A Franciscan Devotion: Transitus

For almost every faith community of the Franciscan tradition, October 3 this week will not be just another day in Ordinarity time. The Transitus, or the crossing over of St. Francis, is the devotion of the death of Francis of Assisi on the eve of his Feast Day. For many communities the Transitus is a big deal, and something not often observed outside of the Franciscans.

The purpose of Transitus is commemorate the death of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor. By entering into the event of Francis' death, and reciting (or reinacting) the death of our father, it is intended to help people remember Francis' commitment and reinforce our commitment to the Order and to Christ.

This year I am the one planning the Transitus liturgy. Along with another Novice, we are preparing the prayers, music, and readings that will be used Saturday night. In the planning of the celebration, I've found one unique thing: there's no real guideline or norm for this event.

That's not to say we have a complete "free hand" to do whatever we want. Dancing around in unitards with sparklers and streamers was explictly ruled out as an option. Reading everything in Latin while priests stand with their backs to us is not an acceptible practice for this liturgy either. In fact, trying to find a norm is based off of the experiences that others have regarding the celebration of Transitus.

As a way to help people understand exactly what this may look like, here are some of the very basics of the Transitus liturgy.
  • The narrative of Francis' death is read. Readings are usually chosen from either Celano or Bonaventure, as both have beautiful language and are very poetic.
  • The Gospel of John is read, starting at Chapter 13 and sometimes continuing through the Last Supper narrative. The reading of this particular Gospel is part of the narrative of Francis' death.
  • Psalm 142 is recited, sung, or chanted. Again, the specific psalm coinsides with the narrative of Francis' death.
After that, the field is wide open, so to speak. Some celebrations have processions, signifying the return of Francis to the Portiuncola. Some celebrations have people acting out the narrative, much the way one would see the Cruxifiction or the Nativity stories acted out. Prayers, singing, and readings are almost always included. Again, the purpose of the devotion is to recognize Francis' love of Christ and his poverty while inspiring us as his brothers and sisters to strive for that same love of Christ.

I have a good idea of how I want the celebration to look like, and I think it will be done rather well. I just hope the inflatable bouncing mat and the rock wall get here before Saturday!

(for everyone else that didn't catch the sarcasm, that was a joke.)

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