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Red, White and Green Martyrs?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Who or What Were the White Martyrs?

Q: I came across the title, “White Martyrs.” Who or what were they?

A: In the book How the Irish Saved Civilization (Doubleday), Thomas Cahill talks about both green and white martyrdom. According to Cahill, Ireland was unique in that Christianity was introduced there without bloodshed (red martyrdom). No Irish martyrs emerged until the time of Elizabeth I. Cahill states that this lack of martyrdom disturbed the Irish, so they conceived first of a green martyrdom.

Green martyrs left behind the comforts and pleasures of ordinary human society to live hermits’ lives on mountaintops or lonely islands. As Cahill puts it, they went “to one of the green noman’s lands outside tribal jurisdiction.” There they studied Scripture and communed with God after the example of the anchorites in the Egyptian desert. Ireland could not duplicate the barren terrain of the Egyptian desert; thus, this green martyrdom gave way to the more social life of monasticism.

Against this background Cahill introduces Columcille (“Dove of God”)—also called Columba or Crimthaann. Born in 521, a prince with a title to kingship, he chose to become a monk. By age 41 he had founded 41 monasteries. Because Columba was held responsible for the Battle of Cuil Dremmed in which 3,000 men died, he became an exile. As penance he set out to save the same number of people as died in the battle.

Columba, with 12 relatives, founded a monastery on Iona off the coast of Scotland that became famous throughout Europe. Monks from Iona in turn set out for what they called a white martyrdom: “[H]enceforth all who followed Columcille’s lead were called to the white martyrdom, they who sailed into the white sky of morning, into the unknown, never to return.”

Should I Forget My Husband’s Abuse?

Q: I have a bully for a husband. He is always putting me down and yelling. You have to forgive others—I do forgive him over and over. We’ve already celebrated 50 years of marriage. What I really can’t get past is the flashbacks I have of what he did to me years back. How do you forget the past? How do you forget when it keeps coming to your mind? If he found out I wrote this, I would have hell to pay!

A: It would probably be idealistic to suggest marital counseling or therapy after so many years of the status quo. But perhaps talking to a professional counselor could help you deal with your own feelings of anger and resentment. And if you are in a truly abusive situation, perhaps you can find help through an organization like Women Helping Women.

With that said, it seems to me you have forgiven and continue to forgive the wrong your husband has done you. You don’t have to feel good about what he has done to you! And if you’ve stayed with your husband more than 50 years, I presume there is some kind of love for him and that you see some good in him.

To forgive does not mean you have to forget. Sometimes our hurt and pain have been so great we can’t just erase the memories of them. And we will very likely remember how we have been wronged and try to avoid a repetition of it if we can.

Forgiveness means we rise above the hurt we feel and wish the wrongdoer well in the Lord. We renounce hate and the desire for revenge. We love the one who has hurt us. That doesn’t mean we have to get all warm and emotional. It means we wish the other person well despite the injuries and offensive conduct. It means we try to be decent and civil despite the provocations.

No Baptisms During Lent?

Q: Our son and daughter-in-law just attended a pre-Baptism class in their parish in New Jersey. They were told they could not baptize the baby during Lent.

The deacon could not give them a reason except that the pastor wished it so. He also said that many parishes are doing it. I know it is not a directive of canon law, therefore, it must be liturgical. Would you be kind enough to explain?

A: Canon 856 of the Code of Canon Law says that, although Baptism may be celebrated on any day, it is commendable to celebrate it ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil. The Code also encourages Baptism during the celebration of the Eucharist so that the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist will be clearly seen.

The Baptism ritual says much the same thing. And pastors are told that, in the case of adult Baptisms, they should ordinarily arrange it so that the Rite of Election (enrollment in the catechumenate) begins on the First Sunday of Lent and Baptism (and the other Sacraments of Initiation) be celebrated at the Easter Vigil.

I believe that the pastor of your son and daughter-in-law—like other pastors—judges that, if Lent has begun or is about to begin, it is close enough to Easter to baptize only at the appropriate time of the Easter Vigil or in the Easter season. This is true of healthy infants as much as of adults.

Why Not Benediction?

Q: Recently I asked one of our parish priests why we no longer hold Benediction following the Stations of the Cross. He explained that the practice was felt to be inappropriate (this came from the chancery). Is this true for all parishes? When is Benediction appropriate? I truly miss this eucharistic devotion.

A: I know of no rule for all parishes that Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is not to follow making the Stations of the Cross. However, Benediction presupposes a period of prayer and exposition before it takes place.

The Roman Ritual (The Rites of the Catholic Church, Published by Authority of Pope Paul VI, Pueblo) says in the section on exposition of the holy Eucharist (#89): “Exposition which is held exclusively for the giving of Benediction is prohibited.”

The Instruction on Certain Norms Concerning the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (from the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, April 3, 1980) states it must not be forgotten that “before the blessing with the Sacrament an appropriate time should be devoted to readings of the Word of God, to songs and prayers and to some silent prayer.”

In other words, Benediction should not be given as something like an afterthought to other devotions or occasions of worship. The Blessed Sacrament is not to be taken out of the tabernacle for a few brief moments just to give Benediction with it. Whenever Benediction takes place, it should be preceded by some period of prayer, readings, homilies and/or silent worship with due attention given to the Blessed Sacrament itself.

Finally, it may be that the chancery officials think putting the Way of the Cross together with Benediction is something like celebrating Christmas and Easter on the same day. Each mystery deserves some special reflection and attention.

Whence the Miter?

Q: I am looking for information on the bishop’s miter. Can you help me?

A: Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, by George Ferguson (Oxford University Press), describes the miter as “a tall headdress worn by cardinals, archbishops, bishops and some abbots. It is a liturgical hat and has a plain and simple form, as well as a more ornate and precious form with emand stones.” The Dictionary of the Liturgy, by Jovian Lang, O.F.M. (Catholic Book Publishing Co.), describes the miter this way: “The front and back are stiff, shaped like inverted shields ending in a peak which are pressed apart when the miter is on the head. These two pieces are sewn together at the lower part, but a cleft separates them on the top….Two wide lappets hang down from the back over the shoulders.”

The miter is a sign of authority. When worn at Mass, it is taken off for the eucharistic prayer. The “horns” of the miter are reminders of the rays of light that came from the head of Moses when he received the Ten Commandments and are also symbolic of the Old and New Testaments. According to Lang, the use of the miter originated in Rome in the 11th century.

A Saint for My Name?

Q: At birth, I was named Cynthia by my parents. I haven’t heard or been able to find out anything about a St. Cynthia. Is there a saint for my name? Do I have a patron?

A: According to Father Albert J. Nevins, M.M., in the girls’ volume of A Saint for Your Name (Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.), Cynthia is the feminine form of Synesius. In Greek the name means “understanding.”

The very short biography says that Synesius was a Roman martyr beheaded in 279 under Emperor Aurelian. December 12 is assigned as Synesius’s feast day.

Nevins also says that St. Diana is also known as Cynthia. A worldly young woman, she was converted by a sermon she heard. She became a Dominican sister after overcoming strong opposition from her family. She died in 1236. Her feast is June 9.