The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
AD TE SUSPIRAMUS GEMENTES ET FLENTES lN HAC LACRYMARUM VALLE. To thee do we send up our sighs, groaning and weeping In this valley of tears.
THE NEED WE HAVE OF THE INTERCESSION OF MARY FOR OUR SALVATION.
To invoke and pray to the saints, especially to the queen of saints, most holy Mary, that they may obtain for us, by their intercession, the divine favor, is not only a lawful but a useful and holy practice, and this is of faith, being established by the Councils, against heretics, who condemn it as injurious to Jesus Christ, who is our only mediator; but if a Jeremias, after his death, prays for Jerusalem; if the elders of the Apocalypse present to God the prayers of the saints; if a St. Peter promises his disciples to remember them after his death; if a St. Stephen prays for his persecutors; if a St. Paul prays for his companions; if, in a word, the saints pray for us, why may we not implore the saints to intercede for us? St. Paul commends himself to the prayers of his disciples: Pray for us: "Orate pro nobis." St. James exhorts the Christians to pray for each other: "Pray for one another, that ye may be saved."We may then do likewise.
No one will deny that Jesus Christ is the only mediator of justice, and that by his merits he has obtained for us reconciliation with God. But, on the other hand, it is impious to deny that God is pleased to grant favors at the intercession of the saints, and especially of Mary his mother, whom Jesus desires so much to see loved and honored by us. Every one knows that honor paid to a mother redounds to her children. Hence St. Bernard says, let not any one think that by greatly praising the mother he will throw into the shade the glories of the Son; for the more he honors the mother, so much more he honors the Son. St. Ildephonsus says, that all the honor which is paid to the mother and the queen, is rendered to the Son and king. And there is no doubt that on account of the merits of Jesus, the great privilege has been granted to Mary to be the mediatrix of our salvation; not, indeed, mediatrix of justice, but of grace and intercession, as she is called by St. Bonaventure. St. Lawrence Justinian also says: Can she be otherwise than full of grace, who has been made the ladder of paradise, the gate of heaven, the most true mediatrix between God and man?
Wherefore St. Anselm well remarks, "that when we implore the holy Virgin to obtain graces for us, it is not that we distrust the divine mercy, but rather that we distrust our own unworthiness, and commend ourselves to Mary that her merits may compensate for our unworthiness.
It cannot be doubted, therefore, except by those who are deficient in faith, that it is a useful and holy thing to have-recourse to the intercession of Mary. But the point that we here pro pose to prove is, that the intercession of Mary is even necessary for our salvation: necessary, to speak properly, not indeed absolutely, but morally. And we affirm that this necessity arises from the will of God itself, who has ordained that all the favors which he dispenses should pass through the hands of Mary, according to the opinion of St. Bernard, which may well be considered at the present day the common opinion of doctors and divines, as the author of "The kingdom of Mary" has already called it It is embraced by Vega, Mendoza, Paciucchelli, Segneri, Poire, Crasset, and innumerable other learned authors. Even Father Noel Alexander, an author usually very reserved in his assertions, declares it to be the will of God that we receive all favore through the intercession of Mary. In confirmation of this, he quotes the celebrated passage of St. Bernard: This is the will of him who would have us receive all things through Mary. The same opinion is held by Father Contensone who, explaining the words of Jesus Christ of the cross to John, behold thy mother, "Ecce mater tua," says: It is as if he said, no one shall partake of my blood except by the intercession of my mother. My wounds are fountains of grace, but to none can their streams be conveyed except by the channel of Mary. Oh John, my disciple, even as thou lovest my mother, so shalt thou be loved by me.
The statement that; whatsoever we receive from the Lord comes to us by means of Mary does not find favor with a certain modern author, who, although he treats with much piety and learning of true and false devotion, yet speaking of the devotion towards the divine mother, has shown himself very sparing in granting her the glory that a St. Germanus, a St. Anselm, a St. John of Damascus, a St. Bonaventure, a St. Antoninus, a St. Bernardine of Sienna, the venerable Abbot of Celles, and so many other doctors, have not hesitated to attribute to her who have not scrupled to declare that for the above-mentioned reason the intercession of Mary is not only useful, but necessary. The abovenamed author says that this proposition, namely, that God grants no favor except through Mary, is an hyperbole and an exaggeration which has escaped from the mouth of some saints in a moment of fervor, and properly speaking, is to be understood only in the sense that through Mary we have received Jesus Christ, by whose merits we receive all graces. Otherwise, he continues, it would be an error to believe that God could not grant graces, without the intercession of Mary, since the apostle says: "There is one God and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus." So far the above-named author.
But with his leave I will suggest to him what he himself in his book teaches me, that the mediation of justice by means of merit, and the mediation of grace by means of prayer, are very different things. Thus it is also one thing to say that God cannot, another to say he will not grant favors without the intercession of Mary. We willingly acknowledge that God is the fountain of every good, and absolute Lord of all graces and that Mary is only a pure creature who, through grace, receives whatever she obtains from God. But who can deny it to be reason able and proper to assert that God, in order to exalt this noble creature, who, more than all other creatures, has loved and honored him in her life, having chosen her for the mother of his Son the Redeemer of the world, has also seen fit to dispense through her hands all the graces which are to be granted to redeemed souls? We acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the only mediator of justice, as we have stated above, who by his merits obtains for us grace and salvation; but we affirm that Mary is the mediatrix of grace, and although whatever she obtains, she obtains through the merits of Jesus Christ, and because she prays and asks for it in the name of Jesus Christ, yet whatever favors we ask are all obtained through her intercession.
In this there is certainly nothing opposed to the sacred doctrines; on the contrary, it is entirely conformed to the sentiments of the Church, who, in the public prayers, by her approved, teaches us to appeal constantly to his divine mother, and invoke her as the Health of the weak: "Salus infirmorum." The Refuge of sinners: "Refugium peccatorem." The Help of Christians: "Auxilium christianorum." Our life and our hope: "Vita et spes nostra." The same holy Church, in the office which she requires to be recited on the Festivals of Mary, applying to her the words of Wisdom, gives us to understand that in Mary we shall find every hope: "In me is all hope of life and virtue." That in Mary we shall find every grace: "In me is all grace of the way and of the truth."f In a word, that we shall find in Mary life and eternal salvation: "He that shall find me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord." And again: "They that work by me shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting." All which passages signify the need we have of the intercession of Mary.
This then is the sentiment in which so many theologians and holy fathers concur, of whom we cannot with justice say, as the author quoted above has asserted, that to exalt Mary they have uttered hyperboles, and that excessive exaggerations have fallen from their lips. To exaggerate and utter hyperboles, is to exceed the limits of truth, which cannot be said of the saints who have spoken, enlightened by the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of truth. And here, if I may make a brief digression, let me express a sentiment of mine, namely: when an opinion is in any way honorable to the most holy Virgin, and has some foundation, and is not repugnant to the faith and the decrees of the Church, and to the truth, the rejection of it, and opposition to it, be cause the contrary may also be true, indicates little devotion to the mother of God. I would not be one of the number of these, nor would I see you, my reader, one of them, but rather of the number of those who fully and firmly believe all that can be believed, without error, concerning the greatness of Mary, as the Abbot Rupert says, who places among the offerings of devotion most pleasing to this mother, that of a firm belief in her great privileges. If no one else, St. Augustine at least might remove from us all fear of exaggeration in the praise of Mary, who asserts that all we may say in her praise is little in comparison with what she merits on ac count of her dignity as mother of God. The holy Church also, in the Mass of the blessed Virgin, requires these words to be read: "For thou art happy, oh sacred Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise. "
But let us return to our subject, and hear what the saints say of the opinion in question. St. Bernard says that God had bestowed all graces on Mary, that men, through her as through a channel, may receive whatever goods is in store for them. Moreover, the saint here makes an important reflection, and says that before the birth of the most holy Virgin there flowed no such current of grace for all, since this deired channel did not yet exist. But for this end, he adds. Mary has been given to the world, that through this channel the divine graces might continually flow down upon us.
As Holofernes, in order to gain the city of Bethulia, directed the aqueducts to be broken, so the devil makes every effort to deprive souls of their devotion to the mother of God ; for, if this channel of grace were closed, he could easily succeed in gaining them to himself. The same holy father continues, and says: Observe, then, oh souls, with what affection and devotion the Lord would have us honor this our queen, by always seeking and confiding in her protection; for in her he has placed the fulness of all good, that henceforth we may recognize as coming from Mary whatever of hope, grace, or salvation we receive. St. Antoninus says the same thing: All the mercies ever bestowed upon men have all come through Mary.
For this reason she is called the moon, because, as St. Bonaventure remarks, as the moon is between the sun and the earth, and reflects upon the latter what she receives from the former, so Mary receives the celestial influences of grace from the divine Son, to transfuse them into us who are upon the earth.
For this reason, too, she is called the gate of heaven by the holy Church: "Felix coeli porta;" because, St. Bernard again observes, as every rescript of grace sent by the king comes through the palace gate, so it is given to Mary, that through her thou shouldst receive whatever thou hast. St. Bonaventure, moreover, says that Mary is called the gate of heaven, because, no one can enter heaven if he does not pass through Mary, who is the door of it.
St. Jerome confirms us in the same sentiment (or, as some persons think, another ancient author of a sermon upon the Assumption which is inserted among the works of St. Jerome), when he says, that in Jesus Christ was the fulness of grace as in the head, whence descend to the members, which we are, all the vital spirits, that is, the divine aids for attaining eternal salvation: in Mary likewise was fulness as in the neck, through which those vital spirits pass to the members. This is confirmed by St. Bernardine of Sienna, who more clearly unfolded this thought, Baying that through Mary are transmitted to the faithful, who are the mystic body of Jesus Christ, all the graces of the spiritual life, which descends upon them from Jesus their head.
St. Bonaventure also attempts to assign the reason for this when he says: God being pleased to dwell in the womb of this holy Virgin, she has acquired thereby, in a certain sense, a kind of jurisdiction over all graces; since Jesus came from her sacred womb, together with him proceed from her, as from a celestial ocean, all the streams of divine gifts. St. Bernardine of Sienna expresses this in even clearer terms. From the time, he asserts, that this mother conceived in her womb the Divine Word, she acquired, if we may thus express it, a special right to the gifts which proceed to us from the Holy Spirit, so that no creature has received any grace from God except by the intervention and hand of Mary.
And thus is explained by a certain author that passage of Jeremias where the prophet, speaking of the incarnation of the Word and of Mary his mother, says, that "a woman shall com pass a man." The author above named explains this to mean that, as no line proceeds from the centre of a circle which does not pass through its circumference; thus no grace comes to us from Jesus, who is the centre of every good, that does not pass through Mary, who encom passed him after she had received him in her womb.
Hence, says St. Bernardine, all gifts, all virtues, and all graces, are dispensed by Mary to whom she will, when she will, and in the manner she will. Richard likewise says, that God wishes all the good he bestows on creatures to pass through the hands of Mary. Hence the venerable Abbot of Celles exhorts every one to have recourse to this treasurer of graces, as he calls her: "Thesaurariam gratiarum;" for only by her means the world and men are to receive all the good they may hope for. By which it is evident that the saints and authors above quoted, in saying that all graces come to us through Mary, have not intended to say this only because we have received from Mary, Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of every good, as the author named above would imply; but they assure us that God, after having given us Jesus Christ, has decreed that all the graces which have been dispensed, are dispensed, and shall be dispensed to men, even to the end of the world, through the merits of Jesus, shall be dispensed through the hands and by the intercession of Mary.
Hence Father Suarez concludes it to be the universal sentiment of the Church at the present day, that the intercession of Mary is not only useful, but necessary. Necessary, as we said before, not in the sense of absolute necessity, because only the mediation of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary for us, but in the sense of moral necessity; for the Church holds the opinion, with St. Bernard, that God has chosen to bestow no grace upon us but by the hands of Mary. St. Ildephonsus affirmed this before St. Bernard, when, addressing the Virgin, he says: Oh Mary, God has decreed to commit to thee all the favors that he would confer upon men; hence he has confided to thee all the treasures and riches of grace. And therefore St. Peter Damian says, that God would not become man without the consent of Mary, that, in the first place, we might remain greatly indebted to her; and secondly, that we might understand the salvation of all men to be made dependent upon her good pleasure.
St. Bonaventure, contemplating the words of Isaias, where the prophet says; From the race of Jesse there shall come forth a rod that is, Mary; and from that the flower that is, the Word incarnate utters these beautiful words: Let him who would obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit, seek the flower in the rod, Jesus in Mary; since by the rod we obtain the flower, and by the flower we find God. And he afterwards adds: If thou wouldst have this flower, strive, with prayers, to incline the stem of the flower in thy favor, and thou wilt obtain it. The seraphic Doctor, also commenting on the words: They found the child with Mary his mother," says: Jesus is never found but with and through Mary and concludes with these words: He seeks Jesus In vain who does not look for him with Mary. Hence St. Ildephonsus says: I would be a ser vant of the Son, and as he can never be a servant of the Son who is not the servant of the mother, my ambition is to be a servant of Mary.
It is related by Belluacensis and Cesarius, that a noble youth having lost by his vices the wealth left him by his father, became so poor that he was obliged to beg. He quitted his native land, that he might live with less shame in a distant country where he was unknown. On this journey he met one day an old servant of his father, who, seeing him so cast down by the poverty he was Buffering, told him to cheer up, for he would take him to a prince who was so liberal that he would provide him with every thing he needed. Now this wretch was an impious sorcerer. One day he took the youth with him to a wood on the borders of a moor, where he began to address some invisible person. The youth asked to whom he was speaking. "To the devil," he answered; and seeing the youth terrified, bade him not to fear. Continuing to speak with the devil, he said: "This youth, oh my master, is reduced to extreme necessity, and wishes to be restored to his former condition." " If he will obey me," said the enemy, I will make him richer than before; but in the first place, he must renounce God." At this the youth shuddered, but urged on by that cursed magician, he yielded, and renounced God. " But this is not sufficient," said the demon; "he must also renounce Mary; for it is to her that we attribute our greatest losses. Oh, how many souls she has snatched from us, and led back to God and saved!" "Oh, this I will not do," exclaimed the youth; "deny Mary! why she is my only hope. I would rather be a beggar all my life." With these words he left the place. On his way he happened to pass a church dedicated to Mary. The unhappy youth entered it, and kneeling before her altar, began to weep and implore the most holy Virgin that she would obtain the paidon of his sins. Mary immediately began to in tercede with the Son for that miserable being. Jesus at first said: "But that ungrateful youth, my mother, has denied me." But seeing that his mother still continued to entreat him, he at last said: "Oh, my mother, I have never refused thee any thing; he shall be pardoned, since thou dost ask it." The citizen who had purchased the inheritance of that prodigal was secretly present at this scene, and beholding the mercy of Mary towards that sinner, he gave him his only daughter in marriage, and made him heir of all his possessions. Thus that youth recovered, through the intercession of Mary, the favor of God and even his temporal possessions.
Oh my soul! behold the beautiful hope of salvation, and of life eternal, which the Lord has granted thee, by giving thee, in his mercy, confidence in the protection of his mother, when thou hast by thy sins so often merited his dis pleasure and the pains of hell. Give thanks, then, to God, and to thy protectress, Mary, who hath deigned to shelter thee beneath her mantle, as al ready thou certainly knowest, by the many graces that thou hast received through her. Yes, I thank thee, oh my loving mother! for the good thou hast done me, a miserable sinner, deserving of hell. From how many dangers hast thou delivered me, oh my queen! How much light and how many mercies hast thou obtained for me, from God, by thy intercession! What great advantage, or what great honor hast thou received from me, that thou art thus intent on doing me good?
Thy goodness alone, then, hath moved thee in my behalf. Ah! if I were to give my blood, my life for thee, it would be little compared to what I owe thee, for thou hast delivered me from eternal death; thou, who hast enabled me to recover, as I hope, the divine favor, and from thee finally I acknowledge all my blessings to proceed. Oh my Lady! most worthy of love, I a miserable creature can make thee no return but always to praise and love thee. Ah! do not disdain to accept the affection of a poor sinner, who is enamored of thy goodness. If my heart is not worthy to love thee, because it is evil and full of earthly affections, do thou change it. Ah! unite me to my God, and unite me so that I can never be separated from his love. This thou desirest of me, that I may love tby God, and this I wish from thee. Obtain for me that I may love him, and love him always, and I ask nothing more. Amen.