Blessed Virgin Mary: June 2007 Archives

This morning I walked to the Church of Sant' Alfonso, the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It was quiet and peaceful there with but a few pilgrims kneeling before the miraculous icon. Earlier, I had celebrated the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help in the Chapel of San Gregorio here at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.



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.

Soon To Ireland

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To Mayo and Leitrim

On Saturday 30 June, making my way via Ireland to the United States, I will fly Aerlingus from Rome to Dublin, and then from Dublin to Knock in County Mayo. After a few days in Knock I will travel the short distance northeast to Carrick–on Shannon in County Leitrim to visit Cousin John McKeon.

As a small boy, I heard about Knock from my Grandmother Margaret Kirby (1900–1993). Her Aunt Mary had gone there on pilgrimage and sent her a little bottle of blessed water from the shrine. Grandma told me what she knew about the apparitions. In 1988, when I went to Knock together with my Mom, Dad and brother Terence, I was able to celebrate Holy Mass on the site of the apparitions.

Actuosa Participatio and the Silence of the Mother of God

The apparition at Knock is unusual in that the Blessed Virgin 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 contemplative 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. The fifteen parishioners of Knock, young and old, to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared on that rainy night in 1879, were accustomed to "hearing Mass" in silence. By her own silence in the presence of The Mystery, the Mother of Jesus was confirming them in theirs.


Toward the Recovery of Silence

The Irish custom of silence at the Holy Mysteries was, in its own way, an actual participation in the sacramental re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ. While silence is not the only mode of actual participation in the Mass, it remains one that is valid, fruitful, and profoundly unifying. It is remarkable that the neglect of spaces and moments of silence within the celebration of the Mass — even of those clearly prescribed by the Roman Missal — had led, in most places, to the complete loss of silence around the Mass, that is to say, in church before and after the celebration.

Knock After the Motu Proprio

If things here in Rome go this week as I rather suspect they will, I will find myself in Knock very shortly after the promulgation of the long-awaited Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI. Coincidence? I don't think so. Knock is the Blessed Virgin's invitation to enter deeply into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The presence of the Lamb upon the altar surmounted by the cross, of angels in adoration, of Saint John proclaiming the Word, and of Saint Joseph reverently inclined toward the Virgin Mother is, in pictorial form, a mystagogical catechesis waiting to be developed.

In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI writes:

The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate. Given the vital importance of this personal and conscious participation, what methods of formation are needed? The Synod Fathers unanimously indicated, in this regard, a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated.

A Devout Method

Compare the teaching of the Holy Father with this Devout Method of Hearing Mass Before Holy Communion in my heirloom Treasury of the Sacred Heart published in 1860 in Dublin, that is nineteen years before the apparition at Knock:

To hear Mass with fruit, and to obtain from that adorable sacrifice abundant treasures of grace, there is no method more efficacious than to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ, who is at once our Priest, Mediator, and Victim. Separated from Him we are nothing, but even in the eyes of God Himself, we are truly great, by and with His Beloved Son. United thus with Jesus Christ, covered, as it were with His merits, present yourself before the throne of mercy.

This was written in a widely diffused household manual of Catholic piety 103 years before the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. It is not a complete presentation of the mystery of the Mass. Its genre is that of the pious exhortation, not of a comprehensive theology of the Eucharist. That being said, it strikes me that this little Irish text goes to the heart of what is meant by actual participation: communion with Christ, Priest, Mediator, and Victim. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, all who partake of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood are priests, mediators, and victims, offering, and offered to the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

Saint Joseph and Saint John

One last thing. The presence at Knock of Saint Joseph and of Saint John the Evangelist is especially significant to me. Although it was not so in 1879, both are now named in the venerable Roman Canon. 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).

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 mystery of the Mass: the Sacrifice of the Lamb renewed in an unbloody manner on the altars of the world.


We fly to thy protection,
O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.

This is the kind of news that rarely makes it into the secular press: a shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in China slated to be blown up because it is the site of "illegal religious activity."

Rome (AsiaNews) – Next July 16th pilgrims and faithful from Henan will not be allowed to go on pilgrimage to the sanctuary in Tianjiajing. The government from the province of Henan has in fact decreed that the historic sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be blown up with dynamite; a complete ban on Catholics organizing their annual pilgrimage; a complete ban on any religious gathering or function being celebrated in the area. A statue of the Virgin, over one hundred years old, is destined to be destroyed along with 14 stations of The Way of the Cross which punctuate the entrance to the shrine.


Come With Confidence

The Church of Sant'Alfonso on the Via Merulana is one of my favourite neighbourhood pilgrimages. It enshrines the original precious and wonderworking icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Even on ordinary days the church is visited by pilgrims from all over the world. During the annual novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, multitudes converge on the church to kneel in prayer before the miraculous image and present their petitions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Seeing this demonstration of faith, I am reminded of Adeamus, the Introit of the Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: "Let us come with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and may find grace for a timely help" (Heb 4:16).

Christ the Redeemer

The original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enthroned on the "high altar." Immediately above it, in the apse of the church, is a mosaic of Christ the Redeemer in the company of the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph. The mosaic depicts the risen and ascended Christ. He is seated in majesty and clothed in the crimson mantle that represents the outpouring of His Precious Blood. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra? This Beautiful One in His robe?" (Is 63:1).

When I first began visiting the Church of Sant'Alfonso, I was so taken by the icon of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help, that I didn't notice the mosaic of Christ the Redeemer. Had I looked, and seen, I would have asked with the prophet, "Why then is Thine apparel red, and Thy garments like them that tread in the wine-press?" (Is 63:2). Had I looked, and seen, I would have been drawn immediately to the open wound in the Redeemer's Sacred Side.


An Opening Onto the Kingdom of God

It was only after several visits to the sanctuary of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that I looked, and saw, and understood the significance of the mosaic in the apse. The apse of a church generally symbolizes an opening onto the Kingdom of God. An apse is, in some way, more window than wall, even when it is solid. This explains the meaning of the images traditionally found in the apse of our churches: Christ in glory; Christ in majesty; Christ seated on a rainbow and on the clouds of heaven. Looking closely at the image in the Church of Sant'Alfonso, I see that, at the heart of the apse that symbolizes the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, there is another opening: the wound in the Sacred Side of Christ.

Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christ

The iconography of the Church of Sant'Alfonso suggests that every pilgrimage to the image Our Mother of Perpetual Help becomes, by her maternal mediation, a pilgrimage to the wounded Side of Christ and — through the wound in His Side — into the Holy of Holies that is His Sacred Heart. I think that my Redemptorist friend, Father Scott, would agree.

The Open Side of Christ

The Child held fast in His Mother's embrace is the "Beautiful One" (Is 63:1) "clothed in a robe sprinkled with blood, and His Name is called the Word of God" (Ap 19:13). Just as His Mother's Heart was open to receive Him in His littleness and weakness, so is His wounded Side open to receive us in our littleness, in our weakness, and even in our sin. So is His Blood poured out to cleanse, to refresh, and to heal. The way to the Heart of Jesus passes through the Heart of His Mother.

Special thanks to Redemptorist Father Luis Roballo for the photo of Christ the Redeemer in the apse of the Church of Sant'Alfonso.


I invite the readers of Vultus Christi to join me in making the Novena in Preparation for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27th. This is also the perfect moment to obtain an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and put it in in a place of honour in your home. Images of Our Mother of Perpetual Help are readily available from the Redemptorist Fathers nearest you.

Things change when a family, a community, or a person living alone, begin to live under the compassionate gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. By accepting the icon of the Mother of God into 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).

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 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, the Servant of God 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 the Face of Christ With Mary

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).

Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
have mercy on us.


Et Homo Factus Est

The second invocation of the Litany of the Sacred Heart is the only one to mention the Holy Spirit, and the only one to name the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this, the Litany echoes the Nicene Creed: Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary; and was made man. When these words occur in the liturgy, the Church instructs us to bow profoundly (or to kneel) in adoration of the mystery of the Incarnation. So often as we perform this liturgical action, it unites us, in some way, to the first act of adoration offered by the Virgin Mary to the Sacred Heart.

The Sound of Redeeming Love

After twenty–four days, the Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, began to have regular beats or pulsations. The human Heart of God began to beat beneath the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was the sound of redeeming love. "When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father' " (Gal 4:6-7).

Keeper of the Mystic Portal

It is through the Blessed Virgin Mary that the Sacred Heart of Jesus enters the world. It is through her that the world will be brought to the Sacred Heart. I have never known anyone to have loved Mary without loving the Heart of Jesus, and I have never known anyone to have loved the Heart of Jesus without loving Mary. Mary is the Keeper of the Mystic Portal; she stands at the foot of the Cross drawing souls to the pierced Side of her Son, and guiding them over the threshold of His Pierced Side into the secret abode of His Sacred Heart.

Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil–Martiny writes: "In this life of union with the Heart of Jesus, of imitation of the Heart of Jesus, their excellent model is the Heart of Mary, for the Mother cannot be separated from the Son. It is through Mary that every soul goes to Jesus. Having once given His only Son through Mary, it is still through her that ceaselessly God gives Him to us."


I pray thee, O Most Holy Virgin Mary,
that I might hear the Heartbeat of redeeming Love,
and that with Thee
I might adore the Heart of Jesus
formed in Thy womb by the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit,
by whose power and overshadowing Thou didst become
the living tabernacle of the Heart of God,
may my soul rejoice in Thy every visitation
and leap in recognition of Him
who through Thee deigns to come to me.

Through the Holy Spirit
by whom Thou wert illumined by faith,
quickened by hope,
and inflamed with charity,
grant that I may believe all that the Sacred Heart of Jesus has revealed,
never despair of His boundless Mercy,
and burn with the fire He came to cast upon the earth.

In the Holy Spirit,
Thou adorest the Heart of Thy Son as the Heart of Thy God;
in that same Holy Spirit,
grant that I may adore the Heart of my God
as the Heart that, hidden in Thy womb, once beat beneath Thy own:
the same Sacred Heart that, pierced upon the Cross,
fills the heavens with glory
and the earth with mercy.

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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