On August 2nd we celebrate our Patronal Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Potiuncula. The small chapel of St. Mary of the Angels (Our Lady of the Angels) was very dear to St. Francis of Assisi. He referred to it as the Portiuncula (or the Little Portion) and it is considered the cradle of the Franciscan Order. In 1209, as the quarters of Rivo Torto became too small for the newly forming religious order, St. Francis obtained from the Benedictines the use of the Portiuncula, for which he paid a basket of fish. The church and the surrounding small parcel of land were is disrepair. Just as he did at San Damiano, St. Francis rebuilt it, adding small huts (cells) and enclosing it all in a protective hedge. It was there that St. Francis gained a more vivid understanding of his own vocation. He held the annual meetings of the friars (Chapters) there and it is where he desired to spend his final earthly moments; dying in his nearby cell October 3, 1226.
St. Francis felt that the Portiuncula was a place filled with God’s grace. In 1216, at the request of St. Francis, the Pope granted special privilege (plenary indulgence – a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins) to all those who would visit the little chapel.
Although limited to noon on August 1st to midnight on August 2nd, the privilege continues to be granted to this day; not only to those who visit the Portiuncula, but to anyone who visits any church where the friars live and minister. To receive this privilege (for yourself or for someone else – living or deceased), in addition to the visit, one must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation within several weeks of the feast, go to Mass and receive the Eucharist, recite the Our Father and Apostles Creed, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
The beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli that now surrounds the Portiuncula chapel was begun in 1569 (completed in 1684) by decree of Pius V. It was meant to accommodate the huge crowds of pilgrims who came on August 2nd for Il Perdono (Portiuncula Indulgence). This is an important feast day for all Franciscans and is celebrated in Franciscan churches throughout the world. As the friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province, this Feast Day has singular significance.