THE FAIREST FLOWER OF PARADISE - CONSIDERATIONS ON THE LITANY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN, ENRICHED WITH EXAMPLES DRAWN FROM THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS BY Very Rev. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O. S. M.
"We fly to thy protection, 0 holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities" (Antiphon at Compline in the Little Office of Our Lady.)
NO ARTICLE of the Creed is so consoling as that wherein we profess our faith in the Communion of Saints. Thereby we believe that the members of the Church Militant here on earth are united by the ties of holy affection to the members of the Church Suffering in purgatory, and to those of the Church Triumphant in heaven. The first come to the aid of the second by their prayers, and are themselves succored and sustained by the third in their warfare against the enemies of salvation.
We can, therefore, come to the aid of the souls in purgatory by our suffrages. On their part, the saints who are already in possession of eternal happiness, can assist us by the prayers which they offer for us before the throne of God. They are not unconscious of our warfare: they know by their own experience what encounters we must stand: they see in the light of the Divine Essence the prayers with which we invoke them, and the charity with which they are animated impels them to intercede earnestly for us.
The saints do not merely pray for us in a sort of general way; but they also ask of God those particular graces of which we stand in need, especially when we invoke them with faith and perseverance.
Rejoice, O my soul, that thou hast such powerful protectors in heaven, whose intercession, based on the merits of Jesus Christ, is for thee a sovereign remedy against the troubles of life.
Of all our heavenly patrons, the most Holy Virgin is beyond comparison the most powerful, wherefore we call her our Advocate before the throne of God. The dignity of Mother of God with which she is invested, the ardent charity which fills her soul, her office of Mother toward us, cause her to obtain for us, by her intercession, more graces than all the angels and saints put together can do, so that her requests are always granted.
The blessings which Mary obtains for us by her prayers extend to our temporal as well as to our spiritual needs, although she only obtains for us temporal goods on account of some useful relation which these may have to the spiritual life. The supernatural science which she draws from the vision of God face to face, leads her to discern what is profitable for us from what might turn to our disadvantage. For, seeing all things in the Divine Essence, she cannot err like ourselves, who often judge that to be useful, which in reality is pernicious to our soul's welfare.
It is to be observed, moreover, that Mary does not only intercede for those who have recourse to her: indeed, she often prays for those who do not call upon her, so that there are none who do not feel in one way or another the benefits of her intercession. Nor is the power of her mediation limited to one set of graces alone: on the contrary, it covers every kind of need. Not even the souls in purgatory are excluded from its efficacy: for our departed brethren frequently owe their deliverance to the prayers of this divine Mother.
One of the surest tokens of God's goodness to us, is His having given us Mary, in whom after Jesus we repose all our hope. And it is precisely on account of the efficacy of Mary's intercession, that devotion to her has always been considered a mark of predestination. Just as by relying on a trusty pilot we may voyage in safety, so also we are sure of our salvation under the guidance of so powerful a Queen.
For all that, let us guard against that false devotion, which rashly counting on Mary's intercession, might make us negligent of the practice of good works, or worse still, embolden us to sin with greater impunity. This, in fact, would be nothing short of presumption. Rather, let us be always solicitous that our devotion be united with a sincere desire to please God and avoid sin. Then, indeed, we shall be able to say with truth that devotion to Mary has been for us the source of every blessing.
To this wholesome devotion we may apply the words of Wisdom: "Now all good things came to me together with her, and innumerable riches through her hands." (Wis. vii, 11.)
Example - Our Lady Help of Christians
This invocation in the Litany, of Loreto and the feast which the Church celebrates under this title, take their rise from certain events which prove how great is the care and solicitude of the Mother of God in protecting the Church of Christ against its most bitter enemies.
In the second half of the sixteenth century the power of the Turks had become so great as to threaten the peace of all Europe. St. Pius V, at that time the reigning Pontiff, was famous
not only for his Christian fortitude, but also for his holy life. He caused the combined forces of Christendom to turn against the common enemy. This great army was indeed inferior in number to that of the Turks, but it was confident of victory, for it had placed its trust in the assistance of our blessed Lady.
The enemy were soon routed. The Sovereign Pontiff was at that time kneeling before a picture of our blessed Lady and was absorbed in prayer when, suddenly Mary appeared to him and told him that in that very hour the enemy had been defeated. St. Pius recognized in this the powerful aid of Mary and ordained that the invocation "Help of Christians" should henceforth be added to the Litany of Loreto.
Some years later, that is, under Napoleon I, the Church of Christ was once more in the throes of a terrible crisis. This ambitious Emperor for more than five years, confined the Sovereign Pontiff Pius VII in prison, to the great sorrow of all true sons of the Church. When all hope for the liberty of the Vicar of Christ seemed lost, Our Lady once more came to the aid of her faithful children. In fact, the Emperor was constrained to abdicate and the Pope returned to Borne to exercise the duties of his office in his own episcopal city. Once more he was forced to abandon Rome and his faithful people but, contrary to the expectation of all, he again returned to his beloved sons.
The world may perhaps have seen, in these happenings, only a political change, but the eyes of the Sovereign Pontiff could not fail to detect therein the hand of Mary, whom he had invoked so fervently. Pius VII, in thanksgiving for his deliverance, wished to crown with his own hands the picture of Our Lady venerated at Savona, where he was first imprisoned; and moreover ordained that the twenty-fourth of May should be kept every year as a special feast day in her honor, under the title of "Help of Christians."
O Mary, sovereign Mistress of heaven and earth, not only are the elements obedient to thy word, but the Creator of the universe has Himself willed to be subject to thee. Obtain for me of thy Son, I beseech thee, the grace to have recourse to thee with a firm confidence, in all my necessities and troubles, now and above all at the hour of my death. Amen.