Saint Francis of
1182 - October 3, 1226
By Daniel Grigassy, O.F.M.
Reprinted from The
Cord 43, no. 10
(October 1993): pages 261-274.
A devotion familiar to all Franciscans
which has survived the test of the last three decades is the Transitus.
Each year on the third evening of October, we ritually remember the
passing of Francis of Assisi from this life into God. In fact, the
Transitus has become a significant and even a necessary annual event. To
ritually revisit the story of Francis' passing is vital; without it
something significant is missing. It specifies the living memory of
Francis; it intensifies our commitment to follow Christ in the way of
the poor man of Assisi.
Since this rite of intensification has become an
annual expectation for most friars, sisters, and seculars, a
consideration of its origins and meanings seems worthwhile and timely.
It is surprising that no historical study of the Transitus has been
undertaken in the past three decades when so much ritual flux has been
the order of the day. Questions begin to emerge when Franciscans with a
living memory of the pre-conciliar era think critically about the
Transitus. Who fills the roles of the various ministries in the rite?
Who presides? Does it matter who presides? What does the presider wear?
Does it matter what the presider wears? What do Franciscans in the
assembly wear? Does it matter what they wear? Who reads the narrative
text? Who cantors? What is the role of the assembly? What texts, sung or
spoken, are included or not included in the rite? When is the rite
celebrated? Where is the rite celebrated? How is the rite enacted? What
are the gestures and postures taken by the ministry, by the assembly?
What are the primary ritual objects? How do they interact with one
another? Why do we even bother to enact the rite each year?
asking of such questions, very telling meanings and values come to the
fore which are tacitly operative in the rite. Non-verbals often yield
more significant data in ritual analysis than the verbal elements.
Ritual texts are important, but rituals are more than texts. Only within
the lived context of the people who enact the rite do the ritual texts
take on meanings which spill over the texts and into others forms of
ritual expression. At times the non-verbals disclose more meanings than
the verbals. In other words, the rite may say more than we wish to tell!
Meditate upon the
following readings and scripture, describing the last days and hours of
our Father Francis:
reading from Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure
St. Francis spent the last few days before his death in praising
the Lord and teaching his companions whom he loved so much to praise
Christ with him. He himself, in as far as he was able, broke out with
the Psalm: I cry to the Lord with my voice; to the Lord I make loud
supplication. He likewise invited all creatures to praise God and,
with the words he had composed earlier, he exhorted them to love God.
Even death itself, considered by all to be so terrible and hateful, was
exhorted to give praise, while he himself, going joyfully to meet it,
invited it to make its abode with him. "Welcome," he said, "my sister
death." (Celano, Second Life.)
the hour of his death approached, Francis asked that all of the brothers
living with him be called to his death bed and softening his departure
with consoling words, he encouraged them with fatherly affection to love
God. He spoke of patience and poverty and of being faithful to the Holy
Roman Church, giving precedence to the Holy Gospels before all else. He
then stretched his hands over the brothers in the form of a cross, a
symbol that he loved so much, and gave his blessings to all followers,
both present and absent, in the power and in the name of the Crucified.
Then he added: "Remain, my sons, in the fear of the Lord and be with
him always. And as temptations and trials beset you, blessed are those
who persevere to the end in the life they have chosen. I am on my way
to God and I commend you all to His favor."
With this sweet admonition,
this dearly beloved to God, asked that the book of the Gospels be
brought to him and that the passage in the Gospel of St. John, which
begins before the Feast of the Passover be read. Finally, when
all God's mysteries had been accomplished in him, his holy soul was
freed from his body and assumed into the abyss of God's glory, and
Francis fell asleep in God. (Bonaventure, Major Life.)
John 13: 1-17
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his
hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved
his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during
supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas
Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had
given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was
going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded
himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to
wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he
was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do
you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know
now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall
never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you
have no part in me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only
but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed
does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over;
and you are clean, but not all of you." For he knew who was to betray
him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."
he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place,
he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me
Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord
and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's
feet. For I have given you as example, that you also should do as I
have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater
than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If
you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.