Rorate Caeli

A Collect Worthy of Royalty

Today, October 16, is the traditional feastday of St. Hedwig, or St. Jadwiga, patroness of Poland. (She died on October 15, 1243, but in the general calendar that day was given to St. Teresa of Jesus.) And what an exemplary Catholic she was, whether as royal consort, wife, mother, widow, or nun! Here is the entry in my old St. Andrew's Daily Missal, showing how beautifully suited to her are the readings of the Common of Holy Women.

Hedwig, of royal birth, and still more illustrious by the innocence of her life, was the daughter of Berthold, Prince of Carinthia, and aunt, on the mother's side, of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. Having married Henry, Duke of Poland, she fulfilled her duties as wife in so holy a fashion that the Church compares her to the strong woman, whose portrait is drawn for us by the Holy Ghost in today's Epistle. She had three sons and three daughters. She macerated her body, both by fasting and watching and by the roughness of her clothes; she was very charitable to the poor, whom she herself served at table. She washed and kissed the ulcers of lepers.

          To devote herself more to the service of God, she induced her husband to bind himself, by vow, with her, to observe continence. The Duke having died, Hedwig, like the merchant mentioned in the Gospel, gave away all her riches to acquire the precious pearl of eternal life. After praying earnestly, and under divine inspiration, she generously exchanged worldly pomp for the life of the Cross (Collect), entering the Cistercian monastery of Trebnitz, where her daughter was abbess. She died on 15 October 1243, and Poland honours her with special veneration as her patroness.

The Collect for her feast is one more gem from the treasure chest of the traditional Roman rite:

DEUS, qui beátam Hedwígem a sæculi pompa ad húmilem tuæ crucis sequélam toto corde transíre docuísti: concéde; ut ejus méritis et exémplo discámus peritúras mundi calcáre delícias, et in ampléxu tua crucis ómnía nobis adversántia superáre: Qui vivis et regnas...

O God, Who didst teach blessed Hedwig to renounce the pomps of this world with her whole heart so that she might humbly follow Thy Cross: grant that, through her merits and example, we may learn to trample under foot the perishable delights of this world and by embracing Thy Cross, overcome everything that may oppose us. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Note how the Collect addresses the Son of God, a mode of address that was, thanks to Jungmann's archaeologism, deemed verboten for the Collects of the Mass; it survived in the Novus Ordo only on Corpus Christi, where even the bloodlust of the reformers could not dare to excise a prayer composed by the Angelic Doctor. The Collect talks about renunciation of the pomps of the world and trampling under foot its delights: this is absolutely not going to fly with Modern Man, for whom comfort, pleasure, and plenty are the very reasons for living. The Cross is mentioned twice for emphasis -- not just a cursory acquaintance with a crucifix hanging on the wall (although even this was deemed offensive by many schools, hospitals, and other public institutions), but the embrace (amplexus) of the Cross, even as Our Lord Himself embraced it on the way to Golgotha. And by the power of that Cross, we pray that we may overcome whatever may impede our progress: the language of conquerors, characteristic of a militant Christianity that understands that life is a battleground.

Let's have a look now, for comparative purposes, at the Collect for the optional memorial of St. Hedwig (optional, that is, outside of regional calendars) in the Novus Ordo calendar:

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the revered intercession of Saint Hedwig may bring us heavenly aid, just as her wonderful life is an example of humility for all. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

That's about as anemic a prayer as I have seen, and that's saying a lot for the neo-Roman missal. Into the rubbish heap, I say, with such pathetic gewgaws, and bring out the treasure chest once more. It is time to stop being embarrassed about our Faith, about the heroes of our Faith, and to imitate their indomitable resolve to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil under the standard of the Cross. 

[Note: There is another St. Jadwiga, Queen, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 8, 1997, in Kraków. The original title of this post reflected a confusion on my part as to the exact royal status of the medieval Jadwiga.]