Monthly Archives: July 2014

Joseph of Arimathaea

According to the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathaea was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews in Judaea, who was a secret disciple of Jesus. When the Lord’s other disciples were hiding for fear of the authorities, it was he who boldly approached Pontius Pilate to ask for the Lord’s body, in order properly to bury it according to the practices of Jewish piety. The Gospels associate Joseph with Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin who was a secret disciple of the Lord, and who helped Joseph prepare Jesus’ body for burial. They reverently laid his body Joseph’s own tomb, saving it from further desecration.

We know nothing else about these two men and their place in the early Christian community after the Lord’s resurrection. Later legends developed about Joseph of Arimathaea, one of the most enduring and attractive of which is the story of his safekeeping of the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper in the institution of the Holy Eucharist. According to a legend that cannot be dated to earlier than the thirteenth century, Joseph brought the Grail to Glastonbury in Britain, founded a church there and deposited the Grail in the church. Legend also holds that he drove his walking staff into the ground, from which the Glastonbury thorn grew and blossomed. While these and other legends obtained wide credence and were enlarged in later centuries by the legend of Joseph’s having brought the boy Jesus with him to Britain on one of his trade journeys as a tin merchant, they are not based on any historical fact.

Our remembrance of Joseph of Arimathaea is not based on these legends, though, however attactive they may be. We rightly commemorate him for his boldness, piety, and generosity in seeing the Lord properly buried after his crucifixion.

The Collect

Merciful God, whose servant Joseph of Arimathaea with reverence and godly fear prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial, and laid it in his own tomb: Grant to us, your faithful people, grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Joseph of Arimathaea are published on the Lectionary page website.

The icon of Saint Joseph of Arimathaea is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

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William Wilberforce, 1833

William Wilberforce was born into an affluent Yorkshire family in Hull in 1759, and was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1780, and he served in the House until 1825.

His conversion to an evangelical Christian life occurred in 1784. He was induced by friends not to leave Parliament and abandon his political activities after this inward change in his life, but to bring his newfound principles to bear in political life. He remained in the House of Commons, but thereafter he steadfastly refused to accept high office or a peerage.

Wilberforce gave himself unstintingly to the promotion of overseas missions, popular education, and the reformation of public manners and morals. He supported parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. But chiefly his fame rests on his persistent and uncompromising crusade for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Chiefly due to his efforts, Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807, and in 1833 slavery itself was abolished throughout the British empire, just one month after Wilberforce’s death.

Wilberforce’s eloquence as a speaker, his charm in personal address, and his profound Christian spirit, made him a formidable power for good. He died on July 29, 1833, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of William Wilberforce are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany, Companions of our Lord

This little family of Bethany were Jesus’ friends who opened their home to him, and it was at their house that he found refreshment during his earthly ministry. The depth of affection and love that they had for Jesus, and he for them, is evident in the Gospel narratives about them, most particularly in the story of Lazarus death in the Gospel according to John. The names of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, on various dates, appear in lists of martyrs from the seventh and eighth centuries.

Mary, a form of Miriam, is portrayed in the tenth chapter of Luke and the eleventh chapter of John as a contemplative person with a single-minded absorption in the kingdom of God. In John’s account, at dinner six days before the Passion, Mary anointed Jesus, perhaps as a sign of his royal dignity, which he took to be a consecration of himself for his approaching sacrifice.

Martha, whose name means “lady” or “mistress”, has come rather unfairly to represent the unrecollected activist. She was of a practical turn to be sure, but she enjoyed the friendship and esteem of Jesus nonetheless, and it was she who made the confession of faith when Jesus came after the death of Lazarus, “I believe that your are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

In the tenth chapter of Luke the house where the three siblings lives is called Martha’s. In the twelfth chapter of John the supper at Bethany at which Lazarus was present and at which Martha again served, is held at the house of Simon the leper. This has led some to suggest that Mary may have been the widow of Simon.

Lazarus’ character is evidenced by the love that Mary, Martha, and Jesus all had for him. His being raised from the dead is the final of the divine signs that Jesus performs and is the culmination of Jesus’ ministry before his death and resurrection.

Devotion to Lazarus, whose , became widespread in the Church during the first millenium. He is commemorated in the Eastern Church on the Saturday before the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday), called “Lazarus Saturday”, which anticipates the resurrection of Jesus on the following Saturday night. According to a curious legend, Lazarus, his sisters, and some friends were put in a leaky boat by their enemies and miraculously made their way to Cyprus where Lazarus was made a bishop. In 890 what were thought to be his relics were taken to Constantinople and a church was built there in his honor. In an eleventh century legend, Lazarus had been bishop of Marseilles and was martyred under Domitian. (The legend perhaps confuses Lazarus of Bethany with the fifth century Bishop Lazarus of Aix.)

prepared from The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
(Phillip Pfatteicher, Fortress Press © 2008), with amendments

The Collect

O God, heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lo! I come with joy to do the Master’s blessed will,
him in outward works pursue, and serve his pleasure still;
faithful to my Lord’s commands, I still would choose the better part,
serve with careful Martha’s hands, and loving Mary’s heart.

from the hymn, “For a Believer, in Worldly Business”, Charles Wesley (1747)


The icon of Saint Mary, Saint Martha, and Saint Lazarus is taken from the website of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

The propers for the commemoration of Mary and Martha of Bethany are published at the Lectionary Page website.  In the sanctoral calendar of the Church of England , Lazarus is also commemorated on this day.  The collect above has been amended to include Lazarus.

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Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Gospels tell us little about the home of our Lord’s mother. She is thought to have been of Davidic descent and to have been brought up in a devout Jewish family who cherished the hope of Israel for the coming kingdom of God, in remembrance of the promise God made to Abraham.

In the second century, a pious Christian sought to supply a fuller account of Mary’s birth and early life to satisfy the interest and curiosity of believers and bequeathed to the Church a pseudepigraphal book known as the Protoevangelium of James, also known as The Nativity of Mary. The book includes a legendary narrative of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, built out of the Old Testament narratives of the births of Isaac and of Samuel (whose mother’s name, Hannah, is the original form of Anne), and from traditions of the birth of John the Baptist. In this narrative, Joachim and Anne – a faithful but childless elderly couple who grieved that they would have no posterity – were rewarded with the birth of a girl whom they dedicated in infancy to the service of God under the tutelage of the Temple priests.

In 550 the emperor Justinian the First erected in Constantinople the first church dedicated to Saint Anne. The increasing veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the West led to new interest in her parents, such that Anne’s feast was kept at Canterbury from around the beginning of the twelfth century and spread to Worcester soon afterwards. Churches in the Rhineland (at Duren), Apt-en-Provence, Canterbury, Reading, and Durham claimed her relics. In the East, she is commemorated on July 25. In the West, in 1378 Pope Urban the Sixth fixed Anne’s feast on July 26, to follow the feast of Saint James. Joachim’s commemoration in the West was comparatively late, there being no official veneration until the fifteenth century. In the East the feast of Joachim and Anne together has been on September 9 for many centuries. In the Roman Martyrology, Joachim was commemorated on March 20. The later date of his commemoration was August 16, but the new Roman Calendar of 1969 joined his feast day to that of Saint Anne on July 26.

In art Anne is often represented teaching Mary to read, a depiction that may be English in origin, as there are thirteenth century examples in manuscripts at the Bodleian Library and in murals in Northhampshire. She and Joachim are also often depicted at their betrothal or marriage.

prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980) and
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Almighty God, heavenly Father, we remember in thanksgiving this day the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and we pray that we all may be made one in the heavenly family of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The propers for the commemoration of the Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are published on the Lectionary Page website.


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Saint James the Apostle

James, often called “the Greater”, was a Galilean fisherman who with his brother John was one of the first disciples called by Jesus to follow him. The two brothers, sons of Zebedee, were called Boanerges, “sons of thunder”, and were part of the inner circle of the disciples, along with Simon Peter. They were present with Jesus at his tranfiguration and with him in the garden of Gethsamane. They angered the other disciples by asking Jesus for places of honor when he was to come into his glory, one at his right hand and one at his left (the Gospel according to Matthew relates that their mother asked this favor of Jesus). They were present for the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.

James was the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom, being put to the sword on the orders of Herod Agrippa, who hoped in vain that, by getting rid of the leaders of the early Jerusalem Christian community, he could stem the flow of those hearing the good news and becoming followers of the Way. James’ martyrdom is thought to have taken place in the year 44.

A ninth century legend places the relics of Saint James in the eponymous city of Santiago in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. The great cathedral and shrine of Santiago became one of the great pilgrimage centers of western Europe during the Middle Ages. Monasteries, both Cluniac and Augustinian, were built along the famous pilgrims’ route to provide hospitality for the pilgrims. Pilgrims to Santiago would return bearing on their cloaks the scallop shell as a sign of their having made the pilgrimage, hence the appearance of the shell in western iconography of Saint James.

prepared from Celebrating the Saints and other sources

The Collect

O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The First Lesson
Jeremiah 45:1-5

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”

Psalm 7:1-10
Domine Deus meus

O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; *
save and deliver me from all who pursue me;

Lest like a lion they tear me in pieces *
and snatch me away with none to deliver me.

O LORD my God, if I have done these things: *
if there is any wickedness in my hands,

If I have repaid my friend with evil, *
or plundered him who without cause is my enemy;

Then let my enemy pursue and overtake me, *
trample my life into the ground,
and lay my honor in the dust.

Stand up, O LORD, in your wrath; *
rise up against the fury of my enemies.

Awake, O my God, decree justice; *
let the assembly of the peoples gather round you.

Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; *
O LORD, judge the nations.

Give judgment for me according to my
righteousness, O LORD, *
and according to my innocence, O Most High.

Let the malice of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the righteous; *
for you test the mind and heart, O righteous God.

The Second Lesson
Acts 11:27-12:3

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.

The Gospel
Matthew 20:20-28

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Lessons and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

The icon of Saint James is from the workshop of Simone Martini, c. 1320. This image is © National Gallery of Art, Washington

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Thomas à Kempis, Presbyter, 1471

Thomas, the author (or compiler) of the most treasured devotional book The Imitation of Christ, was born in 1380, the son of John and Gertrude Hämerken (or Hemmerken), respectively a craftsman and a teacher in the town of Kempen in the sovereign Archbishopric of Cologne.  He left home at thirteen to join his older brother in the Brethren of Common Life at Deventer, where he received his education.  This order was founded by Geert (or Gerhard) Groote and received papal approval from Gregory the Eleventh in 1376.  The brotherhood was composed of clergy and laity who cultivated a practical biblical piety and who supported themselves by copying manuscripts and by teaching.  Their spirituality, known as the devotio moderna, the “new (or modern) devotion”, influenced later Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions of prayer and meditation.  Thomas joined the Brethren in 1399 at the house of Mount St Agnes in Zwolle (where his brother had become prior), making his profession as an Augustinian Canon Regular (taking his vows) there in 1407.  He was ordained a priest in 1413 and was elected subprior of Mount Saint Agnes in 1425, acting as master of novices and keeping the chronicle of the house.

Thomas’ successor as chronicler recorded that on the feast of Saint James (July 25), 1471,

…after Compline, our brother Thomas Hämerken, born at Kempen, a town in the diocese of Cologne, departed from this earth.  He was in the ninety-second year of his age, the sixty-third of his religious clothing, and the fifty-eighth of his priesthood…He copied out our Bible and various other books, some of which were used by the convent, and others were sold [to raise funds for the monastery].  Further, for the instruction of the young, he wrote various little treatises in a plain and simple style, which in reality were great and important works, both in doctrine and efficacy for good.  He had an especial devotion to the Passion of our Lord, and understood admirably how to comfort those afflicted by interior trials and temptations.  Finally, having reached a ripe old age, he was afflicted with dropsy of the limbs, slept in the Lord in the year 1471, and was buried in the east side of the cloister….

Thomas’ remains were translated in 1672 by the Prince-Archbishop of Cologne from the ruined house of Mount St Agnes to the chapel of St Joseph; and in the nineteenth century his remains were translated to the Church of St Michael in Zwolle, where they are preserved to the present day.

The book that Thomas either wrote or compiled from extant sources, The Imitation of Christ, has been described as next to Dante’s Divina Commedia as “the most perfect flower of medieval Christianity”.  Translated into more languages than any other book except the Holy Scripture, millions of Christians the world over have found this devotional manual a treasured source of edification in their life in Christ.

prepared from the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
(Philip H. Pfatteicher) and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Holy Father, you have nourished and strengthened your Church by the inspired writings of your servant Thomas a Kempis: Grant that we may learn from him to know what is necessary to be known, to love what is to be loved, to praise what highly pleases you, and always to seek to know and follow your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Thomas à Kempis, Priest, are published at the Lectionary Page website.

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Birgitta, Abbess of Vadstena, 1373

Born in 1303, the daughter of the wealthy governor of Uppland, Birgitta (Bridget) married at the age of fourteen. She bore her husband eight children, and in 1335 she was summoned to the Swedish court to be the chief lady-in-waiting to the queen, Blanche of Namur, wife of King Magnus the Second. It was at this time that she began to have supernatural revelations. The king and queen respect her, but they did not reform their lives according to her revelations, and the courtiers gossiped about her. On the death of her husband at the Cistercian abbey at Alvastra, Birgitta retired there to live as a penitent from 1343 to 1346.

Having gained an understanding during her retirement of what she should now do, in 1346 she founded a monastery at Vadstena, on the shores of Lake Vättern, for sixty nuns and twenty-five monks, who lives in separate cloisters but shared the same church. Her Rule stipulated:

“the number of choir nuns shall not exceed sixty, with four lay sisters; the priests shall be thirteen, according to the number of the thirteen apostles, of whom Paul the thirteenth was not the least in toil; then there must be four deacons, who also may be priests if they will, and they are the figure of the four principal Doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, and Jerome, the eight lay brothers, who with their labours shall minister necessaries to the clerics, therefore counting three-score sisters, thirteen priests, four deacons, and the eight servitors, the number of persons will be the same as the thirteen Apostles and the seventy-two disciples”.

The nuns were strictly cloistered, with an emphasis on scholarship and study, but the monks could also serve as preachers and itinerant missionaries. In temporal matters the abbess was supreme, while in spiritual ones the prior of the monks was. All superfluous income was given to the poor, and luxurious buildings were forbidden, but the nuns and monks could have as many books for study as they wished. The Brigettine Order enjoyed the generous patronage of King Magnus.

In 1349 Birgitta went to Rome to obtain approval for her Order. She never returned to Sweden but spent the rest of her life in Italy or on pilgrimages, including one to the Holy Land. Her austerity of life, her devotion both in visiting shrines and in serving pilgrims, the poor, and the sick were impressive. Throughout this time her visions continued. Some were of Christ’s Passion. Others, marked by comminatory prophecies and sayings, were concerned with political and religious events of her own day. She attempted to dissuade King Magnus from a so-called crusade against the pagans of Estonia and Latvia, and like other visionaries she warned Pope Clement the Sixth to return to Rome from Avignon and to make peace between England and France.

Birgitta died on July 23, 1373 in Rome. Her commemoration was formerly on October 8, the date of her canonization and of the translation of her relics to Vadstena Abbey.

The Brigettine Order was approved by the Holy See. At its greatest extent it numbered seventy houses, but nearly all of its northern European houses (the bulk of the Order’s houses) were dissolved during the Reformation. There is now a Swedish branch with houses in Europe, Asia (including India), and North America; and a Spanish branch with houses in Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela. While a twentieth century attempt to revive the Brigettine monks in England was eventually unsuccessful, in 1976 the monks were revived as the Brigettine Order of the Most Holy Savior with the establishment of the Monastery of Our Lady of Consolation in Amity, Oregon. The Societas Sanctae Birgittae (SSB) is a high church Lutheran religous order founded in 1920 in response to a charge by Archbishop Nathan Söderblom to deepen the spiritual life of the Church of Sweden by highlighting the rich spiritual life inherent in the Swedish tradition focused on the life and spirituality of St Birgitta and by deepening contact with Brigittine communities throughout the world and with corresponding spiritual movements in the Church of Sweden. The SSB lives out this charge by serving the Church of Sweden with liturgical worship emphasizing the celebration of the Eucharist, with preaching that is faithful to the Scriptures and the Creed, and with pastoral care.

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and other sources

The Collect

O God, by whose grace your servant Birgitta of Sweden, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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