Saint of the Day – 13 December – Blessed Antonio Grassi Cong. Orat. Franciscan Tertiary (1592 – 1671) – Religious Priest of the Oratorians of St Philip Neri (1515-1595), Confessor, Spiritual advisor, Counsellor, Mediator, Miracle Worker, Apostle of Charity. Blessed Antonio was known for his humble and pious nature with a strong devotion to the Our Lady and the Holy House of Loreto to which he made pilgrimages on an annual basis, as well as to the Rule of St Philip Neri – born Vincenzo Grassi on 13 November 1592 in Fermo, Italy and died on 13 December 1671 in Fermo, Italy of natural causes. His Memorial is today although the Oratorians celebrate on 15 December.
Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17. Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a “walking dictionary” who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralysed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realised that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life. More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter, he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
He also began hearing confessions and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was re-elected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time, he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The Archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarrelling brothers.
Antonio died on 13 December 1671, as the community, gathered round him, prayed the Litany of Loreto, exclaiming “What happiness – what consolation – to be a son of Saint Philip in the passage from this life”.
He was Beatified on 30 September 1900 by Pope Leo XIII.
From a Letter of Alfonso Cardinal Capecelatro, Cong.Orat., Rome 24 May 1900.
The Venerable Antonio Grassi, of the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip, is rightly deemed to have been a most loyal friend and indefatigable servant of Christ. For he, during a lifetime of eighty years, was so richly nourished by God with the bread of life and understanding and the cup of saving water of wisdom, that day by day he co-operated more faithfully with the gifts of God’s grace, considering his one concern to be in conformity with the image of the Son of God. He was thus so marked with holiness, particularly in his prayer and divine worship, his forgetfulness of self and zeal for the salvation of souls, that the serious and learned men of his time thought him a real follower of Philip Neri and asked for his prayers and advice on matters divine. He indeed showed himself in every way to be a distinguished follower of St Philip.
The known words and works of the Venerable Servant of God confirm that these praises lavished in the decrees of the Holy See were justified. For before and soon after his birth, it was indeed prophesied by a heavenly voice, that he would be holy and a great servant of God. He first saw the light in Fermo in 1592, while Saint Philip was still alive, and was baptised by Fr Civitella, later Provost of the Oratory in the same city. He was so chaste that, like another Bernardine of Siena, while still a boy, it needed only his presence, the rumour “Antony is here” to deter his young playmates from any sort of unseemly talk. This angelic virtue was proclaimed by the pleasant scent which exuded from Antony’s body both in life and after death, as well as the unbearable stench which the servant of God perceived in the presence of the unchaste and the remarkable exclamation of a two year old girl who repeatedly pointed out Antonio in the church, crying “Look an angel, look, an angel!”
He attended the Fermo Oratory from childhood and at the age of sixteen forsook the world for it, advised on the certainty of his Oratorian vocation by his spiritual director, a disciple of Saint Philip.
Keeping always before him the example of St Philip his father and tutor, he was so faithful in imitating him, observing even the least of the commandments, that he never turned away from the law of the Lord neither to right not to left for over sixty years. For thirty seven of those years he was, without precedent, Provost of his Congregation. Like a lamp burning on a lampstand he shed the unfailing rays of his virtues on all sides and “made himself all things to all men, so as to win them all for Christ”.
In 1625 he visited Rome to gain the plenary indulgence of the Holy Year. There he indulged his feelings of holiness and devotion especially by visiting the places which his beloved Father and Patriarch had marked while alive.
Aflame with the love of God, he looked for peace and rest in the pierced side of Christ. In favour with God and man, he was on terms of friendship with some famous disciples of Saint Philip who still survived, including Fr Consolini who was much beloved of St Philip himself. By his gentleness and the reputation he had for virtue, he so attracted the whole family of the Congregation that Oratorians from other regions earnestly begged a blessing of him, writing loving letters to Antonio, now worn out by age and toil.
He was marked by the depth of his love for Mary. Every year he used to pay a devout pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto (shown in the painting above), in which the Word had been made Flesh. There he enjoyed much refreshment of spirit, in great fervour. He frequently preached in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary and sang hymns in her honour. He declared Saint Philip to be a faithful intermediary in obtaining the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, saying “whatever the Blessed Virgin Mary asks from her Son Jesus Christ, she obtains; whatever Saint Philip requests of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she will ask for”. Hence he was assiduous in praising his great Patriarch’s holiness and would say to his companions “What a great honour and privilege it is for us to be sons of Saint Philip!”
It was well established by the apostolic investigation that the Blessed Antony’s virtues were of an heroic nature. Indeed God ratified the great holiness of His servant with heavenly charisms. He was endowed by God with the gifts of prophecy, of healing and of miracles. By the force of his love he took others’ sufferings on himself; he turned copper coins into silver; he took his recreation in the company of a much loved sparrow, enjoying its heavenly chirruping and there are other miracles which illumine him.
In his final illness he was a model of steadfast patience. He took great consolation in meditating on the sacred stigmata of St Francis, which he used to say he would love to share and had himself enrolled in the archconfraternity of the friars of that seraphic saint. At last he was forewarned by the Blessed Virgin Mary, via St Philip, of his approaching death and eternal salvation and cried out with great joy “What happiness – what consolation – to be a son of Saint Philip in the passage from this life”. He died on 13th December 1671.
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