A Letter from your Lay Reader
May seems to have come round very quickly this year, possibly something to do with Easter being so late. After the excitement of Easter, the month of May is likely to be a bit quieter for the Church, but it is interesting to see that there are a number of Saints’ Days and commemoration days in May, and I thought I would take this opportunity to draw your attention to some of these.
May begins with the feast of St. Phillip and St. James. Phillip came from Bethsaida in Galilee and was one of the first Disciples to be called by Jesus. At his calling, Phillip was a married man with several daughters, but gave up his family to follow Jesus, by modern standards a tremendous personal sacrifice, but Jesus made it clear that such sacrifices were necessary in order to become one of his Disciples. Phillip was responsible for introducing Nathaniel to Jesus, which led to Nathaniel also becoming a Disciple.
Phillip shares his feast day, 1st May, with St. James, the son of Zebedee and generally known as “the less”. James was probably a cousin of Jesus but probably somewhat younger than Jesus. Like Phillip he became an Apostle together with his brother Jude.
2nd May is kept as the feast of St. Athanasius. Born in Alexandria in about 296 A.D. Athanasius is known as one of the great patriarchs of the early church, who played a major role in codifying the faith of the Church, his main contribution being the Athanasian Creed otherwise referred to in the Book of Common Prayer as Quicunque Vult.
We celebrate the life of Julian of Norwich on 8th May. An English writer and mystic, little is known of Julian’s life but many of her writings survive including The Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love written in about 1393, which tell of various visions she experienced, including visions of the Passion and the Holy Trinity.
The feast of Matthias is celebrated on 14th May. Matthias was the Apostle elected to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve. He was a long serving Disciple of Jesus from his baptism by John the Baptist through to the Ascension. As an apostle his ministry took place largely in Greece and parts of North Africa.
Other lesser known saints are also commemorated, including Dunstan of Canterbury 19th May and Alcuin of York 20th May. On 24th May we remember two remarkable brothers (yet to be made saints) John and Charles Wesley. The Wesleys, although both Church of England priests are considered to be the founders of the Methodist Church, although also remembered as great preachers and hymn writers. Charles in particular is believed to have written no fewer than 6,000 hymns, many of which still appear in our 21st century hymn books.
St Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury is remembered on 26th May. Sent to England by Gregory the Great, Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet in 596 and set about the task of converting the Britons to Christianity.
The month of May, this year, sees Ascension Day on 29th, one of the great festivals of the church, the day on which we celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven and thus providing that link between heaven and earth, giving us direct access to God. Ascension Day seems to be overlooked by many churches these days, probably because it always falls on a working day. However it will be celebrated in our Parish this year as usual by an evening service of Holy Communion. The month of May ends with one of the many Marian festivals which are dotted around the Church’s year. On 31st May we keep the feast of the Visit of Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, an event described in Luke’s Gospel.
So May certainly has its fair share of feast days and commemorations, far too many to deal with in any detail in this article, but perhaps I might have inspired you to take a closer look at some of the saints and others we remember this month. Look them up in books or on the internet, and find out more about the contribution they made to the growth of Christianity throughout the world.
With every blessing for the rest of the season of Easter and Ascension tide.