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A historical-charismatic survey

Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Eliseo Sgarbossa ssp


7. Gospel Feasts and Congresses, Liturgical celebration of Jesus Master

The celebration of the annual feast of the Gospel was an expression of homage to the Divine Master and a promotion initiative of new apostolic activities. What could have been the spirit that animated it is revealed by an episode reported by a witness of the time: "One day, from 1924 to 1925, the Primo Maestro called us in the chapel and announced, ‘Tomorrow you shall take a vacation from school because we have a beautiful novelty to celebrate.’ He added, ‘Now we must prepare ourselves and be purified by sacramental confession.’ A devote penitential rite was held and the next day, when entering the places of apostolate, we saw the ‘novelty’: these were the first signatures of the first edition of the Gospel printed in the House. These we had to fold and bind. It was for this that we had to be prepared because, so Fr. Alberione said, the works of God have to be done ‘with innocent hands and pure hearts’." At another time, always according to this witness, "Fr. Alberione asked us to pray without allowing us the time to set things in order after the apostolate. And to him who objected that it would not be nice to go to church with hands dirty with ink or paste, he replied, ‘On the contrary! Show well your dirty hands to Jesus and tell him: Master, it is for you that we worked, it is for the Gospel; you, however, wash our hearts and we shall be worthy of spreading your Word.’ Then, as soon as the first copies of the sacred Book were ready, the book was exposed in the church. It was then, I believe, that we started reciting the ejaculatory prayer, ‘O Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life, have mercy on us’." (136)

It is with this spirit that every year the feast of the Gospel was celebrated and it was exhorted, with persistent invitations published in the Gazzetta d’Alba and, on the national level, in Vita Pastorale,(137) that the same thing be done in all dioceses and parishes. In the bulletin UCBS, it was emphasized that such a feast was necessary and urgent for a series of reasons drawn from the motto, "It is necessary":

Let us underline this new expression: "God Master," referred to Jesus, worthy of being carried in triumph not only in eucharistic procession, but also in the guise of the printed book.

An exemplary model of a parish Gospel celebration was that held in Benevello(138) which concluded with a solemn "promise" to the Divine Master and with a truly significant involvement in worship, to which we shall speak again later.

To enhance such veneration to the Sacred Book, there existed the practice, rather primitive at that time, of the "National Congress of the Gospel." In 1925, the Congress was held in Bologna and the introductory talk was delivered by the Salesian Father Cojazzi, well-known writer and educator, on the theme "The Gospel as a means of formation and of education." The talk, enthusiastically received and widely quoted, was proposed in the bulletin UCBS.(139) In the following year, 1926, the Congress took place in Milan, at the UniversitÓ di Sacro Cuore, and was attended with much enthusiasm by the Paulines (cf. PP 872-873, 890).

In 1927 it was the Paulines who organized the III National Congress and it was celebrated in Alba on June 30.(140) The bulletin UCBS published a lengthy and enthusiastic report of the event which was preceded and followed by numerous cultural exhibits (among which shows with biblical content) and various promotion activities (cf. PP 880-895).

Meanwhile, since the spring of 1925, Fr. Alberione proposed an attempt of a liturgy proper for the celebration of the Divine Master, by taking the formulary of the Sexagesima Sunday.(141) - (summary)

8. The "Promises to Jesus Master": a profession of faith

The conclusion of the Gospel feast held in Benevello deserves to be noticed because of the solemn "promises" to Jesus Master formulated by the parish priest at the end of the eucharistic adoration.(142) The entire prayer, as it appears from the text, is patterned after the "baptismal promises" of the Easter liturgy: a "symbol" of faith, a declaration of fidelity to the "Universal and infallible Master," a commitment to renounce the "false teacher" and a promise of adherence to the Gospel in all its expressions. Let us not fail to notice especially the insistence on the term "disciple" and his humble and penitent spirit before Jesus Host: an evident implicit allusion to the Alberione "dream" and to the offertory prayer.

Strengthened by this and other positive experiences, Fr. Alberione wanted that an outline for celebration of the "Feast of the Holy Gospel and of the Divine Master" were re-proposed to all parishes. Such an outline suggested the manner of preparation, the celebration of the day and its conclusion. The guide-idea, to be taught to the faithful, was this: "The Gospel must come in [every home], and every bad press must go out." Consequently, it was suggested to the parish priest to expose the Sacred Book beside the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and to distribute copies of it to the faithful along the communion rails "like the Eucharist." The day had to be concluded with a solemn adoration during which it had to be suggested that the Gospel be exposed in every house, like in the parish, and that all the faithful should express "in a loud voice" his own adherence to Jesus Christ Master, through a formulary of "promises."(143) Such formula, in comparison with that of Benevello, is more sober, but it insists with emphasis on the "condemnation" and on the "taking away" of the bad press and it is enriched with its approach of the magisterium of the Pope to that of the Divine Master.

Once more the adhesion to the Gospel as the authentic "teaching chair" of the Master was formulated as a commitment of coherence with one’s baptismal faith, which is counterpositioned in a constructive sense to the spoiled and negative sources of the opposing press.

At the root of such a promotion activity for the Gospel was an intense work of conscientization within the Pauline communities, either the male or the female communities. As usual the month of January of that same year, 1927, was consecrated, as was the usage, to the Divine Master. And it was a particularly intense month: each day started with a meditation led by Canon Chiesa on Jesus Master. "The fruit was very good," so a chronicler reported and further explained: "ever greater esteem of the Bible, of the Gospel, of the teaching of the Pope, and the desire that the devotion to Jesus Divine Master be spread so much" (cf. UCBS 20 February 1927; PP 464). And Sunday, 30 January, the solemn conclusion of the month and the "Feast of the Divine Master," was marked by the religious clothing of the clerics who, the chronicler reports, "carry out the role of masters in the printing press" to the younger students (cf. PP 225).

During the same year the Pauline communities had in hand two texts of great importance for their devotion: the volume by Canon Chiesa on Jesus Master and the new book of Prayers of the Pious Society of St. Paul. We shall speak about the first in a short while; regarding the second, it is enough to observe that it documents for the first time the introduction of prayer formulas inspired after the Divine Master like the opening invocation: "O Jesus, Master, Way Truth and Life; – Have mercy on us."(144)

Aside from the National Gospel Congress, the climax of the celebration of that year 1927 was the laying of the corner stone of the Church in honor of the Divine Master in the suburbs west of Alba, in the neighborhood of San Cassiano. We learn in fact from the bulletin UCBS of July 20 that, while among the houses of the Society of St. Paul the Church of St. Paul was rising, "the Church of the Divine Master is also beginning to take shape". Its corner stone was blessed on August 21.(145) And we can read in the September 20 issue of the bulletin the colorful chronicle of the "solemn feasts" from the rite of blessing officiated by the Bishop to the presence of city officials and the clergy, and to the "very long evening candlelight procession" during which "the Divine Master passed for the first time in triumph across the neighborhood consecrated to him" (cf. PP 262). Let it not be forgotten that, for about two years, all the financial efforts of the Founder were aimed at the construction of the Church of St. Paul and of the attached paper plant. (summary)

9. St. Paul and the "thesis" of his Church

Let us then go back to January 1925. In an appeal to the cooperators "so that they may close ranks [in collaboration] with the diffusion," the Society of St. Paul is compared to a parish priest eager to "popularize the Gospel"; even better, it is introduced as a mother who feeds with her own milk her babies. The food she offers is the life of Christ "which is in her, exposed continually in the church [like the Eucharist] and in the workrooms [like the Gospel], and she says: I am with you, from here I want to enlighten." And here are the fruits: "Those who receive the publications which originate from him [Christ] receive his light, his word, his Gospel: light which is called book, bulletin, but divine light which drives away the darkness, light that enlightens all men, that leads to life eternal" (cf. UCBS 20 January 1925; PP 662). This thought was emphasized and explained some months later in relation with Catholic journalism understood as "teaching chair" of the Divine Master and as antidote against the poison of the "teaching chairs of pestilence."(146)

The bright source is therefore Christ "continually exposed in church". But what church? The small chapel built among the vegetable patches(147) while waiting for the church, which would be the center of all the Pauline complex, was not there yet. The blueprint of this church was anticipated in June 1925 with the explanation that it would be opened to the public for the perpetual adoration although it would be used above all by the Society of St. Paul, "for which it shall be the center of way, truth, life". Because of this, it was added, "it is built in a way that, by means of small choir lofts and of openings, one could remain as if in continuous communication with the Divine Master" (cf. UCBS 15 June 1925; PP 566).

Such information served as an invitation to the festivities in honor of St. Paul planned for 28-30 of June. (148) However, already in the month of March, the architectural theme of the church under construction – "everything has to be done and ordained to express a thesis" – was announced. It was this: "Like St. Paul [knower and authentic interpreter of Christ, also we] gather from the lips of the Divine Master, under the protective gaze of the Queen of Apostles, the divine Word which, through the press, shall be transformed into life, way and truth for the souls" (cf. UCBS 15 March 1925; PP 555).

Let not the weight of this formula elude us. It punctually translates the idea and the practice of Fr. Alberione also into sacred buildings. In fact the formula contains the essential elements of the Alberione theology of the apostolate: above all the Pauline’s attitude of being disciple who, in imitation to the Apostle, is attentive to the teaching of the Master; in the second place, the Divine Word which is drawn from the lips of the Master, only to be translated and diffused through the editorial means, and that it be transformed – the third element – into life, way and truth (the triple dimension of the magisterium) for the salvation of souls. Further analyzing the formula we can see in it the central nucleus of that synthesis which go on maturing and finally defined in the succeeding three decades.(149)

The figure of St. Paul, as Fr. Alberione never tired of repeating, is decisive for the understanding and the translation of the magisterium of Jesus.(150) Thanks to Paul, Christ Master reaches all men inasmuch as he is the universal Apostle. "St. Paul is a saint who offers special attractions to the heart and mind of peoples... he was and, through the centuries, shall remain to be a strong magnet which shall draw nations gently and strongly. The reason? He was transformed in Christ and hence participates in His power." The way to that identification lies in the fact that Paul "has understood the intimate senses of the heart and of the mind of the Divine Master" and, because of this, he has conquered in an everlasting manner the heart and the mind of peoples with the Gospel and with Christ’s grace (cf. UCBS 25 July 1925; PP 566-567).

Hence, since 1922, also to St. Paul, similar to the Divine Master, a month – June – has been dedicated and devotion to him has been repeatedly recommended either within the Pauline communities or among the cooperators.(151) Towards this end, the valuable book, Un mese a San Paolo, the fruit of the joint effort of Fr. Alberione and Maestro Giaccardo, was published in 1925 as a tool for catechesis and animation.

To underline the unity of magisterium between that of Christ and of St. Paul, the Church of St. Paul had to have at its center the altar dedicated to the Divine Master (cf. PP 566)(152) wherein the monstrance would be enthroned for the perpetual adoration.(153) It is, in fact, from there that "the Divine Master diffuses his rays, which are the Way, the Truth and the Life and which form the apostles of the press..." (cf. PP 558). (summary)

10. The Divine Master in Rome

The foundation of the first Pauline house in Rome took place in January, 1926. The chronicle of the time are rich with details (cf. PP 266-281), but for now what interests us only are the references to Christ Master and the motives of Fr. Alberione appropriated by Maestro Giaccardo, founder of the new community together with Maestra Amalia Payrolo FSP. Giaccardo himself informed the brothers in Alba as to how the House of Rome was "protected in an extraordinary manner by the Divine Master," although he regretted that, having no altar yet in the chapel, "he has not yet come to live among us" (cf. UCBS 20 April 1926; PP 269, 276). Nonetheless, he added, "the Divine Master has sent us various diocesan weeklies and new parish bulletins" (obviously for printing). And he commented: "The Divine Master is the Truth... The Catholic newspaper defends the Truth and the Church" (cf. UCBS 20 October 1925; PP 664).

Why a house in Rome? The reason was present in the mind of Fr. Alberione since the beginning but it was expressed only in 1954. And it was twofold: a strategy of geographical expansion and a calculation of charismatic value. The first was formulated this way: "[If] from Alba, the aim was Italy, from Rome the aim is in a special manner for other foreign nations." The second reason, more determining and "clear" was the following: "We go to Rome in order to experience better that the Pauline Family is at the service of the Holy See; in order to draw more directly the doctrine, the spirit, the apostolate from the source: the Papacy." And this thought, Fr. Alberione explained, he carried in his heart since 1911, when "he had the chance to stop and pray at the tomb of St. Paul" (cf. AD 114-116).

The Papacy: this is the Source, the visible sacrament of the Divine Magisterium, the criterion of authenticity and the guarantee of doctrinal fidelity. In this sense a telegram of homage to the Pope on the part of the members of the II National Congress of the Gospel held in Milan in the autumn of 1926, gave a bright testimony. It greeted the Pope as , "The Vicar of the Divine Master, echo and living perennial interpreter of his Gospel..."(154)

The same importance was given to the first feast of the Divine Master in Rome, celebrated on January 30, 1927. It marked the beginning of the eucharistic presence in the Roman Pauline community (cf. PP 274). (summary)

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