Well here it is 19 August and our Commemorations list says it's the Feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux.
OK, for starters, the feast of St Bernard of Claivaux is actually 20 August. That's the day he died, and traditionally, the date of a person's death, faith seeing it as the date they were born to eternity, is used as their feast day, if known. You die on 20 August, your feast day is 20 August. Pretty simple. It's a Christian version and continuation of Yahrtzeit, meaning "time of year" in Yiddish, when relatives remember a family member on the date of their death.
So what possessed the compilers of our Commemorations list to move it up one day? Hell if I know. I also do not know what possessed them to create several commemorations for Old Testament figures, but one of those is for Samuel, which they put on 20 August, so I guess they needed the day.
Anyway, Bernard, especially for a rip roaring kick-ass let's get serious about this Rule of St Benedict for monasteries type, has a pretty good rep among notable non-Catholics, including Martin Luther. In spite of, say, choosing the "right" pope when two were elected -- hey, what if he got the Innocent/Anacletus thing wrong? -- he does show some signs of knowing it all comes down to faith in Christ and what he did for us.
That can happen, even in the RCC, and in all fairness I gotta say old Bernard was one of those. As a Benedictine never-was, the only thing worse than a has-been, lemme tell ya a little reform wouldn't hurt those guys at all.
He is best known among non-Catholics because the hymn "O Sacred Head" is attributed to him. Let me be clear -- O Sacred Head, which everybody knows God sings as O Haupt voll Blut and Wunden, is among the greatest hymns ever written by anybody, any time, any where.
Unfortunately Bernard was not involved in it.
The text to the hymn comes from the last part of a long mediaeval poem called Salve mundi salutare (I ain't translating, ask Father Hollywood) which mediates on a number of Christ's body parts as he suffered on the Cross. The last part meditates on his head and is called Salve caput cruentatum. It dates from the 14th Century; Bernard lived in the first half of the 12th Century (1091-1153 to be exact).
The tune is even later. It was written originally as a love song by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). When one of the great contributors to our magnificent Lutheran hymn heritage (no clowning around here, he was great and it is magnificent) Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) translated Salve caput cruentatum into German as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunder (the aformentioned version God now uses -- OK that's clowning around) Hassler's love song got used as the tune (no textual reason for this parenthetical comment except to make three in one sentence and thus reflect the perfection of the Trinity, it's a monkish thing).
But hey what the hey, our national anthem's tune was originally a drinking song.
So what's the point? Bernard didn't have a damn thing to do with O Sacred Head, neither as tune or text. And for that matter, being thoroughly Roman Catholic, makes a hell of a lot better Roman Catholic saint than Lutheran commemoration.
The point is, the power of the Gospel, well meditated on in O Sacred Head, is such that the hymn does not depend on or even need pious legends and myths about its earthly authorship. And that the power of the Gospel, of which Bernard shows signs of being aware, is such that it can penetrate even the largely pagan accretions laid over it by the RCC. Thank God for the Lutheran Reformation, that we no longer live in times like Bernard, where church and state alike were choked by these accretions, and the Gospel can be rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered in our churches openly.
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