Memorial Mass for Mother Angelica

Author: Cardinal George Pell

Memorial Mass for Mother Angelica

Cardinal George Pell

God works in unexpected ways

A Mass was celebrated, for Mother Angelica on Friday evening, 1 April [2016], at St Anne’s Church in Vatican City. The Mass, at which Cardinal Pell presided, was timed to coincide with her funeral in Alabama, where in 1981 she founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Other celebrants included Msgr Dario Eduardo Viganò, Prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Office. The following is an abridged version of Cardinal Pell’s homily.

Mother Angelica’s public personality was so boisterous that we can be tempted to forget that she was a contemplative Franciscan nun, a Poor Clare from the age of 21. I still feel her religious name is somewhat incongruous, as she was not angelic in any conventional sense. The Little Flower’s parents were both canonized, but Mother Angelica had no such blessing. Born into a poor family in Ohio’s Rust Belt, Rita Rizzo’s father abandoned her when she was five, and she was brought up by her mother, who suffered from depression. She did poorly at school — at the McKinley High School — although she was the drum majorette in the school band. Her life story brings a message of encouragement for all those who were or are children from broken homes. Some, perhaps many, from such backgrounds are tempted to be resentful, short of self-confidence, uncertain of their ability to contribute or build a good family. Mother Angelica is one more example of what can be achieved from difficult beginnings. She knew what it was to struggle. She wasn’t a ‘milk and water’ character, but a triumph of God’s grace through, and perhaps despite, her nature. She truly cast fire upon the earth.

God works in unexpected ways, as Mother Angelica promised him that she would found a monastery deep in the Protestant south, in Irondale, Alabama. She arrived there with four companions in 1962. An unlikely launching pad for an international television network, although probably not quite as unpromising a spot as Bethlehem and Nazareth. Mother began in a small way by recording video tapes of her homilies in the 1970s until she founded EWTN with Deacon Bill Steltemeier. Eventually EWTN pioneered the digital revolution in broadcasting, and many experts visited to examine just what they were doing. There was an enormous development and progression.

Mother Angelica spoke truth to authority, as strong women in the Church have always done, to their families, their priests and bishops, and sometimes to the public; just think of Catherine of Siena. She didn’t found another church, and while she spoke bluntly to a number of Church officials, she recognized the offices of Pope and bishops and priests.

The Catholic world was very different back when she unleashed her withering attack on those who presented a female Christ Figure at the 1993 Denver World Youth Day. There were not, then, as there are now, so many signs of hope; not so many young, orthodox and vital priests and religious. And this paraliturgical abuse provoked her to unleash frustration that had been pent up for many years. It was powerful and eloquent, something of a diatribe, certainly over-the-top in some ways. But thank God she spoke that way. When I read her words, I remember thinking ‘yes, she’s right’. One Australian activist has written to me recently, and told me that he changed his life’s direction after hearing what she said. It wasn’t discreet — in fact it was massively imprudent. But it was great copy for the journalists, and a great witness to the Christ that we follow.

She slowed down the drift toward destruction, turned away many from damaging themselves. We pray for her soul, despite the long years of penance through suffering which occurred after her strokes in 2001. May she be liberated from the effects of her weakness and sins.

Above all we thank God for her message, her courage and her faith. And we pray that the Church in the United States will produce other giants equally unexpectedly to help strengthen our faith and lead us to Christ.

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
8 April 2016, page 11

For subscriptions to the English edition, contact:
Our Sunday Visitor: L'Osservatore Romano