Acriter et Fideliter

Today marks the anniversary of the Stand of the Swiss Guard, when, during the sack of Rome in 1527,  most members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard were killed protecting Pope Clement VII.

On May 6, 1527, the imperial army of Charles V broke through the walls of Rome and began to unleash 12 days of horror: bloodshed, burning and looting.  Lest anyone doubt that they meant business, these Spanish and German mercenaries had marched hundreds of miles carrying an effigy of the Pope, hanging from a gallows.

When the army neared St. Peter’s the Swiss Guard “fiercely and faithfully” (Acriter et Fideliter, their motto) fended off the Habsburg armies long enough for Pope Clement VII to escape, taking refuge in Castel Sant’Angelo (at bottom right of picture).

Each year on the anniversary of their sacrifice the Swiss Guard lay a wreath on the monument in the Vatican.

There is also a beautiful monument to the fallen guard in Lucerne.

This anniversary is also the day new members of the Swiss Guard are sworn in at a ceremony in the San Damaso courtyard.  The chaplain of the guard reads the oath: “I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff [actual Pope] and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!”

To which each guard individually, grasping the banner of the Swiss Guard in his left hand and with his right hand raised in a special gesture that symbolizes the Trinity, responds:  “I, [name], swear diligently and faithfully to abide by all that has just been read out to me, so grant me God and so help me his Saints.”


Today we thank God for the protection, both spiritual and physical, he grants to His Vicar on earth. And let us also thank God for the courage and selflessness of the Swiss Guard.  May St. Michael protect and defend them always!

Year of Faith: An Eyewitness Account

Today is a very historic day: not only is it the 50th anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council, it is also the beginning of the year of Faith.  This Year of Faith is a personal initiative of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and it is going to be perhaps his greatest gift to our Church.

Last week the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican Office responsible for Indulgences and for handling those grave sins whose absolution is reserved to the Holy Father (such as desecrating the Blessed Sacrament, or violating the seal of confession) issued a proclamation for the Year of Faith.  There are a remarkable number of ways to obtain plenary indulgences during this Year, and, more amazingly, the document includes a request to the Bishops of the World to make special provisions during this Year to allow more of their priests to absolve from sins reserved to the Bishop, such as abortion.  It feels more like a jubilee year than a Year of Faith.

Today, we students in Rome were given a rare treat: the Congregation for Catholic Education cancelled all morning courses at the Pontifical Universities so that we could participate in the Mass to open the Year of Faith.  As this was the first week of class, that was no small feat.

Once again, I was able to distribute Communion at the Mass, and, once again, I was very close to the Holy Father.  There were two very interesting additions this time: seated to the left of the Pope was Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the ‘first among equals of the Orthodox Church’.  In the sanctuary near to the Cardinals, Bishops and Diplomats was Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Ecclesial community.

After Communion, but before the end of Mass, Bartholomew was able to address the crowd, and he spoke in Italian of his memories of the Council, as well as of the tremendous work towards re-unification that Paul VI and John Paul II had carried out.  He re-iterated his hope for a moment in which full union will again come about.

The Homily of the Holy Father was remarkable.  He spoke of how the Council was not about doctrinal discussions, for, as he said, you don’t need an ecumenical council for that, but instead, about finding contemporary ways of expressing the perennial truths of the Gospel.  Towards the end of the homily, he had a remarkable reflection about being in the desert and about the horrors of a life that is not focused on God.

“If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents… Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path….  This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.”

Being once again so near to the Holy Father, I was able to see how tired he is, and yet, how he continues to struggle, to give himself completely for the good of souls.  I would ask you all to pray in a very special way for our Holy Father, that he remain faithful to his mission, and that God grant him many more years as our Chief Shepherd.

Deacon Matthew Furgiuele is a transitional Deacon studying Canon Law at Santa Croce University.  He writes from Rome.

From our “Roman correspondent”

Today we’d like to introduce a guest on our blog, Deacon Matthew Furgiuele, whom we’ve wrangled into contributing posts here and there.  From his vantage point we can see Rome through the eyes of a transitional deacon, living and studying canon law in the Eternal City.

I have been asked by the Sisters to be a Roman correspondent for their blog.  At first glance, a transitional Deacon making guest appearances on a contemplative nun blog might seem a bit strange, but then, the Sisters have been so good to me with their prayers that I could not say no to them.  For those of you who don’t know, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration have as a particular aspect of their charism prayer for priests, so this association may not be as strange as it seems.

I am a Deacon with the Diocese of Gaylord in Northern Michigan, and, God willing (and if the Sisters prayers are powerful enough) next summer I will be ordained as a Priest.  In the mean time, I am in Rome studying Canon Law at Santa Croce University and living at the Casa Santa Maria, a house of the US Bishops for American Priests pursuing advanced degrees in Rome.  Bl. Pius IX erected it, and it was originally the American Seminary in Rome. After the Second World War, the Bishops built a new House, the Pontifical North American College, and they decided to use the Casa for Priests. Before Pius gave it to the US Bishops, it was a convent of cloistered nuns, so, I seem to have all sorts of ties to cloistered nuns!

Today was an historic moment in the Church:  Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed two new Doctors of the Church: St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard von Bingen.  Including them, there are only 35, which considering the thousands of canonized saints (you must be a saint before you can be a doctor) makes them a very rare breed.

I have been to many Papal masses before, and I have even read at one, and received communion from the Holy Father at another, but this time it was totally different.  I was ordained a Deacon on August 6th, the Transfiguration, and so, for the first time, I was able to help with the distribution of Holy Communion.  They gave us clear instructions that we were only to distribute Communion on the tongue, never in the hand.  We all gathered in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter’s Basilica, where we were given a surplice and a stole.  We then were escorted to the Sanctuary, where we were about 20 feet from the Papal throne, and 50 feet from the altar.  At the start of the Eucharistic prayer, we were escorted back into the Basilica where we each received a Ciborium filled with hosts.  We then went out and down in front of the altar.  When it was time for Communion, we were escorted out into St. Peter’s Square to begin the distribution.

It was a remarkable thought for me that, only two months after my ordination, there I was standing in front of the Pope and holding hosts that by his words became the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  Up until the consecration, my whole focus was on the Pope.  As soon as he said the words of consecration, I immediately was able to transfer my attention from the Vicar of Christ to Christ Himself.  Of course regardless of whom the celebrant is, the transformation from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ takes place, but, I thank God that even though this was such a remarkable event, I was able to focus on the most important thing of all: Jesus my Savior, now present in my hands.  The sisters may never get the chance to attend a Papal Mass, and many of you may not either, but that is not important.  I hope and pray that during this upcoming Year of Faith, strengthened by the example of the Poor Clares in San Antonio, you may increase your Eucharistic faith, and that you come to see the value of the Eucharist in your life!

Thanks, Dn. Matthew!  Please keep him in your prayers as he prepares for priestly ordination.

And while we’re at it, let’s all pray for our Holy Father this month as he leads the bishops’ synod on the New Evangelization.

V. Let us pray for Benedict our pope.

R. The Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Benedict, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.