“Clad in his bright coat of mail, mounted on his war-steed, and spearing the dragon with his lance,—George, the intrepid champion of our Risen Jesus, comes gladdening us today with his Feast.” Thus, the great Dom Prosper Guéranger opens his commentary on this feast of our saint, known in the east as ‘The Great Martyr’, patron of many places and institutions, not least the homeland of not a few of us gathered here for this solemn celebration in his honour. In the Roman liturgy we find relatively little concerning this martyr-saint; the greater part of his cult is found in the east. Yet there are two aspects to the life of Saint George upon which we might helpfully meditate this morning.
First, that his martyrdom falls within Eastertide. Again Guéranger writes, “His martyrdom took place in Paschal Time; and thus, he stands before us as a Guardian of the glorious Sephulchre, just as Stephen, the Protomartyr, watches near the Crib of the Infant God.” This timing means that, in a particular way, Saint George is linked to the resurrection; the event in whose light we bask for these fifty days ’til Pentecost. This is reflected in a particular way by the ensign known to us as the Saint George Cross: the flag which depicted the cross in red on a white background. This is not only the national flag of England and a symbol of the ancient Order of the Garter, but is also often depicted in the hands of the Lord himself, in images of his resurrection. Thus our veneration of this great saint, and our celebration of his feast, are intrinsically linked to the resurrection of the Lord. It is perhaps also for this reason that Saint George is also linked with so many military institutions: a reminder that the cause of right must always be the guiding principle of the solider; a virtue which Saint George himself might be said to have embodied in his own military career.
Second, despite the relative silence of the Roman liturgy on the cult of Saint George, his popularity in Rome was maintained. A fine church dedicated to his honour is found near the Arch of Janus which, since early times, has held the privilege of being the Station Church for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. Since the sixth century, too, San Giorgio in Velabro has been a diaconia—a diaconal church set aside for one of the Cardinal Deacons of the Sacred College. It is perhaps particularly important to note that amongst the venerable occupants of this title was Blessed John Henry Newman, not only a member of the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri to whom this parish is entrusted, but also the patron of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, of which I am a Priest. For Newman, that most English of cardinals, to have his cardinalatial seat at a church dedicated to the honour of the patron saint of his beloved homeland is a beautiful thing. It is perhaps also an encouragement for those of us who associate with Newman in various ways, to plead the intercession of Saint George, and particularly on this, his liturgical feast. In words of the Menaion, a hagiographical text of the Byzantine rite, we might conclude in prayer: “Thou hast been made a member of the heavenly army, O Blessed George! Thou now contemplatest, as far as may be, the Divine Nature. Vouchsafe to protect all us who venerate thee.”