Today: Anniversary of Death of Alvaro del Portillo – March 23, 1994

 Death of Alvaro del Portillo:At 6, 15 p.m. on the afternoon of March 23, 1994, John Paul II arrived at 173 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 responded the same.

            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).

From a letter of the Prelated of Opus Dei, Javier Echevarria, on the foundational charism of St. Josemaria Escriva: November 28, 1995:

 “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 This charism cannot become, therefore, a mere historical reference taking us back to the past.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]

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 extended on the floor of the oratoty, knelt down at his head, bent over and extended his forehead to the forehead of St. Josemaria as in a gesture of absorbing the content from one container into another. 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! (How beautiful the feet of the evangelizer of peace, the evangelizer of good).

The final tasks of Alvaro del Porillo within Opus Dei

a. “the culmination of the canonical path of Opus Dei” as “the pontifical establishment of Opus Dei as a personal Prelature took place 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.”

Prior Tasks at the Second Vatican Counciil:

  • 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 was Don Alvaro’s decision that a text be drafted concerning the prieshood in the Church. 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.”[2]

            “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]

Conclusion:

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]

Post/postscript: The reality of Opus Dei as a Personal Prelature (explained by analogy to a diocese within the Church) solidifies the reality of the one priesthood of Jesus Christ (as total self-gift to the Father) as instantiated by the Ministerial Priesthood effected by the Sacrament of Order and the Common Priesthood of the Faithful.  The two sacramental participations are equal as the priesthood of Christ (mediating to the Father as God-man) with the difference that the Ministerial Priesthood is at the service of the Common Priesthood. If we may, the priesthood of the Virgin Mary takes precedence over the priesthood of Peter because without the Virgin there would be no Christian priesthood at all. There would have been no Christ. John Paul II included this note of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: in his encyclical “Dignity and Vocation of Women:” [55] “This Marian profile is also–even perhaps more so–fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united. …The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. Mary Immaculate precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so, not only because Peter and the Apostles, being born of the human race under the burden of sin, form part of the Church which is ‘holy from out of sinners,’ but also because their triple function has no other purpose except to form the Church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary. A contemporary theologian has rightly stated that Mary is ‘Queen of the Apostles without any pretensions to apostolic powers: she has other and greater powers’ (H. U. von Balthasar, “Neue Klarstellungen“).” Address to the Cardinal and Prelates of the Roman Curia (December 22, 1987); “L’Osservatore Romano,” December 23, 1987.

    This note is at the basis of the development of pope Francis’ mind in “Querida Amazonia”, #87 – #104. And that development is most important for the Christianization and humanization of culture, since women, with the “priestly soul,” fired by the Sacrament of Baptism suffusing female humanity with its strength and tenderness, are the principal formers of the human person, particularly the child. I would submit that the alienation of the person in the developed world today is the result of the turn of the human person to self.

    I must offer that I cut my teeth on Christian anthropology stumbling into it in the late eighties and nineties. It was all about relationality, the divine Persons as relations, the human person as constitutively relational as image and likeness of the divine, and the state of alienation that takes place when persons are  trapped in self either by the culture or sin.     The question poses itself now. We are witnessing a global shut down. That the virus be global and death-producing, and God being Creator and certainly, at least permissive of it being deadly and global, one asks: why? As punishment or mercy? Yesterday, my thought went Walker Percy and his discovery of relief fr


[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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