Lessons of St. Francis of Assisi about Poverty and Sacred Liturgy

St. Francis of Assisi is famously quoted as saying, "preach the Gospel and use words if necessary." The lesson is straightforward enough: lead by example. In that vein, what lessons can we find from the example of St. Francis where liturgical beauty is concerned?

Very often St. Francis is (mis)appropriated as some kind of patron saint for liturgical iconcolasm and minimalism -- all in the name of 'poverty.' Putting aside the fact that there's a significant difference between "poverty in spirit" and literal, material poverty, the fact is that St. Francis was certainly one who adopted more than just poverty in spirit; he also opted for real material poverty. Here, for example, are his day to day clothes, which amount to beggars clothes:

And here too are his shoes -- if they might be called that:

But what of St. Francis' liturgical dress? St. Francis was, of course, a deacon, so he would vest accordingly. Fortunately, we do have some examples of his liturgical dress, such as his alb:

The alb, as noted in another article, included a beautiful ornamental lace apparel and you will note the ornamental decoration is also found elsewhere on the alb -- which is quite fine and by no means 'beggarly.' (In fact it is more ornamental than most albs worn today.)

The lesson to be taken from this example of St. Francis is one which many a true Franciscan already knows: for St. Francis, the model was not poverty all around: in private and within the liturgy; and certainly it was not poverty within the liturgy but affluence and beauty within one's private life. No, it was quite the opposite. For St. Francis, poverty was something that be adopted in his personal life, but where the sacred liturgy was concerned, beauty was the order of the day because only the very best should be offered to God.

This is a lesson that many today would wisely take to heart and it is a lesson which shines through in St. Francis' own example -- as well as his words.

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