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For today's feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I translated this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar:

I would not know how to incite you enough to the love and to the confidence that you ought to have in the most holy Heart of the Mother of God. There is no reason to fear not being received well, since she refuses no one. Love and confidence must grow in us, considering that our Institute came forth from her holy Heart.

You will say to me, "But I don't have the capacity to love her, nor do I have all the devotion necessary to draw her benevolence and protection down upon me!"

We read in Scripture that she loves those who love her, but I will tell you something more: she loves even those who do not love her, inasmuch as she loves sinners. Affection and tenderness towards the holy Mother of God is a particular grace and a sign of predestination. Ask her to obtain this for you from her divine Son. However incapable you may be, you can always formulate desires: desire to love her, to exalt her, to honour her, each one of you individually, as much as and more than all the saints together.

When you begin to love her, she will teach you to know her divine Son and to love Him. Only through her is it possible to know our Lord Jesus Christ; it was she herself who revealed Him to me.

"No one knows the Son if not the Mother, and no one knows the Mother if not the Son." This is why all that we can think and say on her account is very far from the reality.

Mother Mectilde de Bar
Conference on the Most Holy Heart of Mary
7 February 1695

Ecce Mater Tua

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As His last will and testament, Jesus committed to His beloved heir the care of His mother in whose debt He knew Himself to be. So Christ divided His inheritance between Peter who loved the most and John who was loved the most. To Peter fell the Church; to John, Mary. (Blessed Guerric of Igny, Fourth Sermon for the Feast of the Assumption)

Today is the Great and Holy Sabbath. All is silent. Today belongs to Mary, Virgin Mother of Him whose Sacred Body lies shrouded in the sepulchre. This morning after Prime, I invited the brethren to spend today in Mary's company, close to her sorrowful and immaculate Heart, just as Saint John must have spent that first Holy Saturday in her company, sharing in the sorrows of her sword-pierced soul, and entering into her silence.

On that first Holy Saturday, the hope of the Church was enclosed in Mary's Heart, burning there like a fragile flame in a world suddenly grown cold and empty. One who remains close to Our Lady in the Holy Saturdays of life will never be without hope.

In the Garden

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In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel’s, not a mother’s.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
“Be it done unto me as to your Word!”
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father’s Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child’s suffering
like a mother’s palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

Akathist to Our Lady of Lourdes

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The Akathist to Our Lady of Lourdes is the work of a faithful servant of the Mother of God belonging to the Ukrainian Church. Traditionally, the Akathist is prayed standing throughout in front of an image of the Mother of God.

Akathist to Our Lady of Lourdes

Kontakion 1

To you, our Champion Leader and Mother of Christ our God, do we, your children, sing a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for your appearance and miracles that you continue to send down on us as showers of Divine Grace at Lourdes. As through the waters of Baptism we were made new in Christ, so through the waters that gushed forth from the grotto of your appearance we are enlivened by the Grace of God, as we sing:

Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Life-giving
Springs!

Ikos 1

At Lourdes, you appeared as a new Forerunner, O Most Holy Mother of God, telling us to make straight the way of the Lord Jesus and washing us in the miraculous laver of the waters that you caused to pour out upon us. You anoint us with it, have us drink it, and transform us thereby, making us fertile in faith, good works and communion with God in Christ, as we sing:

Rejoice, new Noah, through whom the Holy Spirit moves over the waters of regeneration!
Rejoice, New Elias, causing the clouds to drop saving Waters on the parched earth of our hearts!
Rejoice, New Moses, sending refreshing drink from the dry rock!
Rejoice, New Baptist and Forerunner, for you call all to repentance in the water of heavenly unction!
Rejoice, for you invite us to a feast where the thirst of all is quenched!
Rejoice, for as our loving Mother, you wash away the dirt of our sins!
Rejoice, for you anoint us with the Gift of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, for you gladden our hearts by turning our sorrows into gladness!
Rejoice, for as at Cana in Galilee, the Lord Jesus grants your entreaties on our behalf!
Rejoice, for you came to remind us to do all He tells us!
Rejoice, for you teach us to pray for the living springs that God will cause to rise up within us!
Rejoice, for your love for us is like the trickling of droplets from the mountains that fall into the River of Life, leading to the Divine Ocean!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 2

O Most Holy Mother of God, you appeared to your servant, Bernadette, in a grotto and asked her to return there fifteen times. Like St Andrew of old, only she could see your miraculous and light- filled manifestation, singing the praises of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Everyone who saw the Divine transformation in the face of your servant, however, could plainly see who it was that she beheld, and they all cried:
Alleluia!

Ikos 2

You are a Mountain Uncut, O Virgin Mother, from Whom came the Cornerstone! You are the densely wooded Mount Thaeman from whom the Prophet announced the coming of the Messiah. Through your prayers and intercession, make soft the hardness of our hearts, so that we may sing:

Rejoice, Holy Mountain, pointing the way to Heaven!
Rejoice, O Rock Unquarried!
Rejoice, Hilltop in which God Himself is pleased to dwell!
Rejoice, High Place, leading all to your Son!
Rejoice, Marble Throne on which the Lord Jesus sits as King!
Rejoice, densely wooded fulfillment of prophecy, revealed in the gentle breeze!
Rejoice, for you come to soften the hardness of our hearts!
Rejoice, for you attune our spiritual hearing to the Voice of God!
Rejoice, for you write the Laws of God on the stone tablets of our spirits!
Rejoice, for you dash our sins on the rocks!
Rejoice, for you have power to move the mountain of our unbelief!
Rejoice, for, like Moses, you came down from the Lord's Mountain to crush idols!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 3

You appeared to your servant, Bernadette, in a robe of white, with a white veil, girdled with a blue sash, O Holy Mother of God. Roses shined at your feet and you held a prayer cord with gold chain on your arm on which we say your Psalter, your Rule of Prayer, revealed to a monk of the Thebaid long ago. As we meditate on the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of your Son, in union with you, we sing: Alleluia!

Ikos 3

The Angel Gabriel of old appeared to you to announce that you would become the Mother of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus. As the Mother of God, you are the Mother of His Body that is the Church and so nurture us all on the Milk of His Grace. Singing the Angelic hymn of your praise, we glorify Christ singing:

Rejoice, who said, 'May it be so according to your word!'
Rejoice, whose soul magnifies the Lord!
Rejoice, who gave birth to Christ at Bethlehem!
Rejoice, whose soul was pierced with a sword of sorrow!
Rejoice, for your Son teaches in the Temple!
Rejoice, for He is the Son of the Father, in Whom He is well-pleased!
Rejoice, for your Son agonizes over our salvation in the Garden!
Rejoice, for He accepts the Cup of suffering through scourging, mocking and carrying His Cross!
Rejoice, for from the Wounded Side of your Crucified Son flows Blood and Water!
Rejoice, for your Son has risen from the dead and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father!
Rejoice, for He sends into the world the Comforter, the Spirit of Peace!
Rejoice for He has taken you into His Kingdom and has crowned you as our Holy
Protection!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 4

After repeated entreaties from your servant Bernadette, you revealed your name to her saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Not understanding what this meant, your servant joyfully repeated this so as to remember to tell the priest, who at first refused to believe in your appearance to her. Upon hearing the poor and simple girl repeat this name, the priest humbly cried: Alleluia!

Ikos 4

O Most Immaculate Mother of God, the Holy Spirit sanctified you at the moment of your Conception in the womb of your mother, Saint Anne. Not even a shadow of an imperfection dared approach her who was to serve in the dread mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as deigned by God, the Father of Lights. Praising your holy parents, Joachim and Anne, we sing:

Rejoice, Ever-Immaculate Virgin Mary!
Rejoice, Most Immaculate Mother of God the Word!
Rejoice, Ever Pure Vessel into which the Bread of Heaven deigned to make His abode!
Rejoice, for a great Sign appeared in Heaven!
Rejoice, for you are the Woman clothed with the Sun!
Rejoice, for the Lord crowns you with stars!
Rejoice, for the moon is at your feet!
Rejoice, for you have crushed the head of the serpent of old!
Rejoice, for the Rod of Jesse has conquered him!
Rejoice, Holy Temple of the Spirit!
Rejoice, for you are highly favoured by God!
Rejoice, for you held in your arms Him Who holds the universe!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 5

O Holy Virgin Mother, you bade your servant, Bernadette, to "Go, drink and wash in the fountain." As she searched for the spot, she soon found a spring flowing from the same rock in which you appeared. Although the people thought her a fool, they soon came to acknowledge your servant to be a fool for Christ's Sake, and yours, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 5

You also invite us to come, drink and wash in the fountain of your miraculous water, O Mother of God. Ailments are cured, sight is restored, cancers are healed and souls rancid with the stench of great sinfulness are washed clean in your source of heavenly refreshment. And what can we ever do or say to thank you for all your love for us? Accept our cries of wonder and gratitude, as we sing:

Rejoice, Holy Physician, applying needful remedies for all our ailments!
Rejoice, for you cure the blind!
Rejoice, for those in sin have seen a great Light!
Rejoice, for the despairing obtain new hope!
Rejoice, for those stricken with cancers are made whole!
Rejoice, for sinful stains are washed away!
Rejoice, for with you nothing is impossible!
Rejoice, for we hurry at your command to "Come, drink and wash!"
Rejoice, for we come to you to fill the empty vessels of our souls!
Rejoice, for your Son forgives us our sins!
Rejoice, for you forbid us to worry, but command us to pray!
Rejoice, for demons are seized with dread at the flowing Rivers of Grace!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 6

You asked your servant, Bernadette, O Most Holy Theotokos, to have a chapel built where you appeared to her. Weeping tears of compunction, she held a lit candle in her hand as a sign of her enduring faith and trust in your intercession as she prayed and joyfully praised you. Favouring the praise that comes from God, rather than that that comes from people, she set out courageously on her mission, crying: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

"The Lady of the Grotto has ordered me to tell the priests that she wishes a chapel built at Massabieille!" cried your servant. "She is a very beautiful Lady who appeared to me on the rock." Not yet knowing your name, Bernadette could not tell the priest who asked her. Praising thy great spiritual beauty, we join with her in acclaiming you, singing:

Rejoice, Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Rejoice, Mother of His Church!
Rejoice, Virgin before, during and after His Birth!
Rejoice, Mother of God the Word!
Rejoice, Most Immaculate Theotokos!
Rejoice, Queen of heaven and earth!
Rejoice, our Holy Protection!
Rejoice, our Defender!
Rejoice, Jar of the Heavenly Manna!
Rejoice, Ark of the New Covenant!
Rejoice, who prays ceaselessly for the salvation of our souls!
Rejoice, the Joy of all our Joys!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 7

Your servant, Bernadette endured many calumnies from those who refused to
acknowledge the presence of the Mother of Christ among them. She rejoiced at having been found worthy to suffer for the Name of Christ and your name, O Most Holy Mother of God! Pray for us that we may also be found worthy to bear reproach for the sake of our Lord Jesus, as we sing: Alleluia!

Ikos 7

As Christ sent His Apostles into the world, so too did you send your servant, Bernadette,and those that would follow her to witness to repentance and prayer, O Holy Mother of God. Intercede for us that we may have the grace to bear God in our bodies and perform the works of light and children of the light so that people may see and glorify God in Heaven, as we sing:

Rejoice, for these things have not been revealed to the wise of this world, but to children!
Rejoice, for Christ bids the little children to come to Him!
Rejoice, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, for blessed are those when men say all manner of evil about them for the sake of Christ and yours!
Rejoice, for great is their reward in Heaven!
Rejoice, for so were the Prophets and Apostles treated!
Rejoice, for no student is greater than his Master!
Rejoice, for there is much suffering in the world!
Rejoice, for Christ has overcome the world!
Rejoice, you promise to make us happy not in this world, but in the next!
Rejoice, for we run to our reward with the feet of athletes!
Rejoice, for who may separate us from the love of God in Christ?
Rejoice, O Radiant Foundation All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 8

More and more people came to the Grotto to see your servant, Bernadette. Although you were invisible to their eyes, it was enough for all to see your Light shining on her innocent face, in the fullness of heavenly joy and happiness. Intercede for us, O Most Holy Mother of God, that we may also bear the imprint of your heavenly Light and Peace, bringing your blessing to everyone we meet and to every place we visit, singing:
Alleluia!

Ikos 8

"Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls will be converted around you!" cry the Saints. And where better to acquire it, if not from the Spouse of the Holy Spirit? May your miraculous water from Lourdes be to us a true inner anointing so that the waters quietly running within us may moisten the spiritual dryness of the world, as we sing:

Rejoice, leading us to Lourdes as to another Mount Tabor to see your Son transfigured!
Rejoice, for it is good for us to be at the Grotto!
Rejoice, for we desire our souls to be tents in which your Son and you might dwell!
Rejoice, for you restore calmness to the turbulent waves of our lives!
Rejoice, for you bid the storms besetting us, "Peace, be still!"
Rejoice, for we ask you to save us as we sink in our disbelief!
Rejoice, for your Radiance outshines that of the sun!
Rejoice, for in your brightness all is made clear!
Rejoice, for you dispel our gloom with the beams of your joyful mercy!
Rejoice, for you lift our spirits on high!
Rejoice, for you anoint us with water as with the Oil of Gladness!
Rejoice, for you cool our passions and satisfy our spiritual thirst!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 9

A rosebush hung from the grotto of your apparitions at Lourdes, Mother of God, a fitting tribute heralding the presence of the Rose of Sharon! Its thorns remind us of the pain and suffering we have in this life, while its aromatic flower signify the joys of heaven that we obtain through your intercession and guidance, as we always sing: Alleluia!

Ikos 9

You are the New Staff of Aaron, O Lady of the Grotto, that budded forth the Author of Life, Christ our Saviour. You are the King's Daughter who is led into His Chambers and all your beauty is within. We praise your fruitfulness and cry:

Rejoice, Enclosed Garden of Mystical Delights!
Rejoice, O Flower of Sharon, perfuming all with heavenly myrrh!
Rejoice, O Lily of the Valley, anointing us with the grace of holiness!
Rejoice, O wondrous Rose, in which the Divine Word became Flesh!
Rejoice, O Marigold, filling our poverty with holy virtues!
Rejoice, Violet of Modesty, handmaid of the Lord!
Rejoice, Snowdrop of Holy Purity!
Rejoice, Holy Lavender, drying the effluvium of our sins!
Rejoice, Divine Thistle, nourishing us with the Milk of Divine Grace!
Rejoice, Sacred Hyacinth, knitting our lives to conform to your Son's commands!
Rejoice, Sweet Bee Balm, leading us to the land of Milk and Honey!
Rejoice, Morning Glory, our Mantle of Protection!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 10

You appeared one final time to your servant, Bernadette, on your feast of the Protection of Mount Carmel, O Mother of God, thereby showing yourself to be a constant source of protection to her and all of us throughout our lives. Cover us with your Mantle always and may we ever live beneath its protecting wings, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 10

Your mantle of Holy Protection was prefigured in the Cloak of Elias the Prophet, O Lady of the Grotto. He it was who established a chapel in honour of the "Messiah to come" on Mount Carmel, the fruitful Mountain that prefigured your coming. His mantle was rent in two as he ascended on fiery chariots to heaven and came to rest on Eliseus, his disciple. May we always find comfort and help in your mantle of Protection, as we sing:

Rejoice, Garment without seam!
Rejoice, Robe of salvation!
Rejoice, Mantle of protection!
Rejoice, who, like Elias, brings us to heaven with the two-part cloak!
Rejoice, covering us with the wings of Divine Grace!
Rejoice, our defender in the day of battle!
Rejoice, for your Grotto has become another Mount Carmel!
Rejoice, for in it we find the Sword of the Spirit and the Helmet of Salvation!
Rejoice, for you turn away the darts of the evil one cast against us!
Rejoice, you are a fruitful Vine on which grew the Cluster of Grapes exuding the Mystic Wine!
Rejoice, for the Oil of Divine Grace is poured over us as over the beard and down to the edges of the garments of Aaron!
Rejoice, for we are invincible under the covert of the wings of your Protection!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 11

Your servant, Bernadette, witnessed to your visitation all the days of her life, O Mother of God. She suffered greatly in both body and soul. She drew her strength from her prayer to you and her close union with your Son, remembering always your promise that she would not be happy in this life, but in the next. We also ask for the grace to be happy with you in the Kingdom of your Son, crying: Alleluia!

Ikos 11

"You will not allow your Holy One to see corruption!" sang the Psalmist. The body of your servant, Bernadette, is still incorrupt, bearing silent witness, even now, to the transfiguring power of the rays of Grace emanating from your hands, O Holy Mother of God, as we exclaim:

Rejoice, bestowing on us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, sanctifying us in His Grace!
Rejoice, Vessel through which the Comforter pours on us His deifying power!
Rejoice, for your Grotto at Lourdes has become another Mount Tabor!
Rejoice, for you are a Cloud in which we see Christ, the Word of God!
Rejoice, for your Radiance fills the earth!
Rejoice, Rainbow of the New Covenant, heralding an enduring Testament of
Reconciliation!
Rejoice, for we are transfigured in Christ Who took flesh from you!
Rejoice, for we participate in His Body in Holy Communion!
Rejoice, for, through you, we shall be as gods!
Rejoice, God has made us a little lower than the Angels!
Rejoice, for, in you, we have become partakers in the Divinity of Christ!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 12

O Most Holy Theotokos and Lady of the Grotto! Pilgrims from the far corners of the earth attend your Shrine and come to drink and wash at the New Siloam at which they find health in both body and soul. Anoint us also with your miraculous waters and may we become bedewed with the heavenly moisture that dries out the effluvium of our sinfulness and sorrows, as we sing: Alleluia!

Ikos 12

May the drinking and anointing of your holy and miraculous water at Lourdes, O Lady of the Grotto, make us fruitful in Christ, helping us imitate the Wise Virgins who presented themselves to the Bridegroom, when He came unexpectedly, with lamps filled with good Oil. May we prepare all our lives to greet Him when he comes, singing:

Rejoice, our Good Defense at the awful judgment Seat of Christ!
Rejoice, for you are a New Jacob's Ladder, leading us to Heaven!
Rejoice, for you are a Mountain which we climb to meet God!
Rejoice, for you rain down on the earth the waters of Divine Grace!
Rejoice, for you wash away our sins, though they be as scarlet!
Rejoice, for you make our souls as white as snow!
Rejoice, for you are a Good Mother to all your children!
Rejoice, for you help us stand upright in the life in Christ!
Rejoice, for you hold us by the hand as our constant Guide!
Rejoice, for you protect us from all dangers and temptations!
Rejoice, for you indicate to us the Divine Sun of salvation!
Rejoice, for you are the Star of the Sea!
Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Lifegiving
Springs!

Kontakion 13

O Most Holy Theotokos, Lady of the Grotto! Accept from us this hymn of praise and thanksgiving to you for your constant Motherly care for us, your children. And as at Lourdes you brought great consola tions to us through your miraculous streams of holy water, so always intercede for us as we take refuge in you. Ever sprinkle and bedew us with these lifegiving droplets and we will always sing of your glory and invoke your aid, O Lady of the Grotto, crying: Alleluia (Kontakion 13 is read three times).

Ikos 1 and Kontakion 1 are repeated here.

Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes

May your Holy Water that flows from your miraculous Grotto at Lourdes, O Virgin
Mother, be for us who partake of it and who are anointed by it, a pledge of your constant intercession for and assistance to us! May it be a constant reminder to us of our calling as followers of Christ that we received in the waters of our Baptism. And may it serve to enlighten our spiritual eyes, bring health to body and soul, and strengthen us always. With you, may we always glorify your Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with His Father, Who is without beginning, and His Most Holy and Good and Lifegiving Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen!

The Human Face of Divine Mercy

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The painting (1488) is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni and was commissioned for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence. The six-sided altar at the centre of the composition points to the Sixth Day Sacrifice of the Cross. There is fire burning on the altar, a sign of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary's gesture indicates that she is offering the Infant Christ and participating in His sacrifice. Simeon's gesture is one of acceptance; he is an image of the Eternal Father. Saint Joseph holds the turtle doves in his cloak; Joseph was chosen by God to veil the mystery. Anna, entering the painting at the extreme left, holds the lighted candle of her faith and hope as she witnesses the arrival in the temple of the long-awaited Priest and Victim, the Consolation of Israel.

The Face of a Little Child

In today's splendid Introit we sing that we have received Mercy "in the midst of the temple" (Ps 47:10). At the heart of today's mystery shines the face of a little Child, the human face of Divine Mercy. The four other figures in today's Gospel -- Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna -- are held in His gaze. In a homily for January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke tenderly of the Face of the Infant Christ. "God's Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we venerate with the loftiest title of Mother of God. She, who had preserved in her heart the secret of the divine motherhood, was the first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb."

Today we meet the gaze of the Infant Christ, "made like His brethren in every respect" (Heb 2:17) and, looking into His eyes, we see that He is already our "merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

The Presentation of Christ Our Priest

Today in the midst of the temple the Father presents His Christ, our Priest, to us; and today the Father presents us to Christ our Priest. Of ourselves we have nothing to present; we can but receive Christ and allow ourselves to become an offering in His hands. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Infant Christ, presented to us as our Priest, presents us, in turn, to the Father. It is fitting that the symbol of the Infant Christ should be the living flame that crowns our candles. This Child has a Heart of fire, and so the prophet says, "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire . . . and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord" (Mal 3:2-3).

The Infant Priest and Victim

Today is the World Day for Consecrated Life. Consider the images that the liturgy sets before us: a flame that burns, consuming the wax that holds it aloft; a Child with the all-embracing gaze of the "Ancient of Days" (Dn 7:13); an Infant who is already Priest and Victim.

Identification with Christ the Victim

One consecrated in the monastic life is a taper offered to the consuming flame of love. One so consecrated has eyes only for the gaze of Christ, revealing a Heart that is all fire. One consecrated is presented and handed over to Christ the Priest. One consecrated is inescapably destined for the altar of sacrifice, for identification with Christ the Victim. Monastic life cannot be anything less than this, nor can it be anything more. This is why the Apostle says, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1).

The Woman Wrapped in Silence

Each of the four figures surrounding the Infant Christ in the temple is an icon of consecrated life, beginning with his all-holy Virgin Mother. How does today's Gospel present her? She is a woman wrapped in silence. Even when addressed by Simeon, she remains silent. Her silence is an intensity of listening. She is silent so as to take in Simeon's song of praise, silent so as to capture his mysterious prophecy of soul-piercing sorrow and hold it in her Immaculate Heart. She is silent because today her eyes say everything, eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, eyes illumined by the brightness of his gaze.

Wordlessly, Mary offers herself to the living flame of love. She is the bride of the Canticle of whom it is said, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil" (Ct 4:1). Consecrated life in all its forms, and monastic life in particular, begins in the silence of Mary that, already in the temple, consents to the sacrifice of her Lamb and to the place that will be hers beside the altar of the Cross.

Joseph and the Divine Desires

Turning to Saint Joseph, what do we see? Joseph shares Mary's silence. Silence is the expression of their communion in a tender and chaste love, a love that is ready for sacrifice. Joseph listens with Mary. Saint Joseph is the first to enter deeply into the silence of the Virgin. It is his way of loving her. It is his way of trusting her beyond words.

Saint Joseph: Tenderly Focused on the Face of Christ

The silence of Saint Joseph becomes for all consecrated persons a way of loving, a way of trusting, a way of pushing back the frontiers of hope. I recall what Pope Benedict XVI said concerning the silence of Saint Joseph. "The silence of Saint Joseph," said the Holy Father, "is an attitude of total availability to the divine desires. . . . He stands beside the Church today, silent, listening, tenderly focused on the face of Christ in all his members." Consecrated life is just that: availability to the desires of God, a listening silence, and a way of focusing tenderly on the face of Christ in all his members.

The Old Priest Sings

Saint Simeon represents the ancient priesthood disappearing into the light of Christ, our "merciful and faithful high priest before God" (Heb 2:17). Simeon is the old priest pointing to the new. He speaks; he sings his praise; he utters prophecy. Saint Simeon models the vocation of every priest charged in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the calling down of the Holy Ghost over altar, bread, wine, and people. Simeon has a particular relationship with the Holy Ghost. Three times in as many verses Saint Luke emphasizes the mystical synergy of Simeon and the Holy Ghost: "The Holy Ghost was upon him. . . " (Lk 2:25); "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Ghost. . . . ; (Lk 2:26); "He came in the Spirit into the temple"; (Lk 2:27). In the Holy Spirit, Simeon contemplates the face of the Infant Christ; in the Holy Spirit he raises his voice in prophecy and in thanksgiving. In all of this Simeon shows us the characteristic traits of the new priesthood called to serve in the Holy Spirit.

Anna of the Face of God

Finally, there is Anna the prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel whose name means "Face of God." The widow Anna has made the temple her home. Abiding day and night in adoration, she emerges from the recesses of the temple only to give thanks to God and speak of the Child. Drawn into the light of the face of Christ she cannot but praise and immediately publish the good news "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk 2:38).

Anna of the Face of God models the vocation of every consecrated woman called to be at once fully contemplative and fully apostolic. The old woman's encounter with the Infant Christ energizes and rejuvenates her. In some way, Anna is the first apostle sent out by the Holy Spirit. Before Mary Magdalene and before the twelve, Anna announces Christ. She is compelled to speak but does so out of an "adoring silence." She appears in the temple to publish the long-awaited arrival of Mercy, and in her eyes shines the light of his Face. Mercy in the flesh was passed like a living flame from the arms of Mary and Joseph into the arms of Simeon and, then, undoubtedly into the embrace of holy Anna. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Consuming Fire of the Most Holy Eucharist

We, who welcome Mercy in the midst of the temple, are compelled to present ourselves to Mercy at the altar, to give ourselves back to Mercy, to give ourselves up to Mercy, to surrender to Mercy's sweet, purifying flame. "Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:28-29).

It is not good for man to be alone

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today's feast of the Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph compels me to reflect on the grace of mystical espousal with Our Lady, something to which every monk and priest should aspire, for God Himself has said, that "it is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) Essentially, a man to whom the Holy Ghost vouchsafes this grace shares his entire life with Mary. Like Saint Joseph, he lives for her; he lives with her; he lives by her. Like Saint Joseph, he has no secrets from her; owns nothing that is not hers as well; and is of one mind and heart with her in all things. The Blessed Virgin Mary completes the man espoused to her.

The Saints

Among the saints marked by this grace are Saint Robert of Molesme (1028-1111), Saint Hermann Joseph (1150-1241), Saint Edmund of Canterbury (1175-1240), Blessed Alain de la Roche (1428-1475), and Saint John Eudes (1601-1670).

Saint John Eudes

Already as a young man, John Eudes placed a wedding band on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a portent of things to come. As a priest, a reformer of the clergy, and an outstanding preacher, he experienced the fruitfulness that results from a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.

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Something to Which All Priests Should Aspire

Saint John Eudes, a friend of Mother Mectilde de Bar, and one of the stars shining in the constellation of holy priests in 17th century France, presents this grace as something to which all priests should aspire. To describe it he uses the French word alliance: covenant, bond, or union. Significantly, the same word is used to designate a wedding ring. I decided to translate the following passage from his Memorial on the Life of Ecclesiastics:

The Eternal Father
Consider that priests have a special alliance with the most holy Mother of God. This because, just as the Eternal Father made her participate in His divine paternity, and gave her the power to form in her womb the same Son whom He begets in His bosom, so too does He communicate to priests that same paternity, giving them power to form this same Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of the faithful.
The Son
As the Son made her [the Virgin Mary] His cooperator and coadjutrix (helpmate) in the work of the redemption of the world, so too does He make priests His cooperators and coadjutors in the work of saving souls.
The Holy Ghost
As the Holy Ghost, in an ineffable manner, associated her [the Virgin Mary] with Himself in the most divine of His operations, and in the masterpiece of His that is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, so too does He associate priests with Himself to bring about an extension and a continuation of this mystery in each Christian, in whom the Son of God, in some manner, incarnates Himself by means of Baptism and by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Mediatrix of All Graces
Just as the Eternal Father gave us His Son through her [the Virgin Mary], so too does He give Him to us through His priests. Even as all the graces that come forth to us from the Heart of God pass through the hands of Mary, so too are they given us by the ministry of priests. This in such wise that, just as Mary is the treasurer of the Most Holy Trinity, priests too bear this title.
The Sacrifice of Christ
Finally, it is through her that Jesus was offered to His Father at the first and last moment of His life, when she received Him in her sacred womb, and when she accompanied Him to the sacrifice that He made of Himself on the cross; and it is by means of priests that He is immolated daily upon our altars.
Mother of the Sovereign Priest
This is why priests, being bound by so intimate an alliance and so marvelous a conformity to the Mother of the Sovereign Priest, have very particular obligations to love her, to honour her, and to clothe themselves in her virtues, in her spirit, and in her dispositions. Humble yourselves that you should find yourselves so far removed from this. Enter into the desire to tend thereto with all your heart. Offer yourselves to her, and pray her to help you mightily.

Mary is the Mother of Our Peace

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In reading and meditating the Holy Father's homily for January 1st, I was moved to discover that he spoke so eloquently and so simply of Our Lady's peace. This was one of themes that I addressed in my Advent Letter to our Oblates. For those of you who may have missed it, here again is the relevant section.

Pax: Mary

There was never moment when the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not established in peace. Her Immaculate Heart is a haven of peace for poor sinners, a refuge from the attacks of the enemy who seeks to destroy all peace in our souls and on the face of the earth. In the Vespers hymn for feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Ave Maris Stella, we ask Our Blessed Lady to establish us in peace: funda nos in pace. The closer we are to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the closer we are to peace, that is, the absence of sin.

Sin Destroys Peace

Sin is what disturbs true peace; sin is what destroys peace. If you would have peace, avoid sin, and should you fall into sin, confess it without delay, so that peace may be restored to your soul. Mary, being sinless from the first instant of her conception, is, of all creatures, the most peaceful. She is utterly tranquil and perfectly serene.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady's Heart

God created the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be the single most peaceful place in the universe. Mary is the living temple prepared by God for God; her Heart is a sanctuary untouched by the violence and wickedness of a world seduced by Satan. Even when, as a mother full of pity for her wayward children, Mary presses sinners to her Heart, nothing of sin's contagion taints her. The Immaculate is not soiled by the filth of her fallen children, even as she stoops to lift us out of the mire of our miseries.

If you would be apt for the advent of the Lord, seek peace where it is to be found: in the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God. The closer you are to Mary, the more will you experience a peace that the world cannot give. Mary will teach you to discern the things that make for peace and avoid those that threaten to destroy it.

The peace of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not diminished by suffering; it flourishes in the midst of thorns. The old Benedictine motif depicting the word PAX surrounded by a crown of thorns -- pax inter spinas -- is a kind of monogram of the Heart of the Mother of God. Did she not appear at Fatima with her Immaculate Heart surrounded by thorns?

The inviolable peace of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was purchased at a great price, that is, with the Precious Blood of her Son, the immolated Lamb. If, in making our way to the sanctuary of the maternal Heart of Mary, we must pass through the thorns that encircle it, it is so that we might be associated with the redeeming Passion of her Son, and so that a few drops of our blood might be mingled with the torrent of that flood so copiously from His head, His hands, His feet, and His side.

The Rosary

Those of you who have come to love the rosary know that it produces peace in the soul of one who perseveres in praying it. The rosary leads one directly into the refuge of Mary's sinless heart, into a sanctuary of peace that cannot be threatened, troubled, or assailed by powers visible or invisible. Peace, being the absence of sin, is rightly in the giving of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. If you pray her rosary, she will give you her peace.

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Reparation to the Mother of God

As I continue to study and pray over the the writings of Catherine-Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698), I am obliged to seek help from above so as to understand them rightly, translate them faithfully, and transmit their essential message humbly, that is, without allowing my own prejudices or presuppositions to interfere with the process. I could easily pass over certain expressions of devotion, or acquiesce to them, without sufficiently grasping their meaning and their value. One such practice would be that of making reparation to the Mother of God.

In her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 20, Mother Mectilde writes:

They shall make their Communions on Saturday in honour of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, and of all her mysteries, especially that of her Immaculate Conception, and of her Divine Maternity. The love for the Most Holy Sacrament, which the Holy Spirit imprints in the hearts of those who offer themselves in sacrifice with our Divine Saviour, will also enkindle in them a zeal for the honour of His Most Holy Mother. For this reason, they will also, each one in turn, make honorable amendment at Holy Mass on her feast days and on all the Saturdays of the year, as indicated in the Ceremonial.

The Object of Universal Honour and Grateful Affection

How are we to understand the notion of reparation to the Mother of God? What is the theology behind such a practice? I would say, first of all, that it is fitting that the Immaculate Heart of Mary, overflowing with a most tender charity for the souls redeemed by her Divine Son, should be the object of universal honour and grateful affection. Mary is the New Eve, the Mother of the Living, immaculate and full of every perfection in view of her Divine Motherhood. The maternal solicitude of her most pure Heart, created sinless for the Only-Begotten Son of God, and as a fit dwelling-place for the Holy Ghost, extends to the vast multitude of those redeemed by the Blood of Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb.

There is no man who has lived, or who is living, or who is yet to be born, who does not owe the Virgin Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, and the Mother of the Lamb, the filial honours of a grateful heart. To refuse Mary the unique place given her by God in his Holy Economy (the divine master-plan) is not only to scorn the priceless gift of a Virgin Mother; it is also to offend the munificent Creator and Giver of the gift. There is nothing sadder, nothing more tragic, even in purely human terms, than a mother by her children scorned.

I Want to Love You for All the Others

Consider a mother of many sons, utterly devoted to each one of them, who finds a response to her love only in the heart of her first-born. The last and littlest one of all, observing this, one day allows himself to be brought to the mother, having taken the hand of the eldest son. Inspired by love, and moved by a guileless candour, he says, "Mother, I want to love you for all the others, and I want to make up to you the love that my brothers refuse you or forget to give you."

Communion of Reparation

A matter of pious sentimentality? No -- a matter of the heart, and also of a humble submission to the plan of God, who wills that all generations should magnify the Mother of God, who, without loss to her virginity, gave birth to God the Word. Mother Mectilde understood the rightness of such an impulse of the heart towards the Heart of Mary, and she bequeathed to her spiritual progeny the practice of a communion of reparation, by which we, receiving the adorable mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, present ourselves to His Virgin Mother, enriched with all that His Sacred Heart holds in her regard. Thus united to the First-Born, do we, the littlest of her sons, tell her that we would love her with such tenderness and gratitude as to make up for the indifference and ingratitude of our brothers. Thus would we console her maternal Heart that never stops loving the many who have for her not so much as a word, a glance, or even an affectionate thought.

The heart has its order, the mind its own, which uses principles and demonstrations. The heart has a different one. We do not prove that we ought to be loved by setting out in order the causes of love; that would be absurd. Jesus Christ and St Paul possess the order of charity, not the order of the mind, for they wished to humble, not to teach. (Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Translated by A. J. Krailsheimer. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Fragment 298, p. 94)

A Filial Affection, Childlike and Simple

Reparation to the Mother of God belongs to Pascal's order of charity. The little and the poor grasp the rightness of it intuitively, while the sophisticated, and those whose inflated reason blinds them to higher things, bristle at the thought of it. Let us, then, concede -- no, let us embrace the rightness of offering the Mother of God a filial affection so childlike and so simple that it will, in some way -- known ultimately to God alone, and to Mary's Immaculate Heart -- make up for the impiety of those who, in neglecting the Mother, or in dishonouring her privileges, offend Him who wills that all generations should call her blessed and full of grace.

In a World Waiting to Hear the Gospel of Christmas

We monks of Silverstream Priory have no reason to shrink from the 17th century practice of making reparation to the Sacred and Maternal Heart of Mary by receiving the adorable Body and Blood of her Son, and by offering her the filial sentiments of His most loving Heart, united sacramentally to our own. We understand that the practice of offering the Mother of God honourable amendment on Saturday and on her feasts, is authorized by those reasons of the heart, that the heart alone understands. In a world waiting to hear the Gospel of Christmas, there are many who deny the great things that the Almighty has done for the Virgin Mary; there are those who make light of her incomparable privileges and scorn her lowliness. Let there be, also, a few who, like the shepherds, approach the Virgin Mother and, in offering her homage of their simple manly hearts, bring to the grotto that gave shelter to her, to Saint Joseph, and to the Divine Child, the warmth of grateful love and affection .

Ave, Maria, gratia plena

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As Mary was, so is the Church today, virgin and handmaid; at the beginning of the year's liturgy, she waits for everything from the Lord's grace. Those who would receive Christ and bring Him forth must become like her . . . her soul was virginal, so well cut loose from everything of earth, so humble before God, that He could wholly fill her. (D. Aemiliana Löhr, The Mass Through the Year)

Sunday of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent belongs to Our Blessed Lady. Venerable Pope Paul VI, influenced, no doubt, by the ancient practice of the venerable Church of Milan, desired that the Fourth Sunday of Advent should become a veritable festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As he intimates in Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother.

By dedicating the Fourth Sunday of Advent to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by restoring to January 1st, the feast of the Circumcision, its ancient title of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Venerable Pope Paul VI sought to give us the Infant Christ, the Redeemer of the world, circled round by the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin.

Our Lady: Indispensable to the Advent of Christ

The sacred liturgy celebrates the Virgin Mother before Christmas Day and again eight days after it. This is Mother Church's way of teaching us that the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable to every advent of Christ.

If you would welcome Christ, welcome Mary.
If you would receive Christ, seek Mary.
If you would know Christ, know Mary.
If you would love Christ, love Mary.

Dew From Above

The Blessed Virgin is present, not only in the Gospel today, but in every part of today's Mass. The Introit, Rorate, for example, is Our Lady's song before it is ours. It can only be our prayer because it was first the prayer of her Immaculate Heart. "Send down dew from above, you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One: may He, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of the earth" (Is 45:8). There is no prayer that does not begin in an intense longing for the dew from above. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill" (Mt 5:6).

Similarly, the magnificent Offertory Antiphon, Ave Maria, gratia plena (Lk 1:28) and the Communion Antiphon, Ecce, virgo concipiet (Is 7:14) invite us to conversation with the Virgin Mother of the Lord, to a contemplative admiration of her beauty, and to the imitation of her "Fiat". "Be it done to me according to thy word" (Lk 1:38).

Thy Grace Into Our Hearts

Today's Collect in the reformed Missal is familiar and worn like a thing much loved because it is the prayer that, three times each day, concludes the Little Office of the Incarnation that we call the Angelus.

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

This prayer sums up the whole economy of our salvation: the message of an angel to the Virgin; the immensity of her "Yes"; the bitter Passion and the Blood outpoured; the Cross, the Tomb, and the triumph of the Prince of Life.

Portress of the Mysteries of Christ

Of all these mysteries, Mary is the Mystical Portress and the Keeper of the Gate. This is why the saints teach that true devotion to Mary is a sure sign of predestination. Understand this aphorism as the saints did: one who loves Mary is destined to imitate her "Yes"; and to follow her through the Passion and Cross of her Son into the glory of His Resurrection.

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Our Lady in the Last Days of Advent

Yes, today, December 18th, is one of the liturgy's loveliest old Advent festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that of the Expectatio Partus. Established in 656 by the bishops assembled for the Tenth Council of Toledo, it was kept by nearly the entire Latin Church. Mother Mectilde de Bar, writing in 17th century France, left some splendid sermons on the feast. The Marquess of Bute calls it, in his fine old translation of the Breviary, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Looking Shortly To Be Delivered." It was also called in Spain, and elsewhere, Nuestra Señora de la O, and this because, after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted "O" to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.

Ave, Maria, gratia plena

Looking first at the Office for the feast, one discovers that the Invitatory Antiphon is the greeting of the Archangel to the Virgin of Nazareth: "Hail Mary, full of grace, * the Lord is with thee." The antiphons on the psalms of Matins are all taken from the Advent Office. The lessons are Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child (Is 7:10), a passage from Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo on the Maidenhood of Blessed Mary, and one from the Venerable Bede on the Annunciation Gospel. The final responsory is the glorious Fourth Mode Suscipe verbum, "Receive, O Virgin Mary, receive the word of the Lord, which is sent thee by His Angel."

The Collect throughout the day is that of Lady Day in March:

O God who didst will that Thy Word should,
by the message of an Angel,
take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grant unto us, we beseech Thee,
that all we who do believe her to be in very deed
the Mother of God,
may be holpen by her prayers in Thy sight.

At Lauds and the Hours, the antiphons are those of Lady Day, while the hymns remain those of the Advent Office. The Magnificat Antiphon is the lovely O Virgo Virginum, composed in the same Second Mode melody as the Great O Antiphons:

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O maiden of maidens,
how shall this be,
since neither before nor henceforth hath there been,
nor shall be such another?
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why look ye curiously upon me?
What ye see is a mystery of God.

The Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady

I would venture to suggest that the Office and Mass of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are today, more than ever before, worthy of celebration and meditation, given that the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is roundly mocked by many. Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.

All of this makes me want to open my Processionale Monasticum to page 146 and sing, Gaude Maria, Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti:

Rejoice, O Mary,
by whose mighty hand the Church hath victory
over her foes [every heresy] achieved,
since thou to Gabriel's word of quickening power
in lowliness hast listened, and believed
-- thou, still a virgin, in thy blessed womb
hast God Incarnate of thy flesh conceived,
and still, in heaven, of that virginity remainest
after childbirth unbereaved.
V. Blessed art thou that hast believed,
for there is a performance of those things
which were told thee from the Lord.

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At the end of Holy Mass today, we renewed the devotional election of the Immaculate Virgin Mary as Abbess and Queen of our monastery, a practice well rooted in monastic history, and one that unites us in a particular way, not only to the daughters of Mother Mectilde de Bar, but also to the monks of Mount Athos who venerate the All-Holy Mother of God as Abbess of the Holy Mountain.

O Immaculate Virgin Mary,
all-lovely, and conceived without sin,
in the name of the community such as it is today,
and such as it shall be in time to come,
I solemnly reaffirm
that thou, the true Mother of God, more honorable than the cherubim,
and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.
art forever elected, named, and recognized
as the ever-worthy, glorious,
and sovereign Lady and Abbess of this monastery,
that is, of all the monasteries dedicated to thee,
the most fragile and the most in need of the care and attention
of thy maternal Heart.

With profound humility and confidence,
I beg thee, in thy most tender pity
to take this struggling and vulnerable infant monastery
under thy singular care and special protection,
and to obtain for us
the incomparable grace of the Divine Friendship
of the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus,
in fidelity to the Rule of Saint Benedict
and to the mission of adoration, reparation, and charity for priests,
bestowed upon us by the Father of lights,
from whom descends every good gift.

I further offer to thy maternal Heart O sovereign Lady and Abbess
all who have assisted this little monastery
by their presence, their labour, their prayers,
and their material support,
asking thee to extend the veil of thy holy protection and perpetual help
over them and over their families, their loved ones,
their homes, and their places of work and business.

Receive us, then, all-holy and merciful Mother of Jesus Christ,
as thy servants and as sons of thine own household.
Make thou full use of thy rights and of thy power over us,
and over the temporal and spiritual affairs of this house,
lest thine own honour be mocked,
and thy house looked upon with scorn,
and thy sons derided.

We accept and avow that Thou art our sovereign Lady,
our Abbess, and our Queen,
and by this act renewed today in view of thy Divine Son,
of the choirs of angels,
of Saint Joseph, Saint John, our father Saint Benedict,
and of all the saints,
we bind ourselves to depend upon thee,
and look to thee for all things.

We renew into thy hands the sacred vows of our baptism,
and those of monastic profession,
asking thee to fashion us
into true adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and consolers of His Eucharistic Heart.

O Holy Mother of God,
we beseech thee with all the humility possible
to continue in the office to which we have elected thee,
and to rule over, protect, and provide for this house
and for those who dwell herein now
and will dwell herein in the days to come,
so that Jesus, the Lamb of God, immolated and forever living,
present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,
may be forever praised and adored
in our hearts and in the sanctuary of this monastery which is all thine.
Amen.

Gaudens gaudebo in Domino

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A Meditation on the Mass of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Look at this extraordinary medieval painting that shows the Tree of Life with Mary on one side and Eve on the other. Eve, completely naked, is giving the bitter fruit of her sin to her own communicants in evil. From her side of the tree a skull looks out, grimacing in death. On the other side of the tree is Mary, crowned and clothed in grace and beauty. She takes pure white hosts from among the branches of the tree and, like a priest distributing Holy Communion, places them in the mouths of her own communicants in eternal life. In the branches of Mary's side of the tree there is a crucifix. The Face of the Crucified is turned toward those who partake of the fruit of the Cross.

A Song From the Womb

"Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels" (Is 61:10). A song intoned from the womb! The Church takes the jubilant words of the prophet Isaiah and places them in the mouth of the Immaculate Conception, the Child full of grace just conceived in the womb of Saint Anne.

Prelude to the Magnificat

Gaudens, gaudebo in Domino. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord." If you would understand the text, you must sing it as the Church sings it on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The exegesis of the text is in its ravishing third mode melody composed by Dom Pothier (1835-1923), monk of Solesmes and later abbot of Saint-Wandrille. It soars pure as crystal in a kind of ecstatic cry of undiluted joy in God.

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Mary herself intones the first chant of the Mass today: a kind of prelude to her Magnificat. Already -- just conceived -- the Child Mary begins to sing, and with her the whole Church. On no other feast of the year does the liturgy allow the Virgin Mary to open the Mass by singing in the first person singular. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice" (Is 61:10). Mary's message, from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, is one of joy in God.

The Tree

The joy of the Immaculate Conception springs from the mystery of the Cross. The Collect says that Mary was "preserved from all stain" in foresight of the death of Christ on the Cross. Here enters the figure of the tree glimpsed in today's First Lesson from Genesis. The tree of Eve's mourning and weeping becomes for Mary the tree of "an unutterable and exalted joy" (1 P 1:8). Mary is the first to taste of the sweet fruit of the Tree of Life; Mary is the first to sing of the joy of the cross.

Holy and Immaculate Before the Father

The Collect asks that we, by the Blessed Virgin Mary's intercession, may come into the presence of God "with pure hearts." The Collect points to the Lesson from Ephesians. Saint Paul says that "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 1:3) chose us in Christ "that we should be holy and immaculate before Him" (Eph 1:4). This standing before God in holiness contrasts with the fear of Adam and Eve who, upon hearing the sound of God in the garden, "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). The naked Christ, exposed to the gaze of the Father on the tree of the Cross, casts out the fear that caused our first parents to make of the trees of the garden a screen between themselves and the Face of God. The first effect of the grace of Christ is that it makes us come into the presence of the Father, "free from fear" (Lk 1:73). "For you have not received the spirit of bondage in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: 'Abba, Father'" (Rom 8:15).

Blessed the Clean of Heart

The Collect asks specifically that we, being made clean, may draw near to God. The connection with the beatitude of the clean of heart is not to be missed: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the Mother of the pure in heart. By her intercession, she obtains from Christ, again and again, the application of "the blood of his Cross" (Col 1:20) to every heart darkened and defiled by sin. The Collect invites us to pray, specifically through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the poignant petition of King David: "A pure heart create for me, O God" (Ps 50:12).

Immaculate Mother of the Purest of Lambs

The Prayer Over the Offerings returns to the same petition, asking that "we may be freed from all our faults" by Mary's intercession. A culpis omnibus liberemur! What a stupendous petition! It leads directly into the Preface. There we praise the Father for His work in Mary, calling her "the purest of Virgins, she who was to bear your Son, the innocent Lamb who takes away our sins." We seem to hear already something of the sermon of Meliton of Sardis read in Holy Week: "He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe" (Paschal Homily).

O Dayspring

The Communion Antiphon opens on a phrase from Psalm 86, a song in praise of Zion, the city cherished by the Lord. The liturgy takes the verse, "Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God" (Ps 86:3), and in place of "city of God" says "Mary." "Glorious things are said of thee, O Mary." A key image from the prophet Malachi completes the Communion Antiphon: "for from thee has arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God" (cf. Mal 4:2). We see here a glimmer of the O Antiphon of December 21st: "O Dayspring, radiance of the light Eternal and sun of justice; come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." In Malachi's prophecy the "sun of justice" rises "with health in His wings" (Mal 4:2). Mary, the Immaculate Mother of the clean of heart, is also the Mother of all those healed by the rays of Christ, the Sun of Justice.

Our Wounds Repaired

Today's Mass is artfully constructed of interlocking parts. It requires the closest attention of those who would benefit from its teachings and, through it, receive the sweet light of today's mystery. The Communion Antiphon leads directly into the Postcommunion Prayer and interprets it. "Lord our God, may the sacraments that we have received heal (or repair) within us the wounds of that fault from which you preserved the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in so wonderful a way." In every Holy Mass, "Christ, the Sun of Justice arisen from Mary" shines for each of us with "healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2). Unlike Mary, we were conceived bearing the wounds of Adam's ancient sin but, by the Eucharistic Face of Christ shining like the sun, we are healed of the wounds from which the Immaculate Conception was preserved.

The First and Last Word Given to Joy

In the end, for those who allow themselves to be illumined by the grace of the sacred liturgy today, there is a return to the song of the beginning. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice he has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels" (Is 61:10). This is the song not only of the beginning of today's Mass; it is the song of Mary's beginning in her mother's womb. It is the song of every new beginning in grace. It is the song of every man and woman once paralyzed by fear, but now set free to stand unafraid in the sight of the Father. It is the song of every heart darkened and stained by sin, but now made bright and clean by grace. It is the song of every life wounded by sin, but healed by the Sun of Justice who, even now, will rise glorious above the altar "with healing in his wings" (Mal 4:2). The last word and the first belong to joy.

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This image of the Maternal Heart of Mary, now hanging in our monastic choir, was commissioned in Rome by the Venerable Servant of God Mother Mary Potter, foundress of the Little Company of Mary.

How Many Know?

In conversations with my brother priests, I am astonished to learn that very few of them have any knowledge of the Act of Entrustment and Consecration of Priests to the Maternal and Immaculate Heart of Mary that Pope Benedict XVI made in Fatima on 12 May 2010, and then renewed in Rome at the conclusion of the Year of the Priest.

Personally Ratified

In order for the Holy Father's Act of Consecration to be fruit in the lives of the priests of the Church it must, I think, be ratified in a personal way by each bishop and priest, and also corporately at the diocesan level by being renewed publicly by the bishop together with his priests.

Getting the Word Out

The fact that so few priests know of this solemn and significant act of the Holy Father on their behalf suggests that there is much work to be done in the field of communications. It is crucial that the teachings and acts of the Holy Father reach the desks of every bishop and priest; that they be read attentively, pondered, and taken to heart. In posting the Holy Father's Act of Consecration today, on this glorious feast of the Immaculate Conception, I pray that some priests will be moved to ratify it and make it their own.

Pope Benedict XVI's
Act of Entrustment and Consecration of Priests
to the Maternal and Immaculate Heart of Mary

Immaculate Mother, in this place of grace, called together by the love of your Son Jesus the Eternal High Priest, we, sons in the Son and his priests, consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart, in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.
We are mindful that, without Jesus, we can do nothing good (cf. Jn 15:5) and that only through him, with him and in him, will we be instruments of salvation for the world.
Bride of the Holy Spirit, obtain for us the inestimable gift of transformation in Christ. Through the same power of the Spirit that overshadowed you, making you the Mother of the Saviour, help us to bring Christ your Son to birth in ourselves too. May the Church be thus renewed by priests who are holy, priests transfigured by the grace of him who makes all things new.
Mother of Mercy, it was your Son Jesus who called us to become like him: light of the world and salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14).
Help us, through your powerful intercession, never to fall short of this sublime vocation, nor to give way to our selfishness, to the allurements of the world and to the wiles of the Evil One.
Preserve us with your purity, guard us with your humility and enfold us with your maternal love that is reflected in so many souls consecrated to you, who have become for us true spiritual mothers.
Mother of the Church, we priests want to be pastors who do not feed themselves but rather give themselves to God for their brethren, finding their happiness in this. Not only with words, but with our lives, we want to repeat humbly, day after day, Our "here I am".
Guided by you, we want to be Apostles of Divine Mercy, glad to celebrate every day the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar and to offer to those who request it the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Advocate and Mediatrix of grace, you who are fully immersed in the one universal mediation of Christ, invoke upon us, from God, a heart completely renewed that loves God with all its strength and serves mankind as you did.
Repeat to the Lord your efficacious word: "They have no wine" (Jn 2:3), so that the Father and the Son will send upon us a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Full of wonder and gratitude at your continuing presence in our midst, in the name of all priests I too want to cry out: "Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).
Our Mother for all time, do not tire of "visiting us", consoling us, sustaining us. Come to our aid and deliver us from every danger that threatens us. With this act of entrustment and consecration, we wish to welcome you more deeply, more radically, for ever and totally into our human and priestly lives.
Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth in the desert of our loneliness, let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness, let it restore calm after the tempest, so that all mankind shall see the salvation of the Lord, who has the name and the face of Jesus, who is reflected in our hearts, for ever united to yours! Amen!

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I wrote this prayer of consecration in 2007 while supplying for a fortnight as chaplain to the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament at the Monastery of Notre-Dame d'Orient in the Avéyron in France.

One may find this prayer of consecration suitable when one needs to entrust particular souls in difficulty to the Immaculate Conception. This consecration, especially when prayed by a priest before an image of the Immaculate Mother of God, is appropriate for the unbinding and healing of situations marked by sin and moral suffering. The Immaculate Virgin Mary is ever-ready to intervene in the lives of her children. She is the Mother of Mercy and the Mediatrix of All Graces. I thank the Mother of God for her interventions in the liives of those whom I have entrusted to her care, and magnify with her the Most Holy Trinity. Here is the prayer, first in my English translation,and then in the original French text.

Efficacious Consecration of Persons
to the Pierced and Immaculate Heart of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary

In the name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most holy Virgin Mary.
-- you whom the FATHER, from the first instant of your conception, preserved
from all evil and from the least shadow of sin,
-- you whom the Precious Blood of JESUS rendered immaculate and all-beautiful, even before that same Blood was formed in your virginal womb and poured out upon the altar of the Cross,
-- you whom the HOLY SPIRIT filled full with every grace in view of the glorious motherhood of the Son of God for which you were created,
-- you crush the head of the ancient serpent,
and you alone overcome the evil that is in us and around us.

To you, O Mary,
your Son has entrusted the liberation of souls enchained by sin,
the healing of wounded souls,
and the sanctification of souls who have suffered evil's worst ravages.

You have only to open your immaculate hands over them,
and they are shot through with the rays of your purity.
Through you, enters the light to shine in the darkest places.
Through you, souls are washed in a downpour of graces.
Through you, the Holy Spirit gives succour to the weakest souls,
and to the sterile a wonderful fecundity.

You, O Mary, are the only hope of your children scarred by sin
and poisoned by its venom.
To those whom the enemy has led astray in bitterness and in fear,
you open the path of life and of beatitude.

This is why, impelled today by the boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit,
and by a confidence that is altogether that of a son,
[and when the consecration is made by a priest:
and in virtue of my priesthood,]
I entrust to you N. and N.,
and consecrate them to your pierced and immaculate Heart.

Show yourself the Mother of mercy.
Show yourself our all-powerful Queen,
for there is nothing that resists your supplication
in the presence of Jesus, the King of Love.

Mediatrix of all graces,
save these souls from the tentacles of evil.
Heal them, even in those secret and painful wounds,
that only your most gentle motherly hand can touch
without adding to their pain.

From this moment on,
these souls are consecrated entirely to you.
Do for them whatsoever your maternal Heart will suggest.
Purify them in the Precious Blood of your Jesus, the Lamb without stain,
so that now, and even unto the ages of ages,
they may live for the praise of the glory
of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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A Holy Priest

December 7th is the 22nd anniversary of the death of Père Louis Croset. Born at Annecy-le-Vieux in 1914, Monsieur le Chanoine Louis François CROSET was ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Annecy on 7 June 1941. He exercised the sacred ministry in the diocese of Annecy from 1941 until 1952, and in the diocese of Bayonne from 1952-1990. He died on the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 7 December 1990.

A Father to Many Souls

Père Croset's priestly life was marked by great suffering, by an extraordinary love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by a wonderful spiritual fruitfulness. I was privileged to be numbered among the many souls touched by his priesthood. At the end of his life Père Croset lived in a residence for elderly priests in Pau, not far from Lourdes.

At Lourdes

A number of years ago he drove me to Lourdes where, together in the February rain, we stood before the grotto and prayed this Act of Abandonment to the Blessed Virgin. Père Croset composed it sixty years ago in 1952, in a moment of intense moral suffering and darkness.

Père Croset's Act of Abandonment

O Marie, ma Reine et ma Mère,
reçois en tes mains mon Acte d'Abandon
à la volonté du Père de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ,
afin qu'à l'exemple de son Fils bien aimé
et par le secours de ta Tendresse,
je laisse conduire ma vie par l'Esprit-Saint
selon les mysterieux desseins de la Trinité.

O Mary, my Queen and my Mother,
receive into thy hands
my Act of Abandonment
to the will of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
so that, following the example of His beloved Son
and with the help of thy tenderness,
I may let my life be directed by the Holy Spirit
according to the mysterious designs of the Trinity.

Aide-moi à livrer sans réserve tout mon être à Dieu
dans la clarté obscure de la foi,
l'élan austère de l'Espérance
et l'étreinte crucifiante de l'Amour.

Help me to surrender without reserve
my whole being to God
in the dark brightness of Faith,
the austere élan of Hope,
and the crucifying embrace of Love.

Je veux m'enfoncer en ton Coeur Immaculé
pour y devenir l'hostie que tu donneras à Jésus,
afin qu'en son sacrifice
Il me consacre à la gloire de son Père
et à la fécondité de l'Eglise son Épouse.
Amen.

I want to hide myself within thy Immaculate Heart
to become there the host
that thou wilt give to Jesus,
so that He may consecrate me in His sacrifice
to the glory of His Father
and to the fruitfulness of His Spouse the Church.
Amen.

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Here (once again) is the homily I preached in French five years ago at the Monastère Saint-Benoît in Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, France. Richard Chonak's fine translation follows. Thank you, Richard.

« Voici le peuple immense de ceux qui t'ont cherché ».

Oui, Seigneur Jésus, tous ils ont cherché ton Visage.
Tous, ils ont pris à cœur cette parole
que ton Esprit Saint a fait chanter le roi prophète :
« Mon cœur t'a déclaré : je cherche le Seigneur. . .
c'est ta Face, Seigneur, que je rechercherai.
Ne détourne pas de moi ton Visage » (Ps 26, 8-9).

Tous, ils sont devenus miroirs vivants de ta Sainte Face,
selon ce que dit ton Apôtre :
« Et nous tous qui, le visage découvert,
réfléchissons comme en un miroir la gloire du Seigneur,
nous sommes transformés en cette même image,
toujours plus glorieuse,
comme il convient à l'action du Seigneur, qui est l'Esprit » (2 Cor 3, 18).

Seigneur Jésus, la beauté de la gloire de tes saints nous ravit
parce qu'elle est le reflet sur leurs visages de la beauté de la gloire de ta Face !
Aujourd'hui tu nous révèles,
aujourd'hui tu nous redis le secret de toute sainteté :
la recherche de ta Face.

À quiconque cherche ta Face, Seigneur Jésus, tu la révèles,
et celui à qui tu révèles ta Face ne peut que l'adorer.
Cette adoration de ta Sainte Face est transformante,
C'est toujours le roi prophète qui nous donne de chanter chaque nuit :
« Sur nous s'est imprimé, Seigneur, la lumière de ta Face » (Ps 4, 7).

Parmi tous ces visages illuminés par la beauté de ta Face,
il y a un visage qui rayonne d'une splendeur qui fait pâlir le soleil.
C'est le visage de ta Mère, la toute belle, la toute pure.
Tu es toute belle, ô Marie, car sur ton visage nous voyons
le reflet éblouissant de Celui
qui est « le resplendissement de la gloire du Père
et l'effigie de sa substance » (Hb 1, 3).

Toi, la reine de tous les saints,
tu es le signe grandiose qui apparaît dans le ciel :
la Femme revêtue du soleil,
ayant la lune sous ses pieds,
et portant une couronne sertie de douze étoiles.

Je dois vous avouer, chères sœurs,
que dès que nous avons chanté l'antienne du Magnificat aux premières vêpres,
j'ai compris que la foi d'Abraham restait, en quelque sorte, inachevée,
tant qu'elle n'a pas trouvé en Marie sa plénitude.
Les fils et les filles d'Abraham, plus nombreux que les étoiles du ciel,
sont tous sans exception aucune, fils et filles de Marie,
de celle qui a cru « en l'accomplissement de ce qui lui fut dit
de la part du Seigneur » (Lc 1, 45).

C'est Marie qui entraîne tous les saints dans le chant qui, un jour,
déborda de son Cœur immaculé :
« Le Puissant a fait pour moi des merveilles » (Lc 1, 49).
Voici le chant de tous les saints.
Chacun le reçoit des lèvres de Marie pour le reprendre à son tour »
chacun avec sa voix, chacun avec son accent,
chacun avec la mélodie que lui inspire le Saint-Esprit.
C'est cela ce grand bruit qui remplit le ciel ;
c'est le chant de Marie repris par le chœur des saints.

Et qui sont ces saints, tous enfants de Marie ?
Ils sont les bienheureux de l'évangile que vous venez d'entendre.
À chacun des béatitudes correspond cette parole de Jésus crucifié,
ce testament d'amour confié au disciple bien-aimé : « Voici ta Mère » (Jn 19, 27).

Il me faut donc dire :
Vous, les pauvres de cœur, voici votre Mère,
la Vierge des pauvres telle qu'elle s'est manifestée à Banneux,
la Reine des anawim, de ceux qui attendent tout de Dieu.

Vous, les doux, voici votre Mère,
Marie, la bonne agnelle,
celle dont la mansuétude dépasse celle du roi David,
celle dont a douceur apaise tous nos conflits et calme toutes nos tempêtes.

Vous qui pleurez, voici votre Mère,
celle que l'Église, riche de l'expérience de deux millénaires,
appelle Consolatrix Afflictorum, la Consolatrice des Affligés.

Vous qui avez faim et soif de la justice, voici votre Mère,
la Mère de l'Eucharistie,
celle qui a donné de son corps et de son sang
pour que, de son sein virginal, fécondé par la puissance du Saint Esprit,
soient offerts au monde entier le Corps et le Sang du Christ
pour vous rassasier.

Vous les miséricordieux, voici votre Mère,
celle que l'Église, dans ce chant sublime qui s'élève des monastères de par le monde entier tous les soirs, appelle Mater misericordiae.
Marie ne s'effraie point à la vue de vos misères.
Elle les prend toutes dans son Cœur pour les tremper
dans l'huile et dans le vin du Saint Esprit.

Vous les cœurs purs, voici votre Mère,
l'Immaculée, la toute belle, celle qui opère dans le cœur dans pécheurs
des merveilles de pureté et de candeur.

Vous les artisans de paix, voici votre Mère, Regina pacis,
celle qui n'a jamais oublié le chant angélique qui a fait tressaillir les étoiles
en la nuit où elle a mis au monde le Prince de la Paix :
« Gloire à Dieu au plus haut des cieux, et paix sur la terre
aux hommes qu'il aime » (Lc 2, 14).

Vous les persécutés pour la justice, voici votre Mère,
la Regina Martyrum, celle dont l'âme fut transpercée d'un glaive de douleur.
Elle s'est tenue debout près de la croix de son Fils.
Elle a sondé toutes les amertumes et,
avec son Enfant crucifié, a bu le calice que le Père leur avait présenté.

Vous les insultés et les calomniés, voici votre Mère,
celle qui, rayonnante d'amour et de vérité, éclairera tous vos chemins.
C'est elle qui soutient les martyrs.
Rien de ce que vous souffrez ne lui est étranger.

Vous qui êtes dans la joie,
vous qui jubilez d'allégresse, voici votre Mère,
la Causa nostrae laetitiae.
Votre joie est la sienne, et sa joie à elle,
elle la déverse à flots dans les cœurs de tous les saints
jusque dans les siècles des siècles.

Sainte Marie, Mère et Reine de tous les saints,
nous voulons, comme l'apôtre Jean,
te prendre dès maintenant chez nous,
pour que tu nous apprennes les béatitudes
dont tu es l'icône parfaite.
Fais nous goûter au bonheur de tous les saints.
Et maintenant, accompagne-nous à l'autel du Saint Sacrifice.
Un jour, nous l'espérons fermement,
tu seras là pour nous accueillir au banquet qui déjà nous est préparé au ciel,
celui des Noces de l'Agneau.
Amen.

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Saint Luke, Evangelist

The Evangelist

Saint Luke comes to us today as the evangelist of the Holy Spirit, as the evangelist of the little and of the poor, the evangelist of the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels. He comes to us as the iconographer of the healing Christ, the Divine Physician of our souls and bodies. Saint Luke comes to us as the advocate and friend of the women disciples of the Lord, and as the witness of the Acts of the Apostles and of the life of the infant Church. He comes to us as the poet of the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis, as the evangelist of the sacred liturgy, the one who closes his Gospel with the radiant image of a joyful Church semper in templo benedicentes Deum, “continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52).

Iconographer of the Holy Mother of God

According to an old tradition, Saint Luke, in addition to being a physician (Col 4:14), was a painter. It is recounted that Saint Luke depicted the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ in three icons. He showed them to her. The Mother of God looked at them with joy and then blessed them, saying, “May the grace of Him to Whom I gave birth be within them.” The iconography of Saint Luke himself makes for a fascinating study; he is nearly always portrayed painting the Blessed Virgin and her Son. Paintings of a saint painting!

Saint Luke at the Cross

I know also of one painting of Saint Luke, different from all others and profoundly moving. It is by the Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaràn and dates from 1660. Zurbaràn shows Saint Luke standing on Calvary; he is holding an artist's palette in his hands and contemplating Jesus Crucified with rapt attention. Saint Luke is memorizing the scene so as to depict it in a painting, just as he depicts it in his Gospel.

A Rosary of Icons

Open the Gospel of Saint Luke and what do you see? Icons of the Virgin Mother and the Child Christ, of the healing Christ, of Christ in prayer, of the suffering Christ, of the Crucified Christ, and of the mysterious risen Christ appearing on the road to Emmaus. These Gospel icons, written by Saint Luke with an extraordinary spiritual sensitivity, invite us to the contemplation of the Face of Christ in much the same way, as do the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Lectio Divina of the Icon

Irish Benedictine Dom Gregory Collins has written an extraordinary little book on icons: “The Icons and Lectio Divina: Ancient and Post Modern Insights.” Dom Gregory applies the four moments of lectio divina to the practice of prayer before an icon. Lectio becomes a reading of the imagery, an attempt to “receive” the message it expresses through colour and form.

Meditatio takes the images received and turns them over in the mind; it can also mean focusing on a single detail of the icon: the face, the eyes, a hand, a gesture. Meditatio before an icon allows one to linger for a long time in the transforming presence of the light of God. “We all,” says Saint Paul, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Oratio is the prayer that, like a flame, shoots up in the heart. Gazing upon the icon, like repeating the sacred text, feeds the flame of oratio. Finally, one is surprised by a holy stillness. The “fiery darts of prayer” are absorbed into something more obscure: contemplatio. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

Dom Gregory’s insights may help us to read the Gospel of Saint Luke more deeply, searching on each page for the icon that slowly emerges from between the lines and behind the words, becoming visible to the eyes of faith. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9).

We Become What We Contemplate

Philosophers, psychologists and saints agree that we become what we contemplate. Look at goodness and you will become good. Look at beauty and you will become beautiful. Look at truth and you will become true. Look at purity and you will become pure. Saint Clare of Assisi, herself so marked by Gospel of Saint Luke, wrote to Agnes of Prague: “Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him” (Second Letter to Agnes of Prague).

Contemplating the Mysteries With Saint Luke

Understood in this way, the contemplation of the “icons” of Saint Luke’s Gospel, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, is transforming. The Rosary is, I have always believed, a uniquely Lukan prayer. Consider Saint Luke’s icon of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26 38) and, with Mary, become “Yes” to the Word. Look at the Visitation (Lk 1:39 56) and learn the language of Mary’s praise. Look at the Child lying in the manger (Lk 2:16) and become little and poor.

Look at the merciful Christ (Lk 4:40 - 5:26) and become merciful; at the healing Christ (Lk 7:1-10) and become an instrument of healing; at the solitary Christ in prayer (Lk 11:1), and learn to converse with the Father.

Look at the icon of Christ in Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46), agonizing and comforted by an angel, and enter into his submission to the Father’s will. Look at the crucified Jesus (Lk 23:33-47) and learn from him to forgive and to show mercy, even in the hour of darkness. Look at the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32) and know that he walks with you always, opening the Scriptures, breaking the Bread, causing your hearts to burn with a mysterious fire. Finally, look at the icon of the Church in the last sentence of Saint Luke’s Gospel -- “They were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:53) -- and learn to bless God always and everywhere, learn to give the last word to praise.

To the Altar

The Benedictine vocation is that of the Church in the temple at Jerusalem: to bless. The transformation that begins in the contemplation of Saint Luke’s Rosary of Gospel icons is perfected, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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The AOH

The Ancient Order of Hibernians evolved from a need in the early 1600s to protect the lives of Catholic priests who, by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, risked death to keep the Holy Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of England's King Henry VIII. When England Implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various societies were formed across the country to assist Catholic priests in ministering to the spiritual needs of the faithful. These groups worked to aid and comfort the people by whatever means available. Similarly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded on May 4th, 1836 at Saint James Church in New York City, to protect Catholic clergy and church property from the machinations of anti-Catholic bigotry, cloaked in the guise of American patriotism, and from the nativist prejudice against immigrants.

Homily at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock
Pilgrimage of the Ancient Order of Hibernians
In Thanksgiving for the Gift of the Priesthood
Saturday, 13 October 2012

When John Byrne rang me a few days ago, inviting me to join you here in Knock today, I could not refuse him. Like my father and my great-grandfather before me, I am a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Father McKeon Nº 7, in New Haven, Connecticut. More significantly, Our Lady of Knock herself has played a decisive role in my life since I first offered Holy Mass here, as a young priest from America over 25 years ago.

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The Icon of Knock

Knock is a kind of life-size icon, that is to say, a message deployed in images. An icon is an image through which heavenly realities are made visible on earth, and through which we, pilgrims who go mourning and weeping in this vale of tears, are given a glimpse of the radiant joys of heaven.

To Be Read from Left to Right

Knock must be read, as one would read a text, from left to right, beginning with Saint Joseph. Consider well Saint Joseph -- humble Joseph, silent Joseph, strong and brave Joseph -- and in him you will see the model of the original mission of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, that is, the protection and safeguard of priests.

Saint Joseph, Protector of Christ, Lamb and Priest

To Saint Joseph was entrusted not only the tender Lamb born of the Virgin Mary, the Lamb who, upon the altar of the Cross, would become the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, but also the Eternal High Priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:7) tells us that the priesthood of Christ began at the very instant of His conception, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in His Virgin Mother's womb.

Priest From Conception

Coming into this world, that is, coming into the sanctuary of His Mother's womb, the Son, the Eternal Word made flesh, presented Himself to the Father as Priest and Victim, saying, Ecce, venio, "A body Thou has fitted to me; behold, I come to do Thy will" (Hebrews 10:5-7). There was not a moment when Christ Jesus was not a Priest: the Priest for whom all the world waited in anticipation; the desire of the everlasting hills; the Mediator who would, by His own Body, as Saint Catherine of Siena says, bridge the great chasm between earth and heaven; the Redeemer who would give back to God what belonged to God, and give to men what God had, from all eternity, prepared for them.

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Saint Joseph, Guardian of Priests

Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, was placed, from the first instant of His conception, in the care and under the protection of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is the guardian of priests; he is the father of every man called to represent the fatherhood of God by being a living sacramental image of Him who said, "He that seeth Me seeth the Father" (John 14:9). Saint Joseph's mission has not ended. It is, I daresay, more necessary today than in those dark hours long past of Ireland's history, when the men of the Ancient Order of Hibernians took it upon themselves to be other Josephs for other priests in whom the one priesthood of Christ is prolonged through the ages, and will be prolonged until the end of time. Just as Saint Joseph cannot be understood apart from his relationship to Jesus, the Lamb of Sacrifice and the Priest who offers the Sacrifice, the Ancient Order of Hibernians cannot be understood apart from its historical relationship to the priesthood.

Mary, the Temple Fashioned by God for God

Here at Knock, Saint Joseph appeared bowing in reverence and in awe towards his Virgin Bride -- the love of his life, the joy of his heart, the light of his eyes: Mary. Our Lady appeared at Knock as the image of the Ecclesia Orans, the Church-in-Prayer. The position of her hands, the raising of her eyes, her whole being is liturgical. Mary is the living sanctuary of adoration in spirit and in truth. Her body is the temple fashioned by God for God. Her Immaculate Heart is the altar of the perfect sacrifice. Her womb is the tabernacle of the living Bread come down from heaven. And through her eyes, as through the crystal of a monstrance, one can gaze into the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.

Contemplate Our Lady of Knock

Our Lady revealed herself here at Knock as she is, indeed as she stands near the priest at the altar so often as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. Contemplate Our Lady of Knock, and you will understand what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council meant when, fifty years ago, they summoned us to full, conscious, and actual participation in the Holy Mysteries. Our Lady of Knock is heaven's perfect, shining illustration of what it means to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on earth.

Saint John the Evangelist

After Saint Joseph and Our Lady, we come to Saint John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Here at Knock, Saint John represents the preaching Church, the teaching Church. All that Saint John preached and taught, he drew out of the Heart of Jesus, that beating Heart upon which he rested his head at the Last Supper; the Heart he saw pierced by the soldier's lance on Calvary; the Heart that he recognized in his vision on the island of Patmos in the wound of the immolated Lamb who lives forever.

The Grace of Johannization for Priests

If you would ask one grace for the priests of Ireland today, ask this -- and I will allow myself to coin a word -- ask that they may be entirely johannized by the Holy Ghost: that each priest may become for the Heart of Jesus and for the Heart of Mary another John, so as to be another John in the heart of the Church. Saint John represents the fulness of priestly holiness in intimacy with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

The Sacrifice of the Lamb Renewed

And finally, we come to the altar, to the Lamb, to the Cross, and to myriads of choirs of angels singing, "Holy, Holy Holy"; but now, what is represented at Knock in image and symbol, will be given to us in reality, for the source and the summit of Knock is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is time, then, to leave the ambo for the altar in the blessed company of Saint Joseph, Our Lady, and Saint John; time for the Sacrifice of the Lamb, to whom be all glory and praise here at Knock, and from the rising of the sun to its setting, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Blessed Bartolo Longo

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Blessed Bartolo Longo

There is a marvelous figure of holiness inscribed on the calendar today: Blessed Bartolo Longo, the great Apostle of the Rosary and the founder of the shrine of the Madonna of the Rosary at Pompei in Italy. Born in 1841, Blessed Longo died in 1926. He was a contemporary of Saint Faustina. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1980. Several times in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II called our attention to the example of this holy layman, calling him “l’uomo della Madonna,” Our Lady’s man.

Divine Mercy Displayed

Blessed Bartolo Longo’s story is a dramatic illustration of Divine Mercy. The mystery of Mercy announced by Saint Faustina played itself out in the life of Blessed Longo. As a young man, following studies in Law, Bartolo Longo abandoned his faith and allowed himself to be drawn into paths of great spiritual darkness. He practiced spiritism, found himself entrenched in the occult, and became a practicing Satanist. Longo went so far as to have himself ordained a priest of Satan. He very nearly lost his sanity, becoming a mere shadow of himself.

Spiritually Sick

In one particular séance Longo was distressed to see the face of the deceased king of Naples and the Two Sicilies: Ferdinand II. That same night he saw the soul of his mother circling his bed, begging him to return to the Catholic faith. His practice of the occult had so affected him that he was barely recognizable to those who once knew him as a handsome young man, full of vitality and promise. A Catholic friend, seeing him in such a pitiful spiritual, psychological, and physical state, begged him to at least meet with Father Radente, a wise Dominican priest. After some time, Longo made a thorough confession and, under the direction of this priest, began the reform of his life. He entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic, receiving the name, Brother Rosario.

Conversion and Healing

Bartolo’s Dominican spiritual father told him that the Mother of God promised that anyone who promoted her Rosary would assuredly be saved. The rest of Blessed Barolo’s life was dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. The Rosary was his lifeline. The Rosary was the anchor of his salvation. The Rosary was the means by which the Holy Mother of God brought him back from hell. It was through the prayer of the Rosary that the Blessed Virgin healed his soul, restored him to health, and entrusted him with a mission. Later Blessed Bartolo wrote, “What is my vocation? To write about Mary, to have Mary praised, to have Mary loved.”

Rosary Apostolate

Blessed Longo reached out to the desperately poor, ignorant, and needy people of the town of Pompei. He taught them to pray the Rosary. The Rosary did for that entire town what it had done for him in his personal life; it brought healing, refreshment, holiness, joy, and peace. With the help of the Countess Mariana de Fusco whom he later married on the advice of Pope Leo XIII, while preserving with her his vow of chastity, Bartolo Longo undertook the construction of the church of the Madonna of the Rosary of Pompei. The city that grew up around it became the City of the Rosary.

He founded a congregation of Dominican Sisters to care for the poor. He established a school for boys. He wrote tirelessly in the service of Madonna and of her Rosary. His beautiful supplication to the Madonna of the Rosary has been translated into countless languages. Pope John Paul II prayed it when, on October 7, 2003, he visited Pompei to conclude the Year of the Rosary. In Italy, every year on the first Sunday of October, everything comes to a halt at noon while people, young and old, poor and rich, healthy and sick, pause to pray Blessed Longo’s supplication to the Virgin of the Rosary.

Divine Mercy Available to All

Saint Faustina made known the mystery of Divine Mercy. Blessed Bartolo Longo experienced Divine Mercy in a dramatic and deeply personal way. The same Divine Mercy is available to us: the mercy that brings back from hell, the mercy that raises the soul from spiritual death, the mercy that heals, restores, forgives, and repairs the past.

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the intercession of the Mother of God and, most efficaciously, through the humble prayer of the Rosary. It comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance: the mystery of the blood and the water from the side of Christ washing over the soul. And the Divine Mercy comes to us in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Mass is the real presence of Crucified Love. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Divine Mercy flowing from the Heart of the Lamb, making saints out of sinners.

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The image is a detail from Dürer's Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1519). I especially like Saint Anne's motherly hand resting on Our Lady's shoulder.

For some years now, especially around the Marian feasts of September 8th, September 12th, November 21st, and December 8th, I have "told my beads" while dwelling on five mysteries of the first part of Our Lady's life. These five mysteries of the Blessed Virgin Mary are:

-- the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne (feast December 8th);
-- the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (feast September 8th);
-- the Most Holy Name of Mary (feast September 12th);
-- the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple (feast November 21st);
-- the Betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph (feast January 23rd);

There is a particular sweetness in dwelling on these mysteries of Maria Bambina, the Infant Mary, the Child Mary. They distill graces of purity, of childlike simplicity, and of littleness.

All five mysteries are commemorated in the Sacred Liturgy. The liturgical books are rich in texts to nourish the meditation of each one. It is enough to take an antiphon, a verse, a single phrase, and to hold it in the heart while telling one's beads. The Rosary corresponds to the meditatio and the oratio of monastic prayer; it begins necessarily in lectio divina, the hearing of the Word, and then, gently, almost imperceptibly, draws the soul into contemplatio.

The Rosary is, I am convinced, the surest and easiest school of contemplative prayer. The Rosary decapitates pride, the single greatest obstacle to union with God. The repetition of the Aves, like a stream of pure water, cleanses the heart.

A Little Girl Full of Grace

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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Maria Bambina

Unto us a little girl is born; unto us a daughter is given. “The Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her” (Cf. Lk 1:35). The Word will take flesh in her virginal womb and suckle at her breast. And her name shall be called Full of Grace, Glory of Jerusalem, Joy of Israel, and Mother of God. In Italy she has another name, one that the people love to give her; she is their Maria Bambina, the little Infant Mary.

The Story of an Image

It was in Rome, many years ago, that I encountered the image of Maria Bambina for the first time. I didn’t know quite what to make of it. She looked rather like a doll, all dressed up in lace and satin, resting on her pillow. I knew only that all sorts of people, and especially children, came to pray before her. I saw that that Maria Bambina had stolen their hearts. She attracted the most extraordinary outpouring of tender devotion, and does to this day.

The image of Maria Bambina originated in Milan where the cathedral is dedicated to the Infant Mary. A Poor Clare nun fashioned the image out of wax in 1735. Maria Bambina suffered the vicissitudes of the times under Napoleon. The convent that kept the image was suppressed. Maria Bambina was passed from one “foster home” to another until, in 1885, she found a permanent home in the motherhouse of Milan’s Sisters of Charity. Beginning in 1884 various miracles were attributed to the image of the Infant Mary. She was dressed in new clothes and placed in a new crib in the chapel of the Sisters. Devotion to Maria Bambina spread throughout Italy and then elsewhere in the world.

A Child for Children

The learned and the clever, the theologically sophisticated and those who think that holiness has no need of warmth and no time for tenderness, are baffled by Maria Bambina. But children understand her. Raïssa Maritain understood the Child Mary perfectly; “The Blessed Virgin is the spoiled child of the Blessed Trinity,” she wrote. “She knows no law. Everything yields to her in heaven and on earth. The whole of heaven gazes on her with delight. She plays before the ravished eyes of God himself.”

So intimate an alliance

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today, 19 August, is the feast of Saint John Eudes, priest and ardent mystic of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Saint John Eudes is numbered among the few saints who lived a mystical espousal with the Most Holy Mother of God. Already as a young man, John Eudes placed a wedding band on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a portent of things to come. As a priest, a reformer of the clergy, and an outstanding preacher, he experienced the fruitfulness that results from what one must dare to call a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.

Something to Which All Priests Should Aspire

Saint John Eudes presents this grace as something to which all priests should aspire. To describe it he uses the French word alliance: covenant, bond, or union. Significantly, the same word is used to designate a wedding ring. I decided to translate the following passage from his Memorial on the Life of Ecclesiastics:

The Eternal Father
Consider that priests have a special alliance with the most holy Mother of God. This because, just as the Eternal Father made her participate in His divine paternity, and gave her the power to form in her womb the same Son whom He begets in His bosom, so too does He communicate to priests that same paternity, giving them power to form this same Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of the faithful.
The Son
As the Son made her [the Virgin Mary] His cooperator and coadjutrix (helpmate) in the work of the redemption of the world, so too does He make priests His cooperators and coadjutors in the work of saving souls.
The Holy Ghost
As the Holy Ghost, in an ineffable manner, associated her [the Virgin Mary] with Himself in the most divine of His operations, and in the masterpiece of His that is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, so too does He associate priests with Himself to bring about an extension and a continuation of this mystery in each Christian, in whom the Son of God, in some manner, incarnates Himself by means of Baptism and by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Mediatrix of All Graces
Just as the Eternal Father gave us His Son through her [the Virgin Mary], so too does He give Him to us through His priests. Even as all the graces that come forth to us from the Heart of God pass through the hands of Mary, so too are they given us by the ministry of priests. This in such wise that, just as Mary is the treasurer of the Most Holy Trinity, priests too bear this title.
The Sacrifice of Christ
Finally, it is through her that Jesus was offered to His Father at the first and last moment of His life, when she received Him in her sacred womb, and when she accompanied Him to the sacrifice that He made of Himself on the cross; and it is by means of priests that He is immolated daily upon our altars.
Mother of the Sovereign Priest
This is why priests, being bound by so intimate an alliance and so marvelous a conformity to the Mother of the Sovereign Priest, have very particular obligations to love her, to honour her, and to clothe themselves in her virtues, in her spirit, and in her dispositions. Humble yourselves that you should find yourselves so far removed from this. Enter into the desire to tend thereto with all your heart. Offer yourselves to her, and pray her to help you mightily.

Maria, Abbatissa Nostra

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Apart from the photos of the statue at Tre Fontane in Rome (Trappist Monks), of the icon of the Mother of God, Abbess of Mount Athos, and of our own icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, the statues of Our Lady shown here are found in monasteries of the Benedettine dell'Adorazione Perpetua del Santissimo Sacramento in Italy.

Our Lady, Our Abbess, Our Queen

Writing in an essay in the book Priez sans cesse - 300 ans de prière, (Desclée de Brouwer, Editeur, Paris, 1953, p. 177), Dom Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. demonstrates that a Benedictine devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Abbess, was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Originating in monasteries of the Cluniac obedience, devotion to the Blessed Virgin as Abbess was also not unknown among the 17th century Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur.

At Tre Fontane

Not surprisingly, the same devotion made its way into the hearts and cloisters of of the Cistercians. When, in 1975, I visited the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome, I was struck by a statue of the Mother of God enthroned in the reading cloister.

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The Blessed Virgin is depicted seated, dressed in the white cuculla of the Cistercians and wearing the abbatial insignia of the ring and pectoral cross. In her right hand she holds the keys of the monastery, and in her left the crosier or pastoral staff used by abbots and abbesses. The inscription below the statue reads: In me omnis spes, "In me is all hope." How many generations of monks and laybrothers in need of hope paused before this statue to entrust themselves to the Mother of Jesus, their heavenly Abbess and Queen?

Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration

Mother Mectilde de Bar, familiar to the readers of Vultus Christi, as the foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, and the "Teresa of Avila" of the Benedictine Order, renounced the abbatial title for herself and all her successors in perpetuity, and attributed that title and its duties to the Mother of God alone.

The 28 May 1654, M. Mectilde de Bar wrote to M. Dorothée Heurelle:

In myself I find nothing whatsoever that is capable of giving me joy, except for one thing that has given me great satisfaction. It is that I have had a statue of Our made. She is much taller than I, holding her Child on her right arm, and holding a crosier in her left hand, to signify she is the generalissima of the Order of Saint Benedict, and the most worthy Abbess, Mother, and Superior of this little house of the Holy Sacrament. It was brought to us on Saturday, the vigil of Pentecost. I must admit that her arrival sent a thrill of joy and consolation through me, and seeing my holy Mistress take possession of her domain and of this very little convent. She is not yet altogether finished, because she must still be gilded and made perfectly beautiful, and after she is perfectly complete, we shall have her blessed, and then placed on a throne prepared to this effect in the middle of our choir between the stall of our Mother Subprioress and mine. She is admired, and certainly she is beautiful, and consoles me extremely.

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The Image of Our Lady Abbess

On 22 August 1654, Mother Mectilde proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary the only abbess and perpetual superior of the Institute. Delegated by the prior of Saint-Germain, the Abbé Picoté blessed the statue of Our Lady. The next day, Mother Mectilde placed Our Lady's image in all the regular places -- choir, chapter, refectory, dormitory -- so that she might, in some way, preside at all the community exercises. She want Our Lady's feasts to be celebrated brilliantly, and prescribed special prayers to the glory of her Most Pure Heart and Immaculate Conception.

Thus, was Our Lady forever chosen, named, and recognized as the most worthy and most eminent mother, abbess, and superior in chief of the first fledgling monastery of the Most Holy Sacrament. The Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament renew the abbatial election of the Mother of God, and entrust themselves to her every year on August 15th or 22nd.

Abbess and Queen of the Holy Mountain

Is this devotion more of a feminine thing? Hardly. The monks of Mount Athos, where no woman ever sets foot, practice the same devotion as their Western brethren, but to an even higher degree. The all-holy Mother of God is acknowledged, venerated, and praised as the Abbess of the Holy Mountain. She is the only woman allowed on Mount Athos because it is her garden, and her domain.

Prophecy of the Mother of God

Saint Gregory Palamas, in his Life of Saint Peter the Athonite (+681) relates that, while living virtually alone on the Holy Mountain as a hermit, he had a vision of the Mother of God telling Saint Nicholas of her love for the place:

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"The time will come," said the Mother of God," when, from every direction, it will be filled with a multitude of monks.... If those monks shall labor for God with all their hearts and faithfully keep His commandments, I will vouchsafe them great gifts on the great day of my Son. And, while even here on earth, they will receive great aid from me. I shall lighten their afflictions and labors. I will be for the monks an invincible ally, invisibly guiding and guarding them, a healer, a source nourishing them, and make it possible for them, with but scant means, to have sufficiency for life."

Abbess of the Holy Mountain

For over a thousand years, the monks of Mount Athos have experienced the truth of these words. Not merely in name only, but in reality and in the life of each monk, the all-holy Mother of God is honoured as Abbess and Sovereign Lady of the Holy Mountain. The monks of Mount Athos invoke the Holy Mother of God by a whole litany of titles. Our Lady is the archetype of monasticism. She is the paradigm of Christian holiness; the Abbess of the Holy Mountain; and the monk's sure guide to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Mother of God is everywhere present on Mount Athos by means of the holy icons through which she reveals herself as a most solicitous Abbess and communicates with her monks.

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And at Silverstream Priory

Lest we, the least of Our Lady's sons, be found lacking in the same kind of filial devotion to her, our own little monastery, like so many others in past times and places, elected the Blessed Virgin Mary Abbess of Silverstream on August 15th.

Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, after Vespers on the feast of the Assumption, I pronounced the solemn act of election by which our monastery entered into a new and deeper relationship with Our Blessed Lady. Here, for your meditation, is the text of the prayer. It is modeled after the act that Mother Mectilde de Bar pronounced in Paris on 22 August 1654.

Act of Election and Consecration to Our Lady, Abbess

I, an unworthy son of Saint Benedict,
holding the first place in this monastery
established for the adoration and glory
of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,
humbly prostrate before the Throne of the Divine Majesty,
in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and in the warmth of the fire that burns in His Most Sacred Heart,
do confess and declare,
in the name of the community such as it is at this time,
and such as it shall be in time to come,
that the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
is forever elected, named, and recognized
as the ever-worthy, glorious,
and sovereign Lady and Abbess of this monastery,
that is, of all the monasteries dedicated to her,
the most fragile and the most in need of the care and attention
of her maternal Heart.

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With profound humility and confidence,
I beg her, in her most tender pity
to take this struggling and vulnerable infant monastery
under her singular care and special protection,
and to obtain for me
and for the souls in my care
the incomparable grace of the Divine Friendship
of the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus,
in fidelity to the Rule of Saint Benedict
and the charism of adoration, reparation, and charity for priests,
which has been bestowed upon us
by the Father of lights from whom descends every good gift,
and has been recognized by the Holy Catholic Church
in the persons of our Lords, the Most Reverend Bishops of Tulsa and of Meath,
and in whose heart we desire to live and to die.

I further offer to the maternal Heart
of the same sovereign Lady and Abbess
all who have assisted this little monastery
by their presence, their labour, their prayers,
and their material support,
asking her to extend the veil of her holy protection
and perpetual help over them and over their families,
their loved ones, their homes, and their places of work and business.

Receive us, then, all-holy and merciful Mother of Jesus Christ,
as thy servants and as sons of thine own household.
Make thou full use of thy rights and of thy power over us,
and over the temporal and spiritual affairs of this house,
lest thine own honour be mocked,
and thy house looked upon with scorn,
and thy sons derided.

We accept and avow that Thou art our sovereign Lady,
our Abbess, and our Queen,
and by this act pronounced today in view of thy Divine Son,
of the choirs of angels,
of Saint Joseph, Saint John, our father Saint Benedict,
and of all the saints,
we bind ourselves to depend upon thee,
and look to thee for all things.

We renew into thy hands the sacred vows of our baptism,
and those of monastic profession,
asking thee to fashion us into true adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and consolers of His Eucharistic Heart.

O Holy Mother of God,
we beseech thee with all the humility possible
to take upon thyself the office to which we elect thee today,
and to rule over, protect, and provide for this house
and those who dwell herein now
and in the days to come.

This is the irrevocable, binding, and unanimous desire of thy sons,
in testimony of which, we sign this present act
on the 15th day of August 2012
enjoinIng that it be kept in this monastery in perpetuity
and renewed every year
on the festival of thy glorious Assumption into heaven,
or during the octave thereof. Amen.

When I see a priest son of mine

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For the Saturday within the Octave of the Assumption: the image is a detail of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour that is venerated in the Oratory of Silverstream Priory.

I am your Mother,
the Mother given you by my Son Jesus, from the Cross,
in the solemn hour of His Sacrifice.
And you are my son, dear to my Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart,
precious to me, and ever under the mantle of my protection.

Let me live with you
as I lived with John,
the second son of my Heart
and the model for all my priest sons down through the ages.
Speak to me simply
and with complete trust in the compassion of my maternal Heart
and in the power given to my maternal intercession.

There is nothing
that you cannot bring to me,
nothing that you cannot present to me,
nothing that you cannot offer me,
even to your very sins.
Anything given to me by My sons, I press to my Heart;
all that is impure, every vestige of sin
is consumed in the flame of love
that burns in my Immaculate Heart,
in the fire of love that is the Holy Spirit in me,
the very Fire of the Divinity.
Give to me, then, all that you would offer to my Son and to His Father.
It will be purified as gold in the furnace
because I will press it to my Heart.
Nothing impure can endure the flame of love
that burns in my Heart. Only love remains.

Give me your weaknesses,
your past sins, your daily faults,
and I will present to my Son only the love with which,
in spite of all your weaknesses,
you desire to love Him, and with Him, love the Father.

I am your Mother.
I am the Mother from whom you need hide nothing.
Even those things that you think are hidden
appear clearly to me in the pure light of the Godhead.
When I see a priest son of mine disfigured or polluted by sin,
I am moved, not to judge him but, to show him mercy
and to employ all the means at my disposal
for his full recovery from the vestiges of sin.

So many of those who struggle
against inveterate habits of sin and pernicious vices
would find themselves quickly set free from them
if they would only approach me with filial confidence
and allow me to do for them
what my maternal and merciful Heart moves me to do.

There are no limits to my intercessory power
because the Father has so ordained it.
One can never go wrong in turning to me.
No matter how complex the problem,
no matter how sordid the sin,
I am the Handmaid of the Divine Mercy,
the Refuge of Sinners,
and the Mother of all who struggle against the forces of darkness.
Come to me, then.
I can even say those comforting words
first spoken by my beloved Son:
"Come to me, and I will give you rest."

It is not enough to have some practices in my honour
in the course of the day:
I desire more, and you are called to more.
You are called to reproduce
the life of Saint John with me in the Cenacle
and at Ephesus.
If only you knew the bonds of love for Jesus,
and of obedience to the Father,
and of joy in the Holy Spirit that united John's soul to Mine.
We were the nucleus of a family of souls
that has grown wondrously through the ages:
the family of all those who, like John,
lived with me, learned from me, and allowed me
so to love them
that love for my Jesus blazed in their hearts
like a great fire,
the fire that my Son came to cast upon the earth.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

Assumption Homily

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Assumpta Est Maria

Assumpta est Maria in caelum, gaudent angeli, laudantes benedicunt Dominum! Mary has been taken up into heaven; the angels rejoice and, praising, bless the Lord! The Virgin in whose womb reposed the Author of Life is preserved from the corruption of the tomb. The Mother of God is assumed body and soul into the splendour of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Escorted by myriads of angels in jubilation, the Queen of Heaven advances toward her Son, who sits enthroned amid the stars.

Even Within the Veil

In a sense, the Assumption of the Mother of God is the liturgy of her Great Entrance; the feast of her oblation in the heavenly sanctuary, "the tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched, and not man" (Heb 8:2). She is the Mother of Holy Hope. She is given to us to be our strongest comfort, to be the anchor of our souls, "sure and firm, and which entereth in even within the veil" (Heb 6:18-19).

Our Lady's Pascha

Today heaven and earth keep the summer festival of Marymas, Ladyday-in-the-Harvest, the Pascha of the all-holy Mother of God. She has passed into the great summer that, stretching from the springtime of the Resurrection until the return of the Lord in glory, presages the shining harvest of all the saints. The song of the angels soars, stretching, swelling, and cresting from choir to choir. The soul of the Virgin magnifies the Lord and her God-bearing flesh rejoices (Lk 1:46).

The Temple and the Ark

"And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of His testament was seen in His temple" (Apoc 11:19). In the First Book of Chronicles, we see the Ark of the Covenant solemnly transported to the tent made ready by David to receive it. David is the figure of Christ of whom he sings in the psalm, "He hath set his tabernacle in the sun" (Ps 18:6).

That Where I Am, You Also May Be

The Virgin Mary is the Ark of the Covenant, carried aloft by heavenly levites into the tent prepared for her by the King of Kings, the glorious Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ. As she advances, angels raise sounds of joy on harps and lyres and cymbals and, in accord with the command of David, the appointed singers sing (1 Chr 15:16). Behold the wondrous fulfillment of what the Lord had promised: "In my Father's house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be" (Jn 14:2-3).

Arise, Make Haste

But listen! "The voice of my beloved, behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills" (Ct 2:8). In speaking to His Mother, Christ speaks to His Bride, the Church, and in speaking to His Bride the Church, He speaks to every soul washed in Baptism, sealed in Chrismation with the kiss of the Holy Ghost, and nourished at the banquet of His Body and Blood. "Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come" (Ct 2:10); for lo, the winter of our separation is past, the rain of so many tears is over and gone.

When I Appear Before His Sight

"I slept," says the Virgin of the Dormition, "I slept, but my heart kept watch." Ct 5:2). The heart of the Virgin is quickened and her flesh is suffused with fire. "Oh, how I rejoiced when I heard my Son say to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord'" (cf. Ps 121:1). "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in His Father's house all the days of my life, that I may see the delight of the Lord" (Ps 26:4), and "when I appear before His sight, I shall be satisfied with the appearing of His glory" (Ps 16:15).

Thy Voice is Sweet and Thy Face Comely

Listen to the words of the Son. "Arise my love, my fair one, and come away (Ct 2:13) for I desire that thou, my mother, first among those whom the Father hath given me, shouldst be with me where I am, to behold my glory, the glory given me by my Father in his love for me before the foundation of the world (cf. Jn 17:24). All of heaven longeth to see thy face, Mother, and the angels yearneth to hear thy voice, "for thy voice is sweet, and thy face is comely" (Ct 2:14).

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

We see the Queen of Heaven "coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense" (Ct 3:6). The prophet Isaiah sees her coming from afar, recognizes the Virgin of the Sign (Is 7:14), the Mother of Emmanuel, and stands to greet her. "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you . . . The Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you" (Is 60:1-2). She is the woman "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Apoc 12:1).

Hidden with Christ in God

The Mother of God has put on the imperishable; she is clothed in immortality (1 Cor 15:54). The Apostle lifts his voice in praise of the God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57). Mary, first of all, knows the fullness of Christ's glorious triumph in her flesh. Mary is the first-fruits of the harvest sown by Jesus in his blessed Passion and Death. Mary is the first to follow Him into the glory of his Resurrection and Ascension. Her life now is hidden with the life of Christ in God (Col 3:3), and when He who is our life appears, then she also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:4). Mary waits for her children to join her, the small and the great, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his Bride has made herself ready (Apoc 19:7).

Mary Hath Chosen the Better Part

And so, led by kings and levites, by angels, prophets and apostles, we make our way to the Gospel of the Assumption so cherished by the ancient liturgical traditions of both East and West for the Dormition of the Virgin, for "Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Lk 10:42).

The Virgin of Nazareth who surrendered her heart, her soul, and her flesh to the Word and the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost;
the Virgin of Bethlehem, joyful in her poverty;
the Virgin of Egypt, trusting in her exile;
the Virgin of Jerusalem, anguished and amazed by her child;
the Virgin of Cana, strong in her intercession;
the Virgin of Calvary, faithful in her compassion;
the Virgin of Holy Saturday, silent and indomitable in her hope;
the Virgin of the Cenacle, persevering in prayer;
the Virgin of the Mount of Olives, ardent in her desire,
has, at last, come to rest at the feet of her Son.

The One Thing Necessary

"And she had a sister called Mary who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching" (Lk 10:39). Behold our sister, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, seated at the feet of our Lord! Behold our Mother, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, in repose at the feet of her Son! She is seated at His feet in glory, higher than the seraphim and cherubim, exalted above all the angelic choirs, for to her is given the One Thing Necessary (Lk 10:42) in heaven and on earth. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee" (Ps 73:25).

A Mother Close to Her Children

Think not for a moment that the Assumption places a distance between us and the all-holy Mother of God. Quite the contrary. Her exaltation has made her closer to us than we can dream or imagine. The all-holy Virgin is mother, completely mother, and the desire of every mother is to be close to her children.

From her place of glory in heaven, she stoops down to us, attentive to our sufferings. Her compassion illumines this valley of tears. Her Assumption has not separated her from us. The Assumption is not a mystery of distance and separation but a mystery of nearness and of communion. Now set free from the limitations of space and of time, the holy Mother of God is capable of being present to all her children, to the little ones especially, to the broken-hearted, the weak, and the poor.

Mother of Mercy

Glorious in her Assumption, the Virgin Mother has but one desire: to do for each one of us what a loving mother would do for her child. Her weakness is for the poorest among us. Her predilection goes to those who stumble and fall rather than to those who walk straight and tall, to those who, bearing within themselves deep and secret wounds, are most in need of her attentions and care.

Let us lift up our eyes to the All-Holy Mother of God and Blessed Virgin Mary, praising and confessing the wonderful mystery of her Assumption. Today, dear brothers, she will hear all your requests, answering them according to the wisdom and love of her Immaculate Heart.

The Joys of Heaven

Today, she pierces all our darknesses with a ray of heavenly light. Her desire is to share with us the joys of heaven, the very joys that flood her body and her soul in the glory of her Son.

And for all of that, we need not wait. Already, here and now, we are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Apoc 19:9). Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory (Apoc 19:7) who with the Father lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Ghost, and who will come again, as he promised, to take us to Himself (Jn 14:3). "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Apoc 22:20).

Blessing of Herbs and Flowers

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Christians of both East and West have, from very early times, blessed herbs and fruit on the Feast of the Assumption. Thus blessed, these creatures become sacramentals of the Church and portents of divine protection from dangers to soul and body. In some places the herbs were placed on the altar, and even beneath the altar linens, so that from this proximity to the Most Holy Eucharist they might receive a special hallowing, beyond that conferred by the blessing prayers of the Church.

The prayers of the rite suggest that this custom of the Church hearkens back to the ancient customs ordained by God through Moses. According to Christian tradition, when the Apostles accompanied Saint Thomas, who had been absent at the time of the Blessed Virgin's death, to her tomb, upon opening it they discovered that her body was not there. Instead, they found the tomb filled with fragrant herbs and flowers. Blessed herbs recall the lingering fragrance of the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church.

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I preached this homily several years ago. Allow me to share it with you again. Is this not a lovely icon for Marymass or Lady-Day-in-Harvest?

The Pascha of Summer

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pascha of summer, signals the beginning of the final phase of the liturgical year. The Church enters into the splendours of her harvest time. With the feasts of late summer and autumn, the Church turns the shimmering pages of the book of the Apocalypse and draws us into their mystery. "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, writes the Apostle, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near" (Ap 1:3).

A Gentle Insistence

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Image of Our Lady of Kibeho, Mother of the Word

When Mary Asks

It sometimes happens that a soul will sense that Our Lady is asking for the offering of a particular prayer, such as five decades of the rosary. This inspiration will come unsolicited; the soul experiences it like a gentle, but insistent, request. If one responds to the request, there will be a certain joy and consolation. If one delays it, or ignores it, there will be a certain sadness or the feeling of having fallen short of a opportunity to do good.

Spiritual Collaboration

Our Lady desires to associate souls to her work of bringing life, sweetness, and hope to those of her children who linger in the shadow of death, or suffer a great bitterness, or are tempted to despair. The Mother of God could, of course, act independently of any one of us, and her action would be supremely effective and powerful, but she, like her Divine Son, chooses and, I think, prefers to engage souls in the works that are closest to her Immaculate Heart.

I remember that once, some time ago, Our Blessed Lady asked me to say the beautiful old liturgical hymn of her Vespers -- the Ave Maris Stella -- each day. I did this, and had the distinct impression that by following this gentle inspiration, I was not only pleasing my heavenly Mother, but also cooperating with her in the mysterious domain of grace.

Particular Requests

In her various apparitions, Our Lady has often asked for particular prayers; generally, the rosary, but sometimes other devotions as well. At Kibeho, for example, she specifically asked for the Rosary of the Seven Dolours. What Our Lady does on a large, often public scale in her approved apparitions, she also does in a much quieter and more intimate way when she solicits prayer of individual souls, and especially of souls consecrated to her.

She may ask one to pray for a particular intention, making that intention know by an inspiration or a flash of inner knowledge, or she may keep her intention secret and simply bid us pray for the intentions of her Maternal Heart. Still, at other times, she may want us to pray to obtain the resolution of problems that beset ourselves and those whom we love.

We Know Not How to Pray as We Ought

Just as the Holy Ghost comes to help us in our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought, so too does His Immaculate Spouse, the All-Pure Mother of God, Mary Most Holy move us to pray, and tell us how to pray, by acting upon the soul with a gentle insistence, and by engaging the soul in an interior collaboration with the work of her Maternal Heart.

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2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalm 125: 1-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Matthew 20:20-28

Treasure in Earthen Vessels

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). Another translation puts it this way: “We have a treasure, then, in our keeping, but its shell is of perishable earthenware; it must be God, and not anything in ourselves, that gives it its sovereign power.” The contrast is striking: treasure held in earthen vessels. But what is the treasure? In verse 6, Saint Paul says, “It is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The treasure, then, is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the Face of Christ.

An Eye-Witness of the Transfiguration

When one considers that James was an eye-witness of the Transfiguration, the deeper meaning of today’s First Reading comes into focus. While James looked on, together with Peter and with his brother John, Jesus “was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2). The splendour of Jesus’ Face burned itself indelibly into the heart of James. Contemplating the Face of the transfigured Jesus, James was filled with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6). This is the treasure that Saint James carried in a shell of fragile earthenware: his own human weakness.

Gethsemani

The Transfiguration reveals the treasure; the agony in the garden of Gethsemani reveals to us the fragility of the earthen vessels. To Peter, James, and John, Jesus said, “Remain here and watch with me” (Mt 26:38), but after His prayer to the Father, he found them sleeping. Again, a second time, He asked these, his intimate companions, to watch and pray, warning them of the weakness of the flesh, and again He came and “found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy” (Mt 26:43). And so it happened a third time but, by then, the hour of Jesus’ betrayal was already at hand (Mt 26:45). The radiant memory of Jesus transfigured, “the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6), was held in earthen vessels: in the hearts of men who could not watch even one hour with their Master in his agony.

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For the First Saturday of the Month

I am your Mother,
the Mother given you by my Son Jesus, from the Cross,
in the solemn hour of His Sacrifice.
And you are my son, dear to my Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart,
precious to me, and ever under the mantle of my protection.

Let me live with you
as I lived with John,
the second son of my Heart
and the model for all my priest sons down through the ages.
Speak to me simply
and with complete trust in the compassion of my maternal Heart
and in the power given to my maternal intercession.

There is nothing
that you cannot bring to me,
nothing that you cannot present to me,
nothing that you cannot offer me,
even to your very sins.
Anything given to me by My sons, I press to my Heart;
all that is impure, every vestige of sin
is consumed in the flame of love
that burns in my Immaculate Heart,
in the fire of love that is the Holy Spirit in me,
the very Fire of the Divinity.
Give to me, then, all that you would offer to my Son and to His Father.
It will be purified as gold in the furnace
because I will press it to my Heart.
Nothing impure can endure the flame of love
that burns in my Heart. Only love remains.

Give me your weaknesses,
your past sins, your daily faults,
and I will present to my Son only the love with which,
in spite of all your weaknesses,
you desire to love Him, and with Him, love the Father.

I am your Mother.
I am the Mother from whom you need hide nothing.
Even those things that you think are hidden
appear clearly to me in the pure light of the Godhead.
When I see a priest son of mine disfigured or polluted by sin,
I am moved, not to judge him but, to show him mercy
and to employ all the means at my disposal
for his full recovery from the vestiges of sin.
So many of those who struggle
against inveterate habits of sin and pernicious vices
would find themselves quickly set free from them
if they would only approach me with filial confidence
and allow me to do for them
what my maternal and merciful Heart moves me to do.

There are no limits to my intercessory power
because the Father has so ordained it.
One can never go wrong in turning to me.
No matter how complex the problem,
no matter how sordid the sin,
I am the Handmaid of the Divine Mercy,
the Refuge of Sinners,
and the Mother of all who struggle against the forces of darkness.
Come to me, then.
I can even say those comforting words
first spoken by my beloved Son:
"Come to me, and I will give you rest."

It is not enough to have some practices in my honour
in the course of the day:
I desire more, and you are called to more.
You are called to reproduce
the life of Saint John with me in the Cenacle
and at Ephesus.
If only you knew the bonds of love for Jesus,
and of obedience to the Father,
and of joy in the Holy Spirit that united John's soul to Mine.
We were the nucleus of a family of souls
that has grown wondrously through the ages:
the family of all those who, like John,
lived with me, learned from me, and allowed me
so to love them
that love for my Jesus blazed in their hearts
like a great fire,
the fire that my Son came to cast upon the earth.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

Tantum Portasti Gaudii

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Do Not Tire of Visiting Us

Full of wonder and gratitude at your continuing presence in our midst, in the name of all priests I too want to cry out: "Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).
Our Mother for all time, do not tire of "visiting us", consoling us, sustaining us. Come to our aid and deliver us from every danger that threatens us.
Pope Benedict XVI, 12 May 2010

I find it significant, and moving, that Our Holy Father, in his Act of Consecration and Entrustment of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, should say to Our Lady, "Do not tire of visiting us." There is no priest who is not in need of being visited by the Mother of God. When Mary visits a priest, she consoles him, sustains him, and delivers him from the dangers that threaten his priesthood. The Holy Father words are echoed in the hymn that, this morning, opened the Office of Matins.

Singing the Mystery of the Visitation

Every year on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (2 July in the traditional calendar) I rediscover with wonderment the magnificent hymn: Veni, praecelsa Domina. The hymn dates from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Remarkably, each of its six strophes begins with the word, Veni: Come!

The Spirit and the Bride

The first thing that strikes me about this hymn is how deeply it resonates with the liturgical prayers that the Church addresses to the Holy Spirit. Just as, over and over again, we call upon the Holy Spirit, crying Veni -- I am thinking of the Veni, Creator Spiritus and of the Golden Sequence the Veni, Sancte Spiritus -- so too do we address the Virgin Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Ghost, singing Veni today. Here is the text of the hymn as I translated it:

COME, Lady upon the heights;
Mary, visit us,
you who already brought such joy
to the house of your kinswoman.

COME, Help of the World
remove the stains of sin
and, in visiting your people,
take away the threat of punishment.

COME, Star and Light of the Sea,
pour forth a ray of peace;
set straight what is crooked,
give innocence of life.

COME visit us, we pray you,
strengthen our vigor
with the energy of a holy impulse,
lest our soul waver.

COME, Royal Sceptre,
bring back the wave of those in error
to the unity of the faith
by which the citizens of heaven were saved.

COME, that together with you
we may ceaselessly praise the Son,
with the Father and the Holy Spirit;
may they give us their help. Amen.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help

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By giving the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help a place of honour in our homes, we accept her also into our hearts and so fulfill what is written concerning Saint John, the Beloved Disciple of the Lord: "And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27).

Respice Stellam
O you, whoever you are who feel that in the tidal wave of this world you are nearer to being tossed about among the squalls and gales than treading on dry land: if you do not want to founder in the tempest do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star.
When the wind of temptation blows up within you, when you strike upon the rock of tribulation, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary.
Whether you are being tossed about by the waves of pride or ambition, or slander or jealousy, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary. When rage or greed or fleshly desires are battering the skiff of your soul, gaze up at Mary.
When the immensity of your sins weighs you down and you are bewildered by the loathesomeness of your conscience, when the terrifying thought of judgment appalls you and you begin to founder in the gulf of sadness and despair, think of Mary.
In dangers, in hardships, in every doubt, think of Mary, call out to Mary. Keep her in your mouth, keep her in your heart. Follow the example of her life and you will obtain the favour of her prayer.
Following her, you will never go astray. Asking her help, you will never despair. Keeping her in your thoughts, you will never wander away. With your hand in hers, you will never stumble. With her protecting you, you will not be afraid. With her leading you, you will never tire.
Her kindness will see you through to the end. Then you will know by your own experience, how true it is that "the Virgin's name was Mary."
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Homily Two in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Introit
Rejoice we all in the Lord, as we keep festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary: whose solemnity makes angels joyful and sets them praising the Son of God. V. Joyful the thoughts that well up from my heart, I shall speak of the works of the King (Ps 44:2).

Gaudeamus is a magnificent festal chant originally composed for the virgin martyr Saint Agatha, and then adapted to other occasions. It is used on a number of other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making it familiar enough to be sung with a certain jubilant ease. The gentle balancing of the first mode melody evokes the ceaseless, sweeping joys of the heavenly liturgy celebrated by "the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" (Ap 5:11). The verse, drawn from Psalm 44, the exuberant messianic wedding song, is placed in the mouth of the Church, the Bride of Christ, as she declares the wonders wrought through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help.

Collect
Lord Jesus Christ, by whose gift Mary Thy Mother, that Mary whose glorious image we revere, is our Mother too, and ready at all times to succour us, we pray Thee grant that we, who earnestly beg her maternal help, may be counted worthy to reap through all eternity the fruit of Thy redeeming work. Thou who art God living and reigning with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.

As are many liturgical prayers of recent composition, the Collect is addressed to Christ rather than to the Father. Orations addressed to the Son are exceptional in the Roman liturgy; in the East they are the norm. While it is not traditional to direct the Collect to the Son in the classic Roman liturgy, there are moments when it can be quite fitting to do so. The feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help may be one of those moments.

The Collect refers straightaway to the gift of the Virgin Mary's motherhood extended to every disciple of her Son, the very mystery that will be evoked in the Gospel; and to the veneration of her glorious image. It acknowledges that Mary is perpetually ready to help us, and asks that, through her motherly power, we may reap through all eternity the fruit of Christ's redemption. The last phrase is certainly an allusion to the charism of the Redemptorists, custodians of the miraculous icon and, in the tradition of Saint Alphonsus, tireless preachers of Mary's universal mediation and inexhaustible clemency.

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John the Baptist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today was the Vigil of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: eight days after the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. John the Baptist, while yet an infant hidden in Saint Elizabeth's womb, was the first to experience the sweet mediation of the Virgin Mother's Immaculate Heart. It was the God-bearing Virgin's Heart, full of solicitude for her cousin Elizabeth, that moved her to "arise and go with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah" (cf. Lk 1:39). There the Mother of God bearing her Son beneath her Immaculate Heart, "entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (Lk 1:40).

The Light of the Real Presence Shining in Her Eyes

This was, in a sense, the first mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: to carry the hidden Christ to the "little child" (Lk 1:76) destined to be the Friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), the Prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76). With the flame of love burning in her Immaculate Heart and the light of the real presence shining in her eyes, Mary "became in some way a tabernacle -- the first tabernacle in history" (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 55). With the arrival of the Virgin-Tabernacle enclosing within her the "Dayspring from on high" (Lk 1:78), John the Baptist was sanctified, washed clean of original sin, and quickened by the Holy Spirit.

Jubilation

The birth of John the Baptist was an occasion of jubilation. Having already been touched by the Heart of Mary, the Cause of our Joy, the Baptist comes into the world as the Herald of Joy. His prophetic ministry, even as he advances toward a cruel death, is illumined by a supernatural joy. "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:29-30).

The Infallible Sign of the Presence of God

For what gift does the Church make us ask in the Collect of tomorrow's solemnity? For "the grace of spiritual joys." Already by his birth, Saint John the Baptist teaches us that the first of these spiritual joys is a living, personal contact with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At every moment, the Mother of God is ready to grace us with her presence. She comes always to reveal the Face of her Son, hidden now in the Eucharist as He was hidden in the tabernacle of her womb when she visited Elizabeth. The fruit of that mysterious encounter between the Infant Christ and the Infant Forerunner had the unmistakable taste of divine joy, the joy that Blessed Abbot Marmion called "the infallible sign of the presence of God."

Blood and Roses

Look at this marvelous painting by Botticelli depicting the Mother of God, the Child Jesus and His little cousin, the Baptist. What I find most striking is that at the very center of the painting is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Virgin is holding her Child; he appears heavy in her arms. She bows low to allow the little Baptist to give her Jesus a hug and a kiss. The small boys appear to be about two years old. The Baptist has to stretch to reach the Face of Jesus; he is already dressed in his desert garb and carrying his little wooden staff. The top of the staff has the form of the Cross; the Cross thus appears directly over the head of the Infant Christ, a portent of His sacrifice. The Mother of God wears a blood red gown; something about her posture suggests an outpouring of blood, an effusion of the heart. Just behind the Virgin is a rose bush in full bloom: a symbol -- yes, you guessed it -- of spiritual joys.

Let Me Give Thy Son a Kiss

More than my words ever could, Botticelli's painting suggests that the mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to introduce all of us, as she did the little Baptist, into a reverent and tender intimacy with her Son. The Mother of God bends over each of us, her garments dyed red in the Blood that flowed on Calvary, the very Blood that won for us every spiritual joy. Where the Mother of God is present, there charity is poured out and there spiritual joys abound. Put yourself today in the position of the child John the Baptist. Ask the Blessed Virgin to let you embrace her Son and offer Him a kiss. Her Immaculate Heart will not refuse you this.

In Cenaculi Solitudine

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Our Lady of the Cenacle

Many years ago and long before I had any idea that I would one day play a role in establishing a monastery under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle, I was searching out the treasures of my missal, and discovered, among the Masses for Certain Places, the Mass of Our Lady of the Cenacle for the Saturday within the Octave of the Ascension. The Proper texts of the Mass stirred my heart. This Mass was composed and approved in 1886 at the request of Mother Marie-Aimée Lautier, Superior General of the Congregation of the Cenacle. The humble foundress of the Society of Our Lady of the Cenacle, Saint Thérèse Couderc, died in 1885.

(It is a pity that, with Ascension Thursday being observed in so many places on the following Sunday, both the Pentecost Novena and the feast of Our Lady of the Cenacle are adversely affected.)

This particular Mass was not retained in the Collection of Masses in Honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Religious of the Cenacle, for whom these texts were composed, no longer use them.

The orations are, like so many composed in the 19th century, addressed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, rather than to the Father. They contain some wonderfully evocative phrases in the original Latin.

Collect

Deus, qui beatam Mariam semper Virginem matrem tuam
in Cenaculi solitudine cum discipulis orantem
Sancti Spiritus donis cumulasti:
fac nos, quaesumus, cordis recessum diligere;
ut sic rectius orantes
Spiritus Sancti gratiis repleri mereamur.

O God, who, in the solitude of the Cenacle, didst fill with the gifts of the Holy Ghost
Blessed Mary ever Virgin, Thy mother, united in prayer with Thy disciples;
grant that we may so withdraw into the secret places of the heart
that by praying aright,
we may be made worthy to be filled with these graces in abundance.
Who with God the Father livest and reignest
in the unity of the same Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.

Secret or Prayer Over the Oblations

Haec sacra, Domine, tibi in honorem beatae Mariae Virginis Matris tuae litantes.
humiliter petimus,
ut sicut ipsa verba tua sancta in corde suo sollicite servavit,
nobis quoque ejus intercessione concedas,
ita in lege tua assidue meditari,
ut fidelius opere implere eam valeamus.

Offering Thee, O Lord,
these sacred gifts in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary Thy mother,
we humbly ask that,
by the example and intercession of her
who carefully kept Thy holy words in her heart,
we too may meditate Thy law assiduously,
so as to put it into practice more faithfully.

Postcommunion

Deus, qui fideles tuos in Cenaculi recessu cum Maria Matre tua sacratissima
perseverantes et unanimes in oratione effecisti:
praesta, quaesumus;
ut his quoque donis ornati et a saeculi strepitu segregati,
tibi soli in caritate perfecta vivamus.

O God, who to thy faithful withdrawn in the Cenacle,
didst grant perseverance in prayer in oneness of heart
with Mary, Thy most holy Mother,
grant, we beseech Thee, that we also,
graced with the same gift
and separated from the noise of the world,
may live for Thee alone in perfect charity.

Our Lady of Knock

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I am going off to Knock today, having been invited there to address a gathering of Irish priests on the subject of Eucharistic adoration. I ask the readers of Vultus Christi to support me by their prayer, asking the Holy Ghost to inspire my preaching and make it fruitful.

In the Archdeacon's Room at Knock

On the evening of February 5, 2008, whilst on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, I was privileged to pray in the room where The Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh, Parish Priest of Knock at the time of the apparition, died on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1897. The room is now used as the Oratory for the community of Daughters of Charity who conduct Saint Mary's Hostel for pilgrims. Sister Elma, the lovely Daughter of Charity then in charge of Saint Mary's Hostel, told me that, according to tradition, it was in that room that Our Lady came and conversed with the Archdeacon before his death.

A Priest Who Loved Mary

It was believed in the parish of Knock that the Archdeacon was frequently graced with visits of Our Blessed Lady. When questioned about this, the Archdeacon replied that "there were a great many other manifestations of which he would not care to speak." Archdeacon Cavanagh had a consuming desire to promote Our Lady's Cause; he habitually referred to the Blessed Virgin Mary as "The ever Immaculate Mother of God."

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Charity Toward the Poor Souls

It is not generally known that the apparition at Knock took place on the evening of the very day when Archdeacon Cavanagh had completed offering one hundred Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, without receiving any stipend from the people. Preaching at Knock in 1882, he said, "We leave all our actions at the disposal of the Blessed Virgin Mary for those holy souls who, when released from purgatory, will never forget us. They will pray constantly for us at the throne of God."

Saint Joseph and Saint John

There are particular graces reserved for priests at Knock. In Saint Joseph and Saint John who appeared there together with the Blessed Virgin, one discovers the models of a priestly holiness that is at once paternal and virginal. These are the two men destined by God from all eternity to live in a sacred intimacy with the Virgin Mary. I have the distinct impression that, at the present time, Our Lady is offering to all her priest sons the special grace of a sacred intimacy with herself.

"A rarely mentioned fact about the shrine of Knock is that the parish church is under the patronage of St. John the Baptist. That makes him a hidden but not insignificant presence at the apparitions and at the shrine today. How fitting that the Lord would choose the church of St. John the Baptist as the site for this wonderful apparition with all that it teaches. At Knock he is again acting as the precursor and herald of the Lamb of God. John the Baptist is the "friend of the Bridegroom", and therefore a friend to Christ the Bridegroom in each priest. How great will be his joy if the shrine of Knock would become a place of priestly renewal." Brother Augustine, O.F.M., Conv.

Intimacy With Mary

Could this not be the means by which Mary desires to purify, sanctify, and renew the priesthood in this age of the Church's life? In the intimacy with Our Blessed Lady represented by Saint Joseph and Saint John there is healing even for the most broken among her priest sons. For those most defiled by sin, in Mary's presence there is purity and the recovery of a spotless innocence. For those who have grown weary and lost the fervour of their youth, in Mary's company there is zeal for souls and apostolic boldness. For those who are depressed, close to Mary there is comfort, and to those who are despondent and anxious, she gives hope and peace. Finally, in the intimacy of Mary there is joy for those who fallen prey to the sadness that weakens the soul and opens it to sin.

Made Pure in the Blood of the Lamb

The Immaculate Virgin Mary presents herself to priests today as she presented herself to Saint Joseph and to Saint John. To Saint Joseph, her chaste spouse, she was the Virgin Bride, and to Saint John, the Beloved Disciple of her Son, she was a Mother. In the acceptance of this grace lies the remedy for the weaknesses and inclinations to sin that have soiled the priesthood and brought it low in the eyes of so many in recent years. The desire of Mary's Immaculate Heart is to purify the priesthood and lift it out of the infamy into which it has fallen, so as to make it shine with a wonderful holiness, and with the purity that comes from the Precious Blood of the Lamb. It is the Lamb in the apparition of Knock that casts the whole event in the light of the mysteries revealed to Saint John on Patmos.

Priests at Knock

It seems to me that Our Lady desires that Knock should become a place of pilgrimage for priests. A dimension of Knock, not yet fully developed, is that it must become a place of healing for priests, a place where Mary can restore them to purity and to holiness of life by drawing them into her company. Knock invites all priests to share their lives with Mary by opening their homes and their hearts to her, and by living every moment in her presence.

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At Home With Mary

As Virgin Bride, Mary is the image of the Church. Just as Saint Joseph took his Virgin Bride into his home, so too must every priest welcome Mary and discover in her intimacy the nuptial quality of his dedication to the Church. Just as Saint John, obeying the word of Jesus from the Cross, took Mary into his home, so too must every priest shelter her in the space that is most personal to him. The gift of sacred intimacy with the Blessed Virgin Mary, suggested by the apparition at Knock, may well be among the heavenly secrets reserved by her for this time of trial for the Church.

She will impart this gift to every priest who desires it. She will make herself known as the Virgin Bride who brought joy to Saint Joseph, and as the Mother entrusted to Saint John and to those priests in whom the Johannine grace is renewed in every age.

A Pilgrimage for Priests

It is time, I think, for priests and their bishops to go -- as priests together -- in pilgrimage to Knock. Our Lady's Merciful and Immaculate Heart waits for them there. She is ready to open a wellspring of purity, holiness, and renewal for all priests, beginning with those of Ireland. Our Lady of Knock beckons to all priests. She would have her priest sons wash themselves in the Blood of the Lamb, and unite themselves to her Son, Priest and Victim, in the mystery of His Sacrifice. Yes, Knock is for all people, but I believe that it was, from the beginning, destined to be a place of healing and of abundant graces for priests.

A Radiant Priestly Holiness

As I prayed in Archdeacon Cavanagh's room, I understood that Mary longs to show herself to all priests as Virgin Bride and Mother. In Mary's intimacy we priests will find the holiness desired by Christ for each one of us: a radiant holiness, a holiness to illumine the Church in these last days with the brightness of the Lamb. Knock invites priests to remain in adoration before Mary's Son, the Lamb Who was slain. Knock invites priests to wash themselves in His Precious Blood by seeking absolution from all their sins. Knock invites priests to follow Saint Joseph and Saint John by consecrating themselves to Mary as Virgin Bride and Mother.

No Need to Remain Alone

Our Lady of Knock, praying with uplifted hands, is the Mediatrix of All Graces. She is the New Eve given to Christ the New Adam, and given by Him, from the Cross, to all His priests, those whom He has called to continue His mission of salvation in the world. There is no need for any priest to remain alone. The Virgin Mary's Heart is open to all her priest sons, and she will not refuse, to those who ask for it, a participation in the unique grace given Saint Joseph and Saint John in the beginning.


The Annunciation

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The First and Indispensable School of Holy Preaching

As I read this sermon of Pope Saint Leo the Great, given for Matins of today's feast in the monastic breviary, I was struck both by its poetic beauty and theological precision. The Fathers are, for all who are called to announce the Word of God in the midst of the Church, the first and indispensable school of holy preaching. While academic courses in homiletics may have their place in seminaries, and while certain technical skills must be acquired if one is to speak well, nothing, absolutely nothing can replace the familiarity with the Fathers that comes from reading them aloud day in and day out, as the Church does at Matins (Office of Readings), and from allowing their words to strike the ear of the heart.

When the time appointed for the redemption of mankind had come,
our Lord Jesus Christ entered this lower world,
descended from His heavenly throne, and,
without receding from the glory that He had with the Father,
took flesh by a new means, by a new birth:

invisible in His own nature,
He became visible in ours;

being incomprehensible,
He willed to be comprehended;

remaining before time began,
He began to exist in time;

the Lord of the universe veiled the glory of His majesty
and took the form of a servant;

impassible God
did not disdain to become a suffering man;

and immortal God
subjected Himself to the laws of death.

Saint Leo the Great
Sermon at the Second Nocturn of Matins
Feast of the Annunciation

The Two Annunciations

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The Annunciation of the Lord is being celebrated today on the Monday of Passion Week; Friday will be the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows. The juxtaposition of the two feasts -- and of the two mysteries -- is extraordinarily rich. In 2005, when Good Friday fell on March 25th, I reflected with the Poor Clares in Barhamsville, Virginia on the intersection of these same two mysteries. Here is the homily I preached:

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“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
'For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’” (Rom 11:33-34).
“None of the rulers of this age understood this;
for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8).

We find ourselves today at the intersection of two mysteries,
or rather, at the heart of the One Mystery,
indivisible, and yet too rich to be taken in all at once:
Incarnation and Redemption,
Annunciation and Crucifixion,
Conception and Death.

The Western tradition, seeking clarity in distinctions
and respectful of chronos, the ordered time of the universe,
separates, fixing her gaze today on the wood of the Cross,
and promising to return in ten days time
“to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph
of the house of David” (Lk 1:26-27).

The Eastern tradition, spiraling into kairos,
the ever-present immediacy of the God who is, who was, and is to come,
integrates, even liturgically,
the mysteries of the conceiving Virgin
and of the crucified Fruit of her womb.

One might argue as convincingly from one perspective as from the other,
but we are here not to debate but to contemplate.
The mute prostration at the beginning of this solemn liturgy,
-- all of humanity flung down before the face of God in the person of the priest --
was an act of utter and unconditional surrender to the Mystery,
not to the Mystery as we see it,
poor myopic creatures, straining to transcend our limited perceptions,
but to the Mystery as it is
in its cruciform “breadth and length and height and depth” (cf. Eph 3:18),
and in “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19).

This is the crucifying and glorious knowledge
of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8)
by which one is “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).
This is the awareness that, like a sword, pierced the heart of the Virgin Mother,
“standing by the cross of Jesus” (Jn 19:25).
Even she watched him in the painful spasms of death,
she remembered his first stirrings in her womb,
and somehow sensed obscurely,
“as in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12),
that he would stir again beneath the shroud.
But for now, she saw the fruit of her womb
become the fruit of the tree

Thirty-three years had passed;
it seemed to her like yesterday.
“Sent by God” (Lk 1:26), that bright, majestic, creature had come to her,
--exquisitely courteous he was, and awful and lovely all at once --
and his greeting still astonished her:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you:
blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:28).
She remembered the shock of it,
and how she had “considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29).
Now his voice came to her again, and how she needed to hear it,
to lean on it, to steady herself against it, to cling to it
even as Abraham, “in hope believing against hope” (Rom 4:18),
had clung to the wild promises made by God to him:
“Fear not, Mary, for you have found grace with God” (Lk 1:30).

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To see what she was seeing --
her Child stretched naked on the wood,
his hands and feet pierced,
his whole body bloodied,
his sweet face beneath a cruel crown of thorns --
to see this and yet believe in the word of the Angel
was to feel the two-edged sword’s sharp blade
“piercing to the division of soul and spirit,
of joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12).
Could this be what Simeon meant:
“And your own soul a sword shall pierce” (Lk 2:35)?

The Angel had said more:
“And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb,
and shall bring forth a son;
and you shall call his name Jesus” (Lk 1:31).
This too she remembered, and lifting her eyes, she read “the inscription over him
in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew” (Lk 23:38):
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).
For a moment she thought of her Joseph
she still missed him so -- her friend, her comforter, her rock --
and she remembered what the Angel had said to him as well:
“You shall call his name Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father;
and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.
And of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).
Tell me, O Gabriel, is this bitter abjection his greatness?
Is this cross of execution his throne?
Is this defeat the inauguration of his kingdom?

Just then the thief crucified beside him spoke,
as if in answer to her torment:
“'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
And Jesus said to him: 'Amen I say to you,
this day you shall be with me in paradise’” (Lk 23:42-43).
For an instant, she turned from the face of her Jesus
to the face of the thief,
and she felt herself a mother to him.
“For those whom God foreknew
he also predestined to be conformed to the image of her Son,
in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (cf, Rom 8:29).

With that, her Jesus spoke,
his gentleness like the breeze in the cool of the day,
his authority undiminished by the scourging, the mockery, and the taunts.
Seeing “his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near,
he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold your son!’
Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!’” (Jn 19:25).

This was a new Annunciation, the second one:
the first, thirty-three years ago by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel;
this second one by the mouth of her Son,
lifted up with bloodied arms spread wide in place of shining wings.
Then, as now and forever, “no word shall be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).

“Woman, behold your son!” (Jn 19:25).
To this Mary had no answer
apart from the one she had given the Angel then:
“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
She was to be mother, mother again and again.
Mother to John, to Dismas, to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, and to James,
mother to “the coming generation” and to “a people yet unborn” (Ps 21:30-31).
Mother of the Church.

“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished,
that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: 'I thirst’” (Jn 19:28)
and she knew in herself the torment that is the thirst of God
and tasted in her mouth the bitter vinegar,
and knew too that this new motherhood was given her
in this new annunciation
to quench the thirst of God with the children of her sorrowful heart:
adorers “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23).

And as she recalled how at Nazareth the Holy Spirit had come upon her
and the power of Most High had overshadowed her (cf. Lk 1:35),
he said, “'It is consummated,’ and bowing his head,
he gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30).
She lifted her face to receive the breath of his mouth,
and remembered that the Angel too,
having accomplished that for which he was sent from God left her,
leaving God in her womb.
“And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:38).

Afterwards they took his body down from the cross.
Strange that another Joseph should be there helping.
A strong and tender man.
And she remembered her Joseph, also strong and tender,
lifting that tiny newborn body in his calloused hands
to place it in the manger.
And she wept.

They placed his lifeless body in her arms.
He seemed so tired, so spent, so in need of his Sabbath rest.
Bits of a lullaby she used to sing to him went through her mind.
“Sleep, my Yeshua, sleep.
Sleep my Yeshua, sleep until you wake.”
She remembered something he had said:
“I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3).
And she repeated something he had prayed:
“Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1),

They placed him the tomb.
And the stone was rolled across the entrance,
sealing in her heart with his body.

To John she said:
“Come, son, take me home.
'He has torn, that he may heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
and on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him’ (Hos 6:1-2).”
And John, saying nothing, looked into her eyes,
just as Jesus had earlier in the day,
and like Jesus, he believed her.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

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Finally, after waiting more than two years, and having come to Ireland, we are on the point of acquiring this original painting of the Maternal Heart of Mary. It will be a joy to give it a worthy home in Silverstream Priory. It was commissioned by the Venerable Mother Mary Potter, and was executed by a street artist in Rome. It originally hung in the main hall of the Little Company of Mary's house at Santo Stefano in Rome, and was subsequently sent to England where it was offered for sale.

There is evidence that in 1904, at the laying of the foundation stone of the Church of the Maternal Heart Mary and of Calvary Hospital in Rome, December 15th was kept as the Feast of the Maternal Heart of Mary.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

In his Marian Consecration of Priests at Fatima in May 2010, and again in Rome in June of the same year, Pope Benedict XVI chose to use, from among any number of expressions possible, that of the Maternal Heart. It was a remarkable English woman, the Venerable Mother Mary Potter (1847-1913), who, with energy and perseverance, devoted herself to promoting the title of the "Maternal Heart of Mary"

Mother Potter's profound reverence for the priesthood, and her deep love of priests, are so well established that they require no elaboration. Suffice to say that she prayed earnestly for them, and did all she could to help them, no matter whether the individuals concerned had retained -- or as happened in a few cases -- lost their first fervour. (Patrick Dougherty, Mother Mary Potter, Sands & Co, London, 1961)

Mother Potter's Marian Mission

At the end of 1874, Mother Potter received the inner certitude that she and the religious Congregation she was to institute (The Little Company of Mary) were called to foster devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. "We are chosen," wrote Mother Potter,

. . . to promulgate in God's Church an increase of devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. We must increase our love for Our Lady and her sweet Maternal Heart, which makes us desire to propagate that devotion and to lead as many of God's vast family as we can to love and honour that Heart.

For Mother Potter, the Maternal Heart of Mary was a way of life:

Love that Heart, consecrate yourself to it, and make it your constant endeavour to be actuated by all the holy desires, wishes, and prayers that emanated from it. Let your sufferings, your actions, your words, your whole being renew again, on this earth, the life of Mary. To do this you must study Mary; to study her you must enter her Heart and observe its workings.

Desirous of giving an iconographic expression to the Maternal Heart, Mother Potter directed that an existing statue of the Mother of God should be artistically adapted to this end by adding to it the image of a heart surmounted by the lily of Our Lady's immaculate purity, and pierced by the sword of her sorrowful compassion on Mount Calvary. Later, in Rome, she commissioned at least two paintings representing the Maternal Heart of Mary.

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A Title Contested and Vindicated

The suitability of the title was the subject of some controversy, the principal objection being that it was novel, and that the Church had not recognized the Maternal Heart by authorizing its cultus in the liturgy. Opening her first house in Rome on 20 May 1884, Mother Potter succeeded in obtaining the blessing of Pope Leo XIII on its designation as the "Convent of the Maternal Heart of Mary." In 1908, after building the heart-shaped chapel of Calvary Hospital (near the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo) in Rome, Mother Potter was told by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr Carlo Respighi that it could not be dedicated under the title of the "Maternal Heart of Mary," because no such title was in liturgical use. Mother Potter held her ground, and Msgr Respighi was obliged to seek the counsel of the Cardinal Vicar. Shortly thereafter, word reached Mother Potter that Pope Pius X had not only approved of the title "Maternal Heart," but had further directed that a commemoration of the Maternal Heart should be made at every Mass during the octave of the new chapel's dedication.

Consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary

In July 1876, in obedience to Father Edward Selley, a convert from the Church of England, Mother Potter sought in fervent prayer an answer to her desire for a confirmation of her total consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary. After making the Way of the Cross, and asking at each station for an answer to her prayer, Mother Potter received what, to my mind, must be taken as an inner locution on the part of Our Lady:

My child, God, Almighty though He be, after the possession of Himself, cannot give me anything more desirable, more precious, or dearer than souls. This Jesus knew; and at His death, wishing to leave me a measure of His Love, confided the Church in the person of Saint John to my Maternal protection.
Come, then, to me! I am your Mother! An earthly mother can forget her child and lack in pity for it, but your Heavenly Mother will protect you in your day of sorrow. Come, then, to me, and bring to me the Church, which I have borne in my womb from the very time that I bore its Author, Jesus. May the holy vicar of My Son proclaim from his cross that I am the Mother of this Church. May he unite himself with his Master in saying to the nations of the earth, 'Behold your Mother,' and consecrate the Church confided to him, to my Maternal Heart, and I will show myself a Mother.

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Archbishop Kirby Enlisted in the Cause

A letter of Mother Potter, dated 17 September 1891 relates that she entrusted her spiritual director, Archbishop Tobias Kirby (1804-1895), Rector of the Irish College, with a letter to Pope Leo XIII in which she asked the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Five days later -- was it by coincidence? -- Pope Leo XIII addressed the following words to the universal Church in his Encyclical Letter Octobri Mense:

Mary is this glorious intermediary; she is the mighty Mother of the Almighty; but-what is still sweeter - she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. As such God gave her to us. Having chosen her for the Mother of His only begotten Son, He implanted in her a maternal heart that breathes nothing but pardon and love. Such Christ desired she should be, for He consented to be subject to Mary and to obey her as a son a mother. Such He proclaimed her from the cross when he entrusted to her care and love the whole of the race of man in the person of His disciple John. Such, finally, she proves herself by her courage in gathering in the heritage of the enormous labours of her Son, and in accepting the charge of her maternal duties towards us all.

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The design of this most dear mercy, realised by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of the Christian age received it with one mind; and even when literature and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is needed than that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary.

Audience With Leo XIII

On 5 July 1896, shortly before leaving Rome to visit her houses in England, Mother Potter was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope spoke to her of the Church's troubles, asking for Mother Potter's prayers and those of her daughters. Then, addressing Mother Potter, the Holy Father asked her if she thought the Church would rise triumphant over her persecutors and emerge from the problems which beset her. Mother Potter answered at once: "Yes, if the Church were consecrated to the Maternal Heart of Mary, she would show herself a Mother." The Holy Father was silent. The Sister translating into Italian for Mother Potter led the Holy Father to believe that she was asking for a liturgical feast in honour of the Maternal Heart. Pope Leo XIII then directed her to make a written petition to this effect and to address it to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This, of course, was not Mother Potter's primary desire. Her intention was to ask the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Nonethless, she was obedient to the Holy Father's directive, and wrote her request to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. She never received a reply. In fact, she later learned, that the matter was never even discussed!

Those who share the priesthood must be followers of that grand lover of Mary, Saint John. (Mother Mary Potter, 1876)

A Determined Woman

Towards the end of her life, Mother Potter intensified her campaign to obtain the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Among her supporters were Cardinal Merry del Val and the Abbots of Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls and of Grottaferrata. Mother Potter went so far as to commission a painting of Pope Pius X offering the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary.

Pope Benedict XVI

The Venerable Mother Mary Potter died in 1913, firm in her conviction that God willed the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary by the Supreme Pontiff. Has her desire been fulfilled? One might pass in review the consecrations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pope Pius XII, the proclamation of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and the many Marian consecrations made by Pope John Paul II. All of this not withstanding, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI's consecration at Fatima, and again in Rome at the end of the Year of the Priest, of all the priests of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary, very happily fulfills and crowns Mother Potter's mission and desire. In consecrating all priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, Pope Benedict XVI has, in effect, consecrated the entire Church to her Maternal Heart, for wherever and whenever a priest belongs to Mary by virtue of an act of consecration, multitudes of souls around him are drawn to her Maternal Heart.

Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo

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Doctor of the Virginity of Mary

Today is the feast of Saint Ildephonsus, Archbishop of Toledo (+ 23 January 667). Dom Guéranger calls him the Doctor of the Virginity of Mary. Saint Ildephonsus established the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is still kept in some places on December 18th.

At the Altar

It is recounted that on this feast of the Mother of God, Archbishop Ildephonsus, together with some of his clergy, hastened to church before the hour of Matins to honour Our Blessed Lady with their songs. Arriving close to the church, they found it all ablaze with a heavenly radiance. This so frightened the little band that all fled, except for Archbishop Ildephonsus and his two faithful deacons. Deacons, take note! With wildly beating hearts, these entered the church and made their way to the altar. A great mystery was about to unfold.

A Chasuble from the Treasury of Heaven

There, seated on the Archbishop's throne, was the august Queen of Heaven surrounded by choirs of angels and holy virgins. The chants of paradise filled the air. Our Blessed Lady beckoned Ildephonsus to approach her. Looking upon him with tenderness and majesty, she said: "Thou art my chaplain and faithful notary. Receive from me this chasuble, which my Son sends you from His treasury." Having said this, the Immaculate Virgin clothed Ildephonsus in the chasuble, and instructed him to wear it for the Holy Sacrifice on her festivals.

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The account of this apparition, and of the miraculous chasuble, was deemed so certain and utterly beyond doubt, that news of it spread through the Church, even reaching the Ethiopians. The Church of Toledo honoured the event with a special proper Mass and Office. What was the miraculous chasuble like? Artists through the ages have sought to depict it, more often than not in rich brocades of gold and blue.

Gifts from Heaven

Sceptics may smile condescendingly and dismiss the story as a pious fabulation. Serious studies of the various gratiae gratis datae -- graces freely given -- are not without evidence of the phenomenon of material gifts brought from heaven. One finds examples of it as recently as in the life of Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit (1901-1951). A classic example of the phenomenon would be the cincture of the Angelic Warfare with which angels girded Saint Thomas Aquinas after his victory over a temptation of the flesh.

The Prayer of Saint Ildephonsus

I used the celebrated prayer of Saint Ildephonsus this past January 1st to renew my total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I am thy slave, because Thy Son is my Master. Therefore thou art my Lady, because thou art the handmaid of my Lord. Therefore I am the slave of the handmaid of my Lord, because thou, my Lady, didst become the Mother of my Lord. Therefore I have become thy slave, because thou didst become the Mother of my Maker.

You will find the full text of the prayer here together with Murillo's depiction of Our Lady's bestowal of the chasuble from heaven.

A Letter to Alessandro

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A friend came by the monastery today and asked if I might reflect with her on the practice of Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, following the doctrine of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. I remembered having written this little reflection in the form of a letter for Alessandro, and thought that I would post it again. I trust that my friend will find it, in some way, helpful.

14 August 2009
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, priest and martyr
Vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dear Alessandro,

With your characteristic candor and enthusiasm, you asked me a few days ago about the various ways of consecrating oneself to the Blessed Virgin Mary. You referred, in particular, to Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort's plan for total consecration to Mary, and to the Act of Consecration composed by today's Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.

I prayed this morning about your question and found myself reflecting on the meaning of consecration. You know, of course, that Pope John Paul II proposed the word affidamento, which one might translate as entrustment. (Read Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins' book: Totus Tuus: John Paul II's Program of Marian Consecration & Entrustment.) Personally, I think that, at least in English, entrustment rather weakens the notion of consecration, especially when one approaches it through the lens of Saint John's Gospel and through Saint Paul's Epistles.

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Consecration can mean two things: it can refer to the action by which one hands oneself over to God in imitation of Christ:

The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20).
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).
Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her (Eph 5:25).

You can see that "handing oneself over" "giving oneself up" is intrinsically linked to the idea of sacrifice, which, in turn, is related to sanctification or consecration.

And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth (Jn 17:19).

The meaning of "to consecrate" in this context is "to sacrifice." One might render the above verse correctly as:

And for their sake I sacrifice Myself, that they also may be sacrificed in truth (Jn 17:19).

You may find the equivalence of to consecrate and to sacrifice a little frightening. I understand your apprehension. To sacrifice comes from two Latin roots: sacer (sacred) and facio (to do or make). In Book Ten of the The City of God, Saint Augustine explains that anything or anyone placed upon the altar becomes sacrificium; it or he becomes consecrated, that is, radically and irreversibly made over/given up/handed over to God. This is what Saint Paul says:

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I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).

There are two moments in every sacrificium or consecration. The first moment corresponds to the Offertory of the Mass. One hands oneself over, offering to God one's body and soul, one's past, present, and future. Here the action is human; it engages one's free will and, normally, finds expression in the formulation of an "act of consecration."

From the human perspective, this is the active mode of consecration. One must hold fast, nonethless, to the truth that every good action is a free response, made possible by grace, to a divine solicitation of the heart. One consecrates oneself at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and in the grace of obedience to that inner prompting. I consecrate myself.

The second moment corresponds to the consecration of the Mass. One is acted upon by the Holy Spirit sent by the Father at the invocation of the Son. Here the action is divine, not human. The agent is God Himself, the work of sanctification/consecration being fittingly attributed to the Holy Spirit. I am consecrated.

Why would one risk an act of consecration, knowing full well that it will bring upon the one making it a configuration to Christ Jesus in the mystery of His sacrifice? One dares to consecrate oneself because it is the only response worthy of the love of God.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? (Rom 8:32)

To be consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to be abandoned or given over to His love are, in effect the same thing. By consecrating oneself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to hand oneself over to His merciful love. This action on our part allows Our Lord to act upon us freely in view of the glory of His Father, the fruitfulness of His Church, and our own sanctification. Our Lord seeks souls who will hand themselves over to His love, just as He handed himself over to His Father's love upon the altar of the Cross.

This is where Marian consecration comes in. The most effective way of handing oneself over to Jesus is through Mary. The consecration of oneself, made in her virginal hands, is immediately "handed over" to Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, who, in turn, unites it to His own perfect oblation to the Father.

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There are many ways of making this act of consecration to Our Lady. This past year I renewed my own Marian consecration by using the prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo. The beautiful prayer of consecration of Père Croset has marked my own life profoundly. You will find it here.

The act of consecration should not be done lightly. One should take counsel of one's spiritual father and prepare for the act of consecration over a certain period of time. I recommend that the act of consecration coincide with one of Our Blessed Lady's liturgical feasts. An act of consecration should be renewed frequently and need not always be renewed using the same formula.

The best way of demonstrating what an act of consecration might look like is by sharing with you the one that I wrote this morning during my prayer. Here it is:

O Immaculate Virgin Mary,
beloved Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Mother of the Church and Mediatrix of All Graces,
I want to "hand myself over" to you,
just as your servant Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe "handed himself over" to you
in a inspired act of consecration.
You are my Mother;
therefore I am not afraid of trusting you with my life
You are my Advocate;
therefore I am confident that you will plead for me
until I am safely with you in heaven.
You are my Queen;
therefore I know that all power in heaven and on earth
has been given you by your Divine Son,
Creator, Redeemer, and King of the Universe.
You are the Coredemptrix participating fully in the sacrifice of your Son;
therefore all that is made over to you,
you hand over to Him
to be taken up into His oblation for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls.
There is no more effective way of entering into the Work of Redemption
than by consecrating myself to you.
I am confident that your Immaculate Heart will so order all things
that by giving myself to you,
I will be handed over to your Son, Priest and Victim,
to pass over, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with Him
into the glory of the Father where you wait for the homecoming
of all your sons and daughters.
O clement! O loving! O sweet Virgin Mary!

I hope that this letter responds, in some way, to your questions about Marian consecration. I bless you and keep you in my prayer.

Father


To the Spiritual Mothers of Priests

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7 December 2011
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Last evening, I was privileged to offer Holy Mass in the presence of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa. The Mass--of the Immaculate Conception--was offered in humble thanksgiving for my twenty-five years of priesthood. It marked, at the same time, the third anniversary of the beginning of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests in our diocese. A lovely reception followed. I am immensely grateful to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa for saying "Yes" with magnanimity to a special vocation that, while hidden, is bearing fruit in the lives and in the hearts of priests the world over.

A Song From the Womb

"Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels" (Is 61:10). A song intoned from the womb! The Church takes the jubilant words of the prophet Isaiah and places them in the mouth of the tiniest and most vulnerable of human creatures, an embryo implanted in the mothers womb, a human person, already full of grace: this is the Immaculate Conception. The mother is Saint Anne. The child full of grace will be named Mary.

Oh, the audacity of the sacred liturgy! The Immaculate Conception begins to sing in the cloister of the womb. If you would delight the heart of God, says little Mary, learn my song and sing with me. Nothing so ravishes the heart of God as the song of one very little, very vulnerable, very poor, and, at the same time, immensely great in the mind of God. Here is the immaculate child destined to crush the head of the ancient serpent. Here is the immaculate child lowly, poor, and inexpressibly rich in the mercy that clothes her like a garment and in a holiness that shines more brightly than a million galaxies in the firmament's darkest night.

Prelude to the Magnificat

"Gaudens, gaudebo in Domino." "Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord." The melody of this evening's Introit soared pure as crystal in a kind of ecstatic cry of undiluted joy in God. Mary herself intoned the first chant of the Mass today: a kind of prelude to her Magnificat. Already -- just conceived -- the child Mary begins to sing, and the whole Church takes up her song. On no other feast of the year does the Virgin Mary open the Mass by singing in the first person singular. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice" (Is 61:10). Mary's message, from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, is one of joy in God.

The Tree of the Cross

The joy of the Immaculate Conception springs from the mystery of the Cross. The Collect says that Mary was "preserved from all stain" in foresight of the death of Christ on the tree of the Cross. Yes, in foresight, for there was never a moment when Mary was not present in the mind of God: present to God in all her loveliness, in the immaculate splendor that would be hers because, from all eternity she was destined to be the all-holy Mother of God.

Conceived in the Mind of God

Given that Mary was conceived into a race rebellious and hostile to God, she too had to be redeemed, bought back from the bondage of Adam's progeny in this valley of tears. God, conceiving her in His mind, before she was conceived in the womb of Saint Anne, willed her, and saw her immaculate.

The Precious Blood of the Son

The Father, from all eternity, willed an Immaculate Mother for His Only-Begotten Son. Thus did the Father accept, in advance, the Precious Blood of the Son shed in His most bitter Passion, not in atonement for any sin of Mary's, but in order that by the power of that Blood, the very Blood formed for the Word by the power of the Holy Ghost in her virginal womb, Mary might enter the world pure and free, with a purity and freedom unknown in the world since the creation of Eve
Holy and Immaculate Before the Father

In the Collect we asked that, by Mary's intercession, we might come into the presence of God "with pure hearts." Saint Paul says that "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 1:3) chose us in Christ "that we should be holy and immaculate before Him" (Eph 1:4). This standing before God in holiness contrasts with the fear of Adam and Eve who, upon hearing the sound of God in the garden, "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). The naked Christ, exposed to the gaze of the Father on the tree of the Cross, casts out the fear that caused our first parents to make of the trees of the garden a screen between themselves and the Face of God. The first effect of the grace of Christ is that it makes us come into the presence of the Father, "free from fear" (Lk 1:73). "For you have not received the spirit of bondage in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: 'Abba, Father'" (Rom 8:15).

Blessed the Clean of Heart

In the Collect, we further asked that we might come unto God with clean hearts. "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the Mother of the clean of heart. By her intercession, she obtains from Christ, again and again, the application of "the blood of his Cross" (Col 1:20) to every heart darkened and defiled by sin. The Collect inspires us to pray, specifically through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the poignant petition of King David: "A pure heart create for me, O God" (Ps 50:12). And you, dear spiritual mothers of priests, will you not make this same prayer for every priest as he ascends the altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice? "A pure heart create for him, Thy priest, O God."

The Secret of the Mass returns to the same petition, asking that "we may be delivered from all our faults" by Mary's intercession. A culpis omnibus liberemur! What a stupendous petition! And it is a petition that the Father grants freely and graciously, for all that is sought through the Immaculate Heart of Mary is, by that very fact, asked through the Heart of Jesus, and nothing of what is asked through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary will the Father deny. "If you ask the Father any thing in my name, He will give it to you" (Jn 16:23).

Glorious Things

The Communion Antiphon will deploy a phrase from Psalm 86, a song in praise of Zion, the city cherished by the Lord "Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God" (Ps 86:3), but in place of "city of God" will say "Mary." "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O Mary." Yes, glorious things, because from Mary "has arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God" (cf. Mal 4:2).

In the Radiance of Christ

In fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy, the "sun of justice" rises from the womb of the Virgin "with healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2), that is to say with wholeness for those fractured and fragmented by sin; with purity for those fallen into the filth of every manner of vice; with beauty for those distorted by the attempts of the Evil One to twist and disfigure men and women created in God's image and likeness. Mary, the Immaculate Mother of the clean of heart, is also the Mother of all those whom she brings to be healed in the radiance of Christ, the Sun of Justice.

Spiritual Mothers Collaborate With Our Blessed Lady

Spiritual Mothers, if you would continue faithful and fearless in your mission: entrust your priests--all priests--to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Weaknesses do not shock Our Blessed Lady. The sight of sin does not repulse her. Even betrayals do not make her bitter. She was, I think, even more of a mother to Peter after his shameful denial of Jesus than before. Speak to the Immaculate Virgin confidently, as mothers to a Mother. In the priests entrusted to your own maternal care, collaborate with Mary; unite your hearts to her Immaculate Heart. There are no sins so dark, no vices so entrenched in a soul, no trials so harsh, no work so burdensome that Mary cannot enter in, ministering mercy, delivering from enslavement, infusing hope, and making light the burden.

The First and Last Word Given to Joy

Return, for a moment, to the Introit. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice he has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels" (Is 61:10). This is the song of every new beginning in grace. For me, for us, this New Year of Grace will be marked by a new beginning, or rather, by continuity in the newness that characterizes every thing wrought by Him who says, "Behold, I make all things new."

The New Song

Sing then the new song of every man and woman once paralyzed by fear, but now set free to stand unafraid with the Son of the Virgin in the sight of the Father. Sing the new song of every heart darkened and stained by sin, but now made bright and clean by grace. Sing the new song of every life wounded by sin, but healed by the Sun of Justice who, in a few moments, will be lifted above the altar "with healing in his wings" (Mal 4:2). The last word and the first belong to joy. This joy is Mary's. And she wants you to have it, this evening, and for ever.

Our Lady and the Priesthood

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My Mother's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart
is to be your refuge and your place of solace.
Go to my Mother in all your needs.
She is your Mother of Perpetual Help, that is, of unfailing help.
My Mother is at the service of all my priests.
She is their Mother, but she is also the humble handmaid of the Lord.
In every priest of mine she recognizes me,
and she places herself wholly at my service in my priests.
For all of that, she remains the Immaculate Queen of heaven and of earth.
All the riches of my Sacred Heart are hers to give away as she sees fit.
She administers the treasury of my Kingdom,
and all that is mine is hers to bestow freely and lavishly
according to the desires of her maternal and merciful Heart.

If all my priests knew this
-- not merely with their minds, but in their daily experience --
the priesthood would be transformed.
My Most Pure Mother is the faithful and indispensable collaborator
of the priest who represents me and pursues my work in the Church.
My Mother is attentive to the ministry of the priest
and to his personal spiritual needs,
as she was attentive to my ministry
and to all my needs during my life on earth.

Priests who do not collaborate with my Immaculate Mother
will be stifled in the exercise of their priesthood.
I Myself chose to have my Mother at my side
at the Hour of my Supreme Sacrifice.
I gave her to my beloved disciple John
so that all my priests would understand
that my Mother's place is at the side of every priest of mine,
especially when he stands at the altar
to offer my Sacrifice to the Father, and to speak and act in my Name.

Never fail to recognize the mystical presence of my Mother in the Mass.
She is there at your side.
She rejoices in your distribution of the fruits of my redemption,
and participates in it.
The hands of every priest are, in some way, held in my Mother's hands.
She acts with the priest.
Her participation in the Holy Sacrifice renewed upon the altar is silent but efficacious.
Her presence at the altar, though invisible, is real.
My Church has long acknowledged the presence of my Mother
at every offering of my Holy Sacrifice,
but it is now more than ever necessary
that priests should deepen their awareness of this most precious gift.
She is the Coredemptrix.
Just as my Sacrifice is renewed mystically in every Mass,
her offering, her participation in my offering, is also renewed.
The priest who knows this and allows it to penetrate his heart
will be graced with a holy fervour in every Mass he celebrates.

I grieve over the carelessness with which some priests approach my Holy Mysteries.
The remedy for this lack of reverence, attention, and devotion
is a filial recourse to my Mother.
Hers it is to prepare the heart of the priest
to offer the Holy Sacrifice worthily.
My Mother is full of solicitude for all her priest sons.
She wants to see them go to the altar clothed in humility,
in purity, in innocence of heart, and in profound adoration.
She accompanies every priest in the sacred actions of his ministry.
She sustains every priest by means of her all-powerful intercession.

My Mother is the guardian of all priests
and it is my desire that she be recognized as such.
The priest who knows this will have a refuge in temptation;
he will be safe under her protecting mantle.
If he should fall out of weakness, or negligence,
she will be there to raise him up
and to direct his steps into the way of penitence and of holiness.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest


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I am your Mother of Perpetual Help
and I am the Mediatrix of all graces for my dear children.
My eyes of mercy are turned toward you.
My Heart is open to you.
My hands are ever raised in prayer for you,
or open over you, to shower abundant graces upon you
and upon those for whom you pray.

I am pleased that you want to imitate my son Saint John
in making your home with me, in opening to me every part of your life.
In this way, you allow me to act upon you,
but also you allow me to act with you and through you.

My presence and my action are revealed in gentleness,
in sweetness, and in mercy.
I want you to resemble me spiritually just as my Jesus resembled me physically.
Jesus, looking at me, saw the perfect reflection
of all the dispositions and virtues of His Adorable Heart.
I, looking at you, want to see my own Immaculate Heart mirrored in yours.
I want to communicate to you and to all my priest sons the virtues of my Heart.
By consecrating yourself to me, you have made this possible,
and already my transformation of you has begun.

My Son has given me sway over the hearts of His priests.
I will transform, and purify, and sanctify
the heart of every priest consecrated to me.
Mine it is to change the souls of priests,
to wash them, to lift them up into the heavenly places
so that their conversation may be with my Son,
and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
For this reason am I rightly called Porta Caeli, the Gate of Heaven.
It is the will of my Son that His priests should live,
while they are yet on earth, in the heavenly places.
He would have them enter with Him into the sanctuary of heaven,
beyond the veil where, as Eternal High Priest,
He offers Himself ceaselessly
as a Victim of praise and propitiation to His Father.

The Holy Spirit is the living flame of this heavenly holocaust.
All of heaven glows with the Fire of Love
that burns in the Heart of the Son
who stands before His Father as Eternal High Priest.
I am for all my priest sons the Gate of Heaven.
If any priest would ascend, even in this earthly life,
into the glory of the heavenly liturgy
ceaselessly celebrated by my Son before the Father's Face,
he need only approach me.
I will open the way into the mysteries of heaven for him.
I will teach him the reverence, the silence, the profound adoration
that befits one called to serve at the altars of my Son, and in His place.

Let me be for you the Gate of Heaven.
Come to me at every opportunity.
Pray my Rosary.
I will make you share in all that I hold in my Heart.
I bless you now and I bless those for whom you have prayed to me.
I bless my priest sons.
I love them with all my Heart and I follow them in their comings and goings.
When they fall I weep over them,
and all my desire is to lift them up, to cleanse them, to heal their wounds,
and to see them restored to the grace of friendship with my Son.

I am present to you and I hear the prayers you address to me.
I will open my hands, full of graces and blessings,
over the souls whom you recommended to me.
I am ever willing to come quickly to the aid of my poor children.
I am every ready to help them them,
to lift them when they fall,
to bind up their wounds,
and even to intervene in such a way
as to repair the effects of their wrongdoing.

I am not distant. I hear every prayer addressed to me.
My maternal Heart is moved to pity when my children,
and especially my priest sons, have recourse to me in their needs.
I am the Mother of Mercy, Mater Misericordiae,
honoured by the Church in her chant to me.
I do turn towards you my eyes of mercy, and I am ever willing to help poor sinners.
Let sinners come to me; I will never turn them away.
Let them appeal to my Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart;
they will never be disappointed.

As for you, dear son of mine, persevere in praying to me.
Hold fast to my Rosary
and beware of every ploy of the Evil One to separate you from it.
My Rosary is your safeguard and your weapon
in the fight against the forces of evil.
At the same time, for you it is a remedy and a comfort.
Do you not see how the Rosary has stabilized you?
Do you not experience its healing and all its benefits?
Pray my Rosary and teach others to do the same.
Trust me for the unfolding of the plan of my Son.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

Into the House of the Lord

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Our Lady in the Temple

The solemn dedication of the Church of the Mother of God near the Temple in Jerusalem took place on November 21, 543; this felicitous association of the Mother of God with the Temple supports the ancient tradition of the Blessed Virgin Mary's presentation in the Temple as a child. Saint John Damascene -- interpreting the Holy Name of Mary as "Lady" -- tells us that the "Lady of every creature and the Mother of the Creator . . . first saw the light in Joachim's house, hard by the Pool of Bethesda, at Jerusalem, and was carried to the Temple."

Secundum Verbum Tuum

In the hidden recesses of the old Temple, the Holy Spirit prepares the new Temple, the all-holy Virgin, to become the Mother of God . She who is destined to be the living Temple of the Word dwells in the Temple of the Old Dispensation. She hears the chanting of the psalms, the prophets, and the Law. Was it there that she learned Psalm 118, the long litany of loving surrender to the Word? And was it from Psalm 118, held in her heart from so tender an age, that she drew her response to the message of the Angel, "Be it done unto me according to Thy Word" (Lk 1:38)?

There planted in the Lord, the dew of His Spirit made her flourish in the courts of her God, and like a green olive she became a tree, so that all the doves of grace came and lodged in her branches. (Saint John Damscene, Upon the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, ch. 15)

Virgin Mother of the Lamb

There she smells the fragrance of incense and burnt offerings. There she observes the faithful of Israel streaming towards Zion, filling the Temple, seeking the Face of the Lord. Priest, altar, and oblation are not unfamiliar to the Virgin who, gazing upon her Son, will recognize in Him the Eternal priest, the Altar of the New Covenant, the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the spotless Victim offered in unending sacrifice.

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To Belong to God

In the seventeenth century -- the age of France's "mystical invasion" -- the mystery of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple captivated the hearts of Monsieur Olier and of others on fire with zeal for the holiness of the priesthood, for the beauty of the consecrated life, and for the worthy praise of God. The so-called French School of spirituality, marked above all by the imperative of adoration and the virtue of religion, gravitated to the feast of November 21st as to the pure expression of the desire to be offered to God, to belong to God, and to abide in God's house.

Virgo Sacerdos

When, in 1641, Jean-Jacques Olier (1608 - 1657) established the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, he placed it under the patronage of the Virgin Mary in the mystery of her Presentation in the Temple. The Child Mary, hidden in the Temple, learns the meaning of sacrifice and oblation; she is the sacerdotal Virgin, prepared by the Holy Spirit to stand at the altar of the Cross united to her Son, High Priest and immolated Lamb. Under the influence of the French Sulpicians, many religious congregations, established after the horrors of the French revolution, chose the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary as their foundation day, the day of religious profession, and of the renewal of vows.

In Domum Regis

Today's proper liturgical texts lead us after the Holy Child Mary into the mystery of the Temple. "The daughter of the King is clothed with splendour; she is led to the king with her maiden companions" (Ps 44:14-15). Holy Mary fills her eyes with the splendours of the Temple and there discovers the beauty of belonging to God alone in the splendour of holiness. Even today, she draws others after her. "Listen, O daughter, give ear to my words. . . . So will the King desire your beauty" (Ps 44:11-12).

Lovely and Pure in the Sight of God

In all her beauty and innocence the Child Mary stands before us to tell us that we, like her, are called to be lovely and pure in the sight of God. We are the object of His desire. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: As he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity" (Eph 1:3-4). The Father would have us abide in the Temple of the Mystical Body of His Son, listening to His Word, and singing His praises in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit.

Where God is, There Is a Future

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How I wish that the Holy Father's words on September 23rd at the Marian sanctuary of Etzelsbach might reach every Catholic on earth. Tolle et lege, tolle et lege! Pope Benedict XVI leads us to the pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to His Heart pierced by the soldier's lance, and to her Heart pierced by sword of sorrow, even as Simeon prophesied in the Temple.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I would like to greet all of you most warmly, all who have come here to Etzelsbach for this time of prayer. Ever since my youth I have heard so much about Eichsfeld that I thought at some point I must see it for myself and pray together with you. I offer sincere thanks to Bishop Wanke, who pointed out to me this strip of land from the aircraft, and I thank your speakers and representatives who have brought me gifts symbolic of this region, thereby giving me at least an indication of the variety that is found here.

An Open Door and a Place of Inner Peace

So I am very glad that my wish to visit Eichsfeld has been fulfilled, and that here in Etzelsbach I can now thank Mary in company with you. "Here in the beloved quiet vale", as the pilgrims' hymn says, "under the old lime trees", Mary gives us security and new strength. During two godless dictatorships, which sought to deprive the people of their ancestral faith, the inhabitants of Eichsfeld were in no doubt that here in this shrine at Etzelsbach an open door and a place of inner peace was to be found. The special friendship with Mary that grew from all this, is what we seek to cultivate further, not least through today's celebration of Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Jesus Cannot Refuse His Mother What She Asks

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother -- a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Meditating in Her Heart

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down.

Pointing to the Holy Sacrifice

Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

The Hearts of Jesus and Mary

A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord's body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary's heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

Towards the Heart of Mary and the Heart of Christ

Marian devotion focuses on contemplation of the relationship between the Mother and her divine Son. In their prayers and sufferings, in their thanksgiving and joy, the faithful have constantly discovered new dimensions and qualities which this mystery can help to disclose for us, for example when the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is seen as a symbol of her deep and unreserved loving unity with Christ. It is not self-realization, the desire for self-possession and self-formation, that truly enables people to flourish, according to the model that modern life so often proposes to us, which easily turns into a sophisticated form of selfishness. Rather it is an attitude of self-giving, self-emptying, directed towards the heart of Mary and hence towards the heart of Christ and towards our neighbour: this is what enables us to find ourselves.

God Does Not Cease to Work Good Through Mary

"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28), as we have just heard in the reading from the Letter to the Romans. With Mary, God has worked for good in everything, and he does not cease, through Mary, to cause good to spread further in the world.

Mary, the Channel of the Rivers of Grace Flowing from the Cross

Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveler and protector on life's journey. "By her motherly love she cares for her son's sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home," as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.

God, Says Mary, Desires Your True Happiness

Our trust in the powerful intercession of the Mother of God and our gratitude for the help we have repeatedly experienced impel us, as it were, to think beyond the needs of the moment. What does Mary actually want to say to us, when she rescues us from some trial? She wants to help us grasp the breadth and depth of our Christian vocation. With a mother's tenderness, she wants to make us understand that our whole life should be a response to the love of our God, who is so rich in mercy. "Understand," she seems to say to us, "that God, who is the source of all that is good and who never desires anything other than your true happiness, has the right to demand of you a life that yields wholly and joyfully to his will, striving at the same time that others may do likewise." Where God is, there is a future.

In Prayer to Mary Great Problems Find Solutions

Indeed -- when we allow God's love to pervade and to shape the whole of our lives, then heaven stands open. Then it is possible so to shape the present that it corresponds more and more to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the little things of everyday life acquire meaning, and great problems find solutions. 

Confident of this, we pray to Mary; confident of this, we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

The Rosary of the Seven Dolours

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The Rosary of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a way of holding in one's heart the mystery/events of the Childhood and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Compassion of His Virgin Mother.

The fruits of this particular prayer are well known to those who pray it habitually: compunction of heart, detachment from the occasions of sin, chastity, humility, reparation, compassion, intimacy with the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, and desire to contemplate the adorable Face of Christ.

The power of this prayer -- something that many have experienced -- comes from allowing one's own heart to be irrigated and purified by the tears of the Mother of God. The tears of the Sorrowful Mother bring purity and healing wherever they fall. Appearing in Kibeho, Rwanda in 1982 and 1983, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word, asked that the prayer of the Rosary of the Seven Dolours be renewed and promoted in the Church.

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The 8th Sorrow of my maternal and Immaculate Heart
is that my Son is so offended in the Sacrament of His Love.

This sorrow of mine will endure until the end of time,
when the Real Presence of my Son in the Most Holy Sacrament
will give way to the sight of His Divine Majesty.

Then will faith give way to vision,
and hope to possession.
Then will love be secure and everlasting
for all who will have died in the embrace of His Divine Friendship.

Until then, know that my maternal Heart suffers and grieves
over the irreverence, the coldness, and the ingratitude of so many souls
towards the Sacrament of my Son's undying love.
It is in this Sacrament that He loves His own,
loving them to the end --
to the end of every created possibility
and to the end of this passing world.
His Eucharistic Love surpasses all the laws of perishable nature:
there is no greater miracle on the face of the earth
than the Real Presence of my Son in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Even so, He is forsaken, neglected,
and handed over to sinners to be betrayed again and again,
and this by His chosen ones, His beloved priests,
the men whom He chose to be the consolation and joy of His Heart.
This is my own Heart's 8th Sorrow:
the betrayal and neglect of my Son
in the Most Holy Eucharist.

How is He betrayed?
His priests, my own sons, betray Him
when they fail to make Him known,
when by not teaching the mystery of His Real Presence
they leave souls in the darkness of ignorance,
without fire or light.

They betray my Son when, by their example,
they discourage reverence, and adoration,
and a loving attention to His presence.

They betray Him
when they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass unworthily,
and when they hand Him over to sinners
who have no intention of giving Him their hearts
and seeking His mercy and His pardon for their sins.

They betray Him
when they leave Him alone in locked churches
and when they make it difficult or impossible
for souls to approach His tabernacles,
and rest in the radiance of His Eucharistic Face.

They betray Him
when they allow His churches
to become places of noise and worldly chatter,
and when they do nothing to recall souls
to the living Mystery of His Love,
that is His presence in the tabernacle.

Shall I tell you more of this 8th Sorrow of my Heart?
It is when you are lacking in generosity,
when you fail to respond to love with love,
when you are not generous
in being present to Him
who is present in the Most Holy Eucharist
for love of you.

I speak here not only to you,
but to all my priest sons
and to all consecrated souls
who live with my Son under the same roof,
and yet treat Him coldly, or casually,
or with a distant formality.

This too is the 8th Sorrow of my Heart:
that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated quickly,
with little reverence,
with no thanksgiving,
and with all the attention given,
not to my Son, the Lamb,
but, rather, to the human presence of His minister,
who, by calling attention to himself,
takes from God what belongs rightly to God alone:
the loving attention of every heart during the Holy Mysteries.

What more shall I tell you?
Do you not grieve with me over this 8th Sorrow of my Heart,
made up of many sorrows repeated again, and again, and again?
Grieve with me today,
and console my maternal and Immaculate Heart
by adoring my Son,
the blessed fruit of my womb,
and by giving Him all that you are
in an immolation of love.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of A Priest

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Let us come with confidence to the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid. (Hebrews 4:16)
(Introit, Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 22 August)

In today's Introit the Church borrows boldly from the Epistle to the Hebrews to call the Immaculate Heart of Mary "the throne of grace." Indeed, her Heart is the throne of grace, as depicted in the icon of the Mother of God of the Sign. Jesus, Eternal Wisdom, thrones in her Heart and, from her Heart, dispenses mercy and grace to all who approach His Mother in time of need.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
behold, I come to thy maternal and immaculate Heart
as to the throne of grace
to receive mercy and help in time of need.

I come to thy Heart
as to the refuge of sinners.

I come to thy Heart
as to the pure and spotless sanctuary of the priesthood.

I come to thy Heart
as to the paradise of the saints in heaven and on earth.

Receive me into thy Immaculate Heart
even as I would receive thy Heart into my life,
allowing thee and begging thee to count me among thy beloved sons,
and to consider me another Saint John for thy maternal Heart.

So do I renew today
the total and irrevocable consecration of myself
-- of my past, my present, and my future --
to thy maternal and immaculate Heart,
confident that thou wilt take all my necessities,
all my cares,
and all my weaknesses to thyself
so as to present them to Jesus
as if they were thine own.

May thy sorrowful and immaculate Heart, O Mary,
be my habitual recourse in this valley of tears,
and my delight in the everlasting joys of heaven.
Amen.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

At Knock: Our Lady of Silence

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Grandma Tells Me About Knock

As a small boy, I heard many times about Knock from my Grandmother Margaret Gilbride Kirby (1900-1993). Her Aunt Mary had gone from Finisklin in the Parish of Kiltoghert, County Leitrim to Knock on pilgrimage. Aunt Mary sent my grandmother a little bottle of blessed water from the shrine. Grandma told me what she knew about the apparitions.

Pilgrimage in 1988

Years later, in 1988, I went to Knock together with my parents and my brother Terence. I had the privilege of celebrating Holy Mass on the site of the apparitions: the gable end of the parish church. Several other pilgrimages to Knock marked my life including one in the company of my cousin Mary Parady, and one with my dear friends John Flynn and Father Dan Leary. The grace of Knock clings to me.

Silence

The apparition at Knock is unusual in that the Blessed Virgin remained silent. She spoke no message and uttered no warning; she asked for nothing. Our Lady was silent and, at the same time, intensely present to the Immolated Lamb upon the altar, and to the people who watched the apparition. The silence of the Mother of God speaks to my own understanding of actuosa participatio (actual participation) in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is a silent inward cleaving to the Mystery of the Eucharist that precedes and perfects all other forms of participation in the Holy Sacrifice.

Blessed John Paul II on Silence

The silence of Our Lady at Knock reminds me of a splendid page in Blessed John Paul II's Orientalis Lumen:

One draws close to this presence [of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit] above all by letting oneself be taught an adoring silence, for at the culmination of the knowledge and experience of God is his absolute transcendence. This is reached through the prayerful assimilation of scripture and the liturgy more than by systematic meditation.
In the humble acceptance of the creature's limits before the infinite transcendence of a God who never ceases to reveal himself as God - Love, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the joy of the Holy Spirit, I see expressed the attitude of prayer and the theological method which the East prefers and continues to offer all believers in Christ.
We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God's presence and avoid self - celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God; in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness.
This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens himself with noise. All, believers and non - believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words.

Saint Joseph and Saint John

The presence at Knock of Saint Joseph and of Saint John the Evangelist is especially significant to me. They are the two men chosen by God to share most intimately in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Joseph obeyed the word of the Angel of the Lord: "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:20). Saint John, for his part, obeyed the word of the crucified Jesus: "Behold thy mother." "And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27).

The Rosary of the Seven Dolours

Praying the Rosary of the Seven Dolours, one discovers the role of Saint Joseph in the life of the Blessed Virgin by meditating the first three mysteries: 1) the Prophecy of Simeon, 2) the Flight into Egypt, 3) and the Disappearance of the Boy Jesus.

In the last four mysteries, Saint John is present: 4) the Encounter of the Blessed Virgin with Jesus bearing His Cross, 5) the Death of Jesus on the Cross, 6) the Descent of the Body of Jesus from the Cross, 7) the Burial of Jesus. It is reasonable to assume that the Beloved Disciple accompanied the Blessed Virgin along the via crucis; he stood with her at the foot of the Cross, witnessed the removal of Jesus' lifeless body from the Cross and His burial.

Into the Sacrifice of the Lamb

Saint Joseph and Saint John entered in the silence of Blessed Virgin. One cannot live in the company of Mary without being drawn into her silence, that is, into the ceaseless prayer of her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, and into the Sacrifice of the Lamb renewed in an unbloody manner on the altars of the world.

The Things That Are Above

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A Commentary on the Mass of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

There is no better way to enter into the mystery of any feast than by passing through the portals opened for us by the Church herself in the texts and signs she has chosen for it. Nothing of what the Church says and does in the liturgy is without significance. Every word, every gesture, is, as Psalm 118 puts it, "a door opening onto the light, giving intelligence to the simple" (Ps 118:130).

Introit

Gaudeamus! The Mass today opens on a note of irrepressible joy: Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at whose Assumption the angels rejoice and all together praise the Son of God. This is no mere earthly joy; it is the joy of heaven spilling over, cascading down through the choirs of angels until, having reached us here below, it again takes flight heavenward, leaving us surprised by joy.

The joy of today's festival descends from heaven and returns to heaven. It leaves us caught up in a mystery bigger than ourselves, obliges us to set our sights "on the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1). It is as if the Virgin Mother herself, borrowing the words of the Apostle, speaks to us out of that glory in which she is "hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3), and says, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col 3:2). The Assumption of the Mother of God is a jubilant "Sursum corda!"

Collect

Almighty and ever-living God,
by whom Mary, the immaculate Virgin Mother of your Son,
was taken up, body and soul into the glory of heaven:
grant, we beseech you,
that, ever intent on the things that are above,
we may become worthy
of sharing in the glory that is hers.

The Collect of the day flows directly out of the Introit. What the Introit proclaims in song, the Collect turns into prayer. We address the Almighty and ever-living God, the God for whom, as the Angel said to Mary, "nothing is impossible" (Lk 1:37). We confess the Church's firm belief that Mary, at the term of her mortal life, was taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven. An astonishing thing! That Mary should be in heaven spiritually, is something easily conceded. That her very body should be mysteriously "hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:3) is quite another thing.

The dogma of the Assumption declares that the human body, being constitutive of who we are, is not expendable, not a mere wrapping to be discarded. Our bodies have a glorious destiny: the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem, described in the book of Revelation, will engage our bodies as well as our spiritual souls. The Mother of God is already engaged body and soul in that heavenly liturgy where the priests of Sion "are clothed with salvation and her saints rejoice with exceeding great joy" (Ps 131:9). This is why the Preface will call Mary, "the beginning and likeness of the Church in her fullness."

The petition of the Collect asks that, "ever intent on the things that are above, we may become worthy of sharing in the glory that is hers." The language of this petition is lifted directly from Colossians 3:1: "Seek the things that are above." Everything today moves upward. Everything is caught up in that movement of return to the Father inaugurated by resurrection and ascension of Christ our high priest, a grand entrance procession wonderfully continued in the assumption of his Mother.

Prayer Over the Offerings

May the offering of ourselves
rise up into your presence, Lord;
and may the all-blessed Virgin Mary,
taken up to heaven by you,
so help us by her intercession,
that our hearts, set ablaze with the fire of love,
may ever yearn for you.

The Prayer Over the Offerings intensifies the upward movement into the presence of God, but here, the upward movement becomes one of offering. Ascendat ad te are the opening words of the prayer. The images are those of Psalm 140, the song of the evening sacrifice: "Let my prayer arise before you like incense, the raising of my hands like an evening oblation" (Ps 140:2). This is the prayer of the Virgin Mary at the hour of her passing-over. Mary herself is the incense rising at the evening hour of her earthly life. "Who is she coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?" (Ct 3:6). And so we pray, "May the offering of ourselves rise up into your presence, Lord, and may the all-blessed Virgin Mary, taken up into heaven by you, so help us by her intercession, that our hearts, ablaze with the fire of charity, may ever yearn for you."

The image of incense rising is coupled with that of hearts set ablaze with the fire of charity. In the ancient form of the Mass, the priest, after incensing the altar, returns the thurible to the deacon, saying, "May the Lord kindle within us the fire of his love, and the flame of undying charity." There is something of that prayer in today's Prayer Over the Offerings. It invites us to cast our lives, our very selves, like grains of incense onto the glowing embers of a charity fanned by the Spirit. Thus do we ascend heavenward with Mary's evening sacrifice as an offering made to God.

Preface

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Today the Virgin Mother of Christ
was taken up into the heavens,
to be the beginning and likeness
of your Church in her fullness
and an assurance of hope and consolation
for your people on their pilgrim way.
You would not let her see corruption in the grave
for she had given birth to your Son, the author of all life,
in the wonder of his Incarnation.

United therefore with all the choirs of angels,
we praise you, and in gladness proclaim:

The Preface of today's Mass sees in the Virgin Mother of Christ an icon of what the whole Church will be in her fullness. From her place in heaven, Mary shines as "an assurance of hope and consolation" for us as we make our pilgrim way through this valley of tears. The Preface borrows its imagery from Chapter Eight of Lumen Gentium: "The Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church, as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 P 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the Pilgrim People of God" (LG, art. 68).

In Mary's shining forth from heaven, one detects also something of Saint Bernard's marvelous sermon on Mary, the radiant Star set by God in the heavens. Listen to the Abbot of Clairvaux: "Mary is that star I say, uplifted over the ocean of this world, shining by her merit and shedding light on us by her example. O you who struggle in this stormy sea, do not turn your eyes from this star, if you would escape shipwreck! When the winds of temptation arise and you run on the rocks of tribulation, look at that star, think of Mary, call on her by name. If you follow her, you will not go off course; if you cry to her, you will not give up hope; if you think of her, you will not go astray" (Sermon IV, Super Missus Est).

The last part of the Preface draws upon Psalm 15, the prophecy that, from the time of Saint Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, spoke to Christians of the resurrection of Christ. What David prophesied about Christ concerns also those who belong to Him and, in the first place, His holy Mother. The Preface sings, "You would not let her see corruption in the grave for she had given birth to your Son, the author of all life, in the wonder of his Incarnation." The Psalm -- and today we hear it from the lips of the Virgin Mother -- says, "My heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay. You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness forever" (Ps 15:9-11).

Communion Antiphon

The Communion Antiphon rightly repeats a line from the Gospel of the Mass. Mary's bold prophecy at the time of her Visitation to Elizabeth is fulfilled in the mystery of her Assumption: "All ages will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me" (Lk 1:48-49). The Eucharist is the beginning in time of our eternal blessedness. It is the "beatifying" sacrament because it makes us truly happiness with a foretaste of the bliss of the blessed in heaven. The Eucharist is first among the magnalia Dei, the great things done for us by the Almighty.

Prayer After Communion

Grant, we entreat you, Lord,
to us who have partaken of this healing sacrament,
that the merits and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary
whom you have taken up to heaven
may bring us in our turn
to the glory of the resurrection.

The Prayer After Communion refers to the Eucharist as a health-bringing sacrament. Our Eucharistic healing will be complete only when we, like Mary, are taken up to heaven in the glory of the resurrection. One hears beneath the Prayer After Communion the words of Jesus in the discourse on the Bread of Life: 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:54). The last phrase of the prayer is ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur, "that we may be brought to the glory of the resurrection." Thus does the Prayer After Communion resume and complete the whole upward movement of today's Mass.

Ours it is to allow the prayer of the Church, her lex orandi, to penetrate us so completely that it is, not only what we believe objectively, her lex credendi, but also how we live today, tomorrow, and the next day, our lex vivendi. Evelyn Underhill, at the beginning of her marvelous little book on the Mass, expresses it in a piece of poetry:

We rise, but but by the symbol charioted,
Through loved things rising up to Love's own ways:
By these the soul unto the vast has wings
And sets the seal celestial on all mortal things.

Maria Santissima del Bagno

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Last night's festivities in honour of la Madonna del Bagno began with Holy Mass at 7:00 p.m. The Father Guardian of the Franciscan Solitude of San Pasquale was present together with the assistant Maestro dei Novizii and three fine novices. The little shrine church was absolutely full, with the overflow standing in the piazza outside. The procession with the statue of the Madonna del Bagno followed. A group of stalwarts carried the statue of the Madonna, crowned (together with the Bambino Gesù in her embrace), and clothed in a veil of blue silk with golden stars embroidered over it. A brass band began to play and a volley of fire works announced the arrival of the Madonna in the piazza.

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The devotion to the Madonna del Bagno in Gioia Sannitica grew up around a little church adjacent to a hermitage (there are many of these in Southern Italy) built in about the year 1700. There are documents revealing that the church and hermitage were constructed at the expense of the faithful in the place where, according to local tradition, shepherds found an image of the Madonna on canvas in a well. The well, still producing fresh water, is present near the church. The miraculous image is preserved in a frame of carved stone in the apse of the church.

The feast of this particular Madonna coincides with the festival of the Ascension. It is customary for the faithful to enter the church and make their way on their knees to the altar of the Madonna, where they wipe their faces with a towel that has been passed several times over the miraculous image.

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Again, according to the local tradition, the finding of the image of the Madonna was the occasion of numerous miracles. Many persons stricken by leprosy and other diseases were cured after having been washed in water from the well. The curious title, Madonna del Bagno, meaning "Our Lady of the Bath," is related to these prodigies.

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The church itself is a temple devoid of any particular artistic interest. It has a single nave; the ceiling is adorned with paintings of the Madonna. There are many ex-votos, including offerings of gold and jewelry, that bear witness to the graces received. A crowned statue representing the Madonna of the original image on canvas is enthroned above the altar.

Emmigrants from Gioia all over the world and, in particular, in and around New Haven, Connecticut, remain attached to the devotion to the Madonna del Bagno, and still send their offerings to contribute to the annual feast.

The sanctuary of the Madonna del Bagno remains a holy place where the Mother of God makes her presence known, touching hearts, bringing healing to souls and bodies, reconciling sinners to her Divine Son, and uniting families in the bonds of a common faith.

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Last night, a number of offerings of gold and jewelry were pinned to a blue cushion at the Madonna's feet. Women and children threw handfuls of rose petals at the statue as the Madonna passed. There were several resting places during the procession, each one marked by an altarino constructed and decorated by a family. At each of these stations, a priest led a decade of the Rosary and invocations to the Mother of God for particular intentions.

The procession wound its way all through the countryside, past vineyards, fields, olive groves, and grazing cattle. At various poInts along the way the faithful had prepared carpets of flower petals artistically arranged to form the monongram of the Ave Maria, a heart, a crown, or other Marian symbols. Only those bearing the sacred image of Madonna could walk over these floral carpets of devotion.

The phenomenal display of fireworks at the end of the procession was also a tribute of love and devotion to the Madonna. The statue was set on a base facing the fireworks display so that the Madonna could enjoy it, as Mother and Queen, in the midst of her children. At the end of the fireworks display, I was given the very great honour of offering the final incensation to the Madonna. The photograph of this is very dark. It was, of course, well after 11:00 p.m.

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During the procession the brass band played the popular hymn attributed to Saint Alfonso Maria de Liguori, Evviva Maria. You can listen to it here.

Everyone, old and young, knew the words of the hymn by heart, and sang with tremendous devotion, vigor, and simplicity:

O Maria, quanto sei bella,
Tu sei la gioia, Tu sei l'amore;
Tu hai rapito questo cuore,
notte e giorno io penso a Te.
Tu hai rapito questo cuore,
notte e giorno,
notte e giorno penso a Te.

O Mary, how beautiful thou art,
thou art joy, thou art love;
thou hast ravished this heart;
night and day I think of thee.
Thou has ravished this heart,
night and day,
night and day I think of thee.

Evviva Maria,
Maria evviva.
Evviva Maria,
e Chi la creò.

Hurrah for Mary,
Mary, Hurrah!
Hurrah for Mary
and for He who created her.

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Quando il sole è già lucente
le colline e il mondo indora,
quando a sera si scolora
Ti saluta il mio pensier.
Quando a sera si scolora,
Ti saluta,
Ti saluta il mio pensier.

When the sun is already gleaming,
the hills and the world shine like gold,
when at eventide all grows dark
my thought greets thee,
my thought greets thee.

Evviva Maria,
Maria evviva.
Evviva Maria,
e Chi la creò.

Hurrah for Mary,
Mary, Hurrah!
Hurrah for Mary
and for He who created her.

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E un bel giorno in Paradiso
Grideremo: Viva Maria!
Grideremo: Viva Maria!
Viva Lei che ci salvò
Grideremo: Viva Maria!
Viva Lei,
viva Lei che ci salvò.

And one day in Paradise
We will cry: Hurrah for Mary!
We will cry: Hurrah for Mary!
and long live her who saved us.
Will will cry: Hurrah for Mary!
Long may she live who saved us.

Evviva Maria,
Maria evviva.
Evviva Maria,
e Chi la creò.

Hurrah for Mary,
Mary, Hurrah!
Hurrah for Mary
and for He who created her.

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My Musings

Returning to Sepicciano, where the church bells ring out the quarter hour and the parish church is truly the heart of the village; where the presence of the Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, is inextricably bound up with every moment of daily life; where to be a human person is to be un cristiano; where people enjoy a simple familiarity in the house of God without any loss of the awe that the Thrice-Holy Presence of the Divine Majesty inspires -- all of these things convince me that while the Catholic faith generates culture and gives shape to all of life, that same Catholic culture is indispensable to a community's spiritual health and growth in the Faith. Here, even those who do not regularly practice the Faith are steeped in it and would never think of denying it.

So much of life happens out of doors here. Boys kick a ball around the little piaza in front of the church. Old ladies sit on their bench nearby, exchanging news and greeting passers-by. The parish priest drives by -- fully vested -- on his way to do Paschal house blessings, accompanied by a server! Just inside the vestibule of the church is a plan for the elaboration of a new community garden over which a recently commissioned statue of Saint Padre Pio will preside. In the evening nearly everyone in the village is outside walking (la passeggiata), talking, living the "community" that American Catholics find so elusive and yet so fascinating. This is a culture that Protestantism could never have produced.

This is also, I fear, something that Suburban American Catholicism with its parking lots and programs can never achieve. Formerly, when there were still urban neighbourhoods held together by a parish church, particularly if the the parish church had an ethnic identity, there remained something of a Catholic culture.

I can only envision the Church of tomorrow in terms of communities that will have embraced a truly Catholic culture in all its dimensions. Quite possibly this will mean the relocation of families around a monastery or the conscious rebuilding of neighbourhoods around a parish church.

On Thursday, 26 May, the Holy Father prayed the Holy Rosary with the bishops of Italy gathered in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, and addressed them:

Where Spirituality and Art Come Together

Venerable and dear brothers,

You have come to this splendid basilica -- a place where spirituality and art come together in a centuries-old union -- to share an intense moment of prayer, by which we entrust to the maternal protection of Mary, Mater Unitatis, the whole Italian nation, 150 years after the political union of the country. It is significant that this initiative was prepared by similar meetings in the dioceses: also in this way you express the solicitude of the Church in making herself close to the destiny of this beloved nation.

Dedicating May to Marian Devotion 

We, in turn, feel in communion with every community, including the smallest, in which the tradition of dedicating May to Marian devotion is alive. This tradition is expressed in many signs: shrines, chapels, works of art and, above all, in the prayer of the holy rosary, with which the People of God give thanks for the good they receive incessantly from the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, and pray to her for their many needs.

Leaving Space for God 

Prayer -- which has its summit in the liturgy, whose form is guarded by the living tradition of the Church -- is always leaving space for God: his action makes us participants in the history of salvation. This afternoon, in particular, in the school of Mary we have been invited to share in Jesus' steps: to go down with him to the Jordan River, so that the Spirit will confirm in us the grace of baptism; to sit at the banquet of Cana, to receive from him the "good wine" of the celebration; to enter the synagogue of Nazareth, as poor ones to whom is addressed the joyful message of the Kingdom of God; also to go up Mount Tabor, to receive the cross in the paschal light; and finally, to participate in the Cenacle in the new and eternal sacrifice that, anticipating the new heavens and the new earth, regenerates the whole of creation.

Christ: Man's Most Profound Truth

This basilica is the first dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God in the West. On entering it, my thoughts went back to the first day of the year 2000, when Blessed John Paul II opened the Holy Door, entrusting the Jubilee Year to Mary, so that she would watch over the path of all those who acknowledged themselves pilgrims of grace and mercy. We ourselves today do not hesitate to feel like pilgrims, desirous of crossing the threshold of that Most Holy Door that is Christ, and we want to ask the Virgin Mary to support our path and to intercede for us. As he is Son of God, Christ is the form of man: He is man's most profound truth, the sap that gives life to a history that otherwise would be irremediably impaired.

The Dispositions of Mary's Heart

Prayer helps us to recognize in him the center of our life, to remain in his presence, to conform our will to his, to do "what he tells us" (John 2:5), certain of his fidelity. This is the essential task of the Church, crowned by him as Mystical Bride, as we contemplate her in the splendor of the apse. Mary constitutes her model: she is the one who presents to us the mirror in which we are invited to recognize our identity. Her life is a call to turn from what we are to hear and accept the Word, being able in faith to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, before which our only possible greatness is that expressed in filial obedience: "Be it done unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). Mary trusted: she is the "blessed one" (cf. Luke 1:42), who is blessed for having believed (cf. Luke 1:45), to the point of having been clothed in Christ to such a degree that she enters in the "seventh day," a participant in God's rest. The dispositions of her heart -- listening, acceptance, humility, fidelity, praise and waiting -- correspond to the interior attitudes and to the gestures that mold Christian life. The Church is nourished by them, conscious that they express what God expects from her.

The Council of Ephesus: the Theotokos

Engraved on the bronze of this basilica's Holy Door is a representation of the Council of Ephesus. The building itself, whose original nucleus dates back to the 5th century, is linked to that ecumenical summit held in the year 431. In Ephesus the united Church defended and confirmed for Mary the title Theotokos, Mother of God: a title with Christological content, which refers to the mystery of the Incarnation and which expresses the unity of the human nature with the divine in the Son. Moreover, it is the person and the experience of Jesus of Nazareth that illumines the Old Testament and Mary's face itself. Understood clearly in her is the unitary design that intertwines the two Testaments. In her personal life is the synthesis of the history of a whole nation, which places the Church in continuity with ancient Israel. Within this perspective individual histories receive meaning, beginning with those of the great women of the Old Covenant, in whose life is represented a humiliated, defeated and deported people. However, they are also the same ones who personify hope; they are the "holy remnant," a sign that God's plan does not remain an abstract idea, but finds correspondence in a pure answer, in a liberty that gives itself without holding anything back, in a yes that is full acceptance and perfect gift. Mary is the highest expression of it. Upon her, Virgin, descends the creative power of the Holy Spirit, the same who "in the beginning" hovered over the shapeless abyss (cf. Genesis 1:1) and thanks to which God called being from nothing; the Spirit gives life to and molds creation. Opening to his action, Mary engenders the Son, the presence of God who comes to inhabit history and opens it to a new and definitive beginning, which is the possibility for every man to be reborn from on high, to live in the will of God and thus to be completely fulfilled.

The Word of the Gospel: Source of Civilization

Faith, in fact, is not alienation: the experiences that contaminate man's dignity and the quality of social coexistence [are not the experiences of faith]! In every historical period the encounter with the ever new Word of the Gospel was a source of civilization; it built bridges between peoples and enriched the fabric of our cities, expressing itself in culture, in the arts and, not last, in the thousand forms of charity. No wonder Italy, celebrating the 150 years of its political unity, can be proud of the presence and action of the Church. She does not pursue privileges or desire to substitute the responsibilities of the political institutions; respectful of the legitimate secularity of the state, she is attentive in supporting the fundamental rights of man. Among these are first of all the ethical demands and, therefore, openness to transcendence, which are values that precede any state jurisdiction, inasmuch as they are inscribed in the very nature of the human person. In this perspective, the Church -- strong because of collegial reflection and because of direct experience on the spot -- continues offering her own contribution to the building of the common good, reminding each one of his duty to promote and protect human life in all its phases and to support the family with deeds; the family continues to be, in fact, the first reality in which free and responsible persons can grow, formed in those profound values that open to fraternity and which also enable one to address the adversities of life. Not in the last place, there is today difficulty in accessing full and fitting employment; hence, I join all those who appeal to politics and to the business world to make every effort to surmount the widespread precariousness of labor, which in young people compromises the serenity of a plan for family life, with grave harm to an authentic and harmonious development of society.

The Qualities of the South: Welcome and Hospitality

Dear brothers, the anniversary of the founding event of the unitary state has found you diligent in recalling fragments of a shared memory, and sensible in pointing out the elements of a future perspective. Do not hesitate to stimulate the lay faithful to overcome every spirit of narrow-mindedness, distraction and indifference, and to participate personally in public life. Encourage initiatives of formation inspired in the social doctrine of the Church, so that whoever is called to political and administrative responsibilities is not a victim of the temptation to exploit his position for personal interests or because of thirst for power. Support the vast network of aggregations and associations that promote endeavors of a cultural, social and charitable character. Renew the occasions of encounter, in the sign of reciprocity, between North and South. Help the North to recover the original motivations of that vast cooperative movement of Christian inspiration which animated a culture of solidarity and economic development. Likewise, invite the South to put in circulation for the benefit of all the resources and qualities it possesses and those features of reception and hospitality that characterize it. Continue cultivating a spirit of sincere and loyal cooperation with the state, knowing that this relationship is beneficial both for the Church as well as for the whole country. May your words and action be encouragement and thrust for all those called to manage the complexity that characterizes the present time. It is a time when an appeal arises ever more strongly for solid spiritual references; be able to articulate to all what is peculiar to the Christian experience: God's victory over evil and death, as a horizon that casts a light of hope on the present. Assuming education as the theme of the pastoral commitment of this decade, you wished to express the certainty that Christian existence -- the good life of the Gospel -- is precisely the demonstration of a fulfilled life. On this path you ensure not only a religious and ecclesial but also a social service, contributing to build the city of man. Therefore, courage! Despite all the difficulties, "nothing is impossible for God" (Luke 1:37), for him who continues doing "great things" (Luke 1:49) through all those who, like Mary, are able to give themselves to him with unconditional availability.

Maria, Mater Unitatis

We place the whole Italian nation under the protection of the Mater Unitatis, so that the Lord will grant it the inestimable gifts of peace and fraternity and, hence, of development in solidarity. May she also help the political forces to live the anniversary of unity as an occasion to reinforce the national bond and to surmount every harmful opposition: may the various and legitimate sensibilities, experiences and perspectives come together again in a wider picture to seek together what truly contributes to the good of the country. May Mary's example open the way to a more just, mature and responsible society, capable of rediscovering the profound values of the human heart. May the Mother of God encourage young people, sustain families, comfort the sick, implore upon each one a renewed effusion of the Spirit, helping us to recognize and also to follow the Lord in this time, who is the true good of life, because he is Life itself.

From my heart I bless you and your communities.

Our Lady of Fatima

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My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph

Today's feast of Our Lady of Fatima coincides with the thirtieth anniversary of the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square. Nine years ago Pope John Paul II declared a Year of the Rosary. In his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, he called it "a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness."

Mater Misericordiae

The Rosary is a presence of Mary, the Refuge of Sinners, saying to us in a still, small voice, "Child, never despair of God's mercy." She is Mater Misericordiae, the Mother of Mercy. Where Mary goes the mercy of God follows bringing forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and peace. If you would know the mercy of God, seek to know the Mother of Mercy. She preserves sinners from the one sin that is greater than all other sins put together, that of despairing of the mercy of God.

Spes Nostra

By making "never to despair of God's mercy" the last of the Instruments of Good Works in Chapter Four of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict is saying to us, "Even if you fail in all else, even if you fall into grievous sin, hold fast to this and you will not be disappointed in your hope." In the Salve Regina, Mary is called not only Mater misericordiae but also spes nostra. The Rosary is a childlike and humble way of putting our hand in the hand of the Mother of God lest we slip into discouragement, and from discouragement fall into the pit of despair.

The Face of Christ

The feast of Our Lady of Fatima compels us to ask ourselves if, with the passing years, Blessed John Paul II's Year of the Rosary has become, I fear, a distant memory, something vague and without bearing on us nine years later. The Rosary -- a prolonged contemplation of the Face of Christ in the company of Mary -- opens us to the mystery of Our Lord's word on the night before suffered: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). If you would see Christ, pray the Rosary. If you would see the glory of the Father shining on the Face of the Son, pray the Rosary.

The Fragrance of the Knowledge of Christ

Do I persevere in the simple but sometimes difficult prayer of the Rosary, or I do I give in to discouragement, laziness, indifference, or routine? Where is the Rosary in my own moments of joy, light, sorrow, and glory? And where is my life in the context of the joys, lights, sorrows, and glories of Christ and of his holy Mother? Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI is not ashamed to unite himself to little ones the world over who, in simplicity of heart and poverty of spirit, love the Rosary and in praying it breathe in the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 2:14).

Penitence

Our Lady of Fatima's message was a call to prayer and to penitence. To prayer first, and then to penitence: this because prayer, especially the humble prayer of the Rosary softens even the most hardened heart, decapitates pride, and makes penitence possible. The grace of conversion of heart is given to those who pray for it, and for this there is no better prayer than the Rosary. One does not first change one's way of life and then begin to pray. One prays first -- and sometimes for a very long time -- in order to be able to receive the grace of inner conversion for oneself or even for another.

For me, what I find most beautiful about the Rosary is that sinners are comfortable praying it. It is a chain that, with each "Hail Mary," binds the heart more strongly to its treasure (cf. Mt 6:21). One need not be perfect to pray the Rosary; one need only be capable of saying again and again, "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

The Poor Man's Rosary

The Rosary is, I said, a simple prayer. That does not mean that it is always easy. At certain times in life, one must be content with what I call "the poor man's Rosary." This may mean that when you are weary, discouraged, and unable to focus, you content yourself with saying a little phrase on each bead instead of the whole prescribed prayer: just "Hail, Mary, full of grace," or just "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus," or just, "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." Do you think that Our Lady is less pleased with the humble, incomplete stammerings of a little child than with the perfect recitation of one who, by the grace of God, can do more? Many a sleepless night has been filled with the murmurings of the "poor man's Rosary" and in that humble prayer the Mother of God finds an immense joy.

A Path to Contemplation

The Rosary is the simplest and most accessible of prayers. It is, at the same time, a sure path to contemplation, leading ever more deeply, almost imperceptibly, into the stillness of the Most Holy Trinity. The Rosary is a way of abiding with Mary in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. It is a way into the ceaseless prayer of the heart that is an evangelical precept addressed to all: "Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Lk 18:1). Do that and you will be "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Ac 13:52). Our Lady of Fatima promises it.

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The lovely image of Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the three children is the work of Sister Mary of the Compassion, O.P. Born Constance Mary Rowe on March 17, 1908, she was baptized at the famous Brompton Oratory. Constance Mary Rowe won an international art award, the Prix de Rome, in 1932. In 1935 she left England for New York City, where she had accepted a number of commissions; among them was a drawing of the Dominican Saint Martin de Porres. Constance Mary Rowe was never to return to her beloved England. In 1937 she made profession as a Cloistered Dominican Sister of the Perpetual Rosary at the "Blue Chapel" in Union City, New Jersey. While I had seen her work and read about her in Jubilee magazine, I had the privilege of meeting Sister Mary of the Compassion only shortly before her death in 1977. The "Blue Chapel" Monastery is now closed.

Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum

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It was in 1973 or 74, I think, when a young man, fresh from a heady experience of monastic life in a foreign land, met an extraordinary woman at the beginning of her middle age, brimming over with vitality and with the love of God. She walked with long strides, betraying her youth in the mountains of Savoie. At times an inner joy would illumine her face. Her hospitable heart embraced all who came to her. The young man asked, "Mother, how do you pray?" And the Mother responded, "When I pray, I say, Seigneur je me livre à la puissance de ton amour fécond -- "O Lord, I deliver myself over to the power of Thy fruitful love."

En cette solennité de l'Annonciation prions avec la très sainte Vierge Marie: Seigneur, je me livre à la puissance de ton amour fécond.

On this festival of Lady Day, let us pray with the most Holy Virgin Mary: O Lord, I deliver myself over to the power of Thy fruitful love.


Temptation

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Saint Romuald Delivered From Evil

Guercino painted this scene from the life of Saint Romuald in 1640-41. The holy abbot is kneeling in prayer in his grotto, having just been delivered from a fierce diabolical temptation. One sees the devil, in the form of a swarthy, naked youth with pointed ears and long pointed fingernails and toenails. The Angel of the Lord, armed with a sturdy stick, is driving the tempter away. The face of the Angel is illumined by the same divine radiance that shines on Saint Romuald in prayer. The devil averts his face from the light and turns his back on the presence of God.

The Crucible

The greatest saints were subject to violent temptations and diabolical molestations. One has only to read Saint Athanasius' Life of Antony to get a clear perspective on the subject. The crucible of temptation is indispensable to holiness. It makes one aware of one's utter dependence on the grace of Christ. It obliges one to persevere in prayer. It exercises the theological virtues, especially that of hope. It is humiliating: that is, it makes one humble.

Keeping Souls from the Sacred Heart

Satan adapts his temptations to our particular weaknesses and circumstances. This is why people without a good self-knowledge (the ground of humility) so often fall prey to his strategies. That being said, one of Satan's classic ploys, always and with everyone, is to try to bar the way to the pierced Side of Christ. The Accuser seeks to intimidate, discourage, or distract souls from the Sacred Heart. This is one of the reasons why Satan, the original iconoclast, so hates representations of the Sacred Heart and of the Wounds of Christ, particularly of the Wound in His Sacred Side.

The Eucharist

The glorious Heart of Jesus, opened by the soldier's lance on Calvary, remains open in the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist. By keeping souls from the Most Holy Eucharist, the Evil One keeps them from the Heart of Jesus, the fornax ardens caritatis, the burning furnace of charity. Separated from the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, souls grow lukewarm, then cold. Those who are deceived into remaining far from His Eucharistic Heart will find themselves frozen in their sin.

The grace of prayer, in all its forms, is an approach to Our Lord's wounded Side. All prayer has a Eucharistic finality. It is in the Eucharist, as on the Cross, that Christ is lifted up in His oblation to the Father. It is in the Eucharist, as on the Cross, that from His pierced Side flows the blood and water of redemption. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself" (Jn 12:32). The saints are those who, having yielded to the sacramental embrace of the Crucified, drink from His open Side and find refuge in His Sacred Heart. It is not by happenstance that souls devoted to the Sacred Heart are drawn to Eucharistic adoration.

One Who Prays Is Saved

Satan's first and last temptation will always be to keep one from praying. One who prays is saved. One who stops praying will be lost. One who prays is never far from the pierced Side of Christ. One who prays will experience the mysterious and sweet attraction of His Sacred Heart. One who stops praying will become cold and indifferent to the Eucharist and, by the same token, alienated from Our Lord's wounded Side.

Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

This is where consecration, or entrustment, to the Blessed Virgin Mary comes in. I have never known a soul consecrated to Mary who has altogether abandoned prayer. Even if, at certain moments, prayer is interrupted or ceases materially, during those moments the prayer of the Mother supplies for the weakness of the child; the outstretched mantle of her ceaseless intercession covers those who have entrusted themselves to her Immaculate and Merciful Heart. Souls consecrated to Mary are not spared temptation, but they are assured of mercy and "find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb 4:16).

The Intercession of the Spirit and the Bride

The Blessed Virgin Mary presents to the Sacred Heart all who present themselves to her. "Likewise the Spirit, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary His Spouse, also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints, through Mary, Mediatrix and Mother, according to God" (Rom 8:26-27).

Confiance et paix

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Encor que je me sens misérable je ne m'en trouble point, et quelquefois j'en suis joyeux, pensant que je suis une vraie bonne besogne pour la miséricorde de Dieu.
Even when I feel that I'm miserable, I don't worry about it one bit, and sometimes I'm even joyful about it, thinking that I'm quite a good job for the mercy of God.
Saint Francis de Sales

The Gentleman Doctor of the Church

He has been called the "gentleman Doctor of the Church." Saint Francis de Sales was, in the fullest sense of the word, a gentleman -- fully human, courtly, well-spoken and, even elegant -- he was proud of his well-shaped beard -- but he was also -- and it is this, I think, that makes him so attractive -- a gentle man.

Gentleness. Webster gives a whole series of synonyms for the adjective gentle: kindly, amiable, mild, clement, peaceful, pacific, soothing, tender, humane, lenient, and merciful. Gentle, says Webster, refers to an absence of bad temper or belligerence, a deliberate or voluntary kindness or forbearance in dealing with others, an absence of harshness or severity.

A Battered Heart

Francis de Sales did not come by his gentleness cheaply. When we look at portraits of him dating from his lifetime we see a handsome, dignified man with a smiling, peaceful countenance. One would never guess the storms that had raged within, battering his heart and, driving him at the age of nineteen to the brink of despair and suicide. He was a student in Paris at the time. His depression and debilitating anxiety were probably the result of his sensitivity and scrupulous fervour, traits exacerbated by the intellectual and emotional upheavals of university life.

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Delivered by the Blessed Virgin

Francis was, in fact, contemplating a plunge into the waters of the Seine to end it all when he was inspired to go to the shrine of the famous Black Virgin of Paris, Notre-Dame de Bonne-Délivrance. The lovely old statue is still in Paris, in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Thomas of Villanova at Neuilly. Our Lady of Good Deliverance still delivers countless troubled, anxious people from their inner turmoil. I went there in pilgrimage over twenty years ago and was privileged to offer Holy Mass at the altar of the Black Virgin.

From Paris to Tulsa

Priests and others who visit me here in Tulsa often comment on the beautiful reproduction of the statue of Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Délivrance that stands atop a cabinet in the sacristy. She is there for a reason. I seek her intercession for all who need a fresh infusion of the virtue of hope.

The Greatest Evil That Can Happen to a Soul

Back to our saint and his crisis. Kneeling before the mysterious medieval image of the Black Virgin, the young Francis de Sales was delivered out of his crisis into a space of inner serenity, into what the nineteenth century Protestant hymn writer Fanny Crosby called "Blessed Assurance." Later in his life, he was to write in the Introduction to the Devout Life that, "With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul" (Introduction to the Devout Life, IV:11). The Doctor of the Church is not speculating; he is speaking from experience.

And the Soul's Greatest Boon

"With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul." What then would be the soul's greatest boon? Confidence. Listen to the gentle Bishop of Geneva:

It is very good to mistrust ourselves, but what good will that do unless we place all our confidence in God and await his mercy? And even if we do not feel such confidence, we must not cease to make acts of confidence and say, "Even though I have no feeling of confidence in you, I know that you are my God, that I am totally yours and have no hope except in your goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into your hands.
It is always in our power to make these acts, and even if we have difficulty in doing so, still, it is not an impossibility, and it is on these occasions and in these very difficulties that we give witness of our fidelity to God.
A thousand times a day cast your whole heart, your soul, your anxiety on God with great confidence, and say with the psalmist: "I am yours, Lord; save me."
Do not fear future evil in this world, for perhaps it will never come. But in any event, if evil should come, God will strengthen you. If God commands you to walk upon the waves of adversity, do not doubt; do not be afraid. God is with you; have courage and you will be delivered.
It is very fine to be aware of our misery and imperfection, but we must not stop there, nor fall into discouragement, but pick ourselves up by a holy confidence in God. The foundation of this rests in God and not in us because we change and God never changes.

God never changes. God is worthy of all our confidence. That "blessed assurance" is, ultimately, the only remedy for the anxiety that at certain hours torments even the most phlegmatic among us. Saint Francis de Sales invites us to let go of the false security of the anxieties that have become so dear, and to surrender in peaceful confidence to the "blessed assurance" of the Love of God. Confiance et paix.

His Co-Worker in My Redemption

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As a reading for the Second Nocturn, the Solesmes Monastic Lectionary for the Hours (1993) gives for today the magnificent prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo in praise of the perpetual virginity of Mary. To illustrate the prayer, I chose Murillo's painting of the Virgin Mother bestowing on Saint Ildephonsus a splendid (blue and gold!) chasuble woven in heaven, to reward him for having written so beautifully in defense of her perpetual virginity. This miraculous event took place while Saint Ildephonsus was praying Matins on 19 December, 657.

The Abundance of the Sweetness of Thy Son

I come to thee, only Virgin Mother of God,
and fall prostrate before thee,
who alone didst cooperate in the Incarnation of God.
I humble myself before thee,
who alone wert found to be the Mother of my Lord.
I pray thee, who alone wert found to be the handmaid of thy Son:
obtain that my sins be wiped away;
command that I be cleansed of the wickedness of my deeds,
and, that I may love the glory of thy virtue,
reveal to me the abundance of the sweetness of thy Son.

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Thou Art His Co-Worker in My Redemption

Bestow upon me the gift of proclaiming the true faith of thy Son,
and of defending it.
Grant that I may cleave to God and to thee,
that I may serve thy Son and thee,
that I may be His bondsman and thine;
His, because He is my Creator,
and thine, because thou art the Mother of my Creator;
His, because He is Lord of the angelic powers,
and thine, because thou art the handmaid of the Lord of All;
His, because He is God,
and thine because thou art the Mother of God;
His, because He is my Redeemer,
and thine because thou art His co-worker in my redemption.

The Body by Which He Healed My Wounds

That which He wrought for my redemption,
verily He formed in thine own person.
That He might be my Redeemer,
He became thy Son.
That He might be the price of my ransom,
He became incarnate of thy flesh.
The Body by which He healed my wounds,
He took from thee so that He, in it, might be wounded.
The mortal Body by which He took away my death,
He took from thy mortality.
The Body by which He brought my sins to nought,
He received sinless from thee.
This nature of mine that ahead of time, in Himself,
He placed above the angels in the glory of His Father's right hand,
He assumed -- humbling Himself -- out of thine own true body.

I Am Thy Slave

Therefore, I am thy slave,
because Thy Son is my Master.
Therefore thou art my Lady,
because thou art the handmaid of my Lord.
Therefore I am the slave of the handmaid of my Lord,
because thou, my Lady, didst become the Mother of my Lord.
Therefore I have become thy slave,
because thou didst become the Mother of my Maker.

By the Holy Spirit

I pray thee, I pray thee, holy Virgin,
may I, by the Spirit through Whom thou didst give birth to Jesus,
have Jesus and hold Him.
By that Spirit through Whom
thou didst conceive this same Jesus in thy flesh,
may my soul receive Jesus.

Let the Spirit gift me with the knowledge of Jesus,
this Spirit by Whom it was given Thee to bear Jesus and to give Him birth.
Let the Spirit in Whom thou didst declare thyself the handmaid of the Lord,
choosing that it should be done unto thee according to the Angel's word,
grant me to proclaim the heights of Jesus with lowliness.

To Love Jesus and to Fear Him

In the Spirit thou didst adore Jesus as thy Lord
and gaze upon Him as thy Son;
in that same Spirit may I love Him.
And may I fear this same Jesus,
with that reverence by which He, truly being God,
became subject to His parents.

Follow the Way of Beauty

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On 17 December 2010 Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Pontifical Academies during their 15th Public Session on "The Assumption of Mary, Sign of Consolation and Sure Hope."

Shining Star of Light and Beauty

Mary, in fact, as Vatican Council II teaches in the dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium," is the sign of sure hope and consolation for the People of God, pilgrim in history: "The mother of Jesus, now in heaven, glorified in body and soul, is the image and the first fruit of the Church which must have its fulfillment in the future age, and thus shines over the earth as a sign of sure hope and consolation for the People of God, journeying until it sees the day of the Lord (cf. 2 Peter 3:10)" (No. 68). In the encyclical letter "Spe Salvi," dedicated to Christian hope, I could not help but remind of the particular role of Mary in supporting and guiding the way of believers toward the Heavenly homeland. I addressed her, invoking her as a Star of Hope for the Church and for the whole of humanity (cf. No. 49). Mary is the shining star of light and beauty, who proclaims and anticipates our future.

The Queen, God's True Mother

St. John Damascene, who dedicated to Mary's Assumption three magnificent sermons, given in Jerusalem around the year 740, in the place tradition indicates as Mary's Tomb, said this: "Thy soul did not descend to Limbo, neither did thy flesh see corruption. Thy pure and spotless body was not left in the earth, but the abode of the Queen, of God's true Mother, was fixed in the heavenly kingdom alone." (Homily I on the Dormition: PG 96, 719).

Advocate and Mother of Mercy

The "singer of Mary," St. Bernard of Clairvaux, along with many of the Latin West, echoes the previous voice of the Eastern Church, when St. Bernard evokes the Assumption thus: "Our Queen has preceded us; she has preceded us and has been received very festively, so that with confidence the servants can follow their Lady saying: Take us with you, we run in the odor of your perfumes (Ct 1,3). Our pilgrim humanity sent its Advocate ahead that, being Mother of the Judge and Mother of mercy, can treat with devotion and efficacy the cause of our salvation. Our earth has sent today to heaven a precious gift so that, giving and receiving, they join the human and the divine in a happy exchange of friendship, the earthly to the heavenly, the lowest to the highest [...] She is the Queen of Heaven, she is merciful, she is the Mother of the Only-begotten Son of God" (In assumptione B.M.V., Sermo I: PL 183,415).

Theological, Mystical, Liturgical, Devotional Artistic

Hence, following that via pulchritudinis that the Servant of God Paul VI indicated as fecund itinerary of theological and Mariological research, I would like to note the profound syntony between theological and mystical thought, the liturgy, Marian devotion and the works of art that, with the splendor of colors and shapes, sing the mystery of the Assumption of Mary and her heavenly glory together with her Son. Among the latter, I invite you to admire two of them that are particularly significant in Rome: the mosaics of the apse of the Marian Basilicas of St. Mary Major and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Theological and spiritual reflection, liturgy, Marian devotion, and artistic representation truly form a whole, a complete and effective message, capable of arousing the wonder of eyes, of touching the heart and of enticing the intelligence to a more profound understanding of the mystery of Mary in which we see our destiny reflected clearly and our hope proclaimed.

Therefore, I take advantage of this occasion to invite experts in theology and Mariology to follow the via pulchritudinis, and I hope that, also in our days, thanks to a greater collaboration between theologians, liturgists and artists, incisive and effective messages can be offered to the admiration and contemplation of all.

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The Antiphons of the Final Days of Advent

Today at Lauds the Church begins a series of proper antiphons for each day until Christmas. These antiphons are relatively short and easy to memorize. Most of them are composed in the hauntingly beautiful transposed Fourth Mode (in the new books II*) with the optional ending on si, that is so expressive of our yearning for completion in Christ. The antiphons are repeated throughout the day at the Little Hours, and again at Vespers. This morning, for example, we sang:

Constantes estote, * videbitis auxilium Domini super vos.
Be ye steadfast, and ye shall see the the help of the Lord upon you.

Ad te, Domine, * levavi animam meam: veni, et eripe me, Domine, ad te confugi.
To thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: come, and rescue me, O Lord, for to thee have I fled for refuge.

Veni, Domine, * et non tardare: relaxa facinora plebi tuae Israel.
Come, O Lord, and tarry not: relieve thy people Israel of the burden of their sins.

Deus a Libano veniet, * et splendor ejus sicut lumen erit.
God shall come from Lebanon, and his splendour shall be as the light.

Ego autem * ad Dominum adspiciam, et expectabo Deum Salvatorem meum.
As for me, I shall look to the Lord, and wait for God my Salvation.

Antiphons Pondered in the Heart

It is not enough merely to sing or recite these antiphons at the Hours. The Church gives them to us so that, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19) we might so make these words our own as to find in them the perfect expression of our soul's every longing.

Primary and Indispensable

The Sacred Liturgy is -- and this is often overlooked or forgotten -- the primary and indispensable school of the prayer of the heart. The febrile pursuit of trendy methods of meditation and esoteric approaches to prayer comes from having lived apart from The Prayer of the Church. I have noticed, for example, that in religious communities where the Divine Office is neglected, minimized, or even performed regularly, but in a perfunctory manner, souls tend to gravitate to things like "Centering Prayer" or lose themselves in private devotions that are, at best, marginal to The Prayer of the Church.

Prayer Ceaseless and Incandescent

The prayer of the heart -- ceaseless and incandescent -- flourishes wherever and whenever the Sacred Liturgy -- and, in particular, the Divine Office -- is cherished and celebrated with dignity, reverence, and devotion.


The Missa Aurea

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During the Middle Ages, the Mass of the Missus Est -- the first words of the Gospel of the Annunciation -- on the Ember Wednesday of Advent was celebrated very solemnly as a kind of festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stational church in Rome is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; this choice signifies that today’s Mass is equal to that of the greatest feasts of the Mother of God. It was called the Missa Aurea, the “Golden Mass.” In manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the capital letters of the text of the Annunciation Gospel were written in gold. The letters of gold were but a sign of the secret grace hidden within the words of the Angel Gabriel and within the response of the Virgin Mary.

Then, too, there is the tradition of celebrating today’s Mass in the glow of candlelight. The “Golden Mass” was especially popular throughout Europe where the faithful hastened to their churches before dawn, bearing lanterns, confident of obtaining on this day whatever special grace they asked through the intercession of the Virgin of the Annunciation.

In some monasteries, the Gospel is sung today to a particular melody: the same ancient melody used to sing the Gospel of Pentecost. The Annunciation is the Proto-Pentecost. The Virgin Mother, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, is the living image of the Church overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

S. Ioannis Didaci Cuahtlatoatzin

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Yes, that would be the much loved Saint Juan Diego of Guadalupe as he is designated in the new Solesmes Antiphonale Monasticum for December 9th. Here is the official Collect for his feast with my English translation:

Deus, qui per beatum Ioannem Didacum,
sanctissimae Virginis Mariae dilectionem
erga populum tuum ostendisti:
eius nobis intercessione concede,
ut, Matris nostrae monitis Guadalupae datis obsequentes,
voluntatem tuam iugiter adimplere valeamus.

O God, Who, through Saint Juan Diego,
didst show forth the special love of the Most Holy Virgin Mary
toward Thy people,
at his intercession, grant us
so to obey the admonitions given by our Mother of Guadalupe,
that we may ever be able to fulfil Thy will.

The painting of Saint Juan Diego is by Mexican artist Martha Orozco.

Hope of Thy Children Scarred by Sin

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Power of the Mother With the Son

For if "God heareth not sinners, but if a man be a worshipper of Him and do His will, him He heareth"; if "the continual prayer of a just man availeth much"; if faithful Abraham was required to pray for Abimelech, "for he was a prophet"; if patient Job was to "pray for his friends," for he had "spoken right things before God"; if meek Moses, by lifting up his hands, turned the battle in favour of Israel, against Amalec; why should we wonder at hearing that Mary, the only spotless child of Adam's seed, has a transcendent influence with the God of grace?

And if the Gentiles at Jerusalem sought Philip, because he was an apostle, when they desired access to Jesus, and Philip spoke to Andrew, as still more closely in our Lord's confidence, and then both came to Him, is it strange that the Mother should have power with the Son, distinct in kind from that of the purest angel and the most triumphant saint?

If we have faith to admit the Incarnation itself, we must admit it in its fullness; why then should we start at the gracious appointments which arise out of it, or are necessary to it, or are included in it? If the Creator comes on earth in the form of a servant and a creature, why may not his Mother on the other hand rise to be the Queen of heaven, and be clothed with the sun, and have the moon under her feet? (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, "Discourses to Mixed Congregations")

Spiritual Rescue Operations

Priests caring for souls -- and others as well: parents, spouses, and friends -- may find themselves at times engaged in a kind of spiritual rescue operation on behalf of a particular person. In such situations it is crucial to recall two words of Our Lord from Saint John's Gospel: "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5), and "Behold your mother" (Jn 19:27).

The Name of Jesus

No human agent, however devoted to prayer and fasting he may be, can by his own power, restore a soul to health. It is by the name of Jesus, that is to say, by His adorable Person, that souls are delivered from bondage and oppression, healed, and raised to life.

Thus taught the Apostle Peter: "Here is a man you all know by sight, who has put his faith in that Name, and that Name has brought him strength; it is the faith which comes through Jesus that has restored him to full health in the sight of you all" (Ac 3:16).

Intercessory Prayer

When a soul, weakened by sin, hardened by impenitence, and sometimes blinded by the powers of darkness cannot invoke the Name of Jesus for herself, the consoling doctrine of the Mystical Body authorizes others to do this on her behalf. This is the mystery of intercessory prayer. In its simplest form, intercessory prayer is the invocation of the Name of Jesus.

The Immaculate Virgin Mary

That being affirmed, know that no creature in heaven or on earth can pronounce the saving Name of Jesus as can the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The name of Jesus in the Heart of Mary, and on her lips, is a remedy of boundless efficacy. For this reason the sacred liturgy applies to the Mother of God the psalmist's prophecy: Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis -- "Thy lips overflow with gracious utterance" (Ps 44:3).

Omnipotentia Supplex

Guided by a sure instinct coming from the Holy Spirit, Christians have, from the earliest centuries, besought the Mother of God to invoke the Name of Jesus on their behalf. Instructed by experience, the Church acclaims her as omnipotentia supplex, all-powerful in her supplication. There are critical situations in which the wisest and most efficacious course of action is to entrust or consecrate the person or persons concerned to the all-holy Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception. Saved in advance by the Precious Blood of the Lamb, and full of grace at the very instant of her conception in the womb of her mother Saint Anne, the Immaculata crushes the head of the ancient serpent beneath the weight of the grace that fills her.

A Prayer

In November 2007 I served a fortnight as interim chaplain to the Benedictines du Saint-Sacrement at the Sanctuary of Notre Dame d'Orient in the Aveyron, France. (This particular title of the Mother of God refers not to the Orient (East), but rather to Our Lady's readiness to tend her ear to us at every moment: auriens.) While at Notre-Dame d'Orient I was inspired to write a prayer of intercessory consecration to Immaculate Virgin Mary.

This prayer of consecration may be helpful when one experiences a need to entrust particular souls in difficulty to the Immaculate Conception. When a priest prays it, he may want to don the stole and pray it before a blessed image of the Most Holy Virgin. This intercessory consecration is appropriate for the unbinding and healing of situations marked by habitual sin and moral suffering. The Immaculate Virgin Mary is ever-ready to intervene in the lives of her children. She is the Mother of Mercy and the Mediatrix of All Graces. Here is the prayer, first in English, and then in the original French.

Efficacious Consecration of Persons to the Pierced and Immaculate Heart of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary


In the name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most holy Virgin Mary.
-- thou whom the FATHER didst preserve from the first instant of thy conception
from all evil and from the least shadow of sin,
-- thou whom the Precious Blood of JESUS didst render immaculate and all-beautiful, even before that same Blood was formed in thy virginal womb and poured out upon the altar of the Cross,
-- thou whom the HOLY GHOST didst fill full with every grace in view of the glorious motherhood of the Son of God for which thou wast created,
-- thou art she who crusheth the head of the ancient serpent,
thou art she who alone overcometh the evil that is in us and around us.

To thee, O Mary,
thy Son hath entrusted the liberation of souls enchained by sin,
the healing of wounded souls,
and the sanctification of souls who have suffered evil's worst ravages.

Thou hast only to open thy immaculate hands over them,
and they are shot through with the rays of thy purity.
Through thee, entereth the light to shine in the darkest places.
Through thee, souls are washed in a downpour of graces.
Through thee, the Holy Spirit succoureth the weakest souls
and giveth to the sterile a wonderful fecundity.

Thou, O Mary, art the only hope of thy children scarred by sin
and poisoned by its venom.
To those whom the enemy hath made to go astray in bitterness and in fear,
thou openest the path of life and of beatitude.

This is why, impelled today by the boldness that cometh of the Holy Ghost,
and by a confidence that is altogether that of a son,
[and when the consecration is made by a priest:
and in virtue of my priesthood,]
I entrust to thee N. and N.,
in consecrating them to thy pierced and immaculate Heart.

Show thyself the Mother of mercy.
Show thyself our all-powerful Queen,
for there is nothing that resisteth thy supplication
in the presence of Jesus, the King of Love.

Mediatrix of all graces,
save these souls from the tentacles of evil.
Heal them, even in those secret and painful wounds,
that only thy most gentle motherly hand can touch
without adding to their pain.

From this moment on,
these souls are consecrated entirely to thee.
Do thou for them whatsoever thy maternal Heart will suggest to thee.
Purify them in the Precious Blood of thy Jesus, the Lamb without stain,
so that now, and even unto the ages of ages,
they may live for the praise of the glory
of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Into the Garden of the Rosary

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Telling One's Beads Over Saint Luke's Gospel

I have always thought the Rosary a particularly Lukan prayer. So many of the mysteries are drawn from Saint Luke's Gospel. It is Saint Luke who gives us the Gospel of the Holy Spirit; the Gospel of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary; the Gospel of the liturgical canticles sung by the Church at sunrise, eventide, and nightfall; the Gospel of the Angels; the Gospel of mercy.

The Face of Christ

But there is more. According to tradition, Saint Luke was an iconographer. I very much like this painting of Luke painting! He seems to have just completed his image of the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ. An Angel looks on approvingly. Could it be Saint Gabriel, the Archangel who figures so prominently in the first chapters of Saint Luke's Gospel? The Evangelist is showing us his painting and inviting us to contemplate the Mother and the Child. The Rosary is just that: a contemplation of the Face of Christ and of the Mother who presents Him to the eyes of the soul.

Veni, veni de Libano

The Rosary, like the Psalter it parallels, grows with the one who prays it. It is like the manna in the desert that accommodated itself to the taste of each one. There are seasons in each man's life with God, and the garden of the Rosary changes with these seasons. The Rosary is especially valuable in times of dryness; it becomes a way of inviting Our Blessed Lady into one's desert. When Mary comes into the dry and weary land of our soulscapes, she irrigates it with the grace of her presence, causing it to blossom like the rose.

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Feast of the Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Yesterday, October 11th, was in 1962, as the Holy Father notes in his discourse, the feast of the Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast graced with a lovely set of antiphons for the Hours. Blessed John XXIII chose to open the Second Vatican Council on this Marian feast, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1931, on the occasion of the 15th centenary of the Council Ephesus, which, in 431, proclaimed the Virgin Mary Theotokos.

Happily, a number of traditional Benedictine calendars conserve the possibility of commemorating the feast, and of celebrating the Mass proper to it, Ecce Virgo concipiet. We availed ourselves of the opportunity, and so were delighted to read the following address of the Holy Father to the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East.

The Maternal Heart of Our Lady

Dear brothers and sisters,

On October 11 1962, 48 years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. At the time, on October 11, the feast day of the Divine Motherhood of Mary was celebrated and, with this gesture, with this date, Pope John wished to entrust the whole Council into the motherly hands and maternal heart of the Madonna. We too begin on October 11th, we too wish to entrust this Synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Madonna, the Mother of God.

Council of Ephesus

Pius XI, in 1930, introduced this feast day, 1600 years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated, for Mary, the title of Theotokos, Dei Genitrix. With this great word Dei Genitrix, Theotokos, the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine of Christ, of Mary, the whole of the doctrine of redemption. So it would be worthwhile to reflect briefly, for a moment, on what was said during the Council of Ephesus, on what this day means.

Through Mary: Within the Intimacy of God Himself

In reality, Theotokos is a courageous title. A woman is the Mother of God. One could say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human being be the Mother of God, of the Eternal, since we are all in time, we are all creatures? Therefore one can understand that there was some strong opposition, in part, to this term. The Nestorians used to say: one can speak about Christotokos, yes, but Theotokos no: Theos, God, is beyond, beyond the events of history. But the Council decided this, and thus it enlightened the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us. God did not remain in Himself: he went out, He united in such a way, so radically to this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and if we speak about Him, we can also speak about God. Not only was a man born that had something to do with God, but in Him was born God on earth. God came from himself. But we could also say the opposite: God drew us to Himself, so that we are not outside of God, but we are within the intimate, the intimacy of God Himself.

God Born From Woman

Aristotelian philosophy, as we well know, tells us that between God and man there is only an unreciprocated relationship. Man refers to God, but God, the Eternal, is in Himself, He does not change: He cannot have this relation today and another relationship tomorrow. He is within Himself, He does not have ad extra relations. It is a very logical term, but it is also a word that makes us despair: so God has no relationship with me. With the incarnation, with the event of the Theotokos, this has been radically changed, because God drew us into Himself and God in Himself is the relationship and allows us to participate in His interior relationship. Thus we are in His being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are within His being in relationship, we are in relationship with Him and He truly created the relationship with us. At that moment, God wished to be born from woman and remain Himself: this is the great event. And thus we can understand the depth of the act by Pope John, who entrusted the Council, Synodal Assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into Himself, and thus all of us with Her.

Christ Born to Create a Body for Himself

The Council began with the icon of the Theotokos. At the end, Pope Paul VI recognized the same title of Mater Ecclesiae to the Madonna. And these two icons, which begin and end the Council, are intrinsically linked, and are, in the end, one single icon. Because Christ was not born like any other individual. He was born to create a body for Himself: He was born - as John says in Chapter 12 of his Gospel - to attract all to Him and in Him. He was born - as it says in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians - to summarize the whole world, He was born as the firstborn of many brothers, He was born to unite the cosmos in Him, so that He is the Head of a great Body. Where Christ is born, the movement of summation begins, the moment of the calling begins, of construction of his Body, of the Holy Church. The Mother of Theos, the Mother of God, is the Mother of the Church, because she is the Mother of He who came to unite all in His resurrected Body.

Our Lady of the Cenacle: Mary at the Heart of the Church

Saint Luke leads us to understand this in the parallel between the first chapter of his book and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two different levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and thus she gives birth to and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of Jesus' disciples who are praying all together, pleading with the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And thus from the believing Church, with Mary at its heart, is born the Church, the Body of Christ. This dual birth is the only birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and all of us.

Cross and Resurrection

Birth in Bethlehem, birth at the Last Supper. Birth of the Infant Jesus, birth of the Body of Christ, of the Church. These are two events or just one event. But between the two lie truly the Cross and the Resurrection. And only through the Cross comes the path towards the totality of Christ, towards His resurrected Body, towards the universalization of His being in the unity of the Church. And thus, bearing in mind that only from the wheat fallen to earth can a great harvest be reaped, from the Lord pierced on the Cross comes the universality of His disciples reunited in this His Body, dead and risen.

Mother of the Church and Queen of Martyrs

Keeping this connection between Theotokos and Mater Ecclesiae in mind, we turn our attention to the last book of the Holy Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, we can find this synthesis. The woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars over her head and the moon at her feet, gives birth. And gives birth with a cry of pain, gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always reborn in all generations and thus takes on, gathers humanity within Himself. And this cosmic birth is achieved in the cry of the Cross, in the suffering of the Passion. And the blood of martyrs belongs to this cry of the Cross.

The Fall of the Divinities

So, at this moment, we can look at the second psalm of this Hour, Psalm 81, where we can see part of this process. God is among gods - they are still considered as gods in Israel. In this Psalm, in a great concentration, in a prophetic vision, we can see the power taken from the gods. Those who seemed to be gods are not gods and lose their divine characteristics, and fall to earth. Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine (cf. Psalm 81:6-7): the wresting of power, the fall of the divinities.

The Triumph of the Martyred Children of Mother Church

This process that is achieved along the path of faith of Israel, and which here is summarized in one vision, is the true process of the history of religion: the fall of the gods. And thus the transformation of the world, the knowledge of the true God, the loss of power by the forces that dominate the world, is a process of suffering. In the history of Israel we can see how this liberation from polytheism, this recognition - "Only He is God" - is achieved with great pain, beginning with the path of Abraham, the exile, the Maccabeans, up to Christ. And this process of loss of power continues throughout history, spoken of in Revelation chapter 12; it mentions the fall of the angels, which are not truly angels, they are not divinities on earth. And is achieved truly, right at the time of the rising Church, where we can see how the blood of the martyrs takes the power away from the divinities, starting with the divine emperor, from all these divinities. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that makes them fall and thus transforms the world.

False Divinities in the World

This fall is not only the knowledge that they are not God; it is the process of transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses of Christ. And, if we look closely, we can see that this process never ends. It is achieved in various periods of history in ever new ways; even today, at this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the fall of the gods, with pain, the martyrdom of witnesses. Let us remember all the great powers of today's history, let us remember the anonymous capital that enslaves man, which is no longer in man's possession, but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power, that threatens the world. And then the power of the terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a voracious beast, extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but it is a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

The Marian Mystery

These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities. And in the pain of the Saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church which we are a part of, these divinities must fall, what is said in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians must be done: the dominations, the powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ. On this battle we find ourselves in, of this taking power away from God, of this fall of false gods, that fall because they are not deities, but powers that can destroy the world, chapter 12 of the Apocalypse mentions these, even if with a mysterious image, for which, I believe, there are many different and beautiful interpretations. It has been said that the dragon places a large river of water before the fleeing woman to overcome her. And it would seem inevitable that the woman will drown in this river. But the good earth absorbs this river and it cannot be harmful. I think that the river is easily interpreted: these are the currents that dominate all and wish to make faith in the Church disappear, the Church that does not have a place anymore in front of the force of these currents that impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple at heart, that does not allow itself to be overcome by these rivers and saves the Mother and saves the Son. This is why the Psalm says - the first psalm of the Hour - the faith of the simple at heart is the true wisdom (cf Psalm 118:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, that does not allow itself to be swamped by the waters, is the force of the Church. And we have returned to the Marian mystery.

The Unshaken Foundations of Faith

And there is also a final word in Psalm 81, movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae (Psalm 81:5), the foundations of earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are shaken, how they are threatened by our behavior. The external foundations are shaken because the internal foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that follows the right way of living. And we know that faith is the foundation, and, undoubtedly, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if they remain close to the faith, to true wisdom.

Entrustment to the Mother of God

And then the Psalm says: "Arise, God, judge the world" (Psalm 81:8). Thus we also say to the Lord: "Arise at this moment, take the world in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth". And we once again entrust ourselves to the Mother of God, to Mary, and pray: "You, the great believer, you who have opened the earth to the heavens, help us, open the doors today as well, that truth might win, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world". Amen

O Rosario benedetto di Maria

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Prayer at Noon

For Catholics in Italy and throughout the world, today, Sunday, 3 October 2010, marks the return of an appointment with the Supplica, the passionate supplication to the Madonna of the Rosary, born in the heart of Blessed Bartolo Longo. This year the Supplica -- always prayed at noon on the first Sunday of October -- falls on the liturgical memorial of Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion. After his election as Abbot of Maredsous (Belgium) in 1909, Blessed Columba chose to receive the Abbatial Blessing on the first Sunday of October, 3 October, because in 1909 it was the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Rosary.

127th Anniversary of the Supplica

Blessed Bartolo Long wrote his inspired petition to the Queen of the Holy Rosary 127 years ago, in 1883. The lengthy supplication has lost nothing of its power to soften even the most hardened hearts; it continues to obtain graces in abundance from the hands of the Madonna of the Rosary. It is a prayer for all peoples and for universal peace, a prayer for the whole Church: for the Holy Father and the bishops, for priests, deacons, and the lay faithful of every state in life, with their special intentions, their burdens, and their hopes.

The Supplica is, of all Blessed Bartolo Longo's published prayers to the Mother of God, the most famous. Its incandescent words have opened countless souls to the merciful love of Christ through the all-powerful intercession of His Mother.

The Supplica is a prayer that people have made their own. It is known on every continent; it has been translated into hundreds of languages. No authority ever imposed it, it is not part of the liturgy of the Church, it was never submitted to revision by ICEL, and yet, it has become universal. Sociologists of religion, take note! Translators of liturgical texts, wake up and smell the Neapolitan coffee!

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A Prayer of the Heart

Certain rationalistic types sniff with disdain at the Supplica. They see it as representative of an unenlightened, sentimental, southern Italian piety bordering on superstition. They find its emphases embarrassing, its display of emotion unnerving.

Rich in Sentiment

The literary style of Blessed Bartolo Longo is the expression of his own character. He was capable of gentleness and of passion. He was, like all meridionals, rich in sentiment and quick to express it both in song and in tears. He was moved, before all else, by the reason of the heart.

The Discovery of Truth Through Love

Blessed Bartolo Longo, a Dominican Tertiary, was a lover of Truth; but his particular grace was the discovery of Truth through love. He found Truth, not in syllogisms and in concepts, but in the Heart and on the Face of the Word Made Flesh in the womb of the Virgin, and held in her arms.

The Prayer of One Delivered From Evil

The Rosary was the means by which, at the age of twenty-eight, a confused and desperate Avvocato Bartolo Longo -- a practicing Satanist and medium at the time -- was converted to the Truth and delivered from the powers of darkness. He vowed that he would spend his life proclaiming to others the Rosary's liberating and healing power. This is why, at the end of the Supplica, he exclaims: "O blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we shall never abandon you."

Bound to Mary by the Rosary

Even pious folks may find the Supplica a bit too baroque, a bit overdone. It may be the Borboni southern Italian blood (mixed with Irish) that runs hot in my veins, but I love the Supplica and I plan on saying it with thousands of other people today. It is the prayer of a man very like myself: a poor sinner who fears nothing when he holds the Rosary in his hands, knowing that the Mother of God holds her end of the chain, and will not let it go.

Here is the text:

Spiritual Mothers of Priests in Tulsa

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Spiritual Mothers: The Second Group

Last evening in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family, on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows, His Excellency, Bishop Edward J. Slattery, received the oblation of ten new Spiritual Mothers of Priests, and conferred upon them the distinctive medal that represents this oblation. His Excellency invited me to preach the homily. Here is my text:

At the Crossroads of Three Mysteries

"O the depth of the riches
and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
'For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been His counselor?'" (Rom 11:33-34).
"None of the rulers of this age understood this;
for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8).

We find ourselves this evening, my dear sisters,
at the crossroads of three mysteries,
or rather, at the heart of the One Mystery,
indivisible, and yet too rich to be taken in all at once.

I. The Immaculate Conception

When His Excellency, Bishop Slattery,
first asked me to present the vocation of spiritual motherhood of priests
to women of the Diocese of Tulsa,
we chose to do it here, in this our cathedral,
on December 7th, 2008:
the vigil of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And so, the spiritual motherhood of priests in the Diocese of Tulsa
received, at its inception, at its conception, if you will,
the imprint of that mystery of dazzling purity and fullness of grace
that is the Immaculate Conception.

Immaculate in the Mind of God

Mary was conceived immaculate in the mind of God
before she was conceived immaculate
in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne.
Spotless, all-lovely, and full of grace from the first instant of her life:
thus was Mary envisioned by God from all eternity,
for only a woman spotless, all-lovely, and full of grace
could be a fit mother for the Son of God,
once come the fullness of time. (Gal 4:4)
A Vocation Originates in Eternity

If a vocation -- any vocation -- is a call from God,
that vocation originates in eternity:
in that moment, outside of every moment,
wherein God takes counsel with Himself,
wills what He has conceived in wisdom and in love,
and decrees what He has willed.

Your vocation to the spiritual motherhood of priests
is not, then, an initiative of yours with its origin in time;
it is a divine initiative, with its origin in eternity.
There was never a moment when God did not see you here,
in this Cathedral of the Holy Family,
at this hour,
ready to offer your hearts, your lives, your very selves
for the sanctification of His priests.

In this, your vocation to the spiritual motherhood of priests
bears a mysterious likeness to the vocation of the Immaculate One,
destined, from before the dawn of time,
to become the all-holy Mother of an Eternal High Priest
and the spotless Mother of a spotless Victim.

II. The Annunciation

When, after a time of gestation and preparation,
the first group of women knew that the hour had come
for their "Yes" to pass from their hearts to their lips
-- and this in the presence of our Bishop,
and before the altar that is first among all the altars of this Diocese--
we chose to do it on March 25th,
the Annunciation of the Lord.
And so, the spiritual motherhood of priests in the Diocese of Tulsa,
received, when first it became a public, ecclesial reality blessed by our Bishop,
the imprint of that mystery of ineffable joy
that is the Annunciation of the Lord,
and His Incarnation as Priest and Victim
in the sanctuary of her virginal womb.

Mary's "Yes" to the message of the Archangel
was an act of utter and unconditional surrender
to the Mystery of her Son's Victimal Priesthood,
to the Mystery in its cruciform "breadth and length
and height and depth" (cf. Eph 3:18),
and in "the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:19).

Fruit of Her Womb, Fruit of the Tree

This is the crucifying and glorious knowledge
of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8)
by which one is "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:19).
This is the awareness that, like a sword, pierced the heart of the Virgin Mother,
"standing by the cross of Jesus" (Jn 19:25).
Even she watched Him in the painful spasms of death,
she remembered His first stirrings in her womb,
and somehow sensed obscurely,
"as in a mirror dimly" (1 Cor 13:12),
that He would stir again beneath the shroud.
But first, she she had to see the fruit of her womb
become the fruit of the Tree.

Thirty-three years had passed;
it seemed to her like yesterday.
"Sent by God" (Lk 1:26), that bright, majestic, creature had come to her,
--exquisitely courteous he was, and awful and lovely all at once --
and his greeting still astonished her:
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women" (Lk 1:28).
She remembered the shock of it,
and how she had "considered in her mind
what sort of greeting this might be" (Lk 1:29).
Now his voice came to her again, and how she needed to hear it,
to lean on it, to steady herself against it, to cling to it
even as Abraham, "in hope believing against hope" (Rom 4:18),
had clung to the wild promises made by God to him:
"Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God" (Lk 1:30).

Her Sword-Pierced Soul

To see what she was seeing --
her Child stretched naked on the wood,
His hands and feet pierced,
His whole body bloodied,
His sweet face beneath a cruel crown of thorns --
to see this and yet believe in the word of the Angel
was to feel the two-edged sword's sharp blade
"piercing to the division of soul and spirit,
of joints and marrow" (Heb 4:12).
Could this be what Simeon meant:
"And your own soul a sword shall pierce" (Lk 2:35)?

The Name of Jesus

The Angel had said more:
"And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb,
and shalt bring forth a son;
and thou shalt call His name Jesus" (Lk 1:31).
This too she remembered, and lifting her eyes, she read "the inscription over Him
in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew" (Lk 23:38):
"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (Jn 19:19).
For a moment she thought of her Joseph
she still missed him so -- her friend, her comforter, her rock --
and she remembered what the Angel had said to him as well:
"You shall call His name Jesus,
for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21).

The Cross, His Throne

"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father;
and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.
And of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Lk 1:32-33).
Tell me, O Gabriel, is this bitter abjection His greatness?
Is this cross of execution His throne?
Is this defeat the inauguration of His kingdom?

Dismas and the Kingdom

Just then the thief crucified beside Him spoke,
as if in answer to her torment:
"'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
And Jesus said to him: 'Amen I say to you,
this day you shall be with me in paradise'" (Lk 23:42-43).

For an instant, she turned from the face of her Jesus
to the face of the thief,
and she felt herself a mother to him.
"For those whom God foreknew
He also predestined to be conformed to the image of her Son,
in order that He might be the first-born among many brethren" (cf, Rom 8:29).

Behold Thy Son

With that, her Jesus spoke,
His gentleness like the breeze in the cool of the day,
His authority undiminished by the scourging, the mockery, and the taunts.
Seeing "His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near,
He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold thy son!'
Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold thy mother!'" (Jn 19:25).

This was a new Annunciation, the second one:
the first, thirty-three years ago by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel;
this second one by the mouth of her Son,
lifted up with bloodied arms spread wide in place of shining wings.
Then, as now and forever, "no word shall be impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).

The Handmaid of the Lord

"Woman, behold your son!" (Jn 19:25).
To this Mary had no answer
apart from the one she had given the Angel then:
"Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
She was to be mother, mother again and again.
mother to John, to Peter and Paul,
Andrew and James,
Philip, Bartholomew, and Matthew,
Simon and Jude,
mother to "the coming generation" of priests,
mother to "a people [of priests] yet unborn" (Ps 21:30-31).
Mother of Priests until the end of history
and Mother of Priests forever in the glory of the Kingdom.

III. Mother of Sorrows

When we were faced with finding a date
for the public, ecclesial oblation
of you, the second group of Spiritual Mothers of Priests in our diocese,
our choice fell upon September 15th, 2010,
the feast of the Mother of Sorrows at the foot of the Cross.
And so, the Spiritual Motherhood of priests in the Diocese of Tulsa,
receives this evening the imprint of a motherhood
at once sorrowful and compassionate,
a motherhood of tears and of blood,
a motherhood made prodigiously fruitful
by the Mystery of the Cross.

Sons of Her Sorrowful Heart

"Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished,
that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: 'I thirst'" (Jn 19:28)
and Mary knew in herself the torment that is the thirst of God
and tasted in her mouth the bitter vinegar,
and knew too that this new motherhood was given her
in this new annunciation
to quench the thirst of God with the sons of her sorrowful heart:
with holy priests, adorers "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23).

It Is Consummated

And as she recalled how at Nazareth the Holy Spirit had come upon her
and the power of Most High had overshadowed her (cf. Lk 1:35),
He said, "It is consummated,' and bowing His head,
He gave up His spirit" (Jn 19:30).
She lifted her face to receive the breath of His mouth,
and remembered that the Angel too,
having accomplished that for which he was sent from God, left her,
leaving God in her womb.
"And the angel departed from her" (Lk 1:38).

Descent from the Cross

Afterwards they took His body down from the cross.
Strange that another Joseph should be there helping.
A strong and tender man.
And she remembered her Joseph, also strong and tender,
lifting that tiny newborn body in his calloused hands
to place it in the manger. And she wept.

They placed His lifeless body in her arms.
He seemed so tired, so spent, so in need of His Sabbath rest.
Bits of a lullaby she used to sing to Him went through her mind.
"Sleep, my Yeshua, sleep.
Sleep my Yeshua, sleep until you wake."
She remembered something He had said:
"I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also" (Jn 14:3).
And she repeated something He had prayed:
"Father, glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may glorify Thee" (Jn 17:1).

They placed Him in the chill of the tomb.
And the stone was rolled across the entrance,
sealing her heart there inside with His body.

With Saint John

To John she said:
"Come, son, take me home.
'He has torn, that He may heal us;
He has stricken, and He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
and on the third day He will raise us up,
that we may live before Him' (Hos 6:1-2)."
And John, saying nothing, looked into her eyes,
just as Jesus had earlier in the day,
and like Jesus, he believed her.

IV. Three Facets of the One Mystery

The history of the Spiritual Motherhood of Priests in our diocese,
is, then, in some way, indelibly marked by
the Immaculate Conception,
the Annunciation,
and Sorrowful Compassion at the Foot of the Cross:
three facets of the one Mystery
that contains, and ever renews
the Sacrifice of the Cross,
the maternal co-redemption of Mary,
and the victimal priesthood
for the life of a Church that can never grow old.

Her Yes and Yours

And so, my dear sisters,
if you would know what it is to be the spiritual mother of priest,
look now into Mary's eyes,
draw near to her maternal Heart,
and receive from her lips,
the "Yes" that, this very evening,
she rejoices to hear repeated on yours.

The Most Holy Name of Mary

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Victory in the Name of Mary

In 1683 Pope Innocent XI extended the existing Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the universal Church to thank Our Lady for the victory of John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the forces of militant Islam. On September 11th, 1683, Muslim Turks attacked Vienna, threatening the Christian West. The next day, Sobieski, invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary and placing his forces under her protection, emerged victorious. Pope John Paul II restored the feast of the Holy Name of Mary with the publication of the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal in 2002, one year after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

The Invocation of the Name of Mary

The Holy Mother of God is no stranger to the struggles of her children in this valley of tears. She is attentive to every situation that threatens this world of ours, to every assault against the Church and, when we invoke her Holy Name, she is quick to intervene. When it comes to calling upon the Name of Mary, there is no struggle too global and too enormous, and no struggle too personal or too little. In the Bible, the name wields a mysterious power. Names are not to be pronounced casually or lightly. Names are not to be taken in vain. The invocation of the name renders present the one who is named. So often as you pronounce the sweet Name of Mary with devotion and confidence, Mary is present to you, ready to help. So often as you pronounce the sweet Name of Mary, you have her full and undivided attention.

As Oil Poured Out

The saints, drawing on a verse from the Song of Songs, compare the Name of Mary to a healing oil. "Thy Name is as oil poured out" (Ct 1:2). Oil heals the sick, gives off a sweet fragrance, and nourishes fire. In the same way the Name of Mary is like a balm on the wounds of the soul; there is no disease of the soul, however malignant, that does not yield to the power of the Name of Mary. The sound of Mary's Name causes joy to spring up; the repetition of Mary's Name warms the heart. If you would touch the Heart of the Father, pronounce the Name of Jesus; if you would touch the Heart of Jesus, pronounce the Name of Mary.

Monastic Devotion

Cistercians, Carthusians, Olivetan, Silvestrine Benedictines, and some others give to each and every monk and nun the sweet Name of Mary, as a sign of mystical identification with her, a pledge of entrustment to her, and a seal and safeguard of the monastic consecration. How precious this custom is! Every time a brother is named, the protection of Mary is claimed over him, and the presence of Mary envelops him.

Of Mary Never Enough

The sophisticated and clever of the world, high and dry in their rationalism, smiled condescendingly at this naive practice of devotion. Not a few reformers of 1968 judged it outdated and superfluous and, in seeking to make it optional, thought themselves wiser than their forbears. But the saints, I tell you, think otherwise. The saints understand the power of the Name of Mary. They understand that he or she who bears the Holy Name of Mary carries a shield against the poisonous darts of the enemy. Even whispered, the Name of Mary rejoices heaven and causes demons to tremble. For the saints there can never be too much of Mary. De Maria numquam satis. Of Mary, never enough! I cannot help but think that the suppression of the Name of Mary in so many monasteries and Congregations was a thorn in her maternal Heart.

Saint Bernard

No one has spoken more eloquently of the Holy Name of Mary than Saint Bernard. At the end of his memorable discourse at the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz on 9 September 2007, the Holy Father quoted Saint Bernard's sermon on the Name of Mary. Allow his words to plant deep within your hearts the gift of an abiding devotion to Mary's sweet Name:

Let us say a few words about this Name
which means "Star of the Sea"
and is so appropriate to the Virgin Mother.

She -- I tell you -- is that splendid and wondrous star
suspended as if by necessity over this great wide sea,
radiant with merit and brilliant in example.

O you, whoever you are,
who feel that in the tidal wave of this world
you are nearer to being tossed about among the squalls and gales
than treading on dry land:
if you do not want to founder in the tempest,
do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star.

When the wind of temptation blows up within you,
when you strike upon the rock of tribulation,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.

Whether you are being tossed about
by the waves of pride or ambition,
or slander or jealousy,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.

When rage or greed or fleshly desires
are battering the skiff of your soul,
gaze up at Mary.

When the immensity of your sins weighs you down
and you are bewildered by the loathsomeness of your conscience,
when the terrifying thought of judgment appalls you
and you begin to founder in the gulf of sadness and despair,
think of Mary.

In dangers, in hardships, in every doubt,
think of Mary, call out to Mary.
Keep her in your mouth,
keep her in your heart.

Follow the example of her life,
and you will obtain the favour of her prayer.

Following her, you will never go astray.
Asking her help, you will never despair.
Keeping her in your thoughts, you will never wander away.

With your hand in hers, you will never stumble.
With her protecting you, you will not be afraid.
With her leading you, you will never tire.

Her kindness will see you through to the end.
Then you will know by your own experience
how true it is that the Virgin's Name was Mary.

Prayer for the Conversion of England

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The forthcoming Apostolic Visit of Our Holy Father to the United Kingdom invites us to pray boldly for the conversion of England: the return of Mary's Dowry to obedience to Peter. I cannot help but think of all those souls, beginning with the English Martyrs, who suffered and prayed for this intention: Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God Barbieri, C.P., Venerable Father Ignatius of Saint Paul Spencer, C.P., Mother Mary of Saint Peter (Adèle) Garnier of Tyburn, Father Benedict Williamson, O.SS.S., Mother Mary Potter, and so many others.


O BLESSED VIRGIN MARY,
Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother,
look down in mercy upon England thy "Dowry"
and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee.
By thee it was that Jesus our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world;
and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more.
Plead for us thy children,
whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross,
O sorrowful Mother.
Intercede for our separated brethren,
that with us in the one true fold
they may be united to the supreme Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.
Pray for us all, dear Mother,
that by faith fruitful in good works
we may all deserve to see and praise God,
together with thee, in our heavenly home. Amen.

Nicholas Patrick Stephen Cardinal Wiseman (1802-1865)

Will you pray with us?

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Novena to Our Lady of Knock
August 13 -- 21, 2010


Immaculate Virgin Mary,
Our Lady of Knock,
Queen of the Cenacle,
and Mother of all who unite themselves
to your Immaculate Heart
in a prayer that is persevering and full of confidence,
look graciously upon the beginnings of this monastery
dedicated to you,
and set apart for the adoration of your Divine Son,
hidden in the Sacrament of His Love.

Intercede for those whom you have chosen
to live in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and to abide close to His Open Heart
together with you and with Saint John the Beloved Disciple.
Let nothing discourage them
as, day by day, they seek the Face of your Son,
and through Him offer themselves to the Father,
by the grace of the Holy Spirit,
for the healing and sanctification of priests.

Keep them humble and joyful in fidelity to the wisdom of Saint Benedict
and to the teachings of his Holy Rule.
Fill their dwelling with the sweet fragrance of your virginizing presence
so that all who enter there
may experience the happiness of the pure in heart
and the joy of those whose sins have been blotted out
in the Blood of the Lamb.

Be to them a Mother of Perpetual Help,
ready at every moment to assist them in their needs,
both spiritual and material,
so that with you,
we may magnify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Whose mercy is from age to age on those who fear Him,
and Who, even in our day, does wonders for His lowly servants. Amen.

Three Hail Marys.

Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Cenacle, pray for us.
Mediatrix of all graces, pray for us.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Blessed Columba Marmion, pray for us.

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A Birthday

Today is Brother Thomas Mary's 23rd birthday, his first in the monastery.

A Word from Today's Saint

Saint Lorenzo da Brindisi (1559-1619), Doctor of the Church, whose feast we celebrate today, wrote this lovely Marian sermon on Saint John the Apostle. A great advocate of the poor of Naples, Saint Lorenzo died while en route to the King of Spain to plead their cause.

The Consolation of Saint John

I. When Saint John, the Apostle and Evangelist, the beloved disciple of Christ and after the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos, the singular son of the Cross of Christ, having been relegated to the island of Patmos, suffered many things for the Faith of Christ, he was consoled in the same place by God with many celestial and divine revelations. For, as that Apostle says: As there has abounded in us the sufferings of Christ, so also through Christ abound our consolations, for, according to the number of my sorrows in my heart, Thy consolations have made my soul rejoice.

Rapt Unto God

With singular effort Saint John, who had rested upon the breast of the Lord during the Last Supper, and had chosen the best part, as Mary had done, which would not be taken from him, had always been intent, after the Ascension of Christ the Lord into Heaven, upon divine contemplations, but in the time of tribulation he used to employ himself more vehemently with divine things; for this was the custom of the Saints. Wherefore, since Saint John at that time «enkindled by a more ardent flame, was rapt unto God, and driven above by certain, seraphic ardors, he began also to be filled from above more abundantly than usual and much more copiously with the sweetness of divine contemplation, and to feel more richly the gifts of heavenly inpourings.

Because Jesus Loved Him

Wherefore, just as God the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in our every tribulation had consoled him, just as once He did to Jacob, the Patriarch, with the vision of the heavenly staircase, to Moses with the divine apparition in the burning bush, to the three youths in the fiery furnace with angelic consolation and heavenly refreshment, and just as He did to Saint Paul, for the sake of consolation, snatching him up to the third heaven, unto Paradise itself, in an ineffable manner with the vision of celestial glory; so had He consoled Saint John in many ways. Often, with heaven unbolted, He showed him, just as He had done to Saint Stephen, the glory of Paradise, the glory of Christ, the glory of God. Often He rendered him glad with the vision and locution of the Angels, and steeped him in great joy. Often from the sublimity of the heavens, the most sweet Savior appeared to him. Often he was deigned even with the vision of the glory of the Father. O happy Saint John, thrice and four times blessed, with the gift of divine charity! Because Jesus loved him.

Love of the Mother of God

II. One thing could have been lacking to Saint John. He loved above all things Christ, with all his affection, truly from his spirit, with his whole innermost being, just the most loving bridegroom is loved by his most beloved bride. On this account, he was steeped in such great joy by the vision of Christ. But who does not know, that he was also devoted to the Virgin Theotokos, the Most Holy Mother of God, with a most high piety, that he pursued her with a most high charity as one does a most sweet and loving mother? For he knew that he was loved similarly by her as her dearest son after Christ. For even to His Mother Christ had said of Saint John: Behold Thy son! and to Saint John of His Mother: Behold thy Mother! and he accepted her, said he, the disciple, into his own, that is he accepted her among his own.

Mary, His Treasure

What, I ask, did Saint John have of his own in the world, he who, to follow Christ, had forsaken all things, father and mother, indeed even his own life? In what manner did he accept the Virgin, Mother of Christ, among his own, who having left all things, possessed nothing of his own? How ever does one show one's feelings? He accepted her as the thing most dear to him beyond measure, as riches inestimable, as a treasure infinite. He esteemed Her his own treasure, all his riches, all his goods. Thus did Saint John pursue the Virgin Mother, with great, ineffable, inestimable affection.

The Assumption

But for her part, not many years after the Ascension of Christ the Lord into Heaven, Mary had also been assumed by Christ to the heavenly realms, to assist as Queen at the right hand of the Most High Emperor in golden vesture, surrounded with the variety of the heavenly court. For, about in the fifteenth year after Christ had ascended, the Virgin Theotokos was assumed into Heaven. But Saint John lived until the times of Trajan. And since he had been relegated to the Isle of Patmos by Domitian, « that monster of horrendous cruelty », after the Most Holy Virgin was already translated into Paradise, he was left "in this valley of tears" for the utility of the Church, thus by the disposition of Christ.

Consoled by the Glorious Virgin in Heaven

Saint John knowing that the Virgin had been assumed into Heaven and exalted above all the angelic orders to the right hand of Christ, could not not rejoice and exult in spirit. But deprived of the conversation and sweet solace and divine consolation of such and so great a Virgin, he could not not be sad and weep at his lot. Thus his quest for the Virgin was also a thing most familiar to him. And are we to think that she had forgotten Saint John? In what manner could she forget him, whom, accompanying in place of Christ, she was to hold to Her maternal bosom? The chief butler of the Pharaoh forgot the innocent Joseph in prison. In this manner, Mary, least of all, could be forgetful. Wherefore it helps one believe that the Most Holy Virgin would often look upon Saint John from the sublimity of the heavens, and would console him as a most dear mother does her most beloved, and at the same time loving, son.

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Marked by the priestly piety of the school of Bérulle, Pope Saint Pius X was singularly favourable to the invocation of Our Blessed Lady under the title of Virgo Sacerdos. Already in 1875, Blessed Pius IX had manifested his approval of the same title in a letter addressed to Msgr Oswald Van den Berghe, author of Marie et le Sacerdoce. Saint Pius X was pleased when an Italian translation of this work appeared.

When the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus, founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny, asked for permission to invoke the Mother of God, in their chapels, as Maria Virgo Sacerdos, Saint Pius X wishing to extend the devotion to all the faithful, charged Cardinals Vanutelli and Vivès with composing a prayer that would make this Marian title better known. The prayer appeared, indulgenced by Pope Saint Pius X, on 9 May 1906.

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O Mary, Mother of Mercy,
Mother and Daughter of Him who is the Father of mercies
and the God of all consolation (1),
Dispensatrix of all the treasures of thy Son (2),
Minister of God (3),
Mother of Christ, our High Priest,
thou who art both Offerer and Altar together, (4),
Immaculate Temple of the Word of God (5),
Teacher of the Apostles and Disciples of Christ (6),
protect the Supreme Pontiff,
intercede for us and for our priests,
that Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest
may purify our consciences,
and that we may worthily, and with loving devotion,
approach His sacred banquet.

O Immaculate Virgin,
who not only hast given us Christ the heavenly bread
for the forgiveness of sins (7),
but who art thyself a most acceptable sacrifice offered unto God" (8),
and the glory of priests (9),
and who, as thy most blessed servant Saint Antoninius declares,
"without receiving the Sacrament of Order,
wert full of whatsoever in dignity and grace is given by it",
thou art therefore rightly acclaimed as "Sacerdotal Virgin" (10).
Look upon us and upon the priests of thy Son,
save us, purify us, and sanctify us,
that we may receive the ineffable treasures of the Sacraments
in a holy manner
and so deserve to obtain
the eternal salvation of our souls. Amen.

Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
Mother of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Priest, pray for us.
Queen of the Clergy, pray for us.
Mary, Sacerdotal Virgin, pray for us.

[1] Richard of Saint Laurence
[2] Saint Bernardine
[3] Saint Bernard of Busto
[4] Saint Epiphanius
[5] Abbot Ludovicus Blosius
[6] Saint Thomas of Villanova.
[7] Saint Epiphanius
[8] Saint Andrew of Crete
[9] Saint Ephrem
[10] Letter of Blessed Pope Pius IX, 25 August 1873

We grant 300 day of indulgence to one who recites this prayer with piety and devotion.

9 May 1906.
Pius P. P. X.

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The Immaculate Heart of Mary

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Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Jesus, the Son of Mary, gives us in the Sermon on the Mount the key that unlocks for us the mystery of today’s feast. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). There was in Mary Most Holy nothing to keep her from seeing God, nothing between the eyes of her soul and the Face of God. Repeatedly in the last years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II invited us to place ourselves at the school of the Virgin there to learn the contemplation of the Face of Christ. The Face of Christ is seen only with the eyes of the heart.

To Contemplate With Mary the Face of Christ

Eight years ago in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he said: “I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary . . . and an exhortation to contemplate the Face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, His Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the Face of Christ” (RVM, art. 3). He returned to this intuition in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, saying, “In my Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I pointed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our teacher in contemplating Christ’s Face, and among the mysteries of light I included the institution of the Eucharist” (EDE, art. 53).

The Eyes of Your Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Saint Paul brings into a fuller light the meaning of this promise of Jesus when he tells us that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). In the same vein, he prayed for the Christians of the Church at Ephesus: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in all my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, that having the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which He has called you” (Eph 1:16-18).

Incarnation

Mary’s Immaculate Heart, her illumined Heart, her Heart free of every shadow, was created for the contemplation of Christ, the Human Face of God. While He was yet hidden in her womb, the eyes of her heart beheld His Face. After His birth, holding Him against her breast, she gazed at His Face and saw the radiance of the glory of God.

The Father's Will

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This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Pope Benedict XVI's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary. I am writing it from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, where I am preaching a retreat to members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (F.S.S.P.).

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of thy Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and His priests,
consecrate ourselves to thy maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Not My Will, But Thine Be Done

Pope Benedict XVI presents consecration to the maternal Heart of Mary as a means to carrying out faithfully the Father's will. In doing this he echoes the teaching of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, for whom consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary was a simple, straight, and secure way of following Jesus in His obedience to the Father and in the wisdom of the Cross. One who frequents the school of Mary, in the company of a vast company of saints, enters into Virgin's total adhesion to the Will of the Father by repeating after her, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). It is by repeating these words of the Mother, that one is prepared to repeat those of the Son: "Father . . . not my will, but thine be done" (Lk 22:42). It is by entering into dispositions of the maternal Heart of Mary that one becomes capable of expressing in one's own life, and at the hour of one's death, the dispositions of the filial and priestly Heart of Jesus, saying with Him: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Psalms

The life of Our Lord was characterized by a single burning passion: the Father's Will, the Father's plan, the Father's designs, the Father's glory. The priest who desires to participate in this one burning passion of the Heart of Jesus does well to open the psalter as he would the tabernacle, confident of finding therein the bread of a spiritual communion with Our Lord in His obedience to the Father, in His prayer to the Father, in His filial surrender to the Father.

Draw Me After You

I am thinking, in particular of Psalm 118, that long litany in praise of the Law that, in the mouth of Jesus, becomes a litany of obedience to His Father's Will.
One does well, at least from time to time, possibly during a retreat, to pray the entire psalm Beati immaculati in via. One hears the voice of Jesus praying to His Father; one senses the pulsation of His Sacred Heart and the rhythm of His breath. One is compelled to say to him in the words of the Canticle: "Draw me: we will run after you to the odour of your ointments" (Ct 1:4). What ointments are these? The ointments of His Divine Anointing as Son, as Priest, and as King, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost poured out in abundance upon the Head for the sake of all His members and, first of all, for His priests.

The Gospel of Saint John

Again, one might open the Gospel of Saint John to discover from the first page to the last the irrepressible impetus of Our Lord ad Patrem. When He speaks, He speaks to His Father or of His Father. He has no desires apart from those of His Father, no words and no deeds that are not sign and revelation of the Father. "Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing: for what things soever He doth, these the Son also doth in like manner" (Jn 5:19). His very being is an epiphany of the Father. "He that seeth me seeth the Father also" (Jn 14:9). "Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, He doth the works" (Jn 14:10). Freely, the Son enters into His Passion, saying, "But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I: Arise, let us go hence" (Jn 14:31).

To My Father and to Your Father

After His Resurrection, Our Lord continues to speak of His Father. "Go to my brethren," He says to Mary Magdalene, "and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God, and to your God" (Jn 20:17). And in the final verses of the Fourth Gospel, when Jesus speaks to Peter, after eliciting from him a threefold confession of love and attachment, He says to him, "Follow me" (Jn 21:10). I have always understood this, "Follow me," as Our Lord's way of calling Peter after Him, through the Cross, into the glory of the Father. Would this not be the word to which Peter remains attached and to which he would have us attend, "as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 P 1:19)?

United to the Father, With the Son, in the Holy Ghost

In a word the will of the Father is that we should come to Him through the Son, and with the Son be united to Him in the bond of the Holy Ghost. To carry out the Father's will, then, is to do those things -- shown us by the teachings of Our Lord, by the light of the Holy Ghost, and by the example of the Saints -- by which the Father's love for the Son may be in us, and the Father Himself in us, even as He is in the Son, and the Son in Him.

The Chalice Which My Father Hath Given Me

The priest consecrated to the will of the Father has but one response to those who question him on the meaning of his life: "The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink of it" (Jn 18:11).

The Maternal Heart of Mary

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In this segment of my commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, I propose a reflection on the significance of his choice of the term, "maternal Heart."

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

I was surprised and moved to discover that, in referring to the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict XVI chose, from among any number of expressions possible, that of the Maternal Heart. It was a remarkable English woman, the Venerable Mother Mary Potter (1847-1913), who, with energy and perseverance, devoted herself to promoting the title of the "Maternal Heart."

Mother Potter's Marian Mission

At the end of 1874, Mother Potter received the inner certitude that she and the religious Congregation she was to institute (The Little Company of Mary) were called to foster devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. "We are chosen," wrote Mother Potter,

. . . to promulgate in God's Church an increase of devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. We must increase our love for Our Lady and her sweet Maternal Heart, which makes us desire to propagate that devotion and to lead as many of God's vast family as we can to love and honour that Heart.

For Mother Potter, the Maternal Heart of Mary was a way of life:

Love that Heart, consecrate yourself to it, and make it your constant endeavour to be actuated by all the holy desires, wishes, and prayers that emanated from it. Let your sufferings, your actions, your words, your whole being renew again, on this earth, the life of Mary. To do this you must study Mary; to study her you must enter her Heart and observe its workings.

Desirous of giving an iconographic expression to the Maternal Heart, Mother Potter directed that an existing statue of the Mother of God should be artistically adapted to this end by adding to it the image of a heart surmounted by the lily of Our Lady's immaculate purity, and pierced by the sword of her sorrowful compassion on Mount Calvary.

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A Title Contested and Vindicated

The suitability of the title was the subject of some controversy, the principal objection being that it was novel, and that the Church had not recognized the Maternal Heart by authorizing its cultus in the liturgy. Opening her first house in Rome on 20 May 1884, Mother Potter succeeded in obtaining the blessing of Pope Leo XIII on its designation as the "Convent of the Maternal Heart of Mary." In 1908, after building the heart-shaped chapel of Calvary Hospital (near the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo) in Rome, Mother Potter was told by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr Carlo Respighi that it could not be dedicated under the title of the "Maternal Heart of Mary," because no such title was in liturgical use. Mother Potter held her ground, and Msgr Respighi was obliged to seek the counsel of the Cardinal Vicar. Shortly thereafter, word reached Mother Potter that Pope Pius X had not only approved of the title "Maternal Heart," but had further directed that a commemoration of the Maternal Heart should be made at every Mass during the octave of the new chapel's dedication.

Consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary

In July 1876, in obedience to Father Edward Selley, a convert from the Church of England, Mother Potter sought in fervent prayer an answer to her desire for a confirmation of her total consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary. After making the Way of the Cross, and asking at each station for an answer to her prayer, Mother Potter received what, to my mind, must be taken as an inner locution on the part of Our Lady:

My child, God, Almighty though He be, after the possession of Himself, cannot give me anything more desirable, more precious, or dearer than souls. This Jesus knew; and at His death, wishing to leave me a measure of His Love, confided the Church in the person of Saint John to my Maternal protection.
Come, then, to me! I am your Mother! An earthly mother can forget her child and lack in pity for it, but your Heavenly Mother will protect you in your day of sorrow. Come, then, to me, and bring to me the Church, which I have borne in my womb from the very time that I bore its Author, Jesus. May the holy vicar of My Son proclaim from his cross that I am the Mother of this Church. May he unite himself with his Master in saying to the nations of the earth, 'Behold your Mother,' and consecrate the Church confided to him, to my Maternal Heart, and I will show myself a Mother.

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Archbishop Kirby Enlisted in the Cause

A letter of Mother Potter, dated 17 September 1891 relates that she entrusted her spiritual director, Archbishop Tobias Kirby (1804-1895), Rector of the Irish College, with a letter to Pope Leo XIII in which she asked the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Five days later -- was it by coincidence? -- Pope Leo XIII addressed the following words to the universal Church in his Encyclical Letter Octobri Mense:

Mary is this glorious intermediary; she is the mighty Mother of the Almighty; but-what is still sweeter - she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. As such God gave her to us. Having chosen her for the Mother of His only begotten Son, He implanted in her a maternal heart that breathes nothing but pardon and love. Such Christ desired she should be, for He consented to be subject to Mary and to obey her as a son a mother. Such He proclaimed her from the cross when he entrusted to her care and love the whole of the race of man in the person of His disciple John. Such, finally, she proves herself by her courage in gathering in the heritage of the enormous labours of her Son, and in accepting the charge of her maternal duties towards us all.
The design of this most dear mercy, realised by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of the Christian age received it with one mind; and even when literature and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is needed that that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary.

Audience With Leo XIII

On 5 July 1896, shortly before leaving Rome to visit her houses in England, Mother Potter was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope spoke to her of the Church's troubles, asking for Mother Potter's prayers and those of her daughters. Then, addressing Mother Potter, the Holy Father asked her if she thought the Church would rise triumphant over her persecutors and emerge from the problems which beset her. Mother Potter answered at once: "Yes, if the Church were consecrated to the Maternal Heart of Mary, she would show herself a Mother." The Holy Father was silent. The Sister translating into Italian for Mother Potter led the Holy Father to believe that she was asking for a liturgical feast in honour of the Maternal Heart. Pope Leo XIII then directed her to make a written petition to this effect and to address it to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This, of course, was not Mother Potter's primary desire. Her intention was to ask the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Nonethless, she was obedient to the Holy Father's directive, and wrote her request to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. She never received a reply. In fact, she later learned, that the matter was never even discussed!

A Determined Woman

Towards the end of her life, Mother Potter intensified her campaign to obtain the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Among her supporters were Cardinal Merry del Val and the Abbots of Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls and of Grottaferrata. Mother Potter went so far as to commission a painting of Pope Pius X offering the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary.

Pope Benedict XVI

The Venerable Mother Mary Potter died in 1913, firm in her conviction that God willed the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary by the Supreme Pontiff. Has her desire been fulfilled? One might pass in review the consecrations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pope Pius XII, the proclamation of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and the many Marian consecrations made by Pope John Paul II. All of this not withstanding, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI's consecration at Fatima of all the priests of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary, very happily fulfills and crowns Mother Potter's mission and desire. In consecrating all priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, Pope Benedict XVI has, in effect, consecrated the entire Church to her Maternal Heart, for wherever and whenever a priest belongs to Mary by virtue of an act of consecration, multitudes of souls around him are drawn to her Maternal Heart.

Consecrated

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I continue today my commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's consecration of priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary (Fatima, 12 May 2010).

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Consecrate Ourselves to Your Maternal Heart

It is highly significant that the Holy Father uses the verb, "to consecrate" in this prayer addressed to Our Lady. The most complete treatment of the theology of Marian consecration is found in Msgr Arthur Burton Calkins' Totus Tuus, John Paul II's Program of Marian Entrustment and Consecration (1992), soon to appear in an enlarged and revised edition. I also recommend Msgr Calkins' chapter on the same subject in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (2007).

Consecrated

It is unfortunate that the verb "to consecrate" and, even more, the adjective "consecrated" has acquired in the minds of some Catholics a peculiarly legalistic or canonical connotation. Some would even argue that the term specifically designates or, at least, suggests the state of one bound by the vows of religion. Such a narrow understanding of the term obscures its rich biblical and mystical content.

Set Apart and Made Over to God

The biblical notion of "consecration" pertains to the state of one sanctified by being set apart and "made over to God" after the manner of a sacrifice upon an altar, a holocaust, or an immolation. The destruction of the victim thus made over to God symbolizes that the act of consecration is irrevocable, final, and permanent. To sacrifice means, in fact, to consecrate or to sanctify. Thus does Our Lord Himself pray in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle:

Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
And for them do I sanctify myself,
that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17-19)

Consecration From Above and From Below

First, Our Lord asks His Father to take the Apostles to Himself, to make them entirely and irrevocably His, even as He, the Eternal Son, belongs to the Father. Only by virtue of this consecration (from above) will the Apostles be made fit for their mission into the world. Then, Our Lord, acting as High Priest, consecrates Himself. This consecration (from below) expresses and seals Our Lord's ascent to the altar of the Cross where, exercising His priesthood, He will offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father as a spotless victim.

Priest-Victims

By sacrificing Himself upon the altar of the Cross, Christ, the Eternal High Priest, opens the way for His Apostles, and the generations of priests who will follow after them, to become, with Him, true victims offered (and offering themselves) from every altar whereupon the Sacrifice of the Cross will be made sacramentally present until the end of time.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice: Source and Summit of Consecration

Clearly, there are two modes of consecration: one, from above, and the other, from below. These two modes correspond, respectively, to the descending and ascending mediation of Christ the Priest described in article 7 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Consecration from above is effected when, in response to the prayer of Christ and of the Church, the Father sends the Holy Ghost upon the oblation set before Him by being placed either literally or symbolically upon the altar. The supreme paradigm of this consecration from above, prefigured in the fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-46) is, of course, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. All other consecrations, and first of all those given ritual form in the liturgical books of the Church, derive from and return to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, their source and summit.

Placed Upon the Altar

Consecration from below is effected when, in obedience to an inspiration of divine grace, a person makes the oblation of all that he is and has by placing himself (symbolically) upon the altar. (See, for example, the rites for monastic profession and oblation described in Chapters 58 and 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict.) This may be an act of personal devotion carried out in a private or even in a para-liturgical setting, or it may be an ecclesial act recognized by the Church and upheld and protected by the appropriate structures set forth in Canon Law.

Saint Augustine

Most helpful is Saint Augustine's definition of sacrifice in Book Ten of The City of God. There, the Doctor of Grace says:

A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God's sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God.

Consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary

What then are we to make of the use of the same verb "to consecrate" in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, in reference to her immaculate and maternal Heart?

The Heart of Mary: An Altar

In consecration from above and in consecration from below, the altar represents both the place whereupon the victim is blessed, accepted, and ratified (cf. The Roman Canon), and the place whereupon the victim offers and immolates himself with the intention of belonging henceforth to God alone in a true and indissoluble union. I would suggest, then, that the immaculate and maternal Heart of Mary is, by way of analogy, both the altar from which God blesses, accepts, and ratifies one's self-offering, and the altar upon which one offers and immolates oneself with the intention of belonging to God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a true and indissoluble union.

Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

No single analogy is perfect, and that of the altar with the maternal and immaculate Heart of Mary is not without limitations. The most obvious of these is that the Heart of Mary is not an altar of cold inert stone, but a real heart of flesh and blood, pulsating with life, a Heart infused with and diffusing Divine Grace. The Blessed Virgin Mary actively receives and takes into her maternal care all who, by placing themselves upon the altar of her Immaculate Heart, consecrate themselves through her to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

This excerpt from the journal of a priest is an invitation to further reflection on the Heart of Mary as the altar of our consecration:

I offered Myself to the Father
from the altar of My Mother's sorrowful and immaculate Heart.
She accepted, consented to bear the full weight of My sacrifice,
to be the very place from which My holocaust of love blazed up.

She, in turn, offered herself with Me to the Father
from the altar of My Sacred Heart.
There she immolated herself,
becoming one victim with Me
for the redemption of the world.
Her offering was set ablaze in My holocaust
by the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, from our two Hearts,
become two altars,
there rose the sweet fragrance of one single offering:
My oblation upon the altar of her Heart,
and her oblation upon the altar of Mine.

This is, in effect,
what is meant when, using another language,
you speak of My Mother as Co-Redemptrix.
Our two Hearts formed but a single holocaust of love
in the Holy Spirit.

She offered Me her Heart
that it might be My altar,
and I offered her My Heart
that it might be hers.

Any soul desiring to be united to My sacrifice
must begin by consecrating herself
on the pure altar of My Mother's immaculate Heart.
This is the secret of union with Me in My Priesthood,
in My victimhood,
and in the one oblation to the Father
of our two Hearts.


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I began this morning a little commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I will have to post it in installments as it emerges from my meditation of the text. Here is the first installment:

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Immaculate Mother

The Holy Father begins by addressing the Virgin Mary in reference to the singular privileges of her Immaculate Conception and her Divine Maternity. Conceived immaculate in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin was, from the first moment of her conception, full of grace, and perfectly prepared for the further gift of Divine Motherhood that would be offered her.

Far from making her indifferent and distant to souls flawed and soiled by both original and actual sin, Our Lady's sinlessness makes her capable of a uniquely pure compassion and of a maternal love that doesn't recoil from intimate spiritual contact with the children of Eve who, in this valley of tears, fall and seek to rise again.

In This Place of Grace

The Holy Father acknowledges that Fatima is a place of grace, that is, a place favoured by God and visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a sacred geography spread over the face of the earth. There is a certain sacramentality of place. It pleases God, and thus pleases the Mother of God, to make of certain precise locations abiding occasions of grace. Clearly, Fatima, is one such place, but there are countless others. Some of these are hidden, humble, and infrequently visited.

Not so very long ago every Catholic Church had an altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God. Some even had a "Lady Chapel," a special space within the larger church graced with an image of the Most Holy Virgin. These local shrines of Our Blessed Lady were, in their own modest and unpretentious way, places of pilgrimage and of grace for people who could never have imagined going to Fatima, Lourdes, Loreto, Guadalupe, Rue du Bac, Jasna Gora, or Knock. How many candles were lighted before Our Lady in humble parish churches? How many furtive visits were made to the foot of her altar? How many tears were shed there? And how many graces and consolations received?

There is a monastic custom dating back to Cluny and even earlier according to which monks would daily make the rounds of the altars in the abbey church, taking special care to tarry before the image of Mary, Queen and Mother of Monks, Refuge of Sinners, and Cause of Our Joy. There are monasteries, even today, where in the pre-dawn darkness before Matins or after Compline, Mary's sons make their way to her image, there to pour out their hearts and to receive her maternal blessing.

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori recommended that the daily visit to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament be completed by a visit to the Madonna Santissima. Children need to be taught, from an early age, to approach the altar (or shrine) of the Blessed Mother in the parish church and to experience it as a place of minor pilgrimage, a sacred destination, a place of grace. Priests do well to give the example of praying before the image of Our Blessed Lady in the parish church. This humble expression of devotion to Mary, still common in my youth, needs to be recovered for the joy and upbuilding of the Church at every level.

Called together by the love of your Son Jesus the Eternal High Priest

Love attracts. Love draws. Love unites. Love calls. The Holy Father acknowledges that the multitude surrounding him at Fatima and, in particular, the bishops and priests who were present, have this in common: they were attracted, drawn, united, and called by Love. The priestly love of Jesus chooses certain men, calls them friends, and unites them to Himself and to one another in His sacrifice: priests made one with The Priest, and victims with The Victim. All whom Jesus the Eternal High Priest draws to His Heart are assumed into His holocaust. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (Jn 12:32). What is true here of "all men" is true, first, of His priests. When a priest is drawn into the mystery of Crucified Love, many souls are drawn there after him; and when a priests resists the drawing of Crucified Love, many souls are held back by his hardness of heart.

We, Sons in the Son and His Priests

The Holy Father's expression is reminiscent, not only of a recurrent theme in the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B., but also of the first published writings of the French mystic, Marie de la Trinité de Mulatier, O.P. (1903-1980). These appeared in 1986 under the title, "Filiation et sacerdoce des chrétiens."

"The world," she writes, "is most opposed to the spirit of priesthood, because it is by the spirit of priesthood that that the spirit of the world will be healed. It is, nonetheless, by the Filial spirit that we must begin, because we go to God only if He draws us to Himself. And the Father first sends forth His Son, before drawing us to Himself. We have no need of the spirit of priesthood to go to the Son, to the Incarnate Word. When we are in contact with the Son, then does the Son give us the priesthood so that, in Him, we may with all that we are, tend towards the Father and be received by Him."

By the gift of Filiation (by adoption) the Father offers Himself to us, precisely as Father. By the gift of participation in the priesthood of Christ, we can offer ourselves to Him in return. The priestly spirit flourishes in souls marked by the filial spirit of confidence, trust, love, and a holy boldness.

Before sharing in the priesthood of Christ, one must share in the grace of His Divine Filiation. While the grace of sonship is unitive, that of priesthood is consecratory. The filial grace and the sacerdotal grace are both perfected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By the former God unites us to Himself as beloved sons to their Father, and by the latter we make an act of oblation consecrating ourselves as victims pleasing to God.

"Priesthood and Filiation," writes Marie de la Trinité "are not rewards, but are pure gifts granted us . . . not for any pre-existing holiness of ours, but for the sake of a potential holiness. . . . Sinners that we are, fully conscious of our guilt, and graced by the goodness of the Father with the gifts of priesthood and of Filiation, we need not wait to be fully purified and restored before making use of these gifts, or before having completed the expiation due to the Holiness and Majesty of the Father."

Do Not Tire of Visiting Us

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Tonight, at least, I have no words to express what I perceive to be the significance of this Act of Consecration in the context of The Year of the Priest. I have nothing but joy, and an immense gratitude to the Holy Father.

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

We are mindful that, without Jesus,
we can do nothing good (cf. Jn 15:5)
and that only through him, with him and in him,
will we be instruments of salvation
for the world.

Bride of the Holy Spirit,
obtain for us the inestimable gift
of transformation in Christ.
Through the same power of the Spirit that
overshadowed you,
making you the Mother of the Saviour,
help us to bring Christ your Son
to birth in ourselves too.
May the Church
be thus renewed by priests who are holy,
priests transfigured by the grace of him
who makes all things new.

Mother of Mercy,
it was your Son Jesus who called us
to become like him:
light of the world and salt of the earth
(cf. Mt 5:13-14).

Help us,
through your powerful intercession,
never to fall short of this sublime vocation,
nor to give way to our selfishness,
to the allurements of the world
and to the wiles of the Evil One.

Preserve us with your purity,
guard us with your humility
and enfold us with your maternal love
that is reflected in so many souls
consecrated to you,
who have become for us
true spiritual mothers.

Mother of the Church,
we priests want to be pastors
who do not feed themselves
but rather give themselves to God for their brethren,
finding their happiness in this.
Not only with words, but with our lives,
we want to repeat humbly,
day after day,
Our "here I am".

Guided by you,
we want to be Apostles
of Divine Mercy,
glad to celebrate every day
the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar
and to offer to those who request it
the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Advocate and Mediatrix of grace,
you who are fully immersed
in the one universal mediation of Christ,
invoke upon us, from God,
a heart completely renewed
that loves God with all its strength
and serves mankind as you did.

Repeat to the Lord
your efficacious word:
"They have no wine" (Jn 2:3),
so that the Father and the Son will send upon us
a new outpouring of
the Holy Spirit.
Full of wonder and gratitude
at your continuing presence in our midst,
in the name of all priests
I too want to cry out:
"Why is this granted me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).

Our Mother for all time,
do not tire of "visiting us",
consoling us, sustaining us.
Come to our aid
and deliver us from every danger
that threatens us.
With this act of entrustment and consecration,
we wish to welcome you
more deeply, more radically,
for ever and totally
into our human and priestly lives.

Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth
in the desert of our loneliness,
let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness,
let it restore calm after the tempest,
so that all mankind shall see the salvation
of the Lord,
who has the name and the face of Jesus,
who is reflected in our hearts,
for ever united to yours!

Amen!

Why the Cenacle?

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I took this essay from Our Lady of the Cenacle by The Reverend Father Felix , S.J., published by the Lafayette Press (New York) in 1896. I edited the text (a translation from the French) slightly and tried to make it more intelligible. Father Felix explains masterfully the significance of the dedication of our little monastery.

The Place of Divine Grace

The Cenacle was pre-eminently the place of Divine Grace, called therein by the prayer of the apostles and disciples, and especially by the all-powerful prayer of Our Lady, Mother of Grace and Queen of the Apostles.

The Cenacle and the Most Holy Eucharist

Men of God, worthy of attention by reason of their religious virtues and their theological and ascetic science have, to explain the uniquely graced atmosphere of the Cenacle, had recourse to pious suppositions, which, without being of the value of a demonstration, possess with a certain probability a value of edification. We content ourselves here with recalling them without pretending either to repudiate them or to approve them entirely. Among these suppositions, one of the most likely and the best authorized by tradition, one that is even admitted to be almost certain by serious theologians, is that the Apostles in the Cenacle consecrated the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, conformably to His divine recommendation: "Do this for a commemoration of me," and that all the disciples present, with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, there participated in the holy mysteries. However more or less well founded may be this supposition, we have in no wise need of it to establish in a certain and incontestable manner what we have just affirmed, namely: that the primitive Cenacle was pre-eminently the place of Divine Grace.

It was in the Cenacle that our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, or of the life of God communicated to men in a permanent manner by our High Priest and Divine Mediator. Consequently, the Cenacle was the first place on earth honored and consecrated by the presence of the Eucharistic God, that is to say by the very source of Divine Grace, our Lord Jesus Christ. This same mystery of the Cenacle was, is, and will be perpetuated in the Church even to the consummation of the ages.

The Cenacle and the Blessed Virgin Mary

It was in the Cenacle also, in the Cenacle especially, that Divine Grace was exhaled from all the souls there assembled, and especially from the soul of the most Holy Virgin, well called full of grace. There the breath of all those souls in contact and in communication with one another, formed necessarily in that blessed place, as it were, a supernatural atmosphere that permeated every recess of their being and influenced them in every possible way.

The Cenacle and the Holy Ghost

Finally, it was in the Cenacle that, on the morning of Pentecost at the Third Hours, Divine Grace made its most solemn manifestation and its most brilliant apparition in a great wind and in tongues of fire. Thus did the Holy Ghost enter into the souls of the Apostles so as afterwards to spread Himself abroad in the city of Jerusalem and from there throughout the universe.

The First of All Our Temples

Thus looked upon, the Cenacle is indeed what we have named it, the privileged place of Divine Grace. However modest it may have been by it's dimensions and by its architecture, no place has ever equaled it in importance, and no Christian temple, however sacred, has ever been so filled with Divine Grace as was that first of all our temples.

The Prayer of the Cenacle

But by what mysterious power was Divine Grace attracted to the Cenacle? What was it that caused it to descend in all and in each one with that plenitude the Holy Scripture expresses by these prodigious words: "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost; repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto ?" The Scripture in the same Book of the Acts of the Apostles answers this question and explains to us this mystery : "All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus; Hi omnes erant perseverantes unanimiter in oratione cum mulieribus, et Maria matre Jesu. (Acts 1:14)

It is true that already, as we have just said, the Cenacle had, by the single fact of the institution of the Eucharistic Mystery, become the sacred dwelling of Divine Grace. But it may be remarked that the Saviour preceded and accompanied the consecration of His Body and Blood by His own prayer, as though He wished himself to prelude by prayer what may be called the installation of Divine Grace in the Cenacle.

What caused Divine Grace and divine life to descend and enter the Cenacle abundantly and super-abundantly was prayer. And what kind of prayer?

Universal prayer; for all prayed; all without exception.
Unanimous and fraternal prayer; for all prayed with one same mind and heart: unanimiter.
Persevering prayer: erant perseverantes in oratione.
Prayer confident of the promise of the Divine Master.
Omnipotent prayer: yes, omnipotent in Divine Grace and divine order by reason of its union with the prayer of Mary.

The Prayer of Our Blessed Lady

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, prayed in the Cenacle with the apostles, the disciples, and the holy women. She was there as the uniting centre of that collective prayer that mounted from the hearts of all, and especially from her maternal heart to the Heart of her Divine Son. She was there, an all-powerful suppliant; omnipotentia supplex, giving to that universal, unanimous, and persevering prayer the force to draw upon the Cenacle and upon all those abiding therein, with the coming of the Holy Ghost, Divine Grace in essence.

And the Holy Ghost, called down by that victorious prayer, came with the resplendent signs which the Scripture relates; He came bringing the very substance of the supernatural and the plenitude of the gifts it contains.

Sober Drunkenness in the Holy Ghost

Never had anything similar been accomplished in humanity. Those men, but now so subject to all human weaknesses and such slaves of all the miseries of nature, are suddenly so filled, so penetrated, so truly inebriated with the supernatural and the divine, that the Jewish people, witnesses of this incomprehensible phenomenon, judge it to be a natural and material inebriation, the only one they then had any knowledge of; for nothing had ever resembled either closely or remotely this phenomenon, absolutely unique in the history of our human race.

Christ in Us

Behold in its mysterious reality the Apostolic Cenacle having in its centre Mary, Mother of Jesus and Queen of the Apostles. The Cenacle is the type and abridgment of the great mystery of Christianity. What is Christianity considered in its principle and in its intimate life if not the life of Jesus Christ dilating and expanding itself throughout space and time in proportion as the baptized of all nations are incorporated with it? And what is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, if not the life of God manifesting itself under the form of our humanity and by God and with God coming to dwell in us. By Him and in Him, truly, we have all that is supernatural and divine; omnia per ipsum et cum ipso. It is in this sense that Saint Paul could say with all truth: "Christ is all my life; mihi vivere Christus est; He is all the life with which I live as a Christian, that is all my divine and supernatural life."

Prayer

In a word, our Christianity is, in essence and in its most intimate principle, Divine Grace, because real Christianity is the life of Jesus Christ living in us, and Jesus Christ is Divine Grace, living and personified in Himself. The Cenacle is the image and the living abridgment of true Christianity, in that the intimate core of Christianity is manifested in its visible form, the organization of the liturgical life and of ceaseless prayer. In each and in all, and in the whole universe, Divine Grace is born, grows, develops and fructifies by prayer. As Jesus Christ in His mortal life prayed and prayed again, so Christianity, which is Jesus Christ Himself dilated throughout the universe, prays. The whole of Christianity is an immense prayer; it is a ceaseless rhythm of prayer rising from all the parts of the universe where Christianity reigns.

As in the Cenacle, the prayer of the Church is persevering and permanent prayer, for the clock of time strikes not an hour when prayer does not spring forth from the hearts of millions and millions of Christians. Literally, that voice of prayer in the bosom of Christianity is not hushed day or night. As in the Cenacle, the Church's universal and permanent prayer is magnificently unanimous, and, it may be added, divinely harmonious.

The Sacred Liturgy

Nothing in humanity equals the grandeur and the beauty of the Catholic liturgy, that is of the immense concert of organized prayer in the circle of Christianity, resounding everywhere: the voice of Christ the Head and of His Mystical Body, the Church. The Church prays at one same time in all parts of the world by those members whom she has hierarchically and officially charged with her prayer. From the rising of the sun to its setting, ascends that permanent, universal and harmonious prayer that is like a continuous aspiration by which the great Mystical Body of Jesus Christ draws to itself, develops and increases incessantly, the life of Divine Grace, the life of God in us.

The Ecclesia Orans

Such is the Church, living like the Cenacle by Divine Grace as by its own element, and inhaling Divine Grace by the power of prayer. The more a Christian institution, under whatever form, would represent and express in a more perfect manner the life of the Church and the life of the Cenacle, the more it should, like Christianity in the universe and like the Apostles in the Cenacle, immerse itself in Divine Grace and drawing Divine Grace to itself, by the enactment of the Sacred Liturgy and by ceaseless prayer.

Therefore all the religious institutions that from age to age have sprung from the ever fruitful womb of the Catholic Church, have in this respect been formed to the image of the Ecclesia Orans, the praying Church, as the praying Church herself was formed to the image of the Cenacle.

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For an explanation of the Port Arthur Icon of the Triumph of the Theotokos, go here.

The Virgin Mary is she who more than any other contemplated God
in the human Face of Jesus.
She saw Him as a newborn when, wrapped in swaddling clothes,
He was placed in a manger;
she saw Him when, just after his death,
they took Him down from the cross,
wrapped Him in linen and placed Him in the sepulcher.
Inside her was impressed the image of her martyred Son;
but this image was then transfigured in the light of the Resurrection.
Thus in Mary's heart was carried the mystery of the Face of Christ,
a mystery of death and of glory.
From her we can always learn how to look upon Jesus
with a gaze of love and of faith,
to recognize in that human countenance, the Face of God.

Pope Benedict XVI,
At the Regina Caeli, 2 May 2010

Beginning Our Lady's Month

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For the first day of the month of Mary, ponder this beautiful passage from the Sermon of Saint Germanus on the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God. I have added a few comments in italics.

Just as Our Lady was in communion with heaven during her life on earth, so too is she in communion with the earth -- that is, with her children in this valley tears -- from her place in the glory of heaven. Saint Germanus says that Our Lady continues to communicate with us spiritually.

Could it ever happen, most holy Mother of God, that heaven and earth should feel honored by your presence, and that you, with your departure, would leave man deprived of your protection? No. It is impossible to think of such a thing. In fact when you were in the world you did not feel that the things of heaven were foreign; in the same way, after having emigrated from this world, you do not feel removed from the possibility of communicating in spirit with men.... In fact you have not abandoned those to whom you have guaranteed salvation ... indeed your spirit lives eternally, nor has your flesh suffered the corruption of the tomb.

The holy patriarch emphasizes the Mother of God's closeness to her children. He goes so far as to say that she "lives in the midst of us" and makes herself present "in the most varied of ways."

You, O Mother, are close to everyone and protect everyone, and even though our eyes cannot see you, we completely know, O One on high, that you live in the midst of all of us and that you make yourself present in the most varied of ways ... You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, says Saint Germanus, "continues walking with us." There is immense comfort in that affirmation. It is the experience of the saints through the ages.

Truly it was impossible that that which had been converted into the vessel of God and the living temple of the most holy divinity of the Only Begotten would be enclosed in the sepulcher of the dead. Again we believe with certainty that you continue walking with us. (PG 98, coll. 344B-346B, passim)

Give it all to Mary

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Friends, readers of Vultus Christi, and others often write me asking for intercessory prayer for a particular intention, for the resolution of a crisis, or for the healing of an affliction of soul or body. I take these requests seriously. They can, however, become overwhelming at times. I have, however, found a solution. I entrust them all to Our Blessed Lady. She is our Mother of Good Counsel, ever ready to guide us into the best way of interceding, the wisest way of intervening, the purest way of loving. She is also our Mother of Perpetual Help; that means that she is available everywhere and all the time. She is never far from us, never otherwise occupied. The other evening as I was praying for the many intentions recommended to me, this prayer rose in my heart. I' happy to share it with my readers.

O Mother of Good Counsel,
Mother of Perpetual Help,
I turn with confidence to thy maternal Heart,
and I renew my total and irrevocable consecration to thee.

I am all thine, Most Holy Mary,
and all that I have is thine.
I give thee my past with its burdens.
I give thee this present moment with its anxieties and fears.
I give thee my future and all that it holds.

There is no part of my life that is not open to thee,
no place so secret, or so darkened by sin
that thy presence and thy influence
are not wholly and ardently desired there.

I want to be completely transparent with thee,
utterly simple, guileless, and childlike.
Thou knowest, O Mother,
all my preoccupations,
all my intentions,
and all those recommended to my prayer.
Take them, I beseech thee, to thy Immaculate Heart
and, as my Advocate, my all-powerful intercessor, and my Mediatrix,
present them to thy Son.
Seeing them presented by thee
and held in thy maternal Heart,
there is nothing that He will not do
to give to each intention the one response
worthy of the infinite mercy and love of His Sacred Heart.

Praying in this way, I can be at rest,
for thou art my Mother,
and all that I entrust to thee will be,
I am sure,
received, and considered, and cared for
with a Mother's love.
Amen.

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Why do I prefer Father Faber's translation of Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort's Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary?

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A long time ago when I first read Father Faber's introduction to the book, I was smitten by it. After that, no other translation of True Devotion touched me in quite the same way. Read this excerpt from Faber's introduction and you will understand why.

The Remedy
One man has been striving for years to overcome a particular fault, and has not succeeded. Another mourns, and almost wonders while he mourns, that so few of his relations and friends have been converted to the Faith. One grieves that he has not devotion enough; another that he has a cross to carry which is a peculiarly impossible cross to him; while a third has domestic troubles and family unhappiness which feel almost incompatible with his salvation; and for all these things prayer appears to bring so little remedy.
Mary Is Not Half Enough Preached
But what is the remedy that is wanted? What is the remedy indicated by God Himself? If we may rely on the disclosure of the saints, it is an immense increase of devotion to the Blessed Lady; but, remember, nothing short of an immense one. Here in England, Mary is not half enough preached. Devotion to her is low and thin and poor. It is frightened out of its wits by the sneers of heresy. It is always invoking human respect and carnal prudence, wishing to make Mary so little of a Mary that Protestants may feel at ease about her.

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The Withering and Dwindling of Saints
Its ignorance of theology makes it unsubstantial and unworthy. It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved, that heretics are not converted, that the Church is not exalted; that souls which might be saints wither and dwindle; that the Sacraments are not rightly frequented, or souls enthusiastically evangelized.
Greater, Wider, Strong Devotion to Mary
Jesus is obscured because Mary is kept in the background. Thousands of souls perish because Mary is withheld from them. It is the miserable, unworthy shadow which we call our devotion to the Blessed Virgin that is the cause of all these wants and blights, these evils and omissions and declines. Yet, if we are to believe the revelations of the saints, God is pressing for a greater, a wider, a stronger, quite another devotion to His Blessed Mother. I cannot think of a higher work or a broader vocation for anyone than the simple spreading of this peculiar devotion of the Venerable Grignion De Montfort.
Incredible Efficacy
Let a man but try it for himself, and his surprise at the graces it brings with it, and the transformations it causes in his soul, will soon convince him of its otherwise almost incredible efficacy as a means for the salvation of men, and for the coming of the Kingdom of Christ. Oh, if Mary were but known, there would be no coldness to Jesus then! Oh, if Mary were but known, how much more wonderful would our faith, and how different would our Communions be! Oh, if Mary were but known, how much happier, how much holier, how much less worldly should we be, and how much more should we be living images of our sole Lord and Saviour, her dearest and most blessed Son!

Impossible Things

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Benedictine Wisdom

I have been studying the Rule of Saint Benedict and trying to live it (however badly) for nearly forty years. This, however, is one instance where familiarity has not bred contempt. On the contrary, as I grow in age, so too does my admiration for the Holy Rule grow apace. Saint Benedict, in addition to being an astute observer of human nature and of social relationships, was steeped in that wisdom that the world does not understand: the wisdom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are given us from God" (1 Cor 2:12).

Daily Chapter

This morning, as we do every morning after Lauds, we read the appointed chapter of the Holy Rule. Today it was Chapter 68: "If A Brother Be Commanded to Do Impossible Things." I offered a little commentary on it. Here is something of what I said.

Something Hard or Impossible

If it happen that something hard or impossible be laid upon any brother, let him receive the command of his superior with all docility and obedience.

First off, implicit in this verse, and illuminating it from within, are the words of the Lord Jesus: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-30). The father of the monastery (abbot or prior) is bound to imitate the meekness of Jesus in all things. He needs to knows his sons, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their need to be stretched in some areas without, of course, risking that they should snap under the strain of stretching.

When the father of the monastery gives a brother a particular obedience (monastic word for area of responsibility, a project, or a job) he does so meekly and humbly, taking care to adapt the obedience to the brother to whom it is given, and so adjusting the yoke to him, that it is sweet rather than oppressive, and light rather than burdensome. The father of the monastery must be prudent lest he break the bruised reed, extinguish the smouldering wick, or ruin the vessel while trying to remove the rust.

The brother, for his part, must ask himself, "What can I learn from this obedience? In what way will it stretch my possibilities and allow me to grow beyond my self-imposed limitations?" His initial response is always positive. Only if, after trying to carry out the obedience, he finds it more than he can manage, does he approach the father of the monastery and ask to be relieved of it.

Calmly and in Due Season

But if he see that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the measure of his strength, let him explain the reasons of his incapacity to his superior calmly and in due season, without pride, obstinacy, or contentiousness.

If the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the measure of his strength, the brother is right to express his difficulties to the father of the monastery. He does this in due season, that is to say, at the appropriate moment. Not everything can be said at all hours. The brother is to make his representations calmly, says Saint Benedict. No histrionics. No carrying on. No grand scenes inflating one's difficulty into a major vocational crisis.

Saint Benedict mentions three attitudes that are incompatible with the monastic way of making even legitimate representations. These are pride ( I knew all along!); obstinacy (I will never give in on this!); and contentiousness ( Good! At last I have a reason to pick a fight with him!) Even with my own mercurial temperament, I have learned the diplomatic value of reasonable understatement. A monk speaks gently, calmly, humbly, and peacefully. If he is incapable of doing this, he needs to replenish his interior resources in prayer, asking Our Lord to replace harshness with meekness, violence with calm, pride with humility, and agressivity with peace.

Obedience, Love and Trust

If after his representations the superior still persist in his decision and command, let the subject know that it is expedient for him, and let him obey out of love, trusting in the assistance of God.

The father of the monastery, listening to the brother's representations may find them altogether reasonable and so adapt the obedience or change it altogether. He may also see that this is a salutary crisis, an opportunity for spiritual growth, and an occasion of pushing beyond certain self-imposed limitations. Thus, he may persist in his decision and command, helping the brother to see it as an opportunity to grow in virtue. Should this be the father's discernment, the brother needs to say, "I will trust you on this and, relying on the grace of Christ, obey to the best of my ability. Somehow this will work out for my good." Saint Benedict says, "Let him obey out of love, trusting in the assistance of God."

Our Mother of Good Counsel

The fact that Chapter 68 of the Holy Rule falls on April 26th, the feast of Our Mother of Good Counsel, suggests that a monk in crisis (or anyone else in crisis, for that matter) will do well to seek out the guidance and direction of the very best of counselors, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who told the servers at the wedding feast of Cana to do whatsoever her Son would say to them, still seeks to foster obedience in us. Our Lady knows that obedience, more than anything else, effectively breaks through the limitations imposed by our pride, vanity, fear, and selfishness. The fruit of that obedience is, as Saint John tells us (Jn 2:11), a manifestation of the glory of Christ, and a wonderful increase of faith.

Every moment of crisis is an opportunity to confide our perplexities, worries, fears, and griefs to the maternal Heart of Mary. She is capable of listening to all with a benevolent silence. Her Immaculate Heart discerns what is best for each of us. And if we are silent enough, childlike enough, and even a little humble, she will counsel us and restore our troubled hearts to a peace that the world (and all its professional counselors) cannot give.

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ENTRANCE ANTIPHON

MR
I called upon God and the spirit of wisdom came to me;
I learned without guile
and I impart without grudging;
I do not hide her riches, alleluia (Wis 7:7b, 13).

COLLECT

O Lord who know
that the thoughts of mortals are full of fear and uncertainty,
through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
from whom your Son took flesh,
grant us your counsel
that we may be made to recognize
the things that are pleasing to you
and be directed in all our works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

GENERAL INTERCESSIONS

That the gaze of people of every race and culture
may come to rest upon the Face of Christ
and upon His open Heart,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us.
R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

That civil authorities may humbly seek good counsel in prayer,
so as to govern wisely, justly, and mercifully,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us.
R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

That those in doubt and perplexity may be enlightened;
that those in affliction and adversity may be comforted;
and that those suffering persecution and calumny may be consoled,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us.
R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

That the faith of those weakened by sickness and infirmity may grow stronger ;
and that those who are at the hour of death
may be blessed by the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us.
R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

That those who seek the intercession of the Mother of Good Counsel today
may receive the guidance and direction they seek,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us.
R. CHRIST, GRACIOUSLY HEAR US.

COLLECT AT THE GENERAL INTERCESSIONS

O God,
who gave us the Mother of your Son for our Mother,
[and were pleased by a wondrous apparition
to glorify a beauteous image of her;]
grant, we beseech you,
that ever hearkening to her counsels,
we may be enabled to live according to your Heart,
and happily to reach our heavenly homeland.
Through Christ our Lord.

OFFERTORY ANTIPHON

GR
Be mindful, O Virgin Mother,
to speak good things in the presence of God on our behalf,
that he may turn away his anger from us, alleluia (cf. Jer 18:20).

PRAYER OVER THE OFFERINGS

Let the Spirit of Counsel, O Lord,
who so wondrously overshadowed the Blessed Virgin, your handmaid,
make these gifts reverently offered
acceptable to you.
Through Christ our Lord.

PREFACE

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

How abundantly you filled the most blessed Virgin Mary
with the gifts of the Holy Spirit
to make her the worthy
mother and companion of the Redeemer!

Formed by these gifts
she sought your will unceasingly
and faithfully carried it out;
she joyfully magnified your mercy
and held fast to the counsel of your lovingkindness
to restore all things in Christ.

Through whom the ranks of Angels adore your majesty,
rejoicing in eternity before your face.
We pray you let our voices blend with theirs
singing with exultant praise:

COMMUNION ANTIPHON

MR
The Mother of Jesus said to the servants:
"Do whatsoever he tells you," alleluia (cf. Jn 2:5).

PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION

We have been made partakers of your mysteries, O Lord,
as we celebrate the memorial
of Holy Mary, the Mother of Good Counsel;
grant that we may learn what is pleasing to you
and become worthy of being saved by the Wonderful Counselor whom you gave us through the Blessed Virgin:
your Son who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Secundum Cor Tuum Vivere

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Our Lady of Good Counsel

Tomorrow, April 26th, is the liturgical memorial of Our Mother of Good Counsel. The shrine church of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Genazzano, Italy was entrusted in 1356 to the Augustinian Fathers. It remains a place of pilgrimage to this day. In the changes and chances of my own life, I have often had recourse to the Blessed Virgin under this most consoling title.

The Scapular

In 1893 the Congregation of Sacred Rites approved the form for blessing and investiture with the scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Good Counsel. The scapular is made in the usual way of two pieces of white wool joined by cords or bands. One part bears the image of the Blessed Virgin with the inscription, Mater Boni Consilii. The other part bears the papal arms (tiara and keyes) and an inscription of the words of Pope Leo XIII, "Son, follow her counsel."

Old and New

The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary has a fine new Mass with a proper Preface. For my part, I have often found solace in the texts of the Mass given in the 1962 Roman Missal among the Masses By Special Grant In Certain Places.

Never Depart From Her Counsels

The petition of the Collect is especially beautiful. We beseech God to grant that we may never depart from the counsels of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by this means order our lives after His own Heart:

O God, who hast given the Mother of Thy Beloved Son
to be likewise unto us a mother,
and hast made famous this her beauteous image,
by causing it miraculously to appear in our midst:
grant unto us, we beseech Thee, never to depart from her counsels and,
by this means ordering our lives after Thine own Heart,
one day happily to reach our heavenly fatherland.

Our Hope

One who seeks counsel of the Mother of God is never disappointed and never without hope. She is the most compassionate and effective of all counselors. The liturgy takes a wonderful promise from the book of Proverbs, and places it in Our Lady's mouth: "He that shall find me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord" (Prov 8:35).

Discernment of Spirits

The verse that follows is also significant: "But he that shall sin against me, shall hurt his own soul. All that hate me love death" (Prov 8:36). One who sins against Mary, hurts his own soul. One who hates Mary loves death. The place given -- or not given -- to the Virgin Mother of God is a fundamental criterion in the discernment of spirits. The love of Mary is a wellspring of healing and of life. Love Mary, then, and all the rest will be given you besides.

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A group of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa gathered in the oratory of the monastery this morning at 10:00 to pray a scriptural rosary on the Mysteries of Our Lord's Eternal Priesthood. They offered their prayer for all priests and, in a special way, interceded for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in this moment of assault from below.

The Mysteries of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest:
A Rosary for Priests

First Mystery: The Incarnation

1. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, we recall that mystery by which the Word entered thy virginal womb, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, to make it the first sanctuary of His priesthood on earth, and to offer Himself therein as a sacrificial Victim to the Eternal Father.

Mother of Priests and their Advocate, we offer the prayers of this mystery, imploring thee to obtain for every priest the grace of a deeper identification with Jesus in His obedience and self-offering to the Father.

Second Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple

2. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, we recall the prophecy of Simeon that a sword of sorrow would pierce thy soul, which prophecy was fulfilled on Calvary. The Infant, already offered to the God of Israel in thy arms, was to become the Victim raised high on the cross, the Host lifted to the Father in every Mass by the hands of the priest, and the immolated Lamb in the glory of heaven and in the tabernacles of the Church on earth.

Mother of Priests and their Advocate, we offer the prayers of this mystery, imploring thee to obtain for every priest the grace of a spotless chastity so that, in the joy that springs from purity of heart, he might follow the Lamb wheresover He goeth.

Third Mystery: The Cenacle

3. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, we recall thy Son's institution of the Priesthood and of the Most Holy Eucharist in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered. There His sacrifice was consummated in mystery; the next day it would be consummated in His Blood.

Mother of Priests and their Advocate, we offer the prayers of this mystery, imploring thee to obtain for every priest the grace of a holy awe in the daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, so that he might know by faith the blessed presence of the Lamb and, lost in wonder, adore Him truly present in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Fourth Mystery: The Sacrifice on Calvary

4. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, we recall the Sacrifice in His Blood, offered from the altar of the Cross on Calvary. With thee, we want to receive the outpouring of the Spirit from His mouth; with thee we want to gaze upon His pierced side; with thee we want to intercede for all priests, but especially for the weakest and most wounded among them.

Mother of Priests and their Advocate, we offer the prayers of this mystery, imploring thee to obtain for every priest the grace of a tender and filial relationship with thee, that in the valley of the shadow of death, thou wouldst be to them a fountain of life; that in bitterness, thou wouldst be their sweetness; and that in hours of despair, thou wouldst be their hope.

Fifth Mystery: The Ascension

5. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, we recall the glorious Ascension of thy Son into the sanctuary of heaven where He stands forever before the Father, displaying His radiant wounds, and interceding for us.

Mother of Priests and their Advocate, we offer the prayers of this mystery, begging thee to obtain from the Eternal Father an abundance of priestly vocations from the rising of the sun to its setting and, in particular, for this diocese, that the earth may be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and that His Sacrifice may be offered in every place by men of holy life, ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Hail, Holy Queen.

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O God, by Whose will, the Blessed Virgin Mary
became the Mother of Thy Son, the Eternal High Priest,
and was associated most intimately to Him in the Work of Redemption,
grant that by pondering with her the mysteries of His Priesthood,
we may, through her who is our Mother in the order of grace,
so contribute to the sanctification of Thy priests,
that they more worthily represent Jesus Christ
the Head, Shepherd, and Spouse of His Church,
who is Lord forever and ever.
R. Amen.

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Dear friends, let us learn from the Lord Jesus not to judge and not to condemn our neighbor. Let us learn to be intransigent with sin -- beginning with our own! -- and indulgent with people. May we be helped in this by the Holy Mother of God, who, free of every fault, is the mediatrix of grace for every contrite sinner.

Pope Benedict XVI, March 21, 2010
Angelus Address


There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady. . . . In our day, Our Lady has been given to us as the best defence against the evils that afflict modern life; Marian devotion is the sure guarantee of her maternal protection and safeguard in the hour of temptation.

Pope Benedict XVI, May 11, 2007
Homily at the Canonization of Saint Antonio de Sant'Ana Galvão

Pro peccatoribus iugiter exorans

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This profoundly moving painting is by Guercino (1647). It depicts Saint Peter weeping before the Blessed Virgin on the first Holy Saturday. Look at it, and learn what compunction is.

Haec est Virgo supplex,
pro peccatoribus iugiter exorans,
ut ad Filium suum convertantur,
perennis gratiae fontem et veniae patens ostium.

She is the Virgin supplicant,
ceaselessly pleading for sinners,
that they might turn to her Son,
the ever-flowing wellspring of grace and the open gate of pardon.

(From the Preface of Mass 46, Beata Maria Virgo, Ianua Caeli)

Lent Approaching

There are always, I think, particular graces attached to the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, on Saturday. As Lent fast approaches -- tomorrow is Quinquagesima Sunday -- I look more and more to Our Lady as Refuge of Sinners, Mother of Mercy, Advocate, Gate of Heaven, Mediatrix of All Graces, and Perpetual Help. To each of these titles of the Mother of God, an unique grace is attached; and those who invoke her under these titles experience the reality of each them amidst the struggles and obscurities of daily life.

Solitude and Compunction

Those who seek out the company of Mary, and enter into her solitude, experience holy compunction. The gift of tears is hers to give, and she bestows it upon those who would enter into the sorrows of her Heart and, through her, abandon themselves to the mercy of her Son.

Like a Flame

Since ancient times, the Roman tradition has dedicated Saturday to Our Lady. The Church remembers that first Holy Saturday, the Great and Silent Sabbath, when, with the Body of Jesus lying in the stillness of the sepulchre, all the faith and hope of the Church was contained in the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, like a flame hidden in an earthenware vessel.

Through the Liturgy

By celebrating, either the Mass formulary assigned in the traditional Missal (today, for example, Salve, Sancta Parens) or one of the Mass formularies contained in the Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine (published in 1987), containing 46 Masses, one enters into the riches of the Church's ancient tradition, and avails oneself of the graces reserved by Our Lord for the present day, hour, and moment, and distributed to us by the hands of His Immaculate Mother.


Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Nine

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Blessed Columba's Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

For those who already know of Blessed Columba Marmion's friendship and frequent spiritual exchanges with Désiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926), it will come as no surprise that the Abbot of Maredsous, like the Primate of Belgium, stood in the vanguard of the mariological and liturgical movement that sought to recognize and venerate Our Blessed Lady as the Mediatrix of All Graces. Dom Marmion's reflections on the universal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while expressed with sobriety in carefully measured theological terms, are no less compelling than those of Cardinal Mercier. Both prelates promoted and lived a filial consecration to Our Lady that expressed an entire dependence on her all-powerful maternal supplication.

The Ninth Day of the Novena
Saturday, 30 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

God willed to give His Son to men only through Mary; so, likewise, He wills that all graces should come to them through Mary. As Bossuet put it very effectively: "As God once willed to give us Jesus Christ through the Blessed Virgin, and as the gifts of God are irrevocable, there will be no change in this order. It is and always will be true that, having received, through the charity of Mary, the universal principle of all grace, we shall continue to receive through her mediation the various applications of that grace in all the divers circumstances which make up the Christian life."
The Lord is therefore pleased when we invoke Our Lady as the mediatrix of His pardon and of His benefits. She is our advocate for His mercy. Her prayers and her merits constitute an intercession for us which is unceasing, so that for centuries Christian piety has proclaimed her "The all-powerful suppliant": Omnipotentia supplex.

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When we cast ourselves at the feet of Our Lady, we can say to her, "I am a priest . . . turn towards me your merciful countenance"; Mary sees in us, not only a member of the Mystical Body of her Son, but a minister of Jesus who shares in His priesthood. She sees her divine Son in us and cannot reject us; it would be to reject Jesus Himself. The priest can repeat, with even more confidence than the simple Christian, those beautiful words: "It is a thing unheard of that anyone who had recourse to thy protection and implored thy assistance was left forsaken."
When you feel that you are plunged into an abyss of misery, recall to mind the words of Saint Bernard: "When you feel the breath of temptation passing over your soul . . . invoke Mary . . . if you are troubled by the remorse of conscience, frightened by the thought of the judgment, if you are sinking into the depths of sorrow or discouragement, think of Mary: Mariam cogita."
. . . I would like to make this final point. Before drawing His last breath, Jesus entrusted His Mother to Saint John. In this moment of unique solemnity He gave His disciple a legacy which was supremely precious. And what was the reaction of the apostle, the priest to whom Jesus confided the care of His mother? As a son, "he took her for his own": Accepit eam in sua (Jn 19, 27).
Let us also take Mary for our own, as a son full of affection receives his mother; let us dwell with her, that is to say, let us associate her in our works, in our troubles, in our joys. Does she not desire, more than anyone else, to help each one of us become a holy priest and to reproduce in himself the virtues of Jesus?

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Immaculata Victrix

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In the spiritual combat that is the daily experience of so many priests, nothing can take the place of a confident recourse to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. By begging Our Lord Jesus to grant His priests victory through the intervention and intercession of His Mother, we glorify His own desire to see her unique and irreplaceable role acknowledged and glorified.

O my Jesus,
save and sanctify all Thy priests!
Let not one of those whom Thou hast chosen
and anointed for Thyself be lost.
Let not the Evil One,
the sworn enemy of our souls,
overcome them,
but, rather, let Thy Immaculate Mother
crush the head of the ancient serpent,
and, by her constant intercession,
preserve Thy priests in purity and in holiness of life. Amen.

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The Week in Review

This has been a week of blessings upon blessings. With the generous help of many friends, we completed the move to the new Cenacle of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. Our first concern was to prepare the monastic Oratory. It is lovely in every way. On January 12th, I offered the first Holy Mass in the Oratory, and reserved the Most Blessed Sacrament. That same night, I had the first hour of adoration in the new house.

Love Crucified in Tulsa

Father Jordi Rivero, pastor of Saint Timothy's Church in Miami, Florida and three Mothers of the Cross, Lourdes, Tessie, and Mary, belonging to the Community of Love Crucified arrived on Wednesday the 13th, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the traditional calendar. That same evening more than twenty Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa came to the Cenacle for a time of prayer for priests, Holy Mass, a potluck supper, and talks by Father Jordi and Lourdes Pinto. LIsten to their magnificent talks here!

Day of Recollection for Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa

On Thursday, Father Jordi and Lourdes spoke to Bishop Slattery and a group of priests of the Diocese of Tulsa. Father Paul Eichoff welcomed us at Saint Cecilia's Parish in Claremore, Oklahoma. After the conferences, followed by Vespers and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the ladies of Saint Cecilia's Parish provided us with a delicious supper.

Thank You

I am profoundly grateful to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa, and to other friends here, for all they have done to facilitate the opening of the new Cenacle of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. As soon as possible, I will try to post some photos of the new house and Oratory.

January 17th is the feast of Our Lady of Pontmain. See what I wrote about Pontmain in 2008 here. During the apparition at Pontmain, the faithful sang the Inviolata, an 11th century prose to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

INVIOLATA, integra, et casta es Maria,
quae es effecta fulgida caeli porta.

INVIOLATE, spotless and pure art thou,
O Mary Who wast made the radiant gate of the King.

O Mater alma Christi carissima,
suscipe pia laudum praeconia.

Holy mother of Christ most dear,
receive our devout hymn and praise.

Te nunc flagitant devota corda et ora,
nostra ut pura pectora sint et corpora.

Our hearts and tongues now ask of thee
that our souls and bodies may be pure.

Tu per precata dulcisona,
nobis concedas veniam per saecula.

By thy sweet sounding prayers
obtain for us forgiveness forever.

O benigna! O Regina! O Maria,
quae sola inviolata permansisti.

O gracious queen, O Mary,
who alone among women art inviolate.

My Face Will Journey With Thee

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Readers of Vultus Christi can imagine my delight when I discovered that the Holy Father's homily on this Solemnity of the Mother of God focused on the mystery of the Face of Christ, the human face of God. Given that I could find no English translation at any of the usual sources, I quickly translated the Italian text for my own edification and for all of you, dear friends. Subtitles are my own. Here it is:

Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God
XLIII World Day of Peace
Homily of Our Holy Father Benedict XVI
Vatican Basilica
Friday, 1 January 2010

Venerati Fratelli,
illustri Signori e Signore,
cari fratelli e sorelle!

Nel primo giorno del nuovo anno abbiamo la gioia e la grazia di celebrare la Santissima Madre di Dio e, al tempo stesso, la Giornata Mondiale della Pace. In entrambe le ricorrenze celebriamo Cristo, Figlio di Dio, nato da Maria Vergine e nostra vera pace! A tutti voi, che siete qui convenuti: Rappresentanti dei popoli del mondo, della Chiesa romana e universale, sacerdoti e fedeli; e a quanti sono collegati mediante la radio e la televisione, ripeto le parole dell'antica benedizione: il Signore rivolga a voi il suo volto e vi conceda la pace (cfr Nm 6,26). Proprio il tema del Volto e dei volti vorrei sviluppare oggi, alla luce della Parola di Dio - Volto di Dio e volti degli uomini - un tema che ci offre anche una chiave di lettura del problema della pace nel mondo.

Venerable Brothers,
illustrious Ladies and Gentleman,
dear brothers and sisters!

Face of God and Faces of Men

On this first day of the new year we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Most Holy Mother of God and, at the same time, the World Day of Peace. In both yearly observances we celebrate Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and our true peace! To all of you who have come together here: representatives of the peoples of the world, of the Church Roman and universal, priests and faithful; and to you who are joined to us by means of radio and television, I repeat the word of the ancient blessing: May the Lord turn His face to you and give you peace (Num 6:26). It is precisely the theme of the face and of faces that I wish to develop today, in the light of the Word of God -- the face of God and the faces of men -- a theme that offers us, as well, a key to reading the problem of peace in the world.

Abbiamo ascoltato, sia nella prima lettura - tratta dal Libro dei Numeri - sia nel Salmo responsoriale, alcune espressioni che contengono la metafora del volto riferita a Dio: "Il Signore faccia risplendere per te il suo volto / e ti faccia grazia" (Nm 6,25); "Dio abbia pietà di noi e ci benedica, / su di noi faccia splendere il suo volto; / perché si conosca sulla terra la tua via, / la tua salvezza fra tutte le genti" (Sal 66/67,2-3). Il volto è l'espressione per eccellenza della persona, ciò che la rende riconoscibile e da cui traspaiono sentimenti, pensieri, intenzioni del cuore. Dio, per sua natura, è invisibile, tuttavia la Bibbia applica anche a Lui questa immagine. Mostrare il volto è espressione della sua benevolenza, mentre il nasconderlo ne indica l'ira e lo sdegno. Il Libro dell'Esodo dice che "il Signore parlava con Mosè faccia a faccia, come uno parla con il proprio amico" (Es 33,11), e sempre a Mosè il Signore promette la sua vicinanza con una formula molto singolare: "Il mio volto camminerà con voi e ti darò riposo" (Es 33,14). I Salmi ci mostrano i credenti come coloro che cercano il volto di Dio (cfr Sal 26/27,8; 104/105,4) e che nel culto aspirano a vederlo (cfr Sal 42,3), e ci dicono che "gli uomini retti" lo "contempleranno" (Sal 10/11,7).

And My Face Will Give Thee Rest

We heard, in the first reading taken from the Book of Numbers as well as in the responsorial psalm, several expressions that contain the metaphor of the face in reference to God: "May the Lord make the splendour of His face shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee" (Num 6:25); "May God have mercy on us and bless us, may He make the light of His face shine upon us; that Thy ways may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all the nations" (Ps 66:2-3). The face is the expression par excellence of the person, that which renders him recognizable, and that upon which sentiments, thoughts, and intentions of the heart become apparent. God, by His nature, is invisible, the Bible nonetheless applies this image even to Him. To show one's face is the expression of one's benevolence, whereas to hide it signifies anger and scorn. The Book of Exodus says that "the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with his own friend" (Ex 33:11) and, again, to Moses the Lord promises to remain close with this most singular formula: "My face will journey with thee and will give thee rest" (Ex 33:14). The psalms show us believers as those who seek the face of God (cf Ps 26:8; 104:4) and who, in worship, long to see it (cf Ps 42:3), and they tell us that "upright men" will "contemplate" His face (Ps 10:7).

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Tutto il racconto biblico si può leggere come progressivo svelamento del volto di Dio, fino a giungere alla sua piena manifestazione in Gesù Cristo. "Quando venne la pienezza del tempo - ci ha ricordato anche oggi l'apostolo Paolo - Dio mandò il suo Figlio" (Gal 4,4). E subito aggiunge: "nato da donna, nato sotto la legge". Il volto di Dio ha preso un volto umano, lasciandosi vedere e riconoscere nel figlio della Vergine Maria, che per questo veneriamo con il titolo altissimo di "Madre di Dio". Ella, che ha custodito nel suo cuore il segreto della divina maternità, è stata la prima a vedere il volto di Dio fatto uomo nel piccolo frutto del suo grembo. La madre ha un rapporto tutto speciale, unico e in qualche modo esclusivo con il figlio appena nato. Il primo volto che il bambino vede è quello della madre, e questo sguardo è decisivo per il suo rapporto con la vita, con se stesso, con gli altri, con Dio; è decisivo anche perché egli possa diventare un "figlio della pace" (Lc 10,6). Tra le molte tipologie di icone della Vergine Maria nella tradizione bizantina, vi è quella detta "della tenerezza", che raffigura Gesù bambino con il viso appoggiato - guancia a guancia - a quello della Madre. Il Bambino guarda la Madre, e questa guarda noi, quasi a riflettere verso chi osserva, e prega, la tenerezza di Dio, discesa in Lei dal Cielo e incarnata in quel Figlio di uomo che porta in braccio. In questa icona mariana noi possiamo contemplare qualcosa di Dio stesso: un segno dell'amore ineffabile che lo ha spinto a "dare il suo figlio unigenito" (Gv 3,16). Ma quella stessa icona ci mostra anche, in Maria, il volto della Chiesa, che riflette su di noi e sul mondo intero la luce di Cristo, la Chiesa mediante la quale giunge ad ogni uomo la buona notizia: "Non sei più schiavo, ma figlio" (Gal 4,7) - come leggiamo ancora in san Paolo.

A Progressive Unveiling of the Face of God

The whole biblical narrative may be read as a progressive unveiling of the face of God, until it reaches its full manifestation in Jesus Christ. "When came the fullness of time -- as the apostle Paul also reminded us today -- God sent His Son" (Gal 4:4). And straightaway he adds: "born of woman, born under the Law." The face of God has taken a human face, allowing itself to be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, whom we venerate, for this reason, with the sublime title of "Mother of God." She, who kept in her heart the secret of the divine maternity, was the first to see the face of God made man in the little fruit of her womb. The mother has an altogether special exchange, unique and, in some way, exclusive with her newborn child. The first face that the baby sees is that of the mother, and this look is decisive for his exchange with life, with himself, with others, with God; it is decisive also in order that he may become a "child of peace" (Lk 10:6).

Mother of God of Tenderness

Among the many typologies of the icon of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition, there is the one called "of tenderness", that depicts the Child Jesus with His face resting upon that of the Mother, cheek to cheek. The Child gazes at the Mother, and she looks at us, almost as if to reflect towards the one who observes and prays the tenderness of God, come down into her from heaven and incarnate in the Son of God whom she holds in her arms. In this Marian icon we can contemplate something of God Himself: a sign of the ineffable love that moved Him to "give His only-begotten Son" (Jn 3:16). But this same icon also shows us in Mary the face of the Church, that reflects the light of Christ upon us and upon the whole world, the light that, through the Church, reaches every man with the good news: "No longer art thou a slave, but a son" (Gal 4:7) -- as we read again in Saint Paul.

Fratelli nell'Episcopato e nel Sacerdozio, Signori Ambasciatori, cari amici! Meditare sul mistero del volto di Dio e dell'uomo è una via privilegiata che conduce alla pace. Questa, infatti, incomincia da uno sguardo rispettoso, che riconosce nel volto dell'altro una persona, qualunque sia il colore della sua pelle, la sua nazionalità, la sua lingua, la sua religione. Ma chi, se non Dio, può garantire, per così dire, la "profondità" del volto dell'uomo? In realtà, solo se abbiamo Dio nel cuore, siamo in grado di cogliere nel volto dell'altro un fratello in umanità, non un mezzo ma un fine, non un rivale o un nemico, ma un altro me stesso, una sfaccettatura dell'infinito mistero dell'essere umano. La nostra percezione del mondo e, in particolare, dei nostri simili, dipende essenzialmente dalla presenza in noi dello Spirito di Dio. E' una sorta di "risonanza": chi ha il cuore vuoto, non percepisce che immagini piatte, prive di spessore. Più, invece, noi siamo abitati da Dio, e più siamo anche sensibili alla sua presenza in ciò che ci circonda: in tutte le creature, e specialmente negli altri uomini, benché a volte proprio il volto umano, segnato dalla durezza della vita e dal male, possa risultare difficile da apprezzare e da accogliere come epifania di Dio. A maggior ragione, dunque, per riconoscerci e rispettarci quali realmente siamo, cioè fratelli, abbiamo bisogno di riferirci al volto di un Padre comune, che tutti ci ama, malgrado i nostri limiti e i nostri errori.

The Human Face

Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Gentlemen Ambassadors, dear friends! To meditate upon this mystery of the face of God and of man is a privileged path that leads to peace. This, in fact, emerges from a gaze of respect, that recognizes in the face of the other a person, whatever may be the colour of his skin, his nationality, his language, his religion. But who, if not God, can guarantee, so to speak, the depth of the face of man? In reality, only if we have God in the heart are we capable of receiving in the face of the other a brother in humanity, not a means, but an end, not a rival or an enemy, but another self, a facet of the infinite mystery of the human being. Our perception of the world and, in particular, of those like us, depends essentially on the presence of the Spirit of God within us. There exists a kind of "resonance": one who has an empty heart, perceives only images that are flat and without thickness. On the other hand, the more we are indwelt by God, the more will we be sensitive to His presence in what surrounds us: in all creatures, and especially in other men, even if, at times, the human face, marked by the harshness of life and of evil, may be difficult to appreciate and to welcome as an epiphany of God. All the more then, if we are to recognize and respect ourselves as we really are, that is, as brethren, must we refer to the face of a common Father, who loves us all, in spite of our limits and our errors.

Fin da piccoli, è importante essere educati al rispetto dell'altro, anche quando è differente da noi. Ormai è sempre più comune l'esperienza di classi scolastiche composte da bambini di varie nazionalità, ma anche quando ciò non avviene, i loro volti sono una profezia dell'umanità che siamo chiamati a formare: una famiglia di famiglie e di popoli. Più sono piccoli questi bambini, e più suscitano in noi la tenerezza e la gioia per un'innocenza e una fratellanza che ci appaiono evidenti: malgrado le loro differenze, piangono e ridono nello stesso modo, hanno gli stessi bisogni, comunicano spontaneamente, giocano insieme... I volti dei bambini sono come un riflesso della visione di Dio sul mondo. Perché allora spegnere i loro sorrisi? Perché avvelenare i loro cuori? Purtroppo, l'icona della Madre di Dio della tenerezza trova il suo tragico contrario nelle dolorose immagini di tanti bambini e delle loro madri in balia di guerre e violenze: profughi, rifugiati, migranti forzati. Volti scavati dalla fame e dalle malattie, volti sfigurati dal dolore e dalla disperazione. I volti dei piccoli innocenti sono un appello silenzioso alla nostra responsabilità: di fronte alla loro condizione inerme, crollano tutte le false giustificazioni della guerra e della violenza. Dobbiamo semplicemente convertirci a progetti di pace, deporre le armi di ogni tipo e impegnarci tutti insieme a costruire un mondo più degno dell'uomo.

The Faces of Children

Beginning with little children, it is important to be educated in respect of the other, even when he is different from us. At present the experience of classes in school that are composed of children of various nationalities is more and more common, but even when this is not the case, their faces are a prophecy of the humanity that we are called to form: a family of families and of peoples. The smaller these children are, the more do they stir up in us tenderness and joy in the face of an innocence and brotherhood that appears evident. In spite of their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, have the same needs, communicate spontaneously, play together . . . The faces of children are like a reflection of God's view of the world. Why then extinguish their smiles? Why poison their hearts? Alas, the icon of the Mother of God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the painful images of so many children and their mothers prey to war and to violence: exiles, refugees, forced migrants. Faces hollowed by hunger and by sickness, faces disfigured by sorrow and by despair. The faces of these little innocents are a silent appeal to our responsibility. Confronted with their defenseless condition, all the false justifications of war and violence crumble. We have simply to convert ourselves to projects of peace, to lay aside arms of every type and to commit ourselves together to construct a world more worthy of man.

Il mio Messaggio per l'odierna XLIII Giornata Mondiale della Pace: "Se vuoi coltivare la pace, custodisci il creato", si pone all'interno della prospettiva del volto di Dio e dei volti umani. Possiamo, infatti, affermare che l'uomo è capace di rispettare le creature nella misura in cui porta nel proprio spirito un senso pieno della vita, altrimenti sarà portato a disprezzare se stesso e ciò che lo circonda, a non avere rispetto dell'ambiente in cui vive, del creato. Chi sa riconoscere nel cosmo i riflessi del volto invisibile del Creatore, è portato ad avere maggiore amore per le creature, maggiore sensibilità per il loro valore simbolico. Specialmente il Libro dei Salmi è ricco di testimonianze di questo modo propriamente umano di relazionarsi con la natura: con il cielo, il mare, i monti, le colline, i fiumi, gli animali... "Quante sono le tue opere, Signore! - esclama il Salmista - / Le hai fatte tutte con saggezza; / la terra è piena delle tue creature" (Sal 104/103,24).

Man and the Environment

My message for today's XLIII World Day of Peace: "If you would cultivate peace, take care of what is created," is situated within the perspective of the face of God and human faces. We can, in fact, affirm that man is capable of respecting creatures to the measure in which he bears within his own spirit a full sense of life. Otherwise, he will be inclined to devaluate himself and that which surrounds him, to lack respect for the environment in which he lives, for creation. One who knows how to recognize the reflections of the invisible face of the Creator in the cosmos, is inclined to have a greater love for creatures, a greater sensitivity for their symbolic value. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in examples of this peculiarly human way of relating to nature: with the heavens, the sea, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the animals . . . ""How great are Thy works, O Lord! -- exclaims the Psalmist -- In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy creatures" (Ps 104:24).

In particolare, la prospettiva del "volto" invita a soffermarsi su quella che, anche in questo Messaggio, ho chiamato "ecologia umana". Vi è infatti un nesso strettissimo tra il rispetto dell'uomo e la salvaguardia del creato. "I doveri verso l'ambiente derivano da quelli verso la persona considerata in se stessa e in relazione agli altri" (ivi, 12). Se l'uomo si degrada, si degrada l'ambiente in cui vive; se la cultura tende verso un nichilismo, se non teorico, pratico, la natura non potrà non pagarne le conseguenze. Si può, in effetti, constatare un reciproco influsso tra volto dell'uomo e "volto" dell'ambiente: "quando l'ecologia umana è rispettata dentro la società, anche l'ecologia ambientale ne trae beneficio" (ibid.; cfr Enc. Caritas in veritate, 51). Rinnovo, pertanto, il mio appello ad investire sull'educazione, proponendosi come obiettivo, oltre alla necessaria trasmissione di nozioni tecnico-scientifiche, una più ampia e approfondita "responsabilità ecologica", basata sul rispetto dell'uomo e dei suoi diritti e doveri fondamentali. Solo così l'impegno per l'ambiente può diventare veramente educazione alla pace e costruzione della pace.

Human Ecology

In particular, the perspective of the "face" invites us to dwell upon that which, even in this Message, I called "human ecology." There is, in fact, a very close link between respect for man and the safeguard of creation. "Duties toward the environment derive from those towards the person considered in himself and in relation to others." If man is degraded, the environment in which he lives is also degraded; if culture tends toward nihilism, if not in theory, in practice, nature cannot but pay the consequences of it. One can, in effect, remark a reciprocal influence between the face of man and the "face" of the environment. "When human ecology is respected within society, then too will environmental ecology draw benefits from it." (Caritas in Veritate, 51). I renew, therefore, my appeal to invest in education, proposing as an objective, beyond the necessary transmission of technico-scientific notions, a more ample and deepened "ecological responsibility," based on the respect of man and of his fundamental rights and duties. Only in this way, will work for the environment truly become an education for peace and for the construction of peace.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, nel Tempo di Natale ricorre un Salmo che contiene, tra l'altro, anche un esempio stupendo di come la venuta di Dio trasfiguri il creato e provochi una specie di festa cosmica. Questo inno inizia con un invito universale alla lode: "Cantate al Signore un canto nuovo, / cantate al Signore, uomini di tutta la terra. / Cantate al Signore, benedite il suo nome" (Sal 95/96,1). Ma a un certo punto questo appello all'esultanza si estende a tutto il creato: "Gioiscano i cieli, esulti la terra, / risuoni il mare e quanto racchiude; / sia in festa la campagna e quanto contiene, / acclamino tutti gli alberi della foresta" (vv. 11-12). La festa della fede diventa festa dell'uomo e del creato: quella festa che a Natale si esprime anche mediante gli addobbi sugli alberi, per le strade, nelle case. Tutto rifiorisce perché Dio è apparso in mezzo a noi. La Vergine Madre mostra il Bambino Gesù ai pastori di Betlemme, che gioiscono e lodano il Signore (cfr Lc 2,20); la Chiesa rinnova il mistero per gli uomini di ogni generazione, mostra loro il volto di Dio, perché, con la sua benedizione, possano camminare sulla via della pace.

The Feast of Faith

Dear brothers and sisters, there recurs in Christmastide a psalm which contains, among other things, a stupendous example of how the advent of God transfigures creation and provokes a kind of cosmic feast. This hymn begins with a universal invitation to praise: "Sing unto Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, ye men of all the earth. Sing ye unto the Lord, bless ye His Name" (Ps 95:1). But, at a certain point, this summons to exultation is extended to all things created: "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, let the sea and all within it resound; let the countryside and all it holds keep festival, let all the trees of the forest clap their hands" (v. 11-12). The feast of faith becomes the feast of man and of creation: the feast that, at Christmas, finds expression by means of decorations on trees, in the streets, and in homes. All things bloom again because God has appeared in our midst. The Virgin Mother shows the Infant Jesus to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who rejoice and praise the Lord (cf. Lk 2:20). The Church renews the mystery for men of every generation, shows them the face of God, so that, with His blessing, they might walk in the way of peace.

As 2009 Ends

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Come thou, O Mary, reign in the world!
Let new impulses of filial devotion to thee come from the Chair of Peter.
that thy most radiant light may dispel errors.

In thee didst the fallen world find salvation
and the apostate world cannot find it apart from thee,
for thou art the Queen of grace and of mercy.

Frightening is our condition;
false prophets have deceived us
and iniquity has lied to itself.
Those who promised tranquility have gone by,
passing like cyclones of destruction,
and those who promised peace,
like whirlwinds in a storm.

Fallen are the idols raised high on the limits of our eternal aspirations;
they have burned us in the impure flames of their filthy holocausts.
The leaders of the new stupidities have been unmasked,
they have been scattered.
O Mary, O sweetest Queen, O Virgin Mother of God, save us!
The universe calleth upon Thee, O Mother of tender mercy,
and asketh for Thy help.

Come then, and rescue Thy servants, O Blessed One!
Come, and for the new mercy that Thou outpourest upon the world,
be endless glory to the Father,
equal glory to the Son,
and sovereign glory to God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Don Dolindo Ruotolo, priest (1882-1970)

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster

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We are reading in refectory this week from Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster's magnificent work, The Sacramentary. Here is an excerpt from his presentation of the Advent Ember Days.

Prayer and Fasting for Priests and Deacons

An ancient tradition reserved the ordinations of priests and deacons to the month of December, and the faithful -- following a custom introduced by the Apostles themselves -- felt constrained to unite with the bishop in prayer and fasting, in order to call down from God an abundance of priestly gifts upon the heads of those newly chosen to serve at the altar.

The Holiness of the Clergy

In truth the highest interests of Christian people are bound up, to a great extent, with the holiness of the clergy; and since Holy Scripture teaches us that the most terrible chastisement which almighty God inflicts upon perverse nations is to give them pastors and leaders of their own kind, it is evident that the ordination of the sacred ministers is not a matter which concerns merely the bishop and his seminary, but one which is of supreme importance to the whole Catholic body.

For this reason the Acts of the Apostles record the solemn fasts and public prayers which preceded the ordination of the first seven deacons and the mission of Paul and Barnabas as Apostles to the Gentiles.

Mary, Aflame With Jesus

During this season of immediate preparation for Christmas the Church invites us to attach ourselves with special love for Mary, for it is from her that our Advent has its beginning during those nine months in which she bore Our Lord within her. What must have been the feelings of faith, of love, and of zeal which then animated the Virgin so closely united with that God who in the Scriptures is called a consuming fire? Prefigured by the burning bush of Moses, Mary, aflame with Jesus, is the model of all who love him truly.

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The Holy Face of Jesus

[On the Friday in Ember Week] the verse ad offerendum is [also] from Psalm lxxxiv: "Thou, O Lord, who hadst turned away Thy Face from us on account of our sins, mayst Thou be appeased and turn again and look upon us, and the light of Thine eyes shall restore us once more to life." Show us Thy mercy, O Lord, and reveal to us now the Saviour whom Thou hast promised and in whom the patriarchs of old fell asleep full of trust and hope.

The Face of Jesus in heaven is the cause of joy to the angels, but on earth it is the token of God's pity for sinners. We say to the Father, Respice in faciem Christi tui, but let us, too, fix our own gaze on that Face, lest we lose sight of it. As the Eternal Father, when He beholds the Face of Jesus, is touched with compassion for the wretched children of Adam, so let us also show a holy reverence for that Sacred Face and for those pure eyes that look on us so tenderly; let us take care that all our actions are worthy of the ineffable sanctity of that Divine Regard.

Ember Friday in Advent

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Restore the Ember Days

For the second time this week, we celebrated a special pre-dawn Advent Mass in candlelight. Having anticipated Matins last evening, we were able to begin Holy Mass at 5:15 a.m. We are mindful that the Ember Days are devoted to prayer and fasting for the sanctification of the clergy, in preparation for the ordinations that used to take place on Ember Saturday in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The observance of the Ember Days occurs four times yearly, once in each season. I would be happy to see the full restoration of the Ember Days, with the fasting and prayer for the clergy that characterizes them in response to the crisis that continues to afflict the bishops and priests of the Church. Would that this might be a fruit of the Year of the Priesthood!

The Collect

Today, once again with a note of urgency, the Collect is addressed, not to the God the Father, but directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The very core of the prayer is the word, veni; the great Advent cry of the Church that we will be repeated this evening in Great O Antiphon.

Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam,
et veni:

Stir up, Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
and come:

ut, hi qui in tua pietate confidunt,
ab omni citius adversitate liberentur.

that they who trust in Thy lovingkindness
may be the more speedily freed from all adversity.

The Collect alludes to two divine attributes of Our Lord. The first is His potentia, His power; the second is His pietas, His tender devotedness to those entrusted to Him by His Father. So rich a word is pietas in the liturgical vocabulary of the Church, that one can never really do justice to all the nuances of its meaning. Pietas is the dutiful and tender devotedness of a son to his father, and of a father to his son. When we speak of the pietas of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we refer to His entire devotedness to us or, if you will, to all that is symbolized by His Sacred Heart.

"I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26)

After asking Our Lord to stir up His potentia and come, we ask that those who confide in His pietas (or in His Heart) might be delivered more speedily from all adversity, that is, from the things that fly against us as we make our way forward to greet Him at His blessed Advent. Trust in the tender devotedness of Our Lord for us is, in fact, the speediest way of being delivered from the things that come against us in daily life.

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-37)

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One of the most effective ways of growing in trust in the pietas of Our Lord is the frequent repetition of the "little invocation" that He gave Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit in 1922. Since then, the "little invocation" has transformed the lives of people all over the world: O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy. It is another way of saying, "O Jesus, I trust in Thy divine pietas, in the tender devotedness of Thy Heart for me." My experience is that such a prayer repeated with perseverance, and from the heart, leads to spiritual liberation and healing.

The Lesson

The prophet Isaiah presents the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the flower of the Root of Jesse upon whom rests the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Our Lord is anointed with these gifts in superabundance. He is the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, and from Him the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are communicated to each of His members, to perfect in them the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity infused at Holy Baptism.

The Holy Ghost is wonderfully present in the liturgy of these final days of Advent. In fact, what Isaiah announces, is illustrated and fulfilled through Mary in today's Gospel.

The Holy Gospel

This is the second great Marian Gospel of Ember Week in Advent. Energized by the Spirit of God, and bearing the Son of God hidden in her womb, Our Lady is, to use the expression of Pope John Paul II, "the first tabernacle of history." The arrival of Mary in any situation signifies and obtains for us a fresh inbreaking of the Holy Ghost. Mary's visible entrance into the house of Zachary is the "sacrament" of the Holy Spirit's invisible entrance. No sooner does the Mother of God greet her cousin Elizabeth, than she is filled with the Holy Ghost. The little Forerunner, Saint John, concealed in the womb that many thought barren, attests to the sanctifying operation of the Holy Ghost with a little leap of joy.

Spend these last days before the Nativity of the Lord in the presence of His Virgin Mother. Where Mary is, there too is the Holy Ghost with His seven gifts: gifts in no way restricted to Pentecost, gifts wonderfully suited to a happy Christmas.

Am I not here who am your Mother?

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At Clear Creek

Brother Juan Diego and I have been at Clear Creek Monastery for the past few days. I have been preaching a retreat to the Benedictine Oblate Sisters of Clear Creek; Brother Juan Diego was welcomed into the choir novitiate. The Sisters' convent, named for Mary, Queen of Angels, is directly across the road from the gateway to the monastery.

Clear Creek celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe as a minor solemnity with First Vespers, a procession after Tierce, and Solemn High Mass. At the Hours there are proper antiphons, magnificently suited to today's feast.

Our Mother of Guadalupe

I have always found immense comfort in Our Lady's words to Juan Diego:

"Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?" (Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego)

She Will Never Disappoint You

These words of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Juan Diego are echoed in the words attributed to Our Lord in the journal of a priest: "My Mother watches over you. She is your advocate and your perpetual help. Go to her confidently with whatever troubles you. Go to her with your doubts, your worries, and your fears. Trust in her maternal heart is never misplaced, and she will never disappoint you." To the same priest Our Lady once said, "Be prudent, but without fear, because I am your Mother. . . . Trust in my protection. Yes, I am your Mother of Perpetual Help, ever ready to come to your rescue, ever ready to provide for your needs, to deliver you from danger, and to console you in sorrow. Approach me with childlike confidence and you will never be disappointed."

The Holy Spirit and Our Lady

And again, Our Lord said, "Your union with Me will take place through My Immaculate Mother and by the gentle but continuous operations of the Holy Spirit in your soul. Together, the Holy Spirit and My Immaculate Mother put themselves at the service of souls who seek union with Me. Is not this a wonderful thing? God the Holy Spirit, the Source of Holiness in creatures and the Substantial Love by which My Father and I are eternally one, puts Himself at the service of a finite and sinful creature to bring about a union with Me that is the perfect expression in a human soul of the union of My human Soul and of My Divinity with My Father."

When I first read this, it rather astonished me. Then I recalled Our Lord's words in John 14:20-23: "In that day you shall know, that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. . . . And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. . . . If anyone love Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him." And again in John 17:21: "That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they may also be one in Us." Our union with Christ is patterned after His union with the Father and is, at the same time, the means of union with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

A Springtime of Holiness in the Church

Continuing in the same journal, I read: "And in this work of uniting a soul to Me, no one can take the place of My most pure and loving Mother. She is the Mediatrix of all graces, and just as no one can come to the Father except through Me, so too can no one come to Me except through her in whose virginal womb I took flesh. If only my Mother's role and the greatness of her work, even now, from her place in heaven, were better known! Then there would be a great springtime of holiness in My Church and, first of all, among my priests, for I have entrusted each one of them to her as to the most attentive and compassionate of mothers. All the resources of her Immaculate Heart, full of grace, are a the service of her motherhood of the souls of My priests. Priests have the right and privilege of calling upon My Mother in every need, trial, failure, and sin, confident of receiving from her help and solace, mercy and healing, comfort and peace."

The Secret of Priestly Holiness

"Too few of my priests have entered into the relationship of filial love and of spousal intimacy with My Most Holy Mother, that I desire for them, and from which their holiness will flow as from a spring. In a word, this relationship with My Most Pure Mother is the secret of priestly holiness. My priests have only to seek Mary, My Mother, and all the rest will be given them in abundance. The greatest saints knew this, but today many priestly hearts have grown dark and cold, and their relationship with My Mother, which is to be a reproduction of my own relationship with her, is almost non-existent."

For the Joy of the Church and the Glory of the Father

"The renewal of holiness in my priests will come about as I have promised, only when they become little and childlike, and consecrate themselves entirely to My Mother's Immaculate Heart. Their hearts need her Heart. That is my message today. That is what I so desire my priests to learn and to put into practice. Those who do this will quickly advance in holiness and their virtues will shine for the joy of the Church and for the glory of My Father in heaven."

Again this year, I want to present this beautiful Akathist to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. It is the work of Dr. Alexander Roman.

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Akathist to Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Kontakion 1
To Thee, our great and constant Intercessor before the Throne of Almighty God, do we,
Thy children, offer this hymn of praise, glorifying Thy wondrous Image revealed to Thy
humble servant, Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, as we sing of Thy enduring heavenly
Protection of all who keep festival, joyfully exclaiming with arms uplifted: Rejoice, O
Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

Ikos 1
The peoples of Mesoamerica saw a most Divine Light when they gazed upon Thy sacred
and miraculous image inscribed by the Finger of God upon the tilma of Juan Diego.
They recognized in it their salvation at last and liberation from the darkness of
enslavement to the cunning Serpent of old and they cried with grateful love amidst tears:

Rejoice, Most Immaculate Messenger from on High!
Rejoice, Great Sign that appeared in Heaven and in our midst!
Rejoice, Woman shining with the Brightness of Thy Son and our Lord!
Rejoice, Lady crushing the Serpent of old beneath thy feet!
Rejoice, Victor over evil!
Rejoice, Queen of Heaven and Earth!
Rejoice, unfailing Intercessor for those lost in darkness!
Rejoice, Star of the Sea bringing us to the harbor of safety!
Rejoice, Defender of children!
Rejoice, Protector of such as are of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, Standing with the moon at Thy feet!
Rejoice, with hands enfolded in prayer to God on our behalf!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

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Kontakion 2
Thy servant, Juan Diego, first saw Thee in Thy appearance on a hill. Thou didst
command him to witness to Thy desire to have a temple raised there to bring salvation to his people. Overjoyed by this Thy maternal condescension on earth toward us all, Thy
servant ran into the city, crying: Alleluia!

Ikos 2
Thy servant has truly imitated the Beloved Disciple, John, for he likewise took Thee as
his Mother to the home of his heart at the command of our Crucified Lord. Asking Thee
for the grace to do likewise, we sing:

Rejoice, Temple of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, Rock Unhewn!
Rejoice, Densely wooded Mount Thaeman!
Rejoice, for Thou dost call everyone to the Mountain!
Rejoice, for like Elias of old, Thou comest to destroy idols!
Rejoice, for Thy Image is our bridge over dangerous waters to Heaven!
Rejoice, Mother of Christ!
Rejoice, Mother of His Church!
Rejoice, for we became Thy children underneath Thy Son's Cross!
Rejoice, Mother of the Foundation Stone!
Rejoice, Rock Unquarried!
Rejoice, Hilltop leading to the Heavenly Kingdom!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother Clothed with the Sun!

Tota pulchra es, Maria

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The Novena in Preparation for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary begins today and continues through December 7th.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem,
tu laetitia Israel,
tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tu advocata peccatorum,
O Maria, Virgo prudentissima,
Mater clementissima,
ora pro nobis
ad Dominum Jesum Christum.

V. Sicut lilium inter spinas.
R. Sic Amica mea inter filias Adae.

Oremus.

Deus, qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem
dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti:
quaesumus; ut qui ex morte ejusdem Filii tui praevisa,
eam ab omni labe praeservasti,
nos quoque mundos ejus intercessione
ad te pervenire concedas.
Per eundem Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum,
Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat,
in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus:
per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Amen.

Thou art all-lovely, O Mary,
and in thee there is no stain.
Thou art the glory of Jerusalem,
Thou art the joy of Israel,
Thou art the honour of our people.
Thou art the advocate of sinners,
O Mary,Virgin most prudent,
Mother most clement,
pray for us
to our Lord Jesus Christ.

V. Like a lily among thorns.
R. So is my Beloved among Adam's daughters.

Let us pray.

O God, who by means of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin
didst prepare a worthy dwelling for Thy Son,
and foreseeing His death,
didst thereby preserve her from all stain,
grant that we too by her intercession
may come to Thee unstained by sin.
Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord,
Who is God, living and reigning with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Sin's Knotty Entanglements

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On the Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost and the ferial days following it, we pray:

Absolve, quaesumus Domine,
tuorum delicta populorum:
ut a peccatorum nexibus,
quae pro nostra fragilitate contraximus,
tua benignitate liberemur.

Absolve, Thy people from their transgressions,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
so that through Thy goodness,
we may be set free from the entanglements of those sins
which in our weakness we have committed.

The verb, absolvo, can mean to loosen. The verb, contraho, can mean, among other things, to draw together tightly. Understood in this way, the Collect presents an astute psychology of sin. Sin is a knotty business, leading to hopelessly complex entanglements.

One better understands the old German devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Looser of Knots (Maria Knotenlöserin) in the light of the Church's prayer. There are, I think, in every life, sinful entanglements that only the patient and gentle hands of the Immaculate Virgin Mary can loosen.

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It is not surprising that Our Blessed Lady, the Mother of God, has inspired countless litanies and akathists. The mystery of Mary, or what Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort calls "The Secret of Mary," is inexhaustible. Would that preachers knew how to preach the mystery of Mary in the language of the Fathers!

In 1863 Father Faber wrote in the brilliant preface of his English translation of "True Devotion:

Mary is not half enough preached. Devotion to her is low and thin and poor. It is frightened out of its wits by the sneers of heresy. It is always invoking human respect and carnal prudence, wishing to make Mary so little of a Mary that Protestants may feel at ease about her. Its ignorance of theology makes it unsubstantial and unworthy. It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved, that heretics are not converted, that the Church is not exalted; that souls, which might be saints, wither and dwindle; that the Sacraments are not rightly frequented, or souls enthusiastically evangelised.
Jesus is obscured because Mary is kept in the background. Thousands of souls perish because Mary is withheld from them. It is the miserable unworthy shadow which we call our devotion to the Blessed Virgin that is the cause of all these wants and blights, these evils and omissions and declines. Yet, if we are to believe the revelations of the Saints, God is pressing for a greater, a wider, a stronger, quite another devotion to His Blessed Mother. . . .

This morning at Vigils, there was this magnificent Marian sermon of Saint Ephrem. The translation is my own:

Temple
One can most appropriately attribute to Mary various names. She herself is the temple of the Son of God, who came forth from her in a natural condition that was truly different from the one He had when He entered into her. When he introduced Himself into her womb, He was without a body; He came forth from her clothed in a body.
New Heaven
Mary herself is the mystical new heaven in which the King of Kings dwelt as upon His throne. and from which He descended to the earth, bearing the aspect and resemblance of our earthly condition.
Fruitful Vine Exhaling a Sweet Fragrance
Mary herself is the fruitful vine exhaling its sweet fragrance; the fruit thereof, being of an entirely different nature, had to borrow His resemblance from the plant.
Wellspring
Mary herself is the wellspring that gushes out of the House of the Lord, the wellspring from which, for those who thirst, flow living waters. The one who will have tasted of it, or even there moistened his lips, will never thirst again.
Life Through Mary
But he is mistaken, the one who judges the day of our renewal comparable to that our first creation. In the beginning, in fact, the earth was created; today, the earth is renewed. In the beginning, because of Adam's sin, the earth was cursed in its production; but today the earth has truly recovered peace and security. In the beginning, because of the sin of our first parents, death made its way among men; but today, through Mary, we have passed over from death to life.
Mary Listens
In the beginning, the serpent occupied the ears of Eve, and from there, his poison spread throughout the body. Today, Mary, having lent her ear to the Messenger, has received the pledge of eternal happiness. Thus, the ear that was the instrument of death, has become, at the same time, the instrument of life.

Beginning with Mary

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Novena to Our Lady of the Rosary and of the Cenacle
September 29 to October 7, 2009


I invite the kind readers of Vultus Christi to join me in praying this novena in preparation for the arrival of CJ and Diego who will present themselves as postulants for the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Immaculate Virgin Mary,
Our Lady of the Rosary,
Queen of the Cenacle,
and Mother of all who unite themselves
to your Immaculate Heart
in a prayer that is persevering and full of confidence,
look graciously upon the beginnings of this little monastery
dedicated to you,
and set apart for the adoration of your Divine Son,
hidden in the Sacrament of His Love.

Intercede for the men whom you have chosen
to live in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and to abide close to His Open Heart
together with you and with Saint John the Beloved Disciple.
Let nothing discourage them
as, day by day, they seek the Face of your Son,
and through Him offer themselves to the Father,
by the grace of the Holy Spirit,
for the healing and sanctification of priests.

Keep them humble and joyful in fidelity to the wisdom of Saint Benedict
and to the teachings of his Holy Rule.
Fill their dwelling with the sweet fragrance of your virginizing presence
so that all who enter there
may experience the happiness of the pure in heart
and the joy of those whose sins have been blotted out
in the Blood of the Lamb.

Be to them a Mother of Perpetual Help,
ready at every moment to assist them in their needs,
both spiritual and material,
so that with you, they may magnify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Whose mercy is from age to age on those who fear Him,
and Who, even in our day, does wonders for His lowly servants. Amen.

Three Hail Marys.

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for them.
Our Lady of the Cenacle, pray for them.
Mediatrix of all graces, pray for them.

Saint Michael and all Angels, pray for them.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, pray for them.
Blessed Columba Marmion, pray for them.

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The corpus of Pope Benedict XVI's teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary grows apace. By means of his homilies and addresses on or around the various liturgical feasts of Our Lady, the Holy Father proposes various aspects of the Marian mystery to the Church's contemplation. Pope Benedict XVI is emerging as a great Marian Pope; his particular gift is a synthesis of liturgical theology, rigorous doctrine, and tender piety. Here is the homily given by His Holiness on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Glorious Destiny of the Mother of God

Today's Solemnity crowns the series of important liturgical celebrations in which we are called to contemplate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Divine Motherhood and the Assumption are the fundamental, interconnected milestones with which the Church exalts and praises the glorious destiny of the Mother of God, but in which we can also read our history.

The mystery of Mary's conception recalls the first page of the human event, pointing out to us that in the divine plan of creation man was to have had the purity and beauty of the Virgin Immaculate.

This plan, jeopardized but not destroyed by sin, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, proclaimed and brought into being in Mary, was recomposed and restored to the free acceptance of the human being in faith.

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Our Lady in the Life of the Priest

Pope Benedict XVI has been using every opportunity to promote a fruitful observance of the Year of the Priesthood. Especially noteworthy is the Holy Father's attention to the place of Our Lady in the life of the priest. At the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Assumption, he spoke of the Immaculate Virgin in the experience of Saint John Mary Vianney.

The Curé of Ars and the Parish Priest of Knock

It struck me, after my recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock, that the Marian devotion of the Curé of Ars (1786-1859) had much in common with that of the Parish Priest of Knock, the Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897). Both priests were devoted to Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception; both priests consecrated their parishes to her.

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The memorial tablet erected by the grateful parishioners of Knock in honour of Archdeacon Cavanagh could, in fact, describe the Curé of Ars. It reads:

Pray for the soul of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Archdeacon of the Chapter of Tuam, and parish of Knock-Aghamore, whose fame, on account of the extraordinary sanctity of his life and his devotion to the Mother of God, was diffused thus far and wide. Unwearying in the Confessional, assiduous in works of piety, he died, full of years and merits, December 9th, 1897, R.I.P.

There is one mistake on the memorial tablet; the Archdeacon died, not on December 9th, but on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception to whom he was so devoted.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Mary Our Mother

In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Collect).

The Example of the Saints

Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.

Priestly Love and Veneration for the Most Holy Virgin

You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.

His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).

Never Tired of Speaking of Mary to the Faithful

And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).

Mary's Beauty

The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.

"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).

Marian Consecration

Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.

Turn to Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.

Mary in the Life of the Priest

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Dear readers, I returned from Ireland to Connecticut last evening. As soon as I can, I will share some of the pilgrimage experience with you. In the meantime, I must catch up with correspondence and other pressing duties. The Holy Father's General Audience of August 12th is a real gift for the Year of the Priesthood. This unusual depiction of Our Lady and Saint John in the Cenacle is a fitting illustration of the Holy Father's teaching on Mary, Mother of Priests.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our Lady and the Priesthood

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priests. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Mary's Yes

When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary at the Heart of This Mystery

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Saint John the Beloved Son

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.

Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).

The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".

Taking Mary Into One's Inner Life

This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.

To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.

It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.

In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.

Priests: Beloved Sons of Mary

Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18).

The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305).

Priests: Stewards of the Precious Treasure of Jesus' Love

This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!

Returning to Knock

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This coming Sunday evening Father Dan L. and I will be flying to Ireland and shortly thereafter we will be at the shrine of Our Lady of Knock in County Mayo. This will not be my first visit to Knock. Knock is a place and a mystery that has marked my priesthood.

In the Archdeacon's Room

On my last visit to Knock -- it was the evening of February 5, 2008 -- I was privileged to pray in the room where The Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh, Parish Priest of Knock at the time of the apparition, died on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1897. The room is now used as the Oratory for the community of Daughters of Charity who conduct Saint Mary's Hostel for pilgrims. The Sister in charge of Saint Mary's Hostel told me that, according to tradition, it was in that room that Our Lady came and conversed with the Archdeacon before his death.

A Priest Who Loved Mary

It was believed in the parish of Knock that the Archdeacon was frequently graced with visits of Our Blessed Lady. When questioned about this, the Archdeacon replied that "there were a great many other manifestations of which he would not care to speak." Archdeacon Cavanagh had a consuming desire to promote Our Lady's Cause; he habitually referred to the Blessed Virgin Mary as "The ever Immaculate Mother of God."

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Charity Toward the Poor Souls

It is not generally known that the apparition at Knock took place on the evening of the very day when Archdeacon Cavanagh had completed offering one hundred Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, without receiving any stipend from the people. Preaching at Knock in 1882, he said, "We leave all our actions at the disposal of the Blessed Virgin Mary for those holy souls who, when released from purgatory, will never forget us. They will pray constantly for us at the throne of God."

Saint Joseph and Saint John

There are particular graces reserved for priests at Knock. In Saint Joseph and Saint John who appeared there together with the Blessed Virgin, one discovers the models of a priestly holiness that is at once paternal and virginal. These are the two men destined by God from all eternity to live in a sacred intimacy with the Virgin Mary. I have the distinct impression that, at the present time, Our Lady is offering to all her priest sons the special grace of a sacred intimacy with herself.

Intimacy With Mary

Could this not be the means by which Mary desires to purify, sanctify, and renew the priesthood in this age of the Church's life? In the intimacy with Our Blessed Lady represented by Saint Joseph and Saint John there is healing even for the most broken among her priest sons. For those most defiled by sin, in Mary's presence there is purity and the recovery of a spotless innocence. For those who have grown weary and lost the fervour of their youth, in Mary's company there is zeal for souls and apostolic boldness. For those who are depressed, close to Mary there is comfort, and to those who are despondent and anxious, she gives hope and peace. Finally, in the intimacy of Mary there is joy for those who fallen prey to the sadness that weakens the soul and opens it to sin.

Made Pure in the Blood of the Lamb

The Immaculate Virgin Mary presents herself to priests today as she presented herself to Saint Joseph and to Saint John. To Saint Joseph, her chaste spouse, she was the Virgin Bride, and to Saint John, the Beloved Disciple of her Son, she was a Mother. In the acceptance of this grace lies the remedy for the weaknesses and inclinations to sin that have soiled the priesthood and brought it low in the eyes of so many in recent years. The desire of Mary's Immaculate Heart is to purify the priesthood and lift it out of the infamy into which it has fallen, so as to make it shine with a wonderful holiness, and with the purity that comes from the Precious Blood of the Lamb. It is the Lamb in the apparition of Knock that casts the whole event in the light of the mysteries revealed to Saint John on Patmos.

Priests at Knock

It seems to me that Our Lady desires that Knock should become a place of pilgrimage for priests. A dimension of Knock, not yet fully developed, is that it must become a place of healing for priests, a place where Mary can restore them to purity and to holiness of life by drawing them into her company. Knock invites all priests to share their lives with Mary by opening their homes and their hearts to her, and by living every moment in her presence.

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At Home With Mary

As Virgin Bride, Mary is the image of the Church. Just as Saint Joseph took his Virgin Bride into his home, so too must every priest welcome Mary and discover in her intimacy the nuptial quality of his dedication to the Church. Just as Saint John, obeying the word of Jesus from the Cross, took Mary into his home, so too must every priest shelter her in the space that is most personal to him. The gift of sacred intimacy with the Blessed Virgin Mary, suggested by the apparition at Knock, may well be among the heavenly secrets reserved by her for this time of trial for the Church.

She will impart this gift to every priest who desires it. She will make herself known as the Virgin Bride who brought joy to Saint Joseph, and as the Mother entrusted to Saint John and to those priests in whom the Johannine grace is renewed in every age.

A Pilgrimage for Priests

It is time, I think, for priests and their bishops to go -- as priests together -- in pilgrimage to Knock. Our Lady's Merciful and Immaculate Heart waits for them there. She is ready to open a wellspring of purity, holiness, and renewal for all priests, beginning with those of Ireland. Our Lady of Knock beckons to all priests. She would have her priest sons wash themselves in the Blood of the Lamb, and unite themselves to her Son, Priest and Victim, in the mystery of His Sacrifice. Yes, Knock is for all people, but I believe that it was, from the beginning, destined to be a place of healing and of abundant graces for priests.

A Radiant Priestly Holiness

As I prayed in Archdeacon Cavanagh's room, I understood that Mary longs to show herself to all priests as Virgin Bride and Mother. In Mary's intimacy we priests will find the holiness desired by Christ for each one of us: a radiant holiness, a holiness to illumine the Church in these last days with the brightness of the Lamb. Knock invites priests to remain in adoration before Mary's Son, the Lamb Who was slain. Knock invites priests to wash themselves in His Precious Blood by seeking absolution from all their sins. Knock invites priests to follow Saint Joseph and Saint John by consecrating themselves to Mary as Virgin Bride and Mother.

No Need to Remain Alone

Our Lady of Knock, praying with uplifted hands, is the Mediatrix of All Graces. She is the New Eve given to Christ the New Adam, and given by Him, from the Cross, to all His priests, those whom He has called to continue His mission of salvation in the world. There is no need for any priest to remain alone. The Virgin Mary's Heart is open to all her priest sons, and she will not refuse, to those who ask for it, a participation in the unique grace given Saint Joseph and Saint John in the beginning.


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Here is a translation of the address the Holy Father gave Saturday evening at the Lourdes Grotto in the Vatican Gardens at the annual Marian celebration closing the month of May.

Venerable Brothers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Persevering and United in Prayer With Mary

I greet all of you with affection at the end of the traditional Marian vigil that concludes the month of May in the Vatican. This year it has acquired a very special value since it falls on the eve of Pentecost. Gathering together, spiritually recollected before the Virgin Mary, contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, you have relived the experience of the first disciples, gathered together in the room of the Last Supper with "the Mother of Jesus," "persevering and united in prayer" awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). We too, in this penultimate evening of May, from the Vatican hill, ask for the pouring out of the Spirit Paraclete upon us, upon the Church that is in Rome and upon the whole Christian people.

The Holy Spirit and the Heart of Mary

The great Feast of Pentecost invites us to meditate upon the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Mary, a very close, privileged, indissoluble relationship. The Virgin of Nazareth was chosen beforehand to become the Mother of the Redeemer by the working of the Holy Spirit: in her humility, she found grace in God's eyes (cf. Luke 1:30). In effect, in the New Testament we see that Mary's faith "draws," so to speak, the Holy Spirit. First of all in the conception of the Son of God, which the archangel Gabriel explains in this way: "The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35). Immediately afterward Mary went to help Elizabeth, and when her greeting reached Elizabeth's ears, the Holy Spirit made the child jump in the womb of her elderly cousin (cf. Luke 1:44); and the whole dialogue between the two mothers is inspired by the Spirit of God, above all the "Magnificat," the canticle of praise with which Mary expresses her sentiments. The whole event of Jesus' birth and his early childhood is guided in an almost palpable manner by the Holy Spirit, even if he is not always mentioned. Mary's heart, in perfect consonance with the divine Son, is the temple of the Spirit of truth, where every word and every event are kept in faith, hope and charity (cf. Luke 2:19, 51).

The Two Hearts and the Precious Blood

We can thus be certain that the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in his whole hidden life in Nazareth, always found a "hearth" that was always burning with prayer and constant attention to the Holy Spirit in Mary's Immaculate Heart. The wedding feast at Cana is a witness to this singular harmony between Mother and Son in seeking God's will. In a situation like the wedding feast, charged with symbols of the covenant, the Virgin Mary intercedes and, in a certain sense, provokes, a sign of superabundant divine grace: the "good wine" that points to mystery of the Blood of Christ. This leads us directly to Calvary, where Mary stands under the cross with the other women and the Apostle John. Together the Mother and the disciple spiritually taken in Jesus' testament: his last words and his last breath, in which he begins to send out the Spirit; and they take in the silent crying out of his Blood, poured out completely for us (cf. John 19:25-34). Mary knew where the Blood came from: it was formed in her by the work of the Holy Spirit, and she knew that this same creative "power" would raise Jesus up, as he promised.

Mary's Universal Maternity

In this way Mary's faith sustains the faith of the disciples until the meeting with the risen Lord, and will continue to accompany them even after his ascension into heaven, as they await the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Acts 1:5). At Pentecost, the Virgin Mary appears again as Bride of the Spirit, having a universal maternity with respect to those who are born from God through faith in Christ. This is why Mary is for all generations the image and model of the Church, who together with the Holy Spirit journeys through time invoking Christ's glorious return: "Come, Lord Jesus" (cf. Revelation 22:17, 20).

In Mary's School

Dear friends, in Mary's school we too learn to recognize the Holy Spirit's presence in our life, to listen to his inspirations and to follow them with docility. He makes us grow in the fullness of Christ, in those good fruits that the apostle Paul lists in the Letter to the Galatians: "Love, joy, peace, magnanimity, benevolence, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22). I hope that you will be filled with these gifts and will always walk with Mary according to the Spirit and, as I express my praise for your participation in this evening celebration, I impart my Apostolic Benediction to all of you from my heart.

[Zenit Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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Homily of Pope Benedict XVI for the Solemnity of Pentecost 2009

Apart from being a magnificent example of mystagogical preaching, the Holy Father's Pentecost homily reveals an exquisite sensitivity to role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in preparing the Church for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI continues to offer us a wealth of Mariological insights masterfully harmonized with the liturgical cycle of feasts and mysteries. The subtitles and italics are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The One Center of the Liturgy and of the Christian Life

Every time that we celebrate the Eucharist we experience in faith the mystery that is accomplished on the altar, that is, we participate in the supreme act of love that Christ realized with his death and resurrection. The one center of the liturgy and of Christian life -- the paschal mystery -- then assumes specific "forms," with different meanings and particular gifts of grace, in the different solemnities and feasts.

The Holy Spirit, the True Fire

Among all the solemnities, Pentecost is distinguished by its importance, because in it that which Jesus himself proclaimed as being the purpose of his whole earthly mission is accomplished. In fact, while he was going up to Jerusalem, he declared to his disciples: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish for it to be kindled!" (Luke 12:49). These words find their most obvious realization 50 days after the resurrection, in Pentecost, the ancient Jewish feast that, in the Church, has become the feast of the Holy Spirit par excellence: "There appeared to them parted tongues as of fire ... and all were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4). The Holy Spirit, the true fire, was brought to earth by Christ. He did not steal it from the gods -- as Prometheus did according to the Greek myth -- but he became the mediator of the "gift of God," obtaining it for us with the greatest act of love in history: his death on the cross.

Receive the Holy Spirit

God wants to continue to give this "fire" to every human generation, and naturally he is free to do this how and when he wants. He is spirit, and the spirit "blows where he wills" (cf. John 3:8). However, there is an "ordinary way" that God himself has chosen for "casting fire upon the earth": Jesus is this way, the incarnate only begotten Son of God, dead and risen. For his part, Jesus constituted the Church as his mystical body, so that it prolongs his mission in history. "Receive the Holy Spirit" -- the Lord says to the Apostles on the evening of his resurrection, accompanying those words with an expressive gesture: he "breathed" upon them (cf. John 20:22). In this way he showed them that he was transmitting his Spirit to them, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The Grace of the Cenacle: Prayer and Concord

Now, dear brothers and sisters, in today's solemnity Scripture tells us how the community must be, how we must be to receive the Holy Spirit. In his account of Pentecost the sacred author says that the disciples "were together in the same place." This "place" is the Cenacle, the "upper room," where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples, where he appeared to them after his resurrection; that room that had become the "seat," so to speak, of the nascent Church (cf. Acts 1:13). Nevertheless, the intention in the Acts of the Apostles is more to indicate the interior attitude of the disciples than to insist on a physical place: "They all persevered in concord and prayer" (Acts 1:14). So, the concord of the disciples is the condition for the coming of the Holy Spirit; and prayer is the presupposition of concord.

A Church Less Preoccupied With Activities and More Dedicated to Prayer

This is also true for the Church today, dear brothers and sisters. It is true for us who are gathered together here. If we do not want Pentecost to be reduced to a mere ritual or to a suggestive commemoration, but that it be a real event of salvation, through a humble and silent listening to God's Word we must predispose ourselves to God's gift in religious openness. So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer.

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit, teaches us this. This year Pentecost occurs on the last day of May, when the Feast of the Visitation is customarily celebrated. This event was also a little "Pentecost," bringing forth joy and praise from the hearts of Elizabeth and Mary -- the one barren and the other a virgin -- who both became mothers by an extraordinary divine intervention (cf. Luke 1:41-45).

The Hayden Harmoniemesse

The music and singing that is accompanying our liturgy, also help us to united in prayer, and in this regard I express a lively recognition of the choir of the Cologne cathedral and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Joseph Haydn's "Harmoniemesse," the last of the Masses composed by this great musician, and a sublime symphony for the glory of God, was chosen for today's Mass. The Haydn Mass was a fitting choice given that it is the bicentennial of the composer's death. I address a cordial greeting to all those who have come for this.

The Air We Breathe

To indicate the Holy Spirit, the account in the Acts of the Apostles uses two great images, the image of the tempest and the image of fire. Clearly, St. Luke had in mind the theophany of Sinai, recounted in Exodus (19:16-19) and Deuteronomy (4:10-12:36). In the ancient world the tempest was seen as a sign of divine power, in whose presence man felt subjugated and terrified. But I would like to highlight another aspect: the tempest is described as a "strong driving wind," and this brings to mind the air that distinguishes our planet from others and permits us to live on it. What air is for biological life, the Holy Spirit is for the spiritual life; and as there is air pollution, that poisons the environment and living things, there is also pollution of the heart and the spirit, that mortifies and poisons spiritual existence. In the same way that we should not be complacent about the poisons in the air -- and for this reason ecological efforts are a priority today -- we should also not be complacent about that which corrupts the spirit. But instead it seems that our minds and hearts are menaced by many pollutants that circulate in society today -- the images, for example, that make pleasure a spectacle, violence that degrades men and women -- and people seem to habituate themselves to this without any problem. It is said that this is freedom but it is just a failure to recognize all that which pollutes, poisons the soul, above all of the new generations, and ends up limiting freedom itself. The metaphor of the strong driving wind of Pentecost makes one think of how precious it is to breathe clean air, be it physical air without lungs, or spiritual air -- the healthy air of the spirit that is love -- with our heart.

Fire From Heaven

Fire is the other image of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. I compared Jesus with the mythological figure of Prometheus at the beginning of the homily. The figure of Prometheus suggests a characteristic aspect of modern man. Taking control of the energies of the cosmos -- "fire" -- today human beings seem to claim themselves as gods and want to transform the world excluding, putting aside or simply rejecting the Creator of the universe. Man no longer wants to be the image of God but the image of himself; he declares himself autonomous, free, adult. Obviously that reveals an inauthentic relationship with God, the consequence of a false image that has been constructed of him, like the prodigal son in the Gospel parable who thought that he could find himself by distancing himself from the house of his father. In the hands of man in this condition, "fire" and its enormous possibilities become dangerous: they can destroy life and humanity itself, as history unfortunately shows. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which atomic energy, used as a weapon, ended up bringing death in unheard of proportions, remain a perennial warning.

With Mary in the Cenacle

We could of course find many examples, less grave and yet just as symptomatic, in the reality of everyday life. Sacred Scripture reveals that the energy that has the ability to move the world is not an anonymous and blind power, but the action of the "spirit of God that broods over the waters" (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of creation. And Jesus Christ "cast upon the earth" not a native power that was already present but the Holy Spirit, that is, the love of God, who "renews the face of the earth," purifying it of evil and liberating it from the dominion of death (cf. Psalm 103 [104]: 29-30). This pure "fire," essential and personal, the fire of love, descended upon the Apostles, gathered together with Mary in prayer in the Cenacle, to make the Church the extension of Christ's work of renewal.

The Holy Spirit Overcomes Fear

Finally, a last thought also taken from the Acts of the Apostles: the Holy Spirit overcomes fear. We know that the disciples fled to the Cenacle after the Master's arrest and remained there out of fear of suffering the same fate. After Jesus' resurrection this fear did not suddenly disappear. But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, those men went out without fear and began to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen. They had no fear, because they felt that they were in stronger hands.

His Infinite Love Will Not Abandon Us

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, where the Spirit of God enters, he chases out fear; he makes us know and feel that we are in the hands of an Omnipotence of love: whatever happens, his infinite love will not abandon us. The witness of the martyrs, the courage of the confessors, the intrepid élan of missionaries, the frankness of preachers, the example of all the saints -- some who were even adolescents and children -- demonstrate this. It is also demonstrated by the very existence of the Church, which, despite the limits and faults of men, continues to sail across the ocean of history, driven by the breath of God and animated by his purifying fire. With this faith and this joyous hope we repeat today, through Mary's intercession: "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!"

[Zenit Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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And, for Mother's Day, another touching excerpt from E. Boyd Barrett's autobiographical A Shepherd Without Sheep:

In spite of his rebellion, his confusion of mind, his human faults, he [the renegade priest] clings to his faith and his hope in Mary. He trusts that she will somehow save him. And when moments of sorrow strike, and he sheds bitter tears over his fate, it is at the feet of his little Mother that he sheds those tears.
For seventy years I have known and loved Mary, though there was a long dark period, a score of years, when my love was weak and no spark at all in it. Many a million times I've asked Mary to help me in my last hour, and it is no small comfort to me to know, for certain, that she will do just that.
Back where memory begins, I see myself lighting an old-fashioned oil lamp before her statue in my little bedroom. It was a sweet statue of her and I knelt there as often as the thrush sings. And sometimes I had flowers for her, that my mother gave me from her garden; heliotrope, or geraniums, or red passionflower, or maybe a bright yellow rose.
Now, at the end of the day, I have another little statue in my room, the Immaculate of Lourdes. There are roses before it, almost all the year round, the loveliest roses, fresh and fair, for they never fail me on this hill. Now, with a kind of trusting pride, I can say to my little Mother: "Listen, Lady! I'm the old man who gives you flowers!"

Irish Litany to Our Lady

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For the Month of May
An Ancient Irish Litany of the Ever-Blessed Mother of God
Translated from the Original Irish of the Eighth Century


It is very probable that this litany was used by Saint Berchán's monastic community about 725 A.D. at Cluain Sosta (Clonsast). Saint Berchán's disciples also first compiled the Leabhar Breac as a devotional work.

Saint Berchán is commended in the Donegal Martyrology as one of the four prophets of Ireland, ranking with Saints Columcille, Moling the Perfect, and Brendan of Birr. His monks were driven first from Clonsast, and then by the Danes from Dun Doighre, near Athlone, retiring subsequently to Scariff.

O GREAT MARY, pray for us.
Mary, greatest of Marys, pray for us.
Most great of women, pray for us.
Queen of the angels, pray for us.
Mistress of the heavens, pray for us.
Woman full and replete with the grace of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
Blessed and most blessed, pray for us.
Mother of eternal glory, pray for us.
Mother of the heavenly and earthly Church, pray for us.
Mother of love and indulgence, pray for us.
Mother of the golden light, pray for us.
Honor of the sky, pray for us.
Harbinger of peace, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Golden casket, pray for us.
Couch of love and mercy, pray for us.
Temple of the Divinity, pray for us.
Beauty of virgins, pray for us.
Mistress of the tribes, pray for us.
Fountain of the gardens, pray for us.
Cleansing of sins, pray for us.
Washing of souls, pray for us.
Mother of orphans, pray for us.
Breast of the infants, pray for us.
Refuge of the wretched, pray for us.
Star of the sea, pray for us.
Handmaid of God, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Abode of the Godhead, pray for us.
Graceful as the dove, pray for us.
Serene like the moon, pray for us.
Resplendent like the sun, pray for us.
Destruction of Eve's disgrace, pray for us.
Regeneration of life, pray for us.
Perfection of women, pray for us.
Chief of the virgins, pray for us.
Garden enclosed, pray for us.
Fountain sealed, pray for us.
Mother of God, pray for us.
Perpetual Virgin, pray for us.
Holy Virgin, pray for us.
Prudent Virgin, pray for us.
Serene Virgin, pray for us.
Chaste Virgin, pray for us.
Temple of the Living God, pray for us.
Throne of the Eternal King, pray for us.
Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
Virgin of the Root of Jesse, pray for us.
Cedar of Mount Lebanon, pray for us.
Cypress of Mount Sion, pray for us.
Crimson Rose in the land of Jacob, pray for us.
Fruitful like the olive, pray for us.
Blooming like the palm, pray for us.
Glorious Son-bearer, pray for us.
Light of Nazareth, pray for us.
Glory of Jerusalem, pray for us.
Beauty of the world, pray for us.
Noblest born of the Christian people, pray for us.
Queen of life, pray for us.
Ladder of Heaven, pray for us.

Hear the petition of the poor; spurn not the wounds and the groans of the miserable. Let our devotion and our sighs be carried through thee to the presence of the Creator, for we are not ourselves worthy of being heard because of our evil deserts.

O powerful Mistress of heaven and earth,
wipe out our trespasses and our sins.
Destroy our wickedness and depravity.
Raise the fallen, the debilitated, and the fettered.
Loose the condemned.
Repair through thyself the transgressions of our immorality and our vices.
Bestow upon us through thyself the blossoms and ornaments of good actions and virtues.
Appease for us the Judge by thy prayers and thy supplications.
Allow us not, for mercy's sake, to be carried off from thee among the spoils of
our enemies.
Allow not our souls to be condemned, but take us to thyself for ever under thy protection.

We, moreover, beseech and pray thee, Holy Mary, to obtain, through thy potent supplication, before thy only Son, that is, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, that God may defend us from all straits and temptations.

Obtain also for us from the God of Creation the forgiveness and remission of all our sins and trespasses, and that we may receive from Him further, through thy intercession, the everlasting habitation of the heavenly kingdom, through all eternity, in the presence of the saints and the saintly virgins of the world; which may we deserve to enjoy, in saecula saeculorum. Amen.


Dum pendebat Filius

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Last night He sat with us at table.
His Face illumined the Upper Room
and there, just above the bread and behind the chalice,
beat His Heart of flesh.

John inclined his head;
he closed his eyes like a child secure on his mother's breast,
and listened there to the rhythm of the Love
that, mightily and sweetly, orders the sun and stars;
to the rhythm of the Love that, with every beat,
stretches upward and spirals inward to the Father;
to the rhythm of Love that meets
the pulse of every of other beating heart.

Last night, He lifted up His eyes to heaven
and, all shining with the glory of His priesthood,
said: "Father, the hour has come;
glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee" (Jn 17:1).

And to His disciples He said:
Desiderio desideravi . . .
"With desire I have desired
to eat this pasch with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).
"And taking bread, He gave thanks and broke,
and gave to them, saying:
'This is my body which is given for you:
do this for a commemoration of me.'
In like manner, the chalice also, after He had supped, saying:
'This is the chalice, the New Testament in my blood
which shall be shed for you'" (Lk 22:19-20).

In that moment, the Sacrifice was already accomplished.
The wood of the supper table fused with the wood of the Cross.
The Cross became His altar,
and He became the Lamb
fulfilling Abraham's prophecy on the mountain:
"God will provide himself the lamb for a holocaust, my son" (Gen 22:8).

After that moment, there was no going back.
Before it the entire cosmos held its breath
in fearful anticipation.
After it, the angels themselves sighed,
and began to breathe again their breathless praises.

Had He not said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth;
and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished" (Lk 12:49-50).
And they, paying attention to His Face
"as to a lamp shining in a dark place" (2 P 1:19),
remembered that He had said,
"Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify thy name." (Jn 12:27).

"Then a voice came from heaven,
'I have glorified it,
and I will glorify it again.'
The crowd standing by heard it
and said that it had thundered" (Jn 12:28).

But last night in the Cenacle,
with shadows winding about them like a shroud,
there was no thunder, no voice,
but only the immensity of a silence
that He -- and those closest to His Heart --
knew to be the Father's sorrowful assent.
And the betrayer, quick to do
what could no longer be delayed,
slipped out.
"And it was night" (Jn 13:30).

In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel's, not a mother's.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
"Be it done unto me as to your Word!"
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father's Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child's suffering
like a mother's palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest stopping on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

"My heart expected reproach and misery;
and I looked for one that would grieve together with me,
and there was none!
I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21-22).

There began the disfiguration of His Face,
the humiliation of Beauty,
the descent deep into abjection.
Blood oozing from His pores
mingled with tears streaming from His eyes,
and blood and tears alike
precious in the Father's eyes,
soaked the earth beneath Him
filling the underworld and all the just there waiting
with a strange anticipation.

There followed the kiss of betrayal;
the grieving over one loved even in his sin;
the denial by Peter, His chosen rock, here soft as lead;
and that desolate liturgy crafted by iniquity:
a round of rude processions
first to Annas, and then from Annas to Caiaphas,
and then from Caiaphas to Pilate.

Pilate, unwittingly, summons the world
to gaze upon His Face:
"So Jesus came forth bearing the crown of thorns,
and the purple garment.
And he said to them, 'Behold the man'" (Jn 19:5).

The Seraphim above, hearing this utterance from far below,
turn their eyes of fire to behold the Man.
For a moment
-- if moments there be in eternity --
the ceaseless beating of their ruby wings is stilled
and all of heaven's eyes
meet the gaze of the Son of Man
and rest riveted to His Holy Face.

Hidden in the crowd is the Mother.
Now from her grief-stricken heart there rises over Pilate's words
that prayer of the psalmist
entrusted to Israel, and to her, the Daughter of Sion,
for this day, and for this hour:
"Behold, O God, our protector;
look upon the Face of your Christ!" (Ps 83:9).

Charged with the terrible timber of that chosen tree,
all the weight of the sin of the ages
presses into His flesh that He, the Lamb, might bear it away:
the crushing cruelty of my sins and yours:
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

Upon Him lies the burden of every betrayal, every refusal,
every indifference, every defilement,
every blasphemy, every hardness of heart.
This is the heaviness that pushes Him three times to the ground,
grinding His Face into the dust,
that dust out of which, in the beginning, He fashioned man,
His masterpiece, His image, His joy.

Having arrived at the place of a skull
"which is called in Hebrew Golgotha" (Jn 19:17),
He stretches out His hands
to receive the nails
that will hold Him on the wood
in the position of one waiting to embrace and to be embraced,
in the gesture of the priest standing before the altar
for the Great Thanksgiving.
His feet are nailed
fixing Him to this one place at the centre of the earth,
that all who approach the Cross
might find Him there,
the One who, immobilized,
can say only, "Come to me."
"Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:27).

Here the Bridegroom finds His marriage bed,
here Priest and Victim find the altar,
here the King of Glory finds His throne.
Here the Oblation is lifted high;
here the covenant is ratified,
here the Spirit is outpoured
in the Breath of His mouth.

Those who approach His pierced feet,
He raises, by a word, to His pierced side,
repeating from the Cross
what He said last night at table:
"Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28).
The Mother assisting at this,
the solemn once-and-for-all Mass of her Son, her Priest,
follows the bloody liturgy
with the absolute adhesion of her heart
to every gesture, every word.

The Mother sees,
the Mother understands
that the Cross is the new language of new liturgy
for a new temple.
Every alphabet devised by men
is subsumed into the Verbum Crucis,
the language of the Cross, the one language devised by God
to say all that He would say to man
through Christ, His mediating Priest;
the one language
by which man, speaking through the same Eternal Priest,
can say all that he would ever need to say to God.

For this is the Woman given to John,
to every priest of Jesus
to every disciple of Jesus:
that at the school of the Mother of Sorrows,
all might learn the language of the Cross,
the pure liturgy of sacrificial love.

"'Woman, behold thy son!'
After that He said to the disciple:
'Behold thy mother!'
And from that hour the disciple took her to his own" (jn 19: 26-27).

The language of the Cross,
transcending the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek
of the inscription affixed to the tree
will be the mother tongue of the Church,
the language of the saints of every age,
the language of the one Holy Sacrifice
offered in every place
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Mal 1:11).

If you would hear the Word of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18),
remain silent before it and adore.
Approach it not with many words,
but with tears,
and with one burning kiss of reparation and of love.
Plant your kiss upon His feet,
press your mouth against that wound
and wait,
wait in the stillness of the Great Sabbath,
to drink in the brightness of Pascha
from the river of life
that even now gushes from His open Heart.

Eia, Mater, Fons Amoris

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Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Commemoration of the Sorrowful Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ's Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. The last edition of the Missale Romanum, published in 2002, contains two modifications, discreet touches that will leave in the Missal of Paul VI the unmistakable imprint of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.

The first of these concerns the Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent, the Friday before Palm Sunday. The 2002 edition of the Missal restores the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Virgin Mary formerly celebrated on the Friday of Passion Week, and offers for the Fifth Friday of Lent the following collect:

O God, who during this time
graciously grant to your Church
devoutly to imitate blessed Mary
in contemplation of the Passion of Christ,
grant us, we pray,
through the intercession of the same Virgin,
to cling each day more firmly to your Only-Begotten Son,
and to come at length to the fullness of his grace.


The second touch is in a rubric concerning the chants during the Good Friday adoratio crucis: it suggests that after the traditional chants given in the Missal and the Graduale Romanum the Stabat Mater also be sung in commemoration of the Blessed Virgin’s sorrowful compassion. In this way, a thirteenth century text, presumed to be of Franciscan origin -- it is attributed to Jacopone da Todi --takes it place alongside the ancient antiphon Crucem tuam, the Improperia, and the hymn to the Cross of Venantius Fortunatus.

The Stabat Mater is strong medicine for those who, being of a more abstract or cerebral disposition, would approach the Passion of Christ without getting bloodied, without being set ablaze, without feeling a melting in their breast.

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First Saturday of the Month

Today is the First Saturday of March, an opportunity to draw near to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pray to the Mother of the Lamb, the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to crush the head of the ancient serpent and to turn the eyes of all peoples to the Pierced Side of her Son.

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Don Dolindo

Among the little known figures of holiness of the last century is the Neapolitan priest, Don Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970). Don Dolindo -- his unusual name means Sorrow -- suffered cruel persecutions, calumny, and rejection, even from ecclesiastical authorities. Like his contemporary, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Don Dolindo endured his trials with confident abandonment to the Father and in union with the Passion of Christ. He referred to himself as the Madonna's little old man; the rosary was at every moment in his hands.

A lover of the Sacred Liturgy, Don Dolindo promoted Gregorian Chant. He was an ardent preacher; he also wrote extensively: commentaries on Sacred Scripture in the spirit of the Fathers of the Church, elevations for priests, meditations, and prayers. Here is my own translation of one of his prayers to the Blessed Virgin. How timely it is!

Come thou, O Mary, reign in the world!
Let new impulses of filial devotion to thee come from the Chair of Peter.
that thy most radiant light may dispel errors.

In thee didst the fallen world find salvation
and the apostate world cannot find it apart from thee,
for thou art the Queen of grace and of mercy.

Frightening is our condition;
false prophets have deceived us
and iniquity has lied to itself.
Those who promised tranquility have gone by,
passing like cyclones of destruction,
and those who promised peace,
like whirlwinds in a storm.

Fallen are the idols raised high on the limits of our eternal aspirations;
they have burned us in the impure flames of their filthy holocausts.
The leaders of the new stupidities have been unmasked,
they have been scattered.
O Mary, O sweetest Queen, O Virgin Mother of God, save us!
The universe calleth upon Thee, O Mother of tender mercy,
and asketh for Thy help.

Come then, and rescue Thy servants, O Blessed One!
Come, and for the new mercy that Thou outpourest upon the world,
be endless glory to the Father,
equal glory to the Son,
and sovereign glory to God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Spiritual Motherhood for Priests

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In a document from the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, addressed to all the bishops of the Church on 7 December, 2007, we read:

The vocation to be a spiritual mother for priests is largely unknown, scarcely understood and, consequently, rarely lived, notwithstanding its fundamental importance. It is a vocation that is frequently hidden, invisible to the naked eye, but meant to transmit spiritual life.

A Little Catechism on Spiritual Motherhood for Priests

1. Who can become a spiritual mother to priests?

Any mature Catholic woman, already fully engaged in the sacramental life of the Church, can discern a call to the spiritual motherhood of priests. This spiritual motherhood can be lived in any state of life; it is open to single women, married women, mothers of families, widows, grandmothers, and religious in both the active and enclosed forms of consecrated life. None of its obligations bind under pain of sin. The vocation to the spiritual motherhood of priests is also compatible with the spirituality and obligations of Benedictine Oblates and of those who belong to one or another of the Third Orders: Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, Servite, etc.

2. What is spiritual maternity?

Spiritual maternity is a particular grace of the Holy Spirit by which a woman surrenders herself, body and soul, to the fruitful love of Christ, for the sake of His Bride the Church and for the glory of the Father, so that, through her offering, the particular priest entrusted to her, and all priests, may be purified, healed, and sanctified.

3. How does a woman express the grace of spiritual maternity.

A woman expresses the grace of spiritual maternity by imitating the hidden life of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, in the mystery of the Annunciation, consented to the enfleshment of the Word in her womb, and was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, so that through her, Christ, Priest and Victim, might enter the world, save it by His Sacrifice, and offer it back to the Father.

4. How does a woman live out this imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

A woman lives out this imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by embracing the Will of God in joy and in sorrow, health and infirmity, prosperity and want, companionship and solitude, light and obscurity. In a word, she sees in every event of life an opportunity to enter, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, into the sacrifice of Christ the Priest.

In this way, a woman can participate in the spiritual fecundity of the Mother of the Redeemer who, by her constant intercession, cares for the gift of life that ever flows from the open Heart of her Son, and cooperates with a mother's love in the birth and upbringing of Christ's faithful, her children.

5. How is spiritual maternity related to the Priesthood?

Spiritual maternity in favor of priests derives from the special relationship of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Saint John, that Jesus Himself established when, from the altar of the Cross, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, thy son!" (Jn 19:26). "Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold, thy mother!'" (Jn 19:27).

While John -- representing all priests past, present, and to come -- had the power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the unbloody renewal of His Sacrifice, Our Lady was charged with supporting all her priest-sons down through the ages by standing at their side, even as she stood by the Cross of her Son on Calvary. There, with her Immaculate Heart pierced by a sword of sorrow, she co-offered in silence the Sacrifice of her Son, Priest and Victim, and through Him, with Him, and in Him, offered herself to the Father.

6. What does this imply for a woman called to spiritual maternity
in favor of priests?


For a woman called to spiritual maternity in favor of priests, this implies a readiness to stand by all priests and, in particular, for the priest entrusted to her, in a ceaseless offering of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and supplication. The Diocese of Tulsa is preparing a prayer book to help the spiritual mothers of priests fulfill this role.

7. What characterizes the adoration of a spiritual mother of priests?

In her adoration, a spiritual mother of priests looks to the Blessed Virgin Mary who, on August 21, 1879 at Knock in County Mayo, Ireland, manifested herself in reference to the immolated Lamb, the altar, and the Cross. The spiritual mother of priests draws near to Christ, the Eternal Priest and to the altar of His Cross so often as she participates in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. She adores the Lamb of God present on the altar during the Holy Sacrifice; she adores Him hidden in the tabernacle and exposed to her gaze in the monstrance. She offers herself in adoration for the sanctification of all priests, desiring with Our Lady, to see them become, in their liturgical service and in all of life, "true adorers, who shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23).

8. What characterizes the thanksgiving of a spiritual mother of priests?

The thanksgiving of a spiritual mother of priests is, first of all, for the Priesthood of Jesus Christ prolonged in space and in time, from the rising of the sun to its setting, by means of the gift and mystery bestowed on the apostles in the Cenacle, and perpetuated in the Church so often as a bishop, a successor of the Apostles, lays hands on a man and pronounces over him the solemn prayer of sacerdotal consecration.

The thanksgiving of a spiritual mother of priests is, also, for the sacramental ministrations and fruits of the priesthood: first of all, for the Most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of all Christian life; then for the preaching of the Word of God, the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the sick, deliverance from evil, comfort in affliction, and shepherding along the path that leads to holiness.

9. What characterizes the reparation of a spiritual mother of priests?

The reparation of a spiritual mother of priests seeks to console the Heart of Jesus who grieves over the coldness, offenses, and betrayals of His priests, and waits for them to return to Him, for He is merciful.

The spiritual mother prays for priests who fail to pray; adores the Most Blessed Sacrament for those who do not adore; listens to the Word of God for priests who neglect it; and seeks the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for those who have forgotten that she is their Mother and Advocate. She offers herself for the spiritual restoration and resurrection of priests who have fallen into patterns of sin; for the deliverance of priests oppressed by the powers of darkness; and for the healing of souls scandalized, alienated, or wounded by the sins of priests.

10. What characterizes the supplication of a spiritual mother of priests?

The supplication (or intercession) of a spiritual mother of priests draws its inspiration, first of all, from the Priestly Prayer that Our Lord Jesus Christ offered in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered: "Father . . . keep them clear of what is evil. They do not belong to the world, as I too, do not belong to the world; keep them holy, then, through the truth; it is Thy word that is truth" (Jn 17: 16-17). In their intercession for priests, spiritual mothers will also take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul: "Nothing must make you anxious; in every need make your requests known to God, praying and beseeching Him, and giving Him thanks as well" (Phil 4:5); and in another place, "And now, brothers and sisters, let us have your prayers, that the word of the Lord may run its course triumphantly with us . . . and that we may preserved from malicious interference" (2 Thess 3:1-2).

11. Are there any obstacles to spiritual motherhood for priests?

The obstacles to spiritual maternity are the same ones that would impede any growth in holiness: willful attachment to sin, the refusal to forgive another, hardness of heart, pride, and the other "root" or capital sins. The most effective means of overcoming the obstacles to holiness are frequent confession and Holy Communion; full, conscious and zealous participation in the liturgy of the Church; devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (especially the Rosary); meditation of the Word of God; adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament; acts of penitence and mortification; and obedience to a spiritual father.

12. How does a woman go about becoming a spiritual mother to priests?

A woman who desires to become a spiritual mother to priests should ask her parish priest for the name of the priest charged by the bishop with promoting spiritual motherhood at the diocesan level. She should communicate with him and, after a suitable time of discernment and preparation, can make an act of dedication to spiritual mother on behalf of priests. The Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has developed a program to foster the formation and perseverance of women in the grace of spiritual maternity to priests.

At the School of Saint John Eudes

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Yesterday, in my entry for the feast of Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen, the founding abbots of Cîteaux, I alluded to the mystical espousal of Saint John Eudes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Already as a young man, John Eudes placed a wedding band on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a portent of things to come. As a priest, a reformer of the clergy, and an outstanding preacher, he experienced the fruitfulness that results from what one must dare to call a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.

Saint John Eudes presents this grace as something to which all priests should aspire. To describe it he uses the French word alliance: covenant, bond, or union. Significantly, the same word is used to designate a wedding ring. I decided to translate the following passage from his Memorial on the Life of Ecclesiastics:

The Eternal Father

Consider that priests have a special alliance with the most holy Mother of God. This because, just as the Eternal Father made her participate in His divine paternity, and gave her the power to form in her womb the same Son whom He begets in His bosom, so too does He communicate to priests that same paternity, giving them power to form this same Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of the faithful.

The Son

As the Son made her [the Virgin Mary] His cooperator and coadjutrix (helpmate) in the work of the redemption of the world, so too does He make priests His cooperators and coadjutors in the work of saving souls.

The Holy Ghost

As the Holy Ghost, in an ineffable manner, associated her [the Virgin Mary] with Himself in the most divine of His operations, and in the masterpiece of His that is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, so too does He associate priests with Himself to bring about an extension and a continuation of this mystery in each Christian, in whom the Son of God, in some manner, incarnates Himself by means of Baptism and by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Mediatrix of All Graces

Just as the Eternal Father gave us His Son through her [the Virgin Mary], so too does He give Him to us through His priests. Even as all the graces that come forth to us from the Heart of God pass through the hands of Mary, so too are they given us by the ministry of priests. This in such wise that, just as Mary is the treasurer of the Most Holy Trinity, priests too bear this title.

The Sacrifice of Christ

Finally, it is through her that Jesus was offered to His Father at the first and last moment of His life, when she received Him in her sacred womb, and when she accompanied Him to the sacrifice that He made of Himself on the cross; and it is by means of priests that He is immolated daily upon our altars.

Mother of the Sovereign Priest

This is why priests, being bound by so intimate an alliance and so marvelous a conformity to the Mother of the Sovereign Priest, have very particular obligations to love her, to honour her, and to clothe themselves in her virtues, in her spirit, and in her dispositions. Humble yourselves that you should find yourselves so far removed from this. Enter into the desire to tend thereto with all your heart. Offer yourselves to her, and pray her to help you mightily.

I Love Them that Love Me

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San Bernardo alle Terme

One of my favourite churches in Rome is San Bernardo alle Terme. It is a luminous round church, built in 1598 on the site of the hot steam baths of Diocletian. Immense paintings by an artist named Odazj dominate the two side altars: the one on the right is dedicated to Saint Bernard, the one on the left to Saint Robert of Molesmes, the first abbot of Cîteaux. The first time I visited the church of San Bernardo I was so taken by the magnificent painting of Saint Bernard in the embrace of Jesus Crucified that I failed to understand the significance of the one depicting Saint Robert. It was on a later visit that I discovered it. It has, with the passing of time, become rich in meaning for me.

Saint Robert of Molesmes and the Virgin Mother

Saint Robert, whom we celebrate today with his two immediate successors, Saints Alberic and Stephen, was the founding abbot of the New Monastery at Cîteaux in 1098. The painting in the church of San Bernardo alle Terme shows Saint Robert clothed in his white cowl. Abbot Robert's face is entirely recollected; his head is bowed, illustrating the twelfth step of humility in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule. At the center of the painting we see the Virgin Mother of God in all her beauty. Her face is radiant. She wears a rose coloured dress with a blue mantle and pale brown veil. The Infant Jesus, leaning on her knee, is in conversation with an angel. Angels surround the Queen of Heaven on all sides, fascinated and thrilled by what she is doing.

Mystical Espousal to the Virgin Mary

Our Lady is placing a wedding ring on Saint Robert's finger. Robert, overwhelmed by so tender a love, offers her his right hand. The painting depicts the Mystical Espousal of Saint Robert to the Virgin Mary, a theme not often represented in art. Even in the annals of holiness, mystical espousal with the Virgin Mary is not encountered very frequently. We hear of it in the lives of Saint Edmund of Canterbury, of the Premonstratensian Saint Hermann-Joseph of Steinfeld, and of the Dominican Alain de la Roche. In the seventeenth century, Saint John Eudes wrote of Our Lady as the spouse of priests, and bound himself to her by means of marriage contract. Does not the liturgy attribute to Our Lady the words of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: "love them that love me" (Prov 8:17)?

Saint Joseph

In the painting I am describing it is clear that the initiative is Our Lady's. She appears to have drawn Saint Robert upward to herself to receive this ineffable grace binding him to her. Now, the most extraordinary detail, to my mind is this: just above Saint Robert and a little to his right, none other than Saint Joseph is looking on! He is pointing to his staff, the top of which has flowered into a pure white lily. What does this mean? Saint Joseph is saying that intimacy with the Virgin Mary is the secret of holy purity. He is pointing to his flowering staff to say that one bound to Mary, as if by a marriage bond, will be pure. She is the Virginizing Bride. One who obeys the injunction of the angel to Joseph -- "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:15) -- will find that she communicates the grace of a fruitful purity to those who bind themselves to her in a permanent and exclusive way.

Not Good for Man to Be Alone

Already in the second chapter of Genesis, God said to Adam, "It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself" (Gen 2:18). The complement to this word of God to Adam is the word of Jesus Crucified to John: "After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27). Every union of a man with a woman, even, and I would say especially, the union of hearts and souls, is ordered to a spiritual fecundity. "Whoso findeth me, findeth life," says Our Lady, "and shall obtain favour of the Lord" (Prov 8:35).

Saint Benedict

Perhaps this is why the artist shows the Patriarch Saint Benedict, the father of a progeny too great to be numbered, accompanied by an angel holding his pastoral staff and the open book of his Rule, in the lower left hand corner of the painting. Saint Benedict gazes upon what is happening to Saint Robert with an expression of gratitude and wonder.

New Beginning and Authentic Renewal

What exactly is the message of this extraordinary painting? You may recall what Pope Benedict XVI said on the occasion of his visit to the abbey of Heiligenkreuz in September 2007:

Where Mary is, there is the archetype of total self-giving and Christian discipleship. Where Mary is, there is the pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit; there is new beginning and authentic renewal.

Saint Robert's mission was to launch a new beginning at Cîteaux; it was to foster an authentic renewal of life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. He could not do this apart from Mary.

Mediatrix of All Graces

In the Gospel given us for this feast, Our Lord says: "I have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain" (Jn 15:16). Robert's mystical espousal with the Virgin Mother is the promise and guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness. The same Jesus who says, "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5), wants us to understand that, by reason of the Father's mysterious over-arching plan, without Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces, we can do nothing. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman" (Gal 4:4). Just as the first creation required the presence and collaboration of Eve at Adam's side, so too does the new creation, and every particular manifestation of it, be it personal or corporate, require the presence and collaboration of Mary, the New Eve, at the side of Christ, the New Adam.

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit

Cîteaux was a new creation, a particular corporate manifestation of the Kingdom of God in all its newness. The same may be said of every authentic reform and renewal of monastic life, sacerdotal life, and apostolic life in the history of the Church. Whenever and wherever the Blessed Virgin Mary is welcomed and loved, she attracts a mysterious descent of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady prays for us at every moment, saying, "Thou shalt send forth thy spirit, and they shall be created: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth" (Ps 103:30).

Saint Robert's Legacy

In 1099, one year after the foundation of the New Monastery at Cîteaux, Saint Robert was obliged, by a bull of Pope Urban II, to return to the abbey of Molesme as abbot. He remained there until his death in 1111. Saints Alberic and Stephen Harding succeeded him as abbots of Cîteaux. Abbot Robert's love for Our Lady, the Virgin Mother who had placed a ring on his finger, was part of his legacy. Cîteaux flourished because Mary was present there, present as she was in the house of Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse; present as she was in the house of Saint John, the Beloved Disciple; and present as she was in the midst of the apostles on the first Pentecost.

Earthen Vessels

Weakness, fear, tribulation, and humiliations are unavoidable in the Christian life. Each of us carries the precious gifts of God in his own peculiar frailty. Saint Paul says:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not (2 Cor 4:7-9).

The Blessed Virgin Mary is accustomed to carrying earthen vessels. The secret of holiness is to place our weakness in her immaculate hands.

All Things Made New

She who placed a wedding ring on Abbot Robert's finger will not deny us the grace of a fruitful intimacy with her Most Pure Heart. It is with His Mother, and through her, that Our Lord fulfills the promise made to Saint John on Patmos: "Behold, I make all things new" (Ap 21:5).

2009 Belongs to Our Lady

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For over thirty years now, my dear old friend Father Jacob, O.P. and I have renewed our consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God annually on January 1st. Experience has taught me the wisdom of entrusting the new year to Our Blessed Lady, Mediatrix of All Graces. Readers of Vultus Christi may want to join me in asking the Mother of God again today to open her hands over the entire year.

I offer today my translation of the sublime prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo (+667). This prayer, taken from his treatise De virginitate perpetua Sanctae Mariae, is one of the earliest expressions of total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In it, heralding an expression that Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort will make famous, the Bishop of Toledo declares himself the slave of Mary, Handmaid of the Lord. He also emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit with theological keenness and tender piety.

To illustrate the prayer, I chose Murillo's painting of the Virgin Mother bestowing on Saint Ildephonsus a splendid (blue and gold!) chasuble woven in heaven, to reward him for having written so beautifully in defense of her perpetual virginity.

Prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo, Bishop

The Abundance of the Sweetness of Thy Son

I come to thee, only Virgin Mother of God,
and fall prostrate before thee,
who alone didst cooperate in the Incarnation of God.
I humble myself before thee,
who alone wert found to be the Mother of my Lord.
I pray thee, who alone wert found to be the handmaid of thy Son:
obtain that my sins be wiped away;
command that I be cleansed of the wickedness of my deeds,
and, that I may love the glory of thy virtue,
reveal to me the abundance of the sweetness of thy Son.

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Thou Art His Co-Worker in My Redemption

Bestow upon me the gift of proclaiming the true faith of thy Son,
and of defending it.
Grant that I may cleave to God and to thee,
that I may serve thy Son and thee,
that I may be His bondsman and thine;
His, because He is my Creator,
and thine, because thou art the Mother of my Creator;
His, because He is Lord of the angelic powers,
and thine, because thou art the handmaid of the Lord of All;
His, because He is God,
and thine because thou art the Mother of God;
His, because He is my Redeemer,
and thine because thou art His co-worker in my redemption.

The Body by Which He Healed My Wounds

That which He wrought for my redemption,
verily He formed in thine own person.
That He might be my Redeemer,
He became thy Son.
That He might be the price of my ransom,
He became incarnate of thy flesh.
The Body by which He healed my wounds,
He took from thee so that He, in it, might be wounded.
The mortal Body by which He took away my death,
He took from thy mortality.
The Body by which He brought my sins to nought,
He received sinless from thee.
This nature of mine that ahead of time, in Himself,
He placed above the angels in the glory of His Father's right hand,
He assumed -- humbling Himself -- out of thine own true body.

I Am Thy Slave

Therefore, I am thy slave,
because Thy Son is my Master.
Therefore thou art my Lady,
because thou art the handmaid of my Lord.
Therefore I am the slave of the handmaid of my Lord,
because thou, my Lady, didst become the Mother of my Lord.
Therefore I have become thy slave,
because thou didst become the Mother of my Maker.

By the Holy Spirit

I pray thee, I pray thee, holy Virgin,
may I, by the Spirit through Whom thou didst give birth to Jesus,
have Jesus and hold Him.
By that Spirit through Whom
thou didst conceive this same Jesus in thy flesh,
may my soul receive Jesus.

Let the Spirit gift me with the knowledge of Jesus,
this Spirit by Whom it was given Thee to bear Jesus and to give Him birth.
Let the Spirit in Whom thou didst declare thyself the handmaid of the Lord,
choosing that it should be done unto thee according to the Angel's word,
grant me to proclaim the heights of Jesus with lowliness.

To Love Jesus and to Fear Him

In the Spirit thou didst adore Jesus as thy Lord
and gaze upon Him as thy Son;
in that same Spirit may I love Him.
And may I fear this same Jesus,
with that reverence by which He, truly being God,
became subject to His parents.

Secundum Verbum Tuum

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For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne. (Wisdom 18:14-15)

The Word in the Night

The nocturnal or pre-dawn Office of Vigils (or Matins) is, without any doubt, the Hour most expressive of the mystery of Advent. The Word arrives enveloped in a deep silence and, in that silence, visits the hearts that await His coming.

The Church's Blanket of Prayer

It is comforting to recall that the Church in her wisdom has woven a blanket of prayer that covers all the hours of the night. The great Orders of the Church relay each other in keeping watch for the coming of the Bridegroom. Should the Night Office ever cease being celebrated in monasteries, which God forbid, the world that night will die of the cold. The repartition of the nightwatch is, more or less approximately, as follows. In some instances, individuals may prolong the Night Office in solitary prayer.

From 9:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. -- Carmelites and some Benedictines
From 11:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. -- Carthusians
From 12:00 midnight until 1:30 a.m. -- Poor Clares, Dominican Nuns, Franciscan Friars of certain reforms, and some Passionists in Greater Solitude
From 2:00 a.m. until 3:15 a.m. -- Benedictines of the Primitive Observance
From 3:00 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. -- Trappists
From 4:00 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. -- Cistercians
From 5:00 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. -- Benedictines

Today's Night Office

This morning's Office of Vigils contained two jewels the first was the responsory Annuntiatum est per Gabrielem after the Third Lesson of the First Nocturn:

He Entered Through the Virgin's Ear

The Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary the entrance of the King. * And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door. V. Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. R. And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door. V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. R. And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door.

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The Reading at the Second Nocturn was taken from Saint Bernard's stupendous homily Super Missus Est:

By the Virtue of the Holy Ghost

You have heard, O Virgin, that you are to conceive and bring forth a Son, and that it will not be through the power of man, but by the virtue of the Holy Ghost.

Waiting for a Word of Mercy

The angel awaits your reply, for it is time that he should return to God, Who sent him. We, too, are waiting, O Lady, for a word of mercy we, who are groaning under the sentence of condemnation. See, the price of our salvation is offered to you ; if you consent, we shall at once be delivered. By the Eternal Word of God we were all created, and behold we die. By your short answer we shall be refreshed and recalled to life. Adam, with all his race Adam, a weeping exile from Paradise, implores it of you. Abraham entreats you, David beseeches you. This is the object of the burning desires of the holy fathers, of your fathers, who are still dwelling in the region of the shades of death. Behold the entire human race prostrate at your feet in expectation.

Hasten, O Lady

And rightly, for on your word depend the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of the captive, the freedom of the condemned, the salvation of your entire race, of all the children of Adam. Hasten, then, O Lady, to give your answer; hasten to speak the word so longed for by all on earth, in limbo, and in heaven. Yea, the King and Lord of all things, Who has greatly desired your beauty, desires as eagerly your word of consent, by which He has purposed to save the world. He whom you have pleased by your silence will now be more gratified by your reply.

Mary, the Much-Longed-For-Virgin

Hark ! He calls to you from heaven: "most beautiful among women, give me to hear your voice." If you let Him hear your voice, He will enable you to see our salvation. And is not this what you have sought for, what you have prayed for night and day with sighs and tears? Why, then, delay? Are you the happy one to whom it has been promised, or "look we for another "? Yes, you indeed are that most fortunate one. You are the promised virgin, the expected virgin, the much-longed-for virgin, through whom your holy father Jacob, when about to die, rested his hope of eternal life, saying : " I will look for thy salvation, O Lord."

Answer the Word, Receive the Word

You, O Mary, are that virgin in whom and by whom God Himself, our King before all ages, determined to operate our salvation in the midst of the earth. Why do you humbly expect from another what is offered to you, and will soon be manifested through yourself if you will but yield your consent and speak the word ? Answer, then, quickly to the angel yes, through the angel give your consent to your God. Answer the word, receive the Word. Utter yours, conceive the Divine. Speak the word that is transitory, and embrace the Word that is everlasting. Why do you delay? Why are you fearful?

Courage and Confidence

Believe confess receive. Let humility put on courage, and timidity confidence. It is certainly by no means fitting that virginal simplicity should forget prudence. Yet in this one case only the prudent virgin need not fear presumption, because, though modesty shone forth in her silence, it is now more necessary that her devotion and obedience should be revealed by her speech.

He Stands at the Gate and Knocks

Open, Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith, your lips to compliance, your bosom to your Creator. Behold, the desired of all nations stands at the gate and knocks. Oh, suppose He were to pass by while you delay ! How would you begin again with sorrow to seek Him whom your soul loveth ! Arise run open ! Arise by faith, run by devotion, open by acceptance. Mary speaks. " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to thy word."

Our Lady in Advent

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This morning at Vigils the Second Reading was from a homily by Abbot Geoffrey of Admont. It was wonderfully suitable, coming after the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Loreto, and before that of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

All the patriarchs and prophets . . . being illumined by the Spirit of God, were able to see future events in advance, and by their discourses made known and loved the grace of salvation that, through Christ and His blessed Mother was to come into the world.

Note well that it is through Christ and His blessed Mother that the grace of salvation comes into the world. One detects the patristic leit-motif of Christ the New Adam, and of Mary the New Eve. Then, the Abbot of Admont goes on to present the Canticle of Canticles. I love this section. It echoes what Isaac of Stella says elsewhere.

From among these ancients, one very great sage (sapientissimus) Salomon, wrote a book to the praise and honour of Our Lady Mary: it is the Canticle of Canticles. While it can be applied to the holy Church and to every faithful soul, it is especially fitting to her by whom the Salvation of the world appeared to believers.

Finally, he says:

Nam sicut ista sollemnitas specialiter est Domini nostri Iesu Christi, ita et specialitedr est eiusdem Genetricis suae, cum qua ipse Dominus et Redemptor salutem humani generis operari voluit.
Even if the coming solemnity belongs especially to Our Lord Jesus Christ, it also belongs especially to His Mother, with whom Our Lord and Redeemer Himself willed to work the salvation of the human race.

This twelfth century text witnesses compellingly, I think, to the Marian doctrine of co-redemption. Geoffrey of Admont, a monk of the Benedictine Congregation of Hirsau, was abbot of the monastery of Admont in central Austria from 1138 until his death in 1165. About two hundred of his homilies have been preserved.

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The mystery of the Face of Christ is a constant motif in the writings and teachings of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Again, at the Angelus on the Second Sunday of Advent, he spoke of the Face of Jesus and of Mary Immaculate, Pure Reflection of the beauty that shines from the Face of her Son.

Beloved, in Mary Immaculate we contemplate the reflection of the Beauty that saves the world: the beauty of God that shines on the Face of Christ. In Mary, this beauty is totally pure, humble, free of all pride and presumption. The Virgin showed herself in this way to St. Bernadette 150 years ago in Lourdes, and in this way she is venerated in so many shrines.

In Thanksgiving

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Msgr Brankin Writes:

May I add to all the friends and readers of Vultus Christi just how terrible this accident was? Fr. Kirby's car spun out of control, crossing three lanes of the most heavily travelled expressway in the city, and continuing its slide, cross over an exit ramp (fully 6 lanes). Flying backwards, Father Kirby's car flew backward off the road into a ditch where it landed in a concrete drainage culvert, bounced out, and came to rest about 15 feet away.

When I arrived at the scene, I was astounded that Fr. Kirby was not killed, not even hurt, not so much as a scratch.

You must understand that this was certainly a miracle. There is no way that I could imagine a car tailspinning out of control through six lanes of traffic without hitting or being hit by another car. I do not believe that Father could have flown off the road into the culvert and not broken his legs and hips.

Let me say that Our Lady's hand was very much protecting Fr. Kirby against the snares and dangers laid by the Devil.

Msgr Patrick Brankin

And My Account

Last night, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, at about 9:00, while driving home from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, I had a spectacular automobile accident. It would seem that the surface of the highway was slippery due to a very light mist of rain. I completely lost control of the car. It careened across several lanes of oncoming traffic, went head on toward an exit sign, and then spun around to fly off an embankment into a ditch.

I was saying the rosary at the time of the accident. In my pocket was an image of the Servant of God Father Lukas Etlin, that Father Abbot Marcel Rooney had just given me. (Father Lukas, a monk of Conception Abbey, born in Switzerland in 1864, died on December 16, 1927 in Stanberry, Missouri, as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.)

Immediately, upon "landing," I looked to make sure that I still had my beads! Then, calmly, I called Msgr. Brankin and informed him of what had happened. I turned off the motor of the car and walked to the top of the embankment. Msgr. Brankin and Bishop Slattery were there within a few minutes. Someone driving by apparently called the Tulsa police. A very kind officer arrived on the scene. He could not have been more professional or more solicitous. The car is a total wreck, but I emerged from the accident without so much as a bump or a scratch.

I am certain that I was protected by the the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God, conceived without sin, and by the intercession of Father Lukas Etlin, and I offer heartfelt and humble thanks.

Maria, Rosa Mystica

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Prayer, Reparation, Penance for Priests

Sixty-one years ago, in the spring of 1947 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Pierina Gilli, a nurse, in the chapel of the hospital of Montichiari, Italy. The Mother of God asked for prayer for the sanctification of priests and consecrated souls. She showed her Immaculate Heart pierced by three swords: 1) the unworthy celebration of Holy Mass and reception of Holy Communion; 2) apostasy from the priestly state and the consecrated life; and 3) betrayal of the Faith. Our Lady appealed for three practices: prayer, reparation, and penance. Given my own "vocation within a vocation" and my work for the sanctification of priests, I find the message of the Madonna of Montichiari, the Rosa Mystica, particularly compelling.

An Hour of Grace

The Mother of God appeared eleven times to Pierina. On December 8, 1947 she requested that an Hour of Grace be observed every December 8th from noon until one o'clock. "This Hour of Grace," she said, "will produce great and numerous conversions. Hardened and cold hearts resembling this marble will be touched by divine Grace, and they will become faithful to Our Lord in loyal love." Our Lady further recommended that at the beginning of this Hour of Grace we pray Psalm 50 (51), the Miserere, three times, with arms extended. In the discernment of so-called private revelations, one of the key criteria is whether or not they harmonize with the sacred liturgy of the Church, her lex credendi or rule of belief. The recitation of the Miserere, requested by Our Lady corresponds perfectly to the petition that we make in today's liturgical Collect:

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of Thy Virgin
prepared a worthy dwelling for Thy Son
and, foreseeing His death on the Cross,
preserved her from all stain;
grant that we too, by her intercession,
may come into Thy presence with pure hearts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

In the Miserere, we pray:

Have mercy on me, O God, as thou art ever rich in mercy;
in the abundance of thy compassion, blot out the record of my misdeeds.
Wash me clean, cleaner yet, from my guilt,
purge me of my sin,
the guilt which I freely acknowledge,
the sin which is never lost to my sight.

And then:

Sprinkle me with a wand of hyssop, and I shall be clean;
washed, I shall be whiter than snow;
tidings send me of good news and rejoicing,
and the body that lies in the dust shall thrill with pride.
Turn thy eyes away from my sins,
blot out the record of my guilt;
my God, bring a clean heart to birth within me;
breathe new life, true life, into my being.

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Finally, Our Lady chose to reveal herself at Montichiari under the ancient title of Mystical Rose, Rosa Mystica. Listen to what the Venerable Servant of God John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote concerning this title:

MARY is the most beautiful flower that ever was seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God's grace that from this barren and desolate earth there have ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory. And Mary is the Queen of them. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore she is called the Rose, for the rose is fitly called of all flowers the most beautiful.
But moreover, she is the Mystical, or hidden Rose; for mystical means hidden. How is she now "hidden" from us more than are other saints? What means this singular appellation, which we apply to her specially? The answer to this question introduces us to a third reason for believing in the reunion of her sacred body to her soul, and its assumption into heaven soon after her death, instead of its lingering in the grave until the General Resurrection at the last day.
It is this:--if her body was not taken into heaven, where is it? how comes it that it is hidden from us? why do we not hear of her tomb as being here or there? why are not pilgrimages made to it? why are not relics producible of her, as of the saints in general? Is it not even a natural instinct which makes us reverent towards the places where our dead are buried? We bury our great men honourably.
St. Peter speaks of the sepulchre of David as known in his day, though he had died many hundred years before. When our Lord's body was taken down from the Cross, He was placed in an honourable tomb. Such too had been the honour already paid to St. John Baptist, his tomb being spoken of by St. Mark as generally known. Christians from the earliest times went from other countries to Jerusalem to see the holy places. And, when the time of persecution was over, they paid still more attention to the bodies of the Saints, as of St. Stephen, St. Mark, St. Barnabas, St. Peter, St. Paul, and other Apostles and Martyrs. These were transported to great cities, and portions of them sent to this place or that. Thus, from the first to this day it has been a great feature and characteristic of the Church to be most tender and reverent towards the bodies of the Saints.
Now, if there was anyone who more than all would be preciously taken care of, it would be Our Lady. Why then do we hear nothing of the Blessed Virgin's body and its separate relics? Why is she thus the hidden Rose? Is it conceivable that they who had been so reverent and careful of the bodies of the Saints and Martyrs should neglect her--her who was the Queen of Martyrs and the Queen of Saints, who was the very Mother of our Lord? It is impossible. Why then is she thus the hidden Rose? Plainly because that sacred body is in heaven, not on earth.

Ave, liber incomprehensus

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At Matins this morning I listened, enchanted, to Saint Epiphanius' rapturous praises of the All-Holy Mother of God. The witness of Saint Epiphanius is precious: born in Palestine of Jewish parentage in about the year 310, he went to Egypt as a youth to pursue there his monastic vocation. In 367 he was called out of the desert to serve the Church as bishop of Constantia (Salamis) in Cyprus. Sensitive to the least whiff of heresy, he was ever ready to defend the Catholic Orthodox faith. He died whilst returning from Constantinople to Cyprus in 402. Listen to him praise Our Lady. What would happen, I wonder, if a priest were to preach today with such lyricism and holy passion?

More Beautiful than the Cherubim

What shall I say,
what praise shall I make of the glorious and holy Virgin?
She surpasses all beings, God alone excepted;
she is by nature more beautiful than the cherubim, the seraphim,
and the whole army of heaven;
neither heavenly nor earthly tongue are sufficient to praise her,
not even that of the angels.

Immaculate Lily, Unfading Rose

Rejoice! Thou full of grace, gate of the heavens;
carried upward in his discourse,
the author of the Canticle wrote of thee
when he exclaimed:
Thou art a garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain
.
The Virgin is this immaculate lily,
the unfading rose who engendered Christ.
O Holy Godbearer, immaculate ewe,
thou hast brought forth Christ the Lamb, the Word of thee incarnate!

Ever-flowing Wellspring of Sweetness

Immense is the grace of this holy Virgin.
Wherefore does Gabriel address her first with this greeting:
Hail, full of grace, shining heaven!
Hail, full of grace, adorned with numberless virtues!
Hail, full of grace, thou golden urn containing the heavenly manna!
Hail, full of grace, thou who quenchest those who thirst
from the ever-flowing wellspring of sweetness!

Purple Fit for Kings

Hail, O most holy and immaculate Mother,
who didst bring forth Christ, He who before thee is.
Hail, O purple fit for kings, thou has clothed the King of heaven and earth!
Hail, O book incomprehensible: thou hast displayed the Word, the Son of the Father,
for all the world to read!

"22 Anni di Messa"

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Measuring Time Eucharistically

The Italian expression for one's anniversary of ordination to the priesthood is so many years "di Messa". Today I am giving thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ for 22 "years of Mass." I find the Italian way of saying it very beautiful: the life of a priest is measured eucharistically. What matters, above all else, is his time before the altar, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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An Unexpected Gift

Yesterday, after I spoke on spiritual maternity in favour of priests to a rather large group of Catholic ladies, one of them approached me saying that she felt compelled to give me a woven image of the Blessed Virgin Mary adoring the Most Holy Eucharist that had been entrusted to her. She drove to her home to get the image and returned with it in less than a half hour. Woven in black and white silk, and beautifully framed, it was produced by the Maison Neyret Frères early in the last century. At the bottom of the picture is a single word: Adoratio.

The woven image is an interpretation of the Vierge à l'hostie painted by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1841. One can see the original painting in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, in Moscow.

That this particular image should be given me for the Cenacle of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus on the eve of begining my 23rd year as a priest is significant, encouraging me in my "vocation within a vocation" to adore the Blessed Sacrament on behalf of all priests everywhere.

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In Solitude and Adoration

I celebrated my 22 anni di Messa in solitude and adoration, adding at Holy Mass the orations provided "for the priest himself" on this occasion:

Collect

Almighty and merciful God,
listen graciously to my humble prayers.
Not for any deserts of my own,
but because Thy mercy knows no bounds,
Thou hast appointed me to serve Thy heavenly mysteries.
Make me a worthy minister of Thy sacred altars,
and let the words I utter
be hallowed and ratified by Thee.
Through our Lord.

Secret

By virtue of this sacrament, Lord,
wash away the sins that stain my soul,
and grant that Thy grace may render me worthy
to fulfil the duties of my priestly office.
Through our Lord.

Postcommunion

Almighty, everlasting God,
by whose will, I, a sinner,
serve at Thy sacred altars and extol the power of Thy Holy Name,
have mercy,
and through this sacramental rite forgive my sins,
making me fit to serve Thy majesty.
Through our Lord.


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Maria Sieler

Almost a year ago I wrote an entry entitled, Maria Sieler: A Life Offered for Priests. Recently I finished reading a presentation of Maria Siedler's life and mission: Un nouveau printemps pour l'Eglise, Maria Sieler: vie et mission (Éditions du Parvis, Hauteville, Suisse, 1995), by the Reverend Father Josef Fiedler, S.J. I intend, little by little, to translate excerpts from the book and make them available here. Given that tomorrow morning I will be addressing a group of Catholic women on the mission of spiritual maternity in favour of priests, I decided to translate this passage tonight:

Spiritual Mother to the Clergy

The Redeemer made me a precious but strange promise today: he put me at the disposal of His Church as "spiritual mother" to the clergy. All my sacrifices and all my sorrows, all that I have acquired in hard struggle and borne for good, all moral perfection, my extraordinary spiritual mission in conformity with my union with Jesus, all of that -- He made me understand -- constitutes a spiritual treasury for the priesthood. All my inner conquests show themselves to be, in some way, fruitful for the consecrated ones. [Maria Sieler often refers to priests as "the consecrated ones."]
All the graces of my interior life are, so to speak, the property of the clergy. Priests can draw from them: each one will obtain from the Lord that for which he implores Him; for this treasure is offered through me, in Christ, who won it in advance. . . . Just as a mother transmits her dispositions to her descendants, in the same way, my interior life and all the inherent graces -- in particular the communion established with Christ -- will be passed on, like a heritage, and will act efficaciously in the Church. . . . To back up His promise, the Saviour said to me: "I give you my Word in pledge of that." (14 July 1944)

All for Priests

A woman called to spiritual maternity in favour of priests keeps nothing for herself. All that she has received from Christ -- all that she has acquired by His grace in the way of victories over sin, virtues, and merits; all her prayers, her penances; and, above all, her confident surrender to Divine Providence in the little things of daily life -- all of these things belong no longer to her, but rather to the souls of priests.

A Kind of Dispensary

The spiritual mother of priests becomes a kind of dispensary wherein Christ places whatever remedies His priests may need in their spiritual infirmities and weaknesses. She offers her heart, in imitation of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, to Our Lord, saying, "Use me, O Lord, as Thou wilt for the healing and sanctification of Thy priests. Unite the offering of myself to Thine own Offering on the Altar of the Cross and, then, let the all the fruits of our union be dispensed to Thy priests, especially to the weakest and most wounded among them."

Sancta Maria in Sabbato

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Our Lady's Day

Every Saturday of the Blessed Virgin Mary brings with it a fresh infusion of grace. One cannot commemorate the Immaculate Mother of God without experiencing her nearness, without inhaling the fragrance of her purity, without entering into communion with the joys, the sorrows, and the glories of her heart. I have long loved the Office and Mass de Beata (of the Blessed Virgin) on Saturday.

Ave Maria, Gratia Plena

The traditional invitatory antiphon at Matins is -- unlike other invitatory antiphons of the Divine Office -- addressed directly to the Mother of God. It is a jubilant renewal of the Angel's salutation: Ave Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum; Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Repeated after each strophe of Psalm 94, the Venite, it becomes a kind of meditatio: the loving repetition of a message from heaven, one of inexhaustible meaning and sweetness.

Waiting, She Waited

Saturday is Our Lady's day. Ever since, waiting, she waited, -- Expectans expectavi Dominum (Psalm 39:1) -- in the awful silence of that first Great Sabbath, with all the faith and hope of the saints in ages to come like a little flame held in her heart, the Church has remembered her on Saturday.

Retrieving the Treasure

The disappearance of Saturday morning Masses in so many places and, by consequence, the loss of the weekly commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a terrible impoverishment of the Church's inner life. Even those who celebrate the Divine Office are affected; the Saturday Office of Our Lady is often neglected or forgotten. It is vital that Catholics everywhere reconnect with this age-old custom and retrieve its treasures.

A Joy that Rises like the Dawn

The particular forma vitae, or pattern of life, given me by my Bishop when I began this new mission in the Diocese of Tulsa last August 21st, reminds me that I am to live every Saturday as the Great Sabbath of Christ's resting in the tomb, united with Mary in her solitude and hope. Hidden in this is the secret of a joy that rises like the dawn.

P.S. I did not forget the commemoration of the Four Crowned Martyrs! How could I? When I lived in Rome their basilica was the preferred destination of many a passeggiata

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There have been more than 40 million abortions in the United States since 1973.

HEART OF JESUS,
formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
have mercy on the nations soaked in the blood of the innocent.

May that vast army of infants slaughtered mercilessly in their mothers' wombs
raise their voices and plead before Thy throne in glory
for an end to the crime of abortion
that has so rightly merited Thy Father's wrath
and caused the nations to become an abomination in His sight.

Do what Thou must, O merciful Heart of Jesus,
to reveal to all the horror of this sin
and to bring us to repentance.

Immaculate Virgin Mary,
thou who didst bear Thy Son for nine months
in the inviolate sanctuary of Thy womb,
intercede for all who, confident in thy maternal protection,
seek to defend the life of unborn children.
Amen.

The Knotty Entanglements of Sin

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The two Collects given us by the liturgy this week -- the first in the Extraordinary Form, and the second in the Ordinary Form -- merit close attention.

On the Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost and the ferial days following it, we pray:

Absolve, quaesumus Domine, tuorum delicta populorum: ut a peccatorum nexibus, quae pro nostra fragilitate contraximus, tua benignitate liberemur.


Absolve, thy people from their transgressions,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
so that through Thy goodness,
we may be set free from the entanglements of those sins
which in our weakness we have committed.

The verb, absolvo, can mean to loosen. The verb, contraho, can mean, among other things, to draw together tightly. Understood in this way, the Collect presents an astute psychology of sin. Sin is a knotty business, leading to hopelessly complex entanglements. One better understands the old German devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Looser of Knots (Maria Knotenlöserin) in the light of the Church's prayer. There are, I think, in every life, sinful entanglements that only the patient and gentle hands of the Immaculate Virgin Mary can loosen.

Loosen, thy people from their transgressions, we beseech Thee O Lord, so that through Thy goodness working through the hands of the Virgin Mary, we may be set free from the knotty entanglements of those sins which in our weakness we have pulled together.

On the Twenty-Ninth Sunday Per Annum and the ferial days following it, we pray:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, fac nos tibi semper et devotam gerere voluntatem, et maiestati tui sincero corde servire.

Concise and elegant. The twofold petition follows immediately upon the address with no intermediate clause. I translated it, rather freely, this way:

Almighty and ever-living God, make us ever bring Thee the devotion of our wills, and wait upon Thy majesty with singleness of heart.

The sense of the prayer is, it seems to me, that "adoration in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23) requires the homage of the will ready to do God's bidding. True devotion lies in obedience to the will of the Father. "Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 7:21).

I was almost tempted to render the last line of the prayer, "and wait upon Thy majesty with guileless hearts," for that, I would argue, is the meaning of sincero corde. Worship is most pleasing to God when we offer it on His terms, not on our own; when we go to it with no mental reservations and with childlike candour. "Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God" (Heb 10:7).


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Listening to Saint Bernard at Matins in the pre-dawn darkness, I was moved by his meditation on the obedience of the Son to the Virgin Mother. The obedience of the Incarnate Word to Mary is the pattern of our consecration to her. Subjection to Mary is the secret of growth in virtue. The rule of Mary, Immaculate Queen, is the rule of peace in the soul. One led by Mary will, necessarily, follow the Lamb wheresoever He goes.

Lord of Angels and Son of Mary

"Son, why hast Thou dealt thus with us?"
Mary called God, the Lord of Angels, her Son.
Which of the angels would have dared to do so?
It is enough for them, and they reckon it a great thing,
that, being naturally spirits,
they should receive the grace of being made and called angels,
as witness David: "Who maketh spirits His angels."

God Subject to Mary

But Mary, knowing herself to be His Mother,
doth boldly apply the word "Son" to that Majesty Whom the angels do serve with awe;
neither doth God despise to be called what He hath made Himself.
For a little after, the Evangelist saith: "And He was subject unto them."
Who to whom? God to men.
I say that God, unto Whom the angels are subject
and Who is obeyed by the Principalities and Powers,
was subject to Mary.

The Obedience of God: the Exaltation of Mary

Marvel thou at both these things
and choose whether to marvel most at the sublime condescension of the Son,
or at the sublime dignity of Mary.
Either is amazing, either marvelous.
That God should obey this woman is a lowliness without parallel;
that this woman should rule over God an exaltation without match.

She Leadeth Me

In praise of virgins, and of virgins only, is it sung that
"These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth," (Apoc 14, 4).
Of what praise then thinkest thou that she must be worthy
who even leadeth the Lamb?
O man, learn to obey.
O earth, learn to submit.
O dust, learn to keep down.

If you are not familiar with the Fraternité de Marie, Reine Immaculée, today would be a good day to visit their beautiful site. I had the joy of meeting members of the community both at Knock in Ireland, and in Paray-le-Monial.


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From the Lineamenta. Read the entire document here.

Mary: Every Believer's Model for Receiving the Word

25. Salvation history has great examples of hearers and evangelizers of the Word of God: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Sts. Peter and Paul, the other Apostles and the evangelists. In faithfully hearing the Lord's Word and communicating it to others, these people created a space for the Kingdom of God.

From this vantage point, the Virgin Mary assumes a central role as one who lived, in singular fashion, the encounter with the Word of God, who is Jesus himself. She is then a model of every aspect of hearing and proclaiming. Already possessing a familiarity with the Word of God in her intense experience of the Scriptures of the Chosen People, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation to her presence at the foot of the Cross, and even to her participation at Pentecost, receives the Word in faith, meditates upon it, interiorizes it and intensely lives it (cf. Lk 1:38; 2:19, 51, Acts 17:11)). Because of her uninterrupted response of "yes" to the Word of God, she knows how to take into account what is happening around her and live the necessities of daily life, fully aware that what she receives as a gift from the Son is a gift meant for everyone: in the service of Elizabeth, at Cana and at the foot of the cross (cf. Lk 1:39; Jn 2:1-12; 19: 25-27). Therefore, the words, uttered by Jesus in her presence, are appropriately applied to her as well, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21). "Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate" (32).

Maria, Virgo Audiens

Mary's way of hearing the Word of God deserves special consideration. The Gospel text, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), means that she heard and knew the Scriptures, meditated upon them in her heart in an interior process of maturation, where the mind is not separated from the heart. Mary sought the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and found it, associating it (symallousa) with the written words, the life of Jesus and the moments of discovery in her personal history. Mary is our model not only for receiving the faith which is the Word, but also for studying it. It is not enough for her to receive it. She reflects on it. She not only possesses it, but values it. She not only gives it her assent, but also develops it. In doing so, Mary becomes an example of faith for all of us, from the most simple soul to the most scholarly of the Doctors of the Church, who seek, consider and set forth how to bear witness to the Gospel.

Maria, Virgo Obediens

In receiving the Good News, Mary is the ideal model of the obedience of faith, becoming a living icon of the Church in service to the Word. Isaac of Stella states: "In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary.... The Lord's inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; and in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary's womb, he dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church's faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul (33)". She teaches us not to stand by as idle spectators before the Word of Life, but to become participants, making our own the "here I am" of the prophet (cf. Is 6:8) and allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, who abides in us. She "magnifies" the Lord, discovering in her life the mercy of God, who makes her "blessed," because "she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45). St. Ambrose says that every Christian believer conceives and begets the Word of God. According to the flesh, Christ has only one mother; but, according to the faith, everyone gives him birth (34).

Our Lady of Mercy

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Marian Orders and Institutes

Our Blessed Lady is at the origin of any number of Orders, religious institutes, and monasteries. Very often she appeared, entrusting a founder or foundress with a particular mission, with a rule of life to foster that mission and, sometimes, with a distinctive habit. Among the many institutes established by an inspiration from the Mother of God, and with her help, are the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel; the Cistercians who, in the middle ages, were called the Monks of Mary; the Olivetan Benedictines; the Bridgettines; the Servites; and the Order of Our Lady of Ransom or Mercedarians. The latter keep today as their patronal feast.

Saint Peter Nolasco and the Mercedarians

It is related that, in the early thirteenth century while much of Spain lay under the domination of the Saracens, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Peter Nolasco, encouraging him to found an Order for the purpose of redeeming Christians held in brutal slavery by the infidels. The brethren of the new Order, in addition to the three vows of religion taken by other mendicants, bound themselves by a fourth vow to give themselves in pawn to the infidels, if necessary, to obtain the liberation of Christians from slavery.

Catherine McCauley and the Religious Sisters of Mercy

On September 24, 1827, Mother Mary Catherine McCauley opened her House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland. The Religious Sisters of Mercy, vowed to the service of the poor, the sick, and the ignorant, placed themselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Mercy.

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In addition to the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, Mother McCauley's Sisters of Mercy chanted the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in choir and, on solemn occasions, donned the ample white cloak associated with the Order of Carmel, as sign of their devotion to Our Lady and of the Institute's spiritual affiliation with the Carmelite Fathers of Saint Teresa's Church in Dublin. The prior of the Carmelites in Clarendon Street was, in effect, the ecclesiastical superior of Mother McCauley's Convent of Mercy. The Religious Sisters of Mercy also keep September 24th as their patronal feast.

The Collect for today's feast is an effective prayer for deliverance from bondage to sin:

Deus, qui per gloriosissimam Filii tui Matrem,
ad liberandos Christi fideles a potestate paganorum,
nova Ecclesiam tuam prole amplificare dignatus es:
praesta, quaesumus,;
ut quam pie veneramur tanti operis institutricem,
eius pariter meritis et intercessione,
a peccatis omnibus et captivitate daemonis liberemur.

O God, who for the deliverance of Christians
from the power of the heathen,
wast pleased through the most glorious Mother of Thy Son
to enrich Thy Church with a new family,
we pray Thee grant that we,
who devoutly venerate her as the foundress of this great work,
may likewise be delivered by her merits and intercession
from all our sins and from bondage to the power of hell.

Le sourire de la Vierge

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It will probably take us until this coming December 8th to ponder all that the Holy Father said and did during his apostolic journey to France and, especially, to Lourdes. Here is the magnificent homily he delivered at Holy Mass at September 15th, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on . . . Our Lady's smile. The subtitles in boldface are my own.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Esplanade in front of the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Rosaire, Lourdes
Monday, 15 September 2008

Dear Brothers in the episcopate and the priesthood,
Dear Friends who are sick, dear carers and helpers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Transfixion of the Mother's Heart

Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God's compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son's compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother's heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before "giving up his spirit" (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

She Smiles Upon All Her Children

Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

Seeking the Smile of the Virgin Mary

The psalmist, seeing from afar this maternal bond which unites the Mother of Christ with the people of faith, prophesies regarding the Virgin Mary that "the richest of the people ... will seek your smile" (Ps 44:13). In this way, prompted by the inspired word of Scripture, Christians have always sought the smile of Our Lady, this smile which medieval artists were able to represent with such marvellous skill and to show to advantage. This smile of Mary is for all; but it is directed quite particularly to those who suffer, so that they can find comfort and solace therein. To seek Mary's smile is not an act of devotional or outmoded sentimentality, but rather the proper expression of the living and profoundly human relationship which binds us to her whom Christ gave us as our Mother.

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Contemplating the Smile of the Virgin

To wish to contemplate this smile of the Virgin, does not mean letting oneself be led by an uncontrolled imagination. Scripture itself discloses it to us through the lips of Mary when she sings the Magnificat: "My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour" (Lk 1:46-47). When the Virgin Mary gives thanks to the Lord, she calls us to witness. Mary shares, as if by anticipation, with us, her future children, the joy that dwells in her heart, so that it can become ours. Every time we recite the Magnificat, we become witnesses of her smile. Here in Lourdes, in the course of the apparition of Wednesday 3 March 1858, Bernadette contemplated this smile of Mary in a most particular way. It was the first response that the Beautiful Lady gave to the young visionary who wanted to know who she was. Before introducing herself, some days later, as "the Immaculate Conception", Mary first taught Bernadette to know her smile, this being the most appropriate point of entry into the revelation of her mystery.

Turn Towards Mary

In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures, looking down on us, is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God's tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope. Unfortunately we know only too well: the endurance of suffering can upset life's most stable equilibrium; it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence, and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life. There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving presence: we seek then the closeness not only of those who share the same blood or are linked to us by friendship, but also the closeness of those who are intimately bound to us by faith. Who could be more intimate to us than Christ and his holy Mother, the Immaculate One? More than any others, they are capable of understanding us and grasping how hard we have to fight against evil and suffering. The Letter to the Hebrews says of Christ that he "is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses; for in every respect he has been tempted as we are" (cf. Heb 4:15). I would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn towards Mary! Within the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness and for life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.

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Gaze Frequently Into the Eyes of the Virgin Mary

How true was the insight of that great French spiritual writer, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, who in L' âme de tout apostolat, proposed to the devout Christian to gaze frequently "into the eyes of the Virgin Mary"! Yes, to seek the smile of the Virgin Mary is not a pious infantilism, it is the aspiration, as Psalm 44 says, of those who are "the richest of the people" (verse 13). "The richest", that is to say, in the order of faith, those who have attained the highest degree of spiritual maturity and know precisely how to acknowledge their weakness and their poverty before God. In the very simple manifestation of tenderness that we call a smile, we grasp that our sole wealth is the love God bears us, which passes through the heart of her who became our Mother. To seek this smile, is first of all to have grasped the gratuitousness of love; it is also to be able to elicit this smile through our efforts to live according to the word of her Beloved Son, just as a child seeks to elicit its mother's smile by doing what pleases her. And we know what pleases Mary, thanks to the words she spoke to the servants at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you" (cf. Jn 2:5).

Maria, Fons Amoris

Mary's smile is a spring of living water. "He who believes in me", says Jesus, "out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7:38). Mary is the one who believed and, from her womb, rivers of living water have flowed forth to irrigate human history. The spring that Mary pointed out to Bernadette here in Lourdes is the humble sign of this spiritual reality. From her believing heart, from her maternal heart, flows living water which purifies and heals. By immersing themselves in the baths at Lourdes, so many people have discovered and experienced the gentle maternal love of the Virgin Mary, becoming attached to her in order to bind themselves more closely to the Lord! In the liturgical sequence of this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary is honoured with the title of Fons amoris, "fount of love". From Mary's heart, there springs up a gratuitous love which calls forth a response of filial love, called to ever greater refinement. Like every mother, and better than every mother, Mary is the teacher of love. That is why so many sick people come here to Lourdes, to quench their thirst at the "spring of love" and to let themselves be led to the sole source of salvation, her son Jesus the Saviour.

Suffering and Self-Offering With Christ

Christ imparts his salvation by means of the sacraments, and especially in the case of those suffering from sickness or disability, by means of the grace of the sacrament of the sick. For each individual, suffering is always something alien. It can never be tamed. That is why it is hard to bear, and harder still - as certain great witnesses of Christ's holiness have done - to welcome it as a significant element in our vocation, or to accept, as Bernadette expressed it, to "suffer everything in silence in order to please Jesus". To be able to say that, it is necessary to have travelled a long way already in union with Jesus. Here and now, though, it is possible to entrust oneself to God's mercy, as manifested through the grace of the sacrament of the sick. Bernadette herself, in the course of a life that was often marked by sickness, received this sacrament four times. The grace of this sacrament consists in welcoming Christ the healer into ourselves. However, Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world. In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ's presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation.

The Sweet Yoke of Christ

Without the Lord's help, the yoke of sickness and suffering weighs down on us cruelly. By receiving the sacrament of the sick, we seek to carry no other yoke that that of Christ, strengthened through his promise to us that his yoke will be easy to carry and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30). I invite those who are to receive the sacrament of the sick during this Mass to enter into a hope of this kind.

Arms of the Servant Church

The Second Vatican Council presented Mary as the figure in whom the entire mystery of the Church is typified (cf. Lumen Gentium, 63-65). Her personal journey outlines the profile of the Church, which is called to be just as attentive to those who suffer as she herself was. I extend an affectionate greeting to those working in the areas of public health and nursing, as well as those who, in different ways, in hospitals and other institutions, are contributing to the care of the sick with competence and generosity. Equally, I should like to say to all the hospitaliers, the brancardiers and the carers who come from every diocese in France and from further afield, and who throughout the year attend the sick who come on pilgrimage to Lourdes, how much their service is appreciated. They are the arms of the servant Church. Finally, I wish to encourage those who, in the name of their faith, receive and visit the sick, especially in hospital infirmaries, in parishes or, as here, at shrines. May you always sense in this important and delicate mission the effective and fraternal support of your communities! In this regard, I particularly greet and thank my brothers in the Episcopate, the French Bishops, Bishops and priests from afar, and all who serve the sick and suffering throughout the world. Thank you for your ministry close to our suffering Lord.

Springs of Living Water

The service of charity that you offer is a Marian service. Mary entrusts her smile to you, so that you yourselves may become, in faithfulness to her Son, springs of living water. Whatever you do, you do in the name of the Church, of which Mary is the purest image. May you carry her smile to everyone!

Invocations to Our Lady

To conclude, I wish to join in the prayer of the pilgrims and the sick, and to pray with you a passage from the prayer to Mary that has been proposed for this Jubilee celebration:

"Because you are
the smile of God,
the reflection of the light of Christ,
the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit,

Because you chose Bernadette in her lowliness,
because you are the morning star,
the gate of heaven
and the first creature to experience the resurrection,
Our Lady of Lourdes",

with our brothers and sisters whose hearts and bodies are in pain, we pray to you!

Papal Angelus from Lourdes

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I thank the Holy Father for this marvelous Angelus message. The heart of it -- or the word that resonated most strongly within me -- was this: "That which many, either because of embarrassment or modesty, do not confide to their nearest and dearest, they confide to her who is all pure, to her Immaculate Heart: with simplicity, without frills, in truth. Before Mary, by virtue of her very purity, man does not hesitate to reveal his weakness, to express his questions and his doubts, to formulate his most secret hopes and desires."

The Contemplation of Mary's Yes

Every day, praying the Angelus gives us the opportunity to meditate for a few moments, in the midst of all our activities, on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. At noon, when the first hours of the day are already beginning to weigh us down with fatigue, our availability and our generosity are renewed by the contemplation of Mary's "yes". This clear and unreserved "yes" is rooted in the mystery of Mary's freedom, a total and entire freedom before God, completely separated from any complicity with sin, thanks to the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.

Weakness Confided to the All-Pure

This privilege given to Mary, which sets her apart from our common condition, does not distance her from us, but on the contrary, it brings her closer. While sin divides, separating us from one another, Mary's purity makes her infinitely close to our hearts, attentive to each of us and desirous of our true good. You see it here in Lourdes, as in all Marian shrines; immense crowds come thronging to Mary's feet to entrust to her their most intimate thoughts, their most heartfelt wishes. That which many, either because of embarrassment or modesty, do not confide to their nearest and dearest, they confide to her who is all pure, to her Immaculate Heart: with simplicity, without frills, in truth. Before Mary, by virtue of her very purity, man does not hesitate to reveal his weakness, to express his questions and his doubts, to formulate his most secret hopes and desires. The Virgin Mary's maternal love disarms all pride; it renders man capable of seeing himself as he is, and it inspires in him the desire to be converted so as to give glory to God.

Refuge in the Embrace of God

Thus, Mary shows us the right way to come to the Lord. She teaches us to approach him in truth and simplicity. Thanks to her, we discover that the Christian faith is not a burden: it is like a wing which enables us to fly higher, so as to take refuge in God's embrace.

The Immaculate Conception: A Grace for All

The life and faith of believers make it clear that the grace of the Immaculate Conception given to Mary is not merely a personal grace, but a grace for all, a grace given to the entire people of God. In Mary, the Church can already contemplate what she is called to become. Every believer can contemplate, here and now, the perfect fulfilment of his or her own vocation.

The Graces Given to Mary for Us

May each of you always remain full of thanksgiving for what the Lord has chosen to reveal of his plan of salvation through the mystery of Mary: a mystery in which we are involved most intimately since, from the height of the Cross which we celebrate and exalt today, it is revealed to us through the words of Jesus himself that his Mother is our Mother. Inasmuch as we are sons and daughters of Mary, we can profit from all the graces given to her; the incomparable dignity that came to her through her Immaculate Conception shines brightly over us, her children.

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The Mariological teachings of the Holy Father are, more often than not, enshrined in carefully crafted homilies. He delights us both by the delicacy of his sentiments and the clarity of his doctrine. The homily he gave for the feast of the Assumption in the parish church of Castelgandolfo nearly escaped my notice. I am compelled to share it. The titles in boldface and italics are my own. In the photograph we see the Addolorata of Vultus Christi reader and commenter Brendano's ancestral village of Mussomeli in Sicily.

Every Soul Hastens to You, O Mary

St Germanus, Bishop of Constantinople in the eighth century, in a homily given on the Feast of the Assumption, addressing the heavenly Mother of God said: "You are the One who through your immaculate flesh reunited the Christian people with Christ.... Just as all who thirst hasten to the fountain, so every soul hastens to you, the Fountain of love, and as every man aspires to live, to see the light that never fades, so every Christian longs to enter the light of the Most Blessed Trinity where you already are". It is these same sentiments that inspire us today as we contemplate Mary in God's glory. In fact, when she fell asleep in this world to reawaken in Heaven, she simply followed her Son Jesus for the last time, on his longest and most crucial journey, his passage "from this world to the Father" (cf. Jn 13: 1).

Mary Coredemptrix

Like him, together with him, she departed this world to return "to the Father's House" (cf. Jn 14: 2). And all this is not remote from us as it might seem at first sight, because we are all children of the Father, God; we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus and we are all also children of Mary, our Mother. And we all aspire to happiness. And the happiness to which we all aspire is God, so we are all journeying on toward this happiness we call Heaven which in reality is God. And Mary helps us, she encourages us to ensure that every moment of our life is a step forward on this exodus, on this journey toward God. May she help us in this way to make the reality of heaven, God's greatness, also present in the life of our world. Is this not basically the paschal dynamism of the human being, of every person who wants to become heavenly, perfectly happy, by virtue of Christ's Resurrection? And might this not be the beginning and anticipation of a movement that involves every human being and the entire cosmos? She, from whom God took his flesh and whose soul was pierced by a sword on Calvary, was associated first and uniquely in the mystery of this transformation for which we, also often pierced by the sword of suffering in this world, are all striving.

Associated With His Passion and With His Glory

The new Eve followed the new Adam in suffering, in the Passion, and so too in definitive joy. Christ is the first fruits but his risen flesh is inseparable from that of his earthly Mother, Mary. In Mary all humanity is involved in the Assumption to God, and together with her all creation, whose groans and sufferings, St Paul tells us, are the birth-pangs of the new humanity. Thus are born the new Heaven and the new earth in which death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more (cf. Rv 21: 1-4).

What a great mystery of love is presented to us once again today for our contemplation! Christ triumphed over death with the omnipotence of his love. Love alone is omnipotent. This love impelled Christ to die for us and thus to overcome death. Yes, love alone gives access to the Kingdom of life! And Mary entered after her Son, associated with his Glory, after being associated with his Passion. She entered it with an uncontainable force, keeping the way behind her open to us all. And for this reason we invoke her today as "Gate of Heaven", "Queen of Angels" and "Refuge of sinners".

The Mystery of Mary Approached Through Faith and the Silence of Prayer

It is certainly not reasoning that will make us understand this reality which is so sublime, but rather simple, forthright faith and the silence of prayer that puts us in touch with the Mystery that infinitely exceeds us. Prayer helps us speak with God and hear how the Lord speaks to our heart.

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The picture is a detail of Corrado Giaquinto's Nascita della Vergine (1732). His Maria Bambina is one of the loveliest I have ever seen. Saint Anne is shown as a healthy mamma, visibly pleased with her infant daughter. Saint Joachim looks on from the shadowy background.

On this feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, we do well to listen again to Saint Bernard, the Citharista Mariae (Mary's Harpist). Translation by the Marquess of Bute.

O thou whomsoever thou art,
that knowest thyself to be here
not so much walking upon firm ground,
as battered to and fro by the gales of this life's ocean,
if thou wouldest not be overwhelmed by the tempest,
keep thine eyes fixed upon this star's clear shining.

If the hurricanes of temptation rise against thee,
or thou art running upon the rocks of trouble,
look to the star, call on Mary.

If the waves of pride, or ambition, or slander, or envy toss thee,
look to the star, call on Mary.

If the billows of anger or avarice,
or the enticements of the flesh beat against thy soul's bark,
look to Mary.

If the enormity of thy sins trouble thee,
if the foulness of thy conscience confound thee,
if the dread of judgment appal thee,
if thou begin to slip into the deep of despondency,
into the pit of despair,
think of Mary.

In danger, in difficulty, or in doubt,
think on Mary, call on Mary.
Let her not be away from thy mouth or from thine heart,
and that thou mayest not lack the succour of her prayers,
turn not aside from the example of her conversation.

If thou follow her, thou wilt never go astray.
If thou pray to her thou wilt never have need to despair.
If thou keep her in mind, thou wilt never wander.
If she hold thee, thou wilt never fall.
If she lead thee, thou wilt never be weary.
If she help thee thou wilt reach home safe at the last,
and so thou wilt prove in thyself how meetly it is said:
"And the Virgin's name was Mary."

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For some years now, especially around the Marian feasts of September 8th, September 12th, November 21st, and December 8th, I have prayed my rosary while dwelling on five mysteries of the first part of Our Lady's life. These five mysteries of the Blessed Virgin are:

-- the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne;
-- the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
-- the Most Holy Name of Mary
-- the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple;
-- the Betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph;

There is a particular sweetness in dwelling on these mysteries of Maria Bambina, the Infant Mary, the Child Mary. They distill graces of purity, of childlike simplicity, and of littleness.

All five mysteries are commemorated in the Sacred Liturgy. The liturgical books are rich in texts to nourish the meditation of each one. It is enough to take an antiphon, a verse, a single phrase, and to hold it in the heart while telling one's beads. The Rosary corresponds to the meditatio and the oratio of monastic prayer; it begins necessarily in lectio divina, the hearing of the Word and then, gently, almost imperceptibly, draws the soul into contemplatio.

The Rosary is, I am convinced, the surest and easiest school of contemplative prayer. The Rosary decapitates pride, the single greatest obstacle to union with God. The repetition of the Aves, like a stream of pure water, cleanses the heart.

Maria Bambina

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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Romans 8:28-30
Psalm 12:5, 6 (R. Is 61:10a)
Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23

Maria Bambina

Unto us a little girl is born; unto us a daughter is given. “The Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her” (Cf. Lk 1:35). The Word will take flesh in her virginal womb and suckle at her breast. And her name shall be called Full of Grace, Glory of Jerusalem, Joy of Israel, and Mother of God. In Italy she has another name, one that the people love to give her; she is their Maria Bambina, the little Infant Mary.

The Story of an Image

It was in Rome, many years ago, that I encountered the image of Maria Bambina for the first time. I didn’t know quite what to make of it. She looked rather like a doll, all dressed up in lace and satin, resting on her pillow. I knew only that all sorts of people, and especially children, came to pray before her. I saw that that Maria Bambina had stolen their hearts. She attracted the most extraordinary outpouring of tender devotion, and does to this day.

The image of Maria Bambina originated in Milan where the cathedral is dedicated to the Infant Mary. A Poor Clare nun fashioned the image out of wax in 1735. Maria Bambina suffered the vicissitudes of the times under Napoleon. The convent that kept the image was suppressed. Maria Bambina was passed from one “foster home” to another until, in 1885, she found a permanent home in the motherhouse of Milan’s Sisters of Charity. Beginning in 1884 various miracles were attributed to the image of the Infant Mary. She was dressed in new clothes and placed in a new crib in the chapel of the Sisters. Devotion to Maria Bambina spread throughout Italy and then elsewhere in the world.

A Child for Children

The learned and the clever, the theologically sophisticated and those who think that holiness has no need of warmth and no time for tenderness, are baffled by Maria Bambina. But children understand her. Raïssa Maritain understood the Child Mary perfectly; “The Blessed Virgin is the spoiled child of the Blessed Trinity,” she wrote. “She knows no law. Everything yields to her in heaven and on earth. The whole of heaven gazes on her with delight. She plays before the ravished eyes of God himself.”

God With Us

The birth to Joachim and Anna of a little girl “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) set in motion great rolling waves of grace that reach even to us, for she was born to be the Mother of Christ. “And from His fulness have we all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). All the joy of today’s festival is summed up in the last three words of the Gospel: “God with us” (Mt 1:23).

In the birth of the Child Mary, “those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79) see the first glimmers of the long-awaited Dayspring from on high (cf. Lk 1:78). Joachim and Anna rejoice! Abraham and Sarah rejoice! The ancestors of Jesus Christ rejoice!

Rejoicing Ahead of Time

Today, with good reason, Mother Church gives us the Genealogy of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew. The long list of patriarchs and of prophets, of kings and of warriors, of saints and of sinners is transformed by the birth of Mary. We see all the ancestors of Christ standing on tiptoe to see the joy that comes to them from afar. With the birth of Mary they begin to rejoice ahead of time.

A Virgin Shall Conceive

This is the little girl who will give her consent to the Angel -- “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38) -- “therefore the child to be born of her will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). The Mother of the Messiah has arrived. Isaiah’s prophecy is about to be fulfilled: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).

Her Voice and Her Face

The cries of little Mary announce the arrival of the Bridegroom in the night of history. “I hear my Beloved! Behold He comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills (Ct 2:8). In the daughter of Joachim and Anna we can already see the human features of the Word made flesh. Her face announces His. Speaking at the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello two years ago on September 1st, Pope Benedict XVI called her, “Our Lady in whose face -- more than in any other creature -- we can recognize the features of the Incarnate Word.” The face of Maria Bambina already reveals the Human Face of God.

The Voice of the Word

The sound of little Mary’s voice is jubilation to our ears because it means that the voice of the Word is very close! Soon the Beloved will lift up His voice: at Bethlehem in the cries of an infant; at Nazareth as a little boy learning His Hebrew alphabet and beginning to read the Scriptures in the synagogue; at Jerusalem in dialogue with the elders in the Temple; on the Mount of the Beatitudes; in Galilee and in Judea; in the Cenacle and in Gethsemane; on the Cross, saying: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27); “I thirst” (Jn 19:28); “Father forgive them” (Lk 23:34); “Father, into thy hands” (Lk 23:46); “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). In the splendour of His resurrection, He will call another Mary by name, and He will ask Peter, “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:17).

The inarticulate cries of the newborn baby Myriam, daughter of Joachim and of Anna, announce all of this. And so we bend over the cradle of Maria Bambina, the Mother of God, and say to her in the words of the Canticle: “O my dove, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely (Ct 2:14).

The Heart of the Mother and the Heart of the Son

In your face, O little Mary, we already see that of Jesus; in your voice, we already hear His. Your voice, O little Mary, is sweet to our ears; your face is lovely to our eyes, for He whom the whole universe cannot contain will be enclosed in your womb. He will grow for nine months beneath your Immaculate Heart. Out of your flesh and blood the Holy Spirit will form a human Heart for the Son of God, the very Heart that, together with yours, will be pierced on Calvary.

Cause of Our Joy

You, O little Mary, Maria Bambina, are the Cause of our Joy! Your appearance in the arms of your mother announces that the Word of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, will soon appear in your arms. And you have but one desire, one joy: to give us your Son, to draw us to Him, that your joy might be ours and that our joy might be fulfilled.

As we celebrate this Holy Sacrifice, we ask Maria Bambina, the little Child Mary, to chase all sadness, all coldness, and all fear from our hearts, that we, like little children, may worthily welcome her Son, her very Flesh and Blood in the holy and life-giving Mysteries.

All Things New and Better

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Mary Coredemptrix

I thrilled to the passage from Saint Bernard that I read this morning at Matins of the Saturday Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Mellifluous Doctor attributes the work of redemption to one Man and one Woman, to Jesus and Mary.

Later in the day, reading the Holy Father's homily at Mass in Saint Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, I discovered that His Holiness spoke of the same mystery: the new Eve cooperating with the new Adam in reversing the disobedience of our first parents.

Saint Bernard this morning at Matins:

"Dearly beloved brethren, one man and one woman grievously harmed us, but, thanks be to God, by one Man and one Woman all things are restored unto us, and there remaineth still due from us a great debt of gratitude. For not as the offence, so was the gift (Rom 5, 15) but the greatness of the benefit far outweigheth the amount of the loss. Thus did it please our most wise and merciful Creator; that which was shaken, He did not break, but made all things new and better, making for us a new Adam out of the old, and changing Eve for Mary."

Pope Benedict XVI this morning in Sydney:

"Dear friends, let me conclude these reflections by drawing your attention to the great stained glass window in the chancel of this cathedral. There Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, is represented enthroned in majesty beside her divine Son. The artist has represented Mary, as the new Eve, offering an apple to Christ, the new Adam. This gesture symbolizes her reversal of our first parents' disobedience, the rich fruit which God's grace bore in her own life, and the first fruits of that redeemed and glorified humanity which she has preceded into the glory of heaven."

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Oh, the joy of First Vespers of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: a glorious set of antiphons and (in the monastic Office) an inhabitual sequence of psalms — 112, 145, 146, and 147. What do these four Vespers psalms have in common? The first and third begin with Laudate; the second and fourth with Lauda! In the liturgy there are no insignificant details; the details set the tone.

In my Rosary after Vespers, I stayed with the First Chapter of Saint Luke for my five mysteries; 1. The Annunciation to Zachary (Luke 1:5-22); 2. The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38); 3. The Visitation (Luke 1:39-55); 4. The Birth and Circumcision of John the Baptist (Luke 1:56-79); 5. John in the Wilderness (Luke 1:80).

John the Baptist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

John the Baptist, while yet an infant hidden in Saint Elizabeth’s womb, was the first to experience the sweet mediation of the Virgin Mother’s Immaculate Heart. It was the God-bearing Virgin’s Heart, full of solicitude for her cousin Elizabeth, that moved her to “arise and go with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah” (cf. Lk 1:39). There the Mother of God bearing her Son beneath her Immaculate Heart, “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk 1:40).

The Light of the Real Presence Shining in Her Eyes

This was, in a sense, the first mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: to carry the hidden Christ to the “little child” (Lk 1:76) destined to be the Friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), the Prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76). With the flame of love burning in her Immaculate Heart and the light of the real presence shining in her eyes, Mary “became in some way a “tabernacle” — the first “tabernacle” in history” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 55). With the arrival of the Virgin–Tabernacle enclosing within her the “Dayspring from on high” (Lk 1:78), John the Baptist was sanctified, washed clean of original sin, and quickened by the Holy Spirit.

Jubilation

The birth of John the Baptist was an occasion of jubilation. Having already been touched by the Heart of Mary, the Cause of our Joy, the Baptist comes into the world as the Herald of Joy. His prophetic ministry, even as he advances toward a cruel death, is illumined by a supernatural joy. “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:29–30).

The Spirit and the Bride

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Our Lady and the Holy Spirit

Today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is, in its own special way, a feast of the Holy Spirit, a fitting sequel to the Solemnity of Pentecost that we celebrated just three weeks ago.

The Visitation

The Church ponders the mystery of the Visitation two or three times a year: today, on May 31st, in preparation for the solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24th; during Advent, on December 21st; and again on the Fourth Sunday of Advent of the Year C.

The Roman liturgy gives us two Mass formularies for the Visitation: the one given in the Missal for May 31st, and a second one found in the Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987). This latter contains four explicit mentions of the Holy Spirit. The translations are my own.

The Collect

O God, Saviour of mankind, who by the blessed Virgin Mary,
the ark of the new covenant, brought salvation and gladness
to the house of Elizabeth,
grant, we beseech you, that, by yielding to the breath of the Spirit,
we may carry Christ to our brothers and sisters,
magnifying you by our praises and by the holiness of our way of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

This Collect uses a very evocative phrase: “yielding to the breath of the Spirit.” To yield to the Holy Spirit requires suppleness; it obliges us to let go of our plans, to make changes in our program, to “arise and go with haste into the hill country” (Lk 1:39). In going to Elizabeth, Mary yielded to the breath of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady could do this because she was light as a feather carried on a gentle breeze; light, I say, because she was utterly poor —empty of self — and utterly virginal — pure capacity for God.

What keeps us from yielding to the breath of the Spirit if not the heaviness that clings to us and weighs us down, the burden of our preoccupation with self, the load of all our attachments? What happens when we yield — give in — to the breath of the Spirit? We may be carried where would rather not go. One thing is certain, and this too is in the Collect, we will be free to carry the hidden Christ, to others and to magnify God with praise and with holy living.

The Prayer Over the Offerings

Lord, we beseech you
let your Spirit hallow these our gifts,
the very Spirit who formed the Virgin Mary to be a new creature,
so that from her, bathed in dew from heaven,
would rise the fruit of salvation, Jesus Christ your Son,
who is Lord forever and ever.

This Prayer Over the Offerings asks the Father to hallow them by sending upon them the same Spirit who formed the Virgin Mary to be a new creature: an allusion to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It goes on to describe the Blessed Virgin as “bathed in dew from heaven”: a reference to her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation.

The Dew of Your Spirit

The same image of dew is used for the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer II: “Therefore, make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit, that they may become for us the Body + and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mary most holy, bathed in the dew of the Spirit, brought forth the fruit of salvation, the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus. That same fruit of salvation is given us in the Most Holy Eucharist, by the power of the same Spirit, descending invisibly like dew from heaven on our oblations of bread and wine.

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A Day of Prayer for the Church in China

On Pentecost 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, addressed a letter to the bishops, priests, religious, and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China. In his letter, the Holy Father proposed the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, venerated on the hill of Sheshan in the diocese of Shanghai, as a world wide day of prayer for China. Today, for the first time, the Holy Father's initiative will be implemented. At the Monastery of the Glorious Cross we will recite the Holy Father's prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan at the end of Holy Mass.

Help of Christians

"Dear Pastors and all the faithful, the date 24 May could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China. This day is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.

Pray for Persecutors

I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible. I remind you, moreover, of the commandment that Jesus gave us, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, as well as the invitation of the Apostle Saint Paul: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:1-4).

When Everything Can Seem a Failure

On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure.

Rejoice

At the conclusion of this Letter I pray that you, dear Pastors of the Catholic Church which is in China, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful, may "rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:6-7).

Mother of the Church and Queen of China

May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Queen of China, who at the hour of the Cross patiently awaited the morning of the Resurrection in the silence of hope, accompany you with maternal solicitude and intercede for all of you, together with Saint Joseph and the countless Holy Martyrs of China."

Prayer to Our Lady, Help of Christians, of Sheshan

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians",
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother's care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God's eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously cooperated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God's loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.
In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

La Madonna di Pompei

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The Supplica

May 8th is the Feast of Our Lady of Pompei. In Italy and in places all over the globe the feast will be marked by the solemn recitation at noon of Blessed Bartolo Longo's moving prayer, the Supplica, meaning supplication or petition.

The Prayer of People the World Over

The Supplica is, of Blessed Bartolo Longo's published prayers to the Mother of God, the most famous. Its incandescent words have opened countless souls to the grace of Christ through the all–powerful intercession of His Mother.

The Supplica is a prayer that people have made their own. It is known on every continent; it has been translated into hundreds of languages. No authority ever imposed it, it is not part of the liturgy of the Church, it was never submitted to revision by ICEL, and yet, it has become universal. Sociologists of religion, take note! Translators of liturgical texts, wake up and smell the Italian coffee!

A Prayer of the Heart

Certain rationalistic types disdain the Supplica. They see it as representative of an unenlightened, sentimental, southern Italian piety bordering on superstition. They find its emphases embarrassing, its display of emotion unnerving.

The literary style of Blessed Bartolo Longo is the expression of his own character. He was capable of gentleness and of passion. He was, like all meridionals, rich in sentiment and quick to express it both in song and in tears. He was moved, before all else, by the reason of the heart.

Blessed Longo was a lover of Truth; but his particular grace was the discovery of Truth through love. He found Truth, not in syllogisms and in concepts, but in the Heart and on the Face of the Word Made Flesh in the womb of the Virgin, and held in her arms.

The Prayer of One Delivered From Evil

The Rosary was the means by which, at the age of twenty–eight, a confused and desperate Avvocato Bartolo Longo — a practicing Satanist and medium at the time — was converted to the Truth and delivered from the powers of darkness. He vowed that he would spend his life proclaiming to others the Rosary's liberating and healing power. This is why, at the end of the Supplica, he exclaims: "O blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we shall never abandon you."

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Bound to Mary by the Rosary

The Supplica may not be everyone's cup of tea. Even pious folks may find it a bit too baroque, a bit overdone. It may be the southern Italian blood (mixed with Irish) that runs hot in my veins, but I love the Supplica and I plan on saying it with thousands of other people today. It is the prayer of a man very like myself: a poor sinner who fears nothing when he holds the Rosary in his hands, knowing that the Mother of God holds her end of the chain, and will not let it go.

The Supplica
Prayed at Midday on May 8th

O August Queen of Victories, O Sovereign of Heaven and Earth, at whose name the heavens rejoice and the abyss trembles, O glorious Queen of the Rosary, we your devoted children, assembled in your temple of Pompeii, (on this solemn day), pour out the affection of our heart and with filial confidence expresse our miseries to you.

From the throne of clemency, where you are seated as Queen, turn, O Mary, your merciful gaze on us, on our families, on Italy, on Europe, on the world. Have compassion on the sorrows and cares which embitter our lives. See, O Mother, how many dangers of body and soul, how many calamities and afflictions press upon us.

O Mother, implore for us the mercy of your divine Son and conquer with clemency the heart of sinners. They are our brothers and your children who cause the heart of our sweet Jesus to bleed and who sadden your most sensitive heart. Show all that you are the Queen of Peace and of Pardon.

Hail Mary.

Trentotto anni di messa!

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For The Reverend Monsignor Arthur B. Calkins on the 38th Anniversary of His Ordination to the Holy Priesthood:

"The Holy Spirit will honour Mary and, through Mary, the Holy Spirit will be honoured, beginning from the heart of priests. Two new glories are held in reserve for the world: the reign of the Holy Spirit through Mary and a new awareness stirred up by the Holy Spirit in the spiritual and Christian world of the sorrowful and loving years of Mary's solitude. In these two things, I too will be honoured together with my Father from whom I never separate myself, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

And so, if my priests want to make progress in virtue they must do it by means of Mary; if they want to grow in knowledge and in love for the Holy Spirit, they must become ever more hers. More and more then let them make known and glorify these years of her solitude.

There is nothing surer than to avail themselves of the Holy Spirit and of Mary for their transformation into Me and, even more, for the perfection (insofar as this is possible on earth) of the union of the members of the Church among themselves, and the perfect Unity in the Trinity that I am seeking in a thousand ways."

The text is from Sacerdoti di Cristo by Conchita Cabrera de Armida, p. 387. The translation is my own.

Our Lady of America

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A very dear priest friend and I were discussing the place given to the Blessed Virgin Mary during the Holy Father's recent Apostolic Journey to the United States. I decided to review the Holy Father's discourses to discover when and where he spoke of Our Blessed Lady, as well as what he said on those occasions. Here is what I found, together with my own comments in italics.

1. Video-Message to Catholics and People of the United States of America on the Occasion of the Upcoming Apostolic Journey, April 8, 2000

“I reach out to every one of you with affection, and I invoke upon you the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Que la Virgen María les acompañe y proteja. Que Dios les bendiga.”

2. Celebration of Vespers and Meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America, Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

“We began by celebrating Evening Prayer in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city. Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States.”

The phrase "with Mary, the Mother of Jesus" is taken from Acts 1:14. The circumstances of such an allusion — the successors of the Apostles united in prayer in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — could not have been more fitting.

“Contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary releases all their saving power and it conforms, unites and consecrates us to Jesus Christ (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11, 15).”

While treating of the prayer of bishops and priests the Holy Father alluded to the Rosary. Together with Eucharistic Adoration and the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary is integral to the daily prayer discipline of the clergy.

"As I conclude my words to you this evening, I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son."

This is as close as the Holy Father came to making an explicit "affidamento" or act of consecration of the Church in the United States to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The second line seems to evoke the Virgin of Guadalupe, heavenly patroness of the Church's works in favour of life.

“Dear Brother Bishops, with these few observations, I once more encourage all of you in your ministry to the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, and I commend you to the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, Mother of the Church.”

Again, the Holy Father commends the Bishops to the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, calling her "Mother of the Church. The above texts seem rather meagre in terms of their explicit Marian content. I regret that there was no mention of Our Lady in the Holy Father's homily to priests and religious in Saint Patrick's Cathedral and in his address to young people at Dunwoodie. I had hoped that the visit to Ground Zero might be marked by a recognition of the compassion of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows. I want, nonetheless, to deepen the words concerning Our Lady that Our Holy Father did speak, by receiving them obediently, that is, with a quality of listening that changes life.

Setting An Example

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Yesterday was the First Saturday of the month of May. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI gave an edifying example of pastoral zeal to all the bishops and parish priests of the Church by praying the Rosary with the faithful in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It was profoundly moving to see the Holy Father on his knees, telling his beads with simplicity, humility, and piety. He recited the prayers of the Rosary in Latin. A suitable antiphon in Gregorian Chant and a passage from Sacred Scripture preceded each decade. The Salve Regina, Litany of Loreto, and Regina Caeli concluded the celebration: a model for every cathedral and parish church in the world. At the end of the prayer, the Holy Father said:

"Today we are demonstrating together that the Holy Rosary is not a pious practice relegated to the past, like a prayer of former times that one thinks of nostalgia. The Rosary is, as it were, coming into a new springtime. This is, without any doubt, one of the most eloquent signs of the love that the young generations nourish for Jesus and for Mary His Mother.

In today’s world so full of distractions, this prayer helps us to place Christ at the centre, as did the Virgin, who meditated inwardly all that was said concerning her Son, and then what He did and said. When the Rosary is recited we relive the important and significant moments of the history of salvation; we journey through the various phases of the mission of Christ. With Mary the heart turns toward the mystery of Jesus. Jesus is placed at the centre of our life, of our time, of our city, by means of the contemplation and meditation of His holy mysteries of joy, of light, of sorrow, and of glory. Mary helps us to receive within ourselves the grace that emanates from these mysteries so that through us they might irrigate society, beginning with our daily relations, and purify it of so many negative forces, while apprising it of the newness of God.

The Rosary, when prayed in an authentic way, one that is not mechanical and superficial, but profound, undeniably confers peace and reconciliation. It contains within itself the healing power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, invoked with faith and with love at the center of each Ave Maria."