Besides the supreme ideal of the Priesthood, God placed in the heart of young Mgr. Merry del Val that which would always remain the great passion of his life: the conversion of the Anglicans. Under the guidance and at the service of the Supreme Pontiff, Leo XIII, in fact,he would work indefatigably – by prayer and action- for the return to God of that which was defined “the land of the Angels” England, his beloved homeland.
THE CONVERSION OF THE ANGLICANS
Having been ordained a priest, the young Monsignor finally hoped to be able to dedicate himself to the conversion of the great nation of his birth. This was the passion of his entire existence. But, though, in his untiring apostolic zeal, he had worked for the conversion of many Anglicans, Divine Providence had other plans for him. Meanwhile, notwithstanding his noble lineage, in 1889, during his free hours, he began to exercise his priestly ministry amongst the youth and the poor of the populous area of Trastevere, establishing the first foundations of that pious Association which would become one of the most beautiful jewels of his priesthood.
In 1891, Mgr. Merry del Val was nominated private Chamberlain of His Holiness. By this, the Holy Father Leo XIII called him to his direct service, admitting him to his noble pontifical Antechamber. The young prelate was not enthusiastic about this nomination, since he saw that his dreams of an apostolate amongst the Anglicans of his homeland would not be fulfilled. With humility of heart and words, he expressed to the Holy Father, his disturbance of heart, his desires and above all the request to be exempted from that duty, desiring to live as a simple priest. The Pope answered him with a question: “Tell me, Monsignor, are you disposed to obey the Pope and to serve the Church?” “Yes, if your Holiness commands it of me!” replied the young prelate, moved. “Very well,” concluded the Pope. At these words, which would mark his life, the Monsignor bowed his head to the will of the Vicar of Christ and set forth, without reticence, upon the path which the Lord had showed him.
In reality, Leo XIII wanted to make use of the young prelate above all for the questions regarding the Anglican countries, and in particular England. One can imagine with what ardent zeal and untiring charity Merry del Val would correspond to the desires of the Holy Father to help the return of the Anglicans to the bosom of the one Church. And in fact he played an important part in the editing of the Encyclical Ad Anglos regnum Christi in fidei unitate quaerentes of the 14th April 1895, in which the Pope recommended the unity of minds and hearts in one Faith alone, inserting also a marvelous prayer to the Sorrowful Virgin for the conversion of the “separated brethren” and their return to Rome, which was composed by the young Merry del Val.
But still more incisive was his intervention in the difficult question of Anglican ordination, the validity of which had been disputed for centuries without any conclusions ever having been made. He well knew that the hope of the return of the Anglicans to the Church of Rome could not be nourished unless the question of Anglican ordinations was clearly defined. That is why he insisted that they should proceed to such a decision, without giving into compromises of any sort, nor to the pressure which came from the Anglican world.
By this singular experience of the Anglican world and by the light which came to him from his intense prayer life, Merry del Val marked the fundamental lines of the Encyclical Apostolicae curae of the 13th September 1896 with which the Pope pronounced in a definitive way on the invalidity of the ordinations of the Anglican clergy. The Encyclical had a vast echo in the Anglican world as much as it had in that of the Catholic. This was followed by a publication of a study by the young Monsignor entitled: “Regarding Anglican Ordinations: An unpublished document on the religious situation in England,” which raised much interest. In it, the future Secretary of State revealed (apart from his profound knowledge of the Anglican world) his theological competence and ability as a polemist. He understood that the return of the separated brethren implied a conversion, and that such a conversion in order to be authentic, demanded the recognition of the specific error.
This always proved to be (and still proves to be) a huge obstacle due to national and individual pride, especially in the duty of recognizing as Supreme Pastor, he who for centuries had been pointed out to be the “antichrist.” But the unity of the Church can only base itself on truth. [To be continued.]
Cardinal Merry del Val, ardently zeal for the conversion of the English Protestants, for whom he would work so much, knowing well that the most valid means of defense of the apostolate is prayer, and that the Mediatrix of all graces is Mary, composed a beautiful prayer to the Sorrowful Virgin which the great Leo XIII, of happy memory, wanted to add a heartfelt appeal to his separated sons.
“O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, Thy dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in Thee. By Thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and hope, was given to the world, and He hath given Thee to us that we may hope still more. Plead for us Thy children, whom Thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross, O Sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of Thy Son. Pray for us all dear Mother, that by faith fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, with Thee in our heavenly home. Amen.
From: De vita Contemplativa, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, Italy [Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]