Our Brave Ancestors

Blessed Martyrs of England and Wales

Feast Day: 4th May

Forty of our English and Welsh martyrs who have been canonized as saints are remembered on October 25. Another 160 who are beatified are commemorated today.

We should have a special affection for these martyrs because they are our ancestors, our fellow-countrymen, and they are very close to us. Some were priests, like Blessed James Bell of Warrington who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Lancaster in 1584, or Blessed Edward Edwards, a convert priest from Ludlow who was executed at Canterbury in 1588. Some were laymen, like the farmer Ralph Milner who was hanged in 1591 for helping a fellow Catholic. Even the highest nobility in the realm did not escape persecution: Blessed Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and governess to the Princess Mary, was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1541.

What they all had in common was their loyalty to the Catholic Church. They loved the Mass deeply, believing wholeheartedly in the True Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, and they acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope. For this faith they were prepared to sacrifice their most precious possession, their lives, because they could never have accepted a man-made church which rejected all these beliefs and had as its head an earthly monarch.

They were holy men and women who died to preserve and hand on the precious treasure of our faith which had been given to them. How saddened they must be today when they look at their beloved England and Wales, since no longer can they be called Catholic countries and the Dowry of Mary. Our society is materialistic and totally indifferent to religion. So many of those who have been baptized attend Church afterwards only for First Holy Communion, Marriage and at death. Many of our children who attend our Catholic schools have never learned to appreciate the treasures of Mass and Holy Communion, and so they never come to Church. You will find that they idolize footballers, models or pop stars. If only they knew what our martyrs had done for us, I am sure they would realise that they are the true heroes and heroines.

But we must not be discouraged. Our faith has a rich inheritance and we have the example of the Blessed Martyrs of England and Wales to inspire us to be better Catholics. We know that they are praying for us and we must work and hope that one day our country will return to the true faith they professed, and once more be called the Dowry of Mary. In the meantime, we have to be the leaven in the dough, so that the goodness that God has implanted in us will spread and permeate our society.

Jesus, convert England.

Jesus, give back the faith to us.