On May 4, 1535, the very first execution of monks in religious garb took place in London. This was a test of wills between King Henry VIII, the English people. and Sir Thomas More. Normally any religious would be defrocked before execution, as the illegality was acknowledged as a sin, but Henry realized that he needed to threaten the church itself and set out to offer the most fear-inspiring, gruesome sight that he could.
Three Carthusian Monks, (including More’s ‘spiritual father’ John Houghton,) were dragged from their prisons to the Tower of London. There, they were given pallets on which they were dragged through the streets three miles to Tyburn Tree, a triangular gallows-tree designed to hang nine people at once. They were dealt the sentence for treason: hung, drawn, and quartered. Traditionally the organs – including heart – were removed and held in from of the traitors face before he finally expired so that he could contemplate his own mortality. Unfortunately, the rough wool of the Carthusian habit made the ‘quartering’ very difficult and long, and most of the men died before their hearts could be extracted.
It can be no coincidence that Cromwell had the Carthusians brought to the Tower to begin the official ordeal right outside of Thomas More’s window.
Shortly there after More was himself was found guilty of treason, as they had changed the law while he was in prison just so that they condemn him. More fully expected to be hung, drawn and quartered as well, and was rightly afraid of this. In facing his fears, he wrote “The Sadness of Christ,” and composed this prayer.
A few days before his execution, More was given permission to be beheaded instead of hung, drawn, and quartered. He died on July 6, 1535.
Prayer Before Death
O Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three equal and coeternal Persons and one Almighty God, have mercy on me, vile, abject, abominable, sinful wretch, meekly knowledging before Thine High Majesty my long-continued sinful life, even from my very childhood hitherto.
In my childhood (in this point and that point). After my childhood (in this point and that point, and so forth by every age).
Now, good gracious Lord, as Thou givest me Thy grace to knowledge them, so give me Thy grace not only in word but in heart also, with very sorrowful contrition to repent them and utterly to forsake them. And forgive me those sins also in which, by mine own default, through evil affections and evil custom, my reason is with sensuality so blinded that I cannot discern them for sin. And illumine, good Lord, mine heart, and give me Thy grace to know them and to knowledge them, and forgive me my sins negligently forgotten, and bring them to my mind with grace to be purely confessed of them.
Glorious God, give me from henceforth Thy grace, with little respect unto the world, so to set and fix firmly mine heart upon Thee, that I may say with Thy blessed apostle St. Paul: “Mundus mihi crucifixus est et ego mundo. Mihi vivere Christus est et mori lucrum. Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo.”
Give me Thy grace to amend my life and to have an eye to mine end without grudge of death, which to them that die in Thee, good Lord, in the gate of a wealthy life.
Almighty God, Doce me facere voluntatem Tuam. Fac me currere in odore unguentorum tuorum. Apprehende manum meam dexteram et deduc me in via recta propter inimicos meos. Trahe me post te. In chamo et freno maxillas meas constringe, quum non approximo ad te.
O glorious God, all sinful fear, all sinful sorrow and pensiveness, all sinful hope, all sinful mirth and gladness take from me. And on the other side, concerning such fear, such sorrow, such heaviness, such comfort, consolation, and gladness as shall be profitable for my soul: Fac mecum secundum magnam bonitatem tuam Domine.
Good Lord, give me the grace, in all my fear and agony, to have recourse to that great fear and wonderful agony that Thou, my sweet Saviour, hadst at the Mount of Olivet before Thy most bitter passion, and in the meditation thereof to conceive ghostly comfort and consolation profitable for my soul.
Almighty God, take from me all vain-glorious minds, all appetites of mine own praise, all envy, covetise, gluttony, sloth, and lechery, all wrathful affections, all appetite of revenging, all desire or delight of other folk’s harm, all pleasure in provoking any person to wrath and anger, all delight of exprobation or insultation against any person in their affliction and calamity.
And give me, good Lord, an humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender, and pitiful mind with all my works, and all my words, and all my thoughts, to have a taste of Thy holy, blessed Spirit.
Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love to the good Lord incomparable above the love to myself; and that I love nothing to Thy displeasure, but everything in an order to Thee.
Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with Thee, not for the avoiding of the calamities of this wretched world, nor so much for the avoiding of the pains of purgatory, nor of the pains of hell neither, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of heaven in respect of mine own commodity, as even, for a very love to Thee.
And bear me, good Lord, Thy love and favour, which thing my love to Thee-ward, were it never so great, could not, but of Thy great goodness deserve.
And pardon me, good Lord, that I am so bold to ask so high petitions, being so vile a sinful wretch, and so unworthy to attain the lowest. But yet, good Lord, such they be as I am bounden to wish, and should be nearer the effectual desire of them if my manifold sins were not the let. From which, O glorious Trinity, vouchsafe, of Thy goodness to wash me with that blessed blood that issued out of Thy tender body, O sweet Saviour Christ, in the divers torments of Thy most bitter passion.
Take from me, good Lord, this lukewarm fashion, or rather key-cold manner of meditation, and this dulness in praying unto Thee. And give me warmth, delight, and quickness in thinking upon Thee. And give me Thy grace to long for Thine holy sacraments, and specially to rejoice in the presence of Thy very blessed body, sweet Saviour Christ, in the holy sacrament of the altar, and duly to thank Thee for Thy gracious visitation therewith, and at that high memorial with tender compassion to remember and consider Thy most bitter passion.
Make us all, good Lord, virtually participant of that holy sacrament this day, and every day. Make us all lively members, sweet Saviour Christ, of Thine holy mystical body, Thy Catholic Church.
Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire. Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri.
Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te.
In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in æternum.
Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei genitrix.
Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.