Thursday, March 25, 2021

Holy Mass Online - Readings and Video : Friday, March 26, 2021 - #Eucharist in Your Virtual Church



 Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 255
Reading I
Jer 20:10-13
I hear the whisperings of many:
    “Terror on every side!
    Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
    are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
    and take our vengeance on him.”
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
    my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
    to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
    who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
    for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
    praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
    from the power of the wicked!
Responsorial Psalm
18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7
R.    (see 7)  In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
    O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
     
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
My God, my rock of refuge,
    my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
    and I am safe from my enemies.
R.    In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
The breakers of death surged round about me,
    the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
    the snares of death overtook me.
R.    In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
In my distress I called upon the LORD
    and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears. 
R.    In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
Verse before the Gospel
See Jn 6:63c, 68c
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.
Gospel
Jn 10:31-42
The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘? 
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.
He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. 
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.
Prayer to Make a Spiritual Communion-
People who cannot communicate now make spiritual communion
At your feet, O my Jesus I bow down and offer you the repentance of my contrite heart, which abysses itself into its nothingness and Your holy presence. I adore you in the Sacrament of Your love, the ineffable Eucharist. I wish to receive you in the poor home that my heart offers you. In anticipation of the happiness of sacramental communion, I want to possess you in spirit. Come to me, oh my Jesus, that I may come to you. May Your love inflame my whole being, for life and death. I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you. So be it. Amen

Saint March 26 : St. Margaret Clitherow who During Persecution Hid Priests to have Mass Continually Celebrated and Patron of Businesswomen, Converts, Martyrs


St. Margaret Clitherow MARTYR Feast: March 26

Born:
1556 as Margaret Middleton at York, England
Died:
25 March 1586 at York, England
Canonized:
25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI
Major Shrine:
The Shambles, York
Patron of:
businesswomen, converts,  martyrs
Martyr, called the "Pearl of York", born about 1556; died 25 March 1586. She was a daughter of Thomas Middleton, Sheriff of York (1564-5), a wax-chandler; married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city, in St. Martin's church, Coney St., 8 July, 1571, and lived in the Shambles, a street still unaltered. Converted to the Faith about three years later, she became most fervent, continually risking her life by harbouring and maintaining priests, was frequently imprisoned, sometimes for two years at a time, yet never daunted, and was a model of all virtues. Though her husband belonged to the Established Church, he had a brother a priest, and Margaret provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and a second in another part of the city, where she kept priests hidden and had Mass continually celebrated through the thick of the persecution. Some of her priests were martyred, and Margaret who desired the same grace above all things, used to make secret pilgrimages by night to York Tyburn to pray beneath the gibbet for this intention. Finally arrested on 10 March, 1586, she was committed to the castle. On 14 March, she was arraigned before Judges Clinch and Rhodes and several members of the Council of the North at the York assizes. Her indictment was that she had harboured priests, heard Mass, and the like; but she refused to plead, since the only witnesses against her would be her own little children and servants, whom she could not bear to involve in the guilt of her death. She was therefore condemned to the peine forte et dure, i.e. to be pressed to death. "God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this", she said. Although she was probably with child, this horrible sentence was carried out on Lady Day, 1586 (Good Friday according to New Style). She had endured an agony of fear the previous night, but was now calm, joyous, and smiling. She walked barefooted to the tollbooth on Ousebridge, for she had sent her hose and shoes to her daughter Anne, in token that she should follow in her steps. She had been tormented by the ministers and even now was urged to confess her crimes. "No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu", she answered. She was laid on the ground, a sharp stone beneath her back, her hands stretched out in the form of a cross and bound to two posts. Then a door was placed upon her, which was weighted down till she was crushed to death. Her last words during an agony of fifteen minutes, were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!" Her right hand is preserved at St. Mary's Convent, York, but the resting-place of her sacred body is not known. Her sons Henry and William became priests, and her daughter Anne a nun at St. Ursula's, Louvain.
Her life, written by her confessor, John Mush, exists in two versions. The earlier has been edited by Father John Morris, S.J., in his "Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers", third series (London, 1877). The later manuscript, now at York Convent, was published by W. Nicholson, of Thelwall Hall, Cheshire (London, Derby, 1849), with portrait: "Life and Death of Margaret Clitherow the martyr of York". It also contains the "History of Mrs. Margaret Ward and Mrs. Anne Line, Martyrs". [Note: St. Margaret Clitherow was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. IMAGE SOURCE GOOGLE IMAGES  

Free Christian Movie : Mary of Nazareth - The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Watch Full Film

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Beautiful Holy Mass from Nazareth on the Solemnity of the Annunciation "Today we celebrate the “yes” of Mary..." FULL TEXT Homily


 

Holy Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation celebrated in the Holy Land by the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem. FULL Video below (recorded LIVE)

FULL TEXT Homily for Solemnity of the Annunciation 2021 - Nazareth, March 25, 2021

Dear brothers and sisters

May the Lord grant you peace!

Last year, in this period, we were all shocked by the pandemic breaking into our personal and collective lives. Everything was new, and we felt unprepared for such a situation. In reality, a tiny virus paralyzed ordinary life worldwide and wiped out economic and social programs in almost every country.

Now, a year later, we do not have the clearest ideas. Fear has led us to think that the world is a hostile and dangerous place. Maybe we can better manage the health emergency, but everything else: the economy, sociality, education, work, everything is even more fragile and exposed to many questions.   We come here today to bring our difficult experience before the Virgin of Nazareth and ask ourselves what we can learn from what we have experienced. We have asked ourselves about the economy, social life, and health. But what does all this say about our faith? Faith and life must talk to each other. Faith is also a particular way of receiving life. Our principle relationship, one with the Lord, can and must enlighten our experience and help us understand the signs of the times. The Lord himself asks us: “You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:3).

That is the precise question that we most often asked ourselves in the Church during this past year. In that period, when we almost always had closed churches, suspended celebrations, without Easter and Christmas, and where even the faith life seemed to become virtual, with online Masses, Pastoral ministry on Zoom, remote blessings, and so on.

Let us then allow ourselves to be questioned by today’s solemnity and try to take a further step to understand, as far as possible, what the Lord is showing us.

The first consideration, precisely, concerns the mystery of the Incarnation. Today we celebrate the “yes” of Mary, who permitted God to break into the reality of the world assuming our very flesh. Here the Word of God took flesh in everything but sin, took our humanity. And that already tells us how much God loves our reality. The world has never been a happy island: problems of every kind, injustice, division, wars; there are diseases today as in the past and always. But all this has not prevented in any way the fulfillment of God’s plan in our world. Our disobedience did not stop His desire for salvation. He became one of us because He so loved us. If we had been made perfect, perhaps, there would be no need for a plan of salvation, of His intervention in history.

Therefore, celebrating today the Incarnation also means knowing how to welcome and love this world’s reality, just as God loved it. It is not a question of closing eyes to the pain of the world and ours. It is to believe in the certainty that this world, wounded and offended, is nevertheless the place in which God manifested himself and in which he met us, and where we still meet him today. There is nothing, in fact, in this world that can prevent us from living fully. Faith also involves recognizing the beauty of our reality, knowing how to face the facts of life, whether beautiful or tiring, with the certainty of the good that dwells in us, a Word that saves us. Faced with the Archangel’s request, incredible and humanly impossible to understand, Mary responds with confidence in the Provident God, whom she knows she can trust.

We said that increasingly, especially in this last year, in school, in work, and even in the Church, we have lived more virtually than really. In this year of lockdown, technology has come to our aid and allowed us to maintain a minimum of sociableness. But it is not through technology that we will meet the Lord; it will not be virtual Masses that will save us, nor even social media, but a personal encounter with the Lord.

The mystery we celebrate today is also an invitation not to flee from the real, not to avoid dealing with who we are but, on the contrary, to find in one’s reality, personal and communal, as it is, the signs of God’s presence, the place to meet Him. We need to recover a positive and serene view on the Church and the world, still inhabited by His presence. Evil, pain, injustices, and our loneliness cannot be the only voice that challenges us. Even today, if we want to listen to Him, God invites us to welcome His Word sown in each of us and that wants to bear fruit, “a hundred, sixty, thirtyfold” (Matt. 13:8). In this world, this society, this Church, we are invited to pronounce our “yes” to God who calls us for His salvation project. A “yes” that translates then into concrete and positive action for good and justice, a “yes” that prevails over all fear and worry because “nothing is impossible to God”  (Lk 1:37).

The Gospel account that we have heard speaks to us of so many witnesses surrounding the Annunciation event: it speaks of the spouse of Mary, Joseph, whose solemnity we celebrated a few days ago; it speaks of Elizabeth, who, despite being elderly, is pregnant, waiting for the Baptist; of course, there is the Archangel Gabriel, and above all the Holy Spirit. This plan of salvation is not an intimate action reserved for the Virgin but sets others in motion, creates a community of persons united by the “yes” of Mary to the movement of the Spirit of God. Behind that “yes”, in short, are protagonists of salvation history, witnesses of past and present who, moved and guided by the Spirit, became collaborators in the realization of the Divine plan.

We can say that the ultimate meaning of the Annunciation is Pentecost: Mary is filled with the Spirit to beget Christ so that He, through Easter and the gift of the Holy Spirit, can be generated in all believers.

The Spirit gives us a new way of looking, the ability to grasp God’s work within the various passages of history. It enables us to recognize Christ also in the life of others. And we always need this because, if it is true that everyone must find within themselves the security of their relationship with God, it is also true that there is a confirmation that can only come from outside, in the relationship with the other.

Today more than ever, we need witnesses that help us to stand with hope and trust in the face of the facts of life, who collaborate to make our “yes” to God determined and confident. We need the Church, that is, believers who are united precisely by that “yes”, a community with a free and serene look at the life of the world, without fear and desirous to construct and promote the good and justice.

And I am thinking now about our Land and our Church: how we need this gaze! How we need trust in the Holy Spirit, who gives our Church the capacity and determination to fulfill His Word here, among us, that we also say with the Virgin Mary: “let it be done to me according to Your word” (Lk 1:38). All too often, we shut ourselves within our problems, which become our only horizon. We are absorbed in the small chores of life, things to do, or even big plans that we forget the essential: existence only makes sense if it opens up to love and the world, all of us, need to make it an authentic experience, need the embrace of God’s forgiveness, His irruption in the life of the world. Reminding ourselves and others of this, putting it into practice, is the Church’s vocation and mission today.

The answer to the question we initially posed about how to interpret this time is, therefore, in the words of the Virgin Mary: listen to and fulfill the Word of God. There is no need for new formulas, to look no further, because “this word is very close to you, it is in your mouth and your heart, that you may put it into practice” (Deut. 30:14).

May the Virgin of Nazareth accompany and sustain our Church and make it fruitful again and joyful for the good of all! May she help our ecclesial community be a light placed on a lampstand (cf. Mt 5:14) to show everyone how to encounter God, in the pain and fatigue of each day’s life, encounter which gives meaning and due weight to everything.

+ Pierbattista

Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem - https://www.lpj.org/ - Image Screenshot - Facebook - Latin Patriarchate Page

Pope Francis Appoints Replacement to Cardinal Tagle in the Philippines : Cardinal Jose Advincula of Capiz as the New Archbishop of Manila



Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Jose Advincula of Capiz as the new archbishop of Manila. The appointment was made public in Rome at 12 noon (7:00 p.m. in Manila) on Thursday, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.
Advincula will succeed Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in the Vatican.
The archdiocese has been without an archbishop since Tagle left for Rome in February 2020.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines congratulated Advincula on his appointment as the 33rd archbishop of Manila.
“We wish the archbishop-elect God’s abundant blessing in his new mission and offer him our continued prayers and support,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP President.
Born on March 30, 1952 in Capiz’s Dumalag town, Advincula was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1976.
The 68-year old cardinal was the spiritual director of the St. Pius X Seminary, where he was also professor and dean of education.
He subsequently began his studies in psychology at the De La Salle University of Manila, and in canon law at the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas of Manila and at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas-Angelicum in Rome, obtaining a licentiate in canon law.
Back home, he served in the seminaries of Vigan, Nueva Segovia and in the regional seminary of Jaro.
In 1995, he was appointed rector of the St. Pius X Seminary of Capiz and became the Defender of the Bond, promoter of justice and finally judicial vicar of the archdiocese.
Advincula then became parish priest of Saint Thomas of Villanueva in Dao in 1999.
He was appointed bishop of San Carlos in July 2001 and was transferred to Capiz in 2011, after the retirement of Archbishop Onesim Cordoncillo.
In October last year, the pope named Advincula as among the Church’s 13 new cardinals. He was elevated at a consistory on November 28, 2020.
On Dec. 16, 2020, the pope also appointed the Filipino cardinal as member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, the office responsible for the formation, ministry and life of priests and deacons.
FULL TEXT Release CBCP News - Bishops of the Philippines

Ancient Prayer that is Said Every Day in Honor of the Annunciation - The Angelus Explained - VIDEO


The Annunciation honors the moment when Jesus became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary after she accepted. Some call this a "Little Christmas," and it is celebrated on March 25; exactly 9 months before Christmas. The Angelus prayer, which commemorates this moment, was first mentioned in the 1200s by a Franciscan. This ancient prayer is now recited at 6am, 12pm and 6pm daily in honor of the Annunciation. King Louis the XI of France ordered it to be recited 3 times daily, in the year 1472. The Holy Father, recites the Angelus publicly almost every Sunday at 12pm at the Vatican.  Pope Paul VI promoted this devotion in his Apostolic Exhortation - Marialis Cultus http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_p-vi_exh_19740202_marialis-cultus.html
 
 Image: 1644 (ca) Philippe de Champaigne : Annunciation 

Here is how to pray the Angelus:
V/. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
R/. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us, sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V/. Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
R/. Be it done unto me according to your Word.
Hail Mary…

V/. And the Word was made flesh,
R/. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary…

V/. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
R/. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts: that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

#BreakingNews Victory for Religious Freedom as Scottish Court Rules Churches Can Reopen - After 27 Faith Leaders Sue Government in Scotland



 
A group of 27 church leaders took the government in Scotland to Court saying that the Scottish Government ministers acted beyond their powers when ordering the closure of places of worship under emergency pandemic legislation.
In a landmark victory the court ordered Scottish churches reopen for communal worship.
Catholic Canon Tom White was one of the 27 faith leaders involved in the lawsuit. He explained, “As a priest, I have witnessed first-hand the grief and suffering that Covid-19 has caused for my parish members. Therefore I know, as a priest, that we need to open my church to be able to support them best in their hour of need,” says Canon Tom White. (ADF International)
Before the new ruling, the Scottish government completely banned all Churches from opening; even while authorities in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and most of the rest of Europe have managed to find solutions which maintain public worship with safety measures that protect public health. (ADF International)
Churches were only permitted to celebrate weddings or funerals – with the number of attendees strictly limited – and streaming of services online.

Judge Lord Braid issued his judgment on Wednesday, ruling the Government regulations to be unlawful as they disproportionately interfered with the freedom of religion secured in the European Convention on Human Rights.

St Mary’s Catholic Church in the Calton area of Glasgow was among the churches to reopen on Thursday, welcoming worshippers for noon Mass.
Canon Tom White was involved in the legal action and he said he was “delighted” at the outcome.
He told the PA news agency: “I think it’s an important victory not so much dependent on your disposition towards how we keep each other safe in this time of pandemic, but it’s how we make sure that how we act as a liberal democracy is proportionate and that we don’t at all costs trample on the rights of others.

As part of the easing of lockdown in Scotland, communal worship in a place of worship is permitted from Friday, with a maximum congregation of 50 people.

With files from the Scotsman.com and ADF 

US Bishops' Chairman Statement on Mass Shooting in Colorado “The bishops have long promoted prudent measures of gun control to limit mass shootings..." FULL TEXT



 U.S. Bishop Chairman Mourns Loss of Life in Mass Shooting in Boulder, CO
WASHINGTON — Following a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, CO, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issued the following statement:
“As we are still reeling from the loss of life in the mass shootings in Atlanta, it is heartbreaking to hear of yet another mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, CO, that reportedly has resulted in the deaths of ten people. We pray for the families and friends of those who were lost and for their communities. We are especially grateful for the efforts of first responders to safeguard the community and treat victims and urge all people of good will to offer concrete support to victims of violence wherever possible.
“The bishops have long promoted prudent measures of gun control to limit mass shootings and other gun homicides and suicides, and we stand by those positions.[1] We must always remember that each of us is a brother or sister in Christ, created in the image and likeness of a loving God. As we approach Holy Week, let us continue to reflect on God’s love and mercy for each one of us and renew the call for conversion of heart.”
FULL TEXT Source: USCCB

Pope Francis Honors Poet "...Dante knew how to express with poetic beauty the depth of the mystery of God and love." FULL TEXT Apostolic Letter Candor Lucis Aeternae


 

APOSTOLIC LETTER - CANDOR LUCIS AETERNAE

OF THE HOLY FATHER
FRANCIS

ON THE SEVENTH CENTENARY
OF THE DEATH OF DANTE ALIGHIERI

 SPLENDOUR OF LIGHT ETERNAL, the Word of God became flesh from the Virgin Mary when, to the message of the angel, she responded: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (cf. Lk 1:38). The liturgical feast that celebrates this ineffable mystery held a special place in the life and work of the supreme poet Dante Alighieri, a prophet of hope and a witness to the innate yearning for the infinite present in the human heart. On this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, I readily add my voice to the great chorus of those who honour his memory in the year marking the seventh centenary of his death.

In Florence, which reckoned time ab Incarnatione, 25 March was the first day of the calendar year. Because of its closeness to the spring equinox and the Church’s celebration of the paschal mysteries, the feast of the Annunciation was likewise associated with the creation of the world and the dawn of the new creation through the redemption won by Christ on the cross. It thus invites us to contemplate, in light of the Word made flesh, the loving plan that is the heart and inspiration of Dante’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy, in whose final canto Saint Bernard celebrates the event of the incarnation in the memorable verses:

“Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated” (Par. XXXIII, 7-9)*.

Earlier, in the Purgatorio, Dante had depicted the scene of the Annunciation sculpted on a rocky crag (X, 34-37, 40-45).

On this anniversary, the voice of the Church can hardly be absent from the universal commemoration of the man and poet Dante Alighieri. Better than most, Dante knew how to express with poetic beauty the depth of the mystery of God and love. His poem, one of the highest expressions of human genius, was the fruit of a new and deeper inspiration, to which the poet referred in calling it:

 “the Poem Sacred
 To which both heaven and earth have set their hand” (Par. XXV, 1-2).

With this Apostolic Letter, I wish to join my Predecessors who honoured and extolled the poet Dante, particularly on the anniversaries of his birth or death, and to propose him anew for the consideration of the Church, the great body of the faithful, literary scholars, theologians and artists. I will briefly review those interventions, concentrating on the Popes of the last century and their more significant statements.   

1. The Popes of the last century and Dante Alighieri

A hundred years ago, in 1921, Benedict XV commemorated the sixth centenary of the poet’s death by issuing an Encyclical Letter[1] that made ample reference to earlier interventions by the Popes, particularly Leo XIII and Saint Pius X, and by encouraging the restoration of the Church of Saint Peter Major in Ravenna, popularly known as San Francesco, where Dante’s funeral was celebrated and his remains were buried. The Pope expressed appreciation for the many initiatives undertaken to celebrate the anniversary and defended the right of the Church, “which was to him a mother”, to take a leading role in those commemorations, honouring Dante as one of her children.[2] Previously, in a Letter to Archbishop Pasquale Morganti of Ravenna, Benedict XV had approved the programme of the centenary celebrations, adding that, “there is also a special reason why we deem that his solemn anniversary should be celebrated with grateful memory and broad participation: the fact that Alighieri is our own… Indeed, who can deny that our Dante nurtured and fanned the flame of his genius and poetic gifts by drawing inspiration from the Catholic faith, to such an extent that he celebrated the sublime mysteries of religion in a poem almost divine?”[3]

In a historical period marked by hostility to the Church, Pope Benedict reaffirmed the poet’s fidelity to the Church, “the intimate union of Dante with this Chair of Peter”. Indeed, he noted that the poet’s work, while an expression of the “grandeur and keenness of his genius”, drew “powerful inspiration” precisely from the Christian faith. For this reason, the Pope continued, “we admire in him not only supreme height of genius but also the vastness of the subject that holy religion offered for his poetry”. In extolling Dante, Benedict was responding indirectly to those who denied or criticized the religious inspiration of his work. “There breathes in Alighieri the devotion that we too feel; his faith resonates with ours… That is his great glory, to be a Christian poet, to have sung with almost divine notes those Christian ideals that he so passionately contemplated in all their splendour and beauty”. Dante’s work, the Pope stated, shows eloquently and effectively “how false it is to say that obedience of mind and heart to God is a hindrance to genius, which instead it spurs on and elevates”. For this reason, the Pope continued, “the teachings bequeathed to us by Dante in all his works, but especially in his threefold poem”, can serve “as a most precious guide for the men and women of our own time”, particularly students and scholars, since “in composing his poem, Dante had no other purpose than to raise mortals from the state of misery, that is from the state of sin, and lead them to the state of happiness, that is of divine grace”.

In 1965, for the seventh centenary of Dante’s birth, Saint Paul VI intervened on a number of occasions. On 19 September that year, he donated a golden cross to adorn the shrine in Ravenna that preserves Dante’s tomb, which previously had lacked “such a sign of religion and hope”.[4] On 14 November, he sent a golden laurel wreath to Florence, to be mounted in the Baptistery of Saint John. Finally, at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, he wished to present the Council Fathers with an artistic edition of the Divine Comedy. Above all, however, Pope Paul honoured the memory of the great poet with an Apostolic Letter, Altissimi Cantus,[5] in which he reaffirmed the strong bond uniting the Church and Dante Alighieri. “There may be some who ask why the Catholic Church, by the will of its visible Head, is so concerned to cultivate the memory and celebrate the glory of the Florentine poet. Our response is easy: by special right, Dante is ours! Ours, by which we mean to say, of the Catholic faith, for he radiated love for Christ; ours, because he loved the Church deeply and sang her glories; and ours too, because he acknowledged and venerated in the Roman Pontiff the Vicar of Christ”.

Yet this right, the Pope added, far from justifying a certain triumphalism, also entails an obligation: “Dante is ours, we may well insist, but we say this not to treat him as a trophy for our own glorification, but to be reminded of our duty, in honouring him, to explore the inestimable treasures of Christian thought and sentiment present in his work. For we are convinced that only by better appreciating the religious spirit of the sovereign poet can we come to understand and savour more fully its marvellous spiritual riches”. Nor does this obligation exempt the Church from accepting also the prophetic criticisms uttered by the poet with regard to those charged with proclaiming the Gospel and representing, not themselves, but Christ. “The Church does not hesitate to acknowledge that Dante spoke scathingly of more than one Pope, and had harsh rebukes for ecclesiastical institutions and for those who were representatives and ministers of the Church”. All the same, it is clear that “such fiery attitudes never shook his firm Catholic faith and his filial affection for Holy Church”.

Paul VI went on to illustrate what makes the Comedy a source of spiritual enrichment accessible to everyone. “Dante’s poem is universal: in its immense scope, it embraces heaven and earth, eternity and time, divine mysteries and human events, sacred doctrine and teachings drawn from the light of reason, the fruits of personal experience and the annals of history”. Above all, he stressed the intrinsic purpose of Dante’s writings, and the Divine Comedy in particular, a purpose not always clearly appreciated or duly acknowledged. “The aim of the Divine Comedy is primarily practical and transformative. It seeks not only to be beautiful and morally elevating poetry, but to effect a radical change, leading men and women from chaos to wisdom, from sin to holiness, from poverty to happiness, from the terrifying contemplation of hell to the beatific contemplation of heaven”.

Writing at a time of grave international tension, the Pope sought constantly to uphold the ideal of peace, and found in Dante’s work a precious means for encouraging and sustaining that ideal. “The peace of individuals, families, nations and the human community, this peace internal and external, private and public, this tranquillity of order is disturbed and shaken because piety and justice are being trampled upon. To restore order and salvation, faith and reason, Beatrice and Virgil, the Cross and the Eagle, Church and Empire are called to operate in harmony”. In this vein, he spoke of Dante’s poem as a paean to peace. “The Divine Comedy is a poem of peace: the Inferno a dirge for peace forever lost, the Purgatorio a wistful hymn of hope for peace, and the Paradiso a triumphant anthem of peace fully and eternally possessed”.

Viewed in this way, the Pope continued, the Comedy is “a poem of social improvement through the attainment of a freedom liberated from enslavement to evil and directed to the knowledge and love of God” and an expression of authentic humanism. “In Dante all human values – intellectual, moral, emotional, cultural and civic – are acknowledged and exalted. It should be noted, however, that this appreciation and esteem were the fruit of his deepening experience of the divine, as his contemplation was gradually purified of earthly elements”. Rightly, therefore, could the Comedy be described as Divine, and Dante called the “supreme poet” and, in the opening words of the same Apostolic Letter, “the lord of sublime song”.

In praising Dante’s extraordinary artistic and literary gifts, Paul VI also restated a familiar principle. “Theology and philosophy are intrinsically related to beauty: to their teachings beauty lends its own vesture and adornment. Through music and the figurative and plastic arts, beauty opens a path that makes their lofty teachings accessible to many others. Erudite disquisitions and subtle reasoning are not easily understood by many people, yet they too hunger for the bread of truth. Attracted by beauty, they come to recognize and appreciate the light of truth and the fulfilment it brings. This is what the lord of sublime song understood and achieved; for him beauty became the handmaid of goodness and truth, and goodness a thing of beauty”. Citing a line of the Comedy, Pope Paul concluded with the exhortation: “All honour be paid to the pre-eminent poet!” (Inf. IV, 80).

Saint John Paul II often referred to Dante in his addresses. Here, I would mention only that of 30 May 1985, for the inauguration of the exhibition Dante in the Vatican. Like Paul VI, he highlighted Dante’s artistic genius, speaking of the poet’s work as “a vision of reality that speaks of the life to come and the mystery of God with the vigour of theological thought transformed by the combined splendour of art and poetry”. Pope John Paul reflected in particular on a key word from the Comedy: “Trasumanare: to pass beyond the human. This was Dante’s ultimate effort: to ensure that the burden of what is human would not destroy the divine within us, nor that the greatness of the divine would cancel the value of what is human. For this reason the poet rightly interpreted his own personal history and that of all humanity in a theological key”.

Benedict XVI frequently spoke of Dante’s journey and from his poetry drew points for reflection and meditation. For example, in speaking of the theme of his first Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, he began precisely from Dante’s vision of God, in whom “light and love are one and the same”, in order to emphasize the novelty found in Dante’s work. “Dante perceives something completely new… the eternal light is shown in three circles which Dante addresses using those terse verses familiar to us:

 ‘O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
 Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself,
 And knowing, lovest and smilest upon thy self!’ (Par. XXXIII, 124-126).

Indeed, even more impressive than this revelation of God as a Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love, is his discernment of a human face – the face of Jesus Christ – in the central circle of that light. God thus has a human face and – we might add – a human heart”.[6] The Pope stressed the originality of Dante’s vision, which gave poetic expression to the newness of the Christian experience, born of the mystery of the incarnation: “the novelty of a love that moved God to take on a human face, and even more, to take on flesh and blood, our entire humanity”.[7]

In my first Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei,[8] I described the light of faith using an image drawn from the Paradiso, which speaks of that light as a

               “spark,
 Which afterwards dilates to vivid flame,
 And, like a star in heaven, is sparkling in me” (Par. XXIV, 145-147).

I then commemorated the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth with a message, in which I expressed my hope that “the figure of Alighieri and his work will be newly understood and appreciated”. I proposed reading the Comedy as “an epic journey, indeed, a true pilgrimage, personal and interior, yet also communal, ecclesial, social and historical”, inasmuch as “it represents the paradigm for every authentic journey whereby mankind is called to leave behind what the poet calls ‘the threshing-floor that maketh us so proud’ (Par. XXII, 151), in order to attain a new state of harmony, peace and happiness”.[9] Dante can thus speak to the men and women of our own day as “a prophet of hope, a herald of the possibility of redemption, liberation and profound change for each individual and for humanity as a whole”.[10]

More recently, on 10 October 2020, addressing a delegation from the Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia for the inauguration of the Year of Dante, I announced my intention to issue the present Letter. I noted that Dante’s work can also enrich the minds and hearts of all those, especially the young who, once introduced to his poetry “in a way that is accessible to them, inevitably sense on the one hand a great distance from the author and his world, and yet on the other a remarkable resonance with their own experience”.[11]

2. The life of Dante Alighieri: a paradigm of the human condition

With the present Apostolic Letter, I too would like to consider the life and work of the great poet and to explore its “resonance” with our own experience. I wish also to reaffirm its perennial timeliness and importance, and to appreciate the enduring warnings and insights it contains for humanity as a whole, not simply believers. Dante’s work is an integral part of our culture, taking us back to the Christian roots of Europe and the West. It embodies that patrimony of ideals and values that the Church and civil society continue to propose as the basis of a humane social order in which all can and must see others as brothers and sisters. Without entering into the complex personal, political and judicial aspects of Dante’s biography, I would briefly mention some events in his life that make him appear remarkably close to many of our contemporaries and that remain essential for understanding his work.

Dante was born in 1265 in Florence and married Gemma Donati, who bore him four children. He remained deeply attached to his native city, despite the political disputes that in time caused him to be at odds with it. To the end he desired to return to Florence, not only because of his continued affection for his birthplace, but above all so that he could be crowned a poet in the place where he had received baptism and the gift of faith (cf. Par. XXV, 1-9).  In the headings of some of his Letters (III, V, VI and VII) Dante refers to himself as “florentinus et exul inmeritus”, while in that addressed to Cangrande della Scala (XIII), he styles himself “florentinus natione non moribus”.

A white Guelph, Dante found himself embroiled in the conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and between white and black Guelphs. He held important public offices, including a term as Prior, but in 1302, as a result of political unrest, he was exiled for two years, banned from holding public office and sentenced to pay a fine. Dante rejected the decision as unjust, which only made his punishment more severe: perpetual exile, confiscation of his goods and a death sentence if he returned to Florence. This was the beginning of Dante’s painful exile and his fruitless efforts to return to his native city, for which he had passionately fought.

He thus became an exile, a “pensive pilgrim” reduced to a state of “grievous poverty” (Convivio, I, III, 5). This led him to seek refuge and protection with various noble families, including the Scaligers of Verona and the Malaspina of Lunigiana. The words spoken by Cacciaguida, the poet’s ancestor, capture something of the bitterness and despair of his new situation:

 “Thou shalt abandon everything beloved
 Most tenderly, and this the arrow is
 Which first the bow of banishment shoots forth.
 Thou shalt have proof how savoureth of salt
 The bread of others, and how hard a road
 The going down and up another’s stairs” (Par. XVII, 55-60).

In 1315, after refusing to accept the humiliating amnesty conditions that would have allowed him to return to Florence, Dante was once more sentenced to death, this time together with his adolescent children. His final place of exile was Ravenna, where he was hospitably received by Guido Novello da Polenta. There he died on the night between 13 and 14 September 1321, at the age of fifty-six, upon his return from a mission to Venice. His tomb was originally set into the outer wall of the old Franciscan cloister of Saint Peter Major, then relocated in 1865 to the adjacent eighteenth-century shrine which even today remains the goal of countless visitors and admirers of the great poet, the father of Italian language and literature.

In exile, Dante’s love for Florence, betrayed by the “iniquitous Florentines” (Ep. VI, 1), was transformed into bittersweet nostalgia.  His deep disappointment over the collapse of his political and civil ideals, together with his dreary wanderings from city to city in search of refuge and support are not absent from his literary and poetic work; indeed, they constitute its very source and inspiration. When Dante describes the pilgrims setting out for the holy places, he hints at his own state of mind and inmost feelings: “O pilgrims who make your way deep in thought...” (Vita Nuova, 29 [XL (XLI), 9], v.1). This motif recurs frequently, as in the verse of the Purgatorio:

 “In the same way that thoughtful pilgrims do,
 Who, unknown people on the road o’ertaking,
 Turn themselves round to them, and do not stop” (XXIII, 16-18).

We can also see the poignant melancholy of Dante the pilgrim and exile in his celebrated verses of the eighth canto of the Purgatorio:

 “Twas now the hour that turneth back desire
 In those who sail the sea, and melts the heart,
 The day they’ve said to their sweet friends farewell” (1-3).

Dante, pondering his life of exile, radical uncertainty, fragility, and constant moving from place to place, sublimated and transformed his personal experience, making it a paradigm of the human condition, viewed as a journey – spiritual and physical – that continues until it reaches its goal. Here two fundamental themes of Dante’s entire work come to the fore, namely, that every existential journey begins with an innate desire in the human heart and that this desire attains fulfilment in the happiness bestowed by the vision of the Love who is God.

For all the tragic, sorrowful and distressing events he experienced, the great poet never surrendered or succumbed. He refused to repress his heart’s yearning for fulfilment and happiness or to resign himself to injustice, hypocrisy, the arrogance of the powerful or the selfishness that turns our world into “the threshing-floor that maketh us so proud” (Par. XXII, 151).

3. The poet’s mission as a prophet of hope

Reviewing the events of his life above all in the light of faith, Dante discovered his personal vocation and mission. From this, paradoxically, he emerged no longer an apparent failure, a sinner, disillusioned and demoralized, but a prophet of hope. In the Letter to Cangrande della Scala, he described with remarkable clarity the aim of his life’s work, no longer pursued through political or military activity, but by poetry, the art of the word which, by speaking to all, has the power to change the life of each. “We must say briefly that the purpose of our whole work and its individual parts is to remove from their state of misery those who live this life and to lead them to a state of happiness” (XIII, 39 [15]). In this sense, it was meant to inspire a journey of liberation from every form of misery and human depravity (the “forest dark”), while at the same time pointing toward the ultimate goal of that journey: happiness, understood both as the fullness of life in time and history, and as eternal beatitude in God.

Dante thus became the herald, prophet and witness of this twofold end, this bold programme of life, and as such was confirmed in his mission by Beatrice:

 “Therefore, for that world’s good which liveth ill,
 Fix on the car thine eyes, and what thou seest,
 Having returned to earth, take heed thou write” (Purg. XXXII, 103-105).

His ancestor Cacciaguida likewise urges him not to falter in his mission. After the poet briefly describes his journey in the three realms of the afterlife and acknowledges the dire consequences of proclaiming uncomfortable or painful truths, his illustrious forebear replies:

                  “A conscience overcast
 Or with its own or with another’s shame,
 Will taste forsooth the tartness of thy word;
 But ne’ertheless, all falsehood laid aside,
 Make manifest thy vision utterly,
 And let them scratch wherever is the itch” (Par. XVII, 124-129).

Saint Peter likewise encourages Dante to embark courageously upon his prophetic mission. The Apostle, following a bitter invective against Boniface VIII, tells the poet:

 “And thou, my son, who by thy mortal weight
 Shalt down return again, open thy mouth;
 What I conceal not, do not thou conceal” (Par. XXVII, 64-66).

Dante’s prophetic mission thus entailed denouncing and criticizing those believers – whether Popes or the ordinary faithful – who betray Christ and turn the Church into a means for advancing their own interests while ignoring the spirit of the Beatitudes and the duty of charity towards the defenceless and poor, and instead idolizing power and riches:

  “For whatsoever hath the Church in keeping
 Is for the folk that ask it in God’s name
 Not for one’s kindred or for something worse” (Par. XXII, 82-84).

Yet, even as he denounces corruption in parts of the Church, Dante also becomes – through the words of Saint Peter Damian, Saint Benedict and Saint Peter – an advocate for her profound renewal and implores God’s providence to bring this about:

 “But the high Providence, that with Scipio
 At Rome the glory of the world defended,
 Will speedily bring aid, as I conceive” (Par. XXVII, 61-63).

Dante the exile, the pilgrim, powerless yet confirmed by the profound interior experience that had changed his life, was reborn as a result of the vision that, from the depths of hell, from the ultimate degradation of our humanity, elevated him to the very vision of God. He thus emerged as the herald of a new existence, the prophet of a new humanity that thirsts for peace and happiness.

4. Dante as the poet of human desire

Dante reads the depths of the human heart. In everyone, even in the most abject and disturbing figures, he can discern a spark of the desire to attain some measure of happiness and fulfilment. He stops and listens to the souls he meets; he converses with them and questions them, and thus identifies with them and shares in their torments or their bliss. Starting from his own personal situation, Dante becomes the interpreter of the universal human desire to follow the journey of life to its ultimate destination, when the fullness of truth and the answers to life’s meaning will be revealed and, in the words of Saint Augustine,[12] our hearts find their rest and peace in God.

In the Convivio, Dante analyses the dynamism of desire: “The ultimate desire of every being, and the first bestowed by nature, is the desire to return to its first cause. And since God is the first cause of our souls… the soul desires first and foremost to return to him. Like a pilgrim who travels an unknown road and believes every house he sees is the hostel, and upon finding that it is not, transfers this belief to the next house he sees, and the next, and the next, until at last he arrives at the hostel, so it is with our souls. As soon as it sets out on the new and untravelled road of this life, the soul incessantly seeks its supreme good; consequently, whenever it sees something apparently good, it considers that the supreme good” (IV, XII, 14-15).

Dante’s journey, especially as it appears in the Divine Comedy, was truly a journey of desire, of a deep interior resolve to change his life, to discover happiness and to show the way to others who, like him, find themselves in a “forest dark” after losing “the right way”. It is significant that, at the very start of this journey, his guide – the great Latin poet Virgil – points to its goal and urges him not to succumb to fear or fatigue:

 “But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
 Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable,
 Which is the source and cause of every joy?” (Inf. I, 76-78).

5. The poet of God’s mercy and human freedom

The journey that Dante presents is not illusory or utopian; it is realistic and within the reach of everyone, for God’s mercy always offers the possibility of change, conversion, new self-awareness and discovery of the path to true happiness. Significant in this regard are several episodes and individuals in the Comedy which show that no one on earth is precluded from this path. There is the emperor Trajan, a pagan who nonetheless is placed in heaven. Dante justifies his presence thus:

 “Regnum coelorum suffereth violence
 From fervent love, and from that living hope
 That overcometh the Divine volition;
 Not in the guise that man o’ercometh man
 But conquers it because it will be conquered
 And conquered conquers by benignity” (Par. XX, 94-99).

Trajan’s gesture of charity towards a “poor widow” (45), or the “little tear” of repentance shed at the point of death by Buonconte di Montefeltro (Purg. V, 107), are not only signs of God’s infinite mercy, but also confirm that human beings remain ever free to choose which path to follow and which destiny to embrace.

Significant too is King Manfred, placed by Dante in Purgatory, who thus describes his death and God’s judgement:

 “After I had my body lacerated
 By these two mortal stabs, I gave myself
 Weeping to Him, who willingly doth pardon.
 Horrible my iniquities had been;
 But Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
 That it receives whatever turns to it” (Purg. III, 118-123).

Here we can almost glimpse the father in the Gospel parable who welcomes with open arms the return of his prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:11-32).

Dante champions the dignity and freedom of each human being as the basis for decisions in life and for faith itself. Our eternal destiny – so Dante suggests by recounting the stories of so many individuals great and small – depends on our free decisions. Even our ordinary and apparently insignificant actions have a meaning that transcends time: they possess an eternal dimension. The greatest of God’s gifts is the freedom that enables us to reach our ultimate goal, as Beatrice tells us:

 “The greatest gift that in his largess God
 Creating made, and unto his own goodness
 Nearest conformed, and that which he doth prize
 Most highly, is the freedom of the will” (Par. V, 19-22).

These are not vague rhetorical statements, for they spring from the lives of men and women who knew the cost of freedom:

 “He seeketh Liberty, which is so dear
  As knoweth he who life for her refuses” (Purg. I, 71-72).

Freedom, Dante reminds us, is not an end unto itself; it is a condition for rising constantly higher. His journey through the three kingdoms vividly illustrates this ascent, which ultimately reaches heaven and the experience of utter bliss. The “profound desire” (Par. XXII, 61) awakened by freedom is not sated until it attains its goal, the final vision and the blessedness it brings:

 “And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as I ought
The ardour of desire within me ended” (Par. XXXIII, 46-48).

Desire thus becomes prayer, supplication, intercession and song accompanying and marking Dante’s journey, just as liturgical prayer marks the hours and moments of the day. The poet’s paraphrase of the Our Father (cf. Purg. XI, 1-21) intertwines the Gospel text with all the hardships and sufferings of daily experience:

 “Come unto us the peace of thy dominion
 For unto it we cannot of ourselves…
Give unto us this day our daily manna
Without which in this rough wilderness
Backward goes he who toils most to advance” (7-8, 13-15).

The freedom of those who believe in God as a merciful Father can only be offered back to him in prayer. Nor does this detract in the least from that freedom; it only strengthens it.

6. The image of man in the vision of God

Throughout the journey of the Comedy, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, the interplay of freedom and desire does not entail, as one might think, a diminution of our concrete humanity or a kind of self-alienation; it does not destroy or disregard our historicity. In the Paradiso, Dante represents the blessed – the “white stoles” (XXX, 129) – in their bodily form, portraying their affections and emotions, their glances and their gestures; in a word, he shows us humanity in its ultimate perfection of soul and body, prefiguring the resurrection of the flesh. Saint Bernard, who accompanies Dante on the last stretch of the journey, points out to the poet the presence of small children in the rose of the blessed; he tells him to watch them and to listen to their voices:

 “Well canst thou recognise it in their faces
 And also in their voices puerile
 If thou regard them well and hearken to them” (XXXII, 46-48).

It is touching to think that the luminous presence of the blessed in their full humanity is motivated not only by their affection for their loved ones, but above all by the explicit desire once more to see their bodies, their earthly features:

 “That well they showed desire for their dead bodies;
 Nor sole for them perhaps, but for the mothers,
 The fathers, and the rest who had been dear
 Or ever they became eternal flames” (XIV, 63-66).

Finally, at the centre of the final vision, in his encounter with the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, Dante descries a human face, the face of Christ, the eternal Word made flesh in the womb of Mary:

  “Within the deep and luminous subsistence
 Of the High Light appeared to me three circles
 Of threefold colour and of one dimension…
 That circulation, which being thus conceived
 Appeared in thee as a reflected light
 When somewhat contemplated by mine eyes
 Within itself, of its own very colour         
 Seemed to painted with our effigy” (XXXIII, 115-117, 127-131).

Only in the visio Dei does our human desire attain fulfilment and our arduous journey come to its end:

                “my mind there smote
 A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish
 Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy” (140-142).

The mystery of the incarnation, which we celebrate today, is the true heart and inspiration of the entire poem. For it effected what the Fathers of the Church call our “divinization”, the admirabile commercium, the prodigious exchange whereby God enters our history by becoming flesh, and humanity, in its flesh, is enabled to enter the realm of the divine, symbolized by the rose of the blessed. Our humanity, in its concreteness, with our daily gestures and words, with our intelligence and affections, with our bodies and emotions, is taken up into God, in whom it finds true happiness and ultimate fulfilment, the goal of all its journeying. Dante had desired and looked forward to this goal at the beginning of the Paradiso:

“More the desire should be enkindled in us
 That essence to behold, wherein is seen
 How God and our own nature were united.
 There will be seen what we receive by faith,
 Not demonstrated, but self-evident
 In guise of the first truth that man believes” (II, 40-45).

7. The three women of the Comedy: Mary, Beatrice and Lucy

In celebrating the mystery of the incarnation, the source of salvation and joy for all humanity, Dante cannot but sing the praises of Mary, the Virgin Mother who, by her fiat, her full and total acceptance of God’s plan, enabled the Word to become flesh. In Dante’s work, we find a splendid treatise of Mariology. With sublime lyricism, particularly in the prayer of Saint Bernard, the poet synthesizes theology’s reflection on the figure of Mary and her participation in the mystery of God:

 “Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
 Humble and high beyond all other creature,
 The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,
 Thou art the one who such nobility
 To human nature gave, that its Creator
 Did not disdain to make himself its creature” (Par. XXXIII, 1-6).

The opening oxymoron and the subsequent flood of contrasts celebrate the uniqueness of Mary and her singular beauty.

Pointing to the blessed arrayed in the mystical rose, Saint Bernard invites Dante to contemplate Mary, who gave a human face to the Incarnate Word:

“Look now into the face that unto Christ
Hath most resemblance; for its brightness only
Is able to prepare thee to see Christ” (Par. XXXII, 85-87).

The mystery of the Incarnation is again evoked by the presence of the Archangel Gabriel. Dante questions Saint Bernard:

 “Who is the Angel that with so much joy
 Into the eyes is looking of our Queen,
 Enamoured so that he seems made of fire?” (103-105).

To which Bernard responds:

 “he is the one who bore the palm         
 Down unto Mary, when the Son of God
 To take our burden on himself decreed” (112-114).

References to Mary abound in the Divine Comedy. In the Purgatorio, at every step of the way she embodies the virtues opposed to the vices; she is the morning star who helps the poet to emerge from the dark forest and to seek the mountain of God; the invocation of her name,

 “The name of that fair flower I e’er invoke
 Morning and evening…” (Par. XXIII, 88-89),

prepares the pilgrim for the encounter with Christ and the mystery of God.

Dante is never alone on his journey. He lets himself be guided, first by Virgil, a symbol of human reason, and then by Beatrice and Saint Bernard. Now, through the intercession of Mary, he can rise to our heavenly homeland and taste in its fullness the joy that had been his life-long desire:

                  “and distilleth yet
         Within my heart the sweetness born of it” (Par. XXXIII, 62-63).

We are not saved alone, the poet seems to repeat, conscious of his need:

“I come not of myself” (Inf. X, 61).

The journey needs to be made in the company of another, whocan support us and guide us with wisdom and prudence.

Here we see how significant is the presence of women in the poem. At the beginning of Dante’s arduous journey, Virgil, his first guide, comforts and encourages Dante to persevere because three women are interceding for him and will guide his steps: Mary, the Mother of God, representing charity; Beatrice, representing hope; and Saint Lucy, representing faith. Beatrice is introduced in the poignant verses:

“Beatrice am I, who do bid thee go;
I come from there, where I would fain return;
Love moved me, which compelleth me to speak” (Inf. II, 70-72).

Love thus appears as the sole means of our salvation, the divine love that transfigures human love. Beatrice speaks in turn of the intercession of yet another woman, the Virgin Mary:

 “A gentle Lady is in Heaven, who grieves
 At this impediment, to which I send thee,
 So that stern judgment there above is broken” (94-96).

Lucy then intervenes, addressing Beatrice:

 “Beatrice, … the true praise of God,
 Why succourest thou not him, who loved thee so,       
 For thee he issued from the vulgar herd?” (103-105).

Dante recognizes that only one moved by love can truly support us on the journey and bring us to salvation, to renewed life and thus to happiness.

8. Francis, the spouse of Lady Poverty

In the pure white rose of the blessed, with Mary as its radiant centre, Dante places a number of saints whose life and mission he describes. He presents them as men and women who, in the concrete events of life and despite many trials, achieved the ultimate purpose of their life and vocation. Here I will mention only Saint Francis of Assisi, as portrayed in Canto XI of the Paradiso, the sphere of the wise.

Saint Francis and Dante had much in common. Francis, with his followers, left the cloister and went out among the people, in small towns and the streets of the cities, preaching to them and visiting their homes. Dante made the choice, unusual for that age, to compose his great poem on the afterlife in the vernacular, and to populate his tale with characters both famous and obscure, yet equal in dignity to the rulers of this world. Another feature common to the two was their sensitivity to the beauty and worth of creation as the reflection and imprint of its Creator. We can hardly fail to hear in Dante’s paraphrase of the Our Father an echo of Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:

“Praised be thy name and thine omnipotence
 By every creature…” (Purg. XI, 4-5).

In Canto XI of the Paradiso, this comparison becomes even more pronounced. The sanctity and wisdom of Francis stand out precisely because Dante, gazing from heaven upon the earth, sees the crude vulgarity of those who trust in earthly goods:

 “O Thou insensate care of mortal men,
 How inconclusive are the syllogisms
 That make thee beat thy wings in downward flight!” (1-3).

The entire history of Saint Francis, his “admirable life”, revolved around his privileged relationship with Lady Poverty:

  “But that too darkly I may not proceed,
 Francis and Poverty for these two lovers
 Take thou henceforward in my speech diffuse” (73-75).

The canto of Saint Francis recalls the salient moments of his life, his trials and ultimately the moment when his configuration to Christ, poor and crucified, found its ultimate divine confirmation in his reception of the stigmata:

 “And, finding for conversion too unripe
 The folk, and not to tarry there in vain,
 Returned to fruit of the Italic grass,
 On the rude rock ‘twixt Tiber and the Arno
 From Christ did he receive the final seal,
 Which during two whole years his members bore” (103-108).

9. Accepting the testimony of Dante Alighieri

At the conclusion of this brief glance at Dante Alighieri’s work, an almost inexhaustible mine of knowledge, experience and thought in every field of human research, we are invited to reflect on its significance. The wealth of characters, stories, symbols and evocative images that the poet sets before us certainly awakens our admiration, wonder and gratitude. In Dante we can almost glimpse a forerunner of our multimedia culture, in which word and image, symbol and sound, poetry and dance converge to convey a single message. It is understandable, then, that his poem has inspired the creation of countless works of art in every genre.

But the work of the supreme poet also raises provocative questions for our own times. What can he communicate to us in this day and age? Does he still have anything to say to us or offer us? Is his message relevant or useful to us? Can it still challenge us?

Dante today – if we can presume to speak for him – does not wish merely to be read, commented on, studied and analyzed. Rather, he asks to be heard and even imitated; he invites us to become his companions on the journey. Today, too, he wants to show us the route to happiness, the right path to live a fully human life, emerging from the dark forest in which we lose our bearings and the sense of our true worth. Dante’s journey and his vision of life beyond death are not just a story to be told; they are more than the account of a personal experience, however exceptional.

If Dante tells his tale admirably, using thsal language, it is because he has an important message to convey, one meant to touch our hearts and minds, to transform and change us even now, in this present life. A message that can and should make us appreciate fully who we are and the meaning of our daily struggles to achieve happiness, fulfilment and our ultimate end, our true homeland, where we will be in full communion with God, infinite and eternal Love. Dante was a man of his time, with sensibilities different from ours in certain areas, yet his humanism remains timely and relevant, a sure reference point for what we hope to accomplish in our own day.

It is fitting, then, that the present anniversary serve as an incentive to make Dante’s work better known and appreciated, accessible and attractive, not only to students and scholars but to all those who seek answers to their deepest questions and wish to live their lives to the full, purposefully undertaking their own journey of life and faith, with gratitude for the gift and responsibility of freedom.

I express my deep appreciation, then, to those teachers who passionately communicate Dante’s message and introduce others to the cultural, religious and moral riches contained in his works. Yet this great heritage cries out to be made accessible beyond the halls of schools and universities.

I urge Christian communities, especially in cities associated with Dante’s life, academic institutions and cultural associations to promote initiatives aimed at making better known his message in all its fullness.

In a special way, I encourage artists to give voice, face and heart, form, colour and sound to Dante’s poetry by following the path of beauty which he so masterfully travelled. And thus to communicate the most profound truths and to proclaim, in the language of their art, a message of peace, freedom and fraternity.

At this particular moment in history, overclouded by situations of profound inhumanity and a lack of confidence and prospects for the future, the figure of Dante, prophet of hope and witness to the human desire for happiness, can still provide us with words and examples that encourage us on our journey. Dante can help us to advance with serenity and courage on the pilgrimage of life and faith that each of us is called to make, until our hearts find true peace and true joy, until we arrive at the ultimate goal of all humanity:

“The Love which moves the sun and the other stars” (Par. XXXIII, 145).

From the Vatican, on 25 March, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, in the year 2021, the ninth of my Pontificate.

 

Franciscus

____________________

* trans. H. W. Longfellow (1867).
 


[1] In Praeclara Summorum (30 April 1921): AAS 13 (1921), 209-217.

[2] Cf. ibid., 210.

[3] Letter Nobis ad Catholicam (28 October 1914): AAS 6 (1914), 540.

[4] Address to the Sacred College and the Roman Prelature (23 December 1965): AAS 58 (1966), 80.

[5] Cf. AAS 58 (1966), 22-37.

[6] Address to Participants at the Meeting Promoted by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, 23 January 2006: Insegnamenti 2006 II/1, 92-93.

[7] Ibid., 93.

[8] Cf. No. 4: AAS 105 (2013), 557.

[9] Message to the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture (4 May 2015): AAS 107 (2015), 551-552.

[10] Ibid., 552.

[11] L’Osservatore Romano, 10 October 2020, p. 7.

[12] Cf. Confessions, I, I, 1: PL 32, 661.

Source: Vatican.va