If any of you have some notion that St. Francis of Assisi was in life like the kitty-hugging, pastel-toned image you see on a holy card or garden statuette, with little birdies sitting on his arms… think again. Some think that had Francis seen gold vessels and elaborate vestments and rich ornamentation for liturgy, he’d have a cow, right?
“NO!”, the saint would gasp. “Sell all this and give to the poor. Let us use clay as Christ did, wear burlap as He did, and protect the environment from ACTON INSTITUTE! Wealth is bad!”
Francis had, of course, his tender side, but mostly he was as hard as nails, and not pastel at all. This is, after all, the guy who faced down a Sultan (Islamic ruler for those of you in Falcon Heights) when things between Christianity and Islam weren’t exactly cordial.
Francis was also into rich liturgy with the most beautiful accouterments possible.
At the Catholic Online Forum, which I ran for years with the help of super staff such as The Great Roman Fabrizio™, there was a fascinating entry about what St. Francis was really is about. Fabrizio pulled quotes directly from the texts of Francis, most not translated into English elsewhere, and presented them for our edification. I’ll share one here. These are St. Francis words as found in the original Franciscan Sources and quoted in Latin (or Italian) original when available online. Otherwise, Fabrizio transcribed them from the print edition. Online source for St. Francis’ own writings: OPUSCULA OMNIA SANCTI FRANCISCI ASSISIENSIS
What Fabrizio does is explode myths about Francis. Here is an example of a myth of poverty in liturgy which produced all that nonsense about clay pots and gunny sack vestments. With my emphases and comments.
MYTH: Francis hated the “triumphalism” of the Roman Liturgy. He wanted Mass celebrated in barns, the Sacred Species held in shoe boxes or recycled bottles. And he couldn’t stand the “ritualism” of liturgical norms and devotional practices (and shall we mention his murky understanding of the doctrine on the Eucharist?):
Epistola ad custodes
To all the custodians of the Friars Minor to whom this letter shall come, Brother Francis, your servant and little one in the Lord God, greetings with new signs of heaven and earth which are great and most excellent before God and are considered least of all by many religious and by other men.
I beg you more than if it were a question of myself that, when it is becoming and you will deem it convenient, you humbly beseech the clerics to venerate above all the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Name and written words which sanctify the body. They ought to hold the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice as precious. And if the most holy Body of the Lord is left very poorly in any place, let It be moved by them to a precious place, according to the command of the Church and let It be carried with great veneration and administered to others with discretion. The Names also and written words of the Lord, In whatever unclean place they may be found, let them be collected, and then they must be put in a proper place. And in every time you preach, admonish the people about penance [okay!] and that no one can be saved except he that receives the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord. And whenever It is being sacrificed by the priest on the altar and It is being carried to any place, let all the people give praise, honor, and glory to the Lord God Living and True on their bended knees. And let His praise be announced and preached to all peoples so that at every hour and when the bells are rung praise and thanks shall always be given to the Almighty God by all the people through the whole earth. [It doesn’t sound to me like he would be against “triumphalism”.]
And whoever of my brothers custodians shall receive this writing, let them copy it and keep it with them and cause it to be copied for the brothers who have the office of preaching and the care of brothers, and let them preach all those things that are contained in this writing to the end: let them know they have the blessing of the Lord God and mine. And let these be for them true and holy obedience.
Universis custodibus fratrum minorum, ad quos litterae istae pervenerint, frater Franciscus in Domino Deo vester servus et parvulus, salutem cum novis signis caeli et terrae, quae magna et excellentissima sunt apud Deum et a multis religiosis et aliis hominibus minima reputantur. Rogo vos plus quam de me ipso, quatenus, cum decet et videritis expedire, clericis humiliter supplicetis, quod sanctissimum corpus et sanguinem Domini nostri Jesu Christi et sancta nomina et verba eius scripta, quae sanctificant corpus, super omnia debeant venerari. Calices, corporalia, ornamenta altaris et omnia, quae pertinent ad sacrificium, pretiosa habere debeant. Et si in aliquo loco sanctissimum corpus Domini fuerit pauperrime collocatum, iuxta mandatum Ecclesiae in loco pretioso ab eis ponatur et consignetur et cum magna veneratione portetur et cum discretione aliis ministretur. Nomina etiam et verba Domini scripta, ubicumque inveniantur in locis immundis, colligantur et in loco honesto debeant collocari. Et in omni praedicatione, quam facitis, de poenitentia populum moneatis, et quod nemo potest salvari, nisi qui recipit sanctissimum corpus et sanguinem Domini (cfr. Joa 6,54). Et, quando a sacerdote sacrificatur super altare et in aliqua parte portatur, omnes gentes flexis genibus reddant laudes, gloriam et honorem Domino Deo vivo et vero. Et de laude eius ita omnibus gentibus annuntietis et praedicetis, ut omni hora et quando pulsantur campanae semper ab universo populo omnipotenti Deo laudes et gratiae referantur per totam terram. Et, ad quoscumque fratres meos custodes pervenerit hoc scriptum et exemplaverint et apud se habuerint et pro fratribus, qui habent officium praedicationis et custodiam fratrum, fecerint exemplari et omnia, quae continentur in hoc scripto, praedicaverint usque in finem, sciant se habere benedictionem Domini Dei et meam. Et ista sint eis per veram et sanctam obedientiam. Amen.
And then there’s this. Some people think that Francis had a rather sketchy grasp of the Eucharist, that perhaps (like we heard in seminary – I’m not making this up) the “sacrament” happens when the Communion minister looks into the eyes of the communicant. Let’s hear from St. Francis says:
Epistola ad clericos
Let us all consider, O clerics, the great sin and ignorance of which some are guilty regarding the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Name and the written words of consecration. [He’s talking about the ignorace of clerics not just general ignorance.] For we know that the Body cannot exist until after these words of consecration. For we have nothing and we see nothing of the Most High Himself in this world except [His] Body and Blood, names and words by which we have been created and redeemed from death to life.
But let all those who administer such most holy mysteries, especially those who do so indifferently, consider among themselves how poor the chalices, corporals, and linens may be where the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is sacrificed. And by many It is left in wretched places and carried by the way disrespectfully, received unworthily and administered to others indiscriminately. [Does any of this sound familiar?] Again His Names and written words are sometimes trampled under foot, for the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of God. Shall we not by all these things be moved with a sense of duty when the good Lord Himself places Himself in our hands and we handle Him and receive Him daily? Are we unmindful that we must needs fall into His hands? [Remember… he wrote this to clerics, who handled the Eucharist. Lay people would not have touched it. He would have been horrified at the suggestion of Communion in the hand. And judgement awaits us, Fathers!]
Let us then at once and resolutely correct these faults and others; and wheresoever the most holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ may be improperly reserved and abandoned, let It be removed thence and let It be put and enclosed in a precious place. In like manner wheresoever the Names and written words of the Lord may be found in unclean places they ought to be collected and put away in a decent place. And we know that we are bound above all to observe all these things by the commandments of the Lord and the constitutions of holy Mother Church. And let him who does not act thus know that he shall have to render an account therefore before our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of judgment. And let him who may cause copies of this writing to be made, to the end that it may be the better observed, know that he is blessed by the Lord.
Attendamus, omnes clerici, magnum peccatum et ignorantiam, quam quidam habent super sanctissimum corpus et sanguinem Domini nostri Jesu Christi et sacratissima nomina et verba eius scripta, quae sanctificant corpus. Scimus, quia non potest esse corpus, nisi prius sanctificetur a verbo. Nihil enim habemus et videmus corporaliter in hoc saeculo de ipso Altissimo, nisi corpus et sanguinem, nomina et verba, per quae facti sumus et redempti de morte ad vitam (1 Joa 3,14). Omnes autem illi qui ministrant tam sanctissima ministeria, considerent intra se, maxime hi qui indiscrete ministrant, quam viles sint calices, corporalia et linteamina, ubi sacrificatur corpus et sanguis Domini nostri. Et a multis in locis vilibus relinquitur, miserabiliter portatur et indigne sumitur et indiscrete aliis ministratur. Nomina etiam et verba eius scripta aliquando pedibus conculcantur; quia animalis homo non percipit ea quae Dei sunt (1 Cor 2,14). Non movemur de his omnibus pietate, cum ipse pius Dominus in manibus nostris se praebeat et eum tractemus et sumamus quotidie per os nostrum? An ignoramus, quia debemus venire in manus eius? Igitur de his omnibus et aliis cito et firmiter emendemus; et ubicumque fuerit sanctissimum corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi illicite collocatum et relictum, removeatur de loco illo et in loco pretioso ponatur et consignetur. Similiter nomina et verba Domini scripta, ubicumque inveniantur in locis immundis, colligantur et in loco honesto debeant collocari. Et scimus, quia haec omnia tenemur super omnia observare secundum praecepta Domimi et constitutiones sanctae matris Ecclesiae. Et qui hoc non fecerit, sciat, se coram Domino nostro Jesu Christo in die iudicii reddere rationem (cfr. Mt 12,36). Hoc scriptum, ut melius debeat observari, sciant se benedictos a Domino Deo, qui ipsum fecerint exemplari.
So much for your gunny sacks and clay. Don’t ever think that Francis would be pleased if you could obtain better.
And he would also tell you to …
GO TO CONFESSION!