Si corde multis ingemis
O Mater alma luctibus,
tibi refusa cœlitus
mulcent dolorem gaudia.
Ex Officio Gaud. B.V.M. Fratribus Minoribus concesso.
We are taught by St. Catharine of Genoa that no happiness upon earth can be compared with the happiness of the Souls in Purgatory, whose happiness consists essentially in perfect conformity and abandonment to the Will of God in the midst of suffering. It will not be thus in Heaven, for in Heaven suffering has done its work and has passed away for ever, but it must be so in Purgatory, where suffering enters necessarily into the purification of the soul; it must be thus also upon earth, where the disciples of Christ are called upon to take up their Cross and follow, according to the measure of grace which is given to each, in the footsteps of their crucified Master. This mysterious union of joy and sorrow finds its highest expression in our Lord Himself, whose human Soul, even in the hour of its uttermost dereliction, enjoyed the bliss of the Beatific Vision. And as, after the sorrows of Christ there have never been sorrows that can be compared to the sorrows of His Blessed Mother, so after the joy and jubilation in the Heart of Christ, there has never been joy like the joy in the heart of Mary. Our Lady's whole life was a life of sorrow; it was also a life of unceasing jubilee. But, as her Seven Sorrows rose and fell like mountainous billows upon the deep ocean of her abiding grief—" Like as the sea is thy desolation O Virgin daughter of Sion "—so we may enumerate certain Joys that gladdened with extraordinary exultation the soul of the Mother of God.
Our fathers in England, before the change of religion, had a marked devotion to Mary's Joys, of which they counted Five, bearing in their thoughts the Five Wounds of our Lady's Jesus. 1 To exemplify this, Father Bridgett in his book " Our Lady's Dowry " gives us the following extracts from two English wills.
John Baret of Bury devises as follows: " I wille have at myn interment at my diryge and messe V men clade in blak in wurshippe of J'hus V woundys, and V women clad in whitte in wurshippe of our Ladye's fyve joyes, eche of them holdying a torche of clene vexe "—and John Gosselyn: " I wyl and bequethe to the fynding of V lights to brenne in the honour of the V wounds of our Lord God and the V joies of our Lady St. Mary."
The following hymn taken from a Prymer of 1538 will tell us which were the joys of our Lady chosen by our English ancestors for devout commemoration :
" Rejoice, O Virgin, Christ's Mother dear,
Which hast conceived, by hearing with ear
Of Gabriel's Salutation.
Rejoice, because to God thou art lefe
And barest Him without pain or grief,
In chaste conversation.
Rejoice, because thy most dear Son,
Whom thou didst see through the Heart run,
Rose with manifestation.
Rejoice because He ascended plain
Before thy Face into Heaven again,
By His proper excitation.
Rejoice because thou followest Him,
And great honours to thee is given
In the heavenly habitation:
Where the Fruit of thy womb everlasting
We may behold, through thy deserving,
In joy without mutation."
Devotion to the joys of our Lady, often called by the English the Blissful Maiden, was the favourite devotion of St. Thomas of Canterbury, himself known to our forefathers as the Blissful Martyr. There is a Latin hymn on our Lady's joys, commonly attributed to St. Thomas, in which we find Seven Joys commemorated. These comprise the Annunciation, the Birth of our Lord, the worship of the Wise Men, the Finding in the Temple, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Assumption.
It will be noticed that the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple does not figure in this list; yet it must have given great joy to the heart of our Lady. On this subject Peter of Blois writes as follows:
" Enter the Temple, O Blessed Virgin, offer the Blessed Fruit of thy womb. A day will come when He will not be offered in the Temple, nor in Jerusalem, but outside the City—not in the arms of Simeon, but on those of the Cross. A day will come when He will not be redeemed by birds as He is to-day, but will redeem us in His Blood, since God has sent Him to be the Redemption of His people. That will be the evening, as this is the morning, sacrifice. Rejoice, O Mother, in the morning sacrifice, for in the evening sacrifice thou wilt grieve and the sword shall pierce thy soul. Rejoice, O Mother, and exult, O daughter of Sion. Rejoice and sing the song of thy virginity. Or, rather, listen, O Virgin, for Anna and Simeon are singing with thee. Holy Simeon sings the canticle of justice, and Anna that of continence. Sing thou, also, the canticle of chastity, the new and until now unheard canticle of virginity together with fruitfulness, of humility with glory and beatitude. ' Behold,' she says, • from henceforth all generations shall call me Blessed.' "
From another point of view—that of Simeon's Prophecy—the Presentation in the Temple was the scene whence sprang the first of our Lady's Dolours; nor was it possible to make any such sharp division between Mary's sorrow and her joy in this Mystery, as it was easy to make between the sorrow at the Loss, and the joy in the Finding, of the Holy Child in the Temple. We need not therefore be surprised that the fourth joyful Mystery of the Rosary was never included in any authorised list of our Lady's unmixed Joys.
As the Order of the Servants of Mary—generally known as Servites—have from the date of their foundation deemed it their special privilege to spread devotion to the Sorrows Mary's Joys. of their Queen, so devotion to Mary's Joys has found a congenial home in the world-wide Franciscan family. St. Bernardine of Siena, the great Franciscan preacher, speaks of it as in his day already an ancient and praiseworthy custom amongst his brethren thus to honour Mary. As the black habit of the Servites speaks to the world of the Dolours, so the Rosary with its seven Mysteries hanging at the girdle of the Franciscans speaks of the Joys of our Lady. This Franciscan Rosary includes six of the Joys mentioned in the hymn of St. Thomas —substituting, however, Mary's joy at the Visitation for her joy at the Ascension. It is especially by means of this Rosary that for many centuries the devotion to our Lady's Joys has been spread amongst the Faithful, so that when now we speak of The Seven Joys of Mary, ordinarily we intend to designate our Lady's joy at the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of our Lord, the Adoration by the Magi, the Finding in the Temple, the Resurrection and the Assumption. I will venture to write a few sentences—alas ! how inadequate they must be—on each of these mysterious sources of our Lady's gladness.