The Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi

Section: 
prayers

October 3

Preparations: 

In the gathering space, there is a San Damiano Crucifix prominently displayed along with a Bible or Book of the Gospels and a stand on which a large candle can be placed. Additional candles, flowers etc. may be strategically placed to create a festive environment. Hymns listed can be changed as needed. A leader, narrator, reader and candle bearer are needed. If desired, there can be several narrators.
 
Hymn Suggestions:

In a Dream (Hutmacher)
Seek Ye First (Laferty)
Remember Your Love (Ducote)
Shepherd Me, O God (Haugen)
Jesus Remember Me (Berthier)
Prayer for Guidance (Talbot)
Blessed Are They (Haas)
Those Who See Light (Elze)
Open My Eyes, Lord (Manibusan)
In Perfect Charity (Debruyn)
Praise and Thanksgiving (Zaragoza)
Canticle of the Sun (Haugen)
God of Day and God of Darkness (BEACH SPRING)
 

 
Story of the Death of St. Francis:

Sources for alternate readings:

  • The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano (was called 1 CELANO),
  • The Second Book, Chapters VIII and IX, pp. 277-284
  • The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas of Celano (was called 2 CELANO), The Second Book, Chapters CLXII and CLXIII, pp. 387 ff.
  • Bonaventure’s Major Life, Chapter XIV
  • Bonaventure’s Minor Life, Chapter VII
  • The Assisi Compilation (was called Legend of Perugia), #4-8, 11-14
Reflection and Sharing:

This segment can include or be replaced by a homily/reflection. See below.**

Leader: From the earliest days of the Franciscan Order, the followers of St. Francis have gathered on the anniversary of his death to celebrate his transitus, that is, St. Francis' passage from earthly life into everlasting life. Here in this place, we, too, gather to celebrate the light which Francis was to his world. But, this celebration is not only a memorial, a remembering of one who has gone before us. It is also a celebration of the spirit of Francis in our midst today, in each of us. This is a time when we, inspired by Francis, consider how we can be light for our world.
  
Hymn: In a Dream (Hutmacher)
During the hymn, the candle bearer carries a large lighted candle symbolizing the light of St. Francis' life to the candle stand.
 
Narrators: The Story of the Death of St. Francis
Given as numbers 1, 2, 3 on page 5 of this service or from an alternate reading.

Reading: John 13: 1-17

Narrators: Continuation of the Story of the Death of St. Francis -  See numbers 4 and 5 below.

Response: Psalm 142. Pray antiphonally.
With all my voice I cry to you, Yahweh;
with all my voice I entreat you.
I pour out my complaint before you;
I tell you all my distress.
 
When my spirit faints within me,
you, Yahweh, know my path.
On the way where I shall walk
they have hidden a snare to trap me.
 
I look on my right and see:
there is no one who takes my part.
I have lost all means of escape,
there is no one who cares for my life.
 
I cry to you, Yahweh,
I have said: “You are my refuge,
all I have in the land of the living.”
Listen, then, to my cry,
for I am in the depths of distress.
 
Rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Bring my soul out of this prison,
and then I shall praise your name.
Around me the just will gather
because of your goodness to me.
 
Glory . . .
 
Psalm is reprinted from Psalms Anew by Nancy Schreck, OSF, and Maureen Leach, OSF, © 1984 The Sisters of St. Francis, Dubuque, Iowa. Used with permission. 
 
Leader: In John's Gospel we heard Jesus' words, "What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do." St. Francis has told us, "I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours." Take time to consider these mandates. How has my life changed since I met Francis? Who is St. Francis for me?
After some time for quiet reflection, take a few moments to share what you wish of your reflection with the person next to you. At the conclusion of the sharing, we will light candles as a sign of Christ's light, passed on through Francis, now shining in us. When all the candles are lit, we will remain seated and sing.
 
Hymn: Blest Are They (Haas)
 
Intercessions: All stand.

Response: Merciful One, hear our prayer.
That Christians of every culture, race, and nation joyfully bring the gospel
to the whole world, we pray...
That all of us as followers of Christ, show compassion to people who are poor or suffering, we pray...
That those who serve the common good, elected officials and public servants, might serve in wisdom and love, we pray...
That all who work, nurture, teach, sustain and guide may recognize the good they do, and be themselves nurtured and sustained, we pray...
That all of us who are called to prayer and contemplation find refreshment, wonder and transformation in the experience, we pray...
 
Leader: Loving and Merciful God, you have gifted your mystical body with the life of Francis, a light for us on our journey to you. Continue to pour out your Spirit on all creation, reconciling all in love and in the peace which you promised us. We ask this in your name. Amen.

Leader:
As a sign of the blessing and peace we are for each other, let us extend our hand in blessing and pray...

All:
May God bless and protect you,
May God look on you with mercy,
May God give you peace.

Leader:
Let us offer each other a sign of that peace.
After a sign of peace is exchanged, the leader concludes...

Leader:
In the footsteps of Christ, Francis did what was his to do. Let us
celebrate this gift and go forth in the footsteps of Francis, to do what
is ours!

Hymn:
God of Day and God of Darkness (BEACH SPRING)
 
The Story of the Death of St. Francis
Narrators:
 
  1. While he was staying in the palace of the Bishop of Assisi, blessed Francis, realizing that he was getting sicker by the day, had himself carried on a litter to the church of Saint Mary of the Portiuncula. For he wished to give back his soul to God in that place where, as has been said, he first knew the way of truth perfectly.   (From #5, p. 120 of “The Assisi Compilation” in Francis of Assisi, Vol. 2: The Founder.)
  2. Although racked with sickness, blessed Francis praised God with great fervor of spirit and joy of body and soul, and told him: “If I am to die soon, call Brother Angelo and Brother Leo that they may sing to me about Sister Death.” Those brothers came to him, and, with many tears, sang the Canticle of Brother Sun and the other creatures of the Lord, which the Saint himself had composed in his illness for the praise of the Lord and the consolation of his own soul and that of others.  (From #7, p. 121 of “The Assisi Compilation” in Francis of Assisi, Vol. 2: The Founder.
  3. As the brothers shed bitter tears and wept inconsolably, the holy father had bread brought to him. He blessed and broke it, and gave each of them a piece to eat. He also ordered a Book of the Gospels to be brought and asked that the Gospel according to Saint John be read to him starting from that place which begins: Before the feat of Passover. He was remembering that most sacred Supper, the last one the Lord celebrated with his disciples. In reverent memory of this, to show his brothers how much he loved them, he did all of this.  (From Chapter CLXIII, p. 387 of “The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul” by Thomas of Celano, The Second Book
  4. The few days that remained to him before his passing he spent in praise of God, teaching his beloved companions how to praise Christ with him. As best he could, he broke out in this psalm, With my voice I cried to the Lord. With my voice I beseeched the Lord. He also invited all creatures to the praise of God . . . Even death itself, terrible and hateful to everyone, he exhorted to praise, and going to meet her joyfully, invited her to be his guest, saying: “Welcome, my Sister Death!”  (From Chapter CLXIII, p. 388 of “The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul” by Thomas of Celano, The Second Book 
  5. To the brothers he said: “When you see I have come to my end put me out naked on the ground as you saw me naked the day before yesterday. and once I am dead, allow me to lie there for as long as it takes to walk a leisurely mile.” The hour came. All the mysteries of Christ were fulfilled in him, and he happily flew off to God.  (From Chapter CLXIII, p. 388 of “The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul” by Thomas of Celano, The Second Book ) 

Excerpts from Francis Assisi: Early Documents Vol II: The Founder, edited by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., J.A.
Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., William J. Short, OFM. New York: New City Press, 2000. Used with permission.

 

**Suggested Homily:

As we gather this evening to “remember” the death of St. Francis, to whom might we address that same question? “What do you miss the most?” Might Clare respond: “I miss the deep conversations we had because our hearts were so in tune,” and then laugh at the remembrance of the time she and Francis shared a meal and were so wrapped in God that the townsfolk thought the area was on fire and came rushing down with pails of water to put out the flames? 

“What do you miss the most?” Perhaps Masseo would say: “I miss Francis’ humble gestures of love,” and then recall the story of Francis waiting for him to bring back word from Clare and Sylvester as to how he should spend his days, in contemplation or in activity. Masseo would remember that, rather than rushing at him for an answer, Francis greeted him, washed his feet tenderly, cooked him a meal, and only then knelt down before Masseo to hear God ’s will for him.

“What do you miss the most?”  What would Francis’ father say? How would his mother respond? What about Lady Jacopa?

There is a line from the fairy tale The Tinker King which states: “Everything dies a little when something dies a lot.” Francis’ passing from this world constituted a particularly brilliant reflection of God’s  beauty no longer physically present to us. What a loss!

And in our loss, in the first decade of this 21st century, people like ourselves around the planet gather tonight for the 780th time since Francis’s death to ask the question one more time. “What do we miss the most?” and “What does our world miss the most?”

As we sit here tonight, “memories” come back that find us “dying a little” all over again because Francis died “a lot.” We encounter our own fears and yearnings as we stand before the darkness and the shadow of death in Iraq and North Korea and Iran.

Filling our news and our very beings, we listen with heavy hearts to the death toll in Philadelphia city streets alone. We mourn in solidarity with Iraqi and Afghan and Palestinian and Israeli mothers who have all “died a little” because their children have been terrorized and have “died a lot.” 

But, in the face of this evil, we remember Francis who encountered the Sultan peacefully, who reconciled opposing factions in Assisi, who lifted hearts with his greeting of “Good Morning, Good People,” who envisioned a world of no enemies where everyone was sister and brother and who stripped himself of everything to make this happen more easily, who allowed his suffering to transform him into a most faithful mirror of Christ, and who could even face death singing—and, all of a sudden, WE HAVE HOPE. 

We realize that our God is, indeed, not only a God of day but also a God who holds us during the darkness and that Francis’ imitation of the foot-washing Christ is just the antidote we and our world need in response to the oppression and brokenness that surround us.

As we ponder “What do we miss the most?” we are challenged by our own responsibility to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” (1 Colossians 24)  Through the intercession of St. Francis and through the legacy that he has passed down to us, what we miss the most God’s Spirit has given us the power to supply!
“I have done what is mine to do,” Francis would remind us tonight, “may Christ teach you what is yours to do.” (2C, 214)

- Sister Anne Amati, OSF