Painting by Brother Francisco, of the Bournemouth Oratory in Formation
On December 15th, the Congregation of the Oratory remembers Blessed Antony Grassi of the (now extinct) Oratory at Fermo in the Marche region of Italy.
Born in 1592, Antony grew up in the ambience of the Oratory in his home town and joined the Congregation there when he was sixteen. He persevered in his vocation until his death at the age of eighty in 1671.
He was remarkable in that he lived wholly for God and the Church, without looking for preferment or his own comfort. He rarely left Fermo, save for a pilgrimage to Rome in 1625, in order to visit all the places associated with St Philip and to imbibe the spirit of our Founder, meeting with various of the fathers at the Roman Oratory and hearing about St Philip and the spirituality of the Congregation.
Other than than this single visit to Rome, Blessed Antony would make an annual pilgrimage to our Lady’s sanctuary at Loreto, not far from Fermo. It was there that on one occasion he was struck by lightening whilst praying in the Holy House. On recovery, he maintained that his life belonged in a special way to God.
In keeping with the scope of the Oratorian vocation, Antony spent much time in the confessional and accompanying souls in their spiritual path. He was chosen provost of the community and re-elected for eleven successive terms, until his death. He was a very gentle superior, and when asked once why he did not show more severity, remarked that he didn’t know how. Antony rarely accepted social or ceremonial engagements, but would leave the house at any time of day or night to attend the sick or dying. On account of his amazing facility of being able to reconcile enemies, the local people, who greatly loved him, dubbed him “the Angel of Peace”.
Antony died on 13th December 1671, as the community, gathered round him, prayed the Litany of Loreto, exclaiming that is indeed a “beautiful thing to die a son of St Philip”.
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 baptized 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 Antony 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 Antony, 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 this painting), 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.
From the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., on the Oratorian Vocation Newman the Oratorian
Quoting Marciano’s “apposite description of Father Grassi of Fermo”:
In respect of obedience, though, from being so long time a Superior, he appeared to have no opportunity for its exercise, yet he knew how to follow in its track. First, he placed his private will in the hand of his Confessor, as if he were a child. Next, though Superior, he used to render a most exact obedience to the officials of the Congregation. Called by the Porter or Sacristan, he never was heard to say, ‘I cannot’. And whereas in the last years of his life a Brother was assigned him for his attendance, he called him his guardian-angel, and recognised him as his Superior, and obeyed him in such sort as not even to change his place without his leave. In his journeys, he so depended upon his companion, to whom he then gave the name of governor, that his intimations were for him inviolable precepts.
“Those who love our Lord Jesus Christ must desire to be with him.”
“The life of Christ, as well as his death, was given to us to be our rule in this world. The more we conform ourselves to his example the more perfect will be our lives. We must regulate every phase of our existence here by what our Lord did; and we must imitate him in the same way when the time comes for us to die.”
“We must make humility the foundation of our lives.”
“The more humble a man is, the better he knows himself, and, therefore, the better he knows God. The more he knows God, the better he loves Him…thus by humility he obtains more charity, and by having more charity, he obtains more humility.”Blessed Antony Grassi C.O.