Aidan was an Irish monk from the monastery St.Columba had founded on the island of Iona. The Britons had been Christian before the Irish, since Britain, though not Ireland, was part of the Roman Empire. Some of the missionaries who first took the faith to Ireland were British: St.Patrick (the patron saint of Ireland) was the most famous but not the only one. But when the power of Rome declined the English (from North Germany) began to infiltrate into Britain and gradually turned it into England. These incoming English were pagans. Up here in the north the kingdom of Northumbria was largely created by the English warrior-leader Aethelfrith but when he was killed in battle (616AD) his children fled into exile and some of these children found their way to what is now South-West Scotland. Here they met the Irish monks of Iona and accepted the the Christian faith. Oswald, the second son of Aethelfrith, grew up determined to re-gain the throne of Northumbria and to let the pagans among his people hear about Christianity. In 633 he fought a successful battle and established himself as king, choosing Bamburgh, a natural outcrop of rock on the North-East coast, as his main fortress. He then invited the monks of Iona to send a mission and eventually Aidan arrived with 12 other monks and chose to settle on the island the English had renamed Lindisfarne.
Here Aidan established an Irish-type monastery of wooden buildings: a small church, small, circular dwelling huts, perhaps one larger building for communal purposes and in time, workshops etc as needed. Here the monks lived a life of prayer, study and austerity (although in this Aidan was said to be moderate – by Irish standards!). From here they went out on mission. First they needed to learn the English language and their English king, Oswald, who had learnt Irish in his boyhood in exile, helped them. Then they went out, using Aidan’s only method as a missionary, which was to walk the lanes, talk to all the people he met and interest them in the faith if he could. His monks visited and revisited the villages where he sowed the seeds and in time local Christian communities were formed. One story tells that the king, worried that bishop Aidan would walk like a peasant, gave him a horse but Aidan gave it away to a beggar. He wanted to walk, to be on the same level as the people he met and no doubt to vary his approach when he discovered something of their background and attitudes.
Aidan had to ensure that his efforts did not die with himself and his Ionian monks. What was needed was an English leadership of the English church. He had to educate the next generation of leaders. Irish monks were very keen on Christian education, which required the new skills of book-learning, reading and writing and Latin – the language in which all the books they could obtain were written. Once the essentials of literacy had been grasped the expansion of mental horizons must have been amazing. Books could bridge the natural restrictions of time and space! They began with the 150 psalms (in Latin) and then went on to the four gospels (in Latin). These were the essentials; then they could master as much as their library offered and their minds could hold. Such education at this time could be obtained only in monastic schools. Aidan began with 12 boys, who of course would learn the practical work of being monks, priests and missionaries by observing and working with the older monks. It seems to have been a good system.
The monastery on the Island was for men and boys only. This was not true everywhere. As the Christian faith spread in England double monasteries became popular; under the rule of an Abbess monks and nuns, girls and boys, lived and worked in the same establishment, though not necessarily in close contact! But Lindisfarne was different in that it had been founded specifically to be the centre for mission. It would not have been appropriateto have nuns here, since they could not do the same work: public opinion at the time would not have understood or permitted women to walk the lanes and speak to people they did not know. Yet many of the nuns became very learned and their contribution to the success of the mission was great, for everywhere that Christianity spread books were required and many of these were copied by the nuns in their monasteries. Aidan himself had made sure that it was possible in Northumbria for women to become nuns if they so wished. He had “discovered” the woman who was to become the most famous Abbess of her day, Hild, who was to be in turn the Abbess of Hartlepool and Whitby. Her contribution to the church was great: at least five of her (male) students became bishops.
After 16 years as bishop Aidan died at Bamburgh in 651AD. We do not know his age. What he had achieved may not have been clear to him at death but subsequent history showed the strong foundations and lasting success of his mission. The missionaries trained in his school went out and worked for the conversion of much of Anglo-Saxon England and beyond.
INTROIT Psalm 131: 9-10
Let Thy priests, O Lord, be clothed with justice, and let Thy saints rejoice: for Thy servant David’s sake, turn not away the face of Thy anointed. V. O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness. v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that the devout observance of this festival of blessed Aidan, thy Confessor and Bishop, may be profitable unto us for our advancement in all godliness, and for the attainment of everlasting salvation. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
EPISTLE Ecclesiasticus 44:16
Lesson from the Book of Ecclesiasticus: Behold a great priest who in his days pleased the Lord and was found righteous: and in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange for the world. There was none like unto him to keep the law of the Most High. Therefore by an oath the Lord assured him that he would increase him among his people. He established with him the blessing of all men and the covenant, and made it rest upon his head. He acknowledged him in his blessing: and preserved for him his mercy: so that he found favour in the sight of the Lord. He magnified him in the sight of kings: and gave unto him a crown of glory. An everlasting covenant he made with him and gave him a great priesthood and blessed him with glory, that he should execute the office of the priesthood and have honour in his name and offer unto him incense and a sweet savour.
GRADUAL Ecclus. 44.
Behold a great priest who in his days pleased the Lord. V. There was none like unto him to keep the law of the Most High. Alleluia, alleluia. V. Ps. 110. Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matthew 25:14-23
At that time: Jesus spake this parable unto his disciples: the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Ps. 89.
I have found David my servant: with my holy oil have I anointed him: my hand shall hold him fast, and my arm shall strengthen him (alleluia).
GRANT, we beseech thee, O Lord, that we remembering with gladness the righteousness of thy Saints, may at all times and in all places feel the effectual succour of their intercession. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
PREFACE of the Common
It is truly meet and just, and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, through Christ, our Lord. Though whom the angels praise thy majesty, the dominions adore it, the powers are in awe. Which the heavens and the hosts of heaven together with the blessed seraphim joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to us join with them in confessing thee, while we say with lowly praise:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Luke 12.
A faithful and wise steward, whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household: to give them their portion of meat in due season (alleluia).
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we may so shew forth our thankfulness for he gifts which we have now received; that, at the intercession of blessed Aidan thy Confessor and Bishop, we may obtain yet more abundant mercies. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.