The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
DEVOTION VII. OF ENTERING INTO THE CONFRATERNITIES OF MARY
SOME persons disapprove of confraternities, saying that they give rise to contention, and that many persons join them for human ends. But as the Church and the sacraments are not condemned because there are many who abuse them, neither should we condemn the confraternities. The sovereign pontiffs, instead of con demning them, have approved and highly commended them, and enriched them with indulgences. St. Francis of Sales earnestly exhorts laymen to enter into the confraternities. What did not St. Charles Borromeo do to establish and multiply these sodalities? And in his synods he distinctly intimates to confessors that they should endeavor to induce their penitents to join them. And with reason, for these confraternities, especially those of our Lady, are like so many arks of Noe, in which the poor people of the world may find refuge from the deluge of temptations and sins which inundate them in it. We will learn in the course of our missions the utility of these confraternities. Speaking exactly, there are found more sins in a man who does not belong to the confraternities than in twenty who frequent them. The confraternity may be said to be the tower of David: "The tower of David, a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the armor of valiant men." And this is the cause of the good obtained from the confraternities, namely, that their members acquire in them many defences against hell; and they make use in them of many means to preserve themselves in divine grace which it is very difficult for persons in the world, who are not in confraternities, to practise.
In the first place, one of the means of salvation is meditating on eternal truths: "Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin." And so many are lost because they do not think of it: "With desolation is all the land made desolate, because there is none that considereth in the heart." But those who belong to the confraternity are led to think by the many meditations, readings, and sermons that are made there. My sheep hear my voice: "Oves meae vocem meam audiunt." Secondly, In order to be saved it is necessary to commend one's self to God: Ask, and you shall receive: "Petite, et accipietis." And the brothers of the confraternities do this continually; and God hears them more graciously, because he has himself said, that he will willingly grant great graces to prayers made in common: "If two of you shall agree upon earth concerning any thing, whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven." Concerning which St. Ambrose says: Many who are small, if they unite together become great; and the prayers of many cannot but be heard, In the third place, in the confraternity the sacraments are more frequently approached, on account of the rules, as well as on account of the example of other members. And by this means perseverance in divine grace is more easily ob tained; the holy Council of Trent having declared the communion to be: "An antidote by which we are freed from daily sins, and are preserved from mortal sins." Fourthly, Besides the sacraments in the sodalities, there are practised many exercises of mortification, humility, and charity towards infirm and poor members; and it would be well if in every confraternity were introduced the holy custom of assisting the infirm poor of the country. It would be a still greater advantage if there could be introduced into them, in honor of the divine mother, the secret sodality of more fervent members. I will here enumerate the exercises that are usually practised in these:
1. Half an hour of reading.
2. Vespers and compline of the Holy Spirit are said.
3. The litaniesof the Virgin are repeated, and then some brothers who are designated, practise mortifications by bearing the cross upon their shoulders, or others of a similar kind.
4. For one quarterof an hour a meditation is made on the passion of Jesus Christ.
5. Each one accuses himself of any violation against the rules of which he has been guilty, and receives penance for it from the father of the congregation.
6. The little flowers of mortification made during the past week are read by one of the brothers who is selected, and then the Novenas to be said areannounced, &c.
Finally, the discipline is made for the space of a Miserere and a Salve, and every one kisses the feet of the crucifix which is at the foot of the altar. The rules, then, would be for earch brother:
1. To make a meditation every day.
2. A visit to the most holy Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin.
3. In the evening an examination of conscience.
4. Spiritual reading.
5. To avoid games and the conversation of the world.
6. To frequent the communion and practise some mortification of the chain, discipline, &c.
7. To recommend every day to God the souls in purgatory, and sinners.
8. If any brother is sick, to visit him.
But let us return to our subject. In the fifth place: It has already been said how much more sure is our salvation if we serve the mother of God; and do not the brothers serve her in the congregation? How much do they praise her there! How many prayers do they offer up to her! There they consecrate themselves from the beginning to her service, choosing her, in an especial manner, for their Lady and mother; and they are inscribed in the book of the children of Mary; hence as they are distinguished servants and children of the Virgin, she therefore treats them with distinction, and protects them in life and in death. Thus a brother of the confraternity may say that, with the confraternity, he has received every blessing: Now all good things come to me together with her: "Venerunt mihi omnia bona pariter cum ilia."
Every brother should pay particular attention to two things. First, as to the end; that is, to enter the confraternity for no other end but to serve God and his holy Mother, and save his own soul. 2. Not to leave the congregation on the appointed days, for affairs of the world, since there the most important business in the world is to be transacted, namely, eternal salvation. Endeavor also to draw as many as you can to the confraternity, and especially to in duce those brothers who have left it to return to it again. Oh, what terrible punishments has our Lord caused those to suffer who have abandoned the confraternity of our Lady! In Naples a certain brother left the congregation, and being exhorted to return, he said: I will return when my legs are broken and my head cut off. And he was a prophet: for very soon after his legs were broken and his head cut off by some of his enemies. On the other hand, the members who persevere are favored by Mary with spiritual and temporal good: All her domestics are clothed with double garments: "Omnes domestici ejus vestiti sunt duplicibus." We may read in Father Auriemma the special graces granted by Mary to the brothers of the confraternity in life and in death, but especially in death. Father Crasset relates that in 1586 there was a youth who, being near death, fell asleep; but afterwards awakening, he said to his confessor: "Oh Father, I have been in great danger of hell, but my Lady has rescued me. The devils have presented my sins before the tribunal of the Lord, and already they were dragging me to hell, but the holy Virgin came and said to them: Where are you taking this youth? What have you to do with one of my servants who has so long served me in the congregation? The devils fled, and thus I have been saved from their hands." The same author relates soon after that another brother of the congregation, also at the point of death, had a great conflict with hell; but he conquered, and full of joy, exclaimed: "Oh, what blessings come from serving the blessed mother well in her confraternity!" And thus entirely con soled, he died. He afterwards adds that the Duke of Popoli being on his death-bed, said to his son; "My son, know that the little good I have done in life I owe to the congregation; and therefore I have no greater good to leave thee than the confraternity of Mary. I am more proud of having been a brother of the congregation than the Duke of Popoli."