St. Theotonius

(1082-1162 AD)

Sometimes the biographers of saints have written long after the saints were dead, and have, therefore, presented their subjects too much as superhumans. The biographer of the medieval St. Theotonius of Portugal was one of his own companions. The saint that he writes about thus emerges as a simple, admirable and very human being.

Theotonius was a nephew of the bishop of Coimbra in Portugal. Both his heritage and his own desire prompted him to study for the diocesan priesthood.

After ordination he was assigned to the pastorate of a place named Viseu. Because he was a man of high spiritual ideals, Father Theotonius developed early a habit of prayer and self-denial that made credible the gospel that he fervently preached. He soon became very popular as a preacher, because he possessed that happy combination of firmness and eloquence that will always attract listeners of good will.

His words persuaded to action, too. For instance, he communicated to his listeners his own great devotion to the souls in purgatory and to the poor-on-earth. In fact, each Friday he would sing a solemn Mass for the poor souls, and then conduct a procession to the cemetery. The whole population of the parish would fall into the line, and also give him large sums of money. This money he would turn over to the poor-on-earth, thus benefiting the suffering, dead and living.

Theotonius did not mince words when he denounced vice from the pulpit. The widowed queen of Portugal frequently attended his Masses. Once she came in the company of a Count Ferdinand, whose attentions to her were becoming a source of public scandal. Father Theotonius spoke sternly in words obviously addressed to the queen and her companion. The remarks went home, and the couple left in embarrassment.

After two devotional pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Father Theotonius decided to join a new monastery of Augustinian canons at Coimbra in Portugal. Thus he became co-founder of the glorious Santa Cruz Monastery (still standing) and was named its prior. Here he spent the rest of his life, and his personal reputation quickly won for Santa Cruz widespread popularity.

As prior, Theotonius was a stickler for perfection in liturgical performance. When the daily office was sung at the monastery, he insisted that the words be pronounced with precision and reverence, and never hurriedly. Once when he was preparing to offer Mass in honor of Our Lady, the queen, who was attending, had the nerve to send him word to celebrate Mass more quickly than he usually did. The prior sent a reply back to her that he was about to offer Mass in honor of a Sovereign who was greater than any earthly monarch. She might stay or leave, but he would not shortcut the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Instead of being resentful, Her Majesty felt ashamed of herself. After the Mass, she asked the saint’s pardon and accepted his rebuke.

Recently I heard of a Catholic who is very regular about attending Sunday Mass, but urged that the priests in his parish shorten the service. Now, priests have to be careful about timing Sunday Masses. But I am afraid that many practicing Catholics (I say nothing about those who seem to have forgotten God’s commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day”) consider Mass as a duty to be performed rather than a celebration of thanks to God on His day. We get profit spiritually from the Mass according to what we put into it. If Mass is dull, that is often because we are only half-hearted participants.

The Mass is the kernel of all our worship. Are we giving God this loving tribute every single Sunday? Why not? Are we putting ourselves into our worship when we attend? Why not?

These are questions that St. Theotonius would ask us, were he here.

--Father Robert F. McNamara