from the annals of history unto our current day
Meditations by Rev. John Wyse
from the book 'Devout Exercises: Compromising Meditations and Visits to the Sanctuaries of the Blessed Virgin for Every Day in the Month of May'
Meditation I - Introduction, History & Preparation
On the Devotion of the Month of Mary
Every Catholic knows something about the devotion peculiar to the month of May. Hence it seems almost needless to observe, that its chief purport is to offer a public homage to Mary, the Mother of God, in common with the whole Catholic Church, by affectionately consecrating to her honour the most beautiful month of all the twelve. Through the experience of former years, we are most of us pretty well acquainted with this pious custom. It may not be amiss, however, to recal to mind at the outset, something of its history and object. The month of May has not always been consecrated to Our Lady. The devotion is of comparatively recent date in the Church: hardly earlier than the end of the last century. Let us learn, then, how it first began, and how it comes to be in such universal use at the present day.
The Church has always been the same in Faith. She never changes, nor can she change, as Our Lord has built her upon the Rock of Ages.
Consequently, the great love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, now so prevalent, is nothing new. Catholics have ever loved Mary, and from the time of the Apostles till now there never existed a Catholic Church where her intercessory power was not fully acknowledged, and where she was not venerated and prayed to just as in these days.
It does not follow from this, however, that the outward forms of prayer and homage have never changed. We pray to Mary with the same faith as our forefathers, but not always with the same forms. We accommodate ourselves, as far as possible, to the customs and spiritual wants of the age we live in; and in doing so, we but carry out the intentions of Holy Church, which, like an indulgent and watchful mother, is ready to bend herself to each one's requirements and habits. The faith of the Church is unalterable. Not so her discipline, which, as necessity or prudence may indicate, she modifies and suits to the times. Now, in the former ages of the Church, when the piety of the masses was more fervent and more fruitful in good works than now, pilgrimages to the Sanctuaries of Our Lady was one way in which true devotion showed itself. As the tidings used to reach any particular country, that some holy place had been favoured by a visit from the mother of God, or sanctified by prodigies, let it have been ever so distant, crowds of devout pilgrims would set out to gain the new sanctuary; and as they returned home happy and blessed, the neighbours would begin to follow their example, and thus, for many centuries, a continuous round of pious pilgrimages was kept up. The faith of our ancestors was displayed again, in the erection of innumerable churches and oratories dedicated to Mary; so that, taking England as an example, there was not a single church in that now faithless country, which in Catholic days, had not its Lady-chapel attached. Another beautiful practice of the olden times, and which still prevails amongst Catholic nations, was the placing of wayside crosses and stations on all the high and bye-roads, in which representations the prominent position due to Our Blessed Lady was never forgotten.
Oh, how happy the country where such customs obtain! But, in process of time, this piety waned: and now, although there yet exist many places of sacred resort to Mary - although, where the true Faith has remained, there also remain the devout practices ofCatholic days - still from external pressure and other circumstances, the ancient forms of devotion are not so generally followed as of old. The Church, however, is ever the same good mother; and with loving solicitude she has provided even for our weakness and want of fervour. In very compassion she now brings to our doors,what formerly it might have required long journeys to procure. The Blessed Mother of God must be venerated and prayed to at any cost. Hence the multiplication, by Church authority, of the festivals of Our Lady: hence the institution of numberless confraternities in her honour: hence the investiture of the Scapulars of Mary: hence the many public devotions, the indulgenced prayers, the rosaries, and the medals we wear - and lastly, the most beautiful idea of consecrating the Month of May, as a special act of homage, to Our Blessed Lady.
This touching devotion, like so many others, originated in Catholic Italy. It was a holy missionary, named Father Lalomia, who appears first to have thought that, in the same way as the servants of Mary are accustomed to honour her on one day particularly in the week, and to pray to her thrice a day besides, so would it be right and congruous to consecrate one month in the year to the especial honour of Our Blessed Lady. And what month could have been chosen more appropriate, or more like to Mary herself, than that in which all nature is fresh, and when the green foliage and the smiling flowers, seem so charmingly to invite us to love God, and His Blessed Mother? The Holy Father Pope Pius VII soon approved of the pious design: and in order to give signal encouragement to so sweet a devotion, an apostolical brief of the 21st of March 1815, accorded an indulgence of 300 days for each day in the month to all the faithful who, during the Month of May, should honour the Most Holy Virgin by devotions, prayers, and other acts of virtue, and a plenary indulgence on one day in the same month, when, having duly confessed and communicated, they should pray for the necessities of the Church, and the intentions of His Holiness. Both indulgences can be applied, by way of suffrage, to the souls in purgatory. Sanctioned by such authority, the Month of Mary could not fail to spread and to prosper.
And there are now few places in the Catholic world, where this holy observance is not regularly carried out. Many blessings are sure to follow in the train of Our Lady: and wherever the Month of May is so consecrated, there sinning souls are converted to grace, piety blooms forth anew, and the faith is sensibly revived. So true is it, that no one ever invoked in vain the intercession of the Mother of God.
The devotion of the Month of Mary is variously performed, according to the opportunities at hand or the places we are in. The most common way is to decorate an altar of the Blessed Virgin as profusely as possible with flowers and candles, and to meet there at a certain time in the day, or in the evening to recite the Litany, to read some pious meditation, or to listen to a discourse, and to say some prayers directly to Our Blessed Lady. But the best way to honour Mary, is to imitate her virtues. Thus, if any one were to think of dedicating this month to the Blessed Virgin, without at the same time endeavouring to curb his pas. sions, to mend his life, and to turn to God, he would fall-into a grievous mistake. There can be no homage so acceptable to Mary, as a change of heart and the renewal of fervour in the service of Almighty God.
It remains for us to see what our plan embraces, in the form of devotions for this month. We shall make daily a meditation upon some of the most important truths concerning our salvation, at the conclusion of which, we shall always put ourselves for that day under the good patronage of Mary. We shall then pay a spiritual visit to some one of the famous Sanctuaries of Our Lady, throughout Christendom; and towards the end of our devotions we shall recite a prayer to the Blessed Virgin, taken from one of the canonized saints of Holy Church, or from other devout writers.
And now, as a good and fervent beginning to Mary's month, let us all make resolutions to spend it well, and in a manner pleasing to her. Let us not be content with avoiding mortal sin, but endeavour to keep clear of venial sin also. We may make this our special intention, during the month: and if as yet our minds do not easily yield to so holy a thought, with strict attention on our part to the daily meditations we are now to begin, Our Blessed Lady will procure such sentiments for us.
But besides, let us endeavour during this month to induce some one who is out of the Church either through heresy or vice, to see his error, and to seek reconciliation with God where alone it can be found.
Again, our appetite should be mortified somewhat more than ordinarily: for fasting or abstaining in honour of Mary, is a practice time honoured and good. Let us be especially careful, whilst making the Month of Mary, not to speak evil of others, or to judge any one rashly, or to provoke our neighbour to anger: and lastly, let us try to say the Rosary, to give alms to the poor, to visit daily the Blessed Sacrament, and thus every day to consecrate anew the sweet Month of May to Mary.
Oh, how sound a thing it is to be devout to the Blessed Virgin! If we examine such as possess that devotion, we may find them wayward, impatient, or with many venial failings; but in the main they are always good Christians. In the first place, Mary is the guardian of the Faith. We are, therefore sure of our faith, if we pay her true homage and devotion. But besides, she is the most powerful intercessor in pleading for us with Christ. Her Divine Son never refuses her anything; and, if it be right to make a distinction, one could almost say that the worse the state of a man's soul the more pity has Mary. She is the "Consoler of the Afflicted," the " Help of Christians," and by these and other comforting names we love to invoke her; but, by what title more tender or inspiring can we call her, we who are exiles in this vale of tears, sojourners in this world of sin, than "Mary, Refuge of Sinners?" "Oh, pray then for us, glorious Virgin, Refuge of Sinners, that worthily, perseveringly, and with true piety we may so practice this touching devotion, as to find here a new light for our spirits, and thus to save our souls."
VISIT TO A SANCTUARY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Of all the Sanctuaries of Our Lady, that of Bethlehem is surely the greatest - the first in order, the first in dignity.
No Christian need be told the history of that holy place. Our Lord was born there, and there Our Lady tended and nursed Him. There Mary first began her sacred office in the Church, by presenting her divine Son to be adored, first by the poor, then by the rich. And did not those holy men, those first fruits of Christ's coming, did they not each, as they entered the sacred stable of Bethlehem, question His Mother, and ask if the Infant in the manger was not the Christ? and as she would assure them that so it was, can we not see them falling down to adore Him?
Consequently the worship of the true God, and His true worship, comes to us through Mary, O beautiful thought for a Christian soul! and thus has it been ever since the scenes of Bethlehem till now. Mary is always leading men into the Church procuring graces for them to make the step, and when they are there, helping them, consoling them, and above all, pointing out to them where the only true happiness and peace may be found, in the possession namely of Christ her Son, and in the participation of His Sacraments.
Thus the events of Bethlehem are enacted over again for us. The holy precincts of the stable of Bethlehem have always been a Sanctuary of Mary, and excepting the interruption caused necessarily by the wars in Palestine, it has never been wanting in devout worshippers and pilgrims. If at Bethlehem there were no devotion to Mary, where would there be? For several centuries, and under some restrictions, the sacred shrine has been confided to the care of the Friars of the Order of St. Francis, who do all in their power to maintain the devotion which the feelings of the place generate to Mary; Let us make our pilgrimage thither in spirit: and be we rich or poor, whether we adore the divine Infant in the arms of His Mother, with the poor shepherds, or with the kings of the East, let the blessed Sanctuary of Bethlehem, inspire us henceforth to promote with ardour, the homage and love, which Mary so justly claims from Christians.
PRAYER OF ST. PETER DAMIAN
O Holy Virgin, Mother of God! succour those who implore thine aid. Turn likewise affectionately towards us. I know, O my Sovereign Lady! that thou art all goodness, and that thou dost love us with a love that cannot be surpassed by any other love. How often dost thou not appease the anger of our Judge, when He is on the point of chastising us! All the treasures of the divine mercy are in thy hands. Turn then towards us, that we may be enabled to go and behold thee in heaven: for the greatest glory we possess, after seeing God, will be to see thee, to love thee, and to dwell beside thy throne. Be thou then pleased to listen to our prayer: for it is the will of thy beloved Son, to honour thee by denying thee nothing that thou askcst. Amen.
Proceed to the Second Meditation