January 1 : Joseph Mary Tommasi

Joseph Mary Tommasi 

Born at Alicata, Sicily, in 1649; died in Rome on January 1, 1713; beatified in 1803; canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

Joseph was the son of the duke of Palermo, Italy. Although his family was wealthy and influential, they were very devout. Four of his sisters became nuns and even his mother and father eventually entered religious life. After receiving an excellent education, Joseph joined the Theatines at the age of 16.

From 1673, he was stationed in Rome, where, for a time, he was overly scrupulous and lived nearly as a hermit. Joseph devoted his great natural gifts to the methodical study of the liturgy and produced several very valuable works on the subject, including texts of the Sacramentaries and the Psalter. In 1697, he worked for the Vatican and, in 1704, he was appointed theologian to the congregation in charge of religious orders.

He was the confessor of Cardinal Albani, who, upon being elected pope (Clement XI), was ordered by Blessed Joseph to accept the papacy under pain of mortal sin. The pope retaliated by appointing Joseph cardinal.

Joseph continued his simple life even as a cardinal: his food was sparse, he went to choir with his community, and the only music he allowed at his Mass was plainsong accompanied by the organ. Even in this baroque age of over-wrought ornamentation in art and music, people from all parts of Rome flocked to hear him say Mass. He was wont to teach the catechism himself to the children in his titular church. And the poor continued to flock around him.

In late 1712, he prophesied his own death and chose the spot for his burial in his titular church. He celebrated Christmas for the last time in spite of illness and later delirium. Cures were wrought around his deathbed and through the agency of his clothing. This prince of liturgists blended constant and exacting scholarship with an exemplary life of poverty and simplicity (Benedictines, Farmer).