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.
"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His Mother: Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed." (Luke, ii, 34, 35.)
ACCORDING to the law of Moses, the woman who had brought into the world a man-child, was to abstain from going into the Temple for forty days. After which time, she was to journey to Jerusalem, and there offer for her purification a lamb with a pigeon or turtle-dove; or by concession, if she were poor, a pair of turtle-doves or pigeons. (Lev. xii, 8.)
The conception of Christ in the womb of our blessed Lady was the work of the Holy Ghost, and hence Mary was not subject to this law in as much as it implied satisfaction for any fault whatever. But that same spirit of humility which had induced Jesus, though immune from all stain of origin, to obey the law of circumcision, impelled Mary also to submit to the law of purification.
The Holy of Holies having come upon earth to take away the sins of the world, (John, i, 29.) chose to appear among us as a sinner. It was therefore befitting that His Immaculate Mother, destined to cooperate with Him in the work of our redemption, should teach the world, by her submission to the law of purification, this great truth, that humility is the beginning of our salvation, as pride has been the root of our ruin. And just as Jesus willed to be born in poverty, so also Mary appeared in the Temple stripped of the goods of this world, for which reason she made to God the offering of the poor.
O holy humility, how pleasing art thou in the sight of the Most High, since it was to teach us lowliness, that the Word of God came down upon earth!
Mary went to the Temple of Jerusalem not only to be purified in accordance with the Law, but also to offer to God the Child Jesus, her new-born Son: Ut sisterent eum Domino" (Luke, ii, 22.)
The Law commanded that all newly born male children should be consecrated to the Lord. This precept was designed to recall to the Hebrews the memory of the passage of the destroying-Angel, who slew the first-born of Egypt, but spared the children of the Israelites. Later on however, God having, in place of the first-born of the Hebrews, set apart for the priesthood the entire tribe of Levi, the custom was introduced that the parents should immediately ransom their first-born at the price of five shekels. Mary and Joseph offered therefore this mystic ransom at the Temple, in a spirit of obedience.
But to what purpose was Jesus thus ransomed? Why, having been once offered to God, was He restored again to His parents? Ah, it is because He was the victim destined for the sacrifice of Golgotha, and it was necessary that the victim should be kept for the day of its immolation. Mary and Joseph are well aware of this. Being fully acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, they know that the Messias must accomplish the work of redemption by His death.
But, in order that the designs of God may be brought home to them with greater force, behold the Prophet Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit comes into the Temple, takes into his arms the Divine Infant and, blessing God, turns to Mary, foretelling her the bitter sorrow which, like a sharp sword, must one day pierce her sinless soul.
The holy old man Simeon knew well that the Messias was born only of Mary, and that to her alone would one day belong the offering up of Jesus upon Calvary. Therefore, though his benediction equally included St. Joseph, yet it was to the Mother of God alone that he addressed the prophetic utterance. These words were, for the heart of the Immaculate Virgin, a cause of unspeakable grief, though at the same time of exceeding joy.
In fact, Mary perceived that if Jesus was to be a contradicted sign, it was by reason of the envy of men, which would drive them to such a pitch of malice, as to become guilty of dei-cide. She understood that this persecution must of necessity include herself also, the true Mother of the Redeemer.
But if the Saviour is to be for many an occasion of perdition, He will also prove, for those who are ready and willing to accept His teaching, a source of grace, so that in His name and by His power they will become victors over sin and death. This thought sufficed to console Mary and to animate her for the fulfilment of her mission.
Example The devotion of Pope Clement viii to The Blessed Virgin
Among the Sovereign Pontiffs who have nourished a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, particular mention must be made of Clement VIII, through whom the picture of Our Lady, venerated in St. Mary Major's at Borne and known as St. Luke's picture, became a center of great devotion.
As soon as he was crowned Pope, he proclaimed a jubilee to all who should visit the chapel where the picture is preserved, and, desiring to give an example of true devotion to the Mother of God, he himself went thrice in procession to visit the shrine, followed by the Sacred College of Cardinals, the Pontifical Court, and a large body of the faithful.
When his nephew, John Francis Aldobrandini was about to set out with an army to help the Hungarians against the Turks, the Holy Pontiff wished to put the valiant soldier under the protection of Our Lady, of whom we read that she is splendid as the sun, beautiful as the moon, and terrible as an army in battle array. To this end he held a solemn ceremony in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, during which, under the motherly regard of our blessed Lady, he appointed Francis general, giving him the banner under which the Christian name was to triumph.
But what especially distinguished the devotion of this Pontiff to our blessed Lady was his custom of going every morning on foot with one of the pontifical household to venerate this shrine in the Church of St. Mary Major. On arriving there, he was wont to go up the steps leading to the Basilica, on his knees, out of reverence for the Mother of God. He used to remain there humbly waiting for the "Angelus" to be rung, at which hour the Basilica would be opened. Then he recited the "Angelus" thus honoring her who is known as the heavenly dawn; after which, he went to prostrate himself before the Sacred Picture, which he contemplated in ecstasy, breathing forth the love of his heart for Mary.
Paul V, who succeeded Clement VIII in the Chair of St. Peter, wished to perpetuate the devotion of his predecessor to this sacred shrine by erecting a splendid monument to his memory in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. Prince Marcantonio Borghese had the body of Pope Clement VIII transferred there from the Vatican, so that even in death he might render homage to her, whom he had loved so much in life.
O Mary, who hast given us in thy Purification, so bright an example of true and sincere devotion, and whose sweet heart was at once pierced with sorrow and filled with heavenly joy at the prophecy of Simeon, grant that I may imitate thee, and obey the commandments of Jesus, in such wise, that I may have part in the Redemption which He has won for us. Amen.