mercredi 18 décembre 2013


Bienheureux Antoine Grassi

prêtre de l’Oratoire ( 1671)

Né à Fermo en Italie en 1592, éduqué chez les Oratoriens, il entra dans la Congrégation de l'Oratoire et fut ordonné prêtre en 1617, il faisait souvent le pélerinage à pied à Notre-Dame de Lorette, puis fit celui de l'année sainte à Rome en 1625. Il fut supérieur de l'Oratoire de Fermo.

Béatifié en 1900 par le Pape Léon XIII.

À Fermo dans les Marches, en 1671, le bienheureux Antoine Grassi, prêtre de l’Oratoire. Humble et pacifique, il poussa beaucoup ses confrères, par son exemple, à l’observance de la Règle.

Martyrologe romain


Antonio Grassi naquit le 13 novembre 1592 à Fermo. Enfant il était déjà pieux, appréciant le solitude et fabriquant de petits autels, pour y honorer Jésus et Marie et certains saints. Puis en 1609, malgré l’opposition de sa mère, il entra chez les Oratoriens qui s’occupèrent de parfaire son éducation.
Quelques années plus tard, en 1617, les études terminées, il fut ordonné prêtre. Le P. Grassi se distingua par l'amour des enfants qu'il préparait au catéchisme, des malades et des prisonniers dont il s'occupait. Il affirmait que la vocation du prêtre était de compatir, de consoler et de porter assistance.
Il avait une grande dévotion à la Vierge Marie et faisait à pied, chaque année, le pèlerinage de Notre Dame de Lorette.
En 1625, il fit aussi le pèlerinage à Rome de l'Année Sainte et ce fut pour lui l'occasion de grâces mystiques. En 1635, il fut élu en tant que Préposé de la Communauté de Fermo, charge qu'il assuma jusqu' à sa mort.
Le père Antoine Grassi se voulait très proche de l’esprit de saint Philippe Néri — fondateur de l’Oratoire —, gardant en toute chose un véritable esprit humaniste et agissant avec mesure.
Les Papes Clément X et Innocent XI le tenaient en grande estime ; car ils avaient eu connaissance des bienfaits qu'il prodiguait : Assistance aux pauvres, réconciliations, confessions et direction spirituelle. D'autres maisons de l'Oratoire ouvrirent dans la région et sa réputation de sainteté se répandit. Il aimait prier Notre Dame de Lorette. C'était un prêtre de son époque : humble, mystique et renoncé. De nombreuses grâces lui furent attribuées. Il avait prédit le jour de sa mort qui advint le 13 décembre 1671. On pria pour lui dans tous les Oratoires d'Italie et d'Allemagne et sa cause fut rapidement ouverte par le Cardinal Colloredo qui voyait en lui un authentique modèle de vie.
Il fut béatifié pendant l'Année Sainte 1900 par Léon XIII, devenant le troisième Oratorien à être ainsi glorifié. Il repose dans l'église de Notre Dame du Mont-Carmel à Fermo. Le couvent dans lequel il passa toute sa vie est devenu aujourd'hui un tribunal.


Blessed Anthony Grassi

Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a “walking dictionary” who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life. More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences. In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.

Blessed Anthony Grassi (1592-1671) entered the Oratory in Fermo at a young age and eventually became its superior. The Fermo Oratory no longer exists, but its memory is perpetuated in Blessed Anthony. His feast day is December 15.
Anthony Grassi was born in 1592, three years before Philip's death, in Fermo, a town of a few thousand inhabitants on the Adriatic coast.  He was the eldest child of five born to a devout middle class family.  Antonio was a good natured and intelligent boy, and quickly gained the respect and admiration of his teachers and friends.  He showed early signs of piety in his frequent attendance of daily Mass which he would serve on his way to school.  The first experience of suffering that Anthony encountered, it seems, was a long illness at the age of ten which was soon followed by the death of his father.  But Anthony's spirit was not to be conquered by life's blows. He took to frequenting the newly founded Oratory in Fermo more often than he used to and received regular spiritual direction from Father Ricci who had known Saint Philip personally. The Fathers all took a liking to Anthony and he in turn presented himself to the Congregation as a postulant just before his seventeenth birthday in 1609.

     Anthony's natural intelligence and love of learning made his studies for the priesthood a pleasant time in his life.  His good memory made it possible for him to acquire an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, and the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Anthony also received a spiritual formation to complement his academic achievements.

     Each year Anthony made a pilgrimage to the holy house of Loreto which was only twenty miles away. On one such visit, Anthony was struck by lightning and knocked unconscious. He received the anointing of the sick and the doctors gave him little hope of recovery.  But God had other plans for him.  Anthony was completely healed through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin;  and from that time on recognized all the more his dependence on God and sought all the more to dedicate himself completely to His Will.

     In 1625, Anthony went on a pilgrimage to Rome, which turned out to be his only trip away from Fermo except for his yearly pilgrimage to Loretto.  In Rome, Anthony went to see all the places that Saint Philip used to frequent and also to learn as much as he could about Saint Philip from Father Pietro Consolini who had known the Saint intimately.  Anthony meditated upon this knowledge and applied it in his own life for ten years before imparting it more explicitly to others when he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory in 1635. Anthony retained the position of superior for the next 36 years until his death in 1671. In his government of the Oratory, Anthony imitated the gentleness of Saint Philip and of his Divine Master whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

     Perhaps the life of Blessed Anthony does not immediately strike our imagination.  He did not go off half-way across the world to spread the faith as did Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Jean de Brebeuf, or other well known missionaries. He is not known for great feats of physical mortification. He left no learned writings to make his name known in seminaries and universities.  He did not found a religious order or institute.  And his life was not as permeated with the supernatural as was Philip's who also shunned all worldly honours. Anthony's life was a hidden one in a small provincial town in an institute whose priests and brothers should strive to be unknown; and there he found his peace.  Perhaps, the very commonness of his life should make him of special interest to us and to our restless age.

     Anthony accepted that Divine Providence had placed him in Fermo.  He was born there; there was an Oratory there which he liked; there was no need to go elsewhere to seek his vocation.  Anthony was able to discern among the familiar sights of youth a call to a divine work which needs to be carried out among the commonplace.

     Anthony also realized that whatever vocation we are called to, we can be sanctified in it by doing each task well, no matter how menial and seemingly unimportant. One of his oft-repeated maxims was ‘ad litteram, ad litteram’, meaning, to the letter - to follow the rules of the institute to the letter.  This attitude requires humility.  It requires humility to subject ourselves to a law or a lawmaker. And it requires wisdom and humility to recognize that there is virtue in following a rule - whether it be a rule of a religious community, a rule of a place of work, a rule of family life, or one of the ten commandments.  All good laws are there to help us become better as individuals and to smoothen the functioning of society.  When we ignore all laws and rules and act just to please ourselves, order breaks down in society and in our souls; we become slaves to the law of our passions. Anthony feared this breakdown in the harmonious life of the Oratory whose few rules help to establish the spirit of Saint Philip, and, hence, he always demanded that the rule be kept by others and ensured that it was by keeping it himself.

     One of the works that Blessed Anthony was especially known for was visiting the sick and the dying.  He ever kept the reality of death before him which helped him to remain faithful to his vocation. He knew that nothing in this life is permanent, that there is no point in trying to find our complete happiness here but that we must seek it from God in heaven. In 1671, as Blessed Anthony lay dying he said with great joy, "What a beautiful thing it is to die a son of Saint Philip."  
There is no better end to an Oratorian vocation.

Blessed Anthony spent nearly all his life in the region of the Marches, near the east coast of Italy, in and around his home town of Fermo. The 17th century through which he lived was not a time of peace for the local inhabitants. Floods and fires took their toll on the town during his childhood, but the Church in whose patrimony the Marche lay, was quick to rebuilt the town’s prestige. The Jesuits were given the University, the Cathedral chapter restructured, the Capuchin church opened, regular deanery meetings established, and charities created to assist the poor. This was the atmosphere of faith and good works in which Anthony grew up, and throughout his life he exhibited all those qualities. And so when in the explosive year of 1648 the harvest failed and some unscrupulous landowners artificially inflated the price of wheat the townspeople rioted, it was Fr Anthony who brought peace by calling the landowners to their responsibilities and the making sure the poor did not go to bed hungry. For acts such as these he is known as the ‘Angel of Peace’.

He was born on 13thNovember 1592, three years before the death of St Philip Neri in Rome. His father and mother, Vincenzo and Francesca, were of noble families with strong links to the local Church. Piety and gentle love were already forming Anthony at home, and found their natural focus in the Church of the Fathers of the Oratory in the town where he was baptised, now on the Corso Cavour in the town next to the Palace of Justice which was the Oratory house. 

As a schoolboy he would join the Fathers in their prayers and meditations, and served Mass every morning in their church. The influence of the Oratory led Anthony to emulate the Fathers in reading and discussing the lives of the saints, the Sacred Scriptures and Church History. At the Oratory the young Anthony found a true School of Holiness in his formative years; the Church’s feasts and fasts moulding his heart and mind. And unseen by the world he would copy the hidden mortifications of the Oratorians, which helped him to bear serious illness and the death of his father with much fruit. Anthony had 
learnt from the Fathers that God always brings good out of evil, and we must trust him as we carry the Cross towards heaven. 

After the death of his natural father Anthony found his affections turned to a supernatural father, Fr Flaminio Ricci. He had lived with St Philip and brought the Congregation of the Oratory to Fermo. His humour, gentleness and wisdom won Anthony’s total devotion, and he allowed Fr Flaminio to mould his heart in obedience to God following the contours of St Philip heart in humility and joy. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, which enlightens what is good and burns away what is bad, always recognised by the fruits generated in the eager soul; charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continence, and chastity. 

It was no surprise when Anthony asked to join the Congregation of the Oratory at Fermo, attracted by the joy and determination of the community in putting into practice what he felt interiorly. He was admitted on 11th October 1609 at the age of sixteen, not long after the consecration of the new church dedicated to the Holy Spirit, and began his journey in the Community towards the priesthood, knowing that he would live, work and die in this one household. This was the place where his holiness would be fashioned, where God’s grace would be found; here and nowhere else. After many years he would often exclaim to the Community, and repeat on his death bed, what he knew right from the beginning,“Oh what a beautiful thing to die a child of St Philip!” 

Of course, our fallen nature has to be exercised day after day to cooperate with grace in order to be holy. The sacraments, devotions, prayers, asceticism and the spiritual and corporal works of charity assist in this work of turning our nature around. Anthony had to work hard in grace to mitigate his sometimes choleric temperament by forcing himself to be mild and calm, immediately subduing every motion to grumpiness and irritability. Hair shirts were in comparison easy when compared to the mortification of the temperament in a community. Like St Philip, when asked whether he ever wore a hair shirt he answered with great simplicity that he had not, but with four fingers touching his forehead his indicated another form of hair shirt; the mortification of one’s own opinion and will by life in the Congregation. 

The round of his day was punctuated with prayer in order to keep inner peace, beginning with the community time of meditation. Throughout the day he would say the rosary, dividing the mysteries up for different times of the day and the week. He studied Sacred Scripture each week and together with theological works, especially the Fathers and St Thomas, to feed his mind. His work in the confessional was simple and direct, without long discourses but getting straight to the matter set before him. Again this straightforward manner helped him to prepare many people for their death. He had so conquered his natural tendency to irritability that he was able to show gentleness and kindness to all the Fathers and Brothers, especially when they brought to him their own frustrations with each other, which are the pricks of the hair shirt of communal life where the battle for holiness is waged. 

Of the many stories about Blessed Anthony the most famous concerns his yearly pilgrimage to the Holy House at Loreto, not many miles distant from Fermo. Here he would go to pray in that house where the angel Gabriel came to the Blessed Virgin, where she consented to God’s will, and where the eternal Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. In 1621, when Anthony was 29, he was kneeling in prayer inside the basilica during a terrific thunderstorm. As the storm was raging a bolt of lightning smashed through the window of the church and struck him. He was carried unconscious from the church, and was prepared for death, but he recovered his strength and found himself cured of acute indigestion. He was in perfect health, and all that remained of his close encounter with death were the scorched underclothes from the heat of the lightning. These he donated as a thanksgiving offering to the shrine. Perhaps these unusual relics of Blessed Anthony are still there waiting to be venerated there! 

His life was that unremarkable round of the Oratorian priest in his community, serving the people who came to the Oratory church. His sanctity, like ours, was simply faithfulness and perseverance to his calling trying day after day to be like the Lord. Towards the end of his life he retired more and more to his room. Visitors were frequent, and he was gracious with everyone even when he felt that he would rather not be disturbed, all flowing from the gentleness and patience he had cultivated throughout his life. Finally the Archbishop of Fermo came to administer the Last Rites to him, and attended him in his room night and day. The Fathers and Brothers of the Congregation were summoned to his bedside as his final hour came on the evening of Sunday 13th December, and with the Archbishop they recited the Litany of Loreto, so beloved of Fr Anthony. When they came to the invocation, “Regina Sanctorum Omnium” (Queen of All Saints) he opened his eyes, raised them to an unseen figure near the ceiling, smiled and closed his eyes in death. The room was filled with a beautiful fragrance, which continued around the body for some days. 

The scenes around the church following his death were a riot of piety, so much so that the governor of Fermo had to place soldiers around the building to check the crowds. Thousands of people wanted to touch the body with medals, rosaries and such like, so that at two o’clock in the morning the Archbishop and Fathers of the Oratory finally closed the coffin lid so that preparation could be made for the funeral. 

Fr Anthony was hailed as a‘Second St Philip’, miracles began to be reported, and he was hailed by many as a saint. The Archbishop of Fermo opened his cause for canonisation in 1682, his virtues were declared heroic in 1700, he was declared venerable in 1893, and was eventually beatified by Leo XIII in 1900. His body was translated from his resting place in Oratory church he knew to the Carmelite church in the town, where his body lies exposed for veneration under the Blessed Sacrament altar. Here his body lies, in the town where he was born, lived his hidden life loving God and his neighbour in the humble and joyful model of St Philip.