Every 2nd August is a special day for the entire Church. In fact, on this day, we celebrate the Feast together with the Indulgence of the Portiuncula.
Precisely at the foot of the mountain on which the medieval city of Assisi is situated, back to the first centuries of the Christian epoch, hermits from Palestine had erected a shrine. Around the 6th century, this shrine together with a small piece of land, was donated to St. Benedict. The transfer of this small plot of property has given it its present name, Portiuncula, or rather, Little Portion. The little church, which dominates this piece of land, is dedication to St. Mary of the Angels. Devotion for this chapel grew so much that the Assisians went there to pray regularly. As soon as he left the world St. Francis literally understood and obeyed the Crucifix’s mission for him to restore this sanctuary dedicated to the Queen of heaven. As his life story attests countless graces were given to him in this little church. Mary, the Queen of heaven, appointed this sanctuary as the cradle of Francis’ Order. It was exactly in this place, in the Portiuncula chapel, that Mary beseeched for Francis the great and famous indulgence thanks to which the Portiuncula chapel has become globally known in, practically, every corner of Christianity.
Francis nourished a particular loving devotion for this chapel. In fact, on a certain night he felt called by the Holy Spirit to visit this astoundingly simple yet spiritually powerful shrine. There he saw our Lord coupled with His and our holy Mother encircled by a great multitude of angels. Completely filled with awe and devotion, Francis prostrated himself upon the ground and adored the Lord from the depths of his very being. As he was prostrating himself before the Divine Majesty he heard our Lord’s voice exhorting him with indescribable tenderness to ask for some special grace. Since for Francis the salvation of souls … was … the supreme law (Can. 1752) that governed his life and those of others, after brief moments of reflection he earnestly prayed to Christ for the grace of total forgiveness for those who, being repentant and having confessed their sins, would visit this little sanctuary. Mary, as Francis’ most loving Mother, cast herself on her knees before Christ, her Divine Son, and repeated this prayer for her loyal servant, the Poverello. Instantaneously the Lord said to Francis: “It is a great favor that you request, nevertheless it shall be granted to you. Go to my Vicar on earth, to whom I have given the power to bind and to loose, and ask him in My name to grant this indulgence.” Without delay Francis went personally to Pope Honorius III, who, after discerned well the vision and verified its veracity, gave Francis what he requested him on the condition that the indulgence could be obtained once a year.
The chosen date for this indulgence was August 2nd, which was also the little church’s dedication anniversary. Following the Pope’s command as well as in the presence of 7 bishops Francis preached this exceptional indulgence at the Portiuncula in front of a great congregation of the faithful. As from that moment in history the Portiuncula was a yearly goal for an incalculable number of pilgrims. Finally, the indulgence was spread to every day of the year. A huge basilica was built and housed that precious chapel for St. Francis and the Franciscan Order, thus, by so doing, the little Portiuncula sanctuary was wisely and caringly preserved in its original condition.
Completely faithful to their apostolic power the Popes have broadened this indulgence to comprise all the Franciscan churches and, under special requirements, even to certain other churches. Furthermore, the Roman Pontiffs have also granted that the indulgence can be achieved not merely once but even inasmuch as one has been to the sacramental confession and receiving the Eucharist, visiting the selected church on Portiuncula day and prays 6 Our Fathers, Haily Marys and Glorys for the Holy Father’s intention. Moreover, the indulgence can be utilized to the holy souls in purgatory.
Undoubtedly, this indulgence is one of the most inestimable graces that comes to us from the infinite and unfathomable treasury of the Divine Mercy. This is so because it is not simply the Vicar of Christ but noneother than Christ himself, who gave it at the earnest maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy. It is written that when the first Pope gave his approval St. Francis departed without having acquired a written document as a witness for the granted indulgence. When he was told about it the Poverello observed: “God Himself will testify to this indulgence.” Was this not the case with all those Christians who entrusted themselves to God’s mercy by virtue of this indulgence? Let us not forget that this indulgence reminds us of God’s merciful condescension in his Incarnation: Through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high (Luke 1:78). Who, in his and her perfect senses, will not make use of this day of grace in the most appropriate of ways?
The Portiuncula indulgence is extraordinary indeed! When we repentantly confessed our sins and received the Eucharist we can attain this indulgence every time we visit the appointed church, and pray the 6 Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glorys for the Pope’s intention. We can also help the holy souls in purgatory by applying the Portiuncula indulgence to them. What a blessing you and me can be for these souls who are waiting this day so as to be helped by our charity and mercy in prayer for them! Let us approach this fabulous grace by the spirit of penance and trust, which made St Francis disposed to receive this amazing indulgence. Francis’ life was an ongoing act of penance. When this amazing favour from God was given to him our Lord and His Blessed Mother together with a host of angels appeared to him to reassure him in his filial trust in God. Blessed are we if we awaken in ourselves this true spirit of penance and trust, thus opening ourselves to our Lord’s consoling approval: Go; be it done for you as you have believed (Matt 8:13).
The Feast and Indulgence of the Portiuncula reminded me of what St Faustina has written in her Diary, in entry 666.
“I understood that all striving for perfection and all sanctity consist in doing God’s will. Perfect fulfillment of God’s will is maturity in sanctity; there is no room for doubt here. To receive God’s light and recognize what God wants of us and yet not do it is a great offense against the majesty of God. Such a soul deserves to be completely forsaken by God. It resembles Lucifer, who had great light, but did not do God’s will. An extraordinary peace entered my soul when I reflected on the fact that, despite great difficulties, I had always faithfully followed God’s will as I knew it. O Jesus, grant me the grace to put Your will into practice as I have come to know it, O God.”
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap