JP2 on the Martyrs of England and Wales: Priests and Laity


Today is the memorial of the martyrs of England and Wales. It honors those Paul VI canonized in 1970 and those Pope John Paul II beatified in 1987. As I read Pope John Paul II’s homily (found here — note the homily begins in Italian, but scroll down for the English). In this homily he speaks about the fundamental error of giving control of the Church to the secular power; but I was most struck by a passage about the cooperation of priests and laity in their loyalty to Christ and the Church. I noted last week in a blog on Gift and Mystery that the cooperation of priest and laity is a theme developed early on in the priestly life of Pope John Paul II. So in this witness of the martyrs of England and Wales he points out that the priests risked their lives to bring the Eucharist to the laity; and the laity risked their lives by protecting and sheltering the priests. A timely lesson indeed, whether it be England 1585, Poland 1940, or USA 2010. Here is the passage:

“Among these eighty-five martyrs we find priests and laymen, scholars and craftsmen. The oldest was in his eighties, and the youngest no more than twenty-four. There were among them a printer, a bartender, a stable-hand, a tailor. What unites them all is the sacrifice of their lives in the service of Christ their Lord.

The priests among them wished only to feed their people with the Bread of Life and with the Word of the Gospel. To do so meant risking their lives. But for them this price was small compared to the riches they could bring to their people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The twenty-two laymen in this group of martyrs shared to the full the same love of the Eucharist. They, too, repeatedly risked their lives, working together with their priests, assisting, protecting and sheltering them. Laymen and priests worked together; together they stood on the scaffold and together welcomed death. Many women, too, not included today in this group of martyrs, suffered for their faith and died in prison. They have earned our undying admiration and remembrance.”

And we must recall the words of Blessed Joseph Lambton, who encouraged those who were to die with him with the words “Let us be merry, for tomorrow I hope we shall have a heavenly breakfast”.

A good blog on this memorial may be found here.

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