this shrine on the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, for our annual parish day out, and I’d like to say a few words linking that feast and the martyrs who are commemorated here.
The 8 martyrs of Chideock were a mixture of people. Some were priests, some were laity. Some were wealthy, some were servants: two servants of the Arundells (John Carey and Patrick Salmon), a local carpenter who had converted to Catholicism (William Pike), as well as one of the aristocratic Arundell family (Thomas Bosgrave, a nephew of Lady Arundell). What did all these different people have in common? The fact that they all valued the Mass, and our Catholic Faith in the Mass. They all recognised that there is one supreme means that God has given us by which He comes to us and we can come to Him: the sacraments, especially the Mass, and thus they all valued the priesthood as the means by which the sacraments come to the people. The martyrs of that era were not the first to die for the Mass: Pope John Paul II quoted the 49 Fourth Century Martrys of Abitina, who knew the Roman law forbade it but celebrated Mass anyway: "Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord's Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law"; "We cannot live without the Lord's Supper"; "Yes I went to the assembly and I celebrated the Lord's Supper with my brothers and sisters, because I am a Christian." (Martyrs of Abitina, quoted by John Paul II, Dies Domini, n. 46)
We keep today the feast of the Transfiguration, when we recall the great sign Christ gave of Himself in glory on the mountaintop. Two key things about that: first, the sight of Him in glory is sign of the glory we can all share with Him is we hold firm with Him, if we unite ourselves to Him. Second, he gave this sign to His special 3 (Peter, James and John) at a particular moment: just after He had predicted he coming crucifixion –He wanted to encourage and strengthen them for the trial ahead. Of course, as the Gospels record, they seem to have not dwelt on this much, because they weren’t very strong when He was arrested and taken away. It was only later, after His Resurrection, that things seem to have fully slotted into place, and they were strong for the future then, and all three faced a martyr’s trial. The trial that, in union with Christ, leads to glory, the glory of the Transfiguration.
These Chideock martyrs were also strong, strong no doubt with the hope of the glorious end in view. Strong enough to remain faithful to the Mass. Strong, also, I would point out, BECAUSE of the Mass: the grace of the Lord in the Sacraments strengthens us to bear trials, even trials such as these.
Those martyrs now enjoy glory in heaven.
What of ourselves? Well, surely, the thought of these martyrs should inspire us to be more devout and focussed on these sacred mysteries in the Mass, to treasure what is on offer here, to re-commit ourselves to it as something we would be willing to suffer rather than lose. So, let us think of their sacrifice, think what they value, and strive to value and treasure the same.