Blessed Karl: A Lenten Companion

 Empress Zita and her daughter Adelheid visit the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Villa Quinta do Monte, Madeira, on January 11, 1968. Photo courtesy of Fr. Cyrille Debris (via Sister Joana da Cruz)

The weeks and days of Lent 2017 fall exactly as they did in 1922, the last year of Blessed Karl's life. 

By Suzanne Pearson

The thought came to me last weekend, when February 18th fell on Saturday and February 19th fell on Sunday. It was just like 1922, when Karl and Zita moved from Funchal up to Monte. All that Saturday they had packed and unpacked boxes and moved furniture. Father Zsamböki, at the emperor's request, had gone up to the villa first, and blessed every room with holy water before the family's arrival. In the evening they all gathered for prayer in the dining room, the only room in the house that could be made slightly warm.

I soon realized that not only the days of the week, but also the weeks and days of Lent would fall exactly as they fell in 1922, the last year of Blessed Karl's life. The imperial family hurried to set up their house chapel before Ash Wednesday, which would be March 1st. The first room they chose for the chapel turned out to be too small, and so they quickly moved everything to the most beautiful room of all, the villa's formal entryway. Even after Blessed Karl died and his family left Madeira, the owners of the house maintained that room as a chapel, naming it the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in memory of Emperor Karl. (See picture)

Everyone who has access to the little book Death of an Emperor can follow the holy final days of Emperor Karl as a meditation for Lent, during which the days in 1922 and 2017 will coincide perfectly. Saint Joseph's day, March 19th, will be a Sunday, reminding us of that day in 1922, when Father Zsamböki celebrated Sunday Mass in Blessed Karl's sickroom. The family was particularly devoted to Saint Joseph, honoring him in a special way all during March. 

The Emperor Shortly After Death, April 1, 1922

The Emperor Shortly After Death, April 1, 1922

The following week, March 26th will be Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Lent. This was the day each year when the residents of Funchal would climb the mountain in a solemn procession, bearing a life-sized statue of Christ carrying His Cross. In 1922 they offered up this holy pilgrimage "for the recovery of Good King Karl," who was already very sick with his final illness. They even omitted the customary festive fireworks so as not to disturb the emperor's rest.

Every day this Lent we can remember the heroic sufferings and exalted saintliness of Emperor Karl, culminating on April 1st, the day of his holy death, which, just like in 1922, falls on Saturday, the day before Passion Sunday.

May the loving intercession and inspiring example of Blessed Emperor and King Karl help us all to make the holiest Lent ever.


Death of An Emperor

Text by Prof. Dr. Hans Karl Zeßner-Spitzenberg

Chronicling the final days and hours of Blessed Karl's life while in exile on the island of Madeira, this book reveals an intimate look into his heroic and saintly life.

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