A holy life

Daily Reading for May 19 • Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, 988

St. Dunstan’s life at Canterbury is characteristic; long hours, both day and night, were spent in private prayer, besides his regular attendance at Mass and the Office. Often he would visit the shrines of St. Augustine and St. Ethelbert, and we are told of a vision of angels who sang to him heavenly canticles. He worked ever for the spiritual and temporal improvement of his people, building and restoring churches, establishing schools, judging suits, defending the widow and the orphan, promoting peace, enforcing respect for purity. He practised, also, his handicrafts, making bells and organs and correcting the books in the cathedral library. He encouraged and protected scholars of all lands who came to England, and was unwearied as a teacher of the boys in the cathedral school. There is a sentence in the earliest biography, written by his friend, that shows us the old man sitting among the lads, whom he treated so gently, and telling them stories of his early days and of his forebears. And long after his death we are told of children who prayed to him for protection against harsher teachers, and whose prayers were answered.

On the vigil of Ascension Day, 988, he was warned by a vision of angels that he had but three days to live. On the feast itself he pontificated at Mass and preached three times to the people: once at the Gospel, a second time at the benediction (then given after the Pater Noster), and a third time after the Agnus Dei. In this last address he announced his impending death and bade them farewell. That afternoon he chose the spot for his tomb, then took to his bed. His strength failed rapidly, and on Saturday morning (19 May), after the hymn at Matins, he caused the clergy to assemble. Mass was celebrated in his presence, then he received Extreme Unction and the Holy Viaticum, and expired as he uttered the words of thanksgiving: “He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He hath given food to them that fear Him.”

From the entry for St. Dunstan in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5: Diocese—Fathers (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1909).

Past Posts