St Mary of the Angels
St Mary of the Angels is the name of the Fraternity of the Third Order of St Francis Secular. We are Tertiaries, following the Rule of St Francis, and we are working towards the restoration of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We adhere to the Teachings of Roman Catholic Church of All Time, and we are dedicated to the work of the priests of the SSPX-Marian Corps and to their founder, Archbishop Lefebvre.
This article will explain where St Francis started the Order and will focus on the relevancy of the Order.
800 years ago, in the chapel of San Damiano not far from Assisi, an Icon of the Crucified came alive and said to Francis three times: “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins”. Francis took it literally and restored several ruined churches, among them the Porziuncola, the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels, just outside of Assisi.
It was in the Porziuncola (meaning “small portion of land”) that he understood his vocation clearly, and there he founded the Order of the Friars Minor in 1209. Francis then built a small cell near the chapel and was soon joined by other brothers. In 1211 he received in the chapel Clare of Assisi and so initiated the Order of the Poor Clares. In 1226, knowing he was dying, he asked to be brought back to the Porziuncola where he died in his cell, not 15 yards from the chapel.
Therefore, the Porziuncola is more than a highly venerated piece of land: it is the cradle of the Franciscan Order. “After the death of Francis, the spiritual value and the charisma of the Porziuncola became even greater. St Francis himself pointed out the Porziuncola as a primary source of inspiration and a model for all his followers.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porziuncola)
Because the chapel of Porziuncola was too small to accommodate the number of pilgrims (estimated at 100,000 in 1582), it became necessary to enlarge the chapel. A Basilica, started by Pope Pius V in 1569, was built around the humble chapel and was completed in 1679. Then in 1909, Pope St Pius X elevated it to the rank of Patriarchal Basilica with Papal Chapel, also confirming its title of Head and Mother of the Whole Order of Friars Minor. (http://www.franciscanfriarstor.com/archive/stfrancis/sft_portuncula_lady_of_the_angels.htm)
God often uses the simple and the small to achieve great things. And so it is with the humble Porziuncola, today known as the majestic Santa Maria degli Angeli or St Mary of the Angels.
This account would not be complete without also mentioning the famous dream of Pope Innocent III. The Pope recognized Francis to be the small man in his dream who took the weight of the falling St John Lateran as it was collapsing, held it up with his shoulders, and then straightened it back again. This dream then convinced the Pope that Francis and his Order were the instruments chosen by God to “repair My House”.
Years have passed by since the day St Francis obeyed the call to “repair My House”, and his work prospered and spread. In fact, his work was encouraged and promoted by Popes throughout the years. Especially in the wake of the revolutionary havoc of the past two centuries that nearly destroyed Catholic civilization, the Popes have stressed over and over the importance and the necessity of the Franciscan Order, in particular of the Third Order (the Order for the laity).
Many Popes not only promoted the Third Order – Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII were themselves Tertiaries.
The Popes actively promoted the Third Order, granting protections and privileges and encouraging it to spread throughout the world.
In the 1882 encyclical Auspicato, Pope Leo XIII wrote: “The members of the Third Order proved their loyal and dauntless mettle in the defense of the holy faith; and if for their merits they have incurred great enmity at the hands of the evil-minded, they never lacked the approval of the wise and good, which approval after all, is the most creditable and alone desirable. Yes, Gregory IX, Our Predecessor, publicly commending their loyalty and courage, did not hesitate to shield them with his authority and to distinguish them with the honorable title of ‘Soldiers of Christ’ and ‘New Maccabees’.”
Pope Leo XIII also said: “The scope of the Third Order is simply this, to keep clean from the corruption of the world by sanctifying the ordinary and even the most trifling actions in the spirit of Jesus Christ” (Handbook pp 10-11)
In the 1884 encyclical on Freemasonry, Humanum Genus, Leo XIII said: [The purpose of the Rule] “is simply this: to lead men back to imitate Jesus Christ, to love the Church, and to practice all Christian virtues. Hence it must be powerful in eradicating the pest of certain very mischievous societies” (Handbook p 11).
In 1909, St Pius X wrote: “The Third Order is in these days wonderfully adapted to modern needs; hence wherever efforts are made to promote its growth, it can bring forth only the best fruits for the common good. Therefore We exhort you very earnestly to make every effort to further the advance of so wonderful an institution” (Handbook p 11).
The above citations are borrowed from the 1947 Handbook of the Third Order Secular of St Francis of Assisi by Fr Basil Gummermann, a Franciscan Capuchin. This is recommended reading not only for those interested in the Third Order; this is excellent reading for all Catholics who wish to work towards the restoration of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the world. In the concluding paragraph of the first part that deals with the Origin and Nature of the Third Order, he writes:
“These great Pontiffs revealed the firm conviction that the Third Order is an eminently practical and effective means of sanctifying individuals and reforming society on the basis of the Gospel. ‘The record of past ages as well as the nature of the Order itself show how effectually it promotes justice, integrity, and religious habits’” (1883 Misericors Dei Filius by Leo XIII).
Fr Gummermann continues: “In 1879, Leo XIII said to a committee of Tertiaries: ‘We are convinced that the Third Order is a most powerful antidote against all the evils which harass the present age, and that there is no means more apt to lead the world back to a true and solid observance of the Gospel’” (Handbook p12).
Fr Gummermann concludes: “In short, [Leo XIII] was convinced that the salvation of the world was to come through the Third Order from the Franciscan spirit, as he said in an audience to the Ministers Provincial of the Capuchins on March 12, 1886. His successors expressed the same conviction and urged the propagation of the Third Order” (Handbook p 12).
Strong encouragement indeed!
Perhaps the most poignant call to arms comes from the Pope who stood on the very brink of the precipice. In his July 1, 1956 Address on The Franciscan Vision of Life, Pope Pius XII exhorts the Tertiaries of Italy to be faithful to the command given to St Francis almost 800 years ago. The Pope says: “…[Y]our Seraphic Father heard the voice of the Crucified which exhorted him to rebuild His house, threatened by ruin. To defend the Church, to support the Church – that was the yearning of Francis of Assisi. Do you desire, beloved children, to be worthy of your Father and Master?”
Have the words of the Popes fallen on deaf ears? Has not another great churchman – the heroic Archbishop Lefebvre – answered the call and taken up the standard of St Pius X to “Instaure Omnia in Christo”?
Are not the brave and the self-giving SSPX-Marian Corps priests, as they follow in the footsteps of their founding Father – and in the spirit of St Francis – the faithful hearers and doers of what their Leader – the Crucified – commanded?
Is not the Franciscan call to repair and to support the Church a universal and therefore a Catholic call?
Just as the beggar of Assisi answered the call of the Crucified, just as the Popes of the past eight centuries have been calling Tertiaries to repair and support the Church that is now being Crucified, are we not called to do our part?
Therefore, if St Francis and St Mary of the Angels inspire you to do more, please consider joining the Third Order Secular (the Order for lay people).
Remember also that once there are three professed Tertiaries, they can then form another fraternity. In this way, the Third Order will spread throughout North America and the rest of the world. In this way, the Third Order can work toward the re-establishment of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is what St Francis was asked to do in the first place.
Pax et Bonum
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Sr Constance (TOSF)