23 March 2014

Yet Another Missing Feast: St Dismas, The Good Thief

Although 25 March, traditionally the date of the Crucifixion would be the proper date, the Feast of St Dismas, the Good Thief, was celebrated on the next day, 26 March, because of the need to celebrate the Annunciation on that day.

I think the loss of the Feast of the Good Thief is one of the saddest of all of the twentieth century losses.  There are two reasons: first, he was the only person canonised by Jesus.  Even on the Cross Jesus was teaching his Church how to do things after His death and resurrection.  Second, because if any of the Saints in Heaven can be said to stand for Everyman, it is the Good Thief.  He was like the rest of us: a sinner. But at the end he recognised Jesus for what He was, when his fellow criminal could do nothing but mock.

"And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.  But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil.  And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise."

The coincidence of this Feast's coming just after the Annunciation obviously isn't a coincidence.  Mary's assent to Gabriel's message contrasts with the Bad Thief's refusal to accept Jesus.  And in between them comes Dismas, who, as one of us, has fallen away, but who recognises Jesus even as he is being crucified, criticises his companion for his impiety, confesses his misdeeds and the justice of the punishment he is incurring and asks Jesus for His mercy.

Here is a saint for all of us.  he is the patron saint of thieves and those in prison, and there is one devotion to St Dismas which asks him to intercede with God to open the eyes of mass murderers and war criminals: he is a saint for the worst of us.  Yet this Feast had to go. 

I do not understand liturgical reformers: I am less and less convinced by the idea that "pruning" the liturgy - actively removing, rather than letting those accretions which can not stand the test of time wither away - can have enough positive fruits to outweigh the negatives.  I'll post the propers for the Feast on Tuesday and, while obediently not celebrating the Feast, we will nevertheless have a chance to meditate on the Good Thief.

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