the Blessed Mary, to St. Denis, and to the other Patron Saints of his Cathedral, with the same courage that he had shown in resisting the King’s execrable laws, he bowed down his head to the impious murderers, on the Fourth of the Calends of January (December 29th), in the Year of our Lord 1171. His brains were scattered on the floor of the entire Church. God having shown the holiness of his servant by many miracles, he was canonized by the same Pope, Alexander III.


The solemn Introit of today’s Mass shows the transport of joy wherewith the Church celebrates the Feast of our holy Martyr. The words, and the chant which accompanies them, are only used about four times in the year. Both words and music bespeak enthusiasm and joy, and the Church on earth is elated at the thought that she and the Angels are making one choir to the praise of the victory of Thomas of Canterbury.


Let us all rejoice in the Lord, and celebrate this festival in honor of Blessed Thomas the Martyr: for whose martyrdom the Angels rejoice, and praise the Son of God.

Ps. Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just; praise becometh the upright. ℣. Glory, etc.

Let us, etc.

In the Collect, the holy Church emphasizes the merit of the glorious Martyr by saying that it was for the very Spouse of the Son of God that he shed his blood. After this, she expresses the special confidence she has in his intercession.


O God, in defense of whose Church the glorious Pontiff Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance, may find comfort in the grant of their petition. Through, etc.

If the Commemorations of the four Octaves are to be made, they will be found in the Mass of the Holy Innocents.


Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Hebrews 5:1-6:

Brethren: Every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on them that are ignorant and that err: because he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And therefore he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was. So Christ also did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest: but he that said unto him: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place: Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech.

When we meet, in the Annals of the Church, with the names of those great Bishops who have been the glory of the Christian Pontificate, we are at once sure that these men, the true images of the great High Priest Jesus our Lord, did not intrude themselves uncalled into the dread honors of the Sanctuary. The history of their Lives shows us that they were called by God himself, as Aaron was: and when we come to examine how it was that they were so great, we soon find that the source of their greatness was their humility that led them to refuse the honorable burden which others would put upon them. God assisted them in the day of trouble trial because the exaltation to the episcopacy had been his own work.

Thus was it with St. Thomas, who sat on his episcopal throne of Canterbury, the dignified and courageous Primate. He began by declining the high honor that was offered him. He boldly tells the King (as St. Gregory VII, before ascending the Papal Throne, told the Emperor who fain would see him Pope) that, if forced to accept the proffered dignity, he is determined to oppose abuses. He thought by this to frighten men from putting him into the honors and responsibilities of the Pastoral charge, and hoped that they would no longer wish him to be a Bishop, when they suspected that he would be a true one—but the decree of God had gone forth, and Thomas, called by God, was obliged to bow down his head and receive the holy anointing. And what a Bishop he, that begins by humility, and the determination to sacrifice his very life in the discharge of his duty! He is worthy to follow, and that to Calvary, the God-Man, who, being called by his Father to Priesthood and Sacrifice, enters this world, saying: Behold! I come to do thy will, O God! (Hebrews 10:9)

The Gradual, in its first Versicle, applies to St. Thomas, the encomium given by the Sacred Scripture to Abraham. These words, which speak to the praises of one who surpassed all others in merit, are singularly applicable to our illustrious Martyr, whose glory exceeds that of most other holy Bishops, whose memory is celebrated by the Church.

The Alleluia-Verse repeats the words of our Savior, in which he declares himself to be the Good Shepherd. Why does the Church use them on this Feast? She would thereby tell us that St. Thomas was a faithful representation of Him whom St. Peter calls the Prince of Pastors. (1 Peter 5:4)


Behold a great Prelate, who in his days pleased God.

℣. There was none found like him in keeping the law of the Most High.

Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. I am the Good Shepherd: and I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. Alleluia.


Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. John 10:11-16:

At that time: Jesus said to the Pharisees: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep: And the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for my sheep. And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.

All the strength of the Pontiffs and Pastors of the Church consists in their imitation of Jesus. It is not enough that they have in them the character of his Priesthood; they must also be ready, like Him, to lay down their lives for their sheep. The Shepherd who thinks more of his own life than of the salvation of his flock is a hireling—he is not a shepherd: he loves himself, and not his sheep. His flock has a claim upon his shedding his blood for them; and if he will not, he is no longer an image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. See how calmly St. Thomas lays down his life! He bows down his head to receive the blows of his executioners, as though he were simply acquitting himself of a duty, or paying a debt. After the example of Jesus, he gives his blood for the deliverance of his people; and no sooner has the sword done its work than the Church, over which God had placed him, is set free: his blood has brought peace. (Colossians 1:20) He withstood the wolf that threatened destruction to his flock; he vanquished him; the wolf himself was turned into a lamb, for the king visited the Tomb of his victim and sought, in prostrate supplication, the Martyr’s blessing.

Thomas knew his sheep, that is, he loved them; it was a happiness to him, therefore, to die for them. He was made Pastor on the condition that he would die for them; just as our Emmanuel was made High Priest in order that he might offer Sacrifice, in which too he was both Priest and Victim. Jesus’ sheep know their divine Shepherd: they know that he came in order to save them; therefore is it that his Birth at Bethlehem is so dear to them. The Shepherd of Canterbury, too, is also known by his sheep; and therefore the Feast of his triumphant martyrdom is very dear to them, not only in the century when it happened, but even now, and so will it ever be, even to the end of time. In return for this love and devotion paid him by the Church on earth, Thomas blesses her from heaven. We cannot doubt it—the wonderful return to the ancient Faith, which we are now witnessing in our dear England, is due in no little measure to the powerful intercession of St. Thomas of Canterbury; and this intercession is the return, made by our glorious Martyr, for that fervent and filial devotion which is shown him, and which the faithful will ever show to him who was so heroically what only the true Church can produce—a true Pastor.

In the Offertory, the holy Church sings of the crown of glory, wherewith our Emmanuel encircled the brow of his Martyr. The Pastor gave his blood to purchase that crown; and his death gave him life.


Thou hast set, O Lord, on his head a crown of precious stones: he asked life of thee, and thou didst give it him, alleluia.

The Secret shows us that the merits of the Martyr are united with those of the Divine Victim. While offering the Blood of the Lamb to the Eternal Father, we remind him of that shed by his Martyr.


Sanctify, O Lord, the offerings consecrated to thee; and being appeased thereby, mercifully look upon us, by the intercession of blessed Thomas, thy Martyr and Bishop. Through, etc.

In the Communion-Verse, we have our Divine Pastor Jesus speaking to us, the same that has just been giving himself to his sheep, as their food. It is by this Holy Sacrament, that the Sheep more intimately know their Shepherd, and that the Shepherd, who has just been born in the House of Bread (Bethlehem), receives a proof of their love to him.


I am the Good Shepherd: and I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.

In the Postcommunion, the Church once more pronounces the name of our great Martyr. She prays that she may obtain, through his intercession, the grace of receiving more fully than ever the effects of the divine Mystery which cleanses our souls and is the remedy of their infirmities.


May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from sin: and by the intercession of blessed Thomas, thy Martyr and Bishop, make us effectually partakers of this heavenly remedy. Through, etc.


The Antiphons and Psalms of Christmas Day, as given earlier in the volume, having been sung, the rest of the Office is as follows:

(James i)

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him.

HYMN (Deus tuorum militum)

℣. The just man shall flourish like the palm-tree.
℟. He shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.


ANT. He that willeth to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.


O God, in defense of whose Church the glorious bishop Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance may find comfort in the grant of their petitions. Through, etc.

Commemoration of the Sunday

(This is said only if the Office of the Sunday in the Octave is said on the following day.)

ANT. While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course thy Almighty Word, O Lord, came down from thy royal throne, alleluia.

℣. The Word was made flesh, alleluia.
℟. And dwelt among us, alleluia.


O Almighty and Eternal God, regulate our actions according to thy divine will: that in the name of thy beloved son, we may abound in good works.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

ANT. This day Christ is born; this day the Saviour hat appeared; this day the Angels sing on earth, the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.

℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia..
℟. His Salvation, alleluia.


Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefore by the new Birth of thine Only-Begotten Son. Through the same, etc.

As we might expect, the Liturgy of our English church honors her beloved Martyr with an affectionate and enthusiastic homage. We copy fro the ancient Salisbury Breviary several passages, and we being with some of the Antiphons of Matins and Lauds. The whole Office is rhymed, according to the custom observed in the thirteenth century, the time when this Office of St Thomas was composed.

Thomas being raised to the fullness of the Priesthood, was suddenly transformed into a new man.
A monk, wearing the hair-shirt secretly under his cleric’s dress, he subdues the rebellion of his flesh, for he was not a slave to the flesh.
Husbandman of the Lord’s vineyard, he roots up the brambles, and drives the foxes from the vines.
He neither suffers wolves to prowl among the lambs, nor slugs to crawl in the garden.
He is sent into exile, and his possessions made over to wicked men; but the fire of tribulation burns him not.
The satellites of Satan rush not the Temple, and perpetrate the unheard-of crime.
Thomas advances to meet the unsheathed swords: nor threats nor swords nor very death can make him yield.
Happy Canterbury! Happy Church that cherishes the memory of her Thomas! Happy land that gave such a Bishop, and happy too country that harboured such an exile!
The grain of wheat falls, and ringeth forth much fruit: the precious vase is broken, and perfumes all the earth!
The whole earth seeks how most to love our Martyr, and men look in wonder at each other as they hear or see the miracles that are wrought.

Our next selection is of passages equally interesting as showing the affection and confidence of the faithful in our glorious Martyr.

ANT. The Shepherd, slain in the midst of his flock, purchaseth peace at the price of his blood. O joyful mourning, O mournful joy! The Shepherd dead, new life is in the Flock! The Mother speaks through her tears, the praises of her Son, for still he lives the conqueror of the sword.
℟. Cease now to mourn, that the flower of the world hath been broken by the world, O sorrowing Rachel! The tomb of thy martyred Thomas gives thee back an Abel for the Abel thou didst lose.
ANT. Hail, O Thomas! sceptre of justice, light of the earth, strong champion of the Church, beloved of the people, favourite of the clergy! Hail, admirable keeper of the Flock! keep in safety all us who rejoice in thy glory.

We cannot resist adding the following Responsory from the same Salisbury Breviary. It is remarkable for containing an entire prose, inserted as a verse, with the repetition of the Cælum domo at the end. We need scarcely draw the attention of our readers to the freshness and beauty of this liturgical gem.

℟. The grain of wheat lies smothered by the chaff, the just man slain by the sword of sinners. * Changing his house of clay for heaven.

℣. The vine-keeper dies in his vineyard, the general in his camp, the husbandman on the place of his toil. * Changing his house of clay for heaven.

PROSE. Let the Pastor, trumpet-tongued, cry out to men
That Christ’s vineyard must be free:
The vineyard that he took unto himself, when he clothed himself with our flesh,
And made free by the blood he shed upon the Cross.
A lost sheep, become and enemy,
Is blood-stained by the murder of his Shepherd.
The marble pavement of Christ’s sanctuary
Is purpled with the stream of holy blood.
The Martyr, decked with the laurel-crown of life,
Is, like wheat well winnowed from its chaff,
Carried into the garner-house of heaven. * Changing his house of clay for heaven.

The Church of France also testified by its Liturgy its admiration for our illustrious Martyr. Adam of Saint Victor composed as many as three Sequences, which are given below, in honour of his triumph over the enemies of god. they breathe the warmest sympathy for the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, and prove how dear was the liberty of the Church to the faithful of those days, and how the cause for which St Thomas was the Martyr, was then looked upon as the cause of the whole of Christendom.


Rejoice, O Sion! and be glad; in voice and heart make holiday on this joyous solemnity.
Thy Thomas, O Jesus! is slain: for thee is he immolated as a saving host.
He is Archbishop and Legate, yet is he humble amidst all these grate honours.
Steward of the Almighty king, he is sentenced to exile for having defended his flock.
He combats with a Pastor’s weapons; he is girt with the sword of the spirit; he deserved his victory.
He sought to fight and die for the law of his God, and for the flock entrusted to him.
Then did Canterbury weep to see herself left lonely without her guide, and widowed of her Shepherd.
Whilst she wept, another city was in strangest joy: it was Sens in France exulting in her possession of so great a man.
While he was absent, the liberty of the church was weakened, and being weakened was trampled on.
Thus, dear Shepherd, didst thou leave us, nor ever didst thou turn from the right path of justice.
There was a time when thou wast first Lord of the Court, serving as a faithful minister in the palace of a King.
Thou didn’t enjoy the public favour and praise—short-lived things, as they ever are.
But being raised to the episcopal dignity thy whole heart is changed. It was a happy barter of office, for it made thee a new man.
Thou didst set thyself up as a wall against iniquity: thou didst offer thy head as a sacrifice to Christ.
The death of thy body was a small thing in thy eyes, brave champion and conqueror! Thou didst receive a splendid palm, as thy extraordinary and numerous miracles testify.
O glorious Martyr Thomas! thou pearl of priests, tame the rebellion of our flesh by thy powerful prayers.
That so, being rooted in the True Vine, Jesus, we may receive the solid rewards of eternal life. Amen.


Our loving mother the Church weeps over Britannia’s hateful deed. France is moved to compassion, and Heaven, earth and sea turn away from the execrable crime.

Yea, England perpetrated a crime too great to tell: a heinous, horrid crime. She gave sentence against her own Father, and having resorted him to his See, she slew him.

Thomas, England’s fair flower, the church’s special glory, is made Priest and Victim, for the laws of justice, in Canterbury’s Church.

Between the temple and the altar, on the threshold of God’s House, he is struck, but is not vanquished; it is the rending of the veil of the temple by the edge of the sword. ‘Tis Eliseus made bald, ’tis Zacharias slain. The kiss of peace just given is broken, and the voice of the organ is changed into lamentation and weeping.

Twas the morrow of the Innocent’s Feast when this innocent victim was dragged to execution and struck down, and his brains picked out with a sword’s point. The pavement of God’s house is enriched with rubies: it is sprinkled with blood, as its Priest puts on the vestment of the Passion.

The murderers are wild with rage; the blood of the just man is condemned, and his head is split with a sword, in the very presence of our lord. He that celebrates the sacred rite is himself made sacred; the sacrificer is made the sacrifice, leaving the world this example of courage.

The Pontiff is offered up, a holocaust full of marrow: the whole world is filled with its fame, and its fragrance is most sweet unto God. For the blow which cut off the top part of his head, whereon was marked the tonsure-crown, he receives a twofold robe when the Archiepiscopal See is restored.

The Jews scoff, and Pagans laugh, and Idolaters reproach a Christian people that broke the sacred vow and murdered a bishop of the Christian Church. Rachel bewails her Son, nor will she be comforted, for she saw him murdered whilst in her sacred lap; and every feeling heart sheds o’er this glorious death the tears of its sad grief.

This is the Pontiff who, after he had passed the English swords, was magnified in high heavens by the supreme Creator.

Not having feared to die and shed his blood, he left this world, and entered once and forever into the Holy of Holies.

Miracles attest how precious was this death; may it, O Jesus! draw down thy grace upon us for eternity. Amen.


Our Eliseus turns the bitter waters into sweet, by putting into them a new vase of salt; and by the seasoning of fresh meal, removed the bitterness from the pot of poisonous herbs;
He is slain, as a sheep that dies to save the flock, or as a child that is sacrificed that the mother may be spared. He rises as a new Sun in a night-covered world, promising a long year of Jubilee.

In these our days, by a wicked plot, a new Abel has been sacrificed by a wicked Cain, a new Jacob by a cruel Esau, and a new Joseph by envious brethren.
Children have risen up against their father, harrowing the bosom of their Mother. A new chaos seems to have enveloped all things on earth; how else could the Pontiff Thomas have met with death?

But Abel falls in glory, Jacob is safe in Mesopotamia, Joseph rules in the court of the king, an our Martyr, Thomas, wears a crown in the palace of heaven.
‘Tis merry England now once more, and Canterbury becomes a new Bethel, and a land where is a pool of ever and many-healing waters.

 The Jordan River flows through England’s vales, and who could tell how many Naamans there receive their cure? The spring of Siloe has sent her stream to Albion, and heaven’s manna falls where once it was not known.
A long summer smiles on the fair island. The barren Anna is blessed with a noble Son. But, oh! shame above that of old! a Herod’s sword has slain the new Prophet.

How great is the reward of the martyred Saint! Life, salvation and celestial light are bestowed on him for his holy deeds, and for the courage of his upright mind.

And now from heaven he works so many miracles! He heals leprosy, he puts devils to flight, he gives sight to the blind, he makes the lame walk, he gives speech to the dumb, he obtains a cures for every sickness.

A son of Belial, who had pursed out blasphemies against the Saint, was struck blind; and whereas he desisted not from his mad fury, he met with a wretched death.

A man who had great devotion to the Saint, had, through a false zeal, lost his sight: he recovered it immediately on praying to the Saint, and went his way singing in joyfully his praises to God.

Crosses made by an Angel’s hand are often known to have a heavenly power, by the powerful prayer off the loving Pastor. The dust from round his sepulchre is known to heal paralysis.

Two lamps had been presented to his shrine, as a votive offering; they were lit by a light from heaven. A man who had attempted to profane the holy spot, was found out by the breaking of a vase.

A boy had kicked his mother, and repenting of his deed, had maimed himself. No sooner has he begged the prayers of the Saint, that wonderful miracle! he recovers the use of both his feet.

O Thomas! thou skillful pilot in the mystic Bark! let thy prayers give worth to our praises and hymns, that they be pleasing to the King our God; and by the y powerful intercession, commend us to the same! Amen.

Our readers will not regret our giving insertion to the following beautiful Prose, taken from the ancient Missal of Liège.


Rejoice, O Canterbury adorned with thy late Martyr, Thomas, as Rome is with her Peter.
Nay, let the whole Church Militant be devout to thy Saint, and pay him the holy tribute of her praise.
This is the Pontiff who draws on himself the anger of England’s king, because he defends the law of God.
For which reason he is sent into banishment, and crossing the sea, seeks protection from the King of France.
The king receives him gladly as he well deserved; and visits the Pontiff devoutly and affectionately, as he would a father.
In France Thomas, like a young novice, serves the King of kings with wonderful fervour.
At length, when peace was restored, though it was but the crafty show of peace, he returns to his country.
He asserts the Church’s right, and serves his God; wherefore the king, his artful enemy, grows mad with rage and wantons in his wrath.
Now like a cunning fox, and now like a savage tigress, he tries each door, each scheme:
At one time threats; at another flattery; but Thomas is nothing moved, unflinching as at first.
The king finding that the champion of the truth was not to be moved, and that his resolve was inflexible:
He turns all men against the Pastor and whispers murder to a minion troop.
The parricides have understood the king; crafty and faithless they enter the church that they may make away with the champion of liberty, and usurp his throne.
The Pontiff was at prayer in the sanctuary; he comes forth, heeding not the enemy.
The serenity of his soul is ruffled not with fear of the raging troop; he goes to meet them.
The head of that saintly Priest, which had been fondly caressed on a mother’s breast,
Now feels the edge of deadly steel; the blood gushes forth; and there, in the midst of all the disorder, gives sight to a blind man.
But why need we tell what his miracles so eloquently proclaimed throughout the world?

Devils are put to flight, death yields up her victims, health is restored to them that had lost all hope, and lepers are cleansed.
O thou gem of the Priesthood! O glorious Pontiff Thomas! thy prayers are ne’er refused —oh! calm the rebellion of our flesh.
That being rooted in Christ, the true Vine, we may receive the solid rewards of eternal life. Amen.

O glorious Martyr Thomas! courageous defender of the Church of thy divine Master! we come on this day of thy Feast, to do honor to the wonderful graces bestowed upon thee by God. As children of the Church, we look with delighted admiration on him who so loved her, and to whom the honor of this Spouse of Christ was so dear, that he gladly sacrificed his life in order to secure her independence and Liberty. Because thou didst so love the Church, as to sacrifice thy peace, thy temporal happiness, and thy very life, for her; because, too, thy sacrifice was for nothing of thine own, but for God alone;—therefore, have the tongues of sinners and cowards spoken ill of thee, and heaped calumnies upon thee. O Martyr truly worthy of the name! for, the testimony thou didst render was against thine own interests. O Pastor! who, after the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, didst shed thy blood for the deliverance of thy flock! we venerate thee, because the enemies of the Church insulted thee; we love thee, because they hated thee; and we humbly ask thee to pardon them that have been ashamed of thee, and have wished that thy Martyrdom had never been written in the History of the Church, because they could not understand it!

How great is thy glory, O faithful Pontiff! in being chosen, together with Stephen, John, and the Innocents, to attend on the Infant Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem! Thou didst enter on the battlefield at the eleventh hour; and far from being, on that account, deprived of the reward granted to the earliest of thy brother-combatants, thou art great even amongst the Martyrs. How dear must thou not be to the Divine Babe, whose Birth-Day we are keeping, and who came into the world that he might be the King of Martyrs! What will he refuse to his grand Martyr of Canterbury? Then, pray for us, and gain us admission into Bethlehem. Our ambition is to love the Church, as thou didst—that dear Church, for love of which, Jesus has come down upon the earth—that sweet Church our Mother, who is now unfolding to us such heavenly consolations, by the celebration of the great Mysteries of Christmas, with which thy name is now inseparably associated. Get us, by thy prayers, the grace of Fortitude, that so we may courageously go through any suffering, and make any sacrifice, rather than dishonor our proud title of Catholic.

Speak for us to the Infant Jesus—to Him that is to bear the Cross upon his shoulders, as the insignia of his government (Isaiah 9:6)—and tell him that we are resolved, by the assistance of his grace, never to be ashamed of his cause, or its defenders; that, full of filial simple love for the Holy Church, which he has given us to be our Mother, we will ever put her interests above all others; for, she alone has the words of eternal life, she alone has the power and the authority to lead men to that better world, which is our last end, and passes not away, as do the things of this world; for, everything in this world is but vanity, illusion, and, more frequently than not, obstacles to the only real happiness of mankind.

But, in order that this Holy Church of God may fulfill her mission, and avoid the snares, which are being laid for her along the whole road of her earthly pilgrimage—she has need, above all things else, of Pastors like thee, O Holy Martyr of Christ! Pray, therefore, the Lord of the vineyard, that he send her laborers, who will not only plant, and water what they plant, but will also defend her form those enemies that are at all times seeking to enter in and lay waste, and whose character is marked by the sacred Scripture, where she calls them, the wild boar (Psalms 79:14) and the fox (Song Of Solomon 2:15). May the voice of thy blood cry out more suppliantly than ever to God, for, in these days of anarchy, the Church of Christ is treated in many lands as the creature and slave of the State.

Pray for thine own dear England, which, three hundred years ago, made shipwreck of the faith through the apostasy of so many Prelates, who submitted to those usurpations, which thou didst resist even unto blood. Now that the Faith is reviving in her midst, stretch out thy helping hand to her, and thus avenge the outrages offered to thy venerable name, by thy country, when she—the once fair Island of Saints—was sinking into the abyss of heresy. Pray also for the Church of France, for she harbored thee in thy exile, and, in times past, was fervent in her devotion to thee. Obtain for her Bishops the spirit that animated thee; arm them with episcopal courage, and, like thee, they will save the Liberty of the Church. Wheresoever, and in what way soever, this sacred Liberty is trampled on or threatened, do thou be its deliverer and guardian, and, by thy prayers and thine example, win victory for the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our new-born King is five days old today! Let us contemplate him seated on his Throne. The Holy Scriptures tell us (Isaiah 37:16, etc.) that our God sitteth upon the cherubim in heaven: and that, under the old and figurative Law, he chose this for his throne on earth the ark of the Covenant. (Exodus 25:22) Blessed be his name, for thus revealing to us the mystery of his Throne! But beyond this, the Psalmist told us of another place where God rested. Adore, said he, the footstool of his feet. (Psalm 98:5) The adoration here commanded to be paid, not to God himself, but to the resting-place of his Divine Majesty, seems to contrast with so many other passages of the Sacred Volume, wherein God commands us to adore only himself. But, as the Holy Fathers observe, the mystery is now explained. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word, the Son of God, has assumed our human nature; he has united it in unity of Person to his Divine Nature; and he commands us to adore this his Humanity, this Body and Soul which are like our own, this Throne of his Majesty, in a word, this ineffable holy Footstool of his Feet.

But this Humanity itself has its Throne. The Blessed Mother, Mary, raises the Divine Infant from the Crib; she presses him to her heart; she places him on her knees; it is our God, Emmanuel, throned, but with such love and majesty! on the Ark of the New Convenant. How far is the glory of Mary above that of the other living Throne formed for the Eternal Word by the trembling wings of Cherubim! And the Ark of Moses, made of corruptible wood, covered with plates of gold, holding within it the Manna and the Rod of Aaron and the very Tables of the Law—it is not a figure that pales in the presence of the holiness and the dignity of the Mother of God?

How adorable art thou on this Throne, O Jesus! and how lovable and easy of approach! Those tiny hands stretched out to sinners, and the smile of Mary, the Living Throne: both bid us go near. Oh! the happiness of being subjects of a King so great and yet so endearing! Mary is the Seat of Wisdom because thou, O Wisdom of the Father! art reposing on her. Reign there for ever, sweet Jesus! be thou our King and Lord, and rule us in thy comeliness and beauty and meekness! (Psalm 44:5) We are thy subjects, and we offer thee our adoring loyalty and love; and to Mary, the Queen thou hast given us, we promise the homage of our best devotion!

We will celebrate the Birth of our Divine King today in the words used by the Greek Church in her Office of Christmas Day.


All things were made light when Jesus our Lord was born of the Holy Virgin; for the Shepherds watched at night, the Magi adored, the Angels sang hymns, Herod was troubled, because God, the Savior of our souls, had appeared.

Thy Kingdom, O Christ our God! is a Kingdom of all ages, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. The Light hath shone, He that was made flesh by the Holy Ghost, and was made Man of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary. Thy coming, O Jesus, Light of Light, Brightness of the Father, hath gladdened every creature. Every spirit hath given praise to thee the image of the Father’s glory; who art, and who wast before all ages, and hast shone forth from the Virgin; O God! have mercy on us.

What shall we offer unto thee, O Jesus! for that thou for our sakes, hast been seen on earth as Man? For every creature is subject to thee and rendereth thee thanks: the Angels give thee their hymns, the heavens the Star, the Magi their gifts, the Shepherds their admiration, the earth a Cave, solitude a Crib, and we, we give thee thy Virgin Mother. O god, that wast before all ages! have mercy on us.

During the reign of Augustus on this earth, the various other kingdoms ceased; and when thou, O Jesus, wast made Man from thy Virginal Mother, thine own dear Lamb, the idolatrous religions of many gods was sapped. As the cities of the world were confederated under one Kingdom; so were all nations brought to the obedience of faith in one God. People were enrolled by the decree of Cæsar; and we, thy faithful, were enrolled under the divine name of thee our God, when thou didst become Man. Glory be to thee, O Lord! for great is thy mercy.

And now a hymn to our Lady, the Seat of Wisdom! Let us offer her this beautiful one, taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523.


Hail Mary! sweet hope of the world! Hail, gentle Queen! Hail, loving Mother! Hail, full of grace!
Hail, peerless Virgin! imaged in the Bush that burned, yet was not burnt.
Hail, lovely Rose! Hail, Jesse’s Rod! whose Fruit broke the chains of our misery.

Hail, Holy Mother! for whom God set aside all nature’s laws, and made thy virginal womb bring forth his Son.
Hail, matchless Queen! ’twas thou didst make the long sad world rejoice.
Hail, Beacon of Virgins! pouring out thy celestial light on them whom tempests toss.
Hail, Virgin! of whom the King of heaven would be born, and suck the food whereon he deigned to live.
Hail , Pearl! Hail Heavenly Orb!
Hail, Temple of the Holy Ghost!
Oh! how wonderful and how venerable is this Virginity!

In it shone forth a fruitfulness produced by the Holy Paraclete.
And she, the Virgin, how holy! how peaceful! how kind! how lovely must we deem her!

By the gift she gave us slavery was abolished, the gate of heaven was opened, and liberty brought back again.
O Lily of purity! pray for us to thy Son, the Savior of the humble.
That in the awful judgement he may not sentence us to torments for our sins;
but moved by thy holy prayers, may he cleanse us from the dross of sin;
And admit us into mansions of eternal light.
Amen! let every Christian say, Amen!

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