The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life
"Chapter XXII: Special Devotions in Honor of Mary"
THE EXTERNAL FORMS of devotions that have been devised by the Church and her children to show their love and interior devotion to Mary are so varied, so numerous that merely to list all would require the space of a long chapter.1 Let us mention merely the chief types and classes.
As we have already seen,2 Mary's name is put before us many times in the Ordinary of every Mass, and in the beautiful prayers which the Church recommends that the priest say before and after Mass. The calendar of the universal Church includes at present eighteen feasts that are celebrated everywhere, besides an even larger number of feasts that are observed in certain nations, dioceses, or religious orders. In addition, every Saturday is specially dedicated to her honor, and plenary indulgences are offered to arouse special devotion on the first Saturday of each month The large Divine Office parallels the Mass in its remembrances of Mary and her feasts; and the Little Office is hers in a special way.
Many religious orders, congregations, and societies were either founded expressly for her honor, or are in other ways dedicated to Mary. We must add to these the several confraternities and sodalities, and the Legion of Mary. To various groups belong a large number of Marian scapulars and special medals.
Then there are the special prayers and devotional exercises of a nonliturgical character, such as the Litany of Loreto, the Memorare, the Angelus, the many Marian hymns, the varied novenas.
Finally, throughout the world there are countless basilicas, churches, chapels, and shrines in her honor. At some of these she herself has appeared to chosen souls.
No matter which of these many forms of devotion we should select for special consideration, we would be forced by the sheer immensity of the task to omit many of considerable importance. Wherefore, let us single out two of the most important devotions: the Rosary and the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. These are among the most universally loved and most valuable devotional practices because of their eminent intrinsic worth But today we find additional reason for cultivating them in the requests that Our Lady made in such apparitions as those of Lourdes and Fatima When Lucia at Fatima asked Our Lady who she was, she is reported to have said: "I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue to say the Rosary every day."3
Although certain devotional practices of reciting many Aves, and even counting devices of beads were known before the time of St. Dominic, yet it seems clear that we ought to consider him as the author of the Rosary.4 Many Popes have given this title to St. Dominic, even though they have not presented their statements as a teaching to be imposed authoritatively on the universal Church.5 For it seems clear that, under the inspiration of Mary, he was accustomed to go into the villages and preach long series of sermons on the mysteries of salvation, during which, in order to implore heavenly aid, and to provide a respite for his hearers, he interrupted his discourse at suitable points, and had his hearers recite some Paters and Aves.6 From this practice our present devotion of the Rosary evolved.
St. Dominic was surely led and aided in this work by the interior promptings and graces that Mary obtained for him. But some writers think thee she also appeared to him and gave him the Rosary. In the writings of a fifteenth-century Dominican, Alan de la Roche (died 1475) we find this account. It was the year A.D. 1206. St. Dominic had been laboring with great diligence for the previous three years, preaching, disputing, and writing against the Albigensian heresy, but had reaped little fruit from his efforts. Accordingly, he went to a forest at Prouille, and there, giving himself over to many prayers and severe penances, begged for the help of the Queen of Heaven. On the third day Mary appeared to him, praising him for his valiant fight against the heretics, and announcing that she had come to bring him help. She then gave him the Rosary as a mighty weapon, explained its use and efficacy, and told him to go to Toulouse and preach it to others. St. Dominic went as he had been directed, and, with the support of miracles, taught the Rosary with great success.
Many scholars today, including some Dominicans, either reject or seriously question the authenticity of the alleged apparition. The Holy See has shown some signs of favor to it, but has not given any real decision.7
But the nature of the Rosary is such that its value does not at all depend on whether or not we accept the story of the Prouille apparition. We can see the unique importance of the Rosary in two ways: by examining the inner source of its power, and by considering the wonderful favors which have been obtained by its use in the past, and which still come to souls today.
The essential prayers of the Rosary are the Our Father and the Hail Mary, accompanied by some form of meditation on the mysteries of our Redemption. Many saints and scholars have given us lengthy and beautiful commentaries on the beauty of the Our Father, but for our purpose, in order to see its great power, we need only to recall that it is a prayer composed by Our Lord Himself. No further recommendation is needed; that fact alone establishes its great power to please the heart of the Father.
The Hail Mary contains two parts, the first of which is drawn from inspired Scripture. It opens with the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and the words of Elizabeth, who, as Scripture tells us,8 was at that time filled with the Holy Spirit. The second part of the Hail Mary is of ecclesiastical origin. It developed chiefly in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, though the form was then somewhat fluid, and was not fixed until 1568, when Pope St. Pius V ordered the present form to be used in the Breviary.9
As to meditation on the mysteries, it is clear from the principle. given in chapter XII that meditation is one of the highest forms of prayer. It is likewise obvious that the meditation accompanying the mysteries may gradually become simplified, tending towards contemplation. The practice of meditating while saying the Paters and Aves is very conducive to simplification.
The Apostles' Creed and the Gloria Patri-certainly excellent prayers-are added only by pious custom, and are not required for the essence of the Rosary.
It is reported that at Fatima Our Lady asked that we add to the end of each decade the following invocation: "O my Jesus, pardon us, and save us from the fire of hell; draw all souls to heaven, especially those in most need."10 This prayer does not, of course, belong to the essence of the Rosary, but its use is to be encouraged in accordance with Our Lady's request. Some have expressed fear that the insertion of this prayer would nullify the indulgences of the Rosary. The reason for this fear is a provision in Canon Law,11 according to which indulgences attached to any prayer are lost if there is any addition, subtraction, or interpolation. A decree of the Sacred Penitentiary issued in 193412 has made clear, however, that only such additions are forbidden as would alter the substance of the prayer. It hardly seems that the addition of this prayer in any way alters the substance of the Rosary, especially since we are told that it was requested by Our Lady herself.
Since, then, the prayers of the Rosary come from such excellent sources-from Our Lord Himself, from inspired Scripture, and from the Church-it is not surprising that the Rosary is so dear to our Blessed Mother and so powerful with heaven.
If we consider the power of the Rosary as seen in its effects, we find a great abundance of proofs of its wonderful value. Many are the favors granted to private individuals through its devout recitation: there are few devoted users of the Rosary who cannot testify to experiencing its power in their own lives. If we turn to history, we see many "real" triumphs of the Rosary. Early tradition (the question of its authenticity is, of course, intertwined with the question of St. Dominic's role) attributes the defeat of the Albigensians at the Battle of Muret in 1213 to the Rosary. But even those who do not accept this tradition will admit that St. Pius V attributed the great defeat of the Turkish fleet on the first Sunday of October, 1571, to the fact that at the same time the Rosary confraternities at Rome and elsewhere were holding their processions. Accordingly, he ordered a commemoration of the Rosary to be made on that day. Two years later, Gregory XIII allowed the celebration of a feast of the Rosary in churches having an altar dedicated to the Rosary. In 1671, Clement X extended the feast to all Spain. A second great victory over the Turks, who once, like the Russians, threatened the ruin of Christian civilization, occurred on August 5, 1716, when Prince Eugene defeated them at Peterwardein in Hungary. Thereupon Clement XI extended the feast of the Rosary to the whole Church.
Today, when dangers far greater than those of the ancient Turks threaten not only Christianity but all civilization, we are urged by our Blessed Mother to turn again to the Rosary for help. If men in sufficient numbers do this, and at the same time carry out the other conditions that she has laid down (which we saw in the preceding chapter), we have the greater reason for confidence that we will be delivered from our dangers.
The most difficult problem about the Rosary is not the question of the Prouille apparition: it is the practical question of how to meditate while reciting the Paters and Aves. The objection is sometimes raised that one cannot do two things at a time: meditate, and continue saying the Paters and Aves. A moment's reflection is sufficient to show the emptiness of this objection: do we not at times, voluntarily or involuntarily, allow our mind to run on various subjects while reciting vocal prayers? Our very distractions prove the possibility of this meditation.
Actually we are not required to pay attention to the sense of each word in the Paters and Aves, and, at the same time, keep a meditation going. To give full attention to both would be psychologically impossible. Nor is it required that we keep some consciousness of the words in the background,13 as it were, while our thoughts are focused on the meditation. As St. Thomas tells us,14 there are three kinds of attention possible in the recitation of vocal prayers. The first kind of attention is called verbal; in this we take care that we do not omit or mispronounce any of the words. The second is called literal attention, in which we attend to the meaning of the words. Beyond these there is a third, a higher form of attention, called spiritual. In it we leave aside the literal meaning to rise to the thought of some particular mystery or to praise and bless God. This third form may rise even to the point of contemplation, as it did for a certain nun of whom St. Teresa of Avila speaks.15 Therefore, when we pay attention to thoughts on the mysteries of our salvation while we are reciting the vocal prayers of the Rosary, we are employing a very high form of attention. Speaking of the ordinary level of meditative attention to the Rosary, Garrigou-Lagrange writes:
Nor should we forget that, in virtue of our general intention of making a prayer, the very words of the Paters and Aves really are valid prayers of praise and petition even when we are not paying direct attention to the words.17
Many methods have been devised for carrying on the meditation while saying the vocal prayers. Some persons try to visualize the scenes of the mysteries in stages-that is, imagining the action as progressing a step at each bead.18 Others prefer to use only one mental picture for an entire decade: while keeping it before their mind, they imagine they see Mary, and offer to her sentiments appropriate to the decade. For although material things can be given but once, and no more, spiritual things can be given over and over again. We can, then, offer to Mary over and over again the joy she felt at the Annunciation, adding our congratulations and thanks. In the sorrowful mysteries we can offer our regrets for the pain we caused her Son and her by our sins, which are the cause of those dolorous scenes.
Still others will be able to use a discursive style of meditation, such as was described in chapter XII.
Finally (though we have by no means exhausted the list of possible methods) a very simple form of gaze at Jesus may be employed by those who are more advanced. Garrigou-Lagrange describes it thus:
Just as the Rosary holds an eminent place among the various forms of prayer to Mary, so also, although there are many different Scapulars, the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel holds a most special position. The other Scapulars are excellent in various ways, but to none of them are such extraordinary promises attached as to the Brown Scapular, nor have any of them received such outstanding signs of favor from the Holy See. Hence it is that when good Catholic laymen refer simply to "the Scapular" without any further qualification, it is ordinarily this Scapular that they have in mind.
The Brown Scapular has its origin in a vision. In the year A.D. 1251, when the Carmelite Order, newly transplanted to England, was meeting with many difficulties, St. Simon Stock, the Prior General, prayed earnestly to Mary for help. In an early Carmelite Catalog of the Saints, we find the following account of the apparition:
The historical evidence for the authenticity of this vision, as shown by the recent researches of Father Xiberta, O.Carm., is impressive indeed: it gives us at least some degree of moral certitude on the fact of this apparition.21 But we are not forced to depend merely on such studies, for many Popes have shown the highest favor to this Scapular, enriching it with many indulgences, and exhorting us to wear it. Out of the many papal statements on this Scapular, let us quote but one passage from a letter of Pope Pius XII written to the major Superiors of the Carmelites for the celebration of the 700th anniversary of the appearance of Mary to St. Simon Stock:
One of the principal problems concerning the Scapular is the question of the proper interpretation of the great promise given through St. Simon Stock. In it our Blessed Mother promises that all Carmelites who die while wearing it "will not suffer eternal fire." It is clear that to gain this promise one must, at least in some way, be affiliated with the Order of Carmel; for most Catholics, this is accomplished through enrollment in the Confraternity of the Scapular. But once enrolled, will a person who dies while wearing this Scapular surely be saved?
In answering this question two extremes are to be avoided. One is that of superstition, by which we would trust that a man who persists in sinning presumptuously would be saved if he wore his Scapular at the moment of death. The opposite extreme is to make such demands, in an effort to avoid the superstitious extreme, that the promise of Our Lady would become meaningless. It is true that the words of the promise seem to demand (in addition to enrollment) nothing other than that one be wearing the Scapular at the moment of death. Pope Benedict XIV, however, points out wisely that Holy Scripture also contains many promises that seem to demand only one condition; e.g., St. Paul in Rom. 3:28 seems to promise salvation for faith alone, while in Rom. 8:24 he says that "we are saved by hope," and Tobias 12:9 states that it is almsgiving that saves a man from eternal death.23 It is obvious, Benedict XIV says, that other conditions are presupposed. Precisely what, then, is required in order thee one may obtain the Scapular Promise? Kilian Lynch, Prior General of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance, puts it thus:
Pope Pius XII, in the letter from which we have quoted above, supplies this guidance. On the one hand he insists that we have a right to trust greatly in the promise of Mary:
But then he continues, adding a warning against presumption:
It is dear then, on the highest authority, that we should not attempt to draw a hard-and-fast line. Yet we would certainly be staying far from all the borderlines in saying this: he who treats his Scapular as a sign of sincerely meant consecration to Mary, who makes an honest and persevering effort to be a devout servant of Mary-such a one may lean confidently on the Scapular Promise.25 In speaking of devotion to Mary in general, Pope Pius XI gives us ample warrant for this statement:
Pope Pius XII likewise urges us to treat the Scapular as a sign of consecration:
Father Lynch himself, in line with the recommendation of the Holy Father, explains beautifully thee the ideal form of the Scapular devotion is that it should be the outward sign of a total consecration to Mary, a consecration according to the method explained by the Venerable Carmelite, Michael of St. Augustine, and by St Louis de Montfort.28
Besides the great Scapular promise given through St. Simon Stock, there is another extraordinary favor attached to the Scapular. This favor, which is called the Sabbatine Privilege, was announced by our Blessed Mother in a vision to Pope John XXII on March 3, 1322.29 The original copy of the Bull in which Pope John XXII proclaimed the privilege has been lost. Several copies of the original were made, but there are certain variations in the wording of these copies. According to one text, Our Lady promised that those who fulfill certain conditions would be freed from Purgatory on the first Saturday after death; the other form of the text merely promised special assistance towards a speedier deliverance.
The fact that the original copy of the Bull is lost, and the fact that there are variations in the text, have caused some Catholics to doubt the authenticity of the Sabbatine Privilege vision. Unfortunately, we do not yet have any complete study of this matter such as Father Xiberta has made of the St. Simon Stock vision. Again, however, the warm approval and recommendation of the Holy See makes such discussion less necessary. Out of the several papal texts on this matter, we shall be content with one from Pope Pius XII, who, in the letter from which we quoted above, said:
And certainly this most gentle Mother will not delay to open, as soon as possible, through Her intercession with God, the gates of Heaven for Her children who are expiating their faults in Purgatory-a trust based on thee promise known as the Sabbatine Privilege.30
We note that Pope Pius XII does not undertake to decide which of the two forms of the promise is the original. Following his example, we shall leave the matter undecided, although we may justly, and not without reason, hope that the stronger reading is true.
Three conditions are required for gaining the Sabbatine Privilege: one must wear the Scapular, observe chastity according to his state in life, and recite the Office.31 The observance of chastity means that one must keep the Sixth and Ninth Commandments according as they apply in his state of life. A grave sin against chastity cancels one's claim to this promise. It is, however, common teaching and probable that by regaining the state of grace, the claim is re-established, though repeated failures would probably mean that one would not gain the privilege in its fullest extent. The recitation of the Office is satisfied by saying the Divine Office in the case of those already bound to it. Others must recite (in any language) the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. Those who are unable to read are allowed to substitute the observance of the fasts of the Church, plus abstinence on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If one who can read wishes this recitation of the Office commuted to something else, he must apply to a priest who has special faculties from the Carmelites for this purpose.32 The most usual commutation is to a daily Rosary or to seven Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory be to the Fathers.
Both the Rosary and the Brown Scapular are related in their origins to private revelations, yet both have great intrinsic value independent of these revelations. The Rosary, as we have seen, does not depend at all on the Prouille vision; its power to please Heaven derives from the very excellence of its nature as a prayer. The Scapular too, if it is worn as a sign of a true interior consecration, gives us an assurance of Mary's protection in our last hour which does not depend entirely on the promise given us through St. Simon Stock. For, as we can see from the words of Pope Pius XI cited above, it is morally impossible for anyone who practices a solid, persevering devotion to Mary ever to be lost.33 But the Scapular Promise does give us an additional reason for trust: it is a visible, tangible pledge of the care of our Blessed Mother for us, a care which, through the Sabbatine Privilege, extends even into purgatory.
In becoming man in Mary's womb, the Word made flesh showed to us the light of His glory "so that while we know God in visible form, we may be drawn by Him to the love of things unseen."34 He continues through the visible Church and through the visible signs of the sacraments to lead us to interior union with Himself. Similarly, the beads of the Rosary and the cloth of the Scapular, though they are not sacraments, perform the function of outward signs: if we use them well, they will serve as means to lead us interiorly to an ever closer and higher union with Jesus through Mary.