Monday, August 30, 2021

The Feast of the Blessed Ildephonse Schuster 2021

Today the Church celebrates the feast of  Blessed Cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, who served as Archbishop of Milan for just over a quarter of a century, from July of 1929 until his death on this day in 1954. Born in Rome in 1880 to German parents, he entered the Benedictine monastery of St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls at the age of 18, and was professed two years later, taking Ildefonso as his name in religion. Ordained priest four years later, he served as master of novices, prior, abbot, procurator general of the Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines, and president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Having made a visitation of the seminaries of Lombardy, Campania and Calabria from 1924 to 1928, in 1929 he was created Archbishop of Milan by Pope Pius XI, his predecessor but one in the venerable See of Saint Ambrose. He was made a Cardinal less than a month after his appointment, and consecrated bishop by the Pope himself in the Sistine Chapel a few days later.

During the difficult years of his episcopacy, the years of Italian Fascism and the Second World War (in which Milan was one of the hardest hit cities in Italy), the Bl. Schuster showed himself truly a worthy successor of St Charles Borromeo, and shepherded his flock in much the same way, visiting every parish of the diocese five times (occasionally riding on a donkey to some of the more remote locations), holding several diocesan synods, and writing innumerable pastoral letters. He passed to eternal life at the seminary of Venegono, which he himself had founded in 1935.

We have had occasion to write of him several times here at NLM, partly in connection with our interest in the Ambrosian liturgy, of which he was a great promoter, but also as one of the most notable scholars of the original Liturgical Movement. His famous work Liber Sacramentorum, known in its English translation as The Sacramentary, was written while he was still a Benedictine monk of the Roman Rite, and although inevitably dated in some respects, remains an invaluable reference point for liturgical scholarship. (It has been republished, in paperback and hardcover, by the indefatigable Arouca Press of Ontario.) Upon his transfer to Milan, he embraced the Ambrosian liturgy wholeheartedly, and as the ex-officio head of the Congregation for the Ambrosian Rite, strongly defended the authentic uses of the Ambrosian tradition. He also oversaw important new editions of the Ambrosian musical books, which are still used in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of the Rite to this day.

Our dear friend Monsignor Amodeo, a canon of the Duomo of Milan who was ordained a subdeacon by the Blessed Schuster, told us many stories about him over the years, among which one has always stood out in my mind in particular; in his lifetime, even the communist newspapers noted his continual presence in the Duomo at all of the most important functions of the liturgical year. Nicola de’ Grandi, our Ambrosian writer, once showed me a video of Cardinal Schuster giving Benediction from the façade of the Duomo, to a crowd that completely filled the huge piazza in front of the church.

When his tomb was opened in 1985, his mortal remains were found to be intact; he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1996, and his body was exposed for the veneration of the faithful in one of the side-altars of the Duomo. My first experience of the Ambrosian liturgy was a votive Mass in the traditional rite held in his honor in 1998, at which Monsignor Amodeo and another canon sang the Ambrosian propers of a Confessor Bishop; after Mass, we processed from the altar of the left transept around the church to the altar, and sang the Ambrosian litany of the Saints at his tomb. The Ambrosian manner is for the cantors to sing the name of the Saint (“Sancte Ambrosi”) as in the Roman Rite; the choir responds by repeating it, and adding “pray for us.”

Beate Ildephonse. Beate Ildephonse, ora pro nobis!

The relics of Bl. Cardinal Schuster
His episcopal consecration
A pastoral visit
Preaching from the great elevated pulpit in the Duomo
Corpus Christi
The blessing of a church bell
Pontifical Mass in the Duomo
Surveying bomb damage to the Duomo during World War II

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: