When we received news of yesterday’s atrocity at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, we prayed for the perpetrators, that they might be forgiven, for the wounded that they might recover, but for Fr Jacques, who was murdered at the altar, there was only the Te Deum. Why? Fr Jacques joins the long line of those who have witnessed to Christ by their blood. He did not choose to die, he was murdered; and he was murdered simply and solely because he was a Christian. He is thus a true martyr, and it has long been the custom of the Church, when hearing of martyrdom, to praise God by singing the Te Deum. But what of all those others who have been killed, in Nice, in Ansbach, in so many places, are they martyrs? Not as the Church understands martyrdom, perhaps, but that does not mean that their deaths are any less important, nor that their murder is any less heinous. We reserve the terms ‘martyr’ and ‘martyrdom’ for very specific conditions, but all taking of innocent human life is wrong and cries to heaven for vengeance. When the language of martyrdom is appropriated by the murderers themselvs, as in the case of IS, the language may be — indeed is — defiled, but the reality of martyrdom itself is untarnished.
Today we ask the prayers of Fr Jacques for all who have died, all who grieve, all who live in fear; for surely his prayers must be very powerful with God, whom he served throughout his long life and for faith in whom he died.