Saints and Seasons was compiled in 2011 from notes written by the Revd Sue to introduce some of the heroes and occasions that mark the church year. Saints days are fixed and occur on the same date each year; festivals that relate to Easter, however, move with Easter: the months may or may not therefore correspond to the current year...
1st May: Philip and James, Apostles
Philip and James appear in the list of the twelve apostles in the first three gospels but they are frequently confused with other early saints who share their names. In John's gospel, Philip has a more prominent role. Here he is the third apostle called by Jesus. He then brings his friend Nathanael to the Lord (John 1:43-48). Philip is the spokesman for the other apostles who are questioning the capacity for feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-15). At the Last Supper he enters into a conversation with Jesus which leads to the Farewell Discourses (John 14:8-17:26). These are traditionally read during the Maundy Thursday Vigil.
James is said to be the son of Alphaeus and is often known as 'James the Less' to distinguish him from James and John the 'Sons of Thunder'. He may also be the 'James the Younger' who is a witness at the crucifixion (Mark 15:40). He is often called the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
Philip and James are celebrated on the same day because the church in Rome, where their relics rest, was dedicated on this day in the year 560.
8th May: Julian of Norwich
Julian is famous for her book Revelations of Divine Knowledge. As a young woman she was very ill, saw visions and was healed. Her book records her reflections on that experience. She became a recluse who was much sought after for her wise advice. Here are some of her prayers:
I learned that love was our Lord’s meaning.
And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere,
that before ever he had made us, God loved us;
and that his love has never slackened, nor ever shall.
In this love all his works have been done,
and in this love he has made everything serve us;
and in this love our life is everlasting.
Our beginning was when we were made,
but the love in which he made us never had beginning.
All this we shall see in God for ever.
May Jesus grant this.
God, of thy goodness, give me thyself,
for thou art sufficient for me.
I may not ask for anything less
than what befits my full worship of thee.
If I were to ask anything less, I should always be in want,
for in thee alone do I have all.
Lord, thou knowest what I want,
if it be thy will that I have it,
and if it be not thy will,
good Lord, do not be displeased,
for I want nothing which you do not want.
14th May: Matthias the Apostle
After the suicide of Judas Iscariot another apostle was needed. According to the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the number had to be restored so that they might "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel". This person had to have been with Jesus during his earthly ministry and a witness to the resurrection. Matthias was chosen by lot from amongst the disciples. The point of choosing by lot, rather than by some democratic method, indicated the election or choice by God, rather than by humans.
20th May: Alcuin of York
Alcuin became abbot at Tours and founded a school for studying the arts. He realised that an appreciation of beauty would lead to an appreciation of spiritual things. He was considered a very holy man.
Alcuin wrote the following prayers:
Almighty and merciful God, the fountain of all goodness, who knowest the thoughts of our hearts, we confess unto thee that we have sinned against thee, and done evil in thy sight.
Wash us, we beseech thee, from the stains of our past sins, and give us grace and power to put away all hurtful things; so that, being delivered from the bondage of sin, we may bring forth worthy fruits of repentance, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Give me, O Lord, I pray thee,
firm faith, unwavering hope,
Pour into my heart
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and spiritual strength,
the spirit of knowledge and true godliness,
and the spirit of thy holy fear.
Light eternal, shine in my heart:
Power eternal, deliver me from evil:
Wisdom eternal, scatter the darkness of my ignorance:
Might eternal, pity me.
Grant that I may ever seek thy face,
with all my heart and soul and strength;
and, in thine infinite mercy,
bring me at last to thy holy presence,
where I shall behold thy glory
and possess thy promised joys.
25th May: The Venerable Bede
Bede lived in Northumbria and wrote history books and commentaries on parts of the Bible. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731, ended with this prayer:
I pray thee, merciful Jesus,
that as thou hast graciously granted me
to drink down sweetly from the Word which tells of thee,
so wilt thou kindly grant
that I may come at length to thee,
the fount of all wisdom,
and stand before thy face for ever.
31st May: The Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
Today the church recalls the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, as recorded in Luke's gospel (Luke 1:39-56). The celebration of this festival first occurred at a Franciscan Order General Chapter in 1263 but quickly spread through Europe. This was the occasion on which Mary sang her great hymn of praise in honour of her Lord and God (The Magnificat). Just as Luke sees John the Baptist as the last of the prophets of the old covenant, he uses John's leaping in Elizabeth's womb as the first time John bears witness to Christ as the promised Messiah. Thereby he links the old covenant with the new. He seems to be saying that just as the old covenant clearly points to Jesus, so does its last prophet, yet to be born.
NEXT MONTH we take a look at some of the 'Moveable Feasts': Ascension, Corpus Christi and Pentecost, all of which occur later than usual this year due to the lateness of Easter.
Notes based on material in Exciting Holiness: Collects and Readings, Brother Tristram SSF; Following in their Steps, Eleanor and Rachel Sayers; and The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer. Illustrations from Signs, Symbols & Saints: Images from Turvey Abbey, CD Rom, © McCrimmons Publishing, used under license.