Saturday 7th July at 8pm: Mass of the Translation, in Canterbury Cathedral Quire.
History of the translation (Just a fraction of it!)
The feast of the Translation of St. Thomas Becket on 7th July commemorates the anniversary of the translation (removal from one place to another) of the relics of St Thomas Becket in 1220. 50 years after his death, St. Thomas’ tomb in Canterbury Cathedral was opened so that the relics moved to a grander shrine. Known as Henry II’s “troublesome priest”, the martyr had been canonised in 1173, less than three years after his murder in the cathedral on 29 December 1170. Famed for his heroic defence of the church in the face of extraordinary political pressure, St. Thomas’ prominence as a Christian leader had come at the expense of friendship, position, security and, ultimately, his life. After his death, the saint’s popularity had continued to grow in response to a common belief, in his sanctity and the healing power of his blood, that had sprung up in Canterbury.
However, the translation of the relics were not only intended to be an occasion to honour the saint but also set the stage for a new, period of reconciliation, though this turned out to be short-lived. Presided over by Archbishop Simon Langton, St. Thomas’ persecutor’s teenage son, Henry III, was present, together with royalty, nobility, bishops and archbishops from across Europe. Great crowds of people attended. Positioned behind the great altar, the shrine had been allocated the most prominent position in the cathedral but was later destroyed in the reformation.
The relevance of the feast of the Translation today
One of the reasons that we continue to honour the feast of the translation is because in so doing we are, collectively, able to pause for reflection on how this pivotal moment in history is still relevant to our lives. St. Thomas Becket lived a life notable for his exemplary commitment to Christ, demonstrated most of all by extraordinary integrity, in spite of the personal risk involved and that ultimately cost him his life.
We are not all called to be martyrs but there was much about the saint’s life that provided a good model for us today. Although the church certainly does not recommend the severe practices that St. Thomas maintained1, it is right that we should hold ourselves accountable for our sins, seeking absolution through the sacrament of reconciliation.
St. Thomas was also known to have enjoyed an ostentatiously materialistic lifestyle which provided some cause for concern when he entered the church. However, after he was appointed archbishop, he adopted an ascetic lifestyle, increased the funds available to support the poor and is even reported to have made a daily habit of washing the feet of thirteen poor people at his home, after which he would feed them and give them money2.
Each of us has the potential to reach out to those who are less fortunate than ourselves, to those who are in pain, need, fear or distress. It may not be practical or possible to provide the Christ-like hospitality to 13 people each day that Thomas indulged in but sometimes the smallest, ordinary gesture can be transformative in the day of another person. Just as the woman afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years, described in today’s Gospel, reached out in faith, if we will do likewise then we open the way for grace to follow.
In fact, Thomas appears also to have been living the model given in 2 Corinthians that we heard at Mass today:
“For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Not that others should have relief while you are burdened,
but that as a matter of equality
your abundance at the present time should supply their needs,
so that their abundance may also supply your needs,
that there may be equality.”
As Fr. Daniel explained in the homily today, healing the woman who had suffered so long, cost Jesus something. As she reached out and touched the hem of his cloak, she didn’t know it but she was touching the fringe of heaven. “Aware at once that power had gone out from him”, His restoration of her health is His response to her courage to ask for help, inspired by her faith.
Lord, grant that I may today give of myself to those in need, recognising your face in all.
The second collection today, rather fittingly, was for the SVP. Of course, there are many ways to respond to God’s call to love one another. However, if you would like to reach out in compassion to the vulnerable and lonely of the local community, as part of this wonderful organisation, please contact the parish office for more information.
Photos from the Mass of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury on 7 July 2018 at Canterbury Cathedral
1 “After becoming archbishop, Thomas Becket went through a drastic transformation and changed his entire lifestyle. Before he had lived ostentatiously but now he became an ascetic. He became devout and austere ..” Source:
2 “Herbert of Bosham claims that after being appointed as archbishop, Thomas Becket began to show a concern for the poor. Every morning thirteen poor people were brought to his home. After washing their feet Becket served them a meal. He also gave each one of them four silver pennies. John of Salisbury believed that Becket sent food and clothing to the homes of the sick, and that he doubled Theobald’s expenditure on the poor. ” Source: http://spartacus-educational.com/
Image already added