It being the 4th Sunday after Easter (N.O.: 5th of), we don’t give a lot of space to the veneration of saints at the altar today.
However, today is the Feast of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He died on this date in 373.
Athanasius is a figure of titanic importance in the history of the Church and of her doctrinal orthodoxy. He was Bishop of Alexandria at the time when Arianism had swept through the Church to the point that St. Jerome would describe those times in stark terms: “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.” Athanasius struggled mightily against Arianism and was treated with brutal harshness by secular and church authorities who had fallen into the heresy. Athanasius is one of the four great Eastern Doctors, along with Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus.
He experienced exile five times. St. Athanasius, pray for me. At last he returned to Alexandria in his final years and put his shattered diocese back together by preaching the Nicean Faith.
A great Creed is attributed to St. Athanasius, but he did not compose it. It was a later work. But it is a terrific creed and you should know it! The Church acknowledges it as one of its approved creeds. HERE
His body eventually was taken to Venice, to the Chiesa di San Zaccaria, where you can venerate it along with that of Zachary, father of John the Baptist.
Let’s have a quick look at the Collect for the Mass for St. Athanasius in the Ordinary Form..
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
qui beatum Athanasium episcopum
divinitatis Filii tui propugnatorem eximium suscitasti,
ut, eius doctrina et protectione gaudentes,
in tui cognitione et amore sine intermissione crescamus.
A propugnator is one who fights “in the place of” another, as indicated in that proposition pro in this compound. “Champion” is a good way to convey that subtlety.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
you raised up St. Athanasius
to be an outstanding defender
of the truth of Christ’s divinity.
By his teaching and protection
may we grow in your knowledge and love.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Almighty ever-living God,
who raised up the Bishop Saint Athanasius
as an outstanding champion of your Son’s divinity,
that, rejoicing in his teaching and his protection,
we may never cease to grow in knowledge and love of you.
Sometimes the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre is compared to St. Athanasius. I think the comparison limps a little. However, there is no doubt that the late Archbishop was a zealous champion of the Faith and that he was, from time to time, treated badly by those in power.
And let us not forget to pray for another, current propugnator, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, of Kazakhstan.
Try his books:
Dominus Est – It Is the Lord! Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion
Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age