The author of the favourite traditional Italian Christmas Carol, Tu Scendi dalle Stelle ("You Come Down From The Stars") was the subject of the latest talk by Pope Benedict XVI on the Doctors of the Church
Here is the late Luciano Pavarotti (with choir) singing the carol in his inimitable way:
Saint Alphonsus Maria de`Liguori (1696 - 1787) was founder of a major religious order, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Bishop and great moral theologian.
As a moral theologian, his word was law in the Confessional for very many years. It was there that his effect on priests and the laity was at its greatest. His view was the antidote to Jansenism. Pope Benedict XVI said:
"[I]n his principal work, titled "Moral Theology," St. Alphonsus proposes a balanced and convincing synthesis between the demands of God's law, sculpted in our hearts, revealed fully by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and the dynamics of man's conscience and his liberty, which precisely by adherence to truth and goodness allow for the maturation and fulfillment of the person.
To pastors of souls and to confessors, Alphonsus recommended faithfulness to Catholic moral doctrine, accompanied by a comprehensive and gentle attitude so that penitents could feel accompanied, supported and encouraged in their journey of faith and Christian life.
St. Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God, who forgives and illumines the mind and heart of the sinner so that he will convert and change his life. In our time, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and -- it must be acknowledged -- of a certain lack of appreciation of the sacrament of confession, the teaching of St. Alphonsus is again of great timeliness."
He was canonised by Pope Gregory XVI and declared a Doctor of the Church by Blessed Pope Pius IX.
In April of the Holy Year of 1950, Pope PIus XII declared him to be the Patron of Confessors and Moralists
Like the other Doctors of the Church mentioned in the cycle of talks by Pope Benedict, the importance of prayer was at the centre of his teaching
Pope Benedict XVI said:
"He insisted a lot on the need for prayer, which enables one to open to Divine Grace to carry out daily the will of God and to obtain one's sanctification. In regard to prayer, he wrote:
"God does not deny to anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains the help to overcome every concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and repeat and will always repeat, for my entire life, that the whole of our salvation rests on prayer."
From which stems his famous axiom:
"He who prays is saved" (From the great means of prayer and related booklets. Opere ascetiche II, Rome 1962, p. 171).
There comes to mind, in this connection, the exhortation of my predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II: "Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer. Therefore, education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning" (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33, 34).
Outstanding among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St. Alphonsus is the visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament or, as we would say today, adoration -- brief or prolonged, personal or in community -- of the Eucharist.
"Certainly," wrote Alphonsus, "among all the devotions this one of adoration of the sacramental Jesus is the first after the sacraments, the dearest to God and the most useful to us. O, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith and to present to him our needs, as a friend does to another friend with whom one has full confidence!" (Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to Mary Most Holy for each day of the month. Introduction)."
Bust of St Alphonsus Liguori c.1816
102 x 70 x 44cm
Parish church of The Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin, La Souterraine
Blessed Pope John Paul II devoted a good deal of his teaching on the importance of Saint Alphonsus Maria de`Liguori and his works.
It is however unfortunate that the Vatican website does not translate these from Italian into English.
One of John Paul II`s major works on St Alphonsus LIguori is his Apostolic Letter "Spiritus Domini" (1st August 1987) issued to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Death of the great Doctor. Unfortunately as mentioned it is only on the Vatican website in the Italian language notwithstanding that John Paul II mentioned the Apostolic Letter in a number of later works.
In his Apostolic Letter, John Paul II recorded his debt to the Doctor and said that it had influenced a number of his Encyclicals such as Dives in Misericordia, Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Mariae.
In November 1990, John Paul II made a Pastoral Visit to Salerno in Campania. A number of sites he visited had a connexion to St. Alphonsus including the Basilica of Sant`Alfonso at Pagani (Salerno) where he venerated the relics of the Saint. Unfortunately once again his lengthy homily is only in Italian.
The late Pope reflected on the title of Saint Alphonsus as Patron of Confessors. The good Confessor is like a father, a doctor, a healer, a theologian, and a judge.
He also wrote a letter on the 300th Anniversary of the Saint`s birth- again only in Italian and talked of the Saint having created "a new style of evangelisation", a point also brought out in the most recent talk by Pope Benedict XVI
"These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were genuine itinerant missionaries who reached the most remote villages, exhorting to conversion and to perseverance in the Christian life, above all through prayer. Still today, the Redemptorists spread over so many countries of the world with new forms of apostolate, continue this mission of evangelization. ...
Alphonsus' spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centered on Christ and his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and the passion of the Lord were often the object of his preaching: In these events, in fact, redemption is offered "copiously" to all men.
And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsus' piety is also exquisitely Marian. Most devoted to Mary, he illustrated her role in the history of salvation: partner of the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen.
Moreover, St. Alphonsus affirmed that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in God's blessedness, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to live with serenity and commitment, and to face the reality of death always preserving full trust in God's goodness.
St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous pastor who won souls preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments, combined with a way of acting marked by gentle and meek goodness, which was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of goods that the Lord gives to every man and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, in addition to the mind, to be able to love God and one's neighbour."
Another important talk by Pope John Paul II on Saint Alphonsus was on 3rd October 2003 when addressing the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
"At the school of your Founder, be teachers of evangelical life, remind all the baptized of their call to holiness, the ""high standard' of ordinary Christian living" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 31), adopting the popular style which distinguishes your pastoral methodologies.
St Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori devoted his energies to educating Christian men and women in this awareness. "It is a great error", he wrote, "when some say that God does not want everyone to be saints. Rather, St Paul says: "This is the will of God, your sanctification' (I Thes 4: 3).
God wants everyone to be holy, each one according to his state of life" (cf. Pratica di Amar Gesù Cristo in Opere Ascetiche [The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, in Ascetic Works], vol. 1, Rome, 1933, 79).
The search for holiness should be the foundation of every pastoral programme and your communities seen as an "oasis" of mercy and of welcome, schools of intense prayer that do not, however, distract us from our commitment to history (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 33).
The paths to holiness are personal and require a true and proper training in holiness, easily adaptable to each person's needs (cf. ibid., n. 31). In today's complex society, the importance of such apostolic service becomes all the more urgent, beginning with the young people who are often faced with conflicting choices in life.
Share your charism with the laity, so that they too are able to "give their life for abundant redemption". In this way, your missionary service becomes a "service to culture, politics, the economy and the family" (ibid., n. 51)."
Sant`Alfonso Maria de`Liguori at aged 90 years
For more about the great Doctor: