Tag: Blessed Virgin Mary

Our Lady of Sorrows

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There is an ancient Catholic devotion known as The Seven Joys of the Virgin, often associated with a prayer called The Franciscan Crown or Seraphic Rosary. As Our Lady of Light and the mother of the One who is the source of all joy there is no doubt that Mary experienced much happiness in her earthly life. Yet it is as Our Lady of Sorrows that many Catholics most love to think of her. There is wisdom in this; all the joys we can experience in time are but a foretaste or shadow of the state of joy which eternity provides. Only in time do we experience the fullness of the reality of sorrow (the damned are regretful, not sorrowful.)

The sadnesses of Mary’s life, like those of her Son, the Man of Sorrows, were cups which she drank to the bitter dregs just as we do. Her earthly sorrow was like our earthly sorrow. The only difference being that with her perfect faith in, perfect hope about and perfect love for Jesus she was able wholly to unite her sorrows to His and offer them through the Spirit to the Father as an oblation of charity for sinners, the most effective of all intercessory prayers.

Surely the most poignant of Mary’s sorrows was that occasioned by the encounter which tradition tells us that she had with her Cross-bearing Son on the Via Dolorosa. This was to be the last time, before death had its brief triumph, that they would meet. The last time that she would touch Him. Perhaps she held His hands in hers, or gently stroked that bruised, bleeding and thorn-pierced face which she had loved with all her heart for over thirty years.

It may be they exchanged a few words. If all she said was “My Son! My Son!” and all He said was “Mother!” it would, nonetheless be one of the most profound and heartrending conversations ever to take place on this earth. Most of all they would have looked into each other’s eyes one final time. What would they see? In the eyes of Our Lord there would of course be pain, the pain of betrayal and abandonment as well as that caused by scourging and the weight of the Cross. There would too be fear, the coming agony on Golgotha was something from which His flesh shrank. No doubt also there would be compassion, compassion for His betrayer, for His faithless friends, for His torturers and executioners, for all whose weakness and sin had brought Him to this Way of the Cross. Above all there would be compassion for His afflicted mother whose presence both strengthened and weakened Him, such is the paradox of love.

And in the eyes of Mary? Anguish, of course, who can be more anguished than a mother watching her child going towards agony and death? And such a child! Such a mother! There would be love too, the motherlove that sees not only the big picture but the tiny details, blood trickling towards a blackened eye, a body trembling under the weight of the hard and heavy Cross. More than that, deep down there would be a look of trust. Like her ancestor Abraham on Mount Moriah Mary could not doubt that the Father would be faithful to His promises. Somehow what the Archangel had said- “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 for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.“- would come true despite all the horrors that she was witnessing on that first Good Friday.

Sorrow also would be visible in the eyes both of the suffering Son and of his distressed mother. A sorrow for loss and for the sin which brought this particular loss into the world. But it would not be sorrow without hope, sorrow without end, sorrow without consolation. Our Lady is a symbol to us of a great truth. The Christian life promises no exemption from suffering and death, pain and bereavement. It certainly makes no promise of prosperity or worldly success. What it promises is that no night is without an end, no death without a resurrection and no desolation need be endured alone. If we are with Him as she was with Him, if we love Him as she loves Him, then these things which we cannot escape will be transmuted, if not in time then in eternity, and our sorrow will become gladness, our mourning will turn into joy.
@stevhep

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On my old blog Catholic Scot I also wrote about this- The Fourth Sorrow of Mary: She Meets Jesus Bearing His Cross

The painting, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, is Christ Bearing the Cross,

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Mary: Strength of the Weak

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Recently I’ve been working a lot with this prayer-
O Mary, teach me to fly to you for help.
If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with Marian prayer you might prefer to use Jesus’ name. Since Our Lady is almoner to Our Lord the net spiritual effect is liable to be the same either way. However that may be, like many good prayers this one is multipurpose but for this blog I will focus on its helpfulness in relation to temptation.

Christian tradition identifies temptation as a process which goes through several distinct stages each of which is more difficult to resist than its predecessor. St John of Damascus outlines seven (count them, seven) such stages but for the sake of brevity I will use the model proposed by Hesychios of Sinai who mentions four phases-

(46) The provocation comes first, then our coupling with it, or the mingling of our thoughts with those of the wicked demons. Third comes our assent to the provocation, with both sets of intermingling thoughts contriving how to commit sin in practice. Fourth comes the concrete action–that is, the sin itself

Tradition also identifies the three great enemies within ourselves which prevent us effectively resisting temptation and these are: Ignorance, Forgetfulness and Laziness. Because of them we do not know, cannot remember or will not use the aids against temptation offered to us by the grace of God and by Holy Church. My personal experience is that Forgetfulness comes in the form of temporary amnesia. That is, before I am tempted by, and immediately after I have yielded to, sin I can remember perfectly clearly what I should do to resist it. During the actual contest with the tempter, however, it is like a thick veil has been thrown over the eyes of my mind and not only can I not see what I in fact should see clearly but I do not even look. Historically this kind of thing has been attributed to the work of demons, today we may say it is the effect of our unconscious Id baffling our conscious Ego. For all practical purposes it is a distinction without a difference.

It is because of this ‘forgetfulness’ of mine (which might also be laziness) that the ‘teach me‘ part of the prayer is so important. You may think that it is a tad redundant since I am asking to be taught something which I have evidently already learned. There is, however, a huge difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about.’ The latter form is simply a bunch of words which exist in the conscious part of my mind and which I have access to, if forgetfulness or laziness don’t prevent me, the former is to all intents and purposes an integral part of myself gained through both experience and thought. I ‘know’ my parents and so they are always with me, although they have died, I ‘know about’ my cousins in Colorado but I seldom think of them, although they are alive. I therefore ask the Blessed Virgin through both her teaching office and her maternal role to truly make me know that I can and must turn to her in times of trial. In this way the demons of Forgetfulness and Laziness can be slain.

The words ‘to fly‘ are crucial because the earlier in the temptative process we seek help the more chance we have of success. The provocation essentially proceeds from a source external to us. An image or idea suddenly pops into our minds from we know not where, again we can nominate either demons or the unconscious for blame. Although we are aware of it our awareness has not produced it. At this point temptation is at its weakest and most vulnerable. Weak as it is though we are weaker still and can only defeat it if we immediately run for help to the one source who can help us, Almighty God, and He often chooses to act through spiritual agents like Angels, Saints, our mother the Church, and above all the Blessed Virgin Mary.

If Forgetfulness or Laziness intervene at this point we will engage with the idea or image, perhaps fantasising about it or working out how to carry it into effect. All is not yet lost because we have not given consent. If at this point the veil falls away we can rush to Mary and seek her help. Although the struggle and effort will be harder and last for longer than if we had acted immediately nonetheless by the grace of God it can still end with the head of the serpent being trampled underfoot.

What, concretely, does flight to Mary entail? Well, if, for example, we have reached stage three and given our assent to the provocation but our conscience has kicked in before acting upon our intention we can take ourselves urgently to prayer. We may use whatever words come to mind and most suit our current need. Or, being Catholic, we may more likely turn to prayers we have often used and are familiar with. The Sub tuum praesidium is a handy emergency prayer- “WE fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.” The desperate straits we find ourselves in will impel us, no matter how often we have spoken such prayers before, to say them with great urgency, or as the English might phrase it ‘put some Oomph into them.’ Also or additionally we can turn our eyes to an image of the Virgin and in gazing upon her be reminded of all that she is and represents, this too may draw us back from the brink. And, of course, if we have a rosary to hand (as we should) we can take that up and immerse ourselves in the Mysteries, particularly in the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the help that Mary can provide us with? A great deal, and that at every stage. If it should happen that we have fallen and feel a desire to rise again then we should fly to her every bit as urgently as we should have done before we fell. Our Lady is Mediatrix of All Graces, the healing balm of the Holy Spirit flows through her hands and can descend into us if we invoke her aid. Less obviously but no less potently she enables us to not just ‘know about’ her but to actually know her as Mother, Friend, Sister, Fellow Pilgrim. Which means we can make her a part of ourselves, she lives in our mind and heart at all times whether she be present or absent. And from her strength we can draw as from an inexhaustible resource. Her virtue can become our virtue, her patience in times of trial our patience and above all her love of Jesus can become our love of Jesus than which there can be no surer  foundation.
@stevhep

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The picture is the Toulouse Schutzmantel a 15th century painting “Pope and king, clergy and laity, rich and poor gather under Mary’s mantle. An angel tries to shoot arrows of justice at the crowd, but they break on her mantle.” 

 

An Immaculate Assumption

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In the Douay Rheims version of the Gospel Our Lord’s sixth Beatitude is given as-
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God
We are perhaps more familiar with the translations which render it as ‘pure in heart.’ You may think that contrasting ‘clean of‘ with ‘pure in‘ is making a distinction without a difference; and maybe you would be right.

For me, however, it serves as a reminder that the word ‘pure‘ has come to have more than one meaning. When applied to people we usually understand it as a synonym for virtuous. In relation to other things though- pure gold, purebred- it means without admixture of elements which do not properly belong to it. ‘Clean‘ has something of the same implication, things which are alien to a body have been washed away so that it is uncontaminated by what should not be attached to it. In that sense, then, the heart which can see God is the heart which is all light having no darkness in it, the heart, that is, which resembles the pre-lapsarian human condition.

The saints while still on earth can, to a degree, see the Lord because the action of grace together with their willing cooperation has washed away much of the dust of sin which attached to their pre-conversion heart. And the more that this is so the more perfectly can they see God. Yet it can never be a completely perfect vision because the wounds inflicted by Original Sin still leave their mark on even the most exalted of the saints. And this is a wound that none of the children of humankind have ever escaped. Except one.

Immaculately conceived in the womb of St Anne the blessed Virgin Mary was free from the stain of Original Sin and, through her cooperation with the Holy Spirit of God, all the days of her life she committed no actual sin. If any heart could be said to be pure or clean it would be hers. And it was precisely this that enabled her to see the Son, the Logos of the Father, within her breast during her dialogue with St Gabriel. The Word became flesh within Our Lady because the Immaculate Heart of Mary saw Him as He was in the bosom of the Father. He took His flesh from her because she, as it were, took her heart from Him.

The Beatitude is both a description of the present and a pledge for the future. What the clean of heart see through a glass darkly now they will know in full hereafter. The vision of God enjoyed by the Theotokos in her mortal life was the fullest that could possibly be. ‘He who sees me has seen the Father’ Jesus said. Who saw Our Lord more fully or for longer than His Blessed Mother? ‘Hail, full of grace’ said the Archangel, who was more united to the Holy Spirit than the Lady who was filled to overflowing with His grace? ‘You have found favour with God’ Gabriel added, who was closer to the Father than His favoured daughter Mary?

It is an article of the Catholic faith that the fullest possible happiness we can (and hopefully will) enjoy is to be in the presence of God while we are possessed of body, soul and spirit. That is, the resurrection to eternal life is the essential condition to our total fulfillment. The joy of the saints in heaven now is but a prelude to that which will come later. Then we will see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. It is wholly fitting then that Mary, who because of her cleanness of heart saw God with the greatest possible clarity in this life, should become the first of us to see Him with the greatest possible clarity in the life to come.

To that end therefore ‘ the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory‘ (Munificentissimus Deus) We rejoice with Our Lady because we have joy that one whom we love so much and whom God loves infinitely is experiencing that total blessing which her Immaculate Heart leads her to. We are glad too because we have hope that Mary is now what we shall become later. And we have faith that it will the more likely be so because the Blessed Virgin intercedes on our behalf to make it so the more ardently we unite ourselves to her in prayer and petition. And so we have these three, faith hope and love and of the three love is the greatest. Rejoice and be glad Immaculate Mother, we your children love you now and forever!
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The painting is The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin by Fra Angelico

Mary, Full of Grace

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At the beginning of the Annunciation St Gabriel makes two positive assertions about Our Lady-

  1. She is full of grace, and,
  2. The Lord is with her.

The questions I look at here are- Were these two divinely attested realities permanent or temporary? And if temporary for what duration were they granted?

In finding an answer we need to consider for what purpose or purposes the Almighty conferred these gifts upon Mary. Ultimately divine motivation is inscrutable to us but reason suggests that there were two primary reasons for the bestowal of these things-

  1. To prepare Our Lady for the task, unique in human history, of being the mother of the Incarnate Son of God and author of Salvation.
  2. To enable Mary to give her free consent to her role in the economy of salvation, that is, as Eve freely chose to rebel Mary must freely choose to cooperate.

Granting that these two factors were at work how long would they have to be present to the young Virgin for them to be fully effective? No doubt as Omnipotent Being God could have brought about an instantaneous transformation in Mary so that His gifts were conferred at the same moment in which Gabriel appeared to her. However, consider the magnitude of the task she faced and the significance of the consent she would have to give. If we assume that she was simply a normal, average Galilean girl at the time of the Annunciation then we run into a problem.

Effectively, under those circumstances, a total or near total transformation of her personality would be required for her to leap from being ‘just a girl’ to being the mother of God and giving her consent to her role in the economy of salvation. Alternatively she would undertake this role being profoundly ignorant of its meaning and significance. Either way the concept of free will could not meaningfully be applied to her actions. In the first instance she would, in essence, have been created as a new creature precisely and only for the purpose of consenting, so God would be using a human life as a blind tool which could not choose to disobey Him and it is wholly contrary to His nature to so act. In the second instance He would be concealing from her, through her ignorance, the things she most needed to know, which would mean her consent was not informed and so not free.

Even if we discard these considerations we should note that that Archangel also said to Mary ‘You have found favour with God.’ This clearly must apply to the time before the Annunciation. So, how could Our Lady have found enough favour with God to be chosen as the singular vessel for the Son of the Father? Because she was full of grace and the Lord was with her. That is, Gabriel did not mean ‘You have been randomly chosen by God.

How long prior to the Annunciation would Mary have possessed these gifts? A week? A month? A year? A decade? Again we need to consider the magnitude of the task facing her and therefore the importance of her freely given consent. This was to be Mary’s vocation, her life’s work. From the moment of her conception in St Anne’s womb it was God’s purpose for her that she should be the Theotokos, therefore it is entirely reasonable to suppose that from that same moment she was full of grace and accompanied by the Lord.

Once the Annunciation event was accomplished would grace and the Lord’s accompanying presence be withdrawn? Well, simply being pregnant would not exhaust Our Lady’s responsibilities as mother of the Son of God nor the need for her continued free consent to the unfolding economy of universal salvation. Nor would they be ended by His birth, nor by any one of the events of His life. We can indeed see the presence of this fullness of grace in the Blessed Virgin’s role at the Cana Wedding and the strengthening presence of the Lord upholding her through those long hours spent standing at the foot of the Cross.

Would this fullness of grace and abiding presence of the Lord be withdrawn when the earthly life of the Lord ended? Well, upon the Cross He gave His beloved disciple into the care of His Mother as her new son. Only after this had been done could the evangelist say that ‘everything had been accomplished.’ Catholics, of course, believe that by this action the Church as Church was entrusted to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin. Protestants, equally of course, deny this. What is beyond dispute, though, for those of us who accept the Scriptures is that Our Lady was charged with a new task, whatever it might have been, by Our Lord with almost His final breath. Is it probable, then, that at this precise moment the amount of grace she possessed would be reduced and the presence of the Lord by her side be withdrawn?

Taken together all the evidence from the Gospels seem to point to the Blessed Virgin being full of grace and accompanied by the Lord from the moment of her conception through to the moment her earthly life ended. As Christians, though, we know that a life lived in God does not end at this point. Mary continues alive in God even now. The treasures of grace in her heart and her nearness to the Lord have not diminished because she is in heaven, quite the reverse, they have infinitely expanded. But she does not need these gifts now for herself, they flow from her instead like a fountain of grace poured out by her upon the Church and upon each one of us who turn to her as Mother, Guide, Teacher and Advocate. And so, I pray that Mary, Theotokos, Queen of Angels, Star of the Sea and Strength of the Weak will pour these gifts upon this blog and especially upon each person who reads it.
@stevhep

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The picture is a Franco-Flemish Annunciation from about 1380