24 September 1978 (excerpt)
This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Georges Bernanos, a great Catholic writer. One of his best-known works is “Dialogues of the Carmelites”. It was published year after his death. He had prepared it working on a story of the German authoress, Gertrud von Le Fort. He had prepared it for the theatre.
It went on the stage. It was set to music and then shown on the screens of the whole world. It became extremely well known. The fact, however, was a historical one. Pius X, in 1906, right here in Rome, had beatified the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne, martyrs during the French revolution. During the trial they were condemned “to death for fanaticism”. And one of them asked in her simplicity: “Your Honour, what does fanaticism mean?” And the judge: “It is your foolish membership of religion.” “Oh, Sisters, she then said, did you hear, we are condemned for our attachment to faith. What happiness to die for Jesus Christ!”
They were brought out of the prison of the Conciergerie, and made to climb into the fatal cart. On the way they sang hymns; when they reached the guillotine, one after the other knelt before the Prioress and renewed the vow of obedience. Then they struck up “Veni Creator”; the song, however, became weaker and weaker, as the heads of the poor Sisters fell, one by one, under the guillotine. The Prioress, Sister Theresa of St Augustine, was the last, and her last words were the following: “Love will always be victorious, love can do everything.” That was the right word, not violence, but love, can do everything. Let us ask the Lord for the grace that a new wave of love for our neighbour may sweep over this poor world.
Pope John Paul I
Nota Bene: Since the publication of Gertrud Von le Fort’s The Song at the Scaffold and George Bernanos’ Dialogues of the Carmelites, scholars have since determined that the actual chant sung by the Discalced Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne was begun by the novice, Sr. Constance as she climbed the steps. She chanted Psalm 117, Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, which was the chant intoned by Mother Anne of Jesus when she founded the first Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris in 1603.
Read the full text of the pope’s Angelus address here.