Why “St. Mary of the Angels”

Many ask about why the parish is called “St. Mary of the Angels” and not “Queen of the Angels” or “Our Lady of the Angels”?

The name   “St. Mary of the Angels” goes back to a little chapel on the outskirts of Assisi called Santa Maria degli Angeli—St. Mary of the Angels— rebuilt by St. Francis. According to local accounts, the church dates back to 364 when Pope Liberius erected this chapel for the Hermits of Josephat. In 516 the Benedictines took possession of the chapel but by the time of St. Francis it was in severe disrepair.

Before founding the Franciscan Order, St. Francis had a vision while praying in the chapel of San Damiano in Assisi. In the vision, the image of the crucified Christ came alive and said: “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” His initial thought was that Jesus was referring to the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli. So, to his father’s chagrin, he sold his horse and some other items and restored the church—our St. Mary of the Angels was also in disrepair and closed, only to be entrusted to priests of Opus Dei in 1991 and then restored with the help of many… there seems to be an interesting pattern here.

It was in the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels that St. Francis discerned his vocation and began the Franciscan order. The Benedictines entrusted the chapel to St. Francis to build the mother house of his new foundation. This was where St. Francis received the first vocations to the Friars Minor and St. Clare to found the Poor Clares. And in St. Mary of the Angels is also where St. Francis died in 1226.

St. Francis had another vision in 1216. After experiencing a strong carnal temptation one night, St. Francis jumped into a thorny bush outside his cell. As he landed in the bush it sprouted beautiful roses without thorns. Two angels then took him to the little chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary enveloped in light and sitting on thrones and surrounded by numerous angels (this vision is portrayed behind the high altar of our church). Jesus then asked St. Francis what reward he wanted for his heroic act, to which he answered: “An indulgence for anyone who enters into this chapel, repents and confesses his sins.” As Pope Benedict XVI described:

“Today we are contemplating St Francis of Assisi’s ardent love for the salvation of souls, which every priest must always foster. In fact today is the feast of the ‘Pardon of Assisi,’ which St Francis obtained from Pope Honorius III in the year 1216, after having a vision while he was praying in the little church of the Portiuncula. Jesus appeared to him in his glory, with the Virgin Mary on his right and surrounded by many Angels. They asked him to express a wish and Francis implored a ‘full and generous pardon’ for all those who would visit that church who ‘repented and confessed their sins.’ Having received papal approval, the Saint did not wait for any written document but hastened to Assisi and when he reached the Portiuncula announced the good news: ‘Friends, the Lord wants to have us all in Heaven!’ Since then, from noon on 1 August to midnight on the second, it has been possible to obtain, on the usual conditions, a Plenary Indulgence, also for the dead, on visiting a parish church or a Franciscan one” (Angelus Message, August 2, 2009)

Our church has a wonderful name and link to mercy. Let’s prepare for the Year   of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, beginning December 8, encouraging many souls to take advantage of this full and generous pardon in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we offer so abundantly here at St. Mary of the Angels.