Christ is the chief shepherd, the leader of his flock: come, let us adore him.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: White.
St Charles Borromeo (1538 - 1584)
Charles Borromeo was a leading figure of the Catholic Reformation.
He was born in a castle on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, to a powerful family. He was related to the Medici through his mother. As the second son, he was destined for a career in the Church from an early age. He received a doctorate in civil and canon law at the University of Pavia, and when his uncle was elected Pope Pius IV in 1559 he was summoned to Rome and made a cardinal. Among many other responsibilties he was made administrator of the vacant diocese of Milan and protector of the Catholic cantons of Switzerland and of the Franciscans and the Carmelites.
He played a large part in the diplomatic efforts that led to the re-opening in 1562 of the reforming Council of Trent, which had been suspended since 1552. As long as the Church was in a weak and corrupt state, emperors and kings could control it and its assets – and they would not easily give up control.
In late 1562 Charles’s elder brother died, leaving him as head of the family. His relations wanted him to abandon his ecclesiastical career and marry, and even the Pope suggested it; but Charles saw his brother’s death as a sign of the vanity of human wishes. Eventually, in 1563, he settled the argument by secretly being ordained priest. He was soon consecrated as Archbishop of Milan, but the Pope would not let him leave Rome because he was needed there. He worked on the catechism, the Missal and the Breviary, and reformed his own diocese as well as he could from a distance through trusted deputies.
At length Pius IV died and in 1566 his successor permitted Charles to take up residence in his diocese. He began reform from the top, giving much of his property to the poor. He set up the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine to teach children the faith: it was the beginning and inspiration of the Sunday School movement. When famine struck the province, he fed 3,000 people at his own expense for three months and inspired others to do likewise. When plague came, he prepared himself for death, made his will, and went to the hospital where the worst cases were. After enormous amounts of nagging, preaching and persuasion the secular clergy at length followed his example.
As might be expected, Charles encountered determined opposition to his programme of reform. His aunts, in Dominican convents, treated the introduction of grilles as a personal insult. More seriously, the canons of one church slammed the door in his face to prevent him making a visitation and their servants fired at him, damaging the crucifix he was carrying; and the members of a rich and corrupt order of monks were so opposed to being reformed that one of them dressed as a layman, joined Charles’s household at evening prayer, and shot him. The assassin’s bullet did not penetrate Charles’s clothing. (Two years later the Pope had to suppress the order and distribute its assets: a sad end to an order that had done much good and produced many saints in its 350-year history).
The King of Spain, whose jurisdiction included Milan at the time, resisted any diminution of his power, and the next fifteen years are a complex tapestry of arrests, excommunications, denunciations, calumnies, and absolutions – ending at last in peace.
Charles’s final visitation was of the cantons of Switzerland in 1583, where as well as the usual corruptions and abuses he had to deal with senior priests who were practising witchcraft and sorcery, and enemies who claimed that his fight against heresy was a plot to extend Spanish domination into the region.
Charles died on 3 November 1584 at the age of 46.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Wisdom 19:22 ©|
Lord, in every way you have made your people great and glorious. You have never disdained them, but stood by them always and everywhere.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Deuteronomy 4:7 ©|
What great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him?
|Afternoon reading (None)||Esther 10:3 ©|
The single nation, mine, is Israel, those who cried out to God and were saved. Yes, the Lord has saved his people, the Lord has delivered us from all these evils, God has worked such signs and great wonders as have never happened among the nations.