August 26th, Carmelites around the world celebrate the feast of the Transverberation of St. Teresa of Avila, Virgin, and Reformer of the Carmelite Order. The transverberation is a mystical grace wherein the Saint’s heart was pierced with a “dart of love” by an angel. St. John of the Cross, “It will happen that while the soul is inflamed with the Love of God, it will feel that a seraph is assailing it by means of an arrow or dart which is all afire with love. And the seraph pierces and in an instant cauterizes this soul, which, like a red-hot coal, or better a flame, is already enkindled. The soul is converted into an immense fire of Love. Few persons have reached these heights.”
Saint Teresa died in 1582 after proclaiming that she was “a daughter of the Church”. Her body was buried in a wooden coffin. After nine months it was exhumed and to everyone’s amazement, though her clothes were decaying, her body was incorrupt. While the Carmelite nuns reclothed her a delightful perfume spread throughout the monastery. Later, her heart was removed to be enclosed in a crystal vessel and placed in a jeweled silver reliquary. When this was being done they beheld a glorious and wonderful sight: a wound from the angel’s dart was visible! It can still be seen today at the Carmelite Monastery of Alba de Tormes in Spain. Her heart has kept it’s color and since the nineteenth century three sharp thorns are visible at the base of the heart.
In the Liturgy for the feast, the hymn for Evening Prayer is as follows:
Mild messenger of heaven’s high King,
Forth from home’s sheltering walls you set:
‘Christ to the Pagan’s land I’ll bring
Or die a martyr!’ – Ah, not yet: (as a child she set out on foot for Africa, being impatient to see God. She wanted to die a martyr at the hands of the Moors. Fortunately, her Uncle found her and brought her home.)
A sweeter pain, a death more dear
Must win for you a wider fame;
No mortal hand’s to wield the spear
That kindles your consuming flame.
Victim of God’s unbounded Love,
Let our heart’s burn with like desire;
Lead all your retinue above
That none may taste eternal fire.
Jesu, celestial choirs adore
You, Bridegroom of all virgins pure,
And wedding-songs unceasing pour
While endless ages shall endure.
Recommended reading: The Life of St Teresa by Herself, The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, and The Collected Letters of St. Teresa of Avila. All of these can be purchased at the Institute for Carmelite Studies (for books http://www.icspublications.org/ and for audio http://www.carmelclarion.com/)
Jesus, You want your Spirit of Love to blaze like fire throughout the world; may we, like Saint Teresa, be instrumental in keeping that flame of love alight.
You sanctify Your friends and reveal to them the mysteries of Your heart; unite our hearts to yours in a friendship so close and intimate that we may experience the secrets of Your Love, proclaim it to others, and win them to you.
You blessed the pure of heart and promised that they would see You; purify our sight so that we may see you in all things, and through all things be close to You.
You oppose the proud and give wisdom to the simple; make us humble of heart, so that we may receive Your wisdom for the sake of the Church. ~ Intercessions from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours
The Transverberation (piercing) of the Heart of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of our Church in her words…
“Our Lord was pleased that I should have at times a vision of this kind: I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.
During the days that this lasted, I went about as if beside myself. I wished to see, or speak with, no one, but only to cherish my pain, which was to me a greater bliss than all created things could give me.
I was in this state from time to time, whenever it was our Lord’s pleasure to throw me into those deep trances, which I could not prevent even when I was in the company of others, and which, to my deep vexation, came to be publicly known. Since then, I do not feel that pain so much, but only that which I spoke of before,—I do not remember the chapter, —which is in many ways very different from it, and of greater worth. On the other hand, when this pain, of which I am now speaking, begins, our Lord seems to lay hold of the soul, and to throw it into a trance, so that there is no time for me to have any sense of pain or suffering, because fruition ensues at once. May He be blessed for ever, who hath bestowed such great graces on one who has responded so ill to blessings so great!”
(St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, Chapter XXIX.)