Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
The angels lining the clerestory windows in the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament were certainly smiling as they formed an honor guard for the funeral Mass for Mother Angelica. Maybe they were thinking heavenly thoughts about what proper place for her funeral in this incredibly beautiful temple she was inspired to build for our Lord, her Eucharistic Jesus and her Divino Niño.
So might have been the thoughts of many of the mourners who filled the shrine’s pews and the extra chairs along the nave’s sides. And those faithful the shrine could not hold who had to attend from out on the piazza out of necessity.
The bishops and archbishops — including Birmingham’s Bishop Robert J. Baker and Archbishop Charles Chaput, the main celebrant — and the dozens of priests led by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word that Mother Angelica founded, plus priests who were or currently are EWTN hosts and guests, as well as other priests, concelebrated a heavenly liturgy. Mother surely was ecstatic.
The singing was glorious. And what a position the choir had because directly above it the huge stained glass window shone bright — despite the overcast day outside — with a picture of the Ascension that included the Blessed Mother and the Apostles. At the bottom of the window, two Stations of the Cross, one on either side, also gave some thought for this funeral, for they were of the 12th and the 13th Stations. They became indirect reminders.
Mother suffered so for Jesus and for souls, and now she had entered eternity. She ascended, so to speak, to her bridegroom Jesus.
We think of her as saintly. But she told people we could all be saints. In his homily Father Wolfe pointed out Mother’s personal bible placed on her heart and opened to her favorite passage, 2 Corinthians 3:18. “And all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit.”
We can all become saints was one reminder for us from her. So was something else Father Wolfe said. “Problems and difficulties did not discourage Mother.” She saw them as opportunities. “What seemed like setbacks often turned out to be something bigger and better.”
Certainly the magnificent Mass, so fully reverential, was another reminder of her love for the liturgy. It surely must have affected and helped to teach the family in the pew behind me —a mother, two girls, three boys, and a tiny tot. The oldest was no more than eight. They were so handsomely dressed for this solemn occasion, were so perfectly attentive throughout and watched the procession leave the church with such reverence that they should be a perfect model for others their age.
“God was always full of surprises when it came to Mother Angelica,” Father Joseph Wolfe who knew Mother many years, first working at EWTN then becoming a friar in the congregation of priests Mother founded over 25 years ago.
Just maybe, one those quiet surprises that might not have been too obvious were the role played today by those splendid chandeliers. Twelve in all, two by two in six rows from her coffin to the front entry, they were like circles of shining stars lining the route to her final resting place in the crypt church.
Or like glimmering crowns over her every step along the aisle.