Sermon: Bede the Venerable

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San Beda, by Bartolomé Román

Today we celebrate the Venerable Bede.  The title, “Venerable” is used in the Episcopal Church for an Archdeacon, but in the Catholic Church, and in describing Bede, it refers “to a deceased person who has attained a certain degree of sanctity but has not been fully beatified or canonized.”  At the time it was given Bede, it was a title not widely, and although he has been canonized since, he is most often referred to as the Venerable Bede and not Saint Bede.  Perhaps that is because of the way he received “Venerable” as a title.

Legend has it that a monk was working on the inscription for Bede’s tomb and could not quite determine what he wanted it to say.  As he wrapped up the day, all he had was, Hac sunt in fossa, Bedae ____ ossa. “This grave contains, the ____ Bede’s remains.”  That night, an angel filled in the blank: Venerabilis.  Venerable.  How did he acquire such praise from the angel?

We’ve said in the past, that most of the Saints we venerate were not always the saintliest of people, apparently Bede is the exception that proves the rule.

In 686, the plague swept through England and infecting a particular monastery, wiped out all of the choir monks, which left them unable to properly sing the Divine offices (the seven times a day that the monks came together for prayer).  The abbot and a young boy were the only ones remaining who could do it, but to make the work easier for just the two of them, the abbot decided that the Psalms would only be chanted during two of the offices; however, after a week, with the assistance of only the boy, the abbot returned to chanting at every office.  We might think that’s not so difficult, we only did four verses of a Psalm today, but at that time, in the monasteries, all 150 Psalms were chanted through each week.  Want to guess as to how many verses that equals?  2,526.  The young boy that helped the abbot was the Venerable Bede, who entered the monastery and began studying at the age of seven.  After such an ordeal, you may think that someone so young would grow tired, but he was very dedicated to the daily offices.  He wrote, “I know that the angels are present at the canonical Hours, and what if they do not find me among the brethren when they assemble? Will they not say, Where is Bede? Why does he not attend the appointed devotions with his brethren?”

Tomb of the Venerable Bede
Tomb of the Venerable Bede, Durham Cathedral

He was ordained a deacon at age 19 (he needed special permission because the minimum age was 25) and was priested eleven years later.  In his work, he proved to be an imminent scholar and theologian and also considered to be one of the greatest Historians of the time, his most significant contribution being his History of the English Church (completed in 731), the primary source for almost all English history up to that time.  All this and he never lived more that sixty miles from where he was born.  When he died, upon hearing the news, St. Boniface wrote, “The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit, has been extinguished.”

Today, our Psalmist declared:
“We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.”

This was the work of Bede.  Passing on to the next generation the knowledge and wisdom of the past.  For this and his humble life, the angel gave him the title “Venerable.”  I wonder, if there were a blank before your name, what title would the angel give to you?

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