What’s in That Prayer? The Stigmata of Saint Francis of Assisi

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office of the Feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis of Assissi (September 17):

Dómine Iesu Christe, qui, frigescénte mundo, ad inflammándum corda nostra tui amóris igne, in carne beatíssimi Francísci passiónis tuæ sacra Stígmata renovásti: concéde propítius; ut eius méritis et précibus crucem iúgiter ferámus, et dignos fructus pæniténtiæ faciámus:

Here is my translation:

O Lord Jesus Christi, who, when the world was grown cold, didst renew the holy Stigmata of Thy Passion in the flesh of blessed Francis unto the inflaming of our hearts with the fire of Thy love: mercifully grant that by his merits and prayers we may enduringly bear the Cross, and may be made worthy of the reward of penitence.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, when the love of many was waxing cold, didst manifest once more the holy marks of thine own Suffering in the flesh of thy most blessed servant Francis, to the end that our hearts might kindle again with the fire of the love of thyself, be Thou entreated for thy servant’s sake, and grant to his and our prayers that we may effectually carry thy Cross and bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

To say that Saint Francis was particularly devoted to the Incarnation may sound strange. All Christians should be so devoted. Yet, at the time, there was a tendency, thanks to various heresies, to “over-spiritualize” religion, as if Jesus did not have a real Body and as if our own bodies are of no consequence. Being devoted to the Crib of our Lord and His Holy Cross — he instituted devotion both to the Creche and the Stations of the Cross — Saint Francis brought back to Western Christendom a fresh awareness of and intense love for the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord. It was fitting that the very mystery of the Cross which he Loved so much would be renewed in his own poor body.

The reference to “the world being grown cold” seems to be an allusion to Matt. 24:12.

The petition that we may be “made worthy of the reward of penitence” explicitly employs the words of that earlier preacher of penance, Saint John the Baptist, as a perusal of the relevant passage in Saint Luke reveals. Saint Francis is one of the greatest preachers of penance in the history of the Church — perhaps the greatest after Our Lord — so it is appropriate that we ask to “be made worthy of the reward of penitence” by his merits and intercession.

Saint Bonaventure’s narration of Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata may be read here, and on this site one may see a video commentary on Giotto’s beautiful painting of the episode.

Saint Robert Bellarmine was heavily involved in the approval of this feast by the Holy See. There are some lovely “coincidences” regarding the Poverello and the Jesuit Doctor, particularly involving today’s feast, which I briefly summarized in this article, from which I now quote:

Saint Robert died on September 17, 1621. Significantly, that is the feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis of Assisi — that is, the feast commemorating the impression of Saint Francis with the Five Wounds of Our Lord. Saint Robert had been born on October 4, the main feast of Saint Francis, and he was named Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino, the Francesco part being after the poor man of Assisi. There is yet more: Not only was Saint Robert, the Jesuit, personally dedicated to the founder of the Franciscans, but the Feast of September 17 — the Stigmata — was also something that he helped to institute in the Church in his capacity as Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites!

In the Traditional Roman Rite, Saint Robert’s feast is May 13, the anniversary of his Beatification by Pius XI. In the New Rite, which has reduced the significance of the Stigmata of Saint Francis, Saint Robert’s feast day has been moved to September 17.