Category Archives: Mariology

Oct 7 – The Battle of Lepanto


-Battle of Lepanto, by Lucas Valdez (1661-1725), Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena, Seville, Spain, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Christopher Check

Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.

As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.

The Defense of Malta

Malta was an infertile, dusty rock with so few natural springs that the Maltese had to collect rainwater in large clay urns. The island could sustain only the smallest population. Yet this little island guarded the Mediterranean passage from the Islamic East to the Christian West.

From its excellent natural harbors, the galleys of the Knights of Saint John could sail forth and disrupt any Turkish assault on Italy. They could also board and seize Turkish merchantmen carrying goods from France or Venice to be hawked in the markets of Constantinople. The ladies of Soleiman’s harem, who accumulated great wealth speculating in glass and other Venetian luxuries, nagged the sultan to take Malta.

Soleiman had bigger goals than pleasing these matrons, and he knew that, in Turkish possession, the harbors of Malta would afford him a base from which to continue his raids on the coast of Italy. With the greater control of the sea that it would afford him, he would be able to bring Venice to heel. An invasion of Sicily would be possible. Soleiman’s greatest dream, however, the dream of all Turks, the dream his soldiers toasted before setting off on every campaign, was the conquest of Rome. There the Turks could transform Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s, then under construction, into a mosque, just as they had Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia more than a century before.

Although the sultan had led his army on twelve major campaigns, this time his age would keep him home. The Turks sailed for Malta in the spring of 1565, and on May 18, their fleet was spotted offshore. That night, Jean de la Valette, the seventy-one-year-old Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, led his warriors into their chapel where they confessed and then assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island,” he told them. “These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defense of our Faith. Are the Gospels to be superseded by the Koran? God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to His service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.”

Many of Valette’s 700 knights and their men-at-arms did just that. While Europe stood idly by, expecting the fortress to fall, the knights held their island against an Ottoman army of 40,000, including 6500 of the sultan’s elite Janissaries. Three-quarters of the Turkish army were killed over the four-month siege, before the Ottoman survivors turned and straggled back to Constantinople.

Slaughter in Szigetvar

Soleiman was outraged. “I see that it is only in my own hand that my sword is invincible!” exploded the sultan, and by May of the following year he was leading an army of 300,000 men across the plains of Hungary, bound for Vienna.

When the Hungarian Count of Szigetvar, a fortress city on the eastern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire, led a successful raid on the Ottoman supply trains, Soleiman wheeled his massive army and swore to wipe the city off the map. Turkish engineers prepared flotillas and bridges to span the Drava and Danube rivers to lay siege to Szigetvar. To greet the sultan and to inspire his men, who were outnumbered fifty to one, Count Miklos Zrinyi raised a large crucifix over his battlements and fired his cannons in defiance. But Zrinyi knew that in a Hungary infested with Protestantism, hope of relief was even fainter than any the Knights of Malta had entertained the previous year.

For nearly a month, wave after wave of Turkish infantry were thrown back from the walls. Soleiman offered Zrinyi rule of all Croatia if he would yield his city, but he answered, “No one shall point his finger on my children in contempt.”

When the breaches made by the Turkish artillery were too large to defend, the Catholic count assembled his last 600 men. “With this sword” he shouted as he held the bejeweled weapon aloft, “I earned my first honor and glory. I want to appear with it once more before the eternal throne to hear my judgment.” Charging out of the remains of their stronghold, the courageous band was swallowed by a sea of Turks. To the last man the Hungarian knights died defending the Christian West. The Turks, furious at the losses their army had suffered, consoled themselves according to their grisly custom: they slaughtered every Christian civilian who had survived the siege.

Soleiman the Magnificent did not live to witness the massacre. He had died of dysentery four days earlier. Had he survived, however, this victory would have given him no comfort. The capture of Szigetvar was Pyrrhic. The Ottoman army had exhausted itself and was in no condition to carry on the campaign. Though they all died, Count Zrinyi and his heroic band were the true victors.

Back in Constantinople, Soleiman’s son ascended the throne by the usual Ottoman method: a complex harem intrigue designed to eradicate his worthier brothers. Unlike every previous sultan, Selim II, nicknamed “the Sot,” had little interest in warfare. His enthusiasms were for wine, his extraordinarily deviant sexual appetite, wine, poetry, and wine. Nevertheless, he sensed that without a decisive victory, the mighty empire his father had left him would be eclipsed.

The Attack on Cyprus

Selim II invaded Cyprus, the source of his favorite vintage. Half the population were Greek Orthodox serfs laboring under the exacting rule of their Venetian Catholic masters, and they offered little resistance. The Venetian senate was half-hearted about fighting for the island; upon receiving word of the invasion, senate members voted by the very small margin of 220 to 199 to defend it.

The Turks rolled through Cyprus, and after a forty-six day siege, the capital city of Nicosia fell on September 9, 1570. The 500 Venetians in the garrison surrendered on terms, but once the city gates were opened, the Turks rushed in and slaughtered them. Then they set on the civilian population, massacring twenty thousand people, “some in such bizarre ways that those merely put to the sword were lucky.” Every house was plundered. To protect their daughters from rape, mothers stabbed them and then themselves, or threw themselves from the rooftops. Still, “[t]wo thousand of the prettier boys and girls were gathered and shipped off as sexual provender for the slave markets in Constantinople.”

Then God intervened and sent one of history’s greatest popes, St. Pius V, who declared, “I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.” Michael Ghislieri, an aged Dominican priest when he ascended the Chair of Peter, faced two foes: Protestantism and Islam. He was up to the task. He had served as Grand Inquisitor, and the austerity of his private mortifications was a contrast to the lifestyles of his Renaissance predecessors. During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.

The Holy League

In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.

The day was not a total triumph, though. Venice refused to join. Though at war with the Turks over Cyprus, the Venetians never failed to consider their economy. They might well lose Cyprus, but a fast peace afterward would lead to the resumption of normal trade relations with the Turks. Moreover, the loss of the Venetian fleet in an all-out battle with the sultan’s galleys would be a disaster for a state so dependent on seaborne commerce. Walking back across the Tiber, the old monk wept for the future of Christendom. He knew that without the galleys of Venice, there was no hope of a fleet strong enough to face the Turks.

The rest of Europe ignored Pius’s call for a new crusade. In fact, the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, through her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, actively enlisted the aid of the Turks in her wars against Spain. France had openly traded with the Turks for years and as recently as 1569 had drawn up an extensive commercial treaty with them. For years the French had allowed Turkish ships to harbor in Toulon, and the oars that rowed Turkish galleys came from Marseilles. The cannons that brought down the walls of Szigetvar were of French design. With Venice at war with Constantinople, markets once filled by Venetian goods were open to France. Redeeming France from utter disgrace were the Knights of Saint John of Malta, who sent their galleys to join the Holy League, eager to do battle with Islam.

As the Pope prayed for Venice to answer a higher call, a new breed of fiery priests led by stirring preachers like St. Francisco Borgia, superior general of the Jesuits, inflamed the hearts of Christian Europeans throughout the Mediterranean with their sermons against Islam. Enough Venetians must have been listening, because on May 25 Venice at last joined the Holy League. By fits and starts, with hesitation and quarreling on the part of a few of the principal players, the fleet of the Holy League was forming.

The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.

He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.

Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”

The Death of Bragadino

In late summer of 1571, as Don John was making his way to the harbor at Messina to take command of his fleet, the situation on Cyprus was growing more desperate. The Venetian colonists had claimed the lives of some 50,000 Turks with their intrepid defense of Famagusta, but when their gunpowder and supplies were exhausted, when they had eaten their last horse, their shrewd governor, Marcantonio Bragadino, sent a message to the Turkish commander, Lala Mustafa, asking for terms. The Turks agreed to give the remaining Venetian soldiers passage to Crete on fourteen Turkish galleys in exchange for the surrender of the city. The Greek Cypriots would be allowed to retain their property and their religion.

On August 4, 1571, Bragadino, with a small entourage including several young pages, met with Mustafa and his advisors in the Turkish general’s tent. Mustafa lecherously demanded Bragadino’s page, Antonio Quirini, as a hostage for the fourteen galleys. When Bragadino calmly refused, he and his men were pushed out of the tent by Mustafa’s guards. Bragadino was bound and forced to watch as his attendants were hacked to pieces. The pages were led off in chains. The Turks thrice thrust the Venetian governor’s neck on the executioner’s block and thrice lifted it off. Instead of his head, they cut off his nose and ears. To prevent his bleeding to death, they cauterized the wounds with hot irons.

The Venetian soldiers of the garrison, unaware that Mustafa had broken the terms of the surrender, began their march down to the galleys, expecting passage to Crete. Once aboard, the Venetians were set upon by Turkish soldiers, who stripped them of their clothes and chained them to the oars. From their benches they witnessed some of the horrifying ordeal to which the Turks now subjected Bragadino.

First the Turks fitted the governor with a harness and bridle and led him around the Turkish camp on his hands and knees. Ass panniers filled with dung were slung across his back. Each time he passed Lala Mustafa’s tent he was forced to kiss the ground. Then he was strung up in chains, hoisted over a galley spar, and left to hang for a time. Finally, the courageous governor was dragged into the city square and lashed to the pillory, where the Turks flayed him alive. Witnesses said they heard him whispering a Latin prayer. He died “when the executioner’s knife reached the height of his navel.” The diabolical orgy did not end there. Mustafa had the governor’s skin stuffed, hoisted it up the mast of his galley, and joined the Ottoman fleet headed west.

Don John Takes Command

As Bragadino was losing his life to the Turkish monsters, Don John was inspecting his ships. Of the 206 galleys and 76 smaller boats that constituted the Holy League fleet, more than half came from Venice. The next largest contingent came from Spain, and included galleys from Sicily, Naples, Portugal, and Genoa, the latter owned by the Genovese condottiere admiral, Gianandrea Doria. Not only was Doria renting his services and the use of his ships to Philip at costs thirty percent higher than Philip paid to run his own galleys, he was lending the money to the Spanish king at fourteen percent! The balance of the galleys came from the Holy See.

Don John took charge of his fleet and promptly forbade women from coming aboard the galleys. He declared that blasphemy among the crews would be punishable by death. The whole fleet followed his example and made a three-day fast.

By September 28, the Holy League had made its way across the Adriatic Sea and was anchored between the west coast of Greece and the Island of Corfu. By this time, news of the death of Bragadino had reached the Holy League, and the Venetians were determined to settle the score. Don John reminded his fleet that the battle they would soon engage in was as much spiritual as physical.

Pius V had granted a plenary indulgence to the soldiers and crews of the Holy League. Priests of the great orders, Franciscans, Capuchins, Dominicans, Theatines, and Jesuits, were stationed on the decks of the Holy League’s galleys, offering Mass and hearing confessions. Many of the men who rowed the Christian galleys were criminals. Don John ordered them all unchained, and he issued them each a weapon, promising them their freedom if they fought bravely. He then gave every man in his fleet a weapon more powerful than anything the Turks could muster: a Rosary.

On the eve of battle, the men of the Holy League prepared their souls by falling to their knees on the decks of their galleys and praying the Rosary. Back in Rome, and up and down the Italian Peninsula, at the behest of Pius V, the churches were filled with the faithful telling their beads. In Heaven, the Blessed Mother, her Immaculate Heart aflame, was listening.

In the quiet of night, Don John met with his admirals on the deck of his flagship Real to review once more the order of battle. He had divided his fleet into four squadrons. Commanding the squadron on his left flank was a Venetian warrior named Agostin Barbarigo. The center squadron was commanded by Don John, assisted on either side by his vice admirals, the Roman Marcantonio Colonna, and the Venetian Sebastian Veniero. Directly behind the center squadron, Don John stationed the reserve squadron, commanded by the Spaniard Don Alvaro de Bazan, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. The right squadron was under the command of the Genovese Gianandrea Doria. Arrayed for battle, the mighty armada of the Holy League looked like nothing if not a Latin Cross.

Doria, despite his mercenary motives, had been the source of sound tactical counsel.

“Cut off the spars in the prows of the fleet’s galleys,” he told Don John. Galleys had been equipped with bow spars or rams since the days of Salamis. “This will permit the centerline bow cannons to depress further and fire their rounds at the waterline of the enemy hulls.” Don John’s famous order to remove these spars was a signal moment in naval warfare, heralding the age of gunpowder.

Doria also advised taking the League’s six galleases and stationing them in the van, two before each of the three forward squadrons. A galleas was a large, multi-decked, Venetian merchant galley that had been outfitted with cannons not only on its bow, but also along its port and starboard sides. Where an ordinary galley was most vulnerable, a galleas packed heavy firepower. Don John increased their lethality by packing the decks with Spanish shooters (arquebusiers), bearing their handheld, smoothbore, heavy guns. Though slow moving, these six galleases would provide a powerful shock at the start of the battle.

Doria was an admiral, but he was also a shipowner. He looked at Don John, raised his eyebrows, opened his palm, and offered, “There is still time, your grace, to avoid pitched battle.”

The young Captain General stood surrounded by men older and with greater seafaring and military experience than he. Silence filled the small stateroom as these men waited to hear his response. He caught their eyes, each one of them, as he looked around.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “The time for counsel has passed. Now is the time for war.”

The Divine Breath

It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.

As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.

Then the Blessed Virgin intervened.

The wind shifted 180 degrees. The sails of the Holy League were filled with the Divine breath, driving them into battle. Now heading directly into the wind, the Turks were forced to strike their sails. The tens of thousands of Christian galley slaves who rowed the Turkish vessels felt the sharp sting of the lash summoning them up from under their benches and demanding they take hold of their oars and pull against the wind.

Don John knelt on the prow of Real and said a final prayer. Then he stood and gave the order for the Holy League’s battle standard, a gift from Pius V, to be unfurled. Christians up and down the battle line cheered as they saw the giant blue banner bearing an image of our crucified Lord.

The fleets engaged at midday. The first fighting began along the Holy League’s left flank, where many of the smaller, swifter Turkish galleys were able to maneuver around Agostin Barbarigo’s inshore flank. The Venetian admiral responded with a near impossibility: He pivoted his entire squadron, fifty-four ships, counterclockwise and began to pin the Turkish right flank, commanded by Mehemet Sirrocco, against the north shore of the Gulf of Patras. Gaps formed in Barbarigo’s line and Ottoman galleys broke into the intervals. As galley pulled up along galley, the slaughter brought on by cannon, musket ball, and arrow was horrific, but the Venetians in time prevailed. Barbarigo took an arrow to the eye, but before he died he learned of the death of Sirrocco and the crushing defeat of the Turkish right line.

In the center of the battle, breaking a convention of naval warfare, the opposing flagships engaged—Don John’s Real with Muezzinzade Ali Pasha’s Sultana. Twice Spanish infantry boarded and drove the Sultana’s Janissaries back to the mast, and twice they were driven back to the Real by Ottoman reinforcements. Don John led the third charge across Sultana’s bloodied deck. He was wounded in the leg, but Ali Pasha took a musketball to the forehead. One of Real’s freed convicts lopped off the Turkish admiral’s head and held it aloft on a pike. The Muslims’ sacred banner, with the name of Allah stitched in gold calligraphy 28,900 times, which Islamic tradition held was carried in battle by the Prophet, was captured by the Christians. Terror struck the Turks, but the fight was far from won.

On the Holy League’s right flank, Doria was forced to increase the intervals between his galleys to keep his line from being flanked on the south by the larger Ottoman squadron under the command of the Algerian Uluch Ali. When the space between Doria’s squadron and Don John’s grew large enough, Uluch Ali sent his corsairs through the gap to envelop the galleys of Don John’s squadron from behind. Don Alvaro de Bazan, commanding the Holy League’s reserve squadron of thirty-five galleys, had carefully kept his ships out of the fray until the moment came when he was most needed. Now he entered the fight, rescuing the center of the Holy League from the Turkish vessels that had surrounded them before turning his squadron south to aid the outmanned Doria.

The fighting lasted for five hours. The sides were evenly matched and well led, but the Divine favored the Christians, and once the battle turned in their favor it became a rout. All but thirteen of the nearly 300 Turkish vessels were captured or sunk and over 30,000 Turks were slain. Not until the First World War would the world again witness such carnage in a single day’s fighting. In the aftermath of the battle, the Christians gave no quarter, making sure to kill the helmsmen, galley captains, archers, and Janissaries. The sultan could rebuild ships, but without these men, it would be years before he would be able to use them.

The news of the victory made its way back to Rome, but the Pope was already rejoicing. On the day of the battle, Pius had been consulting with his cardinals at the Dominican Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. He paused in the midst of their deliberations to look out the window. Up in the sky, the Blessed Mother favored him with a vision of the victory. Turning to his cardinals he said, “Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory.”

SIDEBARS

Interesting Facts about the Battle

  • A young contemporary of Don John’s, Miguel Cervantes, fought with abandon and lost his left hand to a Turkish blade. With his remaining hand, he later penned Spain’s greatest novel, Don Quixote.
  • On another galley, a soldier of the Holy League, his soul torn with despair, took his sword to the ship’s crucifix. The blade instantly shattered. Many years later, an attempt to re-forge the sword was made, but when the new blade was pulled from the fire, it fell to pieces.
  • The crucifix on board the Real, which twisted itself to avoid a Turkish cannonball, is displayed in a side chapel of the cathedral of Barcelona.
  • Gianandrea Doria carried on his galley a gift from the king of Spain, an image that is now displayed in the Doria chapel in the cathedral in Genoa. Exactly forty years before the battle of Lepanto, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a peasant boy leaving a miraculous image of herself on his smock. The bishop of the region immediately commissioned an artist to paint five copies of the image, and he touched each one to the original. Our Lady of Guadalupe was present at Lepanto.

Timeline for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

  • In thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto on the first Sunday of October 1571, Pope St. Pius V ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made on that day.
  • At the request of the Dominican Order, in 1573 Pope Gregory XIII allowed the feast to be kept in all churches with an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary.
  • In 1671, the observance of the feast was extended by Pope Clement X to the whole of Spain.
  • Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on August 6, 1716, the feast of our Lady of the Snows, at Peterwardein in Hungary.

Other Feasts That Celebrate Military Victories

  • May 24, Our Lady Help of Christians, commemorates the defeat of one of history’s greatest generals (and most wicked men), Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • August 6, The Transfiguration of Christ, was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Calixtus III to celebrate legendary Hungarian general János Hunyadi’s victory over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. This feast has great significance for Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches.
  • September 12, the Holy Name of Mary, celebrates the victory of John Sobieski and his Polish warriors over the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

Further Reading

  • Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 2004)
  • The Galleys at Lepanto by Jack Beeching (Scribner, 1983 – out of print; used copies available online)
  • Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar (Sophia Institute, 2006)

Prayer to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary

O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, in these times of such brazen impiety, manifest thy power with the signs of thine ancient victories.

From thy throne whence thou dispense pardon and grace, mercifully regard the Church of thy Son, His Vicar on Earth, and every order of clergy, religious, and laity, who are oppressed in this mighty conflict.

Thou who art powerful, the vanquisher of all heresies, hasten the hour of mercy, even though the hour of God’s justice is every day provoked by the countless sins of men, the sons and daughters of Adam.

Obtain for me, the least of men, kneeling before thee in supplication, the grace I need to live righteously upon earth, in order to be numbered among the just in heaven.

In the company of all faithful Christians throughout the world, I salute thee and acclaim thee as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary pray for us.

Amen
(indulgence of 500 days; Raccolta, no. 399)

Love,
Matthew

Stella caeli exstirpavit – top hit of 1317 AD, anthem of the Black Death

-from https://www.beautysoancient.com/the-stella-caeli-extirpavit-chant-in-time-of-pestilence-english-latin/

“It is said that the Stella Caeli chant was composed by the Sisters of the Monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra, Portugal, during the “Black Death” (1347-1351).

It is in some ways reassuring that we humans experience the same calamities throughout the ages. We go through pandemics, as our ancestors in the faith did, and they learned to live with it. Fortunately for us, we have more drugs at our disposal.

When we go through such dire situations, we should do whatever it takes to keep our peace. Nothing happens outside the permissive Will of God. It’s something that we have to remind ourselves over and over.

In the Stella Caeli, we pray to our Mother Mary to beg our Lord for succor. We acknowledge that her Son denies her nothing. When we pray this prayer, we ask our Lady to help us just as the Sisters of the Monastery of Santa Clara did. And we know she will intercede for us.

In some earlier versions of this prayer, the text is a little different. The most popular version says “O Glorious Star of the Sea”, which seems to be the oldest; while some say, “O most pious” Star of the Sea.

If you’re really interested in a scholarly treatise on the Stella Caeli, read this paper. It goes deep.

You can pray this chant until the pandemic is over.

May our Lady see our plight and intercede for us in this grave time.

Salva nos Jesu, pro quibus Virgo mater te orat!”


-by Br Damian Day, OP

“…Stella caeli exstirpavit, a medieval chant petitioning the Blessed Virgin for protection from the plague. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the chant has made a comeback among Catholics…

Through this fourteenth-century chant, we can tap into the memory of the Church and find some guidance on how to respond existentially—not just procedurally—to the uncertainties and challenges of the current pandemic.

When the plague broke out in 1317, a now-familiar terror set in, including the fear of contact with others who might carry the hidden disease. As one town became a hotspot, the local monastery of cloistered nuns considered running for the hills. Suddenly, a strange beggar appeared and passed them a paper. Unfolding the paper, they found a prayer to the Blessed Virgin that he instructed them to pray daily for their protection.

That chant, Stella caeli exstirpavit, became the cry of Christians in the many recurrences of the plague that followed.

“Stélla caéli exstirpávit
quae lactávit Dóminum:
Mórtis péstem quam plantávit
prímus párens hóminum.
Ipsa stélla nunc dignétur sídera compéscere,
Quórum bélla plébem caédunt dírae mórtis úlcere.
O piíssima stélla máris a péste succúre nóbis:
Audi nos, nam fílius tuus níhil négans te honórat.
Sálva nos, Jésu pro quíbus vírgo máter te órat.

The star of heaven, she who nourished the Lord, has uprooted the plague of death which the first parent of mankind planted.
That very star is now worthy to restrain the constellation, whose wars cut down the people with the sore of dreaded death.
O most loving star of the sea, save us from the plague:
Hear us, for the Son, denying nothing, honors you.
Save us, Jesus! For us, the virgin mother entreats You.”

It is a short prayer, but one that tells a rich story, our story. God planted a garden and set our first parents there. He also cultivated their souls, planting within them special graces protecting them from sickness and death. God didn’t make death or intend His garden to be a place where death lurked (cf. Wis 1:13-15).

By rejecting God, however, our first parents uprooted the seeds of immortality and planted in their stead “the plague of death,” Original Sin, the wound in our nature that opened us up to sickness and death. Our first parents planted this sickly seed and we have harvested its rotten fruit, including Covid-19, to this day…

Living in a world full of sickness and death, we may wish to curse our stars. Indeed, people have often looked to heavenly constellations fearing what they might portend. While not subscribing to a fatalistic astrological outlook, the Scriptures describe Satan leading the rebellion of the fallen angels using the imagery of the stars: Satan’s “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth” (Rev 12:4).

These fallen angels, no longer “stars of heaven,” sow violence upon the earth, forming “the constellation, whose wars cut down the people with the sore of dreaded death.” In our fallen world, then, we contend with the effects of the evil implanted in our nature, but also with the mischief of the agents of evil.

But God never abandoned His garden to be choked to death by weeds. In the Blessed Virgin Mary, God begins the story of our replanting, first uprooting Original Sin from human nature by preserving her from all stain of sin. From the verdant garden of Mary’s humanity sprang the healing antidote to sickness and death.

Unlike the demonic constellations of the enemy which are cast down from heaven, Mary is the Star of Heaven arising to frustrate the machinations of the devil. In her person and through the fruit of her womb, God re-orders creation, shifting the cosmic balance in our favor.

Sometimes we forget how broken and susceptible to decay our world is. The current pandemic can jog our memory and point us where to turn for help. Mary is not just the beginning of God healing our nature or a cold, impersonal, cosmic sign. She is our “most loving star of the sea,” a continual maternal protection. “[S]he who nourished the Lord” nourishes us too.”

Love, health, & safety,
Matthew

Aug 15 – Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Eastern Tradition


-by Fr Deacon Daniel G. Dozier

“In the great mystery and divine economy of the Christian faith, the role of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God (or Theotokos) is pivotal. It is from her that the incarnate Son of God received his human nature. The Church’s cycle of feasts pertaining to the life of Jesus are celebrated to some extent in the context of the symphony of Mary’s life, from holy beginning to holy end. We celebrate this holy end of Mary’s life today with the Solemnity of the Assumption, in the East called the Dormition.

Catholics of the Latin tradition often assume that Mary’s final end has been sufficiently addressed by the dogma of the Assumption, that is, her translation, body and soul, into heaven as defined by Pius XII in 1950. But as glorious as the mystery of her Assumption is, it represents only one dimension of the mystery of the end of Mary’s life. There is also her death and subsequent resurrection. On this subject, Pope Pius remained silent, choosing not to address the subject of Mary’s mortality. The Byzantine tradition, however, as part of the universal and fully Catholic patrimony of the Church, is not silent on this topic. It guards a rich treasury of teaching, iconography, and liturgy concerning the end of Mary’s life.

According to the tradition of the Byzantine East, the Assumption was the final stage of Mary’s transition into the glory of heaven. This Analepsis or “translation” of Mary to eternal life was preceded by what was called the Koimesis or “sleep” or Mary in death. These three events—her death, her resurrection, and her assumption into heaven—complete the mosaic of the holy end of Mary’s life. But what are the literary and historical bases for such a belief within the traditions of the Church?

Before the Council of Ephesus (third and fourth centuries)

It must first be said that Sacred Scripture is completely silent on the matter. No explicit reference to Mary’s death is ever mentioned in the New Testament.[1] Prior to the first Council of Nicaea, the only explicit references to Mary’s death come from Origen of Alexandria and Ephrem the Syrian who both mention her death (which seems to be assumed as fact) in the context of defending her perpetual virginity (which they were intent on defending.[2]

Although not entirely convinced of the fact of the Virgin’s death, Epiphanius of Salamis in the late fourth century wrote that three possibilities existed concerning the end of Mary’s life: death due to natural causes, death through martyrdom, or immortality without death. He was the first patristic source to posit the death of Mary as a question or a problem with a limited number of solutions due to the lack of evidence in Scripture.

Pseudo-Melito of Sardis, who wrote in the fifth century, related a distinct Palestinian tradition in favor of acknowledging the Virgin Mary’s death. His writing was the first and most explicit account of this tradition, which was probably a story orally transmitted over the course of several generations of Christians. His account is the first of what became known as the “Palm of the Tree of Life Tradition,” which represents a family of writings characterized by the distinctive palm branch given to Mary by the archangel Gabriel as a sign of the Lord granting her prayerful petition to pass from this life in death into paradise with him.

According to Stephen Shoemaker, a contemporary theologian who specializes in the area of the Dormition traditions, some of the common threads running through the Palm narratives are as follows:

  1. An angel meets Mary on the Mount of Olives and announces to her that her time of death has come and brings to her a palm branch from the Tree of Life in paradise;
  2. Mary goes back to her home in Jerusalem and informs her friends and family of the message of the angel, and the apostles, who were engaged in their respective missions all over the earth, re-gather miraculously in Jerusalem;
  3. Peter, who is treated as the head of the apostles, delivers a homily to those who have come the night before to pray as Mary prepares for her death;
  4. When the moment arrives, the crowds are put to sleep, all except the apostles and three virgins, who see Jesus and a host of angels appear;
  5. Jesus receives the immaculate soul of Mary, appearing in the form of an infant wrapped in white swaddling clothes, and gives it to Michael the Archangel;
  6. The apostles carry Mary’s body on a funeral bier to a tomb beside the Garden of Gethsemane;
  7. Jephonias, one of the Jewish leaders, attempts to upend the funeral bier but as he does so his hands are severed by an angel, then later restored by his conversion and prayers to Mary;
  8. After laying her body in the tomb, the apostles wait for Christ there for several days until he returns, resurrects Mary and takes her body, along with the apostles, to paradise;
  9. The apostles, after being shown heaven and hell, then return to earth with Mary remaining, body and soul, in heaven.

One of the later narratives also mentions a situation where Thomas arrives late. By the time he reaches the city and meets with the other apostles, Mary has been buried and he requests to see her body in the sealed tomb. When the tomb is opened, however, Mary’s body is not to be found, but rather the relics of her funeral robe and her girdle. The finding of the relics is also part of the Dormition traditions of Constantinople and Ephesus.

Byzantine homiletic literature (seventh and eighth centuries)

Following the advent of a special feast in honor of Mary’s Dormition, an enormous amount of Byzantine homiletic literature developed in the seventh and eighth centuries. Preachers and writers of the era generated a body of teaching on the Dormition that was unparalleled in patristic literature. This period in many ways represents the full flowering within the first millennium of the theological implications of Mary’s title of Theotokos. Patristic scholar and Jesuit Father Brian Daley notes several common themes that appear in these writings:

Mary’s glory and beauty, as the highest embodiment of an idealized humanity, reaching its divine destiny; Mary’s enthronement as lady and queen, and her share in Jesus’ Messianic rule over all creation; Mary’s continuing role in the everyday life of the Church, as intercessor, kindly patron, even mediator between Christians on earth and her glorified Son; the direct link between this new and glorious status for Mary and the purity of her earthly life—her obedience and fidelity, her total dedication to God, expressed  in her virginity, and freedom from the “corruption” of passion and self-interest; her role as the one who fulfills and epitomizes the hopeful imagery of the whole Bible, realizing the ancient promise of a transforming human intimacy with the God of life—as Ark of the Covenant, Mother Sion, Bride of the heavenly Bridegroom.

Father Daley also observes that “for all these preachers, the heart of the ‘mystery’ being celebrated in Mary’s name is the Mystery of redemption through and in Christ.”

The central meaning of this celebration was that, although Mary has received from her Son this great privilege of entry into the glory of heaven, this was done not for her sake alone, but also for the sake of her spiritual offspring in the Church. Mary’s Assumption, like all Marian mysteries, is an instrument for the salvation of souls. Her role of maternal mediation, made more powerful by her glorification in heaven, continues in the life of the Body of Christ and therefore merits a deep, rich, and public veneration by the Church.”

Troparion — Tone 1
In giving birth you preserved your virginity, / in falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. / You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, / and by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion — Tone 2
Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos, / who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. / For being the Mother of Life, / she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Love,
Matthew

[1] Mary’s presence in heaven as the glorified and crowned Woman of Revelation 12 implies her entry into paradise as the New Eve and Queen Mother at the end of her earthly life, but nothing indicates her translation through death and resurrection.

[2] See Walter J. Burghardt’s The Testimony of the Patristic Age Concerning Mary’s Death.

Aug 15 – Assumption/Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary


-please click on the image for greater detail

[Aug 15 is a special day for entering and advancing novices, those who have completed their canonical year, of transition in the Dominican Order. Those invited take the simple vow of obedience for three years, the only vow Dominicans ever take. All the evangelical counsels are summed up in the vow of obedience to Dominicans.]


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“As we approach the great feast of the Assumption of Mary, I, having written a post on the biblical evidence for the Assumption of Mary, thought I would change gears and consider the historical evidence for the Assumption in honor of this year’s feast day.

The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary began with a historical event to which Scripture alludes and that been believed in the Church for 2,000 years. It was passed down in the oral tradition of the Church and developed over the centuries, but it was always believed by the Catholic faithful. Let us examine the facts:

1. Archaeology has revealed two tombs of Mary, one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus. The fact that Mary lived in both places explains the two tombs. But what is inexplicable apart from the Assumption is the fact that there is no body in either tomb. And there are no relics. Anyone who peruses early Church history knows that Christian belief in the communion of saints and the sanctity of the body—in radical contrast to the Gnostic disdain for “the flesh”—led early Christians to seek out with the greatest fervor relics from the bodies of great saints. Cities, and, later, religious orders, would fight over the bones of great saints.

This is one reason why we have relics of the apostles and so many of the greatest saints and martyrs in history. Yet never was there a single relic of Mary’s body? As revered as Mary was, this would be very strange, except for the fact of the assumption of her body.

2. On the historical front, Fr. Michael O’Carroll, in his book, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writes:

We have known for some time that there were widespread “Transitus Stories” that date from the sixth century that teach Mary’s glorious Assumption. It was the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII that rekindled interest in these stories of the end of Mary’s life. In 1955, Fr. A.A. Wenger published L’Assomption (p. 59).

Fr. Wenger found a Greek manuscript that verified what scholars had previously believed to be true. Because there were whole families of manuscripts from different areas of the world in the sixth century that told a similar story of Mary’s Assumption, there had to be previous manuscripts from which everyone received their data. Fr. Wenger discovered one of these earlier manuscripts, believed to be the source later used by John of Thessalonica in the sixth century in his teaching on the Assumption. Fr. O’Carroll continues:

Some years later, M. Haibach-Reinisch added to the dossier an early version of Pseudo-Melito, the most influential text in use in the Latin Church. This could now, it was clear, be dated earlier than the sixth century. . . . V. Arras claimed to have found an Ethiopian version of it which he published in 1973; its similarity to the Irish text gave the latter new status. In the same year M. Van Esbroeck brought out a Gregorian version, which he had located in Tiflis, and another, a Pseudo-Basil, in the following year, found in Mount Athos.

Much still remains to be explored. The Syriac fragments have increased importance, being put as far back as the third century by one commentator. The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century.

This is significant. Recently discovered Syriac fragments of stories about the Assumption of Mary have been dated as early as the third century. And there are undoubtedly more manuscripts to be found. It must be remembered that when we are talking about these “Transitus stories,” we are not only talking about ancient manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts, but we are talking also about two different “families” of manuscripts written in nine languages. They all agree on Mary’s Assumption and they presuppose that the story was already widely known.

Gnostic Fable or Christian Truth?

What about those who claim the Assumption of Mary is nothing more than a Gnostic fable? Or those who claim the historical narratives about the Assumption of Mary were condemned by Pope Gelasius I? James White, in his book Mary—Another Redeemer?, goes so far as to claim:

Basically, the first appearance of the idea of the Bodily Assumption of Mary is found in a source that was condemned by the then-bishop of Rome, Gelasius I! The irony is striking: what was defined by the bishop of Rome as heresy at the end of the fifth century becomes dogma itself in the middle of the twentieth! (p. 54).

Mr. White’s reasoning fails for several reasons.

1. Even if it were a papal document, Decretum Gelasianum would not be a “definition” by the bishop of Rome declaring the Assumption of Mary to be heresy, as White claims. The document does not make such an assertion. It gives us a rather long list of titles of apocryphal books after having listed the accepted books of the Bible. That’s all. One of these titles declared to be “apocryphal” is referred to as: “Liber qui appellatur  ‘Transitus, id est Assumptio sanctae Mariae,’” which translates as “A book which is called, ‘Having been taken up, that is, the Assumption of Holy Mary.’”

White evidently thought this document condemned as untrue the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. But it did not. As a matter of history, this document does not condemn any doctrines in the books it lists at all; it declares the books themselves to be apocryphal and therefore not part of the canon of Scripture.

This would be something akin to the Church’s rejection of The Assumption of Moses and The Book of Enoch as apocryphal works. The fact that these works are apocryphal does not preclude St. Jude (9; 14) from quoting both of them in Sacred Scripture. Because a work is declared apocryphal or even condemned does not mean that there is no truth at all to be found in it.

2. There is a real question among scholars today as to whether Pope Gelasius wrote what is popularly called the Dectretum Gelasianum. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Faith (p. 462), it was probably written in the sixth century (Pope Gelasius died in the late fifth century) in Italy or Gaul and was most likely not a papal work at all. In fact, it was falsely attributed to several different popes over the years.

3. If the pope had genuinely condemned the teaching of the Assumption, great saints and defenders of orthodoxy such as St. Gregory and later St. John Damascene would not have taught it. Further, we would have found other writers condemning this teaching as it became more and more popular throughout the world. And we certainly would not see the Assumption celebrated in the liturgy as we do as early as the fifth century in Palestine, Gaul in the sixth, universally in the East in the seventh century, and in the West in the eighth century. Far from a condemnation of the Assumption, this reveals just how widespread this teaching truly was.

Why Don’t the Earliest Fathers Write About the Assumption?

The most obvious reason would be that when Gnostics, who were some of the main enemies of the Faith in the early centuries of the Christian era, agreed with the Church on the matter, there would have been no need to defend the teaching. In other words, there is no record of anyone disagreeing on the matter. We don’t find works from the earliest Fathers on Jesus’ celibacy either, but that too was most likely due to the universal agreement on the topic. Much of early Christian literature was apologetic in nature. Like the New Testament, it mostly dealt with problem areas in the Church that needed to be addressed.

Even so, it is not as though there is no written evidence to support the Assumption either. According to Fr. O’Carroll (Theotokos, 388), we now have what some believe to be a fourth-century homily on the prophet Simeon and the Blessed Virgin Mary by Timothy, a priest of Jerusalem, which asserts Mary is “immortal to the present time through him who had his abode in her and who assumed and raised her above the higher regions.”

Evidently, there was disagreement in the circulating stories of the Assumption of Mary as to whether she was taken up alive or after having died. But whether or not she was assumed was not in question. Indeed, the Church even to this day has not decided definitively the matter of whether Mary died or not, though at the level of the Ordinary Magisterium it does teach that Mary died—for example, in Pope Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus, 17, 20, 21, 29, 35, 39, and 40.

Rethinking St. Epiphanius

I believe St. Epiphanius’s work needs to be reexamined when it comes to the Assumption of Mary. This great bishop and defender of orthodoxy may give us key insights into the antiquity of the Assumption, writing in ca. A.D. 350. In his classic Panarion (“breadbox”) or Refutation of All Heresies, he includes eighty-eight sections dealing with scores of the most dangerous heresies of his day. In sections 78 and 79, he deals with one particular sect comprised mainly of women called the “Collyridians.” Evidently, this sect was “ordaining” women as “priestesses” and adoring Mary as a goddess by offering sacrifice to her. St. Epiphanius condemns this in the strongest of terms:

For I have heard in turn that others who are out of their minds on this subject of this holy Ever-virgin, have done their best and are doing their best, in the grip both of madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin’s name, and offer sacrifice in her name with women officiants.

This is entirely impious, unlawful, and different from the Holy Spirit’s message, and is thus pure devil’s work . . .

And nowhere was a woman a priest. But I shall go to the New Testament. If it were ordained by God that women should be priests or have any canonical function in the Church, Mary herself, if anyone, should have functioned as a priest in the New Testament. She was counted worthy to bear the king of all in her own womb, the heavenly God, the Son of God. Her womb became a temple, and by God’s kindness and an awesome mystery, was prepared to be a dwelling place of the Lord’s human nature. But it was not God’s pleasure that she be a priest.

These women who were adoring Mary as if she were a goddess would no doubt have been well acquainted with the “Transitus Stories” and would have been teaching Mary’s Assumption. In fact, it appears they were teaching Mary never died at all. This would be in keeping with John of Thessalonica, Timothy of Jerusalem, and others who taught this among Christians. However, these women were taking Mary and the Assumption to the extreme by worshiping her. What is interesting here is that in the midst of condemning the Collyridians, St. Epiphanius gives us, in section 79 of Panarion, a point-blank statement that is overlooked today by many:

Like the bodies of the saints, however, she has been held in honor for her character and understanding. And if I should say anything more in her praise, she is like Elijah, who was virgin from his mother’s womb, always remained so, and was taken up, but has not seen death.

St. Epiphanius clearly indicates his personal agreement with the idea that Mary was assumed into heaven without ever having died. He will elsewhere clarify the fact that he is not certain, and no one is, at least not definitively so, about whether or not she died. But he never says the same about the Assumption itself. That did not seem to be in doubt. By comparing her to Elijah, he indicates that she was taken up bodily, just as the Church continues to teach 1,600 years later.

A Final Thought

Since the time of the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, there has been much new discovery. We now have written evidence of belief in the Assumption of Mary as far back as the third century. Though it is not necessary for there to be written evidence all the way back to the second century for us as Catholics because we have Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church first and foremost that has already given us the truth of the Matter, I believe it is really exciting that new historical discoveries continue to be made and once again . . . and again . . . and again, they confirm the Faith of our Fathers.

If you enjoyed this, and you would like to learn more, click here.

Love,
Matthew

The Holy Spirit & Mary

“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father,

and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”*

And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” -Lk 1:26-35, 38

““Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For He has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is His name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear Him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry He has filled with good things;

the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel His servant,

remembering His mercy,

according to His promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” – Lk 1:42-55

“This truth has to do with the union between the Holy Spirit and Mary…

What type of union is this [between the Holy Spirit and Mary]? It is above all an interior union, a union of her essence with the “essence” of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her. This was true from the first instant of her existence. It was always true; it will always be true.

In what does this life of the Spirit in Mary consist? He himself is uncreated Love in her; the Love of the Father and of the Son, the Love by which God loves Himself, the very love of the Most Holy Trinity. He is a fruitful Love, a “Conception.” Among creatures made in God’s image the union brought about by married love is the most intimate of all (see Mt 19:6). In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity.

This eternal “Immaculate Conception” (which is the Holy Spirit) produces in an immaculate manner divine life itself in the womb (or depths) of Mary’s soul, making her the Immaculate Conception, the human Immaculate Conception. And the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for Him; there He conceives in time — because everything that is material occurs in time — the human life of the Man-God.

… If among human beings the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him, is one with him, becomes equal to him and is, with him, the source of new life, with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, Who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom He lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace? – St Maximillian Kolbe (1894-1941), Martyr of Charity, Martyr of Auschwitz36

Gaitley, Michael E.. 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration (pp. 39-40). Marian Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

36 H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, OP, Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit, trans. Richard Arnandez, FSC (Libertyville, IL: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1977), p. 4-5.

Pope Paul VI’s Beatification homily for Maximilian Kolbe on October 17, 1971: “No one should disapprove if Blessed Maximilian and the Church together with him show such enthusiasm for the formal veneration of the most Blessed Virgin; this enthusiasm will never be too great considering the merits and the advantages we can derive from such veneration, precisely because a mysterious communion unites Mary to Christ, a communion that is documented convincingly in the New Testament. Never let us think of this as “Mariolatry”; we know that the sun will never be dimmed by the light of the moon; and never will the ministry of salvation entrusted to the Church’s solicitude in particular be impaired, if the Church is faithful to honor in Mary her most exceptional Daughter, and her spiritual Mother.”

Apr 28 – St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), Priest & Confessor, God Alone!!


-Statue in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Louis de Montfort, Founder Statue by Giacomo Parisini, 1948, in which St Louis tramples the devil who holds a scroll listing the 7 deadly sins.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

When I encounter non-Catholics concerned about the Catholic emphasis on the Blessed Mother, I assure them not to worry they will love her more than Jesus did.

I
La croix dans le mystère
Est voilé pour nous ci-dessous;
Sans grande lumière pour voir,
Qui sa splendeur connaîtra-t-elle?
Seul l’esprit noble
Cette trace secrète élevée;
Et personne ne trouvera le ciel
Qui ne le saisit pas par grâce.
Dieu seul.

The Cross in mystery
Is veiled for us below;
Without great light to see,
Who shall its splendor know?
Alone the lofty mind
Shall this high secret trace;
And none shall heaven find
Who grasps it not by grace.
God Alone.

II
La nature que la croix abhorre;
La raison lui donne un froncement de sourcils;
Le savant l’ignore.
Satan le démolit.
Malgré un art pieux,
Même l’âme fervente
Souvent, cela ne me tient pas à cœur,
Mais joue le rôle du menteur.
Dieu seul.

Nature the Cross abhors;
Reason gives it a frown;
The learned man ignores It.
Satan tears it down.
Despite a pious art,
Even the fervent soul
Oft takes it not to heart,
But plays the liar’s role.
God Alone.

III
L’arbre est essentiel,
Et nous qui connaissons son coût
Doit monter au Calvaire
Ou languir et être perdu.
Comme le dit Saint Augustin
Avec un tollé inquiétant,
Nous sommes tous réprouvés
A moins que Dieu ne nous châtie.
Dieu seul.

Essential is the Tree,
And we who know its cost
Must mount to Calvary
Or languish and be lost.
As Saint Augustine states
With outcry ominous,
We all are reprobates
Unless God chastens us.
God Alone.

IV
Sa nécessité

Une route vers le ciel court:
L’autoroute de la Croix.
C’était le fils royal,
Son chemin vers la vie après la perte.
Et chaque pierre
Qui guide les pieds du pèlerin
Est ciselé juste pour s’adapter
Dans la rue sainte de Sion.
Dieu seul.

Its Necessity

One road to Heaven runs:
The highway of the Cross.
It was the royal Son’s,
His road to life from loss.
And every stone of it
That guides the pilgrim’s feet
Is chiseled fair to fit
In Zion’s holy street.
God Alone.

V
Vain est la victoire
De celui qui, vainqueur
Le monde manque de maîtrise
De soi par la souffrance;
Vain s’il n’a pas Christ,
Tuez le Christ, pour exemplaire,
Ou repousse les sacrifiés
Pour la crainte de blessure et de cicatrice.
Dieu seul.

Vain is the victory
Of him who, conquering
The world, lacks mastery
Of self through suffering;
Vain if he has not Christ,
Slain Christ, for exemplar,
Or spurns the Sacrificed
For dread of wound and scar.
God Alone.

VI
Ses victoires

Croix du Christ, retenant l’enfer,
A vaincu la malédiction d’Eden,
Citadelle de Satan prise d’assaut,
Et a gagné l’univers.
Maintenant à son groupe fidèle
Il donne cette arme brillante
Pour armer le cœur et la main
Contre le mal sprite.
Dieu seul.

Its Victories

Christ’s Cross, restraining Hell,
Has conquered Eden’s curse,
Stormed Satan’s citadel,
And won the universe.
Now to His faithful band
He gives that weapon bright
To arm both heart and hand
Against the evil sprite.
God Alone.

VII
Dans ce signe de bon augure
Tu seras vainqueur,
Dit-il à Constantine,
Qui ce fier Standard portait;
Un augure glorieux,
Dont la valeur prodigieuse
Les dossiers sont tous d’accord
Au paradis et sur terre!
Dieu seul.

In this auspicious Sign
Thou shalt be conqueror,
Said He to Constantine,
Who that proud Standard bore;
A glorious augury,
Of whose prodigious worth
The records all agree
In Heaven and on earth!
God Alone.

VIII
Sa gloire et son mérite

Malgré un sens trompeur
Et le changement inconstant de la raison,
La croix en toute confiance
Nous prenons comme le propre cadeau de la vérité.
Une princesse que nous voyons
En qui, que la foi se confesse,
Nous trouvons toute la charité,
Grâce, sagesse, sainteté.
Dieu seul.

Its Glory and Merit

Despite deceitful sense
And reason’s fickle shift,
The Cross with confidence
We take as Truth’s own gift.
A princess there we see
In whom, let faith confess,
We find all charity,
Grace, wisdom, holiness.
God Alone.

IX
L’amour de Dieu n’a pas pu résister
Une telle beauté ou son appel,
Qui lui a dit de garder un rendez-vous
Avec notre humanité.
Venant sur terre, il a dit:
Ceci, Seigneur, et rien de plus:
Ta croix sauvée enracinée
Ici dans le cœur de mon sein.
Dieu seul.

God’s love could not resist
Such beauty or its plea,
Which bade Him keep a tryst
With our humanity.
Coming to earth, He said:
This, Lord, and nothing more:
Thy saving Cross imbed
Here in My bosom’s core.
God Alone.

X
Il l’a pris, l’a trouvé juste,
Un objet pas honteux
Mais l’honneur, le fait partager
La flamme la plus tendre de son amour.
De l’heure matinale de l’enfance
Son désir gardé en vue
Comme la beauté serait une fleur
La croix de sa joie.
Dieu seul.

He took it, found it fair,
An object not of shame
But honor, made it share
His love’s most tender flame.
From childhood’s morning hour
His longing kept in sight
As beauty would a flower
The Cross of His delight.
God Alone.

XI
Enfin dans sa caresse
Longtemps recherché avec impatience,
Il est mort de tendresse
Et la totalité de l’amour.
Ce cher baptême suprême
Pour lequel son cœur avait pleuré,
La croix est devenue son chrisme,
L’objet de l’amour est indéniable.
Dieu seul.

At last in its caress
Long sought for eagerly,
He died of tenderness
And love’s totality.
That dear supreme baptism
For which His heart had cried,
The Cross became His chrism,
Love’s object undenied.
God Alone.

XII
Le Christ a appelé le pêcheur
Un Satan scandaleux
Quand il grimaça pour scanner
Ce que le Christ porterait pour nous.
La croix du Christ que nous pouvons adorer,
Sa Mère, nous ne pouvons pas.
O mystère et plus!
une merveille au-delà de la pensée!
Dieu seul.

Christ called the Fisherman
A Satan scandalous
When he but winced to scan
What Christ would bear for us.
Christ’s Cross we may adore,
His Mother we may not.
O mystery and more!
a marvel beyond thought!
God Alone.

XIII
Cette croix, maintenant largement dispersée
Sur terre, un jour se lèvera
Transporté, glorifié,
Aux cieux célestes.
Sur une hauteur nuageuse
La croix, brillante,
Doit, par sa vue même,
Jugez à la fois les rapides et les morts.
Dieu seul.

This Cross, now scattered wide
On earth, shall one day rise
Transported, glorified,
To the celestial skies.
Upon a cloudy height
The Cross, full-brillianted,
Shall, by its very sight,
Judge both the quick and dead.
God Alone.

XIV
Vengeance, la croix pleurera
Contre ses ennemis maussades;
Pardon et joie d’en haut
Et la bénédiction pour ceux
D’une fidélité prouvée
Dans la foule immortelle,
Chanter sa victoire
Avec chanson universelle.
Dieu seul.

Revenge, the Cross will cry
Against its sullen foes;
Pardon and joy on high
And blessedness for those
Of proved fidelity
In the immortal throng,
Singing its victory
With universal song.
God Alone.

XV
Dans la vie, les saints aspiraient
Rien que la croix;
«C’était tout ce qu’ils voulaient,
En comptant tout sauf la perte.
Chacun, mécontent
Avec de telles afflictions douloureuses
Comme le châtiment du ciel a envoyé,
Se condamna à plus.
Dieu seul.

In life the Saints aspired
To nothing but the Cross;
‘Twas all that they desired,
Counting all else but loss.
Each one, in discontent
With such afflictions sore
As chastening Heaven sent,
Condemned himself to more.
God Alone.

XVI
Saint-Pierre, en prison,
Il y avait une plus grande gloire
Qu’à Rome, il a gagné
La première chaise du Christ-Vicaire.
Saint André, fidèle, s’écria:
O bonne croix, laisse-moi céder
Pour toi et en toi te cache,
Où la mort dans la vie est scellée.
Dieu seul.

St. Peter, prison-chained,
Had greater glory there
Than when at Rome he gained
The first Christ-Vicar’s chair.
Saint Andrew, faithful, cried:
O good Cross, let me yield
To thee and in thee hide,
Where death in Life is sealed.
God Alone.

XVII
Voyez comment le grand Saint-Paul
Dépeint avec un maigre brillant
Son ravissement mystique,
Mais des gloires à la croix.
Plus admirable encore,
Il est plus riche en mérite,
Derrière son cachot
Que dans son extase.
Dieu seul.

See how the great St. Paul
Depicts with meagre gloss
His rapture mystical,
But glories in the Cross.
More admirable far,
More merit-rich is he,
Behind his dungeon bar
Than in his ecstasy.
God Alone.

XVIII
Ses effets

Sans croix, l’âme
Est lâche et docile;
Comme le feu à un charbon
La croix s’enflamme.
Celui qui n’a pas souffert,
Dans l’ignorance est liée;
Seulement dans le sort dur de la douleur
Est-ce que la sainte sagesse est trouvée.
Dieu seul.

Its Effects

Without a Cross, the soul
Is cowardly and tame;
Like fire to a coal
The Cross sets it aflame.
One who has suffered not,
In ignorance is bound;
Only in pain’s hard lot
Is holy wisdom found.
God Alone.

XIX
Une âme non éprouvée est pauvre
En valeur; nouveau, sans formation,
Avec un destin incertain
Et peu de sagesse a gagné.
O douceur souverain
Que ressentent les affligés
Quand heureux que sa douleur
Aucune consolation humaine ne vole!
Dieu seul.

A soul untried is poor
In value; new, untrained,
With destiny unsure
And little wisdom gained.
O sweetness sovereign
Which the afflicted feels
When pleased that to his pain
No human solace steals!
God Alone.

XX
C’est par la croix seule
La bénédiction de Dieu est conférée,
Et son pardon connu
Dans le mot absolu.
Il veut que tout porte
La marque de ce grand sceau;
Sans cela, rien n’est juste
Pour lui, aucune beauté réelle.
Dieu seul.

‘Tis by the Cross alone
God’s blessing is conferred,
And His forgiveness known
In the absolving word.
He wants all things to bear
The mark of that great seal;
Without it, nought is fair
To Him, no beauty real.
God Alone.

XXI
Partout où la place est donnée
La croix, les choses autrefois profanes
Devenez instinct avec le ciel
Et jeté leur tache.
Sur la poitrine et le front, signe de Dieu,
Porté fièrement pour lui,
Bénira avec Power Divine
Chaque tâche que nous entreprenons.
Dieu seul.

Wherever place is given
The Cross, things once profane
Become instinct with Heaven
And shed away their stain.
On breast and brow, God’s sign,
Worn proudly for His sake,
Will bless with Power Divine
Each task we undertake.
God Alone.

XXII
C’est notre caution,
Notre seule protection,
La pureté blanche de notre espoir,
La perfection de notre âme.
Si précieux est sa valeur
Que les anges apporteraient
L’âme la plus bénie sur terre
Pour partager nos souffrances.
Dieu seul.

It is our surety,
Our one protection,
Our hope’s white purity,
Our soul’s perfection.
So precious is its worth
That Angels fain would bring
The blest soul back to earth
To share our suffering.
God Alone.

XXIII
Ce signe a un tel charme
Que sur l’autel
Le prêtre peut Dieu désarmer
Et tirez-le de son trône.
Au-dessus de l’hôte sacré
Ce signe puissant qu’il joue,
Signale le Saint-Esprit,
Et le Divin obéit.
Dieu seul.

This Sign has such a charm
That at the altar-stone
The priest can God disarm
And draw Him from His throne.
Over the sacred Host
This mighty Sign he plays,
Signals the Holy Ghost,
And the Divine obeys.
God Alone.

XXIV
Avec cet adorable signe
Un parfum est diffusé
Le plus exquis et le plus fin,
Un parfum rarement utilisé.
Le prêtre consacré
Lui fait cette offrande
Comme encens d’Orient,
Rencontrez la couronne du roi du ciel.
Dieu seul.

With this adorable Sign
A fragrance is diffused
Most exquisite and fine,
A perfume rarely used.
The consecrated priest
Makes Him this offering
As incense from the East,
Meet crown for Heaven’s King.
God Alone.

XXV
Sagesse éternelle toujours
Tamise nos pauvres crasses humaines
Pour celui dont le cœur et la volonté
Est digne de la croix,
Cherche toujours un esprit rare
Dont chaque pouls et chaque souffle
Est-ce le courage de supporter
La Croix-Christ jusqu’à la mort.
Dieu seul.

Eternal Wisdom still
Sifts our poor human dross
For one whose heart and will
Is worthy of the Cross,
Still seeks one spirit rare
Whose every pulse and breath
Is fortitude to bear
The Christ-Cross until death.
God Alone.

XXVI
O Croix, laisse-moi me taire;
Dans le discours, je t’abaisse.
Que ma présomption, écrasée,
Son insolence s’efface.
Depuis toi j’ai reçu
Imparfaitement, en partie,
Pardonnez-moi, ami lésé,
Pour mon cœur réticent!
Dieu seul.

O Cross, let me be hushed;
In speech I thee abase.
Let my presumption, crushed,
Its insolence erase.
Since thee I have received
Imperfectly, in part,
Forgive me, friend aggrieved,
For my unwilling heart!
God Alone.

XXVII
Chère Croix, ici en cette heure,
Je m’incline devant toi avec admiration.
Demeurez avec moi au pouvoir
Et enseigne-moi toute ta loi.
Ma princesse, laisse-moi briller
Avec ardeur dans tes bras;
Accorde-moi de savoir chastement
Le secret de tes charmes.
Dieu seul.

Dear Cross, here in this hour,
I bow to thee in awe.
Abide with me in power
And teach me all thy law.
My princess, let me glow
With ardor in thine arms;
Grant me to chastely know
The secret of thy charms.
God Alone.

XXVIII
En te voyant si juste,
J’ai faim de posséder
Ta beauté, mais j’ose
Pas dans mon infidélité.
Viens, maîtresse, par ta volonté
Éveille mon âme faible
Et je te donnerai encore
Un cœur renouvelé et entier.
Dieu seul.

In seeing thee so fair,
I hunger to possess
Thy beauty, but I dare
Not in my faithlessness.
Come, mistress, by thy will
Arouse my feeble soul
And I will give thee still
A heart renewed and whole.
God Alone.

XXIX
Pour la vie je te choisis maintenant,
Mon plaisir, honneur, ami,
Seul objet de mon vœu,
Seule joie à laquelle j’ai tendance.
Par pitié, imprimer, tracer
Vous sur mon coeur,
Mon bras, mon front, mon visage;
Et pas un rougissement ne commencera.
Dieu seul.

For life I choose thee now,
My pleasure, honor, friend,
Sole object of my vow,
Sole joy to which I tend.
For mercy’s sake, print, trace
Yourself upon my heart,
My arm, my forehead, face;
And not one blush will start.
God Alone.

XXX
Je possède avant tout
Je choisis ta pauvreté;
Et pour ma tendresse
Ta douce austérité.
Maintenant sois folle sage
Et toute ta sainte honte
Comme la grandeur à mes yeux,
Ma gloire et ma renommée.
Dieu seul.

Above all I possess
I choose thy poverty;
And for my tenderness
Thy sweet austerity.
Now be thy folly wise
And all thy holy shame
As grandeur in my eyes,
My glory and my fame.
God Alone.

XXXI
Quand, par votre majesté,
Et pour votre gloire,
Tu m’auras vaincu,
Cette conquête que je prendrai
Comme victoire finale,
Bien que digne de ne pas tomber
Sous tes coups, ou sois
Une moquerie pour tous.
Dieu seul.

When, by your majesty,
And for your glory’s sake,
You shall have vanquished me,
That conquest I shall take
As final victory,
Though worthy not to fall
Beneath thy blows, or be
A mockery to all.
God Alone.

-Hymn, Triumph of the Cross by St. Louis de Montfort

God alone.


-by Br Louis Mary Bethea, OP

“Today we also celebrate the great Breton saint, Louis de Montfort. Tall, very strong, stubborn, and with a quick temper…After his seminary studies at St. Sulpice he would begin his missionary life with crushing rejection and resistance. Yet, tromping barefoot from town to town across France, he would be the instrument of great conversion because he trusted in

God alone.

St. Louis embraced the scorn of others, whether it came from a bishop or a supercilious nitwit jeering at him during a mission. Yet he never felt worthy of the mockery that he received: I am not worthy “of being a sign of contradiction to the world.” He attributed the fruits of his labors wholly and rightly to the grace of his Creator. Blossoming from his blessed humility, St. Louis’s famous motto was born:

God alone.

Commonly, when not preaching to the faithful, he would storm the local establishments of ill repute to implore conversions of heart. His frequent companion, Pierre des Bastieres, described one such instance when “one man, furious at this intrusion, drew his sword, and threatened to run him through the body unless he immediately left. […] Completely unperturbed, he looked his assailant straight in the eye and told him that he was very ready to be killed on condition that his murderer would promise to change his way of life. Such courage completely broke the man’s nerve; he trembled so badly that he could scarcely sheathe his sword, and had to grope his way to the door” (The Man Called Montfort, 108). This was the effect of St. Louis because he was a man for

God alone.

St. Louis’s love of Jesus through Mary and his zealous way of life, always yearning for the salvation of souls, stands out as an example to follow, especially when times grow difficult like during our present viral pandemic. Fortified by heavenly consolation, St. Louis was always with the God who dwelt in his heart, enabling his perseverance even to the point of his own demise for the salvation of another…Yet in his humility, St. Louis attributed everything to God, recognizing that God alone was his goal, in God alone is the living bread of life for which man yearns and by which man is saved; he realized that the glory forever belongs to

God alone.”

O most loving Jesus, deign to let me pour forth my gratitude before Thee, for the grace Thou hast bestowed upon me in giving me to Thy holy Mother through the devotion of Holy Bondage, that she may be my advocate in the presence of Thy majesty and my support in my extreme misery.

Alas, O Lord! I am so wretched that without this dear Mother I should be certainly lost. Yes, Mary is necessary for me at Thy side and everywhere that she may appease Thy just wrath, because I have so often offended Thee; that she may save me from the eternal punishment of Thy justice, which I deserve; that she may contemplate Thee, speak to Thee, pray to Thee, approach Thee and please Thee; that she may help me to save my soul and the souls of others; in short, Mary is necessary for me that I may always do Thy holy will and seek Thy greater glory in all things.

Ah, would that I could proclaim throughout the whole world the mercy that Thou hast shown to me ! Would that everyone might know I should be already damned, were it not for Mary! Would that I might offer worthy thanksgiving for so great a blessing! Mary is in me.

Oh, what a treasure! Oh, what a consolation! And shall I not be entirely hers? Oh, what ingratitude! My dear Saviour, send me death rather than such a calamity, for I would rather die than live without belonging entirely to Mary. With St. John the Evangelist at the foot of the Cross, I have taken her a thousand times for my own and as many times have given myself to her; but if I have not yet done it as Thou, dear Jesus, dost wish, I now renew this offering as Thou dost desire me to renew it.

And if Thou seest in my soul or my body anything that does not belong to this august Princess, I pray Thee to take it and cast it far from me, for whatever in me does not belong to Mary is unworthy of Thee.

O Holy Spirit, grant me all these graces. Plant in my soul the Tree of true Life, which is Mary; cultivate it and tend it so that it may grow and blossom and bring forth the fruit of life in abundance.

O Holy Spirit, give me great devotion to Mary, Thy faithful spouse; give me great confidence in her maternal heart and an abiding refuge in her mercy, so that by her Thou mayest truly form in me Jesus Christ, great and mighty, unto the fullness of His perfect age. Amen.

St. Louis de Montfort, pray for us.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 12 – Santa Maria/Our Lady of Guadalupe vs Santa Muerte, Life vs Death

This icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in St. Mary Parish in Whiting, Ind. It is the first parish in the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, to commission an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was painted last year by iconographer Christine Uveges. (CNS photo/Laura Ieraci, Horizons) See GUADALUPE-BYZANTINE-CATHOLICS Dec. 8, 2017.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is THE most visited Catholic shrine in the world.  It is the third most visited sacred place in the world.  On 12 December over nine million pilgrims will visit the Basilica to view the miraculously emblazoned tilma of St Juan Diego.  Mary appears with dark skin, clothed in the imperial blue of Aztec royalty.

“Know for certain, littlest of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth.

I wish and intensely desire that in this place my sanctuary be erected. Here I will demonstrate and exhibit and give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother. The merciful Mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy, and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.

Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you…Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you.” – Words of Our Lady to St. Juan Diego, 12 December 1531, in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec Empire).

Miraculous Attributes of Our Lady of Guadalupe (St Juan Diego’s emblazoned tilma) 

  1. Castilian Roses

St Juan Diego, at the instruction of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was able to gather Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, to prove to Bishop Zumarraga, the verity of the apparition, in December, when flowers do not grow there.

  2. The material of the tilma

The material of the tilma has maintained its chemical and structural integrity for almost 500 years. This is quite remarkable considering that most replicas of tilmas with the same chemical and structural composition last only 15 years before analyzable decomposition.

  3. How the tilma was displayed

For its first 115 years, the tilma was displayed without protective glass and subjected to soot, candle wax, incense, and touching. There is currently no scientific explanation for its physical and chemical longevity.

  4. Does not appear to be painted

Though there are several parts of the cloth which have been painted subsequent to the original image (e.g. the moon underneath the Virgin’s feet, the angel holding the cloth, and the rays coming from the image), the original image of the Virgin herself does not appear to have been painted by an artist.

There is no sketch underneath it, no brush strokes, no corrections, and it appears to have been produced in a single step. These features were identified by Dr. Philip Serna Callahan (biophysicist and NASA consultant) who photographed the image under infrared light.

  5. The pigments used are unidentifiable

Nobel Prize winning biochemist, Richard Kuhn, analyzed a sample of the fabric and concluded that the pigments used were from no known natural source, whether animal, mineral, or vegetable. Given that there were no synthetic pigments in 1531, this enigma remains inexplicable.

  6. The Lack of Decay

Dr. Philip Callahan also noted that the original image on the tilma had not cracked, flaked, or decayed in over 500 years, while the paint and gold leaf had flaked or deteriorated considerably. This phenomenon has still not yet been scientifically explained.

  7. The Eyes on the Image

The eyes of the Virgin have three remarkable qualities that cannot be explained through known technology in 1531—and each would be difficult to replicate with today’s technology of computers, ophthalmologic knowledge, and digital photography:

Engineer, Jose Aste Tonsmann, has amplified an image of the pupils of the Blessed Virgin by 2500 times and can identify not only what appears to be the image of Bishop Zumarraga, but also 13 other individuals in both eyes at different proportions, just as the human eye would reflect an image. It appeared to be a snapshot of the very moment Juan Diego unfurled the tilma before the archbishop.

The images in the pupils also manifest the triple reflection called the Samson-Purkinje effect—which was completely unknown at the time of the image’s formation.

The image in the eyes of the Virgin follow the curvature of the cornea precisely in the way it occurs in a normal human eye.

Dr. Jorge Escalante Padilla a surgical ophthalmologist, considers these reflections to belong to the type which have been described by Cherney on the back surface of the cornea and by Watt & Hess at the center of the lens. Such reflections are very difficult to detect. Dr. Escalante also reported the discovery of small veins on both of the eyelids of the image. In the 1970s, a Japanese optician who was examining the eyes fainted. Upon recovering he stated: “The eyes were alive and looking at him.” [Janet Barber, Latest Scientific Findings on the Images in the Eyes, page 90.] Incredibly, when Our Lady’s eyes are exposed to light, the pupils contract. When the light is withdrawn, they return to a dilated state.

  8. Qualities impossible to replicate

Made primarily of cactus fibers, a tilma was typically of very poor quality and had a rough surface, making it difficult enough to wear, much less to paint a lasting image on it.

Nevertheless, the image remains, and scientists who have studied the image insist there was no technique used beforehand to treat the surface. The surface bearing the image is reportedly like silk to the touch, while the unused portion of the tilma remains coarse.

What’s more, experts in infrared photography, studying the tilma in the late 1970s, determined that there were no brush strokes, as if the image was slapped onto the surface all at once.

Phillip Callahan, a biophysicist at the University of Florida, discovered that the differences in texture and coloration that cause cause Our Lady’s skin to look different up close and far away is impossible to recreate:

“Such a technique would be an impossible accomplishment in human hands. It often occurs in nature, however, in the coloring of bird feathers and butterfly scales, and on the elytra of brightly colored beetles … By slowly backing away from the painting, to a distance where the pigment and surface sculpturing blend together, the overwhelming beauty of the olive-colored Madonna emerges as if by magic.”

This, along with an iridescent quality of slightly changing colors depending on the angle at which a person looks, and the fact that the coloration in the image was determined to have no animal or mineral elements, and synthetic colorings didn’t exist in 1531, provide a lot of seemingly unanswerable questions.

  9. Cannot be disproven

One of the first things skeptics say about the image is that it somehow has to be a forgery or a fraud. Yet in every attempt to replicate the image, while the original never seems to fade, the duplicates have deteriorated over a short time.

Miguel Cabrera, an artist in the mid-18th century who produced three of the best known copies – one for the archbishop, one for the pope, one for himself for later copies – once wrote about the difficulty of recreating the image even on the best surfaces:

“I believe that the most talented and careful painter, if he sets himself to copy this Sacred Image on a canvas of this poor quality, without using sizing, and attempting to imitate the four media employed, would at last after great and wearisome travail, admit that he had not succeeded. And this can be clearly verified in the numerous copies that have been made with the benefit of varnish, on the most carefully prepared canvases, and using only one medium, oil, which offers the greatest facility”;

Adolfo Orozco, a physicist at the National University of Mexico, spoke in 2009 about the remarkable preservation of the tilma compared to its numerous copies.

One copy created in 1789 was painted on a similar surface with the best techniques available at the time, then encased in glass and stored next to the actual tilma.

It looked beautiful when painted, but not eight years passed before the hot and humid climate of Mexico caused the duplicate to fade and fray. It was discarded.

However, Orozco said, no scientific explanation is possible for the fact that, “the original tilma was exposed for approximately 116 years without any kind of protection, receiving all the infrared and ultraviolet radiation from the tens of thousands of candles near it and exposed to the humid and salty air around the temple.”

  10. The tilma has shown characteristics startlingly like a living human body.

In 1979, when Callahan, the Florida biophysicist, was analyzing the tilma using infrared technology, he apparently also discovered that the tilma maintains a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as that of a living person.  [Janet Barber,  The Tilma and Its Miraculous Image.]

When Carlos Fernandez del Castillo, a Mexican gynecologist, examined the tilma, he first noticed a four-petaled flower over what was Mary’s womb.

The flower, called the Nahui Ollin by the Aztecs, was a symbol of the sun and a symbol of plenitude.

Upon further examination, Castillo concluded that the dimensions of Our Lady’s body in the image were that of an expectant mother due quite soon. Dec. 9, the day of the unveiling, is barely two weeks from Christmas.

  11. Indestructible

Over the centuries, two separate events had the potential to harm the tilma, one in 1785 and one in 1921.

In 1785, a worker was cleaning the glass encasement of the image when he accidentally spilled strong nitric acid solvent onto a large portion of the image itself.

The image and the rest of the tilma, which should have been eaten away almost instantly by the spill, reportedly self-restored over the next 30 days, and it remains unscathed to this day, aside from small stains on the parts not bearing the image.

In 1921, an anti-clerical activist hid a bomb containing 29 sticks of dynamite in a pot of roses and placed it before the image inside the Basilica at Guadalupe.

When the bomb exploded, the marble altar rail and windows 150 feet shattered. A brass crucifix was twisted and bent out of shape. But the tilma and its glass case remained fully intact.

  12. There is no under-sketch or under-drawing on the image.

Infrared photography has demonstrated that there is no sketching on the image whatsoever. Dr. Philip Callahan, a research biophysicist from the University of Florida explains: “It is inconceivable that an artist in the 16th Century would paint a portrait without first doing a drawing on it.” Making an under-sketch prior to painting a portrait goes back to antiquity. Such an exquisite depiction on textile made from cactus fiber is inexplicable given the lack of sketching.

  13. The stars that appear on the image are astronomically correct.

In 1983 Dr. Juan Homero Hernandez and Fr. Mario Rojas Sánchez discovered that the stars on the image correspond precisely to the constellations of the winter sky on December 12th, 1531. Incredibly, the constellations are shown as viewed from outside the heavens, in other words in reverse. It is as if we have a picture from someone looking at it from outside the universe, it is a snapshot of heaven and earth from the very moment that Juan Diego saw Our Lady.

Also, the constellation Virgo, representing virginal purity, appears over the area of Mary’s heart signifying her immaculate and virginal purity, and the constellation Leo the lion is over her womb. The lion represents Jesus Christ, because Christ is the lion of the tribe of Judah. This emphasizes that Christ the King is present in Mary’s womb. The perfect placement of stars in their various constellations illustrates the infinite intelligence behind the miraculous image.

  14. Mary assumes a different ethnicity depending on one’s vantage point.

It is remarkable that at one distance Our Lady appears to be a Native American, but at another distance she appears of European descent. This miraculous feature is meant to show the unity of the two peoples and the two cultures in light of the true faith of Christ. Mary implored the peoples of the New World to live as one.

Dr. Philip Callahan explains that the image achieves this effect of appearing to be different colors at different distances by a trait that is only seen in nature:

“At a distance of six or seven feet the skin tone becomes what might best be termed Indian olive, grey green in tone, it appears somehow the grey and caked looking white pigment of the face and the hands combines with the rough surface of the un-sized hue, such a technique would be an impossible accomplishment in human hands, it often occurs in nature however, in the coloring of the bird feathers and butterfly scales and on the elytra of brightly colored beetles.”

This change in color at different distances occurring in nature happens on the tilma in a miraculous way. The pigment combines with the rough surface of the cloth to impart alternating colorations. No human artist can duplicate this effect.

  15. Patroness of the Unborn.

Among Our Lady of Guadalupe’s many designations, she is venerated as the patroness of the unborn. The image shows Mary as pregnant with Christ. She is an unmistakable witness to the sanctity of life and the protection of the unborn.

On April 24, 2007, an unusual luminosity in the famed image of Mary at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City immediately after that city legalized abortion became visible. According to one account: “At the end of the Mass, which was offered for aborted children… While many of the faithful were taking photographs of the tilma of Tepeyac, exposed and venerated in the Basilica… the image of the Virgin began to erase itself, to give place to an intense light which emanated from her abdomen, constituting a brilliant halo having the form of an embryo. Below, centered and enlarged, one can appreciate the location of the light which shone from the stomach of the Virgin and is not a reflection, or [otherwise] an artifact.”

Engineer, Luis Girault, who studied the picture and confirmed the authenticity of the negative, was able to specify that it had not been modified or altered, i.e: by superimposition of another image. He determined that the image does not come from any reflection, but originates from inside Mary. The produced light is very white, pure and intense, different from habitual photographic lights produced by flashes. The light, encircled with a halo, appears to float inside Mary’s abdomen. The halo has the form and measurements of an embryo. If we again examine the picture by making it turn in a sagittal plane, we perceive inside the halo some areas of shade that are characteristic of a human embryo in the maternal womb.”


-Santa Muerte in Aztec dress


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

“In mid-December 1531, an indigenous Mexican man who had converted to Catholicism soon after the arrival of Franciscan missionaries set out to find a priest to hear the deathbed confession of his uncle. In doing so, Juan Diego decided to bypass his ordinary route in favor of one that would allow him to avoid meeting the mysterious lady who had been appearing to him for the past few days asking him to act as her emissary to the local bishop.

His plan didn’t work. The lady appeared again to him. When Juan Diego explained that he was seeking a priest to minister to his dying uncle, she replied, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” She assured him his uncle was cured and gave him signs of her appearance, which the bishop had requested: winter roses and a miraculous image of herself impressed upon Juan Diego’s cloak or tilma.

The Virgin of Guadalupe

During the early years of the Church’s mission in Mexico, there were few conversions among the natives. Christianity was the religion of the Europeans; Our Lady of Guadalupe, though, was one of their own.

Our Lady appeared to a native man, an insignificant widower with little family and no influence, she spoke to him in his native language, she called herself his mother, and she charged him with speaking for her to the religious authorities in Mexico City. In the image of herself on the tilma, Our Lady appears as a native Mexican woman—one of high rank but adorned in symbols of the Aztec culture that had been suppressed by the Spanish. Within ten years of her apparitions to St. Juan Diego, nine million natives poured into the Church. In the centuries that followed, her image became one of the most important and enduring symbols of Mexican identity.

The rise of an “Anti-Virgin”

Recently, a new lady has arrived in Mexico and in US cities along the border, challenging the Virgin of Guadalupe for the devotion of certain segments of the Mexican people. She’s known by many affectionate titles, such as the Bony Lady and the White Sister, but she’s most commonly called Santa Muerte (Saint Death). Santa Muerte is a skeleton, androgynous in appearance but personified as feminine. Often she’s depicted wearing colorful robes and carrying a scythe, which gives her the appearance of a female Grim Reaper.

Devotion to Santa Muerte has exploded in the past few years. R. Andrew Chesnut, a religious studies professor and author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint, estimates that Santa Muerte has gathered between ten to twelve million devotees—roughly the same number of native converts, within a comparable time span, who entered the Church in the decade following the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The dangers of Santa Muerte

To the extent that Santa Muerte is known in the United States, she has usually been seen as a perverse patroness of the drug cartels, but her influence actually is much wider. She’s considered a “folk saint” to those on the margins, a miracle worker for people who have not been well-catechized in their faith or who feel disaffected from the Church for various reasons. One woman who spoke with Chesnut said of Santa Muerte, “She understands us because she is a battle-ax . . . like us.”

Chesnut, initially interested in writing about Our Lady of Guadalupe before turning to Santa Muerte, said that “at first glance [Santa Muerte] seemed to be [Our Lady of Guadalupe’s] antithesis, a sort of anti-Virgin.” But he eventually dismissed this observation, and his book is sympathetic to Santa Muerte and her followers.

The allusion is chillingly apt, though: Santa Muerte is indeed an “anti-Virgin,” and the rise of devotion to her has alarmed bishops in Mexico and the US.

Bishop Michael J. Sis of San Angelo, Texas, said in a statement on his diocesan website:

“We must distinguish true saints from false saints and superstitions. . . . Rather than asking Santa Muerte for protection or favors, we should turn our life over to Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, make a sincere confession, follow God’s commandments, and trust in the grace of God. Catholics and other Christians should get rid of any Santa Muerte statues, candles, or other paraphernalia.

Some clergy have used stronger language than Bishop Sis in their denunciations of Santa Muerte. Fr. Andres Gutierrez of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, told Catholic News Agency, “[Santa Muerte] is literally a demon with another name. . . . That’s what it is.” Fr. Gary Thomas, an exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, California, told CNA, “I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe.”

The battle for hearts

If Santa Muerte is, in fact, a distorted image of the Virgin of Guadalupe—if she is an anti-Virgin—then perhaps one of the keys to challenging devotion to her might be to present the true image of the Blessed Mother to the people she claimed for her own.

Our Lady of Guadalupe presented herself to Juan Diego as a native woman, speaking to him in his own language, arrayed in the symbols of his own culture. Although he protested to her that she should find someone more influential to take her message to the bishop, Our Lady lifted up a seemingly inconsequential man to speak to those in power on her behalf.

Santa Muerte is a skeleton who invites her followers to embrace death as an end in itself. But Our Lady of Guadalupe is shown to be pregnant with her divine Son. She is surrounded by the sun, the moon, and the stars, heavenly symbols that point us to our eternal destiny of union with God.

Santa Muerte is regarded as a miracle worker and is importuned for protection and favors. Our Lady of Guadalupe reminded Juan Diego that he had recourse to her in his troubles, not as an androgynous trickster performing wonders but as a loving mother who occasionally offers physical healing as a means of drawing all of her children to her divine Son, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for every human soul (John 14:6).

Our Lady of Guadalupe has been likened to the woman of Revelation 12, attacked by a dragon who wanted to snatch her child from her as soon as He was born. In that interpretation, Santa Muerte may be just one more means by which the dragon attempts to steal the children of the Virgin. In the end, though, we are assured that he will not succeed:

“The great dragon was thrown down . . . he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev. 12:9–10).”

(The name ‘Satan’ comes from the Greek ‘satanas’, the accuser, the slanderer.  The name ‘Devil’ comes from the Greek ‘diabolos’, the divider, the prince of lies.)

Love & life,
Matthew

Dec 8 – Defending the Immaculate Conception


-Immaculate Conception, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1767-1769, oil on canvas, 281 × 155 cm (110.6 × 61 in), in the Museo del Prado, Spain. Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

“1. Why does the Church teach that Mary was immaculately conceived? Her conception is never even mentioned in Scripture.

Before presenting the scriptural foundations for the Church’s belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception, know that the person who is posing this question to you is probably operating with the three following misconceptions: (1) The doctrine infringes upon the universality of Christ’s redemption and the unique holiness of God. (2) The Church has no scriptural foundation for the teaching. (3) If any doctrine is not in Scripture it must not be true. Any adequate defense of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception is incomplete unless all three of these areas are addressed.

The first issue that you need to cover is sola scriptura—the idea that the Bible is the only rule of faith. One of the reasons why our separated brethren have difficulty accepting certain Marian teachings is that they do not understand the scriptural role of sacred Tradition and the magisterium.

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as He promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (see John 14:25, 16:13). The mere fact that the Church teaches that something definitely true is a guarantee that it is true (see Luke 10:16).

Besides historical evidence and the authority of Tradition, several biblical texts can be offered. In Genesis 3:15, God states that there is to be an enmity between the “woman” and the serpent, and this enmity is shared between her seed and its seed. Her seed is the messiah, Who stands in opposition to the seed of the serpent. The mother of the messiah is said to share the same enmity—total opposition—with Satan.

If Mary, “the woman,” had any sin, then she would not be in complete opposition to the devil. Some argue that the “woman” refers to Eve, but this can not be the complete meaning of the text, as Eve is always associated with her collaboration with the serpent, not her opposition to him. Only Mary, the new Eve, fits the description of the woman in Genesis 3:15.

An implicit reference can also be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. This word represents the proper name of the person being addressed by the angel, and it therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning “to fill or endow with grace.” Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates a perfection of grace that is both intensive and extensive.

This means that the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit, and was not only as “full” or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called “full of grace.”

Over the centuries, the Fathers and doctors of the Church spoke often about the fittingness of the privilege of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The dogma is especially fitting when one examines the honor that was given to the Ark of the Covenant. It contained the manna (bread from heaven), stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (the word of God), and the staff of Aaron (an instrument of Israel’s redemption).

If this box was created with such honor—to carry a stick, some bread, and stone tablets—how much more should Mary be made a worthy dwelling place for God himself? She is the new Ark of the Covenant because she carried the real bread from heaven, the Word of God, and the instrument of our redemption, Jesus’ body.

Some argue that the new ark is not Mary but the body of Jesus. Even if this were the case, it is worth noting that 1 Chronicles 15:14 records that the persons who bore the ark were to be sanctified. There would seem to be no sense in sanctifying men who carried a box and not sanctifying the womb who carried the Holy One himself. After all, wisdom will not dwell “in a body under debt of sin” (Wis. 1:4 [NAB]).

2. If Mary is sinless, doesn’t that make her equal to God?

If this question is posed to you, it opens up a wonderful opportunity to show how the Immaculate Conception of Mary glorifies God.

Many people are under the impression that one is not quite human if he or she is sinless. On the contrary, it is when we sin that we fall short of what it means to be fully human. Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are called to love as God loves. This is why Christ fully reveals man to himself, as Vatican II says. He shows us what it means to be perfectly human.

In the beginning, God created no one (neither angel nor human) with sin, and yet no one was equal to God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they acted in a manner that was beneath their dignity as beings made in God’s image and likeness. It was their sin that detracted from the glory of God, not their original sinlessness. God’s goodness is most clear when he sanctifies his creation by entering into it fully with the life of his grace.

This is why the sinless souls in heaven give the most glory to God. The unique glory of the Trinity is manifested most clearly in heaven—where is he surrounded by sinless beings. In their sinlessness, God has made them most fully what he intended for them to be. In Mary’s case, her sinlessness gives the most glory to God, since his work is made perfect in her. She is his masterpiece.

3. How could Mary be sinless if in the words of the Magnificat she said that her soul rejoices in God her savior?

The Church does not hesitate to profess that Mary needed a savior. This should be the first issue to address if this question arises. It was by the grace of God—and not the work of Mary—that she was saved from sin in a most perfect manner. By what is called “preservative redemption,” Mary was preserved from sin at the time of her natural conception. John the Baptist was sanctified in the womb prior to his birth (Luke 1:15), and Mary was sanctified at her conception.

It is no difficulty that Christ distributed the grace of Calvary some forty-five years or so before it happened, just as he bestows it upon us 2,000 years after the fact. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that this gift was given to Mary, making her “redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son” (492). She has more reason to call God her Savior than we do, because he saved her in an even more glorious manner!

God can “save” a person from a sin by forgiving him or by providing him the grace never to fall into that particular sin. An ancient analogy is often useful to explain this: a person can be saved from a pit in two ways; one can fall into it and be brought out, or one can be caught before falling into it. Mankind is saved in the first manner, and Mary in the second. Both are saved from the pit of sin. If Jesus wished to save his mother from the stain of sin, what is to prevent him?

4. How can you reconcile Mary’s sinlessness with Paul’s statement that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?

Though Paul is making a generalization of all humanity, Protestants and Catholics alike would agree that there are exceptions. For example, a child below the age of reason is not capable of committing actual sin. By definition he can’t sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin. This is indicated by Paul later in the epistle to the Romans when he speaks of the time when Jacob and Esau were unborn babies as a time when they “had done nothing either good or bad” (Rom. 9:11).

Jesus is another significant exception to the rule, having been exempt from actual and original sin (see Heb. 4:15). If Paul’s statement in Romans 3 includes an exception for the new Adam (Jesus), one may argue that an exception for the new Eve (Mary) can also be made.

5. Didn’t the Church just invent the doctrine 150 years ago?

Pope Pius IX officially defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. When Fundamentalists claim that the doctrine was “invented” at this time, they misunderstand both the history of dogmas and what prompts the Church to issue, from time to time, definitive pronouncements regarding faith or morals. They are under the impression that no doctrine is believed until the pope or an ecumenical council issues a formal statement about it.

Doctrines are defined formally only when there is a controversy that needs to be cleared up or when the magisterium (the Church in its office as teacher; see Matthew 28:18–20, 1 Timothy 3:15, 4:11) thinks the faithful can be helped by particular emphasis being drawn to some already existing belief. The definition of the Immaculate Conception was prompted by the latter motive; it did not come about because there were widespread doubts about the doctrine.

In fact, the Vatican was deluged with requests from people desiring the doctrine to be officially proclaimed. Pope Pius IX, who was highly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, hoped the definition would inspire others in their devotion to her. By understanding the work that God has done in our Lady, all should have greater appreciation for both him and her. For if one member of the body is honored, all should share in its joy (see 1 Corinthians 12:26).”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 8 – one of God’s many noes


-Immaculate Conception, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1767-1769, oil on canvas, 281 × 155 cm (110.6 × 61 in), in the Museo del Prado, Spain. Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

“In what is among the most simple and beautiful prayers in the Torah, Moses fervently prays for God to dwell “in the midst of” His people. It is a seemingly praiseworthy request, and yet God’s answer is a firm “no.” God’s refusal was not because of any lack of desire on His part; God’s will was always to dwell in the midst of His people. The problem was Israel’s sins.

The Lord said to Moses . . . Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go among you, lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people (Exod. 33:3).

For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, You are a stiff-necked people; if for a moment I should go up among you, I would consume you” (Exod. 33:5).

God says He could have dwelt among them—but He would have destroyed them if He had! And yet in spite of the dire warnings, Moses entreats the Lord anyway, in Exodus 34:9, with this prayer:

If now I have found favor in thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee, go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thy inheritance.

When I said Moses’ petition would not be granted, that was true, but incomplete. It would be more correct to say it would not be granted in his lifetime, or even in the context of the Mosaic Covenant. Because of the sins of Israel, God would only dwell in the Ark of the Covenant made of wood and gold, in the tabernacle in the wilderness, or later on in the temple. However, the God-inspired longing of Moses’ heart would one day be realized. Multiple prophets subsequent to the time of Moses prophesied God would indeed one day dwell in the midst of his people. But this ancient promise would only find its fulfillment in Jesus Christ… and in His mother.

Let us first consider the prophet Isaiah. In the first eight chapters of the book that bears his name, in good prophetic tradition, Isaiah brings a message of stern warning to Israel (and the surrounding nations) because of their abundant sins. But in later chapters we also see the promise of the coming Messiah. For our purpose we’ll focus on chapters eleven and twelve. You’ll want to take note of how many times the inspired author prophesies of that day, which refers to the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord . . . In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples. . . In that day the Lord will extend His hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of His people . . . You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away . . . Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (11:1-2, 10-11; 12:1,6).

The promise of the Lord dwelling in the midst of Israel was just that—a promise for the future.

And we should further note that in Isaiah and elsewhere, “the inhabitant of Zion” is also referred to as “the daughter of Zion,” or even “the virgin daughter of Zion.” For example, in Isaiah 37:22, Isaiah prophesies against Assyria, who had conquered Israel:

[Assyria] despises you, she scorns you—the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you—the daughter of Jerusalem (Isa. 37:22; Cf. Jer. 14:17; Lam. 2:13).

In Zephaniah, we find similar language. The Lord chastises Israel resoundingly for its sins, but then promises through the message of the prophet:

“Therefore wait for Me,” says the Lord, “for the day when I arise as a witness . . . On that day you shall not be put to shame . . .) For they shall pasture and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem . . . The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst (3:8, 11, 13-15).

And finally, after urging Israel to repent of their sins, Zechariah also prophesies: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord” (Zech. 2:10).

We now fast-forward to Luke 1:28. When Luke records the greeting of the angel, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” There are two keys to understanding this text in relation to Mary as the fulfillment of the ancient “daughter of Zion” prophecies.

  1. The Greek word for hail is kaire, which can also be translated rejoice. In fact, the New King James Version of the Bible translates it as, “Rejoice, highly favored one!” Because this “new name”—kecharitomene—is in the feminine, we could also translate it as “Rejoice, favored woman.”
  2. The angel does not say “the Lord shall be with you;” he says, “The Lord is with you.”

Could this hearken back to the prophetic “daughter of Zion” prophecies of old? There is really no biblical way around it. The ancient prayer of Moses was definitively answered in and through what was likely to have been about a fifteen year-old young woman named Mary, and in a way beyond the wildest imaginings of the ancient prophets. Because of her “yes,” after all of those centuries in waiting, God would finally dwell “in the midst of his virgin Daughter of Zion.”

Indeed, this verse becomes an excellent example of what Scripture scholars refer to as the polyvalent or multi-layered nature of Scripture. The angel’s greeting not only signals that Mary is “full of grace,” but that she is the true “Daughter of Zion.”

So how does this relate to Mary being free from sin? We saw before that it was the sin of Israel that prevented God from dwelling “in the midst of” “the virgin daughter of Zion.” How fitting for the New Covenant Daughter of Zion—in the midst of whom the Lord would dwell bodily—to be free from all sin. The obstacle that kept God from dwelling in the midst of his people had been eliminated through Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and Mary becomes the archetype of the Church—“holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

On one level, since she was “full of grace” Mary was the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Daughter of Zion even before the Incarnation. And yet, there was more to come. Mary’s fullness of grace had prepared the New Covenant Daughter of Zion for something the Old Covenant people of God could never have fathomed. It was grace that made her fit to be a worthy vessel to bear the King of Glory in her body. The fulfillment of God’s promise would not be complete, then, until Mary conceived Jesus in her womb.

“[Rejoice], full of grace, the Lord is with you! . . . the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called . . . the Son of God” (Luke 1:28-35).

I suppose an entire volume could be written on the significance of these prophecies. But I will conclude our thoughts here with a section from the Catechism and its succinct teaching on the significance of Mary as Daughter of Zion, in whom God promised He would dwell:

The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by His grace. It was fitting that the mother of Him in Whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” should herself be “full of grace.” She was, by sheer grace, conceived without sin as the most humble of creatures, the most capable of welcoming the inexpressible gift of the Almighty. It was quite correct for the angel Gabriel to greet her as the “Daughter of Zion”: “Rejoice” (CCC 722).”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 12 – Most Holy Name of Mary 2


-Battle of Vienna, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“September 12 is the memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary, a liturgical celebration that probably gives many Catholics pause. Honoring the Blessed Mother in the liturgy is nothing new or unique in the Church, but many may ask, why this feast on this day?

The answer lies in a pivotal battle fought in the late seventeenth century between the Cross and the Crescent at the “Gateway to Europe.” A little more than a hundred years after the great Christian victory at Lepanto (October 7, 1571) where Don John’s Holy League warriors prayed a rosary the night before their miraculous victory (remembered liturgically as the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary), Christendom was once more severely threatened by the Ottoman horde. The Turks had solidified their hold on the Balkans since the time of Lepanto and were gaining strength for an attack on imperial Hapsburg territory.

Ottoman treachery

Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (r. 1658–1705) pursued a diplomatic policy of appeasement with the Ottomans, because he was more concerned about his belligerent French neighbor, King Louis XIV. Some of Leopold’s advisors believed the once-mighty Ottoman military was weak and ineffective compared to the strong and large standing army of the Sun King.

Leopold entered into a peace treaty with the Ottoman Turks in 1665 but, fearing the Ottomans might break the treaty, the emperor also entered into defense treaties with other European nations; including Poland, to come to his aid should the Turks invade. The treaty with the Ottomans was set to expire in 1684 but, unbeknownst to Leopold, the Ottomans had decided a year earlier to break the treaty and invade Austria.

At a meeting on August 6, 1682, advisors to the Ottoman sultan, Mehmet IV (r. 1648–1687), persuaded him that the time was right to invade Christian territory. The invasion would commence in 1683 with an army of 100,000 men under the command of the grand vizier Kara Mustapha (1634–1683). Although he was a veteran of numerous military campaigns, Kara Mustapha was not beloved by his troops, since he was known to accept large casualties to accomplish the mission. He lived ostentatiously, with thousands of concubines in his harem and numerous slaves and eunuchs to tend to his needs. He also despised Christians and was looking forward to the campaign.

Kara Mustapha was overly confident of victory and believed his army would capture not only Vienna but even Rome, where he bragged he would stable his horses in St. Peter’s basilica. The Ottoman army crossed the frontier in late June 1683, rampaging and pillaging as they marched.

Polish heroes ride out

As soon as news reached Leopold that the Turks were on the move, he reached out to his allies and begged them to come to the aid of Vienna. Jan Sobieski (r. 1676–1696), the King of Poland and a devout Catholic, responded to his treaty obligations and raised a relief army. He left Warsaw with an army of 20,000 men, mostly cavalry, on the way to Cracow, where the rest of his troops were ordered to assemble.

Along the march, Sobieski stopped to pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Entrusting the success of his military efforts to the intercession of the Blessed Mother, he began his army’s march to Vienna on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 1683. His forces were buoyed by the knowledge that Pope Innocent XI (r. 1676–1689) had granted the Crusading plenary indulgence to all who fought for the defense and relief of Vienna.

The Ottoman army arrived at the city on July 14 and, as was their tradition and custom, arranged their camp around the city in the shape of a crescent. The Viennese defenders fought bravely for a month, but by the end of August and into early September food was scarce in the city and disease was rampant. It was only a matter of time before the Ottoman’s broke into the city.


-King John III Sobieski of Poland, please click on the image for greater detail

The undoing of the Turks

The allied relief army led by Sobieski arrived near Vienna on September 9. Surprisingly, the Turks had not secured the approaches to the city; in fact, they did not even post sentries to warn Kara Mustapha of the approach of the relief army. It was a foolish and deadly mistake by the grand vizier, who had focused solely on the siege of the city. Sobieski developed his battle plan and prepared to attack the Ottomans using the high ground of the Kahlenberg Mountain on the outskirts of Vienna.

The battle began on September 11, and the fighting was intense. The unseasonal heat of the day exhausted soldiers on both sides so that by midday the fighting stopped temporarily. When it resumed, Sobieski sensed the Ottoman line was weak, and he unleashed his famed Winged Hussars for a cavalry charge that demolished Turkish resistance. Polish troops were first into the city and were greeted with cheers and prayers of thanksgiving by the beleaguered defenders.

Sobieski sent a victory message to Pope Innocent XI, who credited the Christian victory over the Ottomans and the salvation of the city to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. As a result, the pope established the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, first celebrated in Spain in the sixteenth century, as a universal memorial for the Church in thanksgiving for the victory at Vienna.

The Ottoman campaign to capture the gateway to Europe and destroy Christendom was a risky operation. Its success would have ensured Ottoman hegemony over Eastern Europe and opened up the approaches to Western Europe. Its failure would begin the decline and ruin of the Islamic empire. Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the military genius of the Polish king Jan Sobieski, Christendom was saved.”

Love,
Matthew