Feast of Our Lady of the Angels (The Portiuncula)
Feast Day: August 2
By: Judith Terrameo, Franciscan-Clarian Spirituality Committee
Today, Franciscans around the world remember and celebrate the feast of the Portiuncula, the small chapel within the walls of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This small chapel was very dear to the heart of St. Francis. He often referred to this chapel as “the Little Portion,” clearly fitting of his love and passion for Lady Poverty. “The Portiuncula was the place where Francis heard the gospel that gave the impetus to his life; where he and St. Clare shared a special meal and were enflamed with the love of God; where the friars gathered in chapter to discern God’s will for them; and where Francis would die after sundown on Oct. 3, 1226. The Portiuncula, the cradle of the Franciscan Order, is the place where the Feast of the Pardon is celebrated.”1
St. Francis obtained the use of the Portiuncula from the Benedictine Monks, for which he paid an annual fee of a basket of fish. The tradition still continues to this day every August 2nd. As with San Damiano, Francis rebuilt the little church, adding a few small huts around it for the brothers to gather. It was here that St. Francis’ vision of his vocation matured. Tradition has it, that here Francis “saw our Lord and His holy Mother surrounded by a great host of angels. Filled with astonishment and reverence, the saint prostrated himself upon the ground and adored the Divine Majesty. Then he heard the voice of our Lord urging him with ineffable tenderness to ask some special favor. Nothing was near the heart of Francis as the salvation of souls, and so, after a few moments of reflection, he asked the grace of a full pardon for all who, being contrite and having confessed their sins, would visit this little sanctuary. Mary cast herself upon her knees before her Divine Son and repeated the petition for her faithful servant.”2
I had the privilege of participating in the feast day celebration of the Portiuncula on August 2, 1980. It was a moment of real exhilaration as I watched men and women from all over the world filling the Basilica with prayer and singing. The Basilica was filled to overflowing, but I had the opportunity to sit in a front row pew of the Basilica. My eyes feasted on all that was happening around me. I did not understand the language, but I experienced the joy that filled the Basilica on this particular day. People came from all over for the feast day celebration to receive the Portiuncula Indulgence. I felt immense joy to be among the multitude gathered on this particular day to experience of the celebration of the annual feast day exchange of the basket of fish and to receive the Portiuncula Indulgence.
I had the pleasure of revisiting this sacred site again in October 2019. The memory of long ago touched my heart in a profound way. I delighted in the pleasure of sitting in the quiet of this holy space once again to ponder the heartfelt devotion of this little poor man from Assisi and how he conformed his life to the crucified Christ, and how I struggle to do the same in my own life each day.
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
How am I conforming my life to Christ crucified as did St. Francis and St. Clare?
What fruits is this conforming bearing in my life?