quarta-feira, 9 de março de 2011

The First Communion and the Confirmation

The first biography of Alexandrina that was published presented her as “a victim of the Eucharist”. Indeed the Eucharist has a place unique in her life; hence her biographers value the words that follow:

It was in Póvoa de Varzim that I received my first Communion, at age of seven. It was Rev Fr Álvaro Matos[1] who examined me on doctrine, confessed me and gave me, for the first time, the Sacred Host. As a prize, I received a pretty chaplet and a holy image. When I communicated, I was kneeling, in spite of being so small, and I looked at the Sacred Host, and received it in such way that it remained engraved on my soul; it seemed to join me to Jesus so that nothing could evermore separate me from Him. It seemed to clutch my heart! The joy I felt was inexplicable.
I told everybody this good news. The person in charge of my education took me to communion daily.

Therefore this text was translated into many languages; let’s look at it in the Polish version:
«W Povoa de Varzim – opowiada Alexandrina w swej Autobiografii – przystąpiłam do pierwszej Komunii św. Miałam wtedy 7 lat. Przyjęłam Komunię św. na kolanach. Mimo niskiego wzrostu mogłam widzieć Hostię. Wydarzenie to wyryło się w mojej duszy. Sądziłam, że zjednoczyłam się z Jezusem tak, że już więcej się od Niego nie odłączę. Wydaje mi się, że On zawładnął moim sercem. Radości, która mnie przepełniła, nie sposób wyrazić. Wszystkim ogłosiłam tę dobrą nowinę...»

Although mystic, she needs a common experience to express her thoughts and feelings. Let’s read this allegory, where be resurrecting memories of Póvoa’s City Council building, although its authoress knew other buildings with arches such as the Hall of the Cathedral of Braga, the Arches of the Central Avenue, also in Braga, etc.):

The great building of arches is preserved within me:
It is white, whiter than snow.
Close to it there are stairs that allow passage to all the places in this building,
And I am these stairs.
I feel that I am
And I feel that through me passengers who seek refugee in the building ascend continuously.
I feel them going up;
I feel that they go to the door of salvation
They do not cheer me up, nor afford me consolation.
I want them to rise, I exert myself so that they do not run into danger,
But me, poor me,
I remain always immersed
In my endless darknesses … (28/6/45)

Portugal was at the beginning of the First Republic when many bishops lived outside their dioceses, as a punishment for not accepting the impositions of the Cultual Commissions. Msgr. Antonio Barbosa Leão, who confirmed Alexandrina, was at that time bishop of the Algarve, from where he had been banished on 6th January 1912 (he was later appointed Bishop of Porto).

It was in Vila do Conde that I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, administered by Msgr. Bishop of Porto. I remember very well this ceremony and received it with much consolation.
At the moment I was being anointed, I do not know what I felt in myself; it seemed me to be a supernatural grace, a grace that transformed me and united me more and more to Our Lord.
I wish I could express myself better on this matter, but I don’t know how to[2].

Above she used the image of arches, here she is still using architectural features, this time towers. And here, too, Alexandrina concludes that she has difficulties in expressing herself:

My body, destroyed by pain,
Does not have the value of the dirtiest rag,
But neither is it a rag.
It is my soul, O Jesus, O Jesus, I do not know where it walks.
It seems to be in some towers, such high, high towers,

But sad and deep in darkness;
They are neither towers of the earth, nor towers of the sky;
I do not know what they are.
They threaten to fall before the winds and storms at each moment.
The soul trembles, terrified.
These towers remind me of the great old monuments, dark, full of arches,
that nobody can enter or leave without a guide.
There are many entrances and they are so high!
I fear to leave by means of them, I fear because I am alone, without light, without a guide.
There are so many walls surrounding me:
They cause me so much terror that even with a light and guide
I could not rid myself of this feeling. (14/1/49)

I am in the same towers,
But, day after day, I live without feeling life within them anymore.
The more I work the more I see work to do;
Or better, the Artist who works in me does not stop working;
He always finds something to perfect.
He sees everything and I see everything,
Even in the darkness and mortal blindness in which I exist.
These towers are surrounded by new towers, from moment to moment.
I am enclosed within them and see no way out;
I do not know how to extricate myself from them.
They are dreadful;
They are growing, growing, and I am inside them.
My soul would like to give a clear idea of what these towers are,
Of what happens inside them, but I do not know;
And I feel myself being crushed mightily between their walls!
They are walls that seem to be as ancient as eternity.
Oh my God, I do not know what else to say; I deliver myself to Thee! (21/1/49)

Main altar of Póvoa de Varzim’s Matriz
Do the symbolic “great building of arches” mentioned in the Alexandrina’s text evoke a distant memory of  Póvoa’s Town Hall?
Fr Álvaro Matos
Main chapel of the Vila do Conde’s Matriz, where Alexandrina was confirmed
Msgr. António Barbosa Leão, the bishop who confirmed Alexandrina

[1] This priest lived at the side of the Matriz, in front of the actual parochial residence.
[2] It is not uncommon for Alexandrina to recognize her limitations of expression, even though she has much to say.
The parish priest of Vila do Conde was then the distinguished Monsignor José Augusto Ferreira.
It is not impossible that the occasion of Alexandrina’s confirmation was also that of the writer José Régio.
The archbishop of Braga, Msgr. Manuel Baptista da Cunha, would live part of his exile in Vila do Conde (19th December 1912 to 13th May 1913), where he died of natural causes.

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