The liturgical cult
Emanuele Boaga, O.Carm.
1. History of his canonisation
The marvellous life of St Albert degli Abati immediately earned him an extraordinary cult both in Carmel, where he was called pater Ordinis and considered its patron and protector, as well as outside the Order.
After the saint’s funeral Mass, when according to tradition two angels were supposed to have intoned the Introit for a holy confessor, Frederick, king of Sicily, son of Peter, the former king of Catalonia, the archbishop Guidotto, and the people solemnly agreed to have the cult offered to the saint confirmed by the Holy See, and to provide for the necessary expenses.
Just seventy years after Albert’s blessed passing into glory, the Order also committed itself to raising whatever funds were necessary to obtain his canonisation. The general chapter of Puy-en-Velay in 1375 decreed that every religious who was given permission to dispose of his own goods should set aside a sum “for the canonisation of blessed Albert”, and also decided that the prior general could impose a tax on the provinces to sustain, among other things, the expenses “for the canonisation of blessed Albert and the holy Legate” (St Peter Thomas).
The general chapter of Brescia in 1387 appointed Bartolomeo da Sciacca as procurator to seek petitions from the princes, prelates and nobles of Sicily beseeching the Pope “for the canonisation of blessed Albert, our brother”, with the obligation, under oath, to account for the offerings he collected and the expenses incurred in obtaining the petitions.
The work proceeded at a great pace. In 1399 the general chapter of Delle Selve gave the provincial of Sicily the task of petitioning the Pope, in the name of the prior general and the whole chapter, for the canonisation of blessed Albert of Trapani.
In spite of these failed attempts, the general chapter of Montpellier of 1420 decreed that “in each and every convent there should be painted a picture of blessed Albert with rays”, and in her testament of 13 March 1424 Donna Eleanora de Bosco declared herself “to have, hold and possess a chapel known by the title of St Albert in the blessed church of Santa Maria Annunziata in Trapani”.
Again in 1425, the general chapter of Pamiers entrusted to M. Giovanni di Scolio the task of obtaining letters of petition from prelates, communities and cities to beseech the Pope “for the canonisation of St Albert”.
The year 1457 was a decisive date for the glorification of our saint. At this time the great reformer Blessed John Soreth was the head of the Carmelite family. He requested Pope Callistus III that the public cult already shown to the saint through the erection of altars and churches in his honour should be allowed to continue in Sicily and elsewhere. The Pope graciously consented, and wished expressly that his permission, which was given verbally, be certified in a letter from the Cardinal Protector of the Order, who was present at the meeting. The letter is reported by the historians of the Order and was published in 1507.
Later the prior general Cristoforo Martignoni obtained from Sixtus IV the bull Coelestis aulae militum (31 May 1476), which confirmed the permission given by Callistus III “vivae vocis oraculo”.
In 1524, at the general chapter of Venice in which Nicholas Audet was elected prior general, it was decided that in the seal of the general chapter alongside the image of the Madonna would be placed images of St John the Baptist at her right and of “our holy father Albert on the left”. Audet wanted every church of the order to include an altar dedicated to the saint.
2. Liturgical cult of St Albert in the Order of Carmel
The general chapter of Bologna of 1411, attended by Gerard of Trapani, provincial of Sicily, decided the following when it dealt with the liturgy: “A double feast is celebrated of blessed Albert of Trapani on St Donatus’ day [i.e., 7 August], whose office is as a confessor not a pope, until the proper office, which in fact is already prepared, is distributed”. Originally circulated in manuscript copies, this office in honour of the saint went through various editions after the invention of printing, of which the most notable are those of 1495 and 1573. The Carmelite Missals of the 16th and 17th centuries also contain texts for the Mass proper of St Albert.
The fathers of the general chapter of 1564, held at the convent of S. Martino ai Monti in Rome, expressed and obtained their wish to have the feast celebrated with an octave in order to make it more solemn.
Finally, at another general chapter in 1625, the procurator general of the Order was entrusted with the task of asking the Holy See the favour of inserting the feast in the Roman Calendar. Besides inserting the memory of the saint into the Roman Martyrology on 7 August, the Congregation of Rites also permitted the feast to be celebrated on 7 August in Messina and its diocese.
The Mass and Office texts proper to the saint which were in use among the Carmelites until the reforms after Vatican II were confirmed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1584 when the breviary of the Order was reformed. There was a rhymed office composed by Blessed Baptist of Mantua.
In the liturgical reform mandated by Vatican II the Order was permitted to celebrate St Albert liturgically on 7 August with the rank of feast. The proper texts used by the old branch of the Order were completely rewritten, because the preceding rhymed texts were no longer usable. The hymns remain as before, but revised and corrected by the Benedictine Dom Anselmo Lentini. The plan of the Mass texts aims to set out the main features of the saint as religious, Carmelite, and benefactor of the people.
3. Liturgical cult in the Teresian Carmel
The importance which the cult of St Albert had assumed in the Order passed via St Teresa of Jesus to the Discalced Reform. In the “ancient” Constitutions of the nuns (1576?) and the “definitive” ones of 1581, St Teresa included the feast of “our father St Albert” among the days for Holy Communion. The saint also heads the list of St Teresa’s holy protectors, according to the autograph transmitted to us by Ribera. We should also recall that St Teresa wanted a picture of St Albert painted for the monastery of Toledo, and persuaded a Dominican (perhaps Diego de Yanguas) to translate an old biography from Latin, and then arranged that it be printed by Don Teutonio de Braganza along with the Way of Perfection.
Another sign of how substantial the cult of “our father St Albert” was at the beginning of the Discalced Reform is the decision of the chapter of Madrid in 1590 about giving names to the first Discalced provinces. Apart from the name of St Elijah given to Castile, the only other saint of the Order who gave his name to a province, that of Mexico, was St Albert.
Already in the year before this decision the first Proprium Sanctorum of the
Reform in Spain (Segovia, 1589) included the saint’s feast with the rank of double with octave, while in the first Italian Proprium of 1609 it was of the second class with octave. The octave was dropped in 1909 and the rank reduced to double major in 1913.
In the liturgical reform after Vatican II the feast of St Albert was given the rank of obligatory memorial for the Discalced Carmelites.
Translated by Paul Chandler, O.Carm.
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Last revised: 7 December 2006