Thursday, March 23, 2006

Anniversary of Death of Alvaro del Portillo - March 23, 1994

Foundational Charism:

“In order to serve the Church in Opus Dei, everything must always be understood, and carried out, taking as its starting point our Father’s foundational charism. This charism, which was a gratuitous supernatural reality, endures in the Work, endowing it with well defined characteristics. The Holy Spirit didn’t place it in our Father’s soul merely with a view to his personal response to God, but so that it would give shape for centuries to come to the Work our Lord was entrusting to him. This charism cannot become, therefore, a mere historical reference taking us back to the past. It is, through God’s mercy, a living and effective reality in Opus Dei, a power, a grace, from which we all ought to draw nourishment and which we all have the duty of guarding and passing on…. We are, and always will be, living `in our Father’s time,’” said Alvaro del Portillo.[1]

Stage of Fidelity:

“Since 26 June 1975 the Work has been going through a stage which Don Alvaro always referred to as the stage of continuity, the stage of fidelity to the spirit and the norms received from our Father. We are called to assimilate them fully, to make them flesh of our flesh, and so fulfill, in the service of the Church and of souls, the mission God has given us – a mission which in no way distinguishes us from the rest of the lay faithful or the diocesan clergy."

“I shouldn’t continue without speaking to you a little more about Don Alvaro, our Father’s most faithful son and successor, a good and faithful servant, who on 23 March 1994 entered into the joy of his Master. All of us indeed have witnessed his holiness and his fatherly watchfulness. We have seen how he dedicated all his energies to guiding his daughters and sons at every moment along the path of burning love for Christ and of self-giving, in the apostolic task our Founder left clearly marked out – carved in stone, let me say once again."

“But the considerations I am putting before you in this Letter require me now to refer not directly to Don Alvaro’s saintly response, but the significance in the overall history of the Work of what he did while he was our Pastor and Father. Our Father used to call him saxum. He realized very early on that God had placed this son at his side to be a firm support, and to be the one who would eventually succeed him as head of Opus Dei. St. Josemaria always dept him close at hand, making sure he became thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Work, and he gradually prepared him for his future mission. That was how al of us, all the other children of God in Opus Dei, understood it. All of us, even the oldest members, treated him in our normal family style but with a special reverence and respect…

“Therefore, when the Electors unanimously chose him on 15 September 1975 to be our Founder’s successor, Don Alvaro was able to comment on the election with that very simple expression: the Electors `have voted unanimously, not for Alvaro del Portillo, but once again for the Father.’ While he said this out of humility, to avoid standing out himself, it was really a profound truth. It made clear what a great man he was, and the special authority with which he took up his new role as Pastor and Father of the family of Opus Dei…. He was well prepared to set in motion and direct the new stage then beginning, `the state of continuity in fidelity’ as he stressed from the very first moment, bearing in himself our Father’s authority which continued uninterrupted”
(Letter from the Prelate, November 28, 1995)

Domestic Tasks of D. Alvaro:

a. “the culmination of the canonical path of Opus Dei” as “the pontifical establishment of Opus Dei as a personal Prelature in the Church on 28 November 1982.”

b.“urging forward our Father’s process of beatification. This was accomplished ten years after the establishment of the Prelature on… 17 may 1992.”

Tasks at the Second Vatican Council:

· May 2, 1959: named Consultor of the congregation of the Council;
· August 10, 1959: named President of the VII internal Commission De laicatu catholico;
· Named member of the pre-preparatory Commission on the states of perfection;
· August 12 elected member of the III Commission of the Congregation of the Council encharged to study the so-called peculiaria nostrae aetatis apostolatus media.
· October 4, 1962: named conciliar “Peritus.”
· November 4, 1962: named “Peritus” of the Commission for the Discipline of the Clergy and Christian People;
· November 8, 1962: named Secretary of this organism
· Named Consultor of the Commissions for the Bishops and the regime of the dioceses, the Religious and the Discipline of the Faith.
· September 29 – December of 1963: during the Second Session of the Council, the Commission for the Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People, of which D. Alvaro was Secretary, was encharged to synthesize into a single conciliar decree (to become “Presbyterorum Ordinis). He had to coordinate the work of the members of the Commission which became a conciliar text of a single chapter subdivided into 10 parts.

“To some extent, it as Don Alvaro’s decision that a text be drafted. He argued persuasively that the priesthood was so important in the Church that it well deserved a decree of its own, rather than just a handful of propositions with a concluding message (a suggestion made at some point in the proceedings).

“The drafting of the decree was very hard work, especially because of all the tension there was at that time over the issue of priestly celibacy. That conflict, in fact, got so bad that Pope Paul himself had to intervene. Also, the commission had to reach conclusions regarding the spirituality of priests. One of its decisions was to defend centuries-old traditions against those who regarded them as mere pietism. It discussed the presence of the priest in the world, and why he needed a good formation in the basic human virtues in order to serve the men and women of his time. But it also warned that priests should not adopt lay lifestyles, much less take on commitments of a partisan political nature. Finally, it asserted the freedom to join associations which in one way or another could help them achieve personal sanctification in the carrying out of their priestly ministry.”

“Not a week had gone by after the close of the Council when Cardinal Ciriaci, president of the commission of which Don Alvaro had been secretary, sent him a note expressing heartfelt gratitude and congratulations for the happy conclusion of a great achievement.” The note said: “You steered to a safe harbor your decree, which is by no means the least important of the decrees and constitutions of the Council.” The vote on the document was 2390 to 4, a nearly unanimous approval after thorough debate, on December 7, 1965. Ciriaci said: (History would regard this decree as) “a fresh, and practically unanimous, confirmation by the Second Vatican Council of ecclesiastical celibacy and the exalted mission of the priesthood.” Pope Paul VI said: “I am well aware of the extent to which this is a result of your prudent, tenacious, and courteous efforts. Without failing to respect the freedom of others to have and to express their own opinions, you never swerved from the track of fidelity to the great principles of priestly spirituality.”[3]

Icon of Alvaro del Portillo’s Fidelity to the Charism of St. Josemaria:

On June 27, 1975, with St. Josemaria lying in state in the oratory of Our Lady of Peace in Rome, Alvaro del Portillo got up from where he was praying. He approached the body of St. Josemaria, knelt down at his head, bent over and touched his forehead to the forehead of St. Josemaria. He remained in that position for some long seconds. Then, he got up, removed three red roses from a stem and deposited them at the feet of the saint pronouncing the phrase of St. Paul: Quam speciosi pedes evangelizantium pacem, evangelizantium bona!

Death of D. Alvaro - Arrival of John Paul II:

Death of Alvaro del Portillo: At 6, 15 p.m. on the afternoon of March 23, 1994, John Paul II arrived at 73 Viale Bruno Buozzi, and descended to the oratory of Our Lady of Peace. Upon entering he said in Italian: “Sia lodato Gesu Cristo!” (Praised by Jesus Christ). All repeated the exclamation.

The Pope then knelt down on a predieu with a red stole and remained kneeling in prayer for some ten minutes in the midst of an impressive silence.

He was then invited by the Prelate to pray the response for the dead, but he preferred to intone the Salve and pray three Glory be to the Father’s. He then pronounced the invocations Requiem aeternum dona ei, Domine and Requiescat in pace. He was offered the hyssop and he sprinkled the body of D. Alvaro with holy water. Afterwards, he knelt down and prayed for a short time more. Before leaving the chapel, he blessed all those present.

The Prelate reminded the Pope of the profound love of D. Alvaro for the Church and the Pope for whom he always offered the Mass, and concretely the Mass of yesterday morning that he celebrated in the Cenacle of Jerusalem. Then, he thanked the Holy Father in the name of the Work for his coming to pray. The Pope, in Italian, answered that he considered a duty: “Si doveva, si doveva…

Then the Pope asked the Father what time D. Alvaro had celebrated Mass in the Cenacle. He calculated the number of hours that passed between the last Mass precisely there and the moment of death. The answer was seventeen (17).


Opus Dei and the Church: Alvaro del Portillo pronounced that the Second Vatican Council “had assimilated and promulgated as common doctrine for all Christians the substantial lines of the charism of Opus Dei.”[4]

[1] Letter from the Prelate, November 28, 1995.
[2] Salvador Bernal, “Alvaro del Portillo,” Scepter (1996) 130-131.
[3] Ibid. 126-128.
[4] Cfr. Romana et Matriten., Beatificationis et Canonizationis Servi Dei Iosephmaria Escriva de Balaguer, Positio super vita et virtutibus, Summarium, no. 964.

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