The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
ON THE DOLORS OF MARY
Mary was queen of martyrs, because her martyrdom was longer and greater than that of all the martyrs.
WHO can have a heart so hard that it will not melt on hearing of a most lamentable event which once happened in the world? There was a noble and holy mother who had but one only Son; and he was the most amiable that could be imagined, innocent, virtuous, beautiful, and most loving towards his mother; so much so, that he never had caused her the least displeasure, but always had showed her all respect, obedience, and affection. Hence the mother had placed on this Son all her earthly affections. Now what happened? It happened that this Son through envy, was falsely accused by his enemies and the judge, although he knew and confessed his innocence, yet, that he might not offend his enemies, condemned him to an infamous death, precisely as they had requested him to do. And this poor mother h ad to suffer the affliction of seeing that amiable and beloved Son so unjustly taken from her, in the flower of his age, by a barbarous death; for he was made to die in torment, drained of his blood before her own eyes in a public place, upon an infamous gibbet. Devout souls, what do you say? Is this case and this unhappy mother worthy of compassion? Already you know of whom I speak. This Son so cruelly slain was our loving Redeemer, Jesus, and his mother was the blessed Virgin Mary, who, for love of us, was willing to see him offered up to the divine justice by the barbarity of men. This great pain, then, which Mary suffered for us a pain which was more than a thousand deaths merits our compassion and gratitude. And if we can return nothing else for so much love, at least let us for a little time to-day stop to consider the severity of the suffering by which Mary became queen of martyrs; for her great martyrdom exceeded in suffering that of all the martyrs, being, in the first place the longest martyrdom; and in the second place, the greatest martyrdom.
First Point As Jesus is called King of sorrows and King of martyrs, because he suffered in his life more than all the other martyrs, so is also Mary called, with reason, queen of the martyrs, having merited this title by suffering the greatest martyrdom that could be suffered, next to that of her Son. Hence she was justly named by Richard of St. Laurence the martyr of martyrs: "Martyr martyrum." And to her may be applied what Isaias said: He will crown thee with the crown of tribulation: "Coronans coronabit tetribulatione. For that suffering itself which exceeded the suffering of all the other martyrs united, was the crown by which she was shown to be the queen of martyrs. That Mary was a true martyr cannot be doubted, as is proved by the Carthusian, Pelbart, Catharinus, and others; for it is an established opinion that suffering sufficient to cause death, constitutes martyrdom, although death may not then take place. St. John the Evangelist is revered as a martyr, although he did not die in the caldron of boiling oil, but came out more sound than he went in: "Vegetior exiverit quam intraverit." It is sufficient to procure the glory of martyrdom, says St. Thomas, that any one should be obedient even to offer himself to death. Mary was a martyr, says St. Bernard, not by the sword of the executioner, but by the bitter sorrow of her heart. If her body was not wounded by the hand of the executioner, yet her blessed heart was pierced by grief at the passion of her Son; a grief sufficient to cause her not only one, but a thousand deaths. And from this we shall see that Mary was not only a true martyr, but that her martyrdom surpassed that of all the other martyrs, for it was a longer martyrdom, and, if I may thus express it, all her life was a long death.
The passion of Jesus commenced with his birth, as St. Bernard says; and Mary also, in all things like unto her Son, suffered her martyrdom through her whole life. The name ot Mary, among its other significations, as the blessed Albertus Magnus affirms, signifies a bitter sea: "Mare amarum." Wherefore to her is applied the passage of Jeremias: Great as the sea is thy destruction: "Magna est enim velut mare contritio tua." For as the sea is all salt and bitter, thus the life of Mary was always full of bitterness, at the sight of the passion of the Redeemer, which was ever present to her. It cannot be doubted that being more enlightened by the Holy Spirit than all the prophets, she better comprehended than they the predictions concerning the Messias, which they recorded in their holy Scriptures. Precisely this the angel revealed to St. Bridget. Whence, as the same angel declared, the Virgin knowing how much the incarnate Word was to suffer for the salvation of men, even before she became his mother, and compassionating this innocent Saviour, who was to be so cruelly put to death for crimes not his own, she commenced, from that time, her great martyrdom.
Her grief afterwards increased immeasurably when she was made mother of this Saviour. So that at the painful thought of all the sufferings which her poor Son was to endure, she indeed experienced, says Rupert the Abbot, a long martyrdom a martyrdom continued through her whole life. And exactly this was signified by the vision which St. Bridget had at Rome, in the church of St. Mary Major, where the blessed Virgin appeared to her with St. Simeon, and an angel, having a sword which was very long and red with blood; by which was prefigured the long and bitter grief that pierced the heart of Mary during her whole life. Whence the above-named Rupert puts into the mouth of Mary the following words: Oh redeemed souls and my beloved children, do not pity me only for that hour in which I saw my dear Jesus dying in my presence, for the sword of sorrow, predicted to me by Simeon, pierced my soul during my whole life; when I was giving suck to my Son, when I was warming him in my arms, I already saw the bitter death that awaited him; consider then what long and cruel sorrows I must have endured.
Wherefore Mary might truly say in the words of David: My life is wasted with grief and my years in sighs. My sorrow is continually before me: "Et dolor meus in conspectu meo semper. " My life was wholly passed in grief and tears; for my grief, which was compassion for my beloved Son, never departed from before my eyes, seeing, as I did, continually the sufferings and death that he was one day to endure. The divine mother herself revealed to St. Bridget, that even after the death- and ascension of her Son into heaven, the memory of his passion, whether she ate or worked, was deeply impressed and ever recent in her tender heart. Taulerus therefore says, that Mary passed her whole life in perpetual sorrow; A her heart was al ways occupied with thou hts of sadness and of suffering.
So that time, which usually mitigates the Borrows of the afflicted, did not relieve Mary; nay, time itself increased her sorrow, for as Jesus increased in years, on the one hand, he continually showed himself more lovely and amiable; and on the other, the time of his death was ever drawing nearer, and grief at having to lose him on this earth, continually increased in the heart of Mary. As the rose grows up among thorns, said the angel to St. Bridget, so the mother of God advanced in years in the midst of sufferings; and as the thorns increase with the growth of the rose, thus this rose selected by the Lord, Mary, as she increased in age, was so much the more pierced by the thorns of ber dolors. Having considered the length of this suffering, let us now pass on to the second point, namely, the consideration of its greatness.
Point Second. Ah, Mary was not only queen of the martyrs, because ber martyrdom was longer than that of all others, but also because it was the greatest of all. But who can measure its greatness? Jeremias appears to be unable to find any one with whom he may compare this mother of sorrows, when considering her great suffering at the death of her Son. "To what shall I compare thee, or to what shall I liken thee, oh daughter of Jerusalem; for great as the sea is thy destruction; who shall heal thee?" Wherefore Cardinal Hugo, commenting on these words, says: Oh blessed Virgin, as the bitterness of the sea exceeds all other bitterness, so thy grief surpasses all other griefs. Hence St. Anselm affirms, that if God, by a special miracle, had not preserved the life of Mary, her grief would have been sufficient to cause her death at each moment of her life. And St. Bernardino of Sienna even says, that the grief of Mary was so great, that if it were divided among all men, it would be enough to cause their immediate death.
But let us consider the reasons why the martyrdom of Mary was greater than that of all the martyrs. In the first place, it must be remembered that the martyrs suffered their martyrdom in the body, by means of fire or steel; Mary suffered martyrdom in her soul; as St. Simeon had before prophesied: and thy own soul a sword shall pierce: "Et tuam ipisus animam pertransibit gladius:" as if the holy old man had said to her: Oh holy Virgin, the bodies of the other martyrs will be torn with iron, but thou wilt be pierced and martyred in thy soul, by the passion of thy own Son. Now, as the soul is more noble than the body, so much greater was the suffering of Mary than that of all the martyrs; as Jesus Christ himself said to St. Catharine of Sienna: There is no comparison between the sufferings of the soul and the body; "Inter dolorem animae et corporis nulla est comparatio."Whence the holy Abbot Arnold Carnotensis says, that whoever bad been present on Calvary at the great sacrifice of the immaculate Lamb, when he was dying on the cross, would have there beheld two great altars, one in the body of Jesus, the other in the heart of Mary: for there, at the same time that the Son sacrificed his body in death, Mary sacrificed her soul in compassion.
Moreover, while the other martyrs, St. Antoninus says, suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing the life of her Son, whom she loved far more than her own life; so that she not only suffered in spirit all that her Son suffered in body, but, moreover, the sight of the sufferings of her Son brought more grief to her heart than if she had endured them all in her own person. There can be no doubt that Mary suffered in her heart all the tortures by which she saw her beloved Jesus tormented. Every one knows that the sufferings of children are also the sufferings of theirmothers, when they are the witnesses of them. St. Augustine, considering the anguish that the mother of the Macchabees experienced in witnessing the tortures which her sons endured, says: "She suffered in them all, because she loved them all, and endured with her eyes what they all endured in the flesh." Thus also was it with Mary; all those scourgings, torments, thorns, nails, and the cross, which tortured the innocent flesh of Jesus, entered at the same time into the heart of Mary to complete her martyrdom. He in the flesh, she in the heart suffered, writes St., Amadeus: "Illle carne, illa corde passa est." So that as St. Lawrence Justinian says, the heart of Mary became as it were, a mirror of the agonies of her Son, in which were Been the spitting, the scourging, the wounds, and all that Jesus suffered. And St. Bonaventure remarks, that these wounds which were scattered all over the body of Jesus, were all united in one heart of Mary.
The Virgin, then through compassion for her Son, was scourged, crowned with thorns, insulted, and nailed to the cross. Whence the same saint considering Mary on Mt. Calvary, where she was present with her dying Son, asks of her: Oh Lady, tell me where you then stood? Perhaps only at the foot of the cross! Might I not rather say: thou wast on the cross itself crucified with thy Son? And Richard, remarking on the words of the Redeemer, which he spoke by the mouth of Isaias: "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me," adds: Oh Lord, thou dost rightly say that in the work of human redemption thou didst suffer alone, and there was no man that could pity thee sufficiently; but there was a woman with thee, thy own mother, who suffered in her heart whatever thou didst suffer in thy body.
But all this is saying only too little of the sorrows of Mary; for, as I have before said, she suffered more in seeing her beloved Jesus suffer, than if in her own person she had endured all the tortures and the death of her Son. Erasmus has written, speaking of parents, generally, that they feel the sufferings of their children more than their own. But this is not always true. It was no doubt true of Mary, for she certainly loved her Son and his life far more than herself, and a thousand lives of her own. Therefore St. Amadeus well declares, that the afflicted mother, at the sorrowful sight of the agony of her beloved Jesus, suffered much more than if she herself had endured his whole passion. The reason is plain, since, as St. Bernard says: The soul is more where it loves, than where it lives: "Anima magis est ubi amat, quara ubi animat." And the Saviour himself had before said, that eur heart is where our treasure is. If Mary, then, through love, lived more in her Son than in herself, a much greater grief did she suffer at the death of her Son, than if the most cruel death in the world had been inflicted on her.
And here is to be considered the other circumstance that rendered the martyrdom of Mary far greater than the sufferings of all the martyrs, for in the passion of Jesus she suffered much, and she suffered without alleviation. The martyrs suffered under the torments which their tyrants inflicted upon them, but love to Jesus rendered their pains sweet and delightful. A St. Vincent suffered in his martyrdom; he was tortured on the rack, torn with hooks, burnt with red-hot iron plates; but St. Augustine says: One seemed to suffer, and another to speak: "Alius videbatur pati, alias loqui." The saint addressed the tyrant with such power, and with such contempt of his torments, that it seemed as if one Vincent suffered and another Vincent spoke, so greatly did his God, with the sweetness of his love, comfort him in the midst of his sufferings. A St. Boniface suffered; his body was torn with irons, sharp-pointed reeds were thrust between his nails and flesh, melted lead was poured into his mouth, and at the same time he could not often enough repeat: I give thanks to thee, oh Jesus Christ: "Gratias tibi ago, Domine Jesu Christe." A St. Mark and a St. Marcellinus suffered; they were bound to a stake, their feet pierced by nails, and the tyrant appealed to them, saying:" Miserable beings, look at your condition, and save yourselves from these torments." And they answered: "What torments, what pain do you speak of? We have never feasted with more joy than now, when we are suffering with pleasure for the love of Jesus Christ." A St. Lawrence suffered, but while he was burning on the grid iron, the interior flames of love, as St. Leo says, was more powerful to cheer his soul, than the flames without were to torture his body. Hence love made him so strong, that he even braved the tyrant by saying to him: Tyrant, if you wish to feed on my flesh, a part is sufficiently cooked, turn and eat: "Assatum est jam,versa et manduca." But in such torture and lingering death, how could the saint thus exult? Ah, St. Augustine answers, because, intoxicated with the wine of divine love, he felt neither torments nor death.
For the holy martyrs, the more they loved Jesus, the less they felt torments and death, and the sight alone of the sufferings of a crucified God was sufficient to console them. But was not our afflicted mother, also, thus consoled by love for her Son, and the sight of his sufferings? No, for this very Son who suffered, was the whole cause of her grief; and the love she bore him was her only, and too cruel executioner for the whole martyrdom of Mary consisted in seeing and pitying her innocent and beloved Sons who suffered so much. Therefore, the more she loved him, the more bitter and inconsolable was her sorrow. "Great as the sea is thy destruction, who shall heal thee?" Ah, queen of heaven, love hath alleviated the sufferings of other martyrs, and has healed their wounds; but who has ever soothed thy great sorrow? Who has ever healed the cruel wounds of thy heart? Who will heal thee? "Quis medebitur tui?" if that same Son, who could give thee consolation, was by his sufferings the sole cause of thy sorrows, and the love that thou didst bear him, caused all thy martyrdom? Therefore, whilst the other martyrs, as Diez remarks, are all represented with the instrument of their passion St. Paul with the sword, St Andrew with the cross, St. Lawrene with the gridiron Mary is represented with her dead Son in her arms, because Jesus himself alone was the instrument of her martyrdom by reason of the love which she bore him. In a few words St. Bernard confirms all I have said: With the other martyrs their great love soothed the anguish of their martyrdom; but the more the blessed Virgin loved, go much the more she suffered, and so much more cruel was her martyrdom.
It is certain that the greater is our love for a thing, the greater pain we feel in losing it. The loss of a brother certainly afflicts us more than the loss of a beast of burden ; and the death of a son, more than that of a friend. Now Cornelius a Lapide says, that to comprehend how great was the grief of Mary at the death of her Son, we should comprehend how great was the love she bore him. But who can measure that love? The blessed Amadeus says, that in the heart of Mary two kinds of love to her Jesus were united: the supernatural love with which she loved him as her God, and the natural love with which she loved him as her son; so that, of these two loves, one only was formed, but a love so immense that William of Paris even said, that the blessed Virgin loved Jesus to such a degree that a pure creature could not love him more. And Richard of St. Laurence says, as there was no love like her love, so there was no grief like her grief. If, therefore, the love of Mary for her Son was immense, immense, also, must have been her grief in losing him by death. Where love is greatest, says blessed Albertus Magnus, the grief is greatest: "Ubi summus amor, ibi summus dolor."
Let us imagine, then, that the divine mother, standing near her Son dying upon the cross, and justly applying to herself the words of Jeremias, says to us: "Oh, all ye that pass by the way attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow." Oh ye that are passing your lives upon this earth, and have no pity for me, stop a while to look upon me, now that I be hold that beloved Son dying before my eyes: and then see if among all who are afflicted and tormented, there be sorrow like to my sorrow." No, answers St. Bonaventure, there can be found no sorrow, oh afflicted mother, more bitter than thine, for no son can be found more dear than thine. Ah, there has never been in the world, says St. Lawrence Justinian, a son more worthy of love than Jesus, nor a mother who loved her son more than Mary; if, then, there has never been in the world a love like the love of Mary, how can there be a grief like the grief of Mary?
Therefore, St. Ildephonsus did not hesitate to affirm, that it was little to say that the sufferings of the Virgin exceeded all the torments of the martyrs, even were they united together. And St. Anselm adds, that the most cruel tortures in flicted upon the holy martyrs were light or nothing, in comparison with the martyrdom of Mary. St. Basil likewise writes, that as the sun surpasses in splendor all the other planets, so Mary in her sufferings exceeded the sufferings of all the other martyrs. A certain learned author concludes with an admirable sentiment, saying, that so great was the sorrow which this tender mother suffered in the passion of Jesus, that she alone could worthily compassionate the death of a God made man.
But St. Bonaventure, addressing the blessed Virgin, says: Oh Lady, why hast thou wished to go and sacrifice thyself also on Calvary? Was not a crucified God sufficient to redeem us, that thou his mother wouldst be crucified also? Indeed, the death of Jesus was more than enough to save the world, and also an infinity of worlds; but this good mother wished, for the love she bore us, likewise to aid the cause of our salvation with the merits of the sorrows which she offered for us on Calvary. And, therefore, says the blessed Albertus Magnus, as we are indebted to Jesus for what he suffered for love of us, we are also to Mary for the martyrdom which she, in the death of her Son, voluntarily suffered for our salvation. I have added voluntarily, since, as the angel revealed to St. Bridget, this our so merciful and kind mother was willing to suffef any pain, rather than to see souls unredeemed or left in their former perdiiion. It may be said that this was the only consolation of Mary in the midst of her great sorrow at the passion of her Son, to see the lost world redeemed by his death, and men, who were his enemies, reconciled with God. Grieving, she rejoiced, says Simon da Cassia, because the sacrifice was offered for the redemption of all, by which wrath was appeased.
Such love as that of Mary merits our gratitude, and let us show our gratitude by meditating upon and compassionating her sorrows. But of this she complained to St. Bridget, that very few pitied her, and most lived forgetful of her sorrows. "look around upon all who are in the world, if perchance there may be any to pity me, and meditate upon my sorrows, and truly I find very few. Therefore, my daughter, though I am forgotten by many, at least do not thou forget me; behold my anguish, and imitate, as far as thou canst, my grief." In order to understand how much the Virgin is pleased by our remembrance of her dolors, it is sufficient to re late, that in the year 1239, she appeared to seven of her servants, who then became the founders of the order of the Servants of Mary, with a black garment in her hand, and told them that if they wished to please her, they should often meditate upon her dolors; and therefore she wished, in memory of them, that they would hereafter wear that garment of mourning. And Jesus Christ himself revealed to the blessed Veronica Binasco, that he takes more pleasure, as it were, in seeing his mother compassionated than himself; for thus he addressed her: "My daughter, the tears shed for ray passion are dear to me; but loving with so great love my mother Mary, the meditation of the dolors which she suffered at my death is more dear to me."
Wherefore the graces are very great which Jesus promises to those who are devoted to the dolors of Mary. Pelbart relates, that it was revealed to St. Elizabeth, that St. John the Evangelist, after the blessed Virgin was assumed into heaven, desired to see her again. This favor was granted him; his dear mot her appear ed to him, and Jesus Christ with her; and he then heard Mary asking of her Son some peculiar grace for those who were devoted to her dolors; and Jesus promised her for them the four following special graces: 1st. That those who invoke the divine mother by her sorrows, before death will merit to obtain true repentance of all their sins. 2d. That he will protect such in their tribulations, especially at the hour of death. 3d. That he will impress upon them the memory of his passion, and that they shall have their reward for it in heaven. 4th. That he will commit such devout servants to the hands of Mary, that she may dispose of them according to her pleasure, and obtain for them all the graces she desires. In proof of this, let us see in the following example how devotion to the dolors of Mary may aid our eternal salvation.
We read in the revelations of St. Bridget, that there was once a lord as noble by birth as he was low and sinful in his habits. He had given himself by an express compact as a slave to the devil, and had served him for sixty years, leading such a life as may easily be imagined, and never approaching the sacraments. Now, this prince was about to die and Jesus Christ, in his compassion, commanded St. Bridget to tell his confessor to visit him, and exhort him, to make his confession. The confessor went, and the sick man told him that he had no need of a confessor, for that he had often made his confession. The confessor visited him a second time, and that poor slave of hell persevered in his obstinate determination not to make his confession. Jesus again directed the saint to tell the confessor to go to him again. He obeyed, and this third time related to him the revelation made to the saint, and that he had returned so many times because the Lord, who desired to show him mercy, had directed him to do so. On hearing this the dying man was moved, and began to weep. But how, he exclaimed, can I be pardoned, when for sixty years I have served the devil, made myself his slave, and have laden my soul with innumerable sins?" "Son," answered the father, encouraging him, "do not doubt: if you repent of them, in the name of God I promise you pardon Then beginning to gain confidence, he said to the confessor: "Father, I believed myself lost, and despaired of salvation ; but now I feel a sorrow for my sins, which encourages me to trust; and as God has not yet abandoned me, I wish to make my confession." And in fact on that day he made his confession four times with great sorrow; the next day he received communion, and on the sixth he died, contrite and entirely resigned. After his death, Jesus Christ further revealed to St. Bridget, that this sinner was saved, and was in purgatory, and that he had been saved by the intercession of the Virgin, his mother; for the deceased, although he had led so sinful a life, yet had always preserved devotion to her dolors, whenever he remembered them he pitied her.
Oh my afflicted mother! queen of martyrs and of sorrows, thou hast shed so many tears for thy Son, who died for my salvation, and yet what will thy tears avail me, if I am lost? By the merits, then, of thy dolors, obtain for me a true sorrow for my sins, and a true amend ment of life, with a perpetual and tender com passion for the passion of Jesus and thy own sufferings. And if Jesus and thou, being so innocent, have suffered so much for me, obtain for me that I, who am deserving of hell, may also suffer something for love of you. O Lady, I will say to thee with St. Bonaventure, if I have offended thee, wound my heart in punishment; if I have served thee, now I beg to be wounded as a reward. It is a shameful thing to see our Lord Jesus wounded, and thee wounded with him, and I uninjured. Finally, oh my mother, by the grief thou didst experience on seeing thy Son before thy eyes bow his head and expire upon the cross, I entreat of thee to obtain for ine a good death. Ah, do not cease, oh advocate of sinners, to assist my afflicted and struggling soul in that great passage that it has to make into eternity. And, because at that time it may easily be the case that I shall have lost the use of speech with which to invoke thy name, and that of Jesus, who are all my hope, therefore I now invoke thy Son and thee to succor me at that last moment, and I say: Jesus and Mary, to you I commend my soul. Amen.