26 December 2011

' . . . on the feast of Stephen': a tale of two men named Wenceslas (Václav)

Good King Wenceslas is one of the most popular Christmas carols in Britain and Ireland but not known at all in the Philippines. It is sung here by The Irish Rovers, a Canadian group consisting of immigrants from Ireland, mostly Northern Ireland. You can detect the accent of their place of origin in their singing. The words are by John Mason Neale, whose translation of Veni, Veni Emmanuel is the best known English version of O come, O come Emmanuel. The tune of Good King Wenceslas goes back to the 13th century.

The opening line of this carol is 'Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen'. Today, 26 December, is the feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. 'Good King Wenceslas' is also venerated by the Church as a martyr, his feast falling on 28 September. However, though he is on the universal calendar of the Church he's not venerated at all in the Philippines since 28 September is also the feast day of the first Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, like St Stephen and St Wenceslas, a martyr.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, then Archbishop of Prague, with skull of Saint Wenceslas during a procession on 28 September 2006

The King Wenceslas referred to is St Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, assassinated on 28 September 935. He was declared king after his death. He is the patron saint of the Czech Republic and the main square in Prague is named after him.

The Czech version of the saint's name is 'Václav', the Christian name of the recently deceased former president, Václav Havel, and also of the current president, Václav Klaus.

Václav Havel, 5 October 1936 - 18 December 2011.
First President of the Czech Republic, 2 February 1993 - 2 February 2003

Pope Benedict: Václav Havel a visionary leader

Pope Benedict's telegram to President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic:

His Excellency Václav Klaus President of the Czech Republic. Having learned with sadness of the death of Former President Václav Havel, I send heartfelt condolences at this time of national mourning. I join all those who have gathered in Saint Vitus' Cathedral for the solemn funeral rite in commending the soul of the deceased to the infinite mercy of our heavenly Father. Remembering how courageously Mr Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership in forging a new democratic polity after the fall of the previous regime, I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy. As a pledge of spiritual strength and comfort, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to all who mourn in the hope of resurrection to new life.


No comments: