The Father William Most Collection
Reparation to the Immaculate Heart
ST. ALPHONSUS, in his sermon on the sorrows of Mary, says: "... the acuteness of the sufferings of Mary are not to be compared with those of all the martyrs united."1 At first sight, such a statement might seem to contain a measure of devout exaggeration. For we cannot but think of some of the terrible torments inflicted on the martyrs of pagan Rome: dismembering, the rack, scourging, wild beasts, burning with red hot metal, roasting over coals, and even the cross itself; or perhaps there will come to mind the sufferings of the victims of the more subtle tortures inflicted by the diabolic cunning of Communists today. Yet St. Alphonsus insists that Mary, although she endured no physical harm on Calvary, not only suffered more than any one of the martyrs, but more than all martyrs taken together. In fact, says the Saint, the sufferings of all martyrs together are not even to be compared to hers!
And yet St. Alphonsus is not exaggerating at all. For a careful analysis of the truth will easily show us that the comparison made by the Saint not only does not exceed, but rather falls far short of the truth. Let us begin to examine the reasons for this surprising fact.
There are two chief standards to be applied in measuring the suffering of a mother who must stand helplessly by and see a child of hers in pain: first, the extent of the pains of the child secondly, the greatness of the love of the mother.
If we consider the first of these measures, the atrocity of the sufferings of her Son, we find ourselves completely at a loss for words. We could, it is true, describe the merely physical aspect of His torments, which were most terrible; but to comprehend the effect of such tortures in the flesh of a divine person is not given to any man. What then should we say of His interior pain: Infinite Holiness "made sin for us," as St. Paul expresses it.2 We can only remain in silent awe at the infinity of the goodness and mercy of God who did not spare His only-begotten Son. For had His goodness and mercy been less than infinite, surely either the earth would have opened to take His tormentors down alive into hell, or the very universe itself would have crashed at His feet like a fiery comet streaking into nothingness.
We ordinary Christians often find ourselves so lacking in appreciation of these sufferings of our Savior that their consideration leaves us completely unmoved. Not so Mary. Even the most ordinary of mothers would not fail to suffer in her heart all the pains of her son. Mary, unimaginably better than the best of mothers, her soul illumined by a literally inconceivable degree of grace3-how deeply must every torment of her Son have been impressed on her Immaculate Heart!
We turn, now, to the second standard, the extent of the mother's love for her son. In an effort to gain some slight idea of the greatness of Mary's love, let us recall that love of God and holiness are, in practice, interchangeable terms. For although there is a certain formal difference between holiness and love, yet the holiness of any soul is always of precisely the same degree as its love. Therefore, let us ask: How great was Mary's love? One could describe it loosely, of course, by saying that it was the love of the best of mothers for her infinitely good Son. But, to be more precise, theologians tell us that even at the first moment of her existence, Mary's holiness, and therefore her love of God, were greater than that of the highest of the angels and saints when they reached the summit of their perfection. But there is more: Pope Pius XII tells us that Mary, "more than all other creatures of God combined, was filled with the divine Spirit of Jesus Christ."4
In the beautiful document in which he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX spoke even more forcefully of Mary's holiness: "... from the beginning and before the ages, He chose and planned a Mother for His only-begotten Son, and He loved her with so great a love, more than all creatures, that in her alone He took the greatest delight. Therefore He so wonderfully filled her, more than all angelic spirits and all the saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts ... that she, always free from absolutely every stain of sin and completely beautiful, showed forth such a fullness of innocence and holiness that none greater under God can be thought of, and no one, except God, can comprehend it."5
Let us note well the expressions used by the Holy Father. He not only tells us that Mary's sanctity surpassed that of all angels and saints, but adds that "none greater under God can be thought of" and no one, except God can comprehend it. Mary's holiness, says the Holy Father, is so great that it is literally incomprehensible to all the creatures that God has made, since only God Himself can comprehend it! The Latin of this last clause is wonderfully expressive: "... quam praeter Deum nemo assequi cogitando potest," a phrase we might translate crudely but literally: "and no one except God can reach it in His thoughts." Thus the Pope invites us to let our thoughts go up and up, picturing to the mind the loftiest possible heights of sanctity that we can conceive, go as far as your thoughts will carry us-and then try in vain to ascend still higher. But it is of no avail-only God Himself can reach so high in His thoughts.
Such, then, is the inconceivable height of the holiness of Mary. It is also the height of her love. We must pause in dazzled amazement, and admit our complete powerlessness to form any conception of the burning intensity of the love of her Immaculate Heart.6
Let us return now to the sufferings of Mary. As we have noted, her sufferings were proportioned to her love. But that love is, as we have seen, so great that only God can conceive its extent. Therefore, on this score alone, her sufferings must have been so great as to be truly incomprehensible to us. And if we add to this the first measure-the fact that the sufferings of her Son were in themselves beyond our power to conceive-we must admit ourselves doubly helpless to form any conception of the greatness of the sufferings of Mary. Well does the sacred liturgy apply to her the words of Jeremias the prophet: "To what shall I compare thee? or to what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? to what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Sion? For great as the sea is thy destruction: who shall heal thee?"7 Well does St. Alphonsus comment: "As the sea is all bitterness, and has not within its bosom a single drop of water which is sweet, so also was the heart of Mary all bitterness, and without the least consolation: 'Who shall heal thee?' Her Son alone could console her and heal her wounds; but how could Mary receive comfort in her grief from her crucified Son, since the love she bore Him was the whole cause of her martyrdom?"8
"With her suffering and dying Son, Mary endured suffering and almost death," wrote Pope Benedict XV.9 For it is well known that grief, if intense enough, can actually cause death. It was only by the special support of divine power that Mary was enabled to endure such grief and yet not die.
An ordinary Mother at such a terrible trial would hardly have refrained from crying out: Stop, it is too much! Not so Mary. For, as Pope Benedict XV says, since her Son and her God willed it, she renewed and continued the fiat of Nazareth: "She gave up her Mother's rights over her Son to procure the salvation of mankind."10 Or, as Pope Pius XII writes, she "offered Him on Golgotha, together with the holocaust of her Mother's rights and love...."11
His Excellency, Archbishop Cicognani, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, at a Marian Convocation held at the Catholic University of America during the Marian Year, beautifully interpreted the teaching of the Popes. His Excellency said: "She was present at the crucifixion ... and for the salvation of humanity, offered her divine Son and herself as an oblation to God. The Lord accepted the offering and considered His Mother His helper in the work of redemption."12 Therefore, when the Eternal Father looked down on that terrible scene on Calvary, He beheld one great sacrifice in which two were participating, in the most absolute loving obedience. The offering of the great High Priest was, of course, abundantly sufficient alone to compensate for the sins of all ages. But the generous goodness of God willed that since two had been involved in the first sin, two should cooperate in the restoration. Although the old Adam did not need the assistance of Eve in order to ruin us, yet she who had been given to him as a "helper like himself" really did, in her lesser way, contribute to bringing down the anger of the Creator upon our race. Therefore also the Father willed that there be a New Eve who, though of herself and without the New Adam powerless to restore our race, yet might join in the great sacrifice with, through, and in Him. Hence Pope Benedict XV, continuing the passage from which we have quoted, said: "... she, as much as she was able, immolated her Son, so that one can truly say that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race."13
Reparation to the Immaculate Heart
We can easily see, then, why reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not only something good and commendable: it is something strictly due to her.14 For just as every sin entered into the cause of the tremendous sufferings of the divine Redeemer, so also, every sin contributed to the pains of Mary, who shared in His suffering to an incomprehensible degree. If we have offended the most ordinary person, we do not fail to realize that we ought to make some compensation for the offense. Do not the sins by which we have caused such pain to the Immaculate Heart of our Mother also call for reparation?
Such reparation is best made within the framework of a life of carrying out a true consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The considerations we have seen above spontaneously suggest it. For St. Paul tells us: "You are not your own, for you are bought with a great price."15 What is the price? Primarily, essentially, and superabundantly, it is the sacrificial death of Christ upon which all merit, even the merit of Mary, depends. Nonetheless, as we have seen, the infinite goodness of God freely wished to accept Mary's painful offering as constituting an unneeded, but yet wonderfully pleasing part of that one great price. Therefore, just as we belong to Christ because He has bought us at so dread a price, so in a secondary but very real way we belong also to Mary, because she, by the will of God, shared with Him in paying that great price.
Hence our present Holy Father, in the beautiful encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, writes: "Mary ... as the Mother of Christ ... the associate in the work of the divine Redeemer, both in His struggle with the enemy and in His victory gained over all shares in the royal dignity."16 Mary, then, really is our Queen by most abundant right. Let us acknowledge her sovereign rights over us by making and living out a true consecration to her Immaculate Heart. Thus also we shall make a beginning of reparation to her for her inexpressible sorrows by which she shared in paying the very price of our salvation, sorrows proportioned to a love so great that, "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one, except God, can comprehend it."
|1||St. Alphonsus Liguori, "Sermon on the Dolors of Mary," The Complete Works of St. Alphonsus (4th e., Brooklyn, 1931), VII-VIII, p. 482.|
|2||II Cor. 5:21.|
|3||I.e., by actually existing creatures. Cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus; "... she ... showed forth such a fullness of innocence and holiness that none greater under God can be thought of, and no one except God can comprehend it."|
|4||Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS, XXV (1943), 247. Emphasis added.|
|5||Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, Dec. 8, 1854. Emphasis added.|
|6||A very large number of theologians—including such authorities as St. Alphonsus, St. Vincent Ferrer, Tanquerey, Neubert, Merkelbach, Garrigou-Lagrange Philippe—favor the view that even Mary's initial grace was greater than the final grace of all angels and saints combined. For Pius IX, in the passage cited above, says that "from the beginning" God loved her "more than all creatures" and filled her with all graces more than all creatures. Probably the Pope means more than all creatures combined, since he says that no greater sanctity under God can be thought of. But if the combined sanctity of all angels and saints were greater, then we could easily think of a greater sanctity.|
If, then, Mary's initial grace exceeded the combined final grace of all, then we must say that this dazzling holiness, so great that "no one except God can comprehend it" must have gone still higher, for throughout her whole life Mary always acted with the maximum generosity. (Though she was full of grace at the start, her capacity for grace could and did grow). Since the growth of a soul is proportioned to its generosity and its capital of grace at the time, her growth is staggering to think of. What must her grace have been by the time of Calvary!
|8||St. Alphonsus, op. cit., pp. 487-88.|
|9||Benedict XV. Inter Sodalicia, AAS, X (1918), 182.|
|12||The Most Reverend Amleto G. Cicognani, D.D., "The Queenship of Mary," in The Catholic University of America Bulletin, January, 1955, p. 1.|
|14||Cf. T. M. Sparks, O.P., "Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary," in From an Abundant Spring, pp. 39-56.|
|15||I Cor. 6:19-20.|
|16||Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam, AAS, XLVI (1954), 635.|