January 2022 is upon us; the late Christmas season in a world groaning under a pandemic (which is bad enough) and leadership ranging from incompetent to malicious (which is worse). Populations have been locked down to their mental and economic detriment; the “miracle” vaccines that were supposed to safeguard us all are proving to be of indifferent value at best. Nevertheless, for lack of any better ideas, those in charge are attempting punish the unvaccinated—perhaps in an unconscious attempt to placate the disease gods. French president Macron has vowed to “emerder” the lives of the unvaxxed, while Chancellor Nehmann of Austria has proclaimed in a most tone-deaf fashion that “Vaccines make Free.” When not employed in bullying those who are skeptical of the very vaccines that continue to let us down, from Sacramento to Vienna to London, our leaders show a disturbing tendency to party their blues away, disregarding the strictures they impose upon their hapless subjects.
But as always, Christmas has invited us to tear our eyes away from the passing spectacle and focus upon what is most important in the lives of real people: their families, friends, and above all, the Birth of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. As the elderly 2021slipped away to the strains of Auld Lang Syne and the bouncing baby 2022 rushed in, the Twelve Days continued their course to the Feast of the Epiphany. This feast has always commemorated several things: Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan (actually, its sole object in both the Catholic and Orthodox Byzantine Rites), the Wedding at Cana, and the visit of the Three Kings to Bethlehem. Their gifts are seen as symbolising Christ’s Godhead (frankincense), impending death (myrrh), and Kingship (gold). As a result of the latter, Catholic Kings took delight in the feast.
In the words of Dom Gueranger, “Theodosius, Charlemagne, our own Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, Stephen of Hungary, the Emperor Henry 2nd, Ferdinand of Castile, Louis 9th of France, are examples of Kings who had a special devotion to the Feast of the Epiphany. Their ambition was to go, in company with the Magi, to the feet of the Divine Infant, and offer him their gifts. At the English Court, the custom is still retained, and the reigning Sovereign offers an ingot of Gold as a tribute of homage to Jesus the King of kings: the ingot is afterwards redeemed by a certain sum of money.” According to the British Royal Family’s website, “A service of Holy Communion is celebrated on 6 January (Epiphany) each year in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, when an offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh is made on behalf of The Queen. These are the gifts offered, according to tradition, by the Magi to the infant Jesus. This service has its origins in royal ceremonies which date back to the Norman Conquest. According to Psalm 72, the Wise Men were three kings, so it was fitting that an earthly king should make an offering at Epiphany. It became a crown-wearing day in the 15th century, and the Sovereign always attended the ceremony in person. George II, upset at the death of his daughter Princess Caroline, whose funeral took place on the eve of Epiphany in 1758, deputed his Lord Chamberlain to make the offerings. Nowadays, the offerings are made by two Gentlemen Ushers to The Queen, wearing service dress, who are escorted to the Royal Closet of the Chapel Royal by a detachment of The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard.”
But while the month is issued in with one such Royal festival, no less than three see it out. January 21 is the anniversary of the murder of France’s Louis XVI in 1793. All over France—and select locales in Belgium, Italy, the United States, and elsewhere—Requiem Masses are offered on and around that date for the repose of the King’s soul. The most prominent are those attended by the two claimants to the French throne: the Duke d’Anjou (Louis XX to the Legitimists) at the Abbey-Cathedral of St. Denis, where French Kings are buried, and Paris’s Chapelle Expiatoire, built in reparation of the sad event; and the Count of Paris (Jean IV for the Orleanists) at the old Parisian Royal Parish of St. Germain l’Auxerrois. During the same period there is usually a torchlight procession through Paris in Louis’ honour, ending at the Place de la Concorde. At most of these events, Louis’ last testament is read, as well as his consecration of France to the Sacred Heart and Pope Pius VI’s allocution on his death. Pius VI delivered the allocution along with a requiem for Louis, in which the Pontiff indicates that he believed Louis to be a martyr for the Faith. Although there have been recurring attempts to have the murdered Monarch beatified, these have inevitably failed for one important reason: such a beatification would be seen as an irrevocable condemnation of the French Revolution by the Church. Since—despite the wild variances from and with each other—every French regime since 1830 has been an heir to that Revolution, this is a political can of worms no subsequent Pontiff has wished to open. This is not the case, however, with Louis’ sister Elisabeth, known as “Madame Royale.” Murdered the year after her brother, her cause was opened by the Archdiocese of Paris in 2017, and she, at least, is now officially a “Servant of God.”
On January 28, in Aachen, Frankfurt, and elsewhere, many commemorate the feast of Bl. Charlemagne, first Holy Roman Emperor and King of France. Although never officially canonised (though an anti-Pope attempted to do it), Charlemagne’s feast was at one time marked in over fifty dioceses throughout France, Germany, and Switzerland, and numerous other institutions which claimed him as either a founder or benefactor. There have, of course, been many attempts to smear this holy Monarch’s name, which are dealt with at some length by Dom Gueranger in his coverage of the feast in the Liturgical Year. Examining the learned Benedictine’s reasoning, it would be difficult to dissent from his judgement that “The honour of the Church herself is at stake in this question, and it is the duty of every Catholic to suspect the imputations cast on the name of Charlemagne as calumnies.” The Collect for his feast shows us what the Church has taught us about Bl. Charlemagne: “O God, who in the superabundant riches of thy mercy, didst clothe the blessed Emperor Charles the Great, after he had laid aside the garb of the flesh, with the robe of immortal life; grant, we beseech thee, that he whom thou didst raise up on earth to the imperial dignity, that so he might spread the true faith, may lovingly intercede for us in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Two days after this feast, on January 30, the Anglo-Catholic element of Anglicanism observes the feast of “Charles Stuart, King and Martyr.” Because of his refusal to accept the abolition of the Episcopate by the triumphant Puritans at the end of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland, and Ireland), the Church of England attempted to canonise Charles I after the Restoration in 1660. Although his feast was taken out of the Book of Common Prayer in 1859, members of the Oxford Movement continued to venerate him—including the future Cardinal and Saint, John Henry Newman. For Catholics he is an equivocal figure, but among the other reasons for his execution was his sporadic negotiation for reunion with Rome.
As Louis XVI promised to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart were he restored, so Charles I offered to restore those abbeys held by the Crown (such as Westminster) to monastic ownership if he regained the throne. Louis XVI read a life of Charles the night before his own judicial murder. Both Kings were exemplary husbands and fathers—Charles himself having married a French Catholic Princess, Henriette Marie. On her death, Bishop Bossuet—no friend of Protestantism—opined that “Charles I, King of England, was just, moderate, magnanimous, well informed about his business and the means of reigning. Never was prince more able to render royalty, not only venerable and holy, but also kind and dear to his people”—and that his death was in a sense reparation for Henry VIII’s treason. In any case, some Catholics, inside and out of the Ordinariates, believe in his sanctity, while others within those bodies believe that abandoning said devotion was the necessary price of their conversion. The former continue to pray for miracles through his intercession as they might for any other prospective Servant of God. Certainly it is interesting that both Charles’ grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots, and his son, James II, are both Servants of God even though their causes, while still open, are currently inactive.
While these three days with their respective honorees grace the opening month of each year, there is an added significance to January of 2022; it is the beginning of the Centennial Year commemorating the death of Blessed Emperor Karl I of Austria-Hungary. In many ways, Karl exemplifies all the virtues displayed by the three mentioned; beyond this, he has a sort of relationship with each. As Louis was married to a Habsburg, Marie Antoinette, Karl was married to a Bourbon, Servant of God Zita. Where Bl. Charlemagne was first of the Holy Roman Emperors, Bl. Karl was—in a sense—the last (thus far). He and Charles I of the Three Kingdoms shared not only a name but an inspiring family life and had to juggle the needs of the very different nationalities who made up their subjects. Indeed, Karl and his wife summed up in themselves all of the Monarchical virtues. As 2022 progresses, their devotees in both their former lands and elsewhere shall be able to commemorate the anniversaries of his death at Madeira on April 1, birthday on August 17, wedding on October 21 (his actual feast day, which no doubt he shall share with Zita when she is beatified), accession to the throne on November 21, and coronation as King of Hungary on December 30.
All four Monarchs, as well as the ones we have mentioned in passing, have zealous advocates for their remembrance and eventual canonization. There are many more monarchs we could mention. In Italy there are the Servants of God Maria Clotilda of Savoy; Queen Elena of Italy; King Francis II of the Two Sicilies; and his mother, the recently beatified Maria Christina of Savoy. Spain has the Venerable Queen Isabel of Christopher Columbus fame. Many Belgians support the cause of their pious King Baudouin.
Nevertheless, what is the real relevance of such people in the 21st century? The reigning Christian Monarchs we know of to-day are Figureheads of State, whose primary role is to provide a nonpartisan focus of loyalty to the nation while their subjects are routinely mismanaged by “their governments.” It is rather like having a henhouse whose owner is compelled to run it according to the advice given by neighbourhood foxes. At worst, their deposed colleagues grace the pages of Hello! and at best, lead quiet lives of worthy endeavour that have little influence on the general course of politics. Why then should their pious forebears garner our attention? Who cares if they are Saints or not?
Apart from the obvious response that we always need saintly intercession from whatever source, the primary problem of our day is an overwhelming failure of leadership—in both Church and State. Indeed, were the stakes not so high, the performance of our elites over the past two years would be nothing short of comedic. We must pray to Bl. Karl and the rest of them for two things: that we might be worthy of rulers of their calibre, and that such leadership comes quickly!