Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

21 March -- Lesser Festival -- Martyr -- Red

Born in Aslockton in Nottinghamshire in 1489, Thomas Cranmer, from an unspectacular Cambridge academic career, was recruited for diplomatic service in 1527. Two years later he joined the team working to annul Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 and duly pronounced the Aragon marriage annulled. By now a convinced Church reformer, he married in 1532 while clerical marriage was still illegal in England. He worked closely with Thomas Cromwell to further reformation, but survived Henry's final, unpredictable years to become a chief architect of Edwardian religious change, constructing two editions of The Book of Common Prayer, in 1549 and 1552, the Ordinal in 1550 and the original version of the later Thirty-Nine Articles.

Cranmer acquiesced in the unsuccessful attempt to make Lady Jane Grey Queen of England. Queen Mary's regime convicted him of treason in 1553 and of heresy in 1554. Demoralised by imprisonment, he signed six recantations, but was still condemned to the stake at Oxford. Struggling with his conscience, he made a final, bold statement of Protestant faith. Perhaps too fair-minded and cautious to be a ready-made hero in Reformation disputes, he was an impressively learnèd scholar, and his genius for formal prose has left a lasting mark on Anglican liturgy. He was burnt at the stake on this day in the year 1556.


Father of all mercies,
who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer
   renewed the worship of your Church
and through his death
   revealed your strength in human weakness:
by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in truth
and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Advocate,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah.

Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

This is the word of the Lord.         Isaiah 43. 1-3a

Responsorial Psalm

RDo not fear, for I have redeemed you;
[I have called you by name, you are mine].
Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding, according to your word.
Let my supplication come before you;
deliver me, according to your promise. R

My lips shall pour forth your praise,
when you teach me your statutes.
My tongue shall sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are righteous. R

Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your commandments.
I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight. R

Let me live and I will praise you, let your judgements help me.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost;
search for your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments. R         From Psalm 119

A reading from the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy.

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David -- that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful -- for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

This is the word of the Lord.         2 Timothy 2. 8-15

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away -- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

This is the gospel of Christ.         John 10. 11-15

Post Communion

God our Redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened
   by the blood of your martyr Thomas Cranmer:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ's sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.