Blessed Virgin Mary: March 2007 Archives

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Recently a dear friend here in Rome gave me a booklet by Dr. Philip Boyce, O.C.D., Bishop of Raphoe, Ireland, entitled At Prayer with John Henry Newman. The booklet is available from the International Centre of Newman Friends. The Carmelite bishop calls prayer "the texture of Newman's life." He presents some of Newman's own magnificent prayers. All his life the famous Oxford convert sought to pray in spirit and in truth. When I pray using Cardinal Newman' words, I savour in them the same humility and confidence that I have tasted in the prayers of Saint Aelred, William of St–Thierry, and Saint Claude La Colombière.

I was struck in this prayer by the petition, "soothe me with the beauty of Thy countenance":

O mighty God, strengthen me with Thy strength,
console me with Thy everlasting peace,
soothe me with the beauty of the Thy countenance;
enlighten me with Thy uncreated brightness;
purify me with the fragrance of Thy ineffable holiness.
Bathe me in Thyself, and give me to drink,
as far as mortal man may ask, of the rivers of grace which flow
from the Father and the Son,
the grace of Thy consubstantial, co–eternal Love.

And I find this one very close in spirit to Claude La Colombière's Act of Confidence:

O my God, my whole life has been a course of mercies and blessings shown to one who has been most unworthy of them.
I require no faith, for I have a long experience,
as to Thy providence towards me.
Year after year Thou hast carried me on —
removed dangers from my path —
recovered me, recruited me, refreshed me,
borne with me, directed me, sustained me.
O forsake me not when my strength faileth me.
And Thou never wilt forsake me.
I may securely repose upon Thee.
Sinner as I am, nevertheless, while I am true to Thee,
Thou wilt still and to the end,
be superabundantly true to me.

The booklet's sections on intercessory prayer, on Newman's love for the Roman Breviary, and on his devotion to the Rosary are enlightening and inspiring. In conclusion, Dr. Boyce explains the three kinds of divine presence in which Newman's prayer unfolded: the presence of the indwelling Trinity, the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the presence of Christ in Sacred Scripture.

The Bishop of Raphoe describes Newman's life of prayer as "a persevering effort in the weakness and darkness of our human condition." One recognizes there the experience of the author of Lead, Kindly Light.

Today being the liturgical commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I decided to turn once again to Cardinal Newman for his Litany of the Seven Dolours. Newman was fond of litanies. I am too. They address a persistent need of the heart for a prayer that is rich in images, yet simple and rythmed by repetition. Unlike the excessively didactic and heavy preces given for Lauds and Vespers in the current Liturgia Horarum, litanies in their classic form allow "heart to speak to heart," and foster the actuosa participatio recommended by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. Here then, is John Henry Newman's Litany of the Seven Dolours.

Ecce ascendimus Ierosolymam

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Second Wednesday of Lent

Jeremiah 18: 18-20
Psalm 30: 4-5, 13, 14-15
Matthew 20: 17-28

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The Sorrowful Passion of the Lord

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:17). The whole drama of the Paschal Triduum appears today before our eyes and sounds in our ears. “The Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:18). The liturgy invites us to “go up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:17), to follow Our Lord along the via dolorosa, the way of sorrows, the way of the Cross.

Prayer With Loud Cries and Tears

In the First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah, tracked and persecuted, is an image of the suffering Christ. The intentions of the prophet’s enemies are clear: “Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us heed not any of his words” (Jer 18:18). Jeremiah raises his voice in prayer: “Give heed to me, O Lord, and hearken to my plea. . . . Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them” (Jer 18:20). In the prayer of Jeremiah we hear the voice of Christ in his Passion. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Heb 5:7).

Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei

In the liturgy of the Church — and, therefore, under the influence of the Holy Spirit — Jeremiah’s prayer became the Offertory Antiphon of the Mass of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Friday of Passion Week, and again on September 15th. The Church takes the prophet’s plea and addresses it to the Mother of Sorrows: Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei . . . . “Do not forget us, Virgin Mother of God; speak good things for us there where thou standest in the presence of the Lord, to avert his anger from us” (cf. Jer 18:20).

Over the words, a nobis, “from us,” the Gregorian melody soars higher and higher into the uppermost notes of the first mode and then, peacefully, in a sublime expression of confidence, descends until it comes to rest in silence. The chant melody is a kind of musical icon of the supplication of the Church, and of her reliance on the intercession of the Mother of God.

The Man of Sorrows

One sees in the liturgical use of this text just how the Holy Spirit authorizes us to search out the Scriptures and to find in them, like the treasure hidden in the field, the mystery of the prayer of Christ: a prayer inseparable from that of his Holy Mother, a prayer continued through the ages in the supplications of his Bride, the Church. The original prayer belongs to Jeremiah: innocent and persecuted, he is the figure and the voice of Christ, the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).

The New Eve

The prayer of Christ, the New Adam, is inseparable from that of his Mother, the New Eve. She enters heart and soul into his priesthood; standing on Calvary, she receives into herself every word of his uttered from the Cross. She enters into his priestly offering and, in so doing, models our own participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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