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.
JUST as the coming of the Messias was announced in the Old Testament by a long series of figures and prophecies, in like manner also God disposed that the advent of Mary should be foretold by a number of prophetic utterances, and forshadowed by different persons and symbolic figures in the Old Law.
Indeed, when God prepares some great event, He usually paves the way for it centuries in advance by certain revelations and diverse mystic figures, thus to dispose men to receive more abundantly the graces prepared for them.
Together with the Incarnation of the Word, the dignity of Mother of God and co-Redemptress of the human race is the grandest and most glorious fact in the world's history. It was, then, only fitting that the same voices, which had predicted Christ, should announce the coming of the Blessed Mother with equal eloquence, and that the same symbols instituted by God to foreshadow the future Messias, should serve also to prefigure Mary. Thus, the Holy Scriptures are full of allusions referring to the exalted woman who was one day to beget the Word Made Flesh.
Happy they, to whom the Holy Spirit makes plain the sense of Holy Scripture by the gift of understanding, showing them in the principal symbols of the Ancient Law, the image of Mary beside that of the Messias.
Among the prerogatives which go to form the diadem of the Mother of God, the most eminent are without doubt her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual Virginity and her dignity of co-Redemptress of mankind. Wherefore, we need be under no astonishment, if these prerogatives were made the subject of special prophecies.
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin was predicted immediately after the fall of Adam: "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." (Gen. iii, 15.) This noteworthy woman was to be no other than Mary. In virtue of the future merits of Jesus Christ, her Son, the Holy Virgin was to be exempt from original sin, thus scoring a complete triumph over the enemy of our salvation.
The prophecy concerning the virginal birth of Christ is found in the words with which God announced to King Achaz, besieged in Jerusalem by the allied kings of Syria and Israel, the accomplishment of that wonderful fact, as a pledge of his near deliverance: "Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel." (Isai. vii, 14.) In truth the Incarnation of a Divine Person in a Virgin's womb is the greatest of God's works.
Finally, the sacrifice which Mary was to offer in union with Jesus for the world's salvation was announced by the* Prophet Jeremias, when he thus represented this Immaculate Virgin: "Weeping she hath wept in the night and her tears are on her cheeks." (Lament, i, 2.) This was in truth a foreboding of what Mary would suffer, when, assisting at the bloody scene of Calvary, she should witness the accomplishment of the mystery of our Redemption.
Besides the prophecies concerning Mary contained in the Old Testament, there are also to be found therein many types or figures of her and her high prerogatives. Among these symbols, we note some drawn from living persons, others from inanimate things, all disclosing, each in its own way, the virtues and privileges of the Immaculate Virgin.
The deeds of Deborah, Jael and Judith foreshadow the future triumphs of the Mother of God over her enemies; Esther proclaims her matchless beauty, Abigail her prudence and the mother of the Machabees her generous ardor in suffering for Christ. Again, the earthly paradise, Noah's ark, Jacob's ladder, the burning bush, the golden candlestick and so forth, are so many symbolic figures of Mary, of her endowments and grandeur.
It is, then, true to say that, after Jesus, nothing is so much the object of the divine complacency as Mary, since God desired that the eyes of mankind should be turned constantly toward her from the very beginning, by foreshadowing her in saintly personages and sacred symbols.
Example - St. Philip Neri
Devotion to the glorious Mother of God is not only a source of holiness for those who practice it, but it often becomes for them a fountain of extraordinary favors. God, in fact, not infrequently disposes that the faithful servants of this heavenly Queen should be distinguished with one or another of those supernatural prerogatives with which He was pleased to enrich the soul of his Mother. For this reason it may be said that the more a person is animated by true devotion to the Queen of Heaven, the more such a person is made to partake of those extraordinary gifts with which the Holy Ghost beautified the soul of His beloved Spouse in the course of her mortal life.
It is well known how St. Philip Neri loved and venerated the Blessed Virgin and how he desired to see her honored and loved by his penitents. He often invoked her by her most beautiful titles, and he used to call her his love and the heavenly dispenser of the graces of her Lord. In this way he infused into those who approached him an unbounded confidence in Mary's patronage. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Philip received from God, through Mary's hands, some of those particular gifts which God Himself had bestowed upon His Mother.
One of these gifts was the spirit of prophecy and discernment of hearts, so that as the Holy Ghost had replenished the soul of Mary with heavenly wisdom, manifesting to her the hidden things of Heaven, so St. Philip was filled, though to a lesser degree, with this extraordinary favor of knowing things hidden to the eyes of men.
Many indeed were the things foretold by this Saint not only in ordinary matters but with regard to extraordinary events and out-of-the-way circumstances. With regard to his gift of the discernment of hearts, it must be admitted that St. Philip Neri was perfectly cognizant of the interior state of many who came to him, so much so that any one who had committed some fault and would not repent of it, did not dare to approach him, for they knew that the state of their conscience was known to him.
It was also by the aid of our blessed Lady, that St. Philip obtained the conversion of so many hardened sinners who had resisted the grace of God. By his works in the mystical vineyard of Christ, and by the victories which through his prophetical spirit he gained over sin and the devil, he won the beautiful title of "Apostle of Rome," which was due in great part to his unbounded confidence and devotion to our blessed Lady, who is rightly invoked as the "Queen of Prophets."
O Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother too, obtain for us firmly to believe in the great mystery of the Redemption until our last breath, and to merit to partake in the benefits which Jesus Christ, thy Son, has purchased for us by His passion and death. Amen.