Rorate Caeli

A Collect Fit for a King (or Rather, an Emperor): St. Henry II

Today, on the traditional Roman calendar, is the feast of the Emperor St. Henry "the Exuberant" (d. 1024), husband of St. Cunegund. Both are buried, side by side, in the cathedral of Bamberg, which Henry had built. I had the privilege of visiting their tomb in 2018 when I gave a lecture "auf Deutsch" for Pro Missa Tridentina in Germany. Here are a few photos:

The imperial pair
Henry's traditional Collect is magnificent:

O God, who on this day didst translate blessed Henry, Thy confessor, from the summit of earthly empire to an eternal kingdom: we humbly beseech Thee, that even as Thou didst protect him with the fullness of Thy grace, and dist give him victory over the enticements of this life, so Thou wouldst enable us after his example to shun the blandishments of this world and to come to Thee with clean hearts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ...

We should celebrate St. Henry for many reasons. Here are three.

1. He exemplifies the virtue of religion, which gives to God what is owed to Him. Unlike our modern presidents, prime ministers, parliaments, and courts who deprive God of public homage, Henry ordered his thoughts and actions to the common good, and recognized, in accord with Catholic teaching, that the civic order should not only place no obstacles to, but should assist citizens in attaining, their ultimate end in heaven. For this reason, Henry tirelessly expended himself (and his wealth) on building, repairing, and endowing churches and monasteries throughout his empire.

2. He exemplifies the virtue of chastity for a world gone raving mad with lust. There is reason to believe he and his wife Cunegund lived a Josephite marriage. While this is an extraordinary grace, it is not unheard-of in the lives of the married saints. What a splendidly "foolish" Gospel response to the lecherous cries for relaxing every sort of sexual discipline in the Catholic Church!

3. He exemplifies the virtue of humility. As a Benedictine oblate, he was so enamored of monastic life that he attempted at one point to enter a monastery, but the abbot commanded him in the name of holy obedience to take up his throne and be a secular ruler. Henry's temptation, we might say, was to excessive spiritualism, and yet he was able, with God's grace, to live in the world as a lay ruler of heroic virtue.

Given all of the above, is anyone surprised that his feast, which was observed for nearly 350 years on the Roman calendar, was reduced to an optional memorial in the Novus Ordo? Frankly, I'm surprised it didn't get the axe altogether.

But look what they did to his Collect (the old one was Much Too Negative):

O God, whose abundant grace prepared Saint Henry to be raised by you in a wonderful way from the cares of earthly rule to heavenly realms, grant, we pray, through his intercession, that amid the uncertainties of this world we may hasten towards you with minds made pure. Through our Lord Jesus Christ...

N.B.: we can't possibly have a prayer that talks of the "summit" of earthly "empire" (not in these days of democracies and the United Nations); nor a prayer that "humbly beseeches"; nor one that speaks of God "protecting" Henry with His grace (as if there were evils to be protected from!); nor one that talks of "enticements of this life" and "blandishments of this world" (heavens, no!--"uncertainties" is quite scary enough); nor of "victory," which is (practically by definition) triumphalistic, nor of "shunning," which sounds like something Nice People do not do.

But hey: the prayer is orthodox, so no problem, right...?