Thursday, April 17, 2003

St. Philip and the Blessed Sacrament

(from Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy by Paul Türks, C.O. )

"When Philip became a priest, the Council of Trent had been meeting for six years. One of its chief and necessary tasks was the reform of the clergy. Jesuits had returned from missionary journeys in Italy with shocking reports. There were priests who had purchased their offices with a gift to the bishop, and who then mumbled an unintelligible gibberish at the altar instead of Latin. The morals of Roman priests were the subject of jokes all over Europe. In Rome itself priests rarely wore priestly attire, competing instead with the most elegant laity in wearing the latest and showiest fashions.

The Council required all candidates for the priesthood in Rome to take an examination. This posed no difficulty for Philip. Persiano Rosa had overseen his preparation. Now in San Girolamo he had free room and board, with no salary to be sure, but plenty of freedom just what he needed. Now he celebrated holy Mass daily, and this daily celebration was itself something unusual, even at San Girolamo. It should be said that it was precisely the possibility of celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass and this privilege alone that had drawn Philip to the priesthood - and yet had terrified him.

In San Girolamo Philip asked to celebrate the last Mass of the day, which was near noontime. The reason for this was more than his desire to leave the morning free for hearing the many confessions which soon became his major apostolate. The real reason was his desire to celebrate Mass with as few people present as possible - ideally alone. At that late hour he could celebrate at the high altar, where no one would be able to see his face. This unusual practice of Philip’s pointed to a characteristic that was very deep in Philip and that he always wished to keep hidden, but which shone forth in his whole life: his deep devotion to the Eucharist, his love for the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This love was already apparent in his prayer before the Lord in the monstrance at the Forty Hours’ Devotion. It showed itself also in the spread of the practice of frequent, even daily Communion, which Cacciaguerra and Philip encouraged. How much the Eucharist meant to him is indicated by the number of witnesses in the Process of Canonization who remarked upon it.

No one who had attended a Mass celebrated by him could forget the experience. His closest friends saw it as an act of providence that the last day of his life was the feast of Corpus Christi. "

"Ecco il mio amore ! Ecco il mio amore !" - (Here is my Love ! Here is my Love !) - St. Philip Neri, upon receiving Our Lord as Viaticum


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