Mother Angelica (Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation) departed this world at the age of 92 on March 27. Mother suffered from a debilitating stroke in 2001 and had been long absent from the TV screen, so her passing may not have been much of a surprise, and perhaps met with a sense of relief after a long and difficult decline. Mother’s funeral attracted many Catholic luminaries (including papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who delivered Pope Francis’ prayer for the repose of her soul, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia). She was a remarkable woman of faith. But she was ever so – and wonderfully – ordinary.
I remember Mother’s talk at a seminary in the 1980s – a couple years after her founding of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in a converted garage in Birmingham, Alabama. Her unscripted remarks were mashed potatoes Catholicism, taking playful and casual swipes at the theological fashions of the day, to the chagrin of some of the local academics. I do not recall the substance of her gibes (probably having to do with the historical-critical method of Scripture research), but I remember her relaxed, confident demeanor, not at all arrogant or angry, but motherly and kind if a bit crusty, firm and joyful. She asked for our prayers, I recall, so that going forward in her newfound success she “wouldn’t blow it.” Her faith was straightforward and unsophisticated like the rough and tumble Galileans of the Gospel who followed Christ, but unlike the sophisticated and more frequently skeptical Judeans.
Mother’s encounter with Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles upon the release of his document on the celebration of the Eucharist is a good example of her pattern of resisting attempts to “nuance” (i.e., tinker with) her faith. But after promising, with her signature huff, “zero obedience” to Cardinal Mahony (because of ambiguities in the discussion Mother Angelica: Requiescat in Pace! of the Real Presence) she found herself in a serious damage control situation, with ecclesiastical threats of censure. The following week she responded like a prizefighter that can take a punch, but punches right back. If her “zero obedience” response lacked the necessary ecclesiastical nuances, Mother responded with an acknowledgement of her excess, but added a few nuances of her own, all in defense of the Church’s orthodox understanding of the Real Presence. Mother never allowed a crisis to go to waste.
During the liturgical (Roman Missal and Lectionary) “translation wars” of the 1990s, I appeared with her on “Mother Angelica Live” two or three times, first as a representative of CREDO, a society of priests dedicated to the faithful translation of the Liturgy, and then with CREDO’s daughter organization, Adoremus. (Our founding editor, the late Helen Hull Hitchcock, appeared far more frequently and for a time was on the Board of EWTN.) On those occasions, like a kindly grandmother, Mother made me feel at home with her attentiveness and good humor. Her relaxed confidence in basic Church teaching drew out healthy orthodox – and often erudite – discussions on the controversial ecclesiastical issues of the day. (The hot-button topic of so-called “inclusive language,” for example, was unexpectedly important and fascinating in its impact on the translations of biblical and liturgical texts.) For such a basic, simple and good woman, her performance was a relentless display of media genius that could only come from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working through a heart that was without guile. Still, I got the sense I didn’t want to find myself on her wrong side.
When secular celebrities die the world mourns in various ways, usually as pagans without hope. They’re “devastated” and “shocked” or lament that the world “lost an icon,” as if the intrusion of death comes always as an unwelcome surprise. Maybe it’s because I myself am entering into the fourth quarter of my life according to the actuarial tables, but Mother’s passing after a long and beautiful life brings me a sense of happiness. Her death, to my eye, was just another step in the right and necessary direction.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev. 21: 1-5).
Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. Father Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.