Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Tota pulchra

Vergine Madre dei SacerdotiThe Radiant Brightness of the Immaculate Virgin Mary
How right it is that in these « cold, and dark, and dreary » December days the sacred liturgy should set before our eyes the radiant brightness of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.  Life without Mary is « cold, and dark, and dreary », but for one who opens the door of his heart to the Immaculate Virgin, there is warmth, and light, and gladness.

How I love the antiphon in the Divine Office of the feast: « Thy raiment is white as snow, and thy countenance as the sun ». The Church, in the freedom that comes to her from the Holy Ghost, takes the very imagery the evangelists use to describe Jesus in the glory of the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:2 and Luke 9:29) and applies it to His Virgin Mother, the tota pulchra (all–beautiful), the full of grace.

Our Lady in Advent
Advent is the Church’s Marian season par excellence. While, in popular piety, we associate the beautiful month of May and the month of October, dedicated to the Holy Rosary, with Our Blessed Lady, in the liturgy it is during Advent that we find her most present. Blessed Paul VI wrote eloquently of this in his Apostolic Letter Marialis Cultus, dated 2 February 1974:

The faithful, living in the liturgy the spirit of Advent, by thinking about the inexpressible love with which the Virgin Mother awaited her Son, are invited to take her as a model and to prepare themselves to meet the Savior who is to come. They must be « vigilant in prayer and joyful in…praise ».

Those of you who are able to pray the Divine Office know that the first week of Advent is rich in Marian texts, all of which serve to bring our hearts into a deeper communication with Mary’s Immaculate Heart. Consider, for example, some of the antiphons that illumine the Divine Office during the first week of Advent; each one contains and communicates a Marian grace for the soul who prays it:

First Sunday of Advent at the Benedictus
Ant. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, * O Mary; fear not, thou shalt bear in thy womb the Son of God. Alleluia.

First Sunday of Advent at the Magnificat
Ant. Fear not, Mary, * for thou hast found grace with the Lord; behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son. Alleluia.

First Monday of Advent at the Benedictus
Ant. The angel of the Lord * announced unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Ghost. Alleluia.

First Tuesday of Advent at the Benedictus
Ant. Before they came together, * Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Alleluia.

First Thursday of Advent at the Benedictus
Ant. Blessed art thou * among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

These antiphons are not mere texts to be recited dutifully. They are living words to be savoured with the palate of the soul and then held in the heart where, under the action of the Holy Ghost, they bear fruit, according to Our Lord’s own promise: « If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you. In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples » (John 15:7–8).

Look to the Star
The feast of the Immaculate Conception, kept on December 8th when winter is descending into its longest darkness, heralds the Light and Beauty that, at Christmas, we will contemplate on the Face of the Infant Christ. God never leaves a soul in total obscurity. Even in the darkest night of faith there remains above us in the firmament the glimmer of the mariner’s faithful guiding star, the light of Mary, the Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). Thus does Saint Bernard write:

O you, whoever you are,
who feel that in the tidal wave of this world
you are nearer to being tossed about among the squalls and gales
than treading on dry land:
if you do not want to founder in the tempest,
do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star.
When the wind of temptation blows up within you,
when you strike upon the rock of tribulation,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.

Whether you are being tossed about
by the waves of pride or ambition,
or slander or jealousy,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.
When rage or greed or fleshly desires
are battering the skiff of your soul,
gaze up at Mary.

When the immensity of your sins weighs you down
and you are bewildered by the loathsomeness of your conscience,
when the terrifying thought of judgment appalls you
and you begin to founder in the gulf of sadness and despair,
think of Mary.
In dangers, in hardships, in every doubt,
think of Mary, call out to Mary.
Keep her in your mouth,
keep her in your heart.
Follow the example of her life,
and you will obtain the favour of her prayer.

Following her, you will never go astray.
Asking her help, you will never despair.
Keeping her in your thoughts, you will never wander away.
With your hand in hers, you will never stumble.
With her protecting you, you will not be afraid.
With her leading you, you will never tire.
Her kindness will see you through to the end.
Then you will know by your own experience
how true it is that the Virgin’s name was Mary.

(Saint Bernard, On the Glories of the Virgin Mother, Sermon II)

Other Advent Feasts of Our Lady
The feast of the Immaculate Conception is followed by other feasts of the Mother of God, lesser in liturgical rank, but no less rich in graces for those who enter into them. On December 9th there is the feast of Saint Juan Diego of Guadalupe whom Mary called « the littlest of her sons ». Our Lady’s words to Saint Juan Diego should be inscribed in our memory for, in the lives of all of us, there are seasons and hours in which we need to remember them and repeat them:

Let nothing frighten or grieve you,
let not your heart be disturbed,
do not fear any sickness or anguish.
Am I not here, who am your Mother?

December 10th is the feast of the Holy House of Loreto. The Proper Mass of this feast supplies us with an abundance of images revealing the mystery of Mary. In the Introit of the Mass, for example we find five titles of the Mother of God:

This is a fearsome place:
it is the house of God, the gate of heaven;
it shall be named the palace of God (Gen 28:17).
V. O Lord of hosts, how I love thy dwelling-place!
For the courts of the Lord’s house, my souls faints with longing (Ps 83:2-3).

The « fearsome place » is the Mother of God herself. She is « fearsome » not because she provokes fright, but because one cannot gaze upon her with being filled with wonder and awe. Mary is the fulfillment of the sign of the burning bush that filled Moses with a terrible awe and fascination.

And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt. And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am. And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. And he said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God ». (Exodus 3:2–6)

In an antiphon of the Office for January 1st, the Church teaches us how we are to understand this passage, so wonderfully fulfilled in the mystery of Our Lady who, without losing her virginity, becomes a mother:

Ant. O Mother of God, when Moses * saw the bush unconsumed, we own that it was a figure of the preservation of thy most wonderful virginity pray for us.

Similarly, Mary is the House of God; she is the Gate of Heaven. These are titles of Our Lady familiar to all who pray the Litanies of Loreto: Domus Dei, Porta Caeli. Mary is the Palace of God; Mary is the Dwelling Place of the Word. In the verse of the Introit the Church gives free expression to her love for Mary: « O Lord of hosts, how I love thy dwelling-place! For the courts of the Lord’s house, my soul faints with longing » (Psalm 83:2-3). For the soul attuned to the liturgy this translates as: « O Lord of hosts, how I love Mary, thy Mother, thy dwelling–place! For Mary’s presence my soul faints with longing ».

In the Communion Antiphon of the same Mass, it is Our Lady herself who speaks to each one of us. What does she say?

Blessed is he who hears my voice,
who watches daily before my gates,
and waits at the threshold of my doors.
He who shall find me, shall find life,
and draw from the Lord salvation. (Proverbs 8:34-35)

Liturgy and Rosary
Concretely, how do we hear Mary’s voice? How do we watch daily before her gates and wait at the threshold of her doors? Principally by listening « with the ear of the heart » to the words of Holy Mass and of the Divine Office — for all that the Church utters in prayer proceeds from the Immaculate Heart of Mary — and, then, by praying her Rosary daily. The Rosary is, of all prayers, the one by which a soul disposes herself to hear Mary’s voice, to watch daily at her gates, to wait at the threshold of her doors. This hearing, this watching, this waiting while humbly repeating the « Hail Mary » does not go unrewarded. One who prays the Rosary in this way is « storing up treasures in heaven where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal » (Matthew 6:20).

In the same Communion Antiphon, Our Lady makes a mighty promise: « He who shall find me, shall find life and draw from the Lord salvation ». She speaks, of course, of her Divine Son, « the Way, the Truth, and the Life » (John 14:6). « If you find me », says Mary, « I will see to it that you find my Son, and in finding my Son, you will have found everything and lack nothing ».

The splendid sequence of Marian feasts in Advent continues with that of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th and, on December 18th, the ancient feast of the Expectation of the Childbearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a kind of immediate preparation for the Nativity of the Lord.

Love Mary
Advent invites us, I think, to open our homes, our hearts, our innermost secret parts to the Blessed Virgin Mary, by consecrating ourselves to her Maternal Heart. I often say to my sons here in the monastery that I have never known a monk devoted to Our Lady who has not persevered in his vocation and, sadly, never have I known a man cold towards Mary who has been able to persevere in following her Son. Love Mary, and all the rest will be given you besides.

Through the Liturgy
One cannot be attuned to the sacred liturgy of the Church without being, by the same token, deeply attuned to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When you pray the Divine Office you are, in effect, entering into communion with the Mother of God, the Virgo Orans (the Praying Virgin) in whose Immaculate Heart all the prayer of the Church is contained and, through whose Immaculate Heart, all graces are poured into the heart of the Church. This is the luminous teaching that Pope Benedict XVI gave in Brazil on 11 May 2007: « There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady ».

This beginning of miracles

Mirac. Medal (290) rue du Bac chapel
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the last Marian feast of the liturgical year and, in some way, the most eschataological. The apparitions of the Immaculate Mother of God to Saint Zoé Catherine Laboure, a Daughter of Charity, at the rue du Bac in 1830 announced the dawn of the great modern Marian age. The Propers of the Mass of today’s feast underscore its eschatological significance. In the Epistle we read:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Apocalypse 12:1)

Twelve Stars
Is it mere coincidence that the twelve stars of the Apocalyptic Woman–Clothed–With–the–Sun, and of the Miraculous Medal, should reappear in the flag of the European Union? I for one think it is no coincidence but, rather, a providential indication that the Woman–Clothed–with–the–Sun will have the last word, even as Our Lady promised at Fatima in 1917: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph” (13 July 1917).

Apparitions and the Liturgy
I explained to the brethren and to the faithful at Holy Mass this morning that the only apparitions of the Mother of God to which we can adhere in complete security are those commemorated by the Church in her liturgical calendar and celebrated by a proper Mass and Office. Lex orandi — lex credendi — lex vivendi. If a Marian apparition is commemorated in the liturgy (lex orandi), one can safely give one’s assent of mind and heart to it (lex credendi ), and if one can safely give one’s assent of mind and heart to it, one can live out its message in complete security (lex vivendi).

The first level of the acknowledgement in the lex orandi that a particular alleged Marian apparition is free from error and worthy of pious credence is when a Proper Mass and Office are granted to commemorate it in the liturgical calendar of the diocese or religious Institute in which the event took place. Such feasts are found in many diocesan calendars: for example, Our Lady Reconciliatrix of Sinners on 19 September  for the diocese of Grenoble and the Missionaries of Our Lady of la Salette; Notre–Dame–du Chêne on 24 September in the archdiocese of Besançon; Notre–Dame–de–la–Bonne–Délivrance in Paris on 18 July; and Our Lady of Pontmain on 17 January in the diocese of Laval.

The second level of the acknowledgement in the lex orandi that a particular alleged Marian apparition is free from error and worthy of pious credence is when a Proper Mass and Office are granted to a particular nation, group of nations, or religious Order. Examples of such feasts would be Our Lady of Knock on 17 August in Ireland; Our Lady of Walsingham on 24 September in England; Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December in North, Central, and South America; Our Lady of Montserrat on 27 April in Catalonia; Our Lady of Good Counsel on 26 April wherever there are Augustinians; and Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on 27 June wherever there are Redemptorists.

The highest level of the acknowledgement in the lex orandi that a particular alleged Marian apparition is free from error and worthy of pious credence is when a Proper Mass and Office are granted to a great number of particular places and religious Institutes the world over, or inserted into the universal calendar of the Church. Examples of such feasts would be Our Lady of Lourdes on 11 February; Our Lady of Fatima on 13 May or 13 October; and today’s feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

Looking to the Propers of the Mass
The significance of the feast is spelled out in the texts of the Proper Mass:

Introit (Exodus 13:9)
It shall be a sign in thy hand, and as a memorial before thine eyes, and that the law of the Lord be always in thy mouth. Ps. 104: 1 O give thanks unto the Lord, and call upon His name: tell forth His deeds among the nations.

The miraculous medal is essentially a tiny icon of the Immaculate Mother of God. It bears the inscription of a prayer by which the Mother of God wants to be invoked: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. On the back of the medal, a letter and drawings present the secret of Mary. The letter “M” is surmounted by a cross. The “M” represents Mary herself; the cross is the Tree of Life, the Altar of Calvary.  The two interwoven signs show the inseparable relationship that connects the Mary Immaculate, the New Eve to Jesus, the New Adam. At the bottom of the medal there are the two Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is encircled by a crown of thorns; the Immaculate Heart of Mary is pierced through by the sword of sorrow foretold by Simeon in the temple. The imagery of the miraculous medal harks back to the great manifestations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Paray–le–Monial from 1673 to 1675 and announces the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that, in 1917, will become so central to the message of Fatima.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who hast willed that the most blessed Virgin Mary, Thy mother, sinless from the first moment of her conception, should be glorified by countless miracles: grant that we, who never cease from imploring her patronage, may attain in the end to eternal happiness.

revers10The so–called miraculous medal, although it dates from the apparitions in Paris in 1830, is a means of venerating the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma defined infallibly 1854, by Blessed Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. Already, on January 20, 1842, the miraculous medal was the means by which the Mother of God disposed Alphonse Ratisbonne to see her in the Roman church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and be converted from Judaism to the Catholic faith. The medal is also linked to Lourdes where, on 25 March 1858, the Mother of God revealed her identity to Saint Bernadette, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception”.

Lesson from the Book of the Apocalypse of blessed John the Apostle. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And she brought forth a Man-Child, Who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her Son was taken up to God, and to His throne. And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place. And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman, water as it were a river: that he might cause her to be carried away by the river. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

The Woman–Clothed–with–the–Sun appeared to Saint Catherine Labouré as the Mediatrix of All Graces. The Blessed Virgin showed herself standing upon a globe and said, “The globe that you see represents the entire world, and particularly France, and every single person”. The Immaculate Virgin is the great sign that appeared in heaven; from her virginal hands graces are spread abroad upon all who ask for them. Even for those who do not seek the help of the Mother of God there are graces stored up, graces that she waits to distribute to those who approach her with childlike confidence and call upon her name.

Gradual (Psalm 104:5, 27) and Alleluia (Psalm 18: 7)
Remember the marvelous works which He hath done: His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth. V. He placed in them the words of His signs: and of His wonders in the land.
Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Psalm 18: 7) His going forth is from the topmost Heaven: nor is there any that can hide from His heat. Alleluia.

The Gradual and the Alleluia recall the marvelous signs wrought through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin. No place on earth is removed from the maternal presence of the Immaculate Virgin. All persons and situations lie open before the Mother of God. Her miraculous interventions cannot be counted.

Gospel (John 2:1–11 )
At that time there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the Mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the marriage. And the wine failing, the Mother of Jesus saith to Him: “They have no wine.” And Jesus saith to her: “Woman, what is that to Me or to thee? My hour is not yet come.” His Mother saith to the waiters: “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.” Now there were set there six water-pots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece. Jesus saith to them: “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And Jesus said to them:”Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the feast.” And they carried it. And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew who had drawn the water: the chief steward calleth the bridegroom, and saith to him: “Every man at first setteth forth good wine: and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

The Gospel recounts the first clear instance of the maternal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She speaks to her Son on behalf of the newly–wedded couple. At His Mother’s bidding, Jesus manifests His glory ahead of time, causing His disciples to put their faith in Him. The paradigm revealed in this Gospel is for all times, all places, and all men. Wheresoever Mary is invited, she enters in and, with her maternal heart, takes the measure of all around her. She speaks on behalf of those who invite her to be present in their lives, obtaining wondrous favours from the Heart of her Son. At the prayer of the Mother, the Son manifests and glory, and the disciples of the Son grow in faith.

Offertory (John 19:27)
Jesus said to the disciple, Behold thy Mother. And from that hour the disciple took her for his own.

In the Offertory antiphon as in the Gospel, the crucial element is the presence of Mary. In the Gospel, she is invited to the wedding feast; in the Offertory antiphon, Saint John the Beloved welcomes her into his home. In a sense, the presence of Mary is the fundamental grace, the graces making all graces possible.

O Lord God, who moved by the pleading of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in answer to whose prayers Jesus Christ Thy Son wrought the first of His miracles: vouchsafe that we may confect with pure minds the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the same Thy Son, so as to deserve to partake of the banquet of eternity.

The petition of every priest as he enters into the mystic solitude of the Canon of the Mass is that he might confect with a pure mind the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord. One of the graces given to priests through Mary is the cleanness of mind required to offer the Holy Sacrifice.

Communion (Ecclesiasticus 36:6, 7, 10)
Renew the signs, and work fresh marvels; glorify Thy hand and Thy right arm; hasten the time, and remember the end, and let them declare Thy wondrous works.

The Communion antiphon is addressed to Christ, but also to His Immaculate Mother. It is not unfitting to ask Mary to “renew the signs, and work fresh marvels”.

O Lord, Almighty God, Who hast willed that all things should be given us through the Immaculate Mother of Thy Son: grant that under the protection of so great a Mother, we may escape all the dangers of these present times, and come, in the end, to life everlasting.

The last line of the Postcommunion is particularly suited to these days: “grant that under the protection of so great a Mother, we may escape all the dangers of these present times, and come, in the end, to life everlasting”. It is a prayer for the people of Paris, a prayer for France, for Europe, and for the world,

That Fiery Prayer: the Rosary


Saint Francisco of Fatima
Two years ago, D. Finnian and I had the opportunity to visit with Dr Ângela de Fátima Coelho da Rocha Pereira da Silva, the wonderfully affable postulator of the Cause of the Little Shepherds of Fatima. Sister Angela is a religious of the Aliança de Santa Maria and a medical doctor; she was nominated Postulator extra urbem on 1 November 2009, then Postulator in urbe on 22 June 2012. I shared with the Postulator my own devotion to Saint Francisco, the Consoler of the Hidden Jesus.

Consoler of the Hidden Jesus
The words of the Angel of Fatima,  “Console your God”,  engraved themselves in young Francisco’s heart. They became the compelling inspiration of his short life of eleven years (1908–1919). Francisco wanted, more than anything else, to be the Consoler of the Hidden Jesus. He did this by praying rosary after rosary, and by spending hours close to the tabernacle of the parish church.

Many Rosaries
Readers familiar with the story of Fatima will recall that on 13 May 1917, after hearing the Lady say, “I come from heaven”, Lucia asked if she and her little companions would go to heaven. The Lady replied that both Lucia and Jacinta would go to heaven , but that Francisco would need to say many rosaries first.

This enigmatic utterance concerning Francisco has, over the years, given rise to a certain amount of speculation as to its meaning. Various interpretations have been ascribed to it, but I found none of them satisfying. Some commentators even suggested that Francisco was somehow held back in his spiritual development and, therefore, needed more prayer than his sister Jacinta and his cousin Lucia.

Francisco: A Contemplative Soul
I put the question to Dr Coelho,. She explained that while little Jacinta was an extrovert, easily engaging with others and concerned in reaching out to all, especially to poor sinners, Francisco was a very interior soul, focused on God alone or, as he himself put it, on consoling the Hidden Jesus. In this way, the personalities and graces of Francisco and Jacinta are complementary. Jacinta is emblematic of the missionary impulse of the Church, while Francisco illustrates the call to the hidden life and total dedication to the “One Thing Necessary” (Luke 10:42). Francisco, explained Dr Coelho, was, from the very beginning of the apparitions, singled out as a contemplative soul.

The Postulator explained that had Our Lady said that Francisco was to become a “contemplative soul”, the meaning of her words would have completely escaped Francisco’s understanding. His was the simple vocabulary of a child, of a boy accustomed to the concrete realities of nature. Our Lady’s words that Francisco would “need to say many rosaries” before going to heaven was, in effect, her way of saying that Francisco was to become an entirely contemplative soul before going to heaven, and this by means of many rosaries. Understand by this that, for Francisco and for most ordinary people, many rosaries are the most simple and efficacious way to union with God.

Praying Much
I am reminded of something I read many years ago in that marvelous little book on the rosary by Père Jean Lafrance (1931–1991), Le chapelet, in English, The Rosary: A Road to Constant Prayer. Père Lafrance maintained that if one cannot pray well, one ought to pray much. He went so far as to say that in prayer, for certain souls, at least, quantity might well make up for intensity. Père Lafrance emphasised the sacrificial quality of time spent for God’s sake alone, time wasted, as it were, on attending to God. He held that the investment of time was, in itself, an act of faith, hope, and charity, and that one who begins by praying much will, in the end, pray well, very well.

Our Lady’s Pedagogy
This is, I think, the pedagogy behind Our Lady’s words to Saint Francisco. To pray many rosaries is to pray much, and he who prays much will, by the secret operation of the Holy Ghost in the depths of the soul, attain to that prayer of the heart that Saint John Cassian called fiery. This is the prayer of those who,

 . . . having already torn from their hearts the penal thorn of conscience, now, free from care, consider with a most pure mind the kindnesses and mercies of the Lord that he has bestowed In the past, gives in the present, and prepares for the future, and are rapt by their fervent heart to that fiery prayer which can be neither seized nor expressed by the mouth of man. (Saint John Cassian, Conference IX On Prayer, Chapter 15)

An Oblate of Silverstream on Fatima and the Desert Fathers

Marco da Vinha and his wife, Isa, are Oblate novices of Silverstream Priory. Marco and Isa are the parents of Helena and Cristóvão. They make their home in the U.K., while remaining deeply rooted in Portugal, Mary’s Land, la Terra de Maria.

Fátima and the Desert Fathers
by Marco Gregory da Vinha, Obl.O.S.B.

I find myself writing today about a topic which I never thought I would – Fátima; specifically, the message of Fátima (or, at least, how I have come to understand it). Caveat: for those that came here expecting some comment on “the Consecration of Russia”, you can forget about that. That is a topic I’m not at all interested in touching. Let’s just say that I believe that that request was very time-specific, and is not necessarily what the “message” was all about, though it seems to me that to many it carries an almost messianic weight.

Love it or hate it, every Portuguese knows Fátima and has probably been there at least once in their life. In the minds of not a few, Fátima is something quite apart from the Church. How many times did I not hear from people (who even made regular pilgrimages there): “I don’t believe in the Church, but I have a lot of faith in Fátima.” I never understood what that was supposed to mean. What do those who profess such a belief understand Fátima to be? Does it mean you believe in some “miraculous” event, some “force” you keep a mercenary relationship with? Or does it mean that you believe in the message? If so, then you must necessarily believe in the Church. Our Lady cannot be understood apart of the Church; she is a type of the Church. If you believe in her, and not the Church, then there is something seriously flawed with your belief.

But I digress…

Fátima (Cova da Iria) is about an hour and fifteen minutes drive on the motorway from my home city. Now that I stop to think about it, I (providentially?) made my official return to the Church there 10 years ago. For almost two years I drove down every Sunday so as to be able to experience the vetus ordo of the Roman rite (and occasionally the Divine Liturgy at the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic chapel at Domus Pacis). When people found out that I would go to Fátima every Sunday they would say “Wow, you must have a lot of faith in Fátima.”, but it had never crossed my mind, in all those trips, that I was going there because of Fatima; if anything, in my mind, Fátima was accidental: the vetus ordo just happened to be celebrated there. As time went on, I began to have a bit more of a “sacramental” understanding of the place, and so the shrine (or at least the area of the chapel of the apparitions) became a kind of holy ground. The Deipara, the Dei genetrix, had appeared there; she had hallowed the ground (or at least the oak tree) by her contact. In my mind, that made the immediate vicinity a kind of contact relic, and so I would always stop by, even if just for 5 minutes, to say “hello” and entrust to her care my vocation, whichever it might be. Several years later, Sr. Maria do Rosário and I were received as novice Benedictine oblates at Fátima.

During these many years I had struggled to understand just what exactly was the “message of Fátima” or why “the world needs Fátima“. Searching for answers on the internet only served to further the confusion. I had never stopped to read any proper literature on the apparitions; I only got bits and pieces of the story from time to time from speaking with people who had purposely moved to Fátima from abroad, as well as from someone who had known Sr. Lucia for many years and served as an interpreter of sorts for her. However, it was only after Father Prior had spoken with the postulator for Bl. Francisco’s cause that things suddenly start to click in my head. To quote Father Prior’s own words:

I put the question to Dr Coelho. She explained that while little Jacinta was an extrovert, easily engaging with others and concerned in reaching out to all, especially to poor sinners, Francisco was a very interior soul, focused on God alone or, as he himself put it, on consoling the Hidden Jesus. In this way, the personalities and graces of Francisco and Jacinta are complementary. Jacinta is emblematic of the missionary impulse of the Church, while Francisco illustrates the call to the hidden life and total dedication to the “One Thing Necessary” (Luke 10:42). Francisco, explained Dr Coelho, was, from the very beginning of the apparitions, singled out as a contemplative soul.

The Postulator explained that had Our Lady said that Francisco was to become a “contemplative soul”, the meaning of her words would have completely escaped Francisco’s understanding. His was the simple vocabulary of a child, of a boy accustomed to the concrete realities of nature. Our Lady’s words that Francisco would “need to say many rosaries” before going to heaven was, in effect, her way of saying that Francisco was to become an entirely contemplative soul before going to heaven, and this by means of many rosaries. Understand by this that, for Francisco and for most ordinary people, many rosaries are the most simple and efficacious way to union with God.

For some time I had begun to see the message of “penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners” as synonymous with the Gospel, which made me wonder what was so unique about the apparition(s) and its message. Suddenly, with the postulator’s comment about Our Lady adapting her language to her interlocutors/audience, it made sense.

What was Our Lady trying to tell us? What had we forgotten?

Penance – mortifications; prayer for the conversion of sinners – intercession; pray the Rosary – the layman’s office par excellence in the West. Our Lady was reminding a simple people, a people of simple faith, of what it means to be Christian. I don’t mean simple in a pejorative sense; I mean simple in childlike, unable(?) to understand complex theological ideas, but faithful enough to intuit them, with a lively sensus fidelium. In very simple terms, she was reminding them of their baptismal priesthood. Sons in the Son, they could unite their sufferings, their mortifications, to Christ’s, to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24). As Our Lord had offered Himself up on the Cross for sinners, so they were to become icons of all mankind, offering in themselves all to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, especially for those who did not believe. The daily rosary was an injunction to “pray without ceasing”. For a long time the rosary had been an alternative to the Office for those who were unable to read. The Office, especially through the Psalms, shows us the vultus Christi; praying the Psalms helps one to acquire the mind of Christ. Being unable to do that, one turns to Mary, and in contemplating her, one can see in her face the face of her Son shining through.

“Fátima”, in my understanding of it, is nothing “new”. The message is the Gospel. It is the life that finds echo in the life of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Father’s lived a(-n extreme) life of penance, of mortification; one needs only to read their sayings to see how indispensable it was to them, how essential it was to cultivate humility. It was not something negative; rather it was liberating. See, for example, this saying of Abba Poemon:

A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.’ The old man said to him, ‘That is a lot.’ The brother said, ‘For one year?’ The old man said again, ‘That is a lot.’ Those who were present said, ‘For forty days?’ He said again, ‘That is a lot.’ He added, ‘I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.’

Even on their deathbed penance was still (or should that be especially?) on their minds:

It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, ‘Look, Abba Anthony is coming.’ A little later he said, ‘Look, the choir of prophets is coming.’ Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, Look, the choir of apostles is coming,’ His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, ‘With whom are you speaking, Father?’ He said, ‘Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance.’ The old man said to him, ‘You have no need to do penance, Father.’ But the old man said to them, ‘Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet.’

Continual prayer was also a theme on the minds of the Desert Fathers. They knew, through their experience, that it required a great effort to become a habit, especially if one was to pray without ceasing, which in a goal of all Christians, which they will one day do perfectly united to Christ, the Eternal High Priest. The Psalms were their school of prayer.

Abba Agathon said, “Prayer is hard work and a great struggle to one’s last breath”.

Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’

The brethren also asked him, ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’

We find as well stories of the Fathers’ intercession for sinners:

One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She replied, ‘Very well, abba.’ She got ready and made the bed. When evening came, the old man came to see her and entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, abba.’ Then he closed the door and said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I must fulfill that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He took the psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling and praying beside the old man. When he had completed the whole psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled with compunction and understood that he had not come to see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we where I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery of virgins and entrusted her to the amma and he said, ‘Take this sister and do not put any yoke or commandment on her as on the other sisters, but if she wants something, give it her and allow her to walk as she wishes.’ After some days the courtesan said, ‘I am a sinner; I wish to eat every second day.’ A little later she said, ‘I have committed many sins and I wish to eat every fourth day.’ A few days later she besought the amma saying, ‘Since I have grieved God greatly by my sins, do me the kindness of putting me in a cell and shutting it completely and giving me a little bread and some work through the window.’ The amma did so and the woman pleased God all the rest of her life.

Is Fátima still “relevant”? I think it is particularly poignant a century later because it obliges us to ask “What have we forgotten?” It seems to me to be quite providential that our Blessed Mother should remind us of this supernatural aspect of the faith on the eve of a revolution of the “anti-Gospel”, of a materialistic “gospel” that promised an immanenitized eschaton. And yet, 100 years later, on the cusp of the anniversary of the apparitions, if one listens to the majority of the “testimonies” about the meaning of Fatima on this website (which is backed by the Sanctuary and a Catholic radio station), one will find that we have forgotten much. The majority of those testimonies of what Fátima means to those individuals is focused to much on me, on vague concepts of love and peace and feeling good with one’s self, a form of spiritual hygiene. God does not figure into the picture. The faith is primarily about the world here below, a convenient ethical system, but little beyond that.

We have forgotten the Cross. It is the Cross, the dulce lignum, that best encapsulates the Faith. In trying to make it more appealing, in applying so much cosmetic to sweeten the pill, we have gone so far as to forget what it is all about.

What is Fátima to me? Fátima is the unbroken tradition of the Church; Fátima is the life of monks and religious and clerics and lay alike; Fátima is the faith of the Desert Fathers –  Fátima is the Christian life in broad strokes, so simple enough even a child could understand it. And it is a reminder to make every day a beginning.

A prayer of disarming power

There is no problem or difficulty that cannot be solved or resolved by faithful persevering recourse to My Mother’s most holy Rosary. The Rosary is My Mother’s gift to the poor and to the simple, to the little ones who alone are capable of hearing the Gospel in all its purity and of responding to it with a generous heart. It is to such as these—the childlike and the weak, the poor and the trusting—that the Rosary is given. It is to such as these that the Rosary belongs.

There are no sufferings that cannot be borne peacefully, so long as a soul is praying the Rosary. Through the Rosary, all the grace and power of My mysteries passes through My Mother’s Immaculate Heart into the hearts of the little ones who invoke her, repeating the angel’s “Ave” over and over again. There are illnesses that can be cured through the Rosary. There are clouds of darkness and confusion that only the Rosary can disperse, and this because it is My Mother’s favourite prayer, a prayer that originated in the heights of heaven and was carried to earth by My Archangel, a prayer echoed and amplified in the Church through the ages, a prayer loved by all My saints, a prayer of disarming power and of immense depth.

There are those who find the Rosary difficult. The difficulty lies not in the Rosary but in the complexity of those who struggle to enter into its simplicity. Invite souls to the prayer of the Rosary; through it I will heal the sick of mind and body, through it I will give peace where there is conflict, through it I will make great saints out of great sinners, through it I will sanctify My priests, give joy to My consecrated ones, and raise up new vocations in abundance.

Listen, then, to My Mother’s plea in so many places.178 Listen to her, take her plea to heart, pray her Rosary and, for you, as for her, My Father will do wondrous things.

(From In Sinu Jesu, the Journal of a Priest)

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Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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