“In this photo you can see how the Portiuncula looks almost like a playhouse inside the basilica.” CNS photo/Emanuela De Meo, Catholic Press Photo
Sunday Aug. 2 is the Feast of the Portiuncula in Assisi, Italy, and it is also the anniversary of my ordination as a bishop.
This church is considered, in many ways, the mother church of the Franciscan order. It is where St. Francis held the chapters, the meetings of the friars; it is where St. Clare took her vows; it is where St. Francis chose to die.
The Portiuncula is a very tiny chapel and, in order to preserve it, the large Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels has been built on top of it. So it looks a bit funny when you go into the basilica and find another church inside.
The Franciscan friars still pay the rent on the Portiuncula, which actually belongs to the Benedictines. For nearly 800 years, we have been paying one basket of fish a year. I always say that it is the greatest example of rent control in the history of the world!
Those in the Boston area who have never seen the original may be interested to know that Cardinal Richard Cushing built a magnificent replica of the Portiuncula in Hanover at the Cardinal Cushing Center. In fact, he chose the chapel as his final resting place.
An interesting fact related to the Portiuncula is the story of the Portiuncula Indulgence.
St. Francis was anxious for people to be able to receive the same indulgences and blessings that they would receive had they been able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So he went to the pope and requested that those indulgences and blessings be attached to a visit to the Portiuncula. This was called the Portiuncula Indulgence and the feast became known as the “Perdono d’ Assisi”, the Pardon of Assisi.
That privilege was later extended to all Franciscan chapels and churches. After the Second Vatican Council, it was extended even further to include a visit to any parish church on that day, as long as the usual requirements for a plenary indulgence are fulfilled: going to Confession, receiving Communion, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.
The Holy Father made reference to this in his Sunday Angelus address...
I want to mention something about indulgences, which are often misunderstood. Indulgences are not forgiveness for sin but forgiveness for temporal punishment due to sin.
I like to explain it to people with the following story:
As a child, once I came home very late for dinner. My mother was very upset, and seeing how upset she was, I felt very repentant and I told her that it would never happen again. She told me she forgave me, but as my punishment I would have to do the dishes.
So there was repentance and forgiveness, but there was still punishment.
But, as I started doing the dishes, my nana came in and said, “I will help you.”
That is an indulgence.
God loves us and he forgives us, but in His justice there is still some punishment for sin. The indulgence is when the merits and the sufferings of Jesus and the saints are applied to that punishment. The Portiuncula Indulgence is a wonderful symbol of that.
Because of the great importance of this feast, I chose August 2 for my ordination when I was appointed a bishop 25 years ago.