I began this morning a little commentary on the Holy Father’s Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I will have to post it in installments as it emerges from my meditation of the text. Here is the first installment:
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father’s Will.
The Holy Father begins by addressing the Virgin Mary in reference to the singular privileges of her Immaculate Conception and her Divine Maternity. Conceived immaculate in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin was, from the first moment of her conception, full of grace, and perfectly prepared for the further gift of Divine Motherhood that would be offered her.
Far from making her indifferent and distant to souls flawed and soiled by both original and actual sin, Our Lady’s sinlessness makes her capable of a uniquely pure compassion and of a maternal love that doesn’t recoil from intimate spiritual contact with the children of Eve who, in this valley of tears, fall and seek to rise again.
In This Place of Grace
The Holy Father acknowledges that Fatima is a place of grace, that is, a place favoured by God and visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a sacred geography spread over the face of the earth. There is a certain sacramentality of place. It pleases God, and thus pleases the Mother of God, to make of certain precise locations abiding occasions of grace. Clearly, Fatima, is one such place, but there are countless others. Some of these are hidden, humble, and infrequently visited.
Not so very long ago every Catholic Church had an altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God. Some even had a “Lady Chapel,” a special space within the larger church graced with an image of the Most Holy Virgin. These local shrines of Our Blessed Lady were, in their own modest and unpretentious way, places of pilgrimage and of grace for people who could never have imagined going to Fatima, Lourdes, Loreto, Guadalupe, Rue du Bac, Jasna Gora, or Knock. How many candles were lighted before Our Lady in humble parish churches? How many furtive visits were made to the foot of her altar? How many tears were shed there? And how many graces and consolations received?
There is a monastic custom dating back to Cluny and even earlier according to which monks would daily make the rounds of the altars in the abbey church, taking special care to tarry before the image of Mary, Queen and Mother of Monks, Refuge of Sinners, and Cause of Our Joy. There are monasteries, even today, where in the pre-dawn darkness before Matins or after Compline, Mary’s sons make their way to her image, there to pour out their hearts and to receive her maternal blessing.
Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori recommended that the daily visit to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament be completed by a visit to the Madonna Santissima. Children need to be taught, from an early age, to approach the altar (or shrine) of the Blessed Mother in the parish church and to experience it as a place of minor pilgrimage, a sacred destination, a place of grace. Priests do well to give the example of praying before the image of Our Blessed Lady in the parish church. This humble expression of devotion to Mary, still common in my youth, needs to be recovered for the joy and upbuilding of the Church at every level.
Called together by the love of your Son Jesus the Eternal High Priest
Love attracts. Love draws. Love unites. Love calls. The Holy Father acknowledges that the multitude surrounding him at Fatima and, in particular, the bishops and priests who were present, have this in common: they were attracted, drawn, united, and called by Love. The priestly love of Jesus chooses certain men, calls them friends, and unites them to Himself and to one another in His sacrifice: priests made one with The Priest, and victims with The Victim. All whom Jesus the Eternal High Priest draws to His Heart are assumed into His holocaust. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (Jn 12:32). What is true here of “all men” is true, first, of His priests. When a priest is drawn into the mystery of Crucified Love, many souls are drawn there after him; and when a priests resists the drawing of Crucified Love, many souls are held back by his hardness of heart.
We, Sons in the Son and His Priests
The Holy Father’s expression is reminiscent, not only of a recurrent theme in the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B., but also of the first published writings of the French mystic, Marie de la Trinité de Mulatier, O.P. (1903-1980). These appeared in 1986 under the title, “Filiation et sacerdoce des chrétiens.”
“The world,” she writes, “is most opposed to the spirit of priesthood, because it is by the spirit of priesthood that that the spirit of the world will be healed. It is, nonetheless, by the Filial spirit that we must begin, because we go to God only if He draws us to Himself. And the Father first sends forth His Son, before drawing us to Himself. We have no need of the spirit of priesthood to go to the Son, to the Incarnate Word. When we are in contact with the Son, then does the Son give us the priesthood so that, in Him, we may with all that we are, tend towards the Father and be received by Him.”
By the gift of Filiation (by adoption) the Father offers Himself to us, precisely as Father. By the gift of participation in the priesthood of Christ, we can offer ourselves to Him in return. The priestly spirit flourishes in souls marked by the filial spirit of confidence, trust, love, and a holy boldness.
Before sharing in the priesthood of Christ, one must share in the grace of His Divine Filiation. While the grace of sonship is unitive, that of priesthood is consecratory. The filial grace and the sacerdotal grace are both perfected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By the former God unites us to Himself as beloved sons to their Father, and by the latter we make an act of oblation consecrating ourselves as victims pleasing to God.
“Priesthood and Filiation,” writes Marie de la Trinité “are not rewards, but are pure gifts granted us . . . not for any pre-existing holiness of ours, but for the sake of a potential holiness. . . . Sinners that we are, fully conscious of our guilt, and graced by the goodness of the Father with the gifts of priesthood and of Filiation, we need not wait to be fully purified and restored before making use of these gifts, or before having completed the expiation due to the Holiness and Majesty of the Father.”