Blessed Virgin Mary: May 2007 Archives

Vere Tu Es Deus Absconditus

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Thursday Adoration

Today, being Thursday, is our weekly day of Eucharistic Adoration at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed from Tierce until Vespers in our choir chapel in the cloister. We take turns watching in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, each member of the community having his designated hour.

John Paul II on the Visitation

It is also the Solemnity of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Yes, Cistercians keep today and all the other greater festivals of Our Lady as solemnities!) The Servant of God Pope John Paul II offered a rich Eucharistic hermeneutic of the Visitation in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003). John Paul II wrote:

Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45). Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the incarnation, the Church's Eucharistic faith. When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a "tabernacle" – the first "tabernacle" in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary.

The Hidden Face of Christ

The Face of Christ was hidden in Mary’s virginal womb: hidden, yet wonderfully radiant, Christ was hidden in Mary as He is hidden in the tabernacle. (I think that the traditional use of the tabernacle veil suggests that very connection.) The Virgin of the Visitation bears within herself the Human Face of God. She holds it beneath her heart. The joy on Mary's face as she intones her Magnificat is the very joy that shines eternally on the Face of the Word in the presence of the Father. Mary’s womb sheltered “the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6).

The Virgin of the Sign

This is the significance of the ancient icon of the Virgin of the Sign. She is the Virgin of the Magnificat and the Woman of the Eucharist. Here, the Child in the tabernacle of her womb is displayed to the eyes of faith. His Face shines from Mary’s womb as it shines from the Eucharist. Elizabeth was affected by the light shining from the Face of the hidden Christ; the same light that radiated from the Face of the Infant Christ in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb shines for us from his Eucharistic Face.

The Eucharistic Face of Christ

When the Body of Christ is displayed to our eyes at Mass, or exposed to our gaze in the monstrance during adoration, His Eucharistic Face streams with light for every darkness, healing for every brokenness, joy for every sorrow, and pardon for every sin. When Christ is “brought forth” in the Eucharist, as he was from Mary’s virginal womb on the first Christmas, the Church can sing what she sings every year at First Vespers of Christmas: Rex pacificus magnificatus est, cuius vultum desiderat universa terra — "The King of peace is magnified, the One whose face the whole earth desires to see.”

Visited by Joy

The festival of the Visitation invites to imitate the faith of Elizabeth who, without seeing it, was illumined by the Human Face of God tabernacled in Mary’s womb. For us the same Human Face of God is hidden beneath the sacramental veils, the appearances of bread and wine. The Most Holy Eucharist is the Visitation of the Hidden Christ. He come always with Mary that from her we might learn, as John Paul II said, “to sing the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key.” Thus does the Hidden Face of Christ become for us, as it was for Mary and for Elizabeth, the wellspring of joy in God.


I took a few minutes this evening to translate the Litanies de Notre-Dame-du-Chêne. Some of the invocations are quite beautiful. I especially like the allusion to Colossians 3:3 in the Oration. Do read through the litanies and let me know if you have a favourite invocation!

Thérèse Dussud offered me a lovely reproduction of the statue in the actual size of the original. I burned a candle in front of it all day yesterday and until this morning for a special intention. The Mother of God does not disdain our little gestures of confidence and love; she welcomes them and delights in them.

The Litanies of Notre-Dame-du-Chêne

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

Heavenly Father who art God, have mercy upon us.
Son, Redeemer of the world who art God, have mercy upon us.
Holy Spirit who art God, have mercy upon us.
Holy Trinity who art one God, have mercy upon us.

Our Lady of the Oak, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak who revealed thyself by means of miraculous apparitions, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, Virgin most humble, hidden for so long in the tree of Grand-Champ, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, whose sweet image was revealed in the branches of an age-old tree, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, whose goodness is ever displayed by precious favours, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, who hast fixed thine abode in the valley there to spread abroad thy maternal gifts, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, glory and honour of the region, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, all-powerful protectress, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, open refuge in all of life’s necessities, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, evergreen palm of holy hope, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, sweet rest of the afflicted soul, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, hope of downcast souls, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, safe haven in the tempest, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, friend of the lowly of heart, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, arm of victory, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, mystic ladder, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, magnet of hearts, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, mother of mercy, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, fountain of graces, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, health of the sick, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, peace and bond of families, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, joy and hope in exile, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, shelter of hearts that are pure, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, way that leads to Jesus, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, mother most devoted to those who implore thee, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Oak, who art never invoked in vain, pray for us.


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A Little Known Manifestation of the Blessed Virgin

One of the joys of my recent trip to France was a visit with Thérèse Dussud to the shrine of Notre–Dame–du-Chêne (Our Lady of the Oak) in the diocese of Besançon in eastern France. The miraculous events occurred in 1803, well before the Marian apparitions at rue du Bac, la Salette, Lourdes, and Pontmain.

In the Radiance of the Eucharist

The restoration of Catholic worship that followed the Concordat in 1802 made it possible for the little parish of Maisières at Scey-en-Varais to organize a solemn celebration of First Holy Communion, the first such celebration in twelve years. Thirteen year old Cécile Mille was among the First Communicants.

A Lady Dressed in White

Returning home from the First Communion Mass together with a friend, Cécile saw a beautiful Lady clothed in white surrounded by maidens bearing candles. She assumed it was a procession of First Communicants. Then the Lady stopped in front of an oak tree and the attendants disappeared. Against the trunk of the tree, at the parting of the branches, Cécile saw a statue with lighted candles on both sides. Cécile's friend, however, saw nothing.

Incredulity at Home

As soon as Cécile arrived home, she recounted the apparition to her parents. Her father, having consulted the parish priest and a gentleman of some learning, dismissed Cécile's story as the product of a pious imagination stimulated by the solemnities of the First Holy Communion.

Answering Patrick

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Vultus Christi reader Patrick asked:

1. Is the icon I used to illustrate the previous post the one that was in the cell of Saint Seraphim of Sarov?

Yes, indeed. In fact, it is the icon before which Saint Seraphim of Sarov died. Its sensibility is Western; its beauty undeniable. The eyes of the Mother of God are lowered. She is the humble Handmaid of the Lord. Her expression is one of interiority and stillness, of pure attention to the Holy Spirit indwelling her Immaculate Heart. The hands, crossed over her breast, depict her reception of the Holy Spirit at the moment of the Incarnation and, again, in the Cenacle on Pentecost. They also suggest her participation in the adorable Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. The stars adorning her veil and garments and the cincture tied about her waist are the sign of her perpetual and ever–fruitful virginity.

2. Why do I prefer Father Faber's translation of Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort's Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary?


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.


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!


When the Holy Ghost, her Spouse, has found Mary in a soul, He flies there. He enters there in His fullness; He communicates Himself to that soul abundantly, and to the full extent to which it makes room for His spouse. Nay, one of the greatest reasons why the Holy Ghost does not do startling wonders in our souls is because He does not find there a sufficiently great union with His faithful and inseparable spouse. I say "inseparable" spouse, because since that Substantial Love of the Father and the Son has espoused Mary, in order to produce Jesus Christ, the Head of the elect, And Jesus Christ in the elect, He has never repudiated her, because she has always been fruitful and faithful.

Saint Louis–Marie Grignion de Montfort
Father Faber's Translation

Those who have taken this teaching to heart know, by experience, just how true it is. Expertus potest credere. Seeking Mary, one finds the grace of the Holy Spirit. Listening to Mary, one hears the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Entrusting oneself to Mary, one surrenders to the Holy Spirit.

All the ministrations that the liturgy ascribes to the Holy Spirit, it pleases Him to carry out with and through Mary. Mary consoles the afflicted. She prepares the soul for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. She is Advocate — advocata nostra — Mother of Good Counsel in every perplexity and doubt, and Mother of Perpetual Help in our every weakness.

Certain crises can be resolved and certain weaknesses overcome only through confident recourse to the Mother of God. Why? Because it pleases the Father to administer the infinite treasury of mercies revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ for us on the Cross through the hands of His Most Pure Mother, in the strength and sweetness of the Holy Spirit.

Many years ago, out of personal conviction and experience, I began saying to those who came to me asking questions and seeking answers, "Seek ye therefore first Mary, and all these things shall be added unto you." She is the Mediatrix of All Graces. Pope Benedict XVI made this clear in his homily at the Canonization of Frey Antônio de Sant'Anna Galvão in Brazil on May 11, 2007:

Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, stands particularly close to us at this moment. . . . She, the Tota Pulchra, the Virgin Most Pure, who conceived in her womb the Redeemer of mankind and was preserved from all stain of original sin, wishes to be the definitive seal of our encounter with God our Saviour. There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady.

A saeculi strepitu segregati

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Many years ago, while searching out the treasures of my missal, I 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. It was not retained in the Collection of Masses in Honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The orations are, like so many composed in the 19th century, addressed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, rather than to the Father.


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 with the gifts of the Holy Spirit
didst fill the Blessed Ever–Virgin Mary, Thy mother,
in prayer with the disciples in the solitude of the Cenacle;
grant that we may cherish the secret places of the heart,
so that by a more insistent prayer,
we may deserve to be filled with the graces of the Holy Spirit.

Turn Your Eyes to the Virgin

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I more or less promised Our Lady that I would offer something in her honour on Vultus Christi every day during the month of May. I don't know if I will be able to do it while in France. Here is a magnificent text from our Cistercian Adam of Perseigne. The last lines — at least for me — bring to mind Our Mother of Perpetual Succour.


If your faith is shaken by assault from an enemy
turn your eyes to the Virgin
and what was wavering will be firmly fixed.

If the lust of the flesh delights you
turn your gaze to the Virgin
and the danger to your chastity will be removed.

If pride disturbs your spirit
turn your gaze to the Virgin
and by the merit of her unsullied humility
your swelling spirit will subside.

If you are set on fire by anger's torches,
lift your eyes to the Virgin
and you will grow gentle through her calm.

If ignorance or error have led you astray from the way of life,
look to Mary, Star of the Sea,
and in her light you will be led back to the path of truth.

If the vice of avarice commands your idolatrous worship,
call to mind the generosity of the Virgin
and with a love of poverty there will come to you
the goodness of openhandedness.

In every peril
the goodness of the Virgin comes to succour
and power to succour it is.

Thy Eyes Are as Doves' Eyes

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Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes (Ct 4:9).


Oblates' Pilgrimage to Santa Maria Nuova

Yesterday I accompanied a group of Benedictine–Cistercian Oblates of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to the tomb of their patroness Saint Frances of Rome in the Church of Santa Maria Nuova near the Coliseum. Don Teodoro, a young Olivetan Benedictine monk in residence at the adjoining monastery, welcomed us and gave us a marvelous guided visit of the church.

Saint Frances of Rome

We lingered at the tomb of Saint Frances of Rome; her body is visible in its glass–fronted shrine. She is clothed in her black habit with the distinctive long white muslin veil; in her hands she holds a little breviary, a sign of her dedication to the Opus Dei, even as a married woman.

Ancient Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The sacristy of Santa Maria Nuova holds one of Rome's (and the world's) great Marian treasures: a 5th century icon of the Holy Mother of God. The icon was uncovered in 1950 by Professor Pico Cellini during his restoration of the church's works of art. It was before this icon that Saint Frances of Rome pronounced her oblation on August 15, 1425. It is one of the seven most ancient icons of the Blessed Virgin in Rome.

The face of the Holy Mother of God holds one spellbound. The enormous eyes, full of a mysterious light, seem to radiate the secret of the things that, according to Saint Luke, the Blessed Virgin Mary "held in her heart" (Lk 2:19). One's first impulse is to fall to one's knees before this icon of the 5th century. It has been called one of the finest examples of Christian poetry translated into art.

De Maria Numquam Satis

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Blessed Bartolo Longo wrote: "What is my vocation? To write about Mary, to have Mary praised, to have Mary loved."


At 11:55 this morning I went down into the basilica to await the praying of the Supplica to the Madonna del Rosario di Pompei. I took a place in the front row of chairs. Behind me I could hear people arriving. There was some whispering about the requisite leaflet. Although Don Carlo had made copies available, many came prepared with their own leaflets. The atmosphere in the basilica was charged with holy anticipation. At noon, Don Carlo led us in the Supplica. The faithful read the text with the most touching piety and confidence. Blessed Bartolo Longo's prayer has an unmistakable spiritual unction. It touches hearts. It permits people to voice their need for help and their confidence in Mary in a wonderful solidarity, and without the slightest embarrassment.

After the singing of the Salve Regina in conclusion, I looked around at the people who had come. Men and women. Young and old. The nave was nearly full. Rather impressive, when one considers that the Supplica was being prayed in churches all over Rome at the same time.

O blessed Rosary of Mary,
sweet chain that unites us to God,
chain of love that unites us to the angels.
Tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell.
Safe harbor in the universal shipwreck,
we will never abandon you.
You will be our comfort in the hour of death,
to you the last kiss
of our dying life.
And the final word on our lips
will be your sweet name,
O Queen of the Rosary of Pompeii,
O dearest Mother,
O refuge of sinners,
O sovereign comforter of the afflicted.
Be everywhere blessed, today and forever,
on earth and in Heaven.


Our Lady of Pompei

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 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."


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 at noon on Tuesday. 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. 


Adam of Perseigne, the author of this magnificent prayer to the Blessed Virgin, was ordained a priest and served as chaplain to the Countess of Champagne before passing through several vocations in succession. He was a Canon Regular, then a Benedictine of Marmoutier, and finally a Cistercian of Pontigny. Visiting Rome, he conferred with the famous mystic, Joachim of Flora. Sometime in the 1180s he became abbot of Perseigne in Normandy. Adam of Perseigne is known for his treatment of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces. He died about 1221. Adam's prayer has a certain lyrical, litanic quality that reminds me of the Akathist to the Holy Mother of God.

The image of the Virgin Mother and Infant Christ surrounded by flowers is from the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria.

How happy is she
who is both mother and spouse ofGod,
the gate of heaven,
the loveliness of paradise,
lady of the angels,
queen of the universe,
joy of the saints,
advocate of believers,
courage of those who fight,
recaller of those who wander,
medicine of the penitent.

O sure salvation!
Short path of life!
Sole hope of pardon,
sweetness unique.

You, my Lady,
are my all.

In your hands
has been stored for me
the fulness of all good.

With you
have been hidden the unfailing treasures
of truth and grace,
of peace and pity,
of salvation and wisdom,
of glory and honour.

You are my anchor amid the billows,
my port in shipwreck,
my support in tribulation,
my comfort in grief.

For those who are yours
you are
aid in oppression,
help in time of crisis,
temperance in prosperity,
joy in time of waiting,
refreshment in toil.

Whatsoever I can stammer
in your praise
is less
than your praise
for you are worthy of all praise.

Adam of Perseigne
Letter Three, 25


Allow me to recommend a book for the month of May: Mary Most Holy, Meditating With the Early Cistercians, edited by E. Rozanne Elder, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 2003. Dr. Elder presents Marian texts of the twelfth and thirteenth century drawn from thirteen Cistercian authors: Adam of Perseigne, Aelred of Rievaulx, Amadeus of Lausanne, Baldwin of Forde, Bernard of Clairvaux, Geoffrey of Auxerre, Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Gilbert of Hoyland, Guerric of Igny, Isaac of Stella, John of Forde, Stephen of Sawley, and William of Saint–Thierry.

Along the same lines, I should like to add my own (rather limited) presentation of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Cistercian tradition and practice. If any one thing drew me to Cistercian branch of the great Benedictine family, it was its cherished tradition of love for Mary.

Saint Bernard, Citharista Mariae

Cistercian devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is at once strong and tender. It is lyrical — is not our Saint Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux, called the Citharista Mariae, Mary's Player of the Lyre? Cistercian devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is also quotidian — finely woven into the fabric of every hour of every day.

The Holy Name of Mary, Virgin and Mother

At the beginning of the Order, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth was declared for all time the Lady and Protectress of each of its monasteries. To this day, every Cistercian monastery bears a title of the Blessed Virgin and celebrates her glorious patronage on August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption. In 1335 the Cistercian General Chapter decreed that the seal of each abbey should bear the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is The Lady of the monastery: mother, sovereign, advocate, and protectress. This corporate dedication to the Mother of God is personalized by the custom of conferring upon every monk and nun of the Order at the time of his or her clothing in the habit, the sweet name of Maria.


The White Cuculla

The white Cistercian choir habit — the cuculla or cowl — honours the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the glory that is hers in the mystery of the Assumption where she is seated next to her risen and ascended Son. The white cowl is a sign of her protection, rather like the scapular of the Carmelites. When the Cistercian monk puts on his cowl before going to choir to sing the praises of God, he is, symbolically, clothing himself in the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother.

In the Sacred Liturgy

In every Cistercian monastery the festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated with a gladsome solemnity. The Cistercian liturgical calendar further elevates to the rank of solemnity days which the Roman calendar keeps with the rank of feast: February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord/Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; May 31st, the Visitation; and September 8th, the Nativity. For Cistercians, the highest Marian festival is the glorious Pasch of Summer, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th. Much of the Office on that day is drawn from the sublime poetry of the Canticle of Canticles.

Until the liturgical upheavals that followed the Second Vatican Council, it was customary to provide for a daily celebration of the Mass De Beata (in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and to chant the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily in choir, alongside the Canonical Hours of the Great Office. The present practice is to sing an antiphon in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary at each of the Hours of the Divine Office. At every liturgical Hour Cistercians the world over praise the Blessed Virgin and seek her intercession. Individual monks and nuns may, of course, continue to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on their own in addition to the Divine Office in choir.


The Salve Regina

The Cistercian day ends with the solemn singing of the Salve Regina in a darkened church. Two candles illumine the image of the Mother of God: the life, sweetness, and hope of her children. According to tradition, the last three cries of the Salve ReginaO clemens! O pia! O dulcis Virgo Maria! — were added by Saint Bernard himself in a rapture of love for the Mother of Christ.

The Rosary

One last note: the roots of Mary's Psalter, the Holy Rosary, lie deep in Cistercian soil. In his book entitled, Louange des mystères du Christ: histoire du rosaire, Dr. Andreas Heinz of the Theological Faculty of Trier, presents the pre–history of the Rosary in its native Cistercian context. Already in the twelfth century, Cistercian monks were meditating the mysteries of Christ and of His Virgin Mother while repeating the Angelic Salutation, the Ave Maria. For five centuries the Rosary was a work in progress; it began in the silence of Cistercian (and Carthusian) cloisters before being popularized by the Order of Preachers. For the early Cistercians the meditation of the mysteries of our Lord and of His Mother was a kind of lectio divina, a way of extending the influence of the Sacred Liturgy and of holding its treasures in the secret of one's heart.

Mary Kept All These Words

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Today being our weekly day of Eucharistic adoration, I had ample opportunity to pray the Rosary quietly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in our choir chapel. Each member of the community takes one or more hours of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

I could not resist taking the five antiphons of today's Office for the feast of Saints Philip and James and meditating them as "mysteries."

1. “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us, alleluia” (Jn 14:8).

2. “Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

3. “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me? Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

4. “If you had known me, you would also have known My Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:7).

5. “If you love Me, keep my commandments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:15).

Fussy folks might object that these five texts, being "words" and not "events," are unsuited to the prayer of the Rosary. The biblical understanding of word, however, is event. A word is not simply said; it happens. At the heart of the Rosary is the experience of the Blessed Virgin Mary: "But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19).

When praying the Rosary in common I follow the prescribed cycle of the Joyful, Lightsome, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. As a rule, I do the same in my solitary prayer, as well. Certain days, however, lend themselves to more prolonged prayer, and on those days I feel quite free to allow my "supplementary" Rosaries to be shaped by the Sacred Liturgy and by lectio divina.

The prayer of the Rosary brings about a silent but efficacious binding of one's heart to the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Through the Rosary, the Blessed Virgin Mary dispenses to each of us the graces of which we are most in need, even when, of ourselves, we are unable to name them or ask for them.


A Guest from the Irish College

The Reverend Mr. Bernard Healy of the Pontifical Irish College visited me today. He was interested in seeing the Chapel of the Madonna di Bon Aiuto. We strolled in the rain–washed monastery garden, enjoying the white roses that are blossoming in profusion, as you can see in the photo above.

May Devotions in the Chapel of Bon Aiuto

The postulants and novices returned with me for the second day of May to pray the holy rosary in the chapel of the Madonna di Bon Aiuto. The Rosary is a deceptively simple prayer. The power of the Rosary is completely disproportionate to the effort required to pray it well. The secret is to begin saying it and to persevere in saying it whether one feels consolation or not. The Rosary is powerful because, almost imperceptibly, it changes the heart of the one who prays it, liberates from sin, and heals wounds resistant to every other treatment.


Why the Devil Hates the Rosary

The devil, of course, hates the Rosary, precisely because it changes hearts, detaches from sin, attaches to the all–pure Mother of God, and leads to conversion. One of the ploys he uses to deter people from praying it is to suggest that unless one can pray it well, i.e. perfectly, one shouldn't pray it at all. I would suggest, rather, that the Rosary, even prayed badly, is better than no Rosary at all. The Rosary, exactly like the Jesus Prayer, opens the heart to seeds of contemplation that, in the end, become the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

The Rosary in Bits and Pieces

One should use every opportunity to pray the Rosary, even when can do so only in bits and pieces. The Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort out the bits and pIeces offered by her children. Those who persevere in the humble recitation of the Rosary are able to say, quoting the psalmist, that it "revives the soul, gives wisdom to the simple, rejoices the heart, and gives light to the eyes" (Ps 18:7–8).

Federico Fiori Barocci's Madonna del Populo (1575–1579) depicts the maternal intercession of Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) The Mother of God presents to her all–merciful Son the needs of a people engrossed in the preoccupations of everyday life. Note that the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, is depicted below the hand of the Blessed Virgin. Mary, by her prayer, obtains the descent of the Holy Spirit into the chaos and sorrow of the world.


A dear friend began a novena today to ask the Blessed Virgin for light and counsel as he seeks to discern whether or not God is calling him to monastic life. I suggested that he pray the Ave, Maris Stella and the Veni, Creator, the two prayers recommended by Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort in The Secret of Mary, and so suited to the month of May and to these weeks leading up to Pentecost.

Also this afternoon, I began praying the Rosary and the Litany of Loreto together with our postulants and novices in the chapel of the Madonna of Bon Aiuto. This will be our daily devotion for the month of May. There is an indescribable sweetness when Mary's sons come together in humility and peace to pray her Rosary together.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, who once lived within these monastery walls, wrote:

"Why is May chosen as the month in which we exercise a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin? The first reason is because it is the time when the earth bursts forth into its fresh foliage and its green grass after the stern frost and snow of winter, and the raw atmosphere and the wild wind and rain of the early spring. It is because the blossoms are upon the trees and the flowers are in the gardens. It is because the days have got long, and the sun rises early and sets late. For such gladness and joyousness of external Nature is a fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold."

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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