Last month the Church basked in the rays of Our Lady’s glorious Assumption into Heaven. Next month we renew our devotion to the Holy Rosary, and give thanks for the graces that this devotion has secured for us individually, and especially for the protection and flourishing of the Kingdom of God on earth which it has secured down the centuries. The Feast of the Most Holy Rosary on 7th October marks the definitive sea victory over the Turkish Fleet which threatened calamity and enslavement to western Christendom at the Battle of Lepanto on that date in 1571, a victory which Pope St Pius V attributed to the praying of the Rosary.
This month of September is also permeated with the sweet fragrance of the Blessed Virgin’s presence throughout the month’s liturgical calendar. On 8th September we celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, exactly nine months after Her Immaculate Conception on 8th December. St Peter Damian called the Blessed Virgin’s birthday “the beginning of salvation and the origin of every feast,” because it marked the arrival in this world of the Immaculate Ark of the Covenant from Whom the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would take on the human flesh in which He would die for our sins and conquer death in His Resurrection.
The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary just four days later commemorates another great intervention of the Blessed Mother of God in worldly affairs, when Her intercession secured the victory of the Christian army under the Polish King John Sobieski over the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. In gratitude to the “Liberatrix of the west”, Pope Innocent XI extended the feast of Her Holy Name to the Universal Church. In these days of anxiety and uncertainty when we see tensions escalating between states, internal disquiet within nations and grave threats to life and liberty, we do well to have constant recourse to Mary, Queen of Peace, Who on so many occasions has rescued Christendom from the brink of catastrophe, and Who has promised us that ultimately Her Immaculate Heart will prevail.
In the realm of personal prayer, St Philip Neri was one of those saints who encouraged devotion to the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary as a means of intimate and immediate access to Our Lord and Our Lady. One of his favourite prayers, which he used frequently and taught to his disciples to pray, was the beautifully simple formula “Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”
On 15th September, we join Our Lady at the foot of the Cross for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. No one participated in Our Lord’s Passion like His Holy Mother, Who endured the torment of seeing the flesh that She had lovingly bathed and clothed during His infancy torn, beaten and pierced. No words could ever express the torment that must have racked that Mother’s heart as She witnessed the incarnation of Divine Love scorned and tortured to death.
From the Cross Our Saviour entrusted all of us to the maternity of His Mother, when He told Her “Woman, behold thy son,” and then said to His beloved disciple “Behold thy mother.” And our Mother teaches us how to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. She who freely cooperated in our salvation when She told the Angel Gabriel “Be it done unto me according to thy word” experienced in a terrible but meritorious manner the consequences of that ‘fiat’ in the desolation which She offered in union with Her Son on Calvary in an act of self-sacrificial love on behalf of sinners. Our Mother teaches us to offer all of our joys and all of our sorrows, all of our hopes and fears, everything we have and everything we are, with the bread and the wine during that part of the Holy Mass known as the Offertory, so that we might be mystically and truly united with His Death when the bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood at the Consecration. If, through mortal sin, we have cast off the white robe of Sanctifying Grace with which we were vested in Baptism, then She leads us by the hand to the embrace of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance, so that with our wedding garments cleansed and restored we may receive Her Son’s Risen Body in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
We are never alone, then, at Mass. It is in fact before the Altar that we are closest, in this life, to our heavenly Mother. If we are unable to attend the Holy Sacrifice because of distance or decrepitude, or whatever restraint, ask Her to take us under Her mantle and lead us with Her to the foot of the Cross, and then unite ourselves spiritually with the Holy Sacrifice wherever it is offered at that moment across the globe. May Her intercession at the throne of Grace obtain peace for this world and, for Her children, protection and all blessings, as we pray constantly with our holy father St Philip “Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”
Fr Julian Large