Blessed Virgin Mary: January 2008 Archives

The Choreography of Faith

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Week of Sexagesima
Tuesday of the Third Week of the Year I

2 Samuel 6:12–19
Mark 3:31–25

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant that figures so prominently in the First Reading is, according to Saint Maximus of Turin, a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Maximus explains that King David’s rapturous dance before the Ark was a prophetic gesture: “In high rejoicing he broke into dancing, for in the Spirit he foresaw Mary, born of his own line, brought into Christ’s chamber. . . . The Ark carried within it the tables of the covenant, while Mary bore the master of the same covenant.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Ark of the Covenant contained the Law; the Virgin Mary contained the Word made Flesh, the living Gospel, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Ark was resplendent both within and without with pure gold; Mary was resplendent both within and without with the dazzling radiance of her virginity. The Ark was adorned with earthly gold; Mary was begraced with an imperishable holiness.

True Devotion to Mary

Every authentic expression of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a way of “dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.” The Litany of Loreto calls upon Our Lady by means of this very expression: Foederis arca, ora pro nobis! Ark of the Covenant, pray for us.

David was not self-conscious in his dance. He was humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted: figuratively and literally moved by grace. Every encounter with the Mother of God — in the liturgy of the Church, in her images, and in the secret manifestations of her presence that comfort us in this valley of tears — should move us to a similar expression of devotion: humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted.

Thank you, Holy Father!

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"One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary."

I am profoundly moved by the Holy Father's message for the 2008 World Day of the Sick. Pope Benedict XVI is showing himself, in every way, as Marian a Pope as the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. Here is an excerpt of the message; my own comments are in italics.

The Immaculate Conception

The hundred and fifty years since the apparitions of Lourdes invite us to turn our gaze towards the Holy Virgin, whose Immaculate Conception constitutes the sublime and freely-given gift of God to a woman so that she could fully adhere to divine designs with a steady and unshakable faith, despite the tribulations and the sufferings that she would have to face. For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to the will of God: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted to God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her 'Yes' of the Annunciation.

Is this not the mystery of Mary invoked and presented as Coredemptrix? "She did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son." In the next section the Holy Father speaks of the "Yes" which "joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the Redeemer of humanity."

Led by Mary's Hand

To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the 'Yes' which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the Redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one's turn 'fiat' to the will of God, with all one's existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth.

To be taken and led by Mary's hand expresses what we means when we speak of total consecration to her. Consecration to Mary is ongoing and dynamic; for this reason the Holy Father speaks of "our pilgrimage on earth."

An Indissoluble Link Between the Mother and the Son

One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary. There is an indissoluble link between the Mother and the Son, generated in her womb by work of the Holy Spirit, and this link we perceive, in a mysterious way, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Church and theologians pointed out from the early centuries onwards.

The link between the Mother and the Son is prolonged in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. One who contemplates Mary will be attracted to Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. One who contemplates Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love will perceive the presence of Mary. This is the experience of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, and of so many other saints.

Mother of the Eucharist

'The Flesh born of Mary, coming from the Holy Spirit, is Bread descended from heaven', observed Saint Hilary of Poitiers. In the ninth century "Bergomensium Sacramentary" we read: 'Her womb made flower a Fruit, a Bread that has filled us with an angelic gift. Mary restored to salvation what Eve had destroyed by her sin'. And Saint Peter Damian observed: 'That Body that the most Blessed Virgin generated, nourished in her womb with maternal care, that Body I say, without doubt and no other, we now receive from the sacred altar, and we drink its Blood as a sacrament of our redemption. This is what the Catholic faith believes, this the holy Church faithfully teaches'.

The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, overshadows the altar in every celebration of Holy Mass. The Body of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist is the very Body of Christ that the Blessed Virgin conceived, carried beneath her heart for nine months, brought into the world, and nourished at her breast. Is this not what the magnificent medieval prose, the "Ave, Verum Corpus," sings? "Hail, true body, / Born of the Virgin Mary, / Truly suffered, sacrificed / On the Cross for mankind, / Whose pierced side / Flowed with water and blood, / Be for us a foretaste / In the trial of death."

Mother of the Sacrificed Lamb

The link of the Holy Virgin with the Son, the sacrificed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, is extended to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Mary, observes the Servant of God John Paul II, is a 'woman of the Eucharist' in her whole life, as a result of which the Church, seeing Mary as her model, 'is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery' (Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," n. 53). In this perspective one understands even further why in Lourdes the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary is joined to a strong and constant reference to the Eucharist with daily Celebrations of the Eucharist, with adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, and with the blessing of the sick, which constitutes one of the strongest moments of the visit of pilgrims to the grotto of Massabielle.

Yes, the Holy Virgin is the Mother of the Immolated Lamb. This was illustrated in the apparition at Knock. Our Lady, appearing with Saint Joseph and with Saint John the Evangelist, stood with her hands raised in prayer in the presence of the Immolated Lamb who stood upon an altar with the Cross behind Him. The Holy Father alludes to the three grand Eucharistic moments that mark every experience at Lourdes. These are not of course, limited to Lourdes. I try to make them part of the retreats that I am asked to preach.

Through the Heart of His Most Holy Mother

The presence of many sick pilgrims in Lourdes, and of the volunteers who accompany them, helps us to reflect on the maternal and tender care that the Virgin expresses towards human pain and suffering. Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members, who bear the signs of the Passion of the Lord.

Yes, those who suffer bear the signs of the Passion of the Lord, His wounds. Saint Paul says, "I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body" (Gal 6:17). This is true, not only of the signs of physical suffering, but also of the wounds of the psyche and of the heart.

Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that 'the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the Heart of his Holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed'? (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, "Salvifici Doloris," n. 26).

"The Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the Heart of His Holy Mother." Is this not what we mean when we speak of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary is the Mother of the Suffering Servant, "despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity" (Is 53:3), and of all who resemble him.

The Eucharistic Congress

3. If Lourdes leads us to reflect upon the maternal love of the Immaculate Virgin for her sick and suffering children, the next International Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to adore Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the altar, to entrust ourselves to Him as the Hope that does not disappoint, to receive Him as that Medicine of Immortality which heals the body and the spirit. Jesus Christ redeemed the world through His suffering, His death and His resurrection, and He wanted to remain with us as the 'Bread of Life' on our earthly pilgrimage.

The Holy Father emphasizes the healing virtue of the Most Holy Eucharist, the Medicine of Immortality. He invites us to entrust ourselves to Him as the Hope that does not disappoint. In the Sequence of the Mass of Easter, Mary Magdalene calls Our Lord "Spes mea — my Hope." In the Eucharist He remains our Hope, and the remedy for every despondency.

The Face of the Lord

'The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World': this is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress and it emphasizes how the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of His only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognises the Face of her Lord. As I pointed out in the Post-Synodal Exhortation "Sacramentum caritatis," 'Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become "bread that is broken" for others'. We are thus encouraged to commit ourselves in the first person to helping our brethren, especially those in difficulty, because the vocation of every Christian is truly that of being, together with Jesus, bread that is broken for the life of the world.

Every authentic passion for the adorable Mystery of the Eucharist leads to compassion for the suffering, for the sick, for those in difficulty. Contemplation of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus opens one's eyes to the Face of Jesus in the suffering and broken members of His Mystical Body.

A Living Offering for the Salvation of the World

4. It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health must draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man's aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering. As the Servant of God John Paul II was to write in the already quoted Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, the Church sees in her suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of the supernatural power of Christ (cf. n. 27). Mysteriously united to Christ, the man who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world.

The spirituality of victimhood: to suffer with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God, thus becoming a living offering for the salvation of the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary Coredemptrix was the first to follow her Son, the Immolated Lamb, into the way of victimhood. Since that hour on Calvary she draws other souls after her in the same way of offering and victimhood.

Our Lady of Sion

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"I cannot explain it. All I know is, that I entered the church knowing nothing, and I left it seeing clearly." (Marie–Alphonse Ratisbonne)

Today, January 20th, the Feast of Our Lady of Sion, is the 166th anniversary of the miraculous conversion of the 28 year old French Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne . The Immaculate Virgin Mary appeared to him in the Roman Church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte on January 20, 1842. Ratisbonne was baptized, and confirmed, and received his First Holy Communion, eleven days later on January 31st. He was ordained a priest in 1847 and later assisted his brother Theodore, also a priest, in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion.

To read full accounts of the apparition of the Mother of God and of Ratisbonne's conversion, see Roy Schoeman's remarkable books, Salvation Is From the Jews, and Honey From the Rock.

On Praying the Rosary for Unity

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Holy Mary, Mother of Unity

Tomorrow I will be celebrating the Mass of Holy Mary, Mother of Unity, formulary 38 in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It occurred to me that this will be the perfect opportunity to recall Pope Leo XIII's desire that the Rosary be prayed specifically for the intention of reconciliation and reunion. Here is the relevant section from his Encyclical of September 20 1896, Fidentem Piumque Animum:

The Power of Prayer

That earnest desire, which We have learnt from the Divine Heart of Jesus, of fostering the work of reconciliation among those who are separated from Us daily urges Us more pressingly to action; and we are convinced that this most excellent Re-union cannot be better prepared and strengthened than by the power of prayer. The example of Christ is before us, for in order that His disciples might be one in faith and charity, he poured forth prayer and supplication to His Father.

The Patroness and Most Excellent Custodian of Unity

And concerning the efficacious prayer of His most holy Mother for the same end, there is a striking testimony in the Acts of the Apostles. Therein is described the first assembly of the Disciples, expecting with earnest hope and prayer the promised fullness of the Holy Spirit. And the presence of Mary united with them in prayer is specially indicated: All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). Wherefore as the nascent church rightly joined itself in prayer with her as the patroness and most excellent custodian of Unity, so in these times is it most opportune to do the same all over the Catholic World.

Nothing More Acceptable to Mary

Let then the zeal for this prayer (of the Rosary) everywhere be re-kindled, particularly for the end of Holy Unity. Nothing will be more agreeable and acceptable to Mary; for, as she is most closely united with Christ she especially wishes and desires that they who have received the same Baptism with Him may be united with Him and with one another in the same faith and perfect charity. So may the sublime mysteries of this same faith by means of the Rosary devotion be more deeply impressed in men's minds, with the happy result that "we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise."

Mais, priez, mes enfants!

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January 17th is the feast of Our Lady of Pontmain, also called Our Mother of Hope. During my retreat last October at the Benedictine Monastery of Craon near Laval, I was not far from Pontmain. Although I was unable to visit the sanctuary, something of the grace of Pontmain seemed to reach my heart. The faithful of the region are very devoted to the Virgin of Pontmain. Pilgrimages are frequent. Pontmain remains a place of conversions and blessings.

The Day When the Sky Opened

In Pontmain, on January 17, 1871 it was dark and cold, and France was at war. Paris was besieged. The conquering Prussian army was at the gates of Laval. The inhabitants of Pontmain were in anguish for they were without news of their thirty-eight young men who had gone to fight in the war. That evening, Eugène Barbedette was helping his father to crush fodder in the barn. His little brother Joseph was there too. Eugène went out “to see the weather”.

A Beautiful Lady

It was then that Eugène saw above the house opposite a beautiful Lady wearing a star-spangled dress. She was looking at him and smiling. She held her arms stretched out in front of her. Villagers ran towards the barn. Other children saw the vision too. A blue oval with four candles surrounded the beautiful Lady. The Parish Priest and the Sisters from the school began prayers and hymns.

Banneux: Seventy-Five Years

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The Other Marian Jubilee in 2008

2008 is the Jubilee Year of Lourdes: 150 years since the apparitions to Saint Bernadette. 2008 also marks the 75th anniversary of the first apparition of the Holy Mother of God, the Virgin of the Poor, at Banneux in Belgium on January 15th, 1933. From January 15th to March 2nd, 1933, Our Lady appeared eight times to eleven year old Mariette Béco. On August 22nd, 1949 Monseigneur L. K. Kerkhofs, Bishop of Liège, declared the apparitions and the message authentic and worthy of belief. After the apparitions, Mariette Béco married and raised a family, never seeking to draw attention to herself.


Virgin of the Poor

At Banneux, the Blessed Virgin revealed herself under two names. On January 19th, 1933, she said to little Mariette Béco, "I am the Virgin of the Poor." On the following March 2nd, she added, "I am the Mother of the Saviour, the Mother of God." Three times in the course of the apparitions, the Blessed Virgin asked Mariette to pray much. On Saturday, February 11th, she said, "I come to relieve suffering."

Priez beaucoup

Our Lady's invitation to pray much is at the heart of her message at Banneux. The Rosary remains the simplest and most effective way to pray much, to "pray always and not lose heart" (Lk 18:1). The Rosary, being the form of prayer most suited to the little, the weak, and the poor, is always pleasing to the Virgin of the Poor. To pray it well one need not pray it perfectly. One who puts off praying for fear of not praying well enough, will eventually abandon prayer altogether. Pray as you can, and not as you think you should.

The Decision to Pray

What matters is the decision to pray, symbolized by taking one's beads in hand. "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings" (Rom 8:26). All the rest follows: the evocation of the mysteries; the Our Father at the beginning of each decade, the sweet repetition of the Hail Mary with its praise of the Name of Jesus, and the Glory be to the Father that, again and again, plunges the soul into adoration of the Trinity. A commitment to pray the Rosary daily is the best way to commemorate the Marian Jubilees of 2008.

All Hope of Life and of Virtue

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My good friend, Monsignor A.B.C. reminds me that, in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, today is the feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succour. For the Litany of Our Lady of Prompt Succour, go here. My 1956 edition of the Missale Romanum gives January 15th as the day of the feast (B. Mariae Virginis a Prompto Succursu, Patronae Praecipuae Novae Aureliae et Provinciae Ecclesiastice) and provides a Proper Mass. The Collect is as follows:

Clementissime Jesu,
qui divitias misericordiae tuae
in sinu Matris Mariae collocasti:
concede propitius;
ut ejus patrocinio
a cunctis malis mentis et corporis liberemur.
Qui vivis.

Most clement Jesus,
Who hast placed the riches of Thy mercy
in the bosom of Thy Mother Mary:
graciously grant that, by her protection,
we may be delivered from every evil
of mind and of body.
Who livest and reignest.

The First Lesson is Ecclesiasticus 24: 23–31:

As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour:
and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.

Come over to me, all ye that desire me,
and be filled with my fruits.
For my spirit is sweet above honey,
and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
My memory is unto everlasting generations.
They that eat me, shall yet hunger:
and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded:
and they that work by me, shall not sin.

They that explain me shall have life everlasting.
All these things are the book of life,
and the covenant of the most High, and the knowledge of truth.

The Gospel is John 2: 1-11, the Wedding Feast at Cana.

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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