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Bl. Álvaro del Portillo’s feast day and his First Communion

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Philip Kosloski - published on 05/11/24

Instead of being remembered on the day of his death, the Church recalls the life of the Opus Dei leader on the anniversary of his First Communion.

Bl. Álvaro del Portillo was an early leader of Opus Dei, taking over the administration of the personal prelature after St. Josemaría Escrivá died in 1975.

He was a holy bishop and was beatified in 2014 after a miracle through his intercession was confirmed.

At the time of his beatification, the Church had to decide when to establish his feast day.

Portillo died on March 23, 1994, after celebrating his final Mass in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

Assigning feast days

As a general rule, a saint’s feast day is almost always their date of death. Since saints are believed to already be in Heaven, the date of a saint’s death would be considered their heavenly birthday, or entrance into Heaven.

Secondly, sometimes the Church will postpone the celebration of a saint, due to their date of death falling in the midst of Lent. During the season of Lent it is more difficult to celebrate the life of a saint, as it is a penitential season and the Lenten liturgy supersedes most feast days.

An example of this is the feast of St. John Paul II. He died on April 2, 2005, which would fall during Lent or the first week of Easter. As a result, the Church assigned October 22 to be his feast, which is the anniversary of his elevation to the papacy.

First Communion

Similarly, the Church decided to postpone Bl. Álvaro del Portillo’s feast until after Lent, assigning it to May 12.

The Opus Dei website explains, “His feast is celebrated on 12 May, the day on which he made his First Holy Communion at the age of seven in 1921.

According to those who knew him, Portillo celebrated Mass intensely:

“Above all, I was impressed by his intensity at the moment of Consecration. He said the words slowly, in a way that was both natural and solemn. When he elevated the Body and Blood, he kept his eyes fixed upon the Eucharistic Species, and lifted his arms as far as he could. It made me feel as though heaven and earth almost physically came together at that moment.

Portillo wrote extensively about the Mass and the Eucharist, and this is one of the reasons why the Church chose his First Communion date as his feast day.

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