Remembering the Last Emperor

Blessed Karl of Austria

On October 21, 2017, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass at St. Mary Mother of God Parish in Washington, D.C. The Mass was the annual Mass in honor of Blessed Karl of Austria, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which disintegrated following the First World War. Blessed Karl became emperor in the midst of the War in 1916, declaring peace as his central goal, and was the only world leader to unconditionally accept Pope Benedict XV’s peace plan for ending the conflict. Not only was Blessed Karl the paragon of a just and selfless statesman, but he and his wife, Empress Zita, and their eight children are also a profound example of a Christian marriage and a holy family life. He said to his future wife on the day before their betrothal: “Now, we must help each other to go to Heaven.” On their wedding rings he had the phrase inscribed: “Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix”, that is, “We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God.”

Karl and Zita on their wedding day

In his sermon, Bishop Schneider described Blessed Karl as “an apostolic king, an emperor of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.” He explained how Karl was particularly devoted to the Sacred Heart throughout his life, and faithfully observed such devotions as that of the First Friday in honor of the Sacred Heart. On October 2, 1918, he consecrated his family and his entire empire to the Sacred Heart, renewing it on each First Friday. He was similarly devoted to Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, so much so that a bishop of the time called him “the Eucharistic emperor.” Blessed Karl of Austria was sent into exile in 1919, and died there of an illness in 1922 at the age of 34, with the Holy Name of Jesus as his final word in this world.

“Blessed Charles dedicated all his life not only for the temporal welfare of his people,” Bishop Schneider said, “but ultimately for the aim of the exaltation of Jesus Christ as the only King of each human heart, and as the only true King of each human and political society.”

The great-grandson of Blessed Karl and Princess Zita, Prince Dmitri Galitzine and his wife, Princess Alexandra, were present in D.C. on Saturday to honor their beatified relative. The music was a beautiful combination of the mixed-voice choir Musikanten and the St. Mary’s men’s and women’s scholas, and the Mass was followed by the veneration of a first-class relic of Blessed Karl.

Afterwards, the reception hall was overflowing with guests who chatted and enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres, sweets and drinks that had been carefully laid out for the anticipated crowd. Presentations about Blessed Karl were a part of the festivities, including a speech by the Prince himself. His Highness spoke of the exemplary marriage of his great-grandparents, how it prepared himself and his wife for the married life, and how it is an example to all Christian couples and families. “Today the Christian marriage is under a lot of pressure from a number of factors. Hence the message that Blessed Karl conveys has never been more important than it is now,” the Prince said. “Although it is hard for us to imitate him as a Christian statesman, that ruled by putting the concern of his people above his own, it is truly in our grasp to emulate the properties Blessed Karl and Empress Zita have shown in their marriage. I truly believe, that if we try, we can create a better and a more Christian society as fundamentally, the family is the backbone of society.”

If you are near the U.S. capital next year on October 21, be sure to attend this yearly Mass and celebration in honor of Blessed Karl of Austria. Of course, at any time of year you can visit St. Mary’s and venerate the first-class relic of Blessed Karl that resides on the left wall along with a large portrait of the saint. Blessed Karl of Austria, pray for us!

Our thanks to Mr. Joe Vitacco for his photos of the Mass.

November 18, 2017