Friday, May 1, 2009

Solemn High Mass at Grotto Tonight; Relic of St. Augustin V. Schoeffler

Photo edited in after post.  Mass was on St. Jospeh the Worker (Extraordinary Form)
The relic of St. Augustin Schoeffler can be seen to the right in front of his image.

This is one of the items I have been unable to communicate until now....and it is happening tonight with a solemn high Mass and the relic of a saint with some connections to Assumption Grotto.

Fr. Perrone writes in this week's Grotto News:

April 26

Assumption Grotto Parish, I am told, is known far and wide–happily or regretfully. At least part of the reason for this reputation is the fact that we are an historic parish, one with a long and consistent record of faith stretching back to the earliest days of Detroit. Almost any Catholic from this area will have heard the name of our parish and may perhaps even have some connection, however remote, to its history. It would not be entirely surprising, therefore, to learn that we have an affiliation with a canonized saint of recent years. Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988 was the missionary priest, Augustin V. Schoeffler, a member of the Parisian Foreign Mission Society, who voyaged to Vietnam in 1874 to evangelize its people. Perhaps you have already heard of the Vietnamese Saint Andrew Dung Lac, whose feast day is November 24, and who was joined in death by several companion martyrs. There were in fact thousands of Catholic priests, religious and laity in Vietnam who were killed between 1625 and 1886 for their faith, 117 of whose names are known and who are venerated in the Church as canonized saints. These were suffocated, strangled, beheaded, burnt or mutilated. On May 1, 1851, one of these heroic giants, the aforementioned Father Augustin Schoeffler, made the noble testament of his faith by the shedding of his blood. His relationship to our parish history is through the Greiner family, a name known to us from monuments in our cemetery and from the street which intersects Gratiot Avenue near the church.

John and Catherine Greiner left France for Detroit and in the 1830s settled on “Fort Gratiot Turnpike” just across from St. Mary’s in the Woods, the log cabin chapel that was the forerunner to our first parish church, the land for which having been donated by the Greiners. Catherine’s cousin was the missionary priest, Fr. Schoeffler. He had left his native France for the northern part of Vietnam after having joined the French foreign missionary society and having mastered the difficult Vietnamese dialect by which he could preach, hear confessions and catechize. The pagan religious leaders of Vietnam, in observance of the edict of the emperor, were determined to curtail these missionary efforts. They succeeded at length in capturing Fr. Schoeffler through an informant and betrayer. Following his arrest, he was invited to renounce his Christian faith and to trample upon the Lord’s cross. When he refused these, he was sentenced to death by beheading. Thus it was that on May 1, 1851, the chief mandarin set out with his escort to the arena of execution. The convicted priest knelt down, removed the upper part of his garments, and made the supreme offering of the sacrifice of his life after three times kissing a crucifix with great emotion. The sentence of death, written on a board and planted into the ground before him, read: “In spite of the prohibitions of the religion of Jesus, Augustin, a European priest, has dared to come by stealth into the kingdom to preach that religion and to deceive the people. He is condemned to be beheaded and his head to be thrown into the water.”

There is a painting of the execution which has been reprinted, showing the executioner wielding his sword behind the kneeling figure of Fr. Augustin, with the crowd of witnesses encircled about him. As it happened, a single thwack was not sufficient to sever his head. After the success of the third stroke of the sword, the bystanders came forward to take a few precious relics from his bloodstained clothing. His head was then tossed into a river and on the following day his remains were disinterred by pious Christians from his temporary grave and buried in another place with due reverence.

Veneration of relic after Mass
In our Jubilee Year celebration of 2006, I requested that a relic of the Saint be sent to our parish. It was a long and complex process necessitating the intervention of Cardinal Maida that brought the relic to our parish. We are going to install it in the church on his feast day, this coming Friday, May 1, at the 7:00 p.m. evening Mass. At this time we will also have an opportunity to venerate his relic (the people would lineup at the Communion rail, as for Communion, and kiss the relic which the priest will hold out for them). Following the Mass, there will be a little social in the lounge. I am told that some descendants of the Greiner family will be in attendance for the event. Those attending this Mass will be given a commemorative booklet that commemorates the Saint and which will feature excerpts from his writings that give testimony to his courage and his fidelity.

May 1st is also the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, the patron of all those who provide for their families. I suggest that all of you make the effort to come to this special evening Mass on Friday to celebrate this day, for the security of your employment and for the good of your parish which now proudly claims a relic of Saint Augustin Schoeffler.

EDIT: Here are photos from the Mass, which was on St. Joseph the Worker (Extraordinary Form)

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!