As I have discussed before ("Pope Benedict: A Pontiff With a Plan"), Pope Benedict XVI is very sensitive to the message that certain dates send. Summorum Pontificum, for instance, was signed on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, when the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch sends representatives to Rome each year to take part in the celebration of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (and sometimes comes himself). The Orthodox have long been concerned about the decline of the liturgy in the Western Church, and the revival of the Traditional Latin Mass was seen as a major step in the right direction.
So is there any significance in the date of today's announcement that Pope Benedict has signed an Apostolic Constitution which will allow entire Anglican communities to reenter the Catholic Church en masse? I think so.
October 20 is the feast day of Saint Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the founder of the Passionists. Though Saint Paul spent his life in Italy, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "For fifty years he prayed for the conversion of England, and left the devotion as a legacy to his [spiritual] sons." Almost 65 years after his death, the Passionists were first introduced into England, and the Catholic Encyclopedia declares that "They came in the spirit of Apostles without gold or silver, without scrip or staff or shoes or two coats," yet they "soon revived without commotion several Catholic customs and practices which had died out since the Reformation. They were the first to adopt strict community life, to wear their habit in public, to give missions and retreats to the people, and to hold public religious processions."
Father Pius Devine, in an 1882 manuscript cited by the Catholic Encyclopedia, remarks that the Passionist in England "gloried in the disgrace of the Cross, were laughed at by Protestants, warned by timid Catholics, but encouraged always by Cardinal Wiseman. Their courage became infectious, so that in a short time almost every order now in England followed their example."
All of this may simply be a coincidence. But considering Pope Benedict's sensitivity to the symbolism of dates, I don't think so. In any case, on this historic day, we can join Saint Paul of the Cross in praying for the conversion of England.
N.B.: You may find missals and Catholic calendars that show the feast of Saint Paul of the Cross on October 18 (the date of his death) or October 19 (to which it was later transferred). It has been transferred again, however, and is currently celebrated on October 20.