PROGRESS OF THE DEVOTION TO MARY
CROWNED BY THE DEFINITION OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.—I. OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE.—II. THE CHILDREN OF MARY.—III. THE DEFINITION OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.
I.—Our Lady of La Salette.—1846.
In her first manifestation to Sister Catherine, July 19, 1830, the Immaculate Virgin announced the disasters which threatened France; grief was depicted upon her countenance, tears stifled her voice, she earnestly recommended prayer to appease the wrath of God.
Sixteen years later, this Mother of mercy, appearing to two little shepherd children upon one of the summits of the Alps, repeated, in a most solemn manner, the same warnings and the same counsels. The first apparition remains in obscurity, but a knowledge of the second has been spread throughout the world, and with most consoling results. The miracle of La Salette has greatly increased devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and given Christians a clearer idea of the important duties of penance and prayer, which, in reality, are the embodiment of all practical piety.
We quote the best authenticated account of La Salette, that of the Abbé Rousselot, who himself received it from the mouths of the children.
“Two peasant children, Mélanie Mathieu, aged fourteen years, and Maximin Giraud, aged eleven, both simple and ignorant, as might naturally be expected of their age and condition, were together upon the mountain of La Salette, which overlooks a village where they were at service under different masters. Their acquaintance was very slight, their first meeting having been only the day before the occurrence we are about to relate. When the Angelus announced the hour of noon, they went to soak their hard bread in the water of a spring. After this rural repast, they descended a little farther, and laying down their crooks beside another spring, then dry, they seated themselves a slight distance apart, upon a few stones which had been piled up there, and went to sleep.
“It was Saturday, September 19th, 1846, and eve of the day on which fell the Feast of Our Lady’s Seven Dolors.
“‘After taking the cows to water, and eating our lunch,’ says Maximin, ‘we went to sleep beside a stream, and very near a spring which was dry. Mélanie awoke first, and aroused me to hunt our cows. We crossed the stream, and going in an opposite direction, saw our cows lying down on the other side, and not very far off.’
“‘I came down first,’ says Mélanie; ‘when I was within five or six steps of the stream, I perceived a light like that of the sun, but even more brilliant and not the color of sunlight, and I said to Maximin: Come quick to see the bright light down here.’ ‘Where is it?’ inquired Maximin, coming towards me. ‘I pointed with my finger in the direction of the spring, and he stood still when he saw it. Then the light seemed to open, and in the midst of it appeared a Lady, she was seated, and her head resting upon her hands.’ ‘We were both frightened,’ continues Maximin, ‘and Mélanie, with an exclamation of terror, let fall her crook.’ ‘Keep your crook,’ said I, ‘as for me, I am going to keep mine. If it does anything to us, I will give it a blow with my crook.’ And the Lady arose. She crossed her arms, and said to us: ‘Come to me, my children, do not be afraid. I am here to tell you something very important.’ All our fears vanished, we went towards her and crossed the stream, and the Lady advancing a few steps, we met at the place where Mélanie and I had fallen asleep. The Lady was between us, and she wept all the time she was talking. ‘I saw her tears flow,’ adds Mélanie.
“‘If my people,’ said she, ‘do not humble themselves, I shall be forced to let them feel the weight of my Son’s uplifted arm. I have stayed it heretofore, but it now presses so heavily that I can scarcely support it much longer. And all the while I am suffering thus for you, I must pray without ceasing if I wish to prevent your abandonment by my Son. And, moreover, you do not appreciate it.’
“‘In vain will you pray, in vain will you strive, never can you recompense what I have undergone for you. I have given you six days of the week wherein to work, the seventh I reserved for myself, and even that is denied me! It is this which weighs down my Son’s arm.’
“‘Even those who drive carts must curse, and mingle my Son’s name with their oaths.’
“‘These are the two things that weigh down my Son’s arm.’
“‘If the harvest fails, it is for no other reason than your sins. I tried last year to make you see this in the failure of the potato crop. You took no account of it. On the contrary, when you found the potatoes rotted, you swore and mingled my Son’s name with your maledictions. The potatoes will continue to rot, at Christmas there will be none.’
“I did not know what this meant,” said Mélanie, “for in our part of the country we do not call them potatoes. I asked Maximin what they were, and the Lady said to me:
“‘Ah! my children, you do not understand me, I will use other language.’
“The Blessed Virgin now repeated the preceding in patois, and the remainder of her discourse was also in patois. We give the translation as follows:
“‘If you have wheat, it must not be sown, the animals will devour what you sow; and should any remain, it will yield naught but dust when threshed.’
“‘There will be a great famine. Before the famine comes, little children under seven years of age, will be seized with fright and die in the arms of those who are holding them. Some will do penance by reason of the famine. Even the nuts will fail and the grapes rot.’
“After these words, the beautiful Lady continued to speak aloud to Maximin. Though seeing the motion of her lips, Mélanie hears nothing. Maximin receives a secret in French. Then the Blessed Virgin addresses herself to the little girl, and Maximin ceases to hear her voice. She likewise confides to Mélanie a secret in French, but a more lengthy secret it appears than that entrusted to Maximin. Continuing her discourse in patois, and so as to be heard by both, she adds: ‘If they turn aside from their evil ways, the very rocks and stones will be changed into heaps of grain, and potatoes will be found scattered over the fields.’
“The Queen of Heaven then addressed herself more directly to the children.
“‘Do you say your prayers with devotion, my children?’
“‘Oh, no, Madame,’ they both answered, ‘we say them with very little devotion.’
“Our divine Mother continued: ‘Ah! my children, you must say them fervently evening and morning. When you have not the time, and cannot do better, say an Our Father and a Hail Mary; and when you have the time you must say more.
“‘No one goes to Mass, except a few aged women; all the rest in summer spend Sunday working, and in winter, when at a loss for something to do, they go to Mass only to ridicule religion; and during Lent they frequent the shambles as if they were dogs.’
“After a few more words, reminding Maximin that he had already seen the failure of the grain, the august Queen finished in French as follows: ‘Ah! my children, tell this to all my people.’ And before leaving them, she repeated the command.
“The two children add: ‘Then she ascended about fifteen steps, to the place where we had gone to look after our cows. Her feet barely touched the surface of the verdure, which did not even bend beneath her, she glided over the surface as if suspended in the air, and impelled by some invisible power. We followed her, Mélanie a little ahead, and I two or three steps from the Lady’s side. The beautiful Lady was now gently elevated to about the height of a yard,’ said the children. ‘She remained thus suspended in the air for a moment. She glances up to Heaven and then at the earth, her head disappears from our view, next her arms, and lastly her feet. She seemed to melt away. There remained a brilliant light that gleamed upon my hands, and the flowers at her feet, but that was all.’
“At the first words of his son’s narration, Maximin’s father began to laugh, but very soon recognizing the marks of incontestable sincerity, he hastened to comply with his Christian duties, so long neglected. The neighboring inhabitants followed his example, there were no more blasphemies, no more profanation of Sunday, the whole country was soon transformed, even maternally. Like those of Jonas to Nineveh, the prophetic warnings of the divine Messenger were conditional. They were fulfilled in general, as can still be remembered.”
The apparition of La Salette, as is the case with all extraordinary events, was variously appreciated even among Catholics, some receiving the account with enthusiastic confidence, others strongly contesting the reality. But for a long time doubts have ceased, Providence having, by numberless miracles, confirmed the faith of those who believed; and the mountain sanctified by Mary’s presence, has never ceased to be visited by [pilgrims from the most distant countries. Mgr. De Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble, anxious to prevent illusion on so important a question, nominated a commission composed of most competent persons, to examine and pass judgment upon this apparition. The result being in the affirmative. His Grace, in a circular of September 19th, 1851, declared as follows:
“We assert that the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to two little peasants, the 19th of September, 1846, upon one of the peaks of the Alps, situated in the parish of La Salette, of the archpresbytery of Corps, bears every mark of truth, and that the faithful are confirmed in believing it indubitable and certain.
“Wherefore, to testify our lively gratitude to God and the glorious Virgin Mary, we authorize the devotion to Our Lady of La Salette.”
The circular, before publication, was submitted to the Holy See, whose approval it received, and Mgr. De Bruillard’s two successors have always endorsed his appreciation of the apparition.
Consequently, this devotion is invested with every guarantee of authenticity that the severest criticism could exact.
A church of the Byzantine style and graceful appearance is erected upon the holy mountain, near where the apparition took place. The identical spot remains uncovered, and the grass still grows upon the soil hallowed by Mary’s sacred footsteps; a series of crosses, fourteen in number, to which are attached the indulgences of the via crucis, indicate the path she took. The spring, formerly intermittent, has been inexhaustible since the apparition, and its waters have worked miracles. Near the church, a convent has been built to accommodate the numberless pilgrims, who daily resort hither in the favorable season. Numerous chapels, dedicated to Our Lady of La Salette, are scattered throughout Christendom, and abundant graces repay the faith of those who in these sacred shrines invoke her intercession.
II.—The Children of Mary.—1847.
Rome, the guardian of our Faith and Catholic traditions, has given municipal privileges to the Children of Mary, in consecrating to them a chapel in one of her most celebrated churches, St. Agnes Beyond the Walls. The Italian sodalities are all inscribed there, and represented by a group of the children of Mary surrounding this young Saint, who in the third century was martyred for her virginity. They seem to say to her, “Agnes, you are our eldest Sister, the well beloved of Jesus Christ and His Mother.”
This place of honor, this representation proclaims most eloquently, that the Children of Mary form in the Church, a family as ancient as Catholicity itself.
Nearly nineteen centuries ago, Jesus, our Redeemer, was in the agony of death upon the tree of the cross, which his love had chosen as the instrument of our redemption; “seeing,” says the Evangelist, “that all was consummated” for our salvation, He wished to place the seal upon His work, by making His last will and testament.
Looking first at Mary, His Mother, and then at John, the beloved disciple, he made John a Child of Mary in these memorable words: “Ecce Mater tua, ecce filius tuus>: Behold thy Mother, behold thy son.”
Such is the origin of the Children of Mary. We believe with the holy Church, that the eternal Word, after becoming incarnate to render men redeemed with His blood, the Children of His heavenly Father, gave them also, at the hour of His death, His own Mother to be theirs. We know likewise, that among the children of every family, there is always one most tenderly attached to the mother, for instance, Jacob and Rebecca; John and Mary.
Even so, in the bosom of the great family of Catholicity, do we find in all ages, souls jealous of rendering to Mary the most intimate filial devotion, selecting her in an especial manner, for their model and protectress.
Such are the religious orders particularly devoted to her service, also, the confraternities established for the same purpose in many parishes. The Society of Jesus, which was founded in the sixteenth century, laboring zealously to extend the glory of God among the youth under its charge, found no means so effectual in forming hearts to virtue and piety, as that of placing them under Mary’s protection; and the celebrated Association of the Prima Primaria, canonically erected by Pope Gregory XIII, in 1584, became the parent stem of all the congregations, subsequently found in honor of the Mother of God.
It was reserved for our age, to give full development to this fruitful devotion, by popularizing and thus making it a powerful means of salvation. In placing themselves under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, the Children of Mary cannot fail to obtain from their divine Mother the most abundant and precious benedictions.
In 1830, the Immaculate Virgin had uttered a prophecy which resounded incessantly in the heart of the missionary, to whom was confided the account of the apparitions of the medal. “The Blessed Virgin wishes you to found a congregation, of which you will be the Superior, a confraternity of Children of Mary; the Blessed Virgin will bestow many graces upon it as well as upon yourself, indulgences will be granted it. The month of Mary will be celebrated with great solemnity; Mary loves these festivals; she will requite their observance with abundant graces.”
But why this command and this prediction of the Queen of Heaven to her servant, in regard to something which was not all new?
Sodalities of the Children of Mary already existed among the numberless youths educated by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus. And following their example, the Ladies of the Sacred Heart had formed similar associations among their scholars, and in 1832, had even established them for ladies in the world, under the invocation of the Immaculate Conception. It would seem then that a new work was superfluous.
It is true, Associations of the Children of Mary already existed and accomplished much good, but they were confined to a few isolated places, and recruited from a chosen class, they were not popular; and Mary designed as elements of the future work, that multitude of young girls in the ordinary walks of life, surrounded by all the trials, exposed to all the dangers of the world, who to-day form her blessed family, whose innocence she guards, whose modest virtues she encourages, and from whom she receives in exchange, a tribute of love, praises and a visible service acceptable to her heart. Let us speak a word concerning its establishment. When the apostolic heart of M. Aladel received Sister Catherine’s consoling predictions, he did not fully comprehend how he, a simple missionary, should accomplish the designs of the Queen of Heaven.
Whilst quietly awaiting the propitious hour and means foreseen by Providence, he seized every opportunity of speaking to the children and young people of Mary’s bounty and the happiness of belonging to her. His simplicity and animation, when discoursing upon this his favorite theme, attracted all hearts; his listeners hung entranced upon the good father’s words; and the unction of grace sustaining the ardor he had enkindled, the associations were formed by way of trial, in the houses of the Daughters of Charity, where M. Aladel had officiated.
Such were those of the Providence Orphanage in Paris, of the House of Charity of St. Médard, of the Madeleine; also, those of St. Flour, Mainsat, Aurillae, established from 1836 to 1846. The young girls, who were externs, very soon rivaled the inmates of the establishments in obtaining similar favors; several new associations were begun in the year 1846, those of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Roch, St. Paul, St. Louis, in Paris, and others in Toulouse, Bruguière, etc., in the province.
Whilst in Rome in 1847, M. Étienne, Superior General of the Priests of the Mission and Daughters of Charity, obtained from the Sovereign Pontiff a rescript dated June 20th, empowering him and his successors to establish among the scholars attending the schools of the Daughters of Charity a pious confraternity, under the title of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin, with all the indulgences accorded the Congregation of the holy Virgin established at Rome for the scholars of the Society of Jesus.
Three years later, the Sovereign Pontiff extended a similar favor to the youths educated by the Priests of the Mission; also, to the little boys in charge of the Daughters of Charity.
From this time, 1847, thanks to the benediction of Pius IX, the Sodality of the Children of Mary, spread rapidly in all quarters of the globe, wherever the Daughters of Charity were established. A manual containing the rules of the Association, its privileges and obligations, was compiled by M. Aladel, the Director of the work. The livery naturally adopted by the Children of Mary was the Miraculous Medal, suspended from a blue ribbon.
The new Association from its very origin gave a wonderful impulse to youthful piety; humble girls, earning their daily bread, practiced the most heroic virtues, under the influence of a desire to become faithful Children of Mary; and, sustained by the same spirit, the poorest courageously resisted temptation, and complied with those duties so little esteemed at the present day—filial devotion and self-denial.
To these precious fruits are also joined some beautiful flowers of devotion; how eagerly the Children of Mary repair to re-unions of the Association, especially on all their Mother’s feasts, chanting her praises and exciting one another to fervent piety.
But the death of these young girls is still more admirable than their life; many of them stricken down in the very bloom of youth, fortified with their medal and ribbon as with a precious talisman, smile at death and defy hell.
Thirty years have passed since the grain of mustard seed was confided to the earth, and it has now become an immense tree, whose branches overshadow the most distant countries. Europe numbers nearly a thousand of these Sodalities, about six hundred being composed of externs, or mixed associates. They amount, in other portions of the world to nearly two hundred. This displays the visible effects of the benediction of St. Peter’s Successor; the promises made in 1830 were not realized until they had received the approbation of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, Pius IX, whose name will always be dear to the Children of Mary.
The Associations vary in number from ten to three hundred sodalists, which gives us an average of eighty thousand young girls, courageously holding themselves aloof from satan’s snares and pomps, and leading a life of purity and piety amidst the seductions of a corrupt world.
Surely this must be a miracle of God’s right hand and Mary’s bounty!
We have thought it would not be uninteresting to the readers, to give the statistics for the end of the year 1877, of the Sodalities of the Children of Mary, established in the houses of the Daughters of Charity throughout the world.
LIST OF THE SODALITIES OF CHILDREN OF MARY.
|Internal.||External and Mixed.||SUMMARY|
|External and Mixed||451|
|(Exclusive of France)|
|Great Britain||2||13||External and Mixed||153|
|Persia||..||2||External and Mixed||10|
|Algeria||3||17||External and Mixed||20|
|La Plata||1||6||External and Mixed||81|
|Philippine Isles||1||6||}||Internal Sodalities||1|
|External and Mixed||6|
III.—Definition of the Immaculate Conception.
We have observed several times in the course of this work, that the principal end of the apparition of 1830, was to popularize belief in the Immaculate Conception. The facts we have related, prove most conclusively that, thanks to the Miraculous Medal, this object has been fully attained.
As a preparation for the accomplishment of this great design, Providence placed in St. Peter’s chair, a Pontiff animated with the most filial tenderness for Mary, and inspired him from the beginning of his pontificate, with the desire of glorifying the most holy Mother of God, by proclaiming the Immaculate Conception an article of Faith. And this hope, this desire, had Pius IX, in the ninth year of his reign, the happiness of realizing amidst the universal applause of the Catholic world.
We quote below from M. Villefranche’s beautiful History of Pius IX, the account of this memorable event:
“By an Encyclical dated from Gaëta, Pius IX had interrogated the Episcopacy of the Universal Church, on the subject of the belief in the Immaculate Conception. The answers received were six hundred and three in number. Five hundred and forty-six Bishops earnestly entreated the doctrinal definition, a few hesitated, though only as to whether it were an opportune moment or not for the decision, for the sentiment of the Catholic world was in unison as regards the belief itself.
“To assist at this solemnity, Pius IX summoned to his presence, all the Bishops who could repair to Rome. They came five hundred and ninety-two in number, and from all quarters of the globe except Russia, where they were held in check by the suspicious despotism of the Emperor Nicholas. These prelates put the finishing touch to the work of the commission charged with preparing the Bull; but at the very moment of making the final pause in its rendition, it was asked if the Bishops assisted there as judges, to pronounce the definition simultaneously with the Successor of St. Peter, and if their presence must be mentioned as judges, or, if the supreme judgment should not be attributed to the word of the Sovereign Pontiff alone. The debate terminated suddenly, as if by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. ‘It was the last sitting,’ says Mgr. Audisio, an eye-witness; ‘the hour of noon had just been sounded, every knee was bent to recite the Angelus. Then each one resumed his place, and scarcely had a word been spoken, when there arose a universal acclamation to the Holy Father, a cry of eternal adherence to the Primacy of St Peter’s See, and the debate was ended:’ ‘Petre, doce nos; confirma fratres tuos! (Peter, teach us; confirm thy brethren!)’ And the instruction these pastors asked of the supreme Pastor was the definition of the Immaculate Conception.
“The 8th of December, 1854, was the grand day, the triumphal day, which, according to the beautiful words of Mgr. Dupanloup’s circular, ‘crowns the hopes of past ages, blesses the present age, evokes the gratitude of future generations, and leaves an imperishable memory; the day that witnessed the first definition of Faith, which was not preceded by dissension and followed by heresy.’ All Rome rejoiced. Immense multitudes, representing every tongue and nation on the globe, thronged the approaches to the vast Basilica of St. Peter’s, far too small to accommodate all who came. Soon, the Bishops were seen forming into the line of march, ranged according to their seniority, and followed by the Cardinals. The Sovereign Pontiff, amidst the most brilliant surroundings, appeared last, whilst the chant of the Litany of the Saints, wafted to Heaven, invited the celestial court to unite with the Church militant in honoring the Queen of Angels and men. Seated upon his throne, Pius IX received the obeisance of the Cardinals and Bishops, after which the Pontifical Mass began.
“When the Gospel had been chanted in Greek and Latin, Cardinal Macchi, Dean of the Sacred College, accompanied by the Dean of the Archbishops, and the Dean of the Bishops present, with an Archbishop of the Greek rite and one of the Armenian, presented themselves at the foot of the throne, and supplicated the Holy Father, in the name of the universal Church, to raise his Apostolic voice and pronounce the dogmatic decree of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope replied that he willingly granted this prayer, but ere doing so he would invoke once more the assistance of the Holy Spirit And, now, every voice united in the solemn strains of the Veni Creator. When the chant had ceased, the Pope arose, and in that grave, sonorous, majestic voice, to whose profound charm millions of the faithful have borne testimony, commenced reading the Bull.
“He established: first, the theological motives for belief in Mary’s privilege; then he adduced the ancient and universal traditions both of the East and West the testimony of religious orders and schools of theology, of the holy Fathers and the Councils, and finally, the pontifical records, ancient as well as modern. His countenance, as he pronounced the words inscribed upon these pious and magnificent documents, betrayed his emotion. Several times he was so overcome that for a few moments it was impossible for him to proceed. ‘And consequently,’ he adds, ‘after having offered unceasingly in humility and fasting, our own prayers and the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through His Son, that He would deign to direct and confirm our thoughts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, after having implored the assistance of all the celestial court, … in honor of the holy and indivisible Trinity, for the glory of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and the increase of the Christian religion, by the authority of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and our own.——’
“Here his voice was stifled with emotion, and he paused an instant to wipe away the tears. The assistants, deeply affected as well as himself, but mute with respect and admiration, awaited in profound silence the continuation. In a clear, strong voice, slightly elevated by enthusiasm, he proceeded:
“‘We declare, profess, and define, that the doctrine affirming that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved and exempt from all stain of original sin, from the first instant of her conception, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of men, is a doctrine revealed by God, and for this reason, all the faithful must believe it with firm and unwavering faith. Wherefore, if any one should have the presumption, which God forbid, to allow a belief contrary to what we have just defined, let him know that he wrecks his faith and separates himself from the unity of the Church.’
“The Cardinal Dean, prostrating himself a second time at the feet of the Pontiff, supplicated him to publish the Apostolic letters containing the definition; the Promoter of the Faith, accompanied by the Apostolic Prothonotary also presented themselves, to beg that a verbal process of the decree be prepared. And now the cannon of the castle of St. Angelo and all the bells of the Eternal City, announced the glorification of the Immaculate Virgin!
“In the evening, Rome, enwreathed in illuminations, and crowned with inscriptions and transparencies, resounded with joyous music, and was imitated at that very time by thousands of cities and villages all over the face of the globe. If we were to compile an account of the pious manifestations relating to this event, it would fill, not volumes, but libraries. The Bishops’ responses to the Pope before the definition were printed in nine volumes; the Bull itself, translated under the care of a learned French Sulpitian into every tongue and idiom of the universe, filled about ten volumes; the pastoral instructions, publishing and explaining the Bull, and the articles on the subject in religious journals, would certainly require several hundred, especially if we add thereto the poems, scraps of eloquence, and descriptions of the monuments and fêtes. We should not omit mention here of the spontaneous and incomparable periodical illuminations at Lyons, each time the course of the year brings round the memorable 8th of December.”
Pius IX knew that the Catholic movement leading to the definition of the Immaculate Conception had originated in France, and he was happy to see the French people enthusiastically welcome the Pontifical decree of December 8th, and celebrate with unparalleled magnificence Mary’s glorious privilege. Henceforth, the love he bore that country was firmly rooted in his heart, and her misfortunes had but increased his tenderness and compassion. It consoles us to insert here the prayer to the Blessed Virgin which he composed, and recited daily to obtain for her the protection of the Queen of Heaven:
“O Mary! conceived without sin, look down upon France, pray for France, save France! The greater her guilt, the more need of your intercession. Only a word to Jesus reposing in your arms, and France is saved.”
“O Jesus! obedient to Mary, save France!”