seventeenth century nun The Venerable Mary of Agreda who in 1637
‘received commands from the most high’ to write down what she was
told. Her writings became a book entitled ‘The Mystical City of God.’
In order that the reader might distinguish between my own writings and
those of Mary of Agreda, hers are printed in italics.
Michael Blackburn December 2003
When I completed ‘The Life of Jesus’ I had no thoughts of writing this story of The Life of Our Lady. But from somewhere has come the thought that I should do so and, as I commence, I am filled with joy and enthusiasm.
I am aware that the Bible contains very little information for me to use. It would have been Our Lady who told Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of Jesus’ early days as a child. But, in her perfect humility, she hardly mentions herself. Her last words in the Bible were spoken at the marriage feast at Cana when she said “Do what he tells you”. That was at the very start of Jesus’ three year ministry.
In the 20th Century it has been suggested that Mary appeared over two hundred times. Theologians are definitely convinced that there is a unified theme running through these appearances. Obviously the Mother of God does not appear in unpredictable or indiscriminate ways. Surely she also comes at the direction of her Son. There must be a definite purpose and common message running through all the apparitions. Reports on some of Mary’s apparitions have been included.
Testimonies - These tell us that The Mystical City of God has been accepted by almost all faculties. In writing about the book the University of Louvain, one of the greatest universities in Europe, said ‘All can easily persuade themselves that, if the interior life of Christ our Lord and of the most Holy Virgin was not just as described in the book, it could certainly have been like it’. They go on to state ‘Of course, there are certain points in this work which might give rise to apparent difficulties ... we must confess that we might possibly be ourselves mistaken in making these objections.’
The book has been recommended by the following Popes: Innocent XI, Alexander VIII, Clement IX, Benedict XIII, Benedict XIV, Clement XIV. In 1912 the book was granted an imprimatur by Bishop H J Aldering of Fort Wayne, USA. The most recent formal sanction of the book was in 1949 when an imprimatur was granted by Archbishop Edwin V Byrne D.D. of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Firstly let us look at some prophesies from the Old Testament.
Old Testament Prophesies
In Chapter 3 in Genesis God speaks to the serpent and says ‘She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.’ (The ‘She’, is Mary.)
Isaiah also mentions ‘Mary’ when he says ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.’ Isaiah 7:14.
There are also many Old Testament references to the Nativity, the Magi and the flight to and return from Egypt:
God has brought him out of Egypt. Numbers 23:22.
A star will come out of Jacob. Numbers 24:17.
The ox knows its owner and the donkey his master’s crib. Isaiah 1:3.
A shoot with spring up from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from its roots. Isaiah 11:1.
Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see you and bow down.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come bearing gold, and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. Isaiah 60:6
The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch…… Jeremiah 23:5.
………and I called my son out of Egypt. Hosea 11:1.
But you (Bethlehem) Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, from you will come for me a future ruler of Israel. Micha 5:1.
Joachim and Anne
Scripture does not mention Mary’s father and mother. But early Fathers like St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostom believed the story about St. Joachim and St. Anne from an ancient document which mentioned them as Mary’s parents. For centuries the popular tradition about St. Joachim and St. Anne has inspired Christians with a message of God’s tender love. It still inspires us today.
Joachim, a Galilean from Nazareth, married Anne from Bethlehem. They were not poor but had land where shepherds looked after their flocks. But they were frugal with whatever wealth they had. The lived on one-third of their resources and donated the rest to the temple and to the poor. After twenty childless years, the couple promised God that if he would grant them a baby they would consecrate it to him.
Once, when Joachim went to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast, he approached the altar to make his offering. However, the priest turned him away with an angry reproach. He said that no man subject to the Law’s curse may offer sacrifice, nor may a sterile man stand with men who fathered sons. (In those days for a woman to be barren was considered as a curse from God.)
Ashamed because of this public rejection, Joachim decided to avoid his family and friends. So he went to live with his shepherds. Anne worried about his absence, fearing he might be dead. God intervened by sending an angel to both Joachim and Anne telling them that their prayers have been answered. They were to have a baby girl and should name her Mary.
Expectation of a Redeemer: God commenced the coming of his Son by choosing St Joachim and St Anne to be the parents of Our Lady. St Joachim lived in Nazareth and St Anne in Bethlehem. Both were good holy people. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to St Anne to tell her that she was to marry St Joachim. The angel Gabriel knew that St Anne’s child was to be the Mother of Christ but did not mention this. Likewise, the Archangel appeared to St Joachim as a dream in his sleep telling him that he should marry St Anne. St Joachim and St Anne were married and lived in Nazareth, but neither of them told the other of their angelic manifestations until several years later.
They were perfect in their charity and in this respect each year they divided their income into three parts, one part being given to the temple, another part distributed to the poor and the third part retained for their own sustenance. (The book states ‘The rents of their income and estates ..’ and ‘Joachim hastened ... to a farm or storehouse which he possessed ...’ which gives the impression that St Joachim and St Anne were not poor. Nevertheless they used their money wisely.)
St Joachim and St Anne lived together for 20 years without issue. In those times and amongst the Jews this was considered a disgrace. Because of this they had to bear many insults from neighbours and acquaintances. They made a vow that if God would give them issue then they would consecrate it to his service in the temple in Jerusalem. They prayed for an issue and God sent the angel Gabriel to St Joachim to tell him that St Anne would conceive and bear a daughter who was to be called ‘Mary’. St Joachim was not told that Mary was to be the Mother of God. The Archangel Gabriel also appeared to St Anne telling her that she would conceive and bear a daughter who would be called Mary and St Anne was also told that this same Mary would be the Mother of God. Following these heavenly manifestations, St Joachim and St Anne told each other of the secrets of their manifestations with the Archangel 20 years earlier. But St Anne never disclosed the secret that her daughter was to be the Mother of God.
The Immaculate Conception.
Joachim returned to Anne, she conceived and Mary was born. A perfectly spotless soul had to be prepared to accept the conception of Jesus. This soul had to be free from original sin which we inherit from Adam and Eve. Therefore God intervened in the normal course of events by ensuring that Mary’s birth through her parents Joachim and Anne was the ‘Immaculate Conception’. In 1858 Mary announced this to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes when, asked who she was replied,” I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Mary’s complete freedom from sin carries with it further considerations. It is proof that Mary’s conception of Jesus was the only one she had in her lifetime. Had she had any other conceptions what would have been the state of the child in her womb? We cannot accept that other conceptions could also be spotless. The soul of the child would be carrying the stain of original sin. For that to happen Mary and sin would be come together. That is not possible. Mary was pure and remained pure all her life. Here we have the proof that Jesus was the only one born of Mary.
The Immaculate Conception: This chapter in Mary of Agreda’s book gives the impression that Our Lady was conceived miraculously, rather than by the intervention of St Joachim. There are two quotes which give this impression. ‘I will descend from Heaven into her womb and in it vest myself from her substance with human nature’ and ‘On the Saturday next following, the Almighty created the soul of his mother and infused it into the body ...’. If this is correct, then the birth was miraculous, but not a virgin birth; Joachim and Anne lived as husband and wife.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God ‘the-All-Holy’, and celebrate her as ‘free from any sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.’ By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long. Chapter 493.
In this creation God had made the most perfect being to be honoured and loved above the angels, second only to himself. God appointed 900 angels to be guardians and servants of this beautiful soul. He also assigned 12 others who would assist Our Lady by taking visual form. 18 other angels were chosen who would ascend and descend the mystical stairs of Jacob with messages from Our Lady to God and from God to Our Lady.
From the moment of the first instant in the womb of St Anne Our Lady ‘was wiser, more prudent, more enlightened and more capable of comprehending God and all his works, than all creatures have been or ever will be in eternity, excepting of course her most Holy Son.’ At this first instant God showed her the angels who were to protect her and endowed her with knowledge of her genealogy and of all the holy people chosen by God. She asked the angels to help her to glorify God. (It is difficult for us to comprehend that from the very moment of conception Our Lady was able to think and understand in a mature way. Mary of Agreda had similar difficulties of belief but reports what she is instructed to report).
The Birth of Mary Immaculate: Lucifer was ever watchful for ‘the woman who would crush his head’ and whilst he sensed that St Anne was a good and holy woman the knowledge that the woman who he feared was to be born from St Anne was withheld from him. Nevertheless he vented his rage on St Anne by tempting her. When this did not work, he tempted a woman of her acquaintance to quarrel with her. Then he tempted a servant girl who worked for St Anne to be annoying and malicious towards her mistress. St Anne bore everything with a great holiness. At the time of the birth Our Lady was ‘ravished into a most high ecstasy.’ Hence she was born into the world without perceiving it by her senses, for their operations and faculties were held in suspense’. At the time of the birth St Anne was freed from the ‘toils and labours, which other mothers usually endure in such circumstances’. (Hence, it can be understood that the birth was miraculous). So was born into the world ‘the most exquisite treasure of all the universe, inferior only to God and superior to all other creatures.’
God gave St Anne an interior message to tell her that she should inwardly hold her child in reverence but outwardly treat her as other mothers treat their daughters. At the moment of Our Lady’s birth the angel Gabriel went, as an envoy, to Limbo to give the joyful news to the souls awaiting their release into Heaven. After her birth God had his angels take Our Lady into Heaven where ‘for a short time she might be ... where later on she was to be placed for all eternity.’ ‘This was the first time in which the most holy soul of Mary saw the Blessed Trinity in unveiled beatific vision’. It was hidden from Our Lady that she was to be the Mother of God incarnate. Her simple humility did not allow her to even think this could be the purpose for which God had created her.
The name which Joachim and Ann had been told to give their daughter was not one which would make her stand out as anyone special. It was not an unusual name in those times; as it is not unusual today. There are many theories regarding the name. Among the mistaken interpretations, the most widespread is that of ‘Star of the Sea’ often attributed to St Jerome. But St Jerome knew Hebrew too well to translate the name in that fashion. It seems that he did name Mary ‘stilla maris’ (which translates as ‘A Drop of the Sea’). Perhaps it was to signify that Our Lady could permeate the whole world by being just ‘a single drop’. St Jerome’s purpose in using that title would have had a deep significance. Later some copyist wrongly changed it to ‘Stella Maris.’ (Star of the Sea) in itself very beautiful but not what St. Jerome had intended. In Jesus’ time the understanding of the name was unknown. It may have been influenced by the Aramaic noun mara or mari, ‘Lord’ or ‘my Lord’. If that be the case then the male mari ‘my Lord’ has been changed to the female ‘Mary’. Practically speaking the Italian ‘Madonna’ ‘My Lady’ is a true equivalent of Mary, or also, in English, ‘Our Lady.’
Another meaning for ‘Mary’ is that it has its roots in the Hebrew word ‘marah’ meaning ‘bitterness’ or ‘bitter sea’ which first appears in the book of Exodus, when the Israelites came to a place called Marah where the water was bitter. The word ‘marah’ appears again in the book of Ruth, when Naomi, whose name means ‘pleasant’, told her kinswomen, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). In a sense Naomi is herself a prototype of Mary, for just like Mary, centuries later, Naomi lost her husband and her sons and was left on her own without male kinsmen. Her lament is the exact opposite of Mary’s Magnificat, but Mary’s joy at her pregnancy too soon turns to unexpected woe.
Our Lady’s Early Years: As a child, Our Lady was treated like others of her age. In every way she was the perfect child. She would have moments of sighing and weeping for the sins of the world. Her pleasant countenance was often mixed with gravity and a strange majesty. She remained in enforced silence as appertaining to her age though from the moment of conception she was in possession of her faculties. Her not speaking was a virtue and a great perfection though an exception was made in respect of the angels which surrounded her. St Anne did not know of Our Lady’s ability to speak from birth. Our Lady was totally obedient to her parents and she knew beforehand all their thoughts and was anxious to fulfil them.
At the age of two, Our Lady began to exercise special piety and charity towards the poor. Never did she give alms to the poor without conferring still greater favours on their souls. As Our Lady approached the age of three there grew in St Anne the dread of punctually fulfilling her promise of presenting her child to the temple. Six months before her third birthday Our Lady began to prepare for living in the temple. St Anne and St Joachim suffered greatly at the thought of giving their perfect child to the temple but they reminded themselves of their promise and determined to fulfil it with humble submission.
St Anne and St Joachim took Our Lady from Nazareth to Jerusalem so that they could keep their promise. On Our Lady’s third birthday they entered the temple and after praying together they took Our Lady to ‘the portion of the temple buildings, where many young girls lived to be brought up in virtuous habits until old enough to assume the state of matrimony.’ ‘15 stairs led up to the entrance of these apartments. Priests came down these stairs in order to welcome the blessed child Mary. The one that had received them, being according to the law one of a minor order, placed her on the first step. Mary, with his permission, turned, and kneeling down before Joachim and Anne, asked their blessing and kissed their hands, recommending herself to their prayers before God. The holy parents in tenderest tears gave her their blessing; whereupon she ascended the 15 stairs without any assistance. She hastened upward with incomparable fervour and joy, neither turning back, nor shedding tears, nor showing any childish regrets at parting from her parents. To see her, in so tender an age, so full of strange majesty and firmness of mind, excited the admiration of all those present. The priests received her among the rest of the maidens, and Saint Simeon consigned her to her teachers, one of whom was the prophetess Anne’.
Shortly after entering her apartment ‘... accompanied by her angels ... the celestial child was raised body and soul to heaven where she was received by the Holy Trinity.’ ‘The Most High was much pleased with ... the heavenly child, and he gave her to understand that he would admit her to suffering and labour for his love in the course of her life, without at the time revealing to her the order and the manner in which he was to dispense them’. Our Lady offered to make the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and perpetual enclosure. She was told that she could accept the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience but it was indicated to her that the course of her life, which was not yet known to her, would not make it possible to fulfil all her desires ... Heavenly music accompanied the holy child from Heaven to her place in the temple’. Back in the temple Our Lady gave all her possessions to her instructress, the prophetess Anne. The only possessions she kept were her clothes and some books.
Those who were to have charge of Our Lady and to teach her ‘felt within themselves a great enlightenment and a divine impulse to attend especially to this heavenly child.’ They gave Our Lady the following routine ‘At eight (p.m.) thou will retire for sleep and at the beginning of dawn thou wilt arise in order to praise the Lord until the third hour 9 (a.m.). From the third hour until the evening thou wilt occupy thyself in some manual works, in order that thou mayest be instructed in all things. At meals, of which thou wilt partake after thy exercise, observe befitting moderation. Then thou wilt go to hear the instructions of thy teacher: the rest of the day thou wilt engage thyself in the reading of Holy Scriptures...’. Our Lady followed the directions of her superiors to perfection and was also perfect in the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
During her time in the temple, Our Lady became an adult in her wisdom whilst remaining a child in years. Our Lady was given prior notice of her father’s, St Joachim’s, death, which took place six months after she had entered the temple. She did not go to her father’s bedside but sent angels who not only appeared to him, but also consoled him and gave him messages of love from his daughter. When St. Joachim entered Limbo, where the souls of the just awaited their redemption, he was given the duty of announcing that the dawn of redemption was at hand.
During her time in the temple, Our Lady was given trials. One was that God suspended the continual visions which he had so far vouchsafed her. Also the angels surrounding her concealed themselves. These things surprised Our Lady. She had been told to expect trials but not the nature of those trials. She accepted them with humility and great fortitude. The devil took the opportunity of tempting Our Lady. He did not know that she was to be the Mother of God, but he could sense her great courage and constancy. Our Lady distinguished herself in all virtues and the devil was vanquished and left to his pride and arrogance. The devil turned his attention to other maidens in the temple and encouraged them to turn against Our Lady. The temple maidens began to plot amongst themselves and agreed to molest and persecute Our Lady. She bore all this with great fortitude. The more they persecuted her, the more humble she became and this drove them into an even greater rage against her. The period of time when these trials were given to Our Lady was ten years commencing eight days before the death of her father, St Joachim. At about this time Our Lady was told that her mother was about to die. During the night, Our Lady was transported by angels to her mother’s sick bed where she was able to converse with and console her.
Mary’s Early Life
All we know of Mary’s early life is through mystics who tell stories of her living in The Temple from an early age and it was from there at the age of about fourteen she was encouraged to choose someone to marry. But she had already made a vow of perpetual chastity. Stories of the mystics tell of a number of men who were chosen as prospective husbands. They were all made to choose a branch from a flowering tree. They carved their names on the branches and left them in a holy place overnight. The next day Joseph’s branch had flowered showing that he was the chosen one. So Joseph was presented to her as a suitable husband and it soon became apparent, not only that he was a most humble man, but that he had also taken a vow of chastity. It was obviously a marriage made in heaven.
In those days betrothal was even more permanent than our present day system of engagement. Whilst the couple did not live together as man and wife they were nevertheless deemed to be married but before the actual marriage service itself. Perhaps this was to give the man time to prepare a suitable home and the woman’s family time to prepare a dowry.
At the age of 13 and a half years, God informed her that she was to become betrothed. Our Lady had, from an early age, taken a vow of chastity. In complete obedience she had to suspend this vow, although she felt sadness at doing so. God spoke to the high priest Simeon and commanded him to arrange the marriage of Mary. Our Lady told Simeon of her desire to remain a virgin, but also her desire to obey the Lord. Simeon told her that ‘no maiden of Israel abstains from marriage as long as we expect the coming of the Messiah’. This happened nine days before the date by which a marriage should be arranged, which was Our Lady’s 14th birthday. On that day male descendants of the tribe of Judea and of the race of David came to the temple, and amongst them was Joseph of Nazareth. He was then 33 years old and was handsome but was also most chaste in thought and conduct. In order to choose Mary’s husband-to-be, the Holy Spirit spoke to the High Priest and asked that all the men be given a dry stick to hold. They then prayed. Of all the men, Joseph was the most humble in his thoughts for he had also taken a vow of chastity. Nevertheless, it was his stick which was seen to blossom. At this, the priests declared Joseph to be the spouse of Mary.
During this time the Annunciation took place. The first mention of Mary comes in Matthew 1:16 ‘And Jacob fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.’ (Matthew’s genealogy commences with Abraham proceeds through David and down to Joseph. That is to fulfil the prophesy ‘The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch.’ Jeremiah 23:5. Her genealogy as coming from the line of David has never been in doubt. See Romans 1:3 and 2 Timothy 2:8). Matthew does not say that Joseph was the father of Jesus but only that he was the husband of Mary.
In Luke’s Gospel Mary is mentioned in 1:26 ‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David and the virgin’s name was Mary.’
So, to fulfil the prophecy, both Gospel writers take care to indicate that Mary came from the line of David.
Mary went with Joseph to Nazareth where she had inherited her parents’ possessions and estates. They were welcomed and visited by friends and relations with joyful congratulations. It was the custom that for the first few days of their married state the husband and wife should enter upon a study or trial of each other. During this time, Our Lady and St Joseph declared to each other their previous vows of chastity. Both ratified their vows and agreed to live as companions. At this the two felt an incomparable joy and consolation. They immediately set about dividing the property inherited from St Joachim and St Anne. One part they offered to the temple, another they gave to the poor and the third was kept for their sustenance.
St Joseph was trained as a carpenter. He and Our Lady agreed that he should exercise that trade. They agreed to remain poor and be lovers of the poor.
The Annunciation and Incarnation
For us here on earth The Annunciation was a turning point which meant that,
provided we obey God’s Commandments, we can look forward to everlasting life with God in Heaven.
Today, to travel to the place of the Annunciation means travelling to both the Holy Land and Italy. In the Holy Land we need to go to Nazareth. There, in the Church of the Annunciation, we see the cave which made up part of Mary’s home. Living in caves might sound prehistoric but that is not the case. When I have been in the Holy Land and the weather has been hot, it has been a blessed relief to enter the cool of a cave. Attached to this cave would have been a small stone built structure which is now in Loreto in Italy. To believe in the story of ‘The Angels flying with the Holy House Through the Air to Italy’ might stretch our imaginations to the limit! The more acceptable story is that as the Crusaders were beaten back by the Turks an Italian, Senor Niceford Angelo, fighting with the Crusaders realised that this would be the last opportunity to save the stones of this most holy place. He therefore had the stones of the holy house removed and eventually transferred to Italy. It is recorded that ‘towards the end of the thirteenth century Niceford Angelo gave to his daughter the Holy Stones carried away from the home of Our Lady, the Virgin Mother of God, as part of her dowry when she married.’ From the surname ‘Angelo’ may have come the tradition about the angels. Any doubts regarding the authenticity of the stones of the Holy House disappear, for me, when I hear the words of Padre Pio who never visited Loreto but was once asked about the Holy House. He answered “If I even went near that house I would die of emotion.” I have served Mass in that holy place. It was a great privilege.
The Angel Gabriel appears to the young Mary. At this time Mary would be about fifteen years old. The appearance of an angel must be an alarming experience. The angel, realising this, tells Mary not be afraid. He has come to tell her of God’s hope that she shall become the means by which the Messiah will come into the world. Mary has free will and that is in no way diminished by the angel’s request, even though she knows that the request comes from God.
Before accepting she has a question to ask. She has made a vow to be a virgin, so how can the Angel’s words be accomplished? The answer is given “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That answer was sufficient for Mary to accept what was being asked of her. She could accept the amazing honour which was being given to her without breaking her vow.
We can imagine the whole world anxiously waiting for her reply. I have a picture in my mind of the whole creation waiting for that answer. When it came it presented the world an opportunity for peace which, two thousand years later, has still not been fulfilled. But Mary has given her word that a time of peace will come.
Mary’s humility could only obey the request laid before her. At her words “let what you have said be done unto me” the Incarnation took place. There is a painting of the Annunciation by Rossetti, which for me, surpasses all others. It shows Mary, after the Angel Gabriel had left her, rather than looking in a state of ecstasy, which most paintings depict, is shown in a state of horror as she clearly sees the life ahead, with all its trials and tribulations, which she has freely chosen. We all have our favourite verses for meditation and one of mine comes in St Luke’s Gospel; ‘……and the angel left her.’ Luke 1:38. I meditate on Mary’s thoughts at that time. Joy at the unbelievable privilege bestowed on her, plus dread at what this privilege holds, but also a feeling of total loneliness – one moment you are in the company of a heavenly angel; then you are alone; an unbearable contrast.
· (At the Annunciation the Angel Gabriel had said “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son.” Mary answered “How shall this happen, since I do not know man?” [Luke 1:31-34.] Mary’s answer indicates her perpetual virginity. If she and Joseph were planning to have children then her question would not have been necessary).
It is too easy to say the word ‘incarnation’ without realising the enormity of what took place. At Mary’s words “let what you have said be done unto me”, through the power of The Holy Spirit, God the Son entered Mary’s womb. Can we really understand what that means? The everlasting God who has always existed came down to take human form and did not refuse to commence in the womb where all human form commences.
St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians writes:- ‘Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God something to be held tightly, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant……..And being found in human form, he humbled himself still more, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:6-8). The word ‘incarnation’ is one which can offer us many hours of contemplation.
The Annunciation. In the six months and 17 days which intervened between her espousal and the incarnation of the Word, Our Lady busied herself in charitable works to her friends and neighbours. God prepared Our Lady in a special manner in the nine days prior to the incarnation. Each day he gave her more and more knowledge and graces. When praying she would prostrate herself on the ground in the form of a cross. The Holy Ghost had taught her this way to pray. Our Lady, while aware of the promise of a Messiah, had no idea that she was to be the virgin who would conceive. Her complete humility made it impossible for her to consider this. At this time she was 14 years and six months and 17 days old. At the time when the ‘embassy of Heaven’ came to her she was engaged in prayer. It was on a Thursday at 6 pm in the evening. Her complete humility protected her from considering that the incarnation could happen through her. Therefore when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, she was disturbed. On account of this perturbation the angel Gabriel proceeded to explain to her the decree of the Lord, saying: ‘Do not fear, Mary, for thou hast found grace before the Lord; behold, thou shalt conceive a son in thy womb, and thou shalt give birth to him, and thou shalt call him Jesus ...’. Our Lady realised the greatness of what was being said to her. She replied: ‘How shall this happen, that I conceive as I know not, nor can know, man?’ Gabriel replied: ‘Lady, it is easy for the divine power to make thee a mother without the co-operation of man; the Holy Spirit shall remain with thee by a presence and the virtue of the most high shall overshadow thee, so that the Holy of Holies can be born of thee, who shall himself be called the Son of God. And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth has likewise conceived a son in her sterile years and this is the sixth month of her conception; for nothing is impossible with God. He that can make her conceive, who is sterile, can bring it about, that thou, Lady, be his mother, still preserving thy virginity and enhancing thy purity’. Mary having considered all that had been said to her, inclined her head, joined her hands and said, ‘May it be to me as you have said’. At this four things happened. Firstly, the most holy body of Christ our Lord was formed from three drops of blood furnished by the heart of the most holy Mary. Secondly, the most holy soul of the same Lord was created, just as the other souls. Thirdly, the soul and the body united, in order to compose his perfect humanity. Fourthly, the divinity united itself in the person of the Word with the humanity which together became one. Thus was formed Christ, true God and man, our Lord and Redeemer. This happened in springtime on the 25th day of March, at break of dawning day.
After accepting the awesome task of being the Mother of Jesus (the Mother of God) her thoughts turn to her cousin, Elizabeth. The angel Gabriel had told Mary that her cousin was in the sixth month of pregnancy. Elizabeth was beyond the normal time of child-bearing and, for the next three months, would need a lot of help. At this time Mary and Joseph were promised to each other but were not married. Mary turns to her betrothed to help her visit her cousin. In those days travelling could be dangerous. Danger would come from wild animals but also from brigands always looking for an easy way of making a living and with no conscience as to how they obtained it! For safety, those travelling did so in groups known as caravans. As they travelled some would reach their intended destination and leave the caravan, others would join it. So there would be many ‘farewells’ and ‘hellos’ on the way. It is certain that Mary & Joseph would have travelled in such a caravan. But first of all Joseph, who was a carpenter, would have had to hire a donkey and advise his customers that he would be away. “I’m sorry I won’t be able to start/complete the work until I return.” Two thousand years later those words sound familiar don’t they? Not a lot has changed!
Travelling in groups meant a loss of privacy and it is very likely that Mary would have found that difficult. But, putting her faith in God, who she now carried in her womb, she would have accepted the inconvenience as a small price to pay for being able to visit her cousin. The journey would probably have taken about four days, and on the final day would have passed through Jerusalem to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home at Ein Karem.
The Bible contains certain moments when it is obvious that the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work. The interpretation of those moments will differ from person to person. For me one occurs when Mary and Elizabeth meet. There is no need for Elizabeth to be told of her cousin’s pregnancy nor of the wonder of what was in her womb. Elizabeth knew instantaneously as did the baby in her own womb which leapt with joy. This may have been the closest Jesus and John the Baptist came to each other prior to Jesus’ Baptism by John.
The Visitation: The Mystical City of God states the story as given in the Bible that Our Lady and St Joseph went to visit St Elizabeth, but it gives a definite reason for the visit. Our Lady wanted to be with her cousin, Elizabeth, so that she could sanctify the child in Elizabeth’s womb and release it from the bond of original sin. Elizabeth and Zecharia lived 26 leagues (approximately 60 miles) from Nazareth. The journey took four days. After the initial salutations between Our Lady and Elizabeth they retired to a private place where they continued their discourse. Our Lady said: ‘May God save thee, my dearest cousin, and may his divine light communicate to thee grace and life’. At these words, the child in Elizabeth’s womb was sanctified from original sin. After three days, St Joseph returned alone to Nazareth, as yet unaware of the child in Mary’s womb. During her stay, Our Lady looked after her cousin as handmaid. Our Lady was still with Elizabeth when her baby was born. Shortly after that St Joseph was sent for so that he could accompany Our Lady back home.
At their meeting Mary proclaims the ‘Magnificat’. She would have known of Hannah’s prayer which is known as ‘The Magnificat of the Old Testament.’ (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and used that prayer as the formula for her own.
In order to understand the Magnificat and how it came into being let us firstly read Hannah’s prayer so that we can make a comparison.
My heart exults in Yahweh,
in my God is my strength lifted up,
my mouth derides my foes,
for I rejoice in your deliverance.
There is no Holy One like Yahweh,
(indeed, there is none but you)
no Rock like our God.
Do not keep talking so proudly,
let no arrogance come from your mouth,
For Yahweh is a wise God
his to weigh up deeds.
The bow of the mighty has been broken
but those who were tottering are now braced with strength.
The full fed are hiring themselves out for bread
but the hungry need labour no more;
the barren woman bears sevenfold
but the mother of many is left desolate.
Yahweh gives death and life,
brings down to Sheol and draws up;
Yahweh make the poor and rich,
he humbles and also exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust,
he lifts the needy from the dunghill
to give them a place with princes,
to assign them a seat of honour;
for to Yahweh belong the pillars of the earth,
on these he has poised the world.
He safeguards the steps of the faithful
but the wicked vanish in darkness
(For human strength can win no victories).
Yahweh, his enemies are shattered,
the Most High thunders in heavens.
Yahweh judges the ends of the earth,
he endows his king with power,
he raises up the strength of his Anointed.
The first thing we notice is that Hannah’s prayer is much longer than Mary’s and Mary’s is also more personal. Hannah’s prayer also has a resemblance to the Benedictus (The song of Zechariah, Luke 1:67-79). Hannah’s song finds many echoes in David’s song near the end of the second book of Samuel. (2 Samuel 22) which is further echoed in Psalm 18.
Hannah exults in the Lord and rejoices in his salvation; the Lord is the central figure of her song. None is holy like the Lord, none is protector like the Lord. Israel’s foes will be broken; Israel’s king will be exalted. This is the meaning of what Yahweh is to do in Israel through the ministry of Samuel, his prophet. At the end of the song the mention of ‘his Anointed’ is a reference to King David.
In the fourth verse ‘The bow of the mighty.….’ Hannah shows that God often works contrary to natural expectations and brings surprising reversals. (Seen frequently in the stories in the Book of Samuel that follow.)
The words ‘He safeguards the steps…’ refer to travel in ancient Israel being mostly by foot over trails which were rocky and dangerous.
In the final verse ‘the judge’, Yahweh, imposes his righteous rule upon the ends of the earth. Hannah’s song is here prophetic, anticipating the establishment of the kingship in Israel and the initial realisation of the Messianic ideal of King David.
But the word ‘Anointed’ brings a further and deeper prophecy. The word ‘Anointed’ and ‘Messiah’ are the translation and transliteration respectively of the same Hebrew word. The Greek translation of this Hebrew term is Christos, from which comes the English word ‘Christ’,
Let us examine the Magnificat to try and have a better understand of Our Lady’s words:
My Soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savour; (1)
because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. (2)
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name, (4)
and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him, (5)
he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones
and raised high the lowly. (7)
He has filled the starving with good things (8), sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant,
mindful of his faithful love. (9)
- according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever. (10)
But most important of all, the words which Mary uses show that she knew the Bible.
(1) A quotation taken from Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 2:1 ‘My heart exults in
Yahweh, in my God is my strength lifted up.
(2) A quotation from 1 Samuel 1:11. Yahweh Sabaoth! Should you condescend
to notice the humiliation of your servant.
(3) A reference to Genesis 30:13. What blessedness! Women will call
(4) A quotation from Psalm 111:9. ‘…holy and awesome his name.’
(5) A quotation from Psalm 103:17. But Yahweh’s faithful love for those
who fear him is from eternity and for ever.
(6) A reference to Psalm 89:10 ‘scattered your enemies with a mighty arm.’
(7) Two quotations from Job 5:11 If his will is to raise up the downcast or exalt
the afflicted to the heights of prosperity. & 12:19. ‘…and overthrows the
powers that are established.
(8) A quotation from Psalm 107:9. He has fed the hungry to their hearts
content, filled the starving with good things.
(9) A quotation from Psalm 98:3. ‘mindful of his faithful love.’
(10) A reference to Yahweh’s promises: Genesis12:2, ‘….and I shall
make you a great nation, I shall bless you and make your name
famous.’ Genesis 13:15 ‘for all the land within sight I shall give to you and
your descendants for ever.’ Genesis 22:18, ‘All nations of the earth will bless
themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command.’
The Ark of the Covenant
The Birth and Circumcision of John the Baptist
There is a suggestion that Luke’s words ‘Mary returned’ (Luke 1:56) was his way of ushering her off the scene, so that only the appropriate characters will be present for the next scene of John’s birth and naming. I find it completely unacceptable that Mary would have left before John’s birth. Mary had gone to Elizabeth to help her. Elizabeth was past the age for normal childbearing, she would require the most help towards the end of the nine months and especially at the birth. Mary would not have left her at that crucial time.
Also, it is typical of Mary and her perfect humility that she would want to stay in the background. But I can also understand Luke’s predicament. How can he tell the story of John’s birth and circumcision, knowing that Mary was there, but without mentioning her? It was Luke’s habit to round off one episode before passing to the next so, by the words ‘Mary returned’, he took her out of the scene even though she was there! Poetic licence!
St Joseph Realises Mary’s Pregnancy
We are left to assume that Joseph would have accompanied Mary to her cousin’s and returned to Nazareth to continue with his work. Then, at an appointed time, he would have returned to escort Mary home. During the three months at Ein Karem Mary’s pregnancy would have become more evident but Joseph was totally unaware of all that had happened at the Annunciation. But why hadn’t Mary told him? Because she hadn’t been told to do so. Complete obedience at all times. God is in charge, he will decide how and when events will happen. We can imagine the horror which filled Joseph’s heart when he saw the obvious signs that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant. What does the Bible tell us? ‘But Joseph………..being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally.’ Matthew 1:19. That means that Joseph is almost unbelievably forgiving. Betrothal was even more permanent than our present day system of engagement. Whilst the couple did not live together as man and wife they were nevertheless deemed to be married but prior to the actual marriage service itself. Joseph’s love for Mary was so great that even though he thought that the baby in her womb had come about by natural means he was still prepared to cause her the least possible offence. Yet he did this at a time when his heart was breaking with sorrow. What a great man he was. What a great man he is!
But let us also consider Mary’s thoughts at this time. She would know what Joseph was thinking and it must have meant intense pain and patience not to tell Joseph of the Annunciation. She would have prayed, asking for guidance. Until such time that her prayer would be answered she kept silence. But she must have been very worried about the affect on Joseph. Would he be able to act perfectly normally or would she notice a change in his mood towards her? Such a difficult time echoed the more difficult times ahead which she would have to face.
Eventually Joseph’s feelings of despair are brought to an end when, in a dream, he is told that Mary is to be the Mother of God. The Bible tells us ‘…..an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take to thee Mary thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.”’ Matthew 1:20.
What a joy it must have been when Joseph told Mary of his dream. Surely his words would have contained a request for forgiveness for having thought that the pregnancy had come about other than by the Holy Spirit. Mary would have been totally understanding of Joseph’s predicament and would have told him that forgiveness was not necessary. Now they could plan together for the birth of the one who had been prophesied from earliest Biblical days.
Our Lady was five months into her pregnancy when Joseph noticed the condition of the virgin. He was confused and wounded to his inmost heart. One of his great fears was the dread of being obligated to hand his spouse over to the authorities to be stoned. St Joseph persevered in prayer in order to decide what action he should take. Sometimes, carried away by his grief, he spoke to his heavenly spouse with some degree of severity such as he had not shown before. This was the natural effect of the affliction of heart, not of anger or vengeful feelings. Our Lady became aware of St Joseph’s resolve to leave her. One night St Joseph decided to depart and packed some clothes and other trifles for his journey, having also claimed some wages which were due to him. Before leaving he prayed for guidance and resolved to offer up some of the money to the temple to ask God to protect Our Lady. Then he prepared himself for a short sleep with the intention of leaving at midnight. Our Lady was allowed, by divine intervention, to observe all that took place and she was filled with tender compassion and prayed to the Lord for his providence. In his sleep all was revealed to him and he awoke with the full consciousness that his spouse was the true Mother of God and he gave thanks to the Lord. The Lord looked on him in benevolence and kindness as upon no other man, for he accepted him as his foster father.
The Decree of Caesar Augustus
Mary & Joseph would have been aware of the prophesy of Micah:
‘But you Ephrathah (Bethlehem), the least of the clans of
Judah, from you will come for me the future ruler of Israel.’
But they were in Nazareth, four day’s journey away, and yet the time for the birth was getting near! Did they wonder how the Prophet’s word was going to be fulfilled or did they just leave it to the good Lord to sort out? Whichever the answer they would have recognised the ‘hand of God’ when Caesar Augustus decreed that a census must be taken. Here was the method by which they would be in the appointed place at the appointed time.
Once again Joseph would have to make arrangements with his customers. But this time he would finish the work-in-hand but not make any promises for new work. He knew that after the baby was born Mary would need all his help. Travelling with caravans was not suitable for new babies. Caravans were a rough-and-ready way of travelling and moved at a speed which had to be kept up with or get left behind. So Joseph would have planned to be away from Nazareth for some considerable time, certainly until the baby was strong enough to travel.
The Journey to Bethlehem
But the same rough-and-ready travelling conditions would have to be faced on the journey to Bethlehem with Mary approaching the time for her baby to be delivered. In fact when they left Nazareth the birth was only four or five days away. I suggest ‘four or five’, rather than ‘four’, because it was almost certain that, due to Mary’s condition, Joseph would have to slow the donkey down and let the caravan disappear in the hope that another caravan would soon catch them up. In the meantime they were at the mercy of all the dangers. Fortunately, due to the Augustus’ decree there would be more caravans than usual, more people having to make the journey to their town of ancestral origin to register.
But the last day of the journey was the day of the Nativity. The very day when Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer was to be born of Mary and join us in human form in the world which God the Father had created in perfection and which we have turned into chaos. And it really is ‘we’. It is no good trying to put the blame onto the Israelites, or the Sanhedrin or anyone else. We may have been born two thousand years after the birth of Jesus but some of the mess he came to clear-up was made by ourselves, by our sins.
It might be suggested that, in those days, women were used to riding on donkeys, though it is hardly the best way for a pregnant woman to spend the day when her baby is to be delivered. But that was how Mary spent the day of her delivery. It must have meant that Joseph, seeing her discomfort, would have slowed down more and more until they were making very slow progress. That might have relieved Mary’s discomfort but meant that their arrival in Bethlehem was later than anyone else. Thus all the accommodation had been taken. We can imagine Joseph trying his best to obtain somewhere to stay but everywhere was already full. It is probable that, with plenty of customers, the landlords would not want to be bothered with a pregnant woman who would need more space and a midwife might have to be called.
Joseph must have been saddened beyond belief when he had to tell Mary that the only place he could find was a place where animals were kept. What would her reaction have been? One of complete acceptance of whatever God would provide. None of the Gospel stories mention a ‘stable’ but St Luke mentions that after he was born Jesus was ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger’. From the word ‘manger’ has come the belief in ‘the stable’. The words of Isaiah ‘The ox knows its owner and the ass his master’s crib.’ Isaiah 1:3. gives even more emphasis to the belief in ‘the stable.’ The Greek translation of Habakkuk 3:2 is ‘Between two animals you will make yourself known.’ also gives rise to the tradition of two animals at the manger at Bethlehem.
But this is not what the Jews were expecting. Their expectations were of a leader who would come into the world to be a conquering King. One like the Machabees who would rid Israel of its Roman oppressors. The Jewish leaders had built up a list of six hundred and thirteen precepts which had to be meticulously followed. They covered everything from how to wash; what to wear and how to wear it; how to keep the Sabbath and even some rules like the Corban which denied parents the support of their children. (If a man made an oath of The Corban ‘offering’, then his money went to the Temple and not to assist his parents. It was made into a very serious oath which could not be broken.) None of these precepts and rules took into account the love which Jesus was to use as the main purpose of his teaching and his life on earth.
Our perception of The Nativity is clouded by Christmas cards showing a warm looking stable. We are not presented with the unhygienic conditions; the insects crawling over everything; the smell of the urine and dung from the animals, not a place to bring any baby into the world yet this is the most important baby ever to be born and is being born where God the Father chooses him to be born. So we have the first lesson of his ministry – poverty is not to be looked down on. Poverty and humility go hand-in-hand and are the cure for riches and pride.
I can meditate on Joseph and Mary approaching the stable and seeing the place where the birth was to take place. They must have tried to make a special space where things were somewhat cleaner and where Mary could have some privacy. Joseph would have lit a fire to give some heat and he and Mary would have had a meal of whatever food they still had left after their long journey. They would have been used to praying together and as the time approached for the birth I can imagine them in deep prayer asking God the Father to take care of all the things for which they had not been able to plan.
Eventually Joseph leaves Mary and goes to the stable entrance to keep watch in case anyone may happen to come. Mary is alone. All my readings regarding this moment agree that Mary had a most wonderful ecstasy which, when it was over, her baby had been born. Jesus was there in her arms. She spent some time privately adoring her baby who she knew was the Son of God. After a while she called Joseph who looked in wonderment at the baby and knelt to adore him. After kneeling for some time he asked Mary if he could hold the baby. As he took Jesus into his arms he was overcome with the realisation of the immense task he had undertaken on behalf of us all.
Some apocryphal narratives (Biblical writings not divinely accepted) suggest that Joseph went to fetch a midwife. But this does not agree with the understanding that Mary was alone at the birth. Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into the Vulgate and must have been an incredible source of information said “No midwife was there; no women attendants lent their aid; she herself wrapped the child in swaddling clothes; she herself was both mother and midwife.”
The Bible story, whereby Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register under the decree of Caesar Augustus is followed in Mary Agred’s book. Joseph was especially concerned at this journey as Our Lady was now far advanced in her pregnancy. As so many were travelling St Joseph had difficulty in obtaining a donkey to carry Our Lady. But eventually one was found. Joseph and Mary being modest and retiring found the noisy taverns disagreeable and had many hardships on their journey. Thus did our weary travellers arrive at Bethlehem at four o’clock on the fifth day of travelling. It was a Saturday. It was winter and the sun was already sinking in the sky. They wandered through many streets trying to find somewhere to stay, but everywhere they were turned away and at some places they were met with harsh words and insults. While wandering the streets they passed the office of the public registry and they inscribed their names and paid the fiscal tribute in order to comply with the edict and not be obliged to return. Finally, after being turned away from more than 50 places, St Joseph, full of sorrow, told his spouse that he was heartbroken and could only think that Heaven, in thus allowing the hearts of men to be so unmoved, must conceal some mystery. Then he remembered that outside the city walls there was a cave which served as a shelter for shepherds and their flocks. They found the cave unoccupied and thanked God for this favour.
The Birth of Christ our Saviour: The cave was formed entirely of bare and coarse rocks without any natural beauty or artificial adornment; a place intended merely for the shelter of animals. The angelic spirits showed themselves in their visible forms also to St Joseph. Our Lady set about cleaning the cave with her own hands. St Joseph joined in this work and cleaned the floor of the cave. The holy angels in their visible form also joined in the work of cleaning the cave, also filling it with a holy fragrance. St Joseph started a fire and he and Mary sat by the fire and partook of the food which they had brought with them. The Queen of Heaven was so absorbed with the thought of her impending divine delivery that she would not have partaken of any food had she not been urged to by obedience to her spouse.
After supper they gave thanks to God and spent a short time in prayer. Our Lady felt the approach of the most blessed birth. She requested her spouse to betake himself to rest and sleep as the night was already far advanced. St Joseph yielded to her request and urged her to do the same. For this purpose he prepared a sort of couch with the articles of wear in their possession, making use of a manger that had been left by shepherds for their animals. Leaving the most Holy Mary in the portion of the cave thus furnished, St Joseph retired to a corner of the entrance where he began to pray. He was immediately visited by a divine spirit and went into an ecstasy from which he did not return until his heavenly spouse called him.
Meanwhile, Our Lady was called from her resting place by a loud voice of the most High. This was one of the most admirable ecstasies of her most holy life. She remained in this ecstasy for a whole hour preceding her divine deliverance. At the moment when she came out of the ecstasy she felt and saw the body of the infant God begin to move in her womb, releasing and freeing himself from the place which in the course of nature he had occupied for nine months. He now prepared to issue forth from that sacred bridal chamber. This movement not only did not cause any pain or hardship, as happens with other daughters of Adam and Eve in their child births, but filled Our Lady with incomparable joy and delight. In this way, Our Lady gave to the world the only begotten Son of the Father whilst her virginity was not impaired (a miraculous birth). This happened at the hour of midnight on a Sunday. Saints Michael and Gabriel were present when the incarnate Word issued forth. They received him in their hands in great reverence in the same way a priest exhibits the sacred Host. So these two celestial ministers presented to the divine Mother her glorious Son. Immediately the Son was able to speak to his mother and they held a heavenly discourse.
It was now time to call St Joseph who, having adored the child King, assisted holy Mary with the wrappings and swaddling clothes, before laying the child in the crib which Our Lady had prepared by arranging the straw and hay. An ox from a neighbouring field ran up in haste and, entering the cave, joined the donkey which had brought Our Lady from Nazareth. Thus God made man was placed between the two animals, wrapped in swaddling clothes, wonderfully fulfilling the prophesy that ‘the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.’ (Isaiah 1:3).
Whenever the Pharisees and Sadducees thought of this moment it is certain that they would expect themselves to be among the first to be called to adore the long awaited Messiah. But that was not to be. Once again poverty and humility are the hallmark which will be repeated over and over again during Jesus’ ministry. It is to those carrying out the lowly task of looking after sheep that the message of the birth is first given. A choir of angels appear to them singing ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace for those he favours.’ The shepherds had been told ‘Today…….a Saviour has been born…..he is Christ the Lord’ and they will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Luke 2:7. Luke must, at some time, have met and conversed with Mary who told him all that had happened. His Gospel emphasises the poverty of the situation.
So the first visitors to the poverty-stricken trio of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are equally poverty-stricken, shepherds. We must not take our eyes away from the continual poverty which is being shown to us. Let it take seed in our hearts and in our souls.
How did the shepherds find the actual stable where Jesus had been born? There must have been many stables in Bethlehem. But ‘stables’ were the one thing which the shepherds knew about better than anything else or anyone else. They were probably able to eliminate some of the stables - too many animals: no room – too open: no privacy – and some converted into crude living space for the crowds coming to register – and they would be left with only a few which could be the one they were looking for. So with their own knowledge and the guidance of the Holy Spirit they soon found the place of the Nativity. They would be in awe as they entered. What they beheld was a beautiful young woman, a man who was busying himself in trying to make the space clean and warm and, in a manger, a baby. Here was the Saviour which the angel had told them about. They knelt and adored and offered the simple gifts they had brought – some goats milk – some bread – some kindling wood for the fire – simple but practical gifts which exactly filled the needs of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
After the shepherds had left Joseph suggested that Mary get some sleep while he kept watch. As Mary sleeps Joseph ponders the task he has undertaken. On behalf of us all he is to look after Jesus the Messiah and Mary the virgin. I can imagine him trying to come to terms with all that has happened and making fervent prayers for all the help he will need.
The Adoration of the Shepherds: At the birth of Jesus, St Michael visited Limbo to tell the souls there that Christ had been born. He gave special congratulation to St Anne and St Joachim and told them that their daughter now held in her arms him who had been foretold by the prophets. Another angel was sent, with the good news, to St Elizabeth and her son John. Mary of Agreda’s writings of the shepherds is similar to that given in the Bible. The shepherds are said to have conversed with Our Lady and to have stayed in the cave from the beginning of dawn until midday, when Our Lady gave them something to eat before they departed. Our Lady and St Joseph showed great reverence when approaching the child Jesus. They made three genuflections, kissing the earth and making acts of humility and worship.
As soon as possible, when the crowds had dispersed, the Holy Family were able to move into a house in Bethlehem. Eight days after the birth Joseph arranged for a Rabbi to circumcise Jesus. The purpose of circumcision was a reminder of the covenant between God and his people. Surely God the Son should have been exempt. But Mary had not received any instructions of exemption, therefore her son underwent the rite and observed all that the law required. Thus when only eight days old the baby spills his blood and is named Jesus.
Joseph would have brought with him whatever savings he had and his carpentry tools so that he could continue to earn money while he waited for Jesus to become strong enough for the journey to Nazareth.
Our Lady had been given no command or intimation of the will of God regarding the circumcision of Jesus. She decided that as her holy Son had come to honour and confirm the law by fulfilling it, he should therefore conform to it by being circumcised. This was despite her knowledge that circumcision was intended to cleanse from original sin, and her child did not have that stain. St Joseph agreed with Our Lady’s wishes. Our Lady asked Joseph to obtain a crystal or glass vessel for preserving the sacred relic of the circumcision and Our Lady prepared linen cloths to catch the sacred blood which for the first time would be shed. Our Lady told St Joseph that, when the baby was in her womb, it had been revealed to her that his name should be ‘Jesus’. All preparations being made, the priest came to the cave along with two other officials. The sparseness of the cave astonished them, but Our Lady spoke a welcome with such modesty and grace that their constraint was soon changed into one of admiration. Thus Jesus was circumcised. At the moment of the circumcision, Jesus offered up to his eternal Father three sacrifices. One that he, being innocent and the Son of the true God, assumed the condition of a sinner by subjecting himself to a rite instituted as a remedy for original sin. Second was his willingness to suffer pain. Third was the most ardent love with which he began to shed his blood for the human race. When the priest asked for the name, Our Lady asked St Joseph to state the name, which he did, ‘Jesus’
Mary’s First Weeks With Baby Jesus
What a turmoil it must have been for Mary. The journey from Nazareth – The Birth in a stable – Moving to a house in Bethlehem. Constantly on the move, never able to settle down, and with a new baby to care for – and not just any baby but the Son of God. Yet I suspect that throughout it all, even if outwardly things were in turmoil, Mary would retain an inner peace.
Not only would she have Jesus to care for but also meals to prepare for Joseph who, to pay for their stay in Bethlehem, would have found work. Those were hard times. It is easy for us to say “they were used to it” but that doesn’t lessen the effort which they had to put in to their every day existence.
Today’s theologians are ever pondering about Our Lady being a ‘co-redemptorist’. When I consider how Mary cared for Jesus, in the womb, breast-feeding and looking after his every need I find no difficulty in having a firm belief in Mary as a co-redemptorist. That God would want someone who he had created to assist in redemption shows his absolute, total humility. We don’t think enough of God’s humility. We only see him as all powerful.
By the time of the visit of the Magi the Holy Family had moved from the stable ‘And entering the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they worshipped him.’ Matthew 2:11. Many suggestions have been put forward for ‘the star’: a comet (a small body of ice or dust moving around the solar system); the conjunction of two planets; a supernova (an exploding star). But an easier explanation, for those who will accept miracles, is that it was a sign sent by God to guide the wise men. The number ‘three’ came from the number of gifts which they offered. Gold to signify the kingship of Christ; incense his divinity and myrrh his redemptive suffering. In the Western Church the wise men have been named Caspar, Balthasar and Melchoir. They represent the Gentiles with Caspar being black and Balthasar and Melchoir white. Despite their wealth they had the virtue of humility and were not afraid to kneel and adore this child although the poverty must have been apparent. For prophecies we must look to Numbers 24:17. ‘A star will come out of Jacob’. Psalm 72:10-11 ‘The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; and the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him with gifts. All kings will bow down before him…’ Psalm 72:15 ‘May the gold from Sheba be given to him…’ Isaiah 49:7 ‘Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see you and bow down’, and Isaiah 60:6 ‘Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.’
King Herod (He was never actually a true king but only a vassal king. He held his power by repeatedly changing his allegiance to whoever happened to hold the reigns of power in Rome.)
Herod must have been extremely – two-faced! He was well known for his appalling brutality, even to his own children. They only had to step out of line for a moment (even in Herod’s imagination) and he had them slaughtered. But, wise though they were, the Magi were taken in by his apparent solicitude towards the Messiah. To ensure the child’s safety they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod and ‘…they returned to their country by another route.’ Matthew 2:12.
The Adoration of the Magi: The three magi kings came from Persia, Arabia and Sabba, which are all countries to the east of Palestine. A holy angel had brought the news of the birth to the kings. Although the kings set off separately from their various countries, they soon met as they were following the same star. The kings conferred among themselves and discovered that their plans were identical. The star guided them to the cave where Our Lady awaited, standing, with the child in her arms. The kings entered and were, for a considerable space of time, overwhelmed with wonder. They worshipped and adored the infant, acknowledging him as the true God and man, and as the Saviour of the human race. They congratulated Our Lady and St Joseph and expressed their wonder and compassion at the great poverty, beneath which were hidden the great mysteries of heaven and earth. They spent three hours with the Holy Family and then went to find lodgings as there was no room for them in the cave. Whilst with the Holy Family, the kings had perceived the multitude of angelic spirits who, as servants and ministers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, attended upon him. Some others had attended the kings but they had only seen the destitute and neglected condition of the mother and her husband. Though wondering at the strange events, they perceived nothing of its mystery. Having found themselves lodgings, the kings spent much of the night talking in wonder about what they had seen. Recognising the poverty of the Holy Family, they sent their servants with many gifts, which Mary and Joseph received with humble acknowledgement. These gifts enabled Our Lady to offer sustenance to ordinary guests and alms for the poor and the needy. The next day, at dawn, the kings returned to the cave and offered special gifts which they had prepared. As the Scriptures tell us, they offered gold, incense and myrrh. They questioned Our Lady in regard to many mysteries and practices of faith. Our Lady heard them and conferred interiorly with her infant son concerning all they had asked in order to properly answer and instruct these sons of the new law. The kings were so overcome with the sanctity, sweetness and attraction of her words that they could scarcely part from her. But an angel of the Lord appeared to them reminding them of the necessity that they should return to their countries. Before leaving and in accordance with the custom of their countries, they offered to Our Lady some gems of great value. Because these gifts had no mysterious significance and did not refer to Jesus, she returned them to the kings, keeping only the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. In order not to send the kings away empty handed, Our Lady gave them some of the clothes in which she had wrapped Jesus. The kings accepted these with great joy and encased them in gold and precious stones. These relics spread a great fragrance a league in circumference (approximately 2 miles). Only those who believed in God’s coming into the world were able to perceive the fragrance. Back in their own countries the magi performed great miracles through the use of these relics. Before taking their leave of the Holy Family the magi offered property and possessions to Our Lady or to build a house for her. These kind offers were kindly refused and there was a tearful parting. The kings asked Our Lady and St Joseph to always remember them. The kings went back a different way to avoid meeting Herod and were led by another star provided by an angel.
The Presentation in the Temple
Forty days after the birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple. Firstborn males had to be consecrated to the Lord and an offering be made ‘if she cannot afford a lamb, she must take two turtle doves or two young pigeons……..’ Leviticus 12:8. Mary would be required to undergo ‘the rite of expiation….’ Leviticus 12:7. No mention is made of the redemption payment of ‘five shekels of silver’ Numbers 18:16, which was required for the firstborn son. The Jews were great traditionalists so it is doubtful that they had allowed that payment to cease. Joseph would have known of that necessary payment.
It is about six miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Today, on a bus, it is a short journey. But two thousand years ago it would have taken some considerable time. So Joseph and Mary would have made an early start in taking Jesus to be Presented in the Temple. Even today it is possible to see the steps which they probably used to enter the area of the Temple. Simeon must have been a very special person for him to be told ‘….that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.’ The Holy Spirit had guided him to be there when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the Temple. Simeon recognised the child, took him in his arms and recited the words which we know as the Nunc Dimittis which thanked God for keeping his promise and accepting an end to his life ‘…for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready…..’
In my experience the most misquoted words in the Bible are those of Simeon. He is misquoted as saying “A sword will pierce your heart.” What he said was “A sword will pierce your soul….” Luke 2:35. If a mortal heart were pierced then the pain would cease at death. But when an immortal soul is pierced then the pain continues after death. Is that why Our Lady of Medjugorje is sometimes seen to be crying? She sees our sins continuing to hurt her son, the sword pierces her soul, and she cries.
Anna, a prophetess ‘came up just at that moment……..’ (Things don’t happen ‘just at that moment’ without the Holy Spirit being involved!) Because of the child Jesus she was inspired to speak words of praise to God.
Presentation in the Temple: St Joseph and Our Lady, having provided themselves with a turtle dove and two candles, wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and made their way to the temple. Having arrived at the temple gate, Our Lady joined other women in bowing and kneeling to adore the Lord in his holy temple. The high priest, Simeon, moved by the Holy Ghost, came to the temple. As he approached Our Lady and the child Jesus, he saw them enveloped in splendour and glory. The prophetess Anne, had also come to the temple and she also saw the wonderful light which surrounded Our Lady and Jesus. The high priest received Jesus into his arms and gave his testimony that the Lord, having kept his promise, could now release him from this earth. He also prophesied Our Lady’s future sufferings. At the mention of these sufferings, Our Lady felt a great sorrow and thus, in advance, she was wounded by the sword which Simeon had predicted. When the ceremony of the presentation was over Our Lady kissed the hand of the priest and of Anne, her former teacher. Then she and St Joseph returned to their lodgings. Our Lady and St Joseph planned to stay in Bethlehem for a further nine days in order to visit the temple each day to repeat the offering of their son. Our Lady had a special veneration for number nine in memory of the nine days during which she prepared for the incarnation of the Word. She commenced a novena when she presented her child in the temple. As an answer to her petitions God gave her special privileges amongst which was that as long as the world would last she could obtain all that she would ever ask for her clients and that the greatest sinners, if they availed themselves of her intercession, would find salvation.
The Massacre of the Innocents
When the Magi didn’t report back to Herod he was furious. He had lost his chance to go to Bethlehem and kill the ‘infant king of the Jews’. In his rage he ordered that in Bethlehem and the surrounding district all male children under the age of two should be killed. He based the age limit on what the Magi had told him – and added a generous margin to be sure that the ‘infant king;’ would not escape him. At that time Bethlehem would be very small and the number of children involved may not have been more than twenty or thirty. Nevertheless it was a cruel act and one carried out entirely due to pride and envy. Herod couldn’t bear the thought of anyone being ‘king’ except himself.
The Flight into Egypt
After the Magi had departed Joseph received a message in a dream telling him that he and Mary and the Child must hasten into Egypt because of Herod’s mal-intent. That must have been a terrifying experience. Anyone who has seen the arid desert which they would have to cross will realise that it is no place for a Mother and child. Joseph had been intending to take the family back to Nazareth and was waiting till they were all strong enough. But that journey would have been easy compared to the one now facing them. They would have travelled to Nazareth with a caravan. Now they were alone and at the mercy of whatever terrors they might meet.
It is almost too awful to think of the appalling conditions which the Holy Family
had to bear whilst travelling to Egypt. To take a new born baby into such a place would not have even been thought of as a possibility. But Mary and Joseph were under orders and had to obey. The fact that they had received ‘heavenly instructions’ would not have reduced their fear – firstly from the every day terrors which the desert held – wild animals, thieves, sand storms and lack of water. Secondly from Herod’s men who, under strict orders would want to satisfy their ‘king’ that they had scoured the whole area to carry out his evil instructions. So, every day, fear would be the driving force – always looking back to see if they were being followed.
In the inhospitable desert the journey would have taken about a week. Bearing in mind the haste with which they left Bethlehem, one wonders how they managed to obtain any provisions for the journey. It is likely that they had insufficient of everything and suffered great privations as well as living in fear of being followed or at the possible terrors which all travellers had to face. To add to their difficulties it is very likely that Joseph would have taken with him the tools of his trade. How else is he going to support his family in a foreign country unless he can obtain work? But that meant an extra burden to be carried.
Flight into Egypt: On the fifth day of the novena Our Lady was told that she was not to complete it, but that she and St Joseph must take the child to Egypt and flee their homeland, as Herod was attempting to find Jesus and kill him. They would be told when it was safe to return. St Joseph was given the same message in a dream. They wasted no time, but immediately started on their journey. They stopped for two days in the town of Gaza so that they could rest as they were worn out by the journey. St Elizabeth had sent a man servant carrying gifts for the child Jesus. This servant was sent back to St Elizabeth from Gaza carrying messages from the Holy Family. St Joseph cautioned him not to tell anyone of their whereabouts. But God provided against this danger by taking away his memory, leaving only the message which he was to convey. During their two days in Gaza Our Lady did many kind deeds. She freed two sick people from the danger of death and restored a crippled woman to full health. After leaving Gaza they had to cross the sandy deserts of Bersabe, which was a journey of 60 leagues (approximately 130 miles). During the desert crossing, which was made in winter, great privations had to be overcome by the Holy Family. Eventually they entered Heliopolis, which is today’s Cairo. In order to provide for his family, St Joseph carried out his trade as a carpenter. During their seven years in Egypt, Our Lady performed many miracles and was always perfect in her alms giving. During Jesus’ early years Our Lady noticed that he preferred not to use any footwear. He agreed to her request that he should do so only after his time of public preaching would commence, then he would be barefooted. He agreed to Our Lady making him a seamless garment. Our Lady made this herself, choosing the wool and spinning it herself. She wove a garment of one piece and without a seam. During this time the mystery of Jesus’ love and devotion to mankind was apparent. He would often prostrate himself on the ground and was sometimes raised from the ground in the shape of a cross. On other occasions, in the presence of his holy Mother, he would perspire blood. This happened many times before his agony in the garden. Eventually they received the message that it was safe to return to Nazareth.
The Privations of Living as Refugees
They arrive in Egypt. The Holy Family were now refugees. The Bible tells us nothing but from experience in our own country we know that refugees tend to be looked down on and find it difficult to gain acceptance and/or work. Through the writing of mystics we learn that Joseph had difficulty finding work. Yet without work he could not provide for his family. The work he did obtain was poorly paid but he had no alternative than to take whatever presented itself. He was offered the more menial jobs and especially where heavy lifting was involved, jobs that other craftsmen were happy to ignore.
In order to assist the financial burden did Mary take on work? Sewing, spinning, weaving or whatever craft would allow her to earn even some small amount which would lift the entire burden from Joseph. At the same time her main task would be to watch over Jesus.
Jesus Starts His Early Life.
Assuming that the flight into Egypt came soon after the Presentation in the Temple then, at that time, Jesus would have been about six weeks old and Biblical Historians have calculated that he would have been about one year old when it became safe to move back into Israel.
So Jesus’ first year was as a refugee. He would start to grow, to learn, to come to terms with everything about him. Mary would have weaned him but would she have had the preferred foods or would she have had to accept whatever was available? Jesus would probably have learnt his first words and taken his first steps. Everything under the watchful and prayerful eyes of Mary and Joseph. How did they separate their tasks in caring for Jesus, from the Son of God? Did things ever seem ‘normal’ or were they always aware of the incredible enormity of the task they had accepted? The answer is that everything would have been ‘normal’ for them but very different for us who watch and learn from their holy lives.
What must it have been like in the early days of Joseph, Mary and Jesus? We can gain peace and joy by meditating on their everyday life. (Some mystics suggest that from the moment of birth Jesus was able to talk with his mother. I reject that completely. God the father would not want his son to have any advantages over other men. As his life on earth commenced in the womb so his life would continue the normal course). During the first months Mary would breast-feed her child. But can we understand what that means? As Mary carried Jesus in her womb and gave him life she now continues to give him life through her own milk. Jesus is flesh of her flesh. He has blood of her blood. Thinking of this makes me realise the great debt we owe to Mary. She is given the unbelievable privilege of sustaining Jesus who is both God and the Son of God. It is awesome to think of.
As I dwell on these thoughts I find it easy to come to terms with Our Lady being co-redeemer with her son. Why else does God so frequently send her to us in apparitions? Why are there so many shrines to Our Lady? Why are there hundreds of miraculous Portraits and Statues of Mary? But the most awesome thought is that God, who has always existed, should have the humility to want to share his kingdom with one who he created. These thoughts only move me to wonder at Mary’s physical and spiritual beauty. Words fail to describe the wonder of Mary.
Jesus’ clothing and other garments would probably have been spun and woven by Mary. Other items such as footwear would be made from goat or sheep skins and both Joseph and Mary would have the skill necessary for this work.
Mary and Jesus’ Early Life in Nazareth
Their journey back to Jerusalem must have been filled with terror. Their loss would have been discovered when they stopped for the night. Rather than waiting until the morning they would have set off straight away and travelled through the night with every shadow and every sound seeming to be a brigand or wild animal about to attack. By the morning they were back in Jerusalem and commenced their search. They would almost certainly have gone to the temple early in their search but Jesus was not there. They would have asked everyone ‘have you seen a small boy with this coloured hair, and this height, wearing these clothes’. Yes some may have seen a boy of that description which would give Mary and Joseph hope of finding him.
Eventually, knowing of Jesus natural interest in everything spiritual and biblical, they return to the temple. At last their search is over and they see him sitting among the teachers and asking them such searching questions that they were amazed. Mary and Joseph must have been overjoyed and yet they had a question to ask Jesus “Why?” His answer “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Fathers business?” What Jesus was telling them was that God the Father took precedence over his relationship to Mary and Joseph. ‘……..and they did not understand the word that he spoke to them.’ Why didn’t they understand? Why was it necessary for the meaning of Jesus’ words to be hidden from them? It is a mystery.
The Finding in the Temple: In accordance with the Jewish law, all men were obliged to present themselves in the temple in Jerusalem three times a year. St Joseph and Our Lady agreed that she and Jesus would accompany St Joseph on two of these occasions each year. When Jesus was 12 years old the Holy Family went to Jerusalem in accordance with the law. It was the feast of the Passover. The festival lasted for seven days and at the end of this time Our Lady and St Joseph commenced their journey home. Jesus withdrew himself from them without their knowledge. This was not difficult to do as the men and women walked in separate groups and Our Lady and St Joseph both thought that Jesus was with the other group. They travelled a whole day before realising that Jesus was not with them. When they discovered their loss they were, for quite a while, both struck dumb with amazement and surprise. They both felt overwhelmed with self reproach at being so remiss. They blamed themselves for his loss. After their initial shock, they felt profound sorrow and discussed what should be done. They agreed to return at once to Jerusalem to search for Jesus. Their initial search proved fruitless. None of their relatives or friends were able to help. Thus they continued their search for three days ‘without sleeping or eating anything’. On the third day Our Lady decided that Jesus must have gone to join St John in the desert and she resolved to go into the desert to search for him there. At this the Holy Angels intervened telling her that her son was not in the desert. But they did not disclose his whereabouts. She also thought of going to Bethlehem to see whether he had gone to the cave of his birth. Once again the angels dissuaded her telling her that he was not far off. Our Lady suffered many trials and much sorrow and, in dealing with the problem, God left her to her natural resources. Eventually when asking a woman whether she had seen Jesus and giving a description the woman said that a boy of that description had been at her door the day before asking for alms to give to the poor. Our Lady came across other women who had given alms to a boy of Jesus’ description. She went to the hospital to be told that a boy similar to her description had been coming to the hospital giving alms to the poor and speaking words of consolation to the afflicted. It then occurred to Our Lady that as Jesus was not at this moment in the hospital he would probably be at the temple, so she made her way there. St Joseph, who had been making his own search for Jesus, happened to meet Our Lady as she was on her way to the temple, so they went together. St Joseph had worked so hard in trying to find Jesus that he had put himself in danger of death by his privations. He had not slept for three days and would not have eaten if it were not for Our Lady begging him to take some sustenance. On the day in question, the learned Rabbis were discussing the coming of the Messiah when Jesus came to listen and to question them. During their discourse Our Lady and St Joseph came into the temple. Then were spoken the words as recorded in the New Testament: ‘Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold, thy Father and I have sought thee sorrowing.’ And Jesus’ reply: ‘Why is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ Thus they returned to Nazareth where Jesus was subject to his parents. Our Lady explains this occurrence by saying that Jesus absented himself in order that, seeking him in sorrow and tears, she might find him in joy and with abundant fruits for her soul.
The Death of St Joseph: For eight years St Joseph had been failing. Our Lady realised that his death was approaching and asked Jesus to ensure that his death might be peaceful and that he might be rewarded for his love and care of the Holy Family. Jesus assured his mother that all she asked would be granted. For nine days prior to his death, St Joseph had the continuous company of either Our Lady or Jesus. The day before he died he was wrapped in an ecstasy and was inflamed with divine love. Just before he died he asked Our Lady to give him her blessing but she requested Jesus to do this on her behalf. Jesus gave his blessing and said “My father, rest in peace and in the grace of my eternal father and mine; and to the prophets and the saints, who await thee in Limbo, bring the joyful news of the approach of their redemption.” At these words of Jesus, and reclining in his arms,
St Joseph expired. He was 66 and a few days when he died.
The Start of Jesus’ Ministry
Mary would have known that the time would come when Jesus would commence his three year ministry. This meant that he would have to leave home leaving her with criticism from her neighbours who did not know where her son ‘had got this religion from’ and did not know how he could abandon his widowed mother. Working as a carpenter he had been the bread-winner. How would she survive without his support? As the time drew near Jesus and Mary must have spent time talking about the future – the next three years. Jesus would have saved up enough to be able to leave his mother sufficient for her day to day requirements. He would promise to come back to Nazareth from time to time. Later she would join the group of ladies who would accompany Jesus, his apostles and disciples looking after their daily requirements. We have cause for meditation on the day he left his Mother. What a sad parting that must have been.
Jesus Commences His Ministry: Our Lady knew that her son was to commence his work towards redemption and, by prayer, had prepared herself for his leaving Nazareth. Jesus was 29 years and 30 days old when he was baptised by St John. After he was baptised, angels brought news of it to Our Lady. Jesus then made his way into the desert to commence his fast. This fast continued for 40 days, during which time Jesus prayed to his Father. Our Lady locked the doors of her dwelling, retired to her room, and made a similar fast. Angels kept her informed of all that her son did. So she saw the devil tempt her son and also saw his victory, with the devil vanquished. After the fast and the temptation, Jesus made his way back to the Jordan. It was through the word of St John, ‘This is he of whom I said: After me there cometh a man who is preferred before me ...’ that Jesus’ first two disciples decided to follow Jesus. Other disciples also followed. At all times Our Lady’s angelic assistants kept her informed. Eventually Jesus brought his disciples to Nazareth and there they met his mother and saw the great reverence which Jesus had for her and they also saw her great humility.
Our Lady Follows Jesus on His Travels: Our Lady was absent from Jesus only on a few occasions, such as when he went by himself to Mount Tabor. During all the journeys, Our Lady went on foot and was at times very fatigued. Sometimes she suffered such weakness that Jesus was constrained to relieve her miraculously. Other pious women commenced to follow Jesus. Some of these Jesus had cured. Our Lady ministered to them showing them special attention. Jesus gathered his apostles around him and they were favoured by having the reverence and love of the Holy Mother. Our Lady gave special attention to St Peter and St John. The first because he was to be the head of the church on earth and the second because he was to take the place of the Lord after his passion.
We know that following Jesus, as well as the apostles and disciples were; ‘the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.’ It is certain that Jesus’ mother Mary would have been with these women working along with them in assisting her son in his ministry. Apart from being told that after the Marriage Feast at Cana ‘..…he went down to Capernaum with his mother…’ Mary almost disappears from the scene which continues to show her perfect humility.
Our Lady soon perceived that Judas was full of treachery and she spent much time ministering to him and trying to correct his wrong ways. But for all she tried the beam in his eye became larger while he complained of the splints in the eyes of others. Our Lady never stopped trying to correct Judas by ministering to him.
What other occasions were there when Mary could have been present with her son? We can only guess – but, in the writings of some mystics, it is sometimes mentioned that Mary and other women would have been in attendance at the Last Supper. A meal is an important part of that occasion. It is not difficult to imagine the women
waiting on table.
The Last Supper: Christ had partaken of the prescribed supper with his apostles and disciples ‘reclining on the floor around a table, which was elevated from it little more than a distance of six or seven fingers’. After the washing of the feet he ordered another higher table to be prepared. By this arrangement he wished to put an end to one order and start a new order. The table was covered with a rich cloth and upon it was placed a plate or salver and a large cup. The Lord seated himself at the table and then ordered some unleavened bread to be placed on the table and some wine to be brought. He then spoke to his disciples and apostles words of most endearing love which consumed their souls. Thereupon Jesus took the bread, raised his eyes toward heaven with such an expression of sublime majesty that he inspired all who were there, and the angels and his virgin mother, with new and deepest reverence. (Mary of Agreda does not suggest that Our Lady was present at the Last Supper but that she was allowed to miraculously witness the events from her retreat). Jesus then pronounced the words of consecration over the bread and wine changing its substance into the substance of his true body and blood. As an answer to the words of consecration was heard the voice of the eternal Father, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight, and shall take my delight to the end of the world.’ The blessed body and blood of our Lord were taken by the angel Gabriel to Our Lady who received them with great love and tenderness.
The Agony in the Garden and How Our Lady Joined Therein. As Jesus left the place of the Last Supper Our Lady also left her retreat and they met. At this sorrowful meeting a sword pierced Our Lady’s heart inflicting a pain beyond all human thought. Our Lady received a blessing from her son and also received a special favour of being able to see all that passed in connection with her divine son. She then retired to the place of the cenacle where 1,000 angels formed her guard in forms visible to her, together with some of the pious women of her company.
Jesus, followed by his 12 apostles, made his way in the direction of the Mount of Olives. Judas, who had made up his mind to betray Jesus, realised that Jesus was going to spend the night in prayers as was his custom. He considered this to be an opportune time to deliver Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees. Having made this decision he lagged behind the others and unnoticed lost them from view and departed in haste. Lucifer had never been sure that Jesus was the Messiah but was watching all the events and perceived what Judas was about to do. Realising that the death of Jesus could be the promised redemption and hoping to stop it he appeared to Judas in a live form and tried to persuade Judas that perhaps it was not a good idea to betray Jesus. But Judas continued on his way in order to fulfil his mission of betrayal. Jesus made his way to Mount Olivet and into the Garden of Gethsemane where the gospel story of his agony was fulfilled. Our Lady was able to share this agony with him from her retreat in the cenacle.
Eventually the time came for Judas to approach Jesus and offer his feigned kiss of peace. Our Lady witnessed this with great sorrow knowing that a short time earlier Judas had been among the first to partake of the body and blood of her son. She made a prayer of immense charity asking that Judas might be granted graces to save himself from ruin. When the servants of the high priest bound Jesus with ropes and chains Our Lady felt the pains as if she herself was fettered. She felt the blows and torments which were inflicted on her son.
Jesus Before Pilate: At dawn, Jesus was brought from the dungeon and was once again questioned by Caiphas. The priests and scribes were anxious to show a semblance of justice before the people. Their questioning led them to the decision that Jesus was worthy of the death sentence and should be sent to Pontius Pilate to have this confirmed. This was to be a political trial. The sun had already risen when this took place. Our Lady who saw it all from afar now decided to leave her retreat and follow her divine son to the house of Pilate and to his death on the cross. As she, and the holy women who accompanied her, made their way through the streets they met Jesus being dragged to the house of Pontius Pilate. Their eyes met but they did not speak. During Jesus’ trial by Pontius Pilate, Our Lady and her retinue were miraculously but invisibly allowed into the house of Pilate to witness all that took place. When Pilate learnt that Jesus was a Galilean he sent him to Herod who was the governor of Galilee. Herod was the son of the Herod who had tried to kill Jesus at the time of the slaughter of the holy innocents. Pilate realised that Jesus was innocent and had only been brought before him due to the envy of the priests. He was therefore hoping that Herod would let Jesus go free. Jesus’ trial before Herod follows the Gospel story with Herod hoping to see some trick performed by Jesus, who he took to be an enchanter and conjurer. When Jesus made no reply and performed no tricks Herod mocked and ridiculed him and sent him back to Pilate. Pilate continued to try and find a way of releasing Jesus but all of his efforts came to nothing and eventually Pilate washed his hands of the death of Jesus.
The Scourging of Jesus: Lucifer saw all that was happening and became more and more concerned that Jesus was to be put to death. Nevertheless, he saw his opportunity of causing Jesus to suffer as much pain as possible and put into Pilate’s mind that if Jesus was scourged then the priests and people might relent in asking for his death. For the scourging the soldiers removed the chains and ropes but were so rough in doing this that they widened the wounds which his bonds had made on his arms and wrists. They then made him remove the seamless tunic which was the one which Our Lady had made for him in Egypt when he first began to walk. Six torturers tied him to a column and then, two at a time, commenced the scourging. Their scourging was of such intensity that a large portion of shoulder bones were left exposed. They also beat him in the face and on the feet and on the hands, thus not leaving unwounded a single spot in which they could exert their fury. The number of blows inflicted on Jesus was 5,115. They also spat on him and shouted insults at him.
The Way of the Cross: The sentence of death having been published in a loud voice, the executioners loaded the heavy cross onto Jesus’ tender and wounded shoulders. In order that he might carry it they loosened the bonds holding his hands, but not the others, since they wished to drag him along by the loose ends of the ropes which bound his body. In order to torment him more they drew two long loops of ropes around his throat. The cross was 15 feet long, of thick and heavy timbers. The herald began to proclaim the sentence and the whole confused and turbulent multitude of the people, the executioners and soldiers, with great noise, uproar and disorder, began to move from the house of Pilate to Mount Calvary. None of these happenings were hidden from Our Lady. The events she could not see with her eyes she was allowed to perceive by miraculous means. Lucifer and his throng were troubled by the happenings to Jesus. They were allowed to feel great misgivings at the coming death of Jesus even though they didn’t fully understand it. They therefore decided to leave Jesus to his end and retire to their caverns in hell. But Our Lady perceiving their desire to flee was granted power over them and made them stay to watch Jesus live out his life which would bring torment to Lucifer and all his followers. Therefore, according to a way of speaking, Lucifer and his devils were also made to walk the way of Calvary like criminals condemned to a terrible death and seized by the dismay and consternation of an inevitable punishment.
The executioners, bereft of any human compassion, dragged Jesus along with incredible cruelty. On account of being pulled in different directions by the ropes, the weight of the cross caused him to sway and often to fall to the ground. The hard knocks he received when falling on the rough stones caused great wounds to open up, especially on his knees. The heavy cross also inflicted a wound on his shoulders. The unsteadiness caused the cross to knock against his head, thus the thorns were driven even deeper into the wounded parts. Our Lady followed her son through the streets, but the surging crowds hindered her from getting near to Jesus. She prayed that she might be allowed to meet her son on his journey to Calvary. Her prayer was answered and her holy angels speedily led her through some side streets so that she came face to face with her son. They did not speak but looked in sweet recognition of each other. Our Lady prayed that the executioners might find some way of lightening the load of the cross and her prayer was answered when Simon of Cyrene was made to help Jesus.
The Crucifixion: It was the sixth hour which corresponds to our noon and the executioners, intending to crucify Jesus naked, removed his seamless tunic and garments. In order to remove the tunic they pulled it over his head and in so doing tore off the crown of thorns. Thus were opened anew all the wounds of his head, ears, eyes and face. With heartless cruelty they again forced the crown down upon his head opening up wounds upon wounds. The cross was lying on the ground and the executioners were making the necessary preparations for crucifying him and the two thieves. To make it easier to nail Jesus to the cross they wanted to make preparatory holes which would accept the nails as they were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet. In order to find the position of these holes they commanded Jesus to stretch himself out on the cross. The executioners then, following their human instinct of cruelty, marked the places for the holes, not according to the size of his body, but larger, having in mind a new torture for their victim. This inhuman intent was known to Our Lady and was one of the greatest causes of affliction to her during the whole passion. She anticipated the torments to be endured by her beloved son when his limbs should be wrenched out of their sockets in being nailed to the cross. As the executioners bored the holes Jesus stood awaiting to be nailed to the cross. His mother approached and took one of his hands and kissed it with great reverence. The executioners allowed this as they thought that the sight of his mother would cause him greater affliction. Presently one of the executioners seized the hand of Jesus and placed it upon the auger hole while another hammered a large rough nail through the palm. The veins and sinews were torn and the bones of the hand were forced apart. When they stretched out the other hand they found, as expected, that it did not reach the auger hole. In order to overcome the difficulty they took the chain, with which the Saviour had been bound in the garden, and looping one end through a ring around his wrist, they pulled the hand over the hole and fastened it with another nail. They then seized his feet, and placing them one above the other, they tied the same chain around both and stretched them with barbarous ferocity down to the third hole. Then they drove through both feet a large nail into the cross. They inflicted further barbarities on Jesus as they raised the cross. Some of the soldiers put the sharp heads of their lances to his body and caused fearful lacerations under his armpits. Then they crucified the two thieves one either side of Jesus, thereby they wanted to indicate that the one in the most conspicuous place was the greatest malefactor. Our Lady was allowed to feel all the sufferings of her son. Such was her abandonment and sharing in all his sufferings that she would have died with him except that she was spared that fate. Lucifer and his followers were made to watch the crucifixion, realising that what they were seeing was the great mystery of the salvation of man and the ruin of themselves. When Jesus spoke the words ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’ Lucifer knew that this was the Messiah, the Son of God and that God had permitted his son to offer himself as a sacrifice for the redemption of man. When Jesus spoke the words ‘Woman, behold your son’ the demons knew that this was the woman who was to crush their head. All other writings of Mary of Agreda concerning the crucifixion are as the Gospel writings regarding Jesus’ last hours on the cross.
We are not told where Mary went after the burial of her son. She would either have gone to ‘the upper room’ Luke 22:11, or to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark. Acts 12:12. There is room for meditation in the meeting between Our Lady and the apostles. What words would have passed between Peter and Mary? What great sorrow there would have been with Peter admitting to have disowned her son three times. What great forgiveness there would have been in Mary’s response.
And what of that life? There is much in tradition. Can we believe in tradition? Prior to the advent of writing, everything was passed down by word of mouth and no-one would challenge what was told. As we become more educated and sophisticated, we are less able ‘to believe.’ But to follow Mary’s life after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension we have to fall back on the stories of tradition.
The Resurrection: After the crucifixion, Our Lady retired to the cenacle. In the meantime the divine soul of Jesus remained in Limbo from 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon until 3:00 am on the Sunday morning following. During this hour he returned to the sepulchre as the victorious prince of the angels and saints. In the sepulchre were many angels as its guard, venerating the sacred body. The angels had, at the request of Our Lady, gathered up all the relics of the sacred blood and particles of flesh which had been scattered about at the scourging on the way of the cross and at the crucifixion. Before the divine soul of Jesus returned to his battered body it was shown to the patriarchs, prophets and saints who confirmed him as the incarnate word. Then, in the presence of all those saints, through the ministry of those angels, were united to the sacred body all the relics, which they had gathered. In the same moment the holy soul reunited with the body giving it immortal life and glory. Jesus left the sepulchre by penetrating the rocks miraculously without removing or displacing them just as he had issued forth from the womb of his most blessed mother. The sacred wounds which had disfigured his body, now shone forth from his hands and feet and side so radiant and brilliant that they added a most entrancing beauty and charm. In all this glory and heavenly adornment the Saviour arose from the grave. Our Lady participated in these mysteries from her retreat in the cenacle. Christ’s first appearance was to Our Lady in her retreat where they spent several hours together lost in the wonder of their immense love for each other.
The Ascension of Christ.: A few days before the ascension, the Father and Holy Ghost came to the cenacle and along with Jesus appeared to Our Lady who knelt in profound humility and reverence. She was called to join the Trinity and sit with them at which great admiration was caused among the saints that a mere creature should be exalted to such dignity. The Father than spoke to Blessed Mary saying “My daughter, to thee do I entrust the church founded by my only begotten, the new law of grace he established in the world, and the people which he redeemed: to thee I consign them all”. Jesus told his mother that it was time for him to return to his Father and charged her to take care of his church. On the same day there gathered in the cenacle the eleven apostles, pious women and others to the number of one hundred and twenty. Jesus appeared to them telling them of his return to his Father and recommending them to his mother who he left as their protectress, consoler and advocate and telling them to hear and obey her in all things. Then those in the cenacle followed Jesus as he led them through the streets of Jerusalem and out of the city on the road to Bethany which was half a league (about a mile) from Jerusalem. When they reached the highest point on the Mount of Olives Our Lady prostrated herself at the feet of Jesus. All present imitated her and Jesus gave them his last blessing. Having taken leave of this holy gathering, Jesus joined his hands and, by his own power, began to raise himself from the earth and into the aerial regions. On this occasion Our Lady was also raised up with her son, and remained three days in the celestial heavens before returning to the cenacle. While she was in heaven she was given a place at the right hand of her son, a place which she will occupy for all ages.
Descent of the Holy Ghost: In the company of the Queen of Heaven and encouraged by her, the 12 apostles and the rest of the disciples and faithful waited for the fulfilment of the promise of the Saviour that he would send them the Holy Ghost, the consoler, who would instruct them and administer unto them all that they had heard in the teaching of their Lord. On Pentecost morning the Blessed Virgin Mary exhorted the apostles, the disciples and the pious women, numbering about 120, to pray more fervently and renew their hopes, since the hour was at hand in which they were to be visited by the Holy Spirit. At the third hour (9 am), when all of them were gathered around their heavenly mistress and engaged in fervent prayer, the air resounded with a tremendous thunder and the blowing of a violent wind mixed with the brightness of fire or lightning, all centering upon the house of the cenacle. The house was enveloped in light and the divine fire was poured out over all of that holy gathering. Over the head of each of the 120 appeared a tongue of that same fire, in which the Holy Ghost had come, filling each one with divine influences. Following this mysterious event the apostles went into the city and preached openly as described in the Gospels.
Mary has one further mention in Acts. ‘With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer, together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus…’ Acts 1:14.
Jesus had put his mother into the care of St John and tradition tells us that they went to live in Ephesus. The house which they lived in is now a shrine of pilgrimage. In 1967 Pope Paul VI visited Mary’s house in Ephesus and in 1979 Pope John Paul II made a similar visit. Pope John Paul called the house ‘the material home of Mary’.
Our Lady followed her son’s command by instructing the faithful and advising the apostles whilst always living a life of service and great humility. From the earliest days Mass was celebrated and Our Lady would receive the body and blood of her son with great devotion and love. Due to the persecution of Herod it was decided that, for safety, Our Lady should move to Ephesus. St John made the necessary arrangements and on 5th January of the year forty Our Lady left the cenacle and commenced her journey. During all her life she never rested from prayer and from curing the sick and performing miraculous cures. The same happened on this sea journey from Ephesus. When she arrived in Ephesus she was offered the homes of many of the faithful but she accepted to stay in the home of some poor women who lived together free from the company of men. During all her time in Ephesus Our Lady was able to keep in touch with all that was happening in the church. She was able to know instantly when one of the apostles was in danger and, if necessary, her angels would carry her to the place where they were suffering and dying so that she could be with them when they left this earth and went to their heavenly reward. The apostles couldn’t decide whether Christians should be circumcised and in order to discuss this they decided to hold a council (this was the first council of the church). St Peter wrote to Our Lady asking her to return from Ephesus to be present at the council. By this time Herod was dead which made it safer for her to return. Our Lady, acting with complete obedience, submissiveness and humility made immediate arrangements for her return to Jerusalem. This sea journey was made most dangerous by ‘the dragons of hell who stirred up the sea by a tempest such as had not been seen before…’ The ship was lashed and battered to splinters at each shock. During some of the onsets of this furious hurricane the ship was held in the air by angels in order to save it. In the midst of this confusion and distress the most Holy Mary preserved her tranquillity. She was moved to compassion for all voyagers of the sea. A large share of suffering fell to the evangelist St. John on account of his deep solicitude for his true mother and mistress of the world. Although the voyage from Ephesus to Palestine usually lasted only about six days this one lasted fifteen of which fourteen were tempestuous. The council started with Mass after which they commenced their deliberations and with Our Lady’s help reached a decision which was accepted by all the church.
Our Lady celebrates her Immaculate Conception. On the 8th December each year Our Lady celebrated her Immaculate Conception with a Jubilee and with gratitude beyond all human words. She imagined herself altogether incapable of ever acknowledging it with sufficient gratitude. She commenced her exercises on the evening before and spent the whole night in admirable devotions. Shedding tears of joy, humiliating herself, prostrating herself, and singing praises of the Lord. After she had thus spent the night, Christ descended from heaven, the angels raised her to His Royal thrown in heaven where the celebration of the feast was continued with new glory.
The Angel Gabriel brings notice of Our Lady’s death. Our Lady reached the age of sixty-seven without ever having ceased in her inestimable love for God the Father, her Son, the Holy Spirit and the world. All of this continued to grow in each moment of her life. Benefits and favours of the Lord had made her entirely godlike and spiritual. The bounds of the human body were irksome to her but the overwhelming attraction of the divinity to unite itself with her had attained the summit of power in her. The Almighty resolved to delight and console her by giving her definite notice of the term still remaining of her life and revealing the day and hour of the longed for end of her earthly life. For this purpose the Archangel Gabriel, along with other celestial Hierarchies descended to the cenacle in Jerusalem and entered the oratory of the great lady. There they found her prostrate on the ground praying for sinners. Hearing the sound of their music she arose to her knees in order to hear the message. Gabriel saluted her with an Ave Maria and told her that the hour and day were approaching when her mortal life would end. She was told that exactly three years from that day she would be taken up and received into everlasting joy. Our Lady answered in the same words as at the Annunciation: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done according to thy word.’
Our Lady resolved to take leave of the holy places before her departure into heaven. With the consent of St John she left the house with him and with her guard of angels. Our Lady visited the many places where she recalled the sorrowful memories of what her son had suffered. On Calvary she remained a longer time, asking her divine son the full effects of his redeeming death.
There are some who advocate that Jerusalem and not Ephesus was where Mary died. I have visited the ‘tomb’ in Jerusalem and it appears very authentic. There is also a tradition that before she died Mary went back from Ephesus to Jerusalem to visit the places where her son had suffered and died. This gives credence that she might have died in Jerusalem.
To complicate matters there appears to be some doubt as to whether she died at all before her Glorious Assumption. Though all my readings of mystics indicate that she did die. But she was saved the trauma of dying a painful death and did not die of any disease or of old age. Her death was entirely peaceful. She faded away with the joy of joining her son in heaven.
The Glorious Death of the Virgin Mary: Three days before the day of Our Lady’s death, the apostles and disciples gathered in Jerusalem in the cenacle. The first to arrive was St Peter who was transported from Rome by the hands of an angel. Next came St Paul and then the other apostles and disciples. Others, as well as St. Peter, had been transported by angels. Our Lady’s physical appearance was the same as when she was 33, she had not aged as people normally do. The unchangeableness was the privilege of the most Blessed Mary alone. On the day of her transition to heaven, St Peter, on behalf of all the gathering, spoke words of such love and tenderness that everyone wept. Our Lady responded with great humility and was eventually unable to continue because of her own tears. The angels, who had been her guardians all her life began to sing in celestial harmony. At this Our Lady reclined back on her couch. Her tunic was folded about her sacred body, her hands were joined and her eyes fixed on her divine son. The angels intoned the canticle ‘Arise, haste, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come the winter has passed’ etc and Our Lady pronounced the words of her son upon the cross: ‘Into thy hands O Lord, I commend my spirit’. Then she closed her eyes and expired. She did not die of any disease. She died of love. Her soul was carried to the throne at the right hand of her son, meanwhile her body shone with a bright light and gave off a wonderful fragrance. Her death took place at 3:00 pm on Friday 13 August. At the time of her death she was 26 days short of her 70th birthday. She had survived the death of her son by 21 years, 4 months and 19 days. Many wonders happened at the moment of her death. There was an eclipse of the sun and many sick people who had come to witness her death were cured. At the moment of her death a man in Jerusalem and two women who lived near the cenacle died in states of grievous sin. Our Lady interceded for them and they were restored to life and so mended their conduct that they afterwards died in grace and were saved.
Burial and Assumption of Our Lady: The apostles held a conference concerning the burial of Our Lady. They selected a new sepulchre which had been prepared mysteriously by the providence of her son. In order to carry out the anointing of the body, as was the custom, they asked two holy women, who had assisted Our Lady during her life, to carry out this task. The two entered the room where Our Lady’s body lay but the radiance coming from the body was so bright that it made it physically impossible to approach. The two women left the room and told the apostles what had happened. They came to the conclusion, not without divine inspiration, that this sacred ark of the covenant was not to be touched or handled in any way. St Peter and St John entered the room and heard the voice of angels singing; ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee’. Others responded: ‘A virgin before childbirth, in childbirth and after childbirth’. The two apostles were lost in admiration and sank down to their knees beseeching the Lord to make known his wishes. They heard a voice saying: ‘Let not the sacred body be either uncovered or touched’. Having thus been informed of the will of God they brought a bier and, the radiance having diminished, they approached the couch and with their own hands reverently took hold of the tunic at the two ends. Thus without changing its posture, they raised the virginal treasure and placed it on the bier in the same position as it had occupied on the couch. They could easily do this as they felt no more weight than that of the tunic. The body of Our Lady lay on the bier for three whole days in which time the lighted candles which surrounded her were not consumed or wasted in any shape or manner. The power of God inspired all the inhabitants of Jerusalem to be present at the burial. Thus when the apostles took upon their shoulders the sacred body, to carry it to the sepulchre, the whole of the population came to watch. Many miraculous cures occurred and many conversions were wrought among both Jews and gentiles. All the people were seized with astonishment at the fragrance diffused about and the sweet music. When the procession came to the Holy Sepulchre in the valley of Josaphat, the same two apostles placed the bier into the sepulchre and covered it with a linen cloth, the hands of the angels performing more of these last rites than the hands of the apostles. Then a large stone was used to close the tomb as was the custom. A beautiful fragrance diffused about the sepulchre and sweet music was heard. The apostles returned to the cenacle but decided that they should keep watch over the tomb as long as they could hear the celestial music. Some apostles therefore returned immediately to the sepulchre and a constant watch was kept with St Peter and St John being especially devoted to maintaining the watch. On the third day after the most pure soul of Mary had taken possession of its glory, never to leave it, the Lord manifested to the saints his divine will that his holy mother should return to earth, resuscitate her sacred body and unite herself with it so that she might be body and soul in heaven seated at the right hand of her son. When the time for this wonder arrived, Christ our Saviour himself descended from heaven bringing with him, at his right hand, the soul of his blessed mother and accompanied by many legions of angels, the patriarchs and the prophets. At the command of the Lord the purest soul of Our Lady entered the body, reanimated it and raised it up, giving it a new life of immortality and glory. Endowed with these gifts the most Blessed Mary issued from the tomb in body and soul, without raising the stone cover and without disturbing the position of the tunic and mantle which had enveloped her body. Then from the sepulchre was started a most solemn procession, moving with celestial music through the regions of the air and towards heaven. This happened in the hour immediately after midnight, in which also the Lord had risen from the grave. The apostles who were, at that time, keeping their watch at the sepulchre, witnessed this great wonder. Amid this glory the most Blessed Mary arrived body and soul at the throne of the most blessed Trinity and the three divine persons received her on it with an embrace eternally undissolvable.
The Coronation of the Mother of God: After placing the most Blessed Mary on this exalted throne the Lord declared to the courtiers of heaven all the privileges she should enjoy in virtue of her participation in his majesty. The Eternal Father, speaking to his angels and saints, said: ‘Our daughter Mary was chosen according to our pleasure from amongst all creatures, the first one to delight us, and who never fell from the title and position of a true daughter, such as we had given her in our divine mind; she has a claim on our dominion, which we shall recognise by crowning her as the legitimate and peerless lady and sovereign’. The Incarnate Word said: ‘To my true and natural mother belong all the creatures which were created and redeemed by me; and all things over which I am king, she too shall be the legitimate and supreme queen’. The Holy Ghost said: ‘Since she is called my beloved and chosen spouse, she deserves to be crowned as queen for all eternity’. Having thus spoken, the three divine persons placed upon the head of the most Blessed Mary a crown of such new splendour and value, that the like has been seen neither before nor after by any mere creature. At the same time a voice sounded from the throne saying: ‘My beloved, chosen among creatures, our kingdom is thine; thou shalt be the lady and the sovereign of the seraphim, of all the ministering spirits, the angels and of the entire universe of creatures ... Thou hast humiliated thyself in thy own estimation to the lowest place; receive now the supreme dignity deserved by thee ... Thou shalt be the empress and mistress of the militant church. Its protectress, its advocate, its mother and teacher. Grace shall be diffused in thy lips for obtaining all that thou wishest and ordainest in heaven and on earth, and everywhere shall angels and men obey thee; because whatever is ours shall be thine, just as thou hast always been ours; and thou shalt reign with us forever’.
If we want proof of her Assumption then we have it in her many apparitions. She comes to us, at the request of her son, to continually encourage us to follow the path which will lead us to heaven. At Christmas time she sometimes comes carrying the Baby Jesus in her arms; which gives us an understanding of the timelessness of Heaven. At other times she is accompanied by angels. She can only have come from Heaven.
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MIRACULOUS APPARITIONS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN.
It was on an arid 130 ft hillock on wasteland in 1531 that a poor, servant caste, Aztec Indian had a vision of Our Lady.
Conditions in the Area at That Time. Following on from the Spanish conquest Franciscan Missionaries had made a few converts but they were very few. This vision was to change that dramatically.
The Person to Whom Our Lady Appeared. Among the converts was Juan Diego. On Saturday 9th December he was making his long way over the hills to attend Mass.
The Phenomena which Occurred.
The first thing which Juan noticed was bird song. That was not the time of year for birds and it made Juan wonder what was happening. The bird song stopped as quickly as it had started and Juan stopped running. He was close by a little hill where had previously stood a pagan temple but was now deserted. Juan was unnerved by the strange happening and stood still straining to hear whatever other sounds may be heard.
Then, from up in the rocks he heard a lady’s voice, and she was calling him by name “Juan! Juan Diego!”. He climbed to where he could see the woman whose voice he was hearing and what he witnessed was a beautiful young Mexican girl of about fourteen years old.
She spoke to him in Mexican and said to him “I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains it in existence.” (It is interesting to note that at Gaudalupe no time was wasted by Our Lady in telling who she was. We can compare that to Lourdes or Fatima where several meetings took place before she revealed her name.)
She then asked Juan to go to the Bishop of Mexico City (in those days it was called Tenochtitlan) and ask him for a ‘teocali’ temple or church to be built at that place. By now Juan was prostrate on his knees and replied “Noble Lady, I will do what you ask of me.”
What Juan was being asked to do was very difficult. Firstly people of Juan’s low degree seldom went into Mexico City, which was five miles from where he had seen Our Lady, and Juan had never previously had the temerity to do so. Then he would have to find the Bishop’s house and finally, and most difficult of all, how was he going to obtain a meeting with the Bishop? Had it been anyone else than Our Lady who had made the request he would certainly have refused.
Nevertheless he eventually found his way to the Bishop’s palace but he had to put up with some rough treatment from the servants and then be kept waiting a very long time. But at last he found himself in the Episcopal presence.
Fortunately for Juan the Bishop (not yet consecrated) was a Franciscan who was known for his love of the poor. It was not he who had kept Juan waiting all those hours; he had only now been told that a lowly native from the country was waiting with a message for his ear alone and would allow no one else relay it.
Through an interpreter the Bishop listened to Juan. He was impressed by the man’s humility and questioned him about his knowledge of the Gospels and his religious practices. But he could not accept the idea of building a chapel in an uninhabited place. Rather than saying “No” he told Juan that he would think about it. He told Juan that he could come again, if he cared to, and they would talk further about it. The Bishop probably thought that would be the end of the matter.
Juan made his way back the five miles and climbed the hill to find Our Lady awaiting him. He told her of his meeting with the Bishop but that it was certain that he was not believed. Couldn’t Our Lady send someone else “…..for I am a nobody….” But Our Lady said that he, Juan, was the one chosen for this task. Juan must go back in the morning and repeat the request to the Bishop.
At Juan’s second visit the Bishop was less than pleased. True he had suggested that the man come back again – but not the next day! All Juan could do was repeat the message from Our Lady. He told the Bishop that on returning to the spot where he had first seen her it was to find her awaiting him. She had not shown dismay that Juan’s story had not been believed but told him to return again to the Bishop.
The Bishop was thoughtful. He was beginning almost to believe that this simple man might not be deluded. Some proof that Juan was not suffering deception or delusion, was indispensable. So Juan was asked to bring some proof that it was truly Santa Maria who was making the request.
Once again Our Lady was awaiting Juan’s return. He told her of the Bishop’s request for ‘a sign’. This did not appear to upset her and she told Juan to come back the next day at daybreak and she would give him ‘the sign’; which the Bishop requested.
We might wonder why wait until ‘the next day’. But Our Lady knowing that Juan had already twice made the five mile journey to and from the big city had his welfare in mind. Surely he needed rest and sustenance before continuing his mission on her behalf.
But now a problem intervened. Juan had an uncle, also a convert to Christianity, who he visited every day. When he called to see him that evening it was to find him ill with a contagious and deadly fever. Juan gathered herbs and prepared medicines. Through that night and the next day and the night following he nursed his uncle. But that meant that he did not keep his appointment with Our Lady. That must have been a great trial for Juan. He had to make a decision between caring for his uncle or obeying Our Lady’s request. His devotion and care for his uncle showed his Christian charity.
On the following morning the uncle was so poorly that he asked Juan to send for a priest. That put Juan in a dilemma because to get to the priest he had to pass the hill where Our Lady was appearing to him. He made to pass by but knew that it would be discourteous to do so. Our Lady was there and, after Juan had told her about his uncle, she assured him that his uncle’s health was restored so now Juan could peacefully attend to ‘the sign’ for the Bishop.
Juan was directed to go to the top of the mountain and cut the flowers that are growing there and “bring them to me”. This task should have been impossible because at that time of the year no flowers could survive the cold. But Juan believed what Our Lady had told him: that his uncle was healed and that the flowers would be where Our Lady had said. Nor was it a blind faith. He was seeing Our Lady and hearing her voice.
Juan found beautiful roses growing on the hilltop and they were not affected by the frost as other plants were. In order to carry them he made a cradle of his ‘tilma’; an Aztec garment like a long cape worn in front and often looped up as a carryall. Juan worked quickly filling his tilma with fresh blossoms. Then he ran down and bending low before her, held out the wrap for her to see that he had fulfilled her wishes. With her holy hands she carefully rearranged the petals taking thought over every rose as to just how it should lie. Then she tied the lower corners of the tilma behind his neck, so that nothing could spill out.
When she had done this she said “ You see, little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that now he has his sign, he should build the temple. Remember, little son, you are my trusted ambassador, and this time the Bishop will believe all that you tell him.”
As far as is known, this was the last time here on earth that Juan saw Our Lady or heard her voice.
Delighted by the perfume of the roses Juan went straight to the Bishop’s palace. The servants who admitted him were astonished by the sweet odour that entered along with the beggarly Indian. They traced the smell to what he was carefully hiding. When he refused to let them see they jostled and startled him in the hope to loosen his grip enough for a glimpse. They succeeded, but could hardly believe their eyes. Not only at the flowers, but each time a rose was touched it no longer seemed real but rather an embroidery or painting on the cream coloured cloth. Word of the commotion soon reached the Bishop, and Juan was fetched to his apartment.
Juan unhaltingly advanced and stood before the Episcopal chair. He told the Bishop all that Our Lady had said and it was interpreted to the Bishop. When he had finished the discourse he untied the corners of the crude cloth behind his neck. The looped-up fold of the tilma fell open. In seconds the Bishop had risen from his chair and was kneeling at Juan’s feet.
Since then millions of people have knelt before the tilma. For on it, using the rose petals, Our Lady had imprinted a glorious and beautiful picture of herself as Juan had first seen her. The next day the tilma was carried in solemn procession to the cathedral where everyone in the city thronged to see and pray before it.
Then Juan was asked to show the Bishop exactly where Our Lady had appeared. No time was wasted in constructing a shrine which, over the years has been re-built and enlarged until it is now considered to be the most beautiful church in the Western Hemisphere.
When Juan returned to his uncle it was to hear that Our Lady had appeared to him telling him that his nephew had been sent to the Bishop with a picture of herself. Then, just before she disappeared she told him “Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” That had been Our Lady’s fifth apparition on the American continent.
Guadalupe ‘the river of the wolf’ in Spain had given its name to a little statue of the Madonna and Child which a cowherd found buried near the river towards the end of the thirteenth century when the Moors had been expelled. King Alfonso XI had it enshrined in a chapel. Columbus prayed before it before his voyage. Whereas the Spanish Mexicans found ‘Guadalupe’ easy to pronounce the native Mexicans could not pronounce it. The nearest they could get was ‘Guatlashupe’ which, to them, interprets as ‘Stone Serpent Trodden’, with its obvious connection to ‘I shall put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed. She will crush thy head and thy shalt lie in wait for her heel.’ Genesis 3:15. So Our Lady suppressed and supplanted the pagan temple of Quetzalcoatl, the terrible god, idolized as a feathered serpent, to whom countless men had been sacrificed.
Result of Our Lady’s Appearances
In the seven years from 1532-1538. eight million native Mexicans were baptized. Converts came in large numbers. One priest recorded that in five days 14,500 presented themselves at his mission.
While the millions of baptisms were taking place, Juan Diego spent his days in a hermitage built for him beside the little chapel on the holy hill. When he died in 1548 his room became the baptistry of the old church. His uncle was also reverenced, and after he died in 1544 his hut became a chapel that still stands.
The tilma remains in perfect condition. Test have been carried out but the technique by which the picture was made eludes all endeavours to elucidate it.
In 1921 the Image was preserved as by Our Lady’s wishes from persecutors of the Church who then ran the Mexican government. They dare not close the basilica, so beloved by the people, but someone hid a bomb in a bunch of flowers at the altar, timed to explode at the climax of a Pontifical High Mass. Most of the hierarchy as well as the tilma would be in its range. The bomb went off, shattering an altarpiece and twisting a bronze cross, but not a man was hurt and the glass front protecting the tilma did not even crack.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of ‘those not allowed to be born’. As she brought the people of Mexico into the Church so, in her concern and love of those aborted from the womb, she brings them into the safety and love of her Son.
THE LADY OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL 1830/31
This apparition of Our Lady was special. It seems to have had two aims. To confirm the dogma of The Immaculate Conception and to inaugurate the Medal which, because of its efficacy, soon became known as The Miraculous Medal.
This came about through Catherine Laboure. Catherine was the ninth of eleven children. She had been born into a wealthy family and had been trained in sanctity by her mother who had recognised that this daughter had a special love of God and of Mary. Her holiness is apparent in that each morning she walked six miles in the predawn darkness to attend Mass.
At the age of eighteen she had her first mystical experience. It was in the form of a dream, wherein she found herself assisting at the Mass of an old priest. At the end of the Mass he turned and beckoned to her, but she fled in fright. Then, in her dream, Catherine went to visit a sick neighbour, only to encounter the same priest. As she turned to flee from him the second time, he called after her: “You do well to visit the sick, my child. But one day you will be glad to come to me. God has plans for you; do not forget it”. In 1830, at the age of twenty-four, she entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Paris. She arrived just in time to be present at the translation of the body of St Vincent de Paul from the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the newly erected mother church of the Vincentian Fathers.
Catherine was privileged to have beautiful manifestations of Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. During the Mass of Trinity Sunday June 6th 1830 Our Lord appeared to Catherine during Mass, robed as a King.
On the 18th July 1830, which preceded the feast of St Vincent de Paul, the Reverend Mother had spoken of devotion to the saints and to the Blessed Virgin in particular. Catherine went to bed with a great desire to see Our Lady.
At 11.30p.m. she was awakened from her sleep by a voice. A beautiful child, who Catherine believed to be her guardian angel, beckoned her to the chapel, which was ablaze with light. After Catherine had knelt at the communion rail, the child announced the Mother of God. With a rustle as of silk, a lady appeared and seated herself in a chair by the altar. Dressed in a white robe and a blue mantel, the lady gathered Catherine’s hands into her lap. Catherine experienced what she described as the sweetest joy of her life. The apparition lasted about two hours.
The Blessed Mother told Catherine she would receive a mission from God. She also predicted misfortunes for France: the overthrow of the throne, the death of the archbishop, the trampling of the cross, violence in the streets. But Mary promised to protect the convent. Then she asked Catherine not to reveal the vision to anyone except her confessor, Father Aladel.
He was sceptical of her story. But within days antireligious rioting seized Paris. Churches were pillaged, and the archbishop was forced into hiding. As Mary had promised the convent remained untouched.
On November 27th Catherine beheld Our Lady who was dressed in dazzling white and standing on a globe. She stretched out her hands and from her fingers came rays of light. “These rays” she said, “symbolise the graces I bestow on all who ask of me.” “Other rays which do not fall are graces for which souls forget to ask.”
Catherine then saw ‘a frame’ an oval shape formed around the Blessed Virgin. Within it was written in letters of gold:
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
In an instant the tableau seemed to turn and Catherine saw the Letter ‘M’ surmounted by a cross, with a bar beneath, and beneath that this monogram the hearts of Jesus, surrounded with a crown of thorns, and of Mary, transpierced with a sword.
A voice charged Catherine to have a medal struck with these images, promising “Persons who wear it with piety will receive great graces.”
A few days later, as well as in March and September of 1831, Our Lady appeared again and repeated her message. The last time, when she expressed disappointment that her request had not been carried out, Catherine’s confessor finally went to the Archbishop. Though incredulous, he nevertheless had a small number of the medals created.
The Archbishop took one of the medals to the deathbed of a Monsignor who had fallen away from the church. Immediately the Monsignor repented. Hearing of other favours associated with the medal the Archbishop gave permission for an unlimited number to be struck. He called it the Immaculate Conception Medal, but because of the number of miracles it seemed to engender, it quickly became known as the Miraculous Medal.
There can be no doubt that the coming of the medal hastened the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. In 1854, Pope Pius IX issued the papal bull which declared the dogma of The Immaculate Conception.
This was further confirmed by Bernadette at Lourdes when she said that “the Virgin, made a gracious sweeping gesture with her arms, just the way she appears on the Miraculous Medal.” Then, when Bernadette asked the Lady who she was she replied “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Catherine died peacefully on the 31st December 1876. She had led a hidden life carrying out normal duties in the convent. It was only later that the nuns realised that they had had a saint their midst. She was beatified in 1933 and raised to the altars in 1947. Her in-corrupt body lies beneath an altar built on the spot where Our Lady appeared to her.
Thoughts on Our Lady’s Appearances
Our Lady’s appearances to Catherine Laboure are unique in that never before or since has she spoken to someone such a long time as on her first visit. Two hours is an amazingly long time. Compare that with La Salette where the one and only apparition lasted about twenty minutes. So Our Lady must have had something very important to impart to Catherine. We now know the importance of the Miraculous Medal. But in speaking to Catherine for two hours Our Lady was speaking to each and every one of us. As she held Catherine’s hands she was symbolically holding our hands. The apparition was also unusual in that Our Lady did not call for pilgrimages, nor for the building of a shrine. The medal was to be her shrine and her devotees are to carry it always about their necks. “Grace will abound for those who wear it with confidence.”
The Miraculous Medal earned its name from the great efficacy which it has. That can be understood by the following story.
The Praetorium in Jerusalem might still be hidden if it were not for the Miraculous Medal. It was the conversion of French Jew, Alphonse Ratisbone, which, indirectly led to its discovery. Alphonse’s brother, Theodore, had become a Catholic and a priest. His one desire was to gain the conversion of his brother. But Alphonse had a hatred of Catholics and this was heightened when, in January 1842, he visited Rome and had to contend with all the churches, shrines and piety of the people. He was introduced to Baron Theodore de Bussiere, another Jewish convert, and they fell into a heated argument on religion. The Miraculous Medal had only recently been approved. During their argument Baron de Bussiere felt impelled to offer Alphonse a Miraculous Medal and begged him to wear it. After some persuasion Alphonse accepted the medal saying it would make no difference to him, he had been born a Jew and he would die a Jew. Baron de Bussiere went further. He asked Alphonse to accept a copy of The Memorare and to say it. Alphonse was irritated by the Baron’s insistence but, eventually, took the prayer. Unbeknown to Alphonse Baron de Bussiere then organised a campaign of prayers for the conversion of Alphonse.
Alphonse did in fact use the prayer and found that he couldn’t get the words out of his head. A few days later he accompanied the Baron to the Catholic Church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte where the Baron had to make arrangements for the funeral of a friend. While he went to see the priest Alphonse was left in the church. When the Baron returned to the church it was to find Alphonse on his knees and weeping with emotional happiness. At one of the side altars Our Lady had appeared to him. His conversion followed immediately and, like his brother, he became a priest.
Now he joined forces with his brother in founding a Congregation of Our Lady of Sion. His next wish was to own a property in Jerusalem. A site became available inside the city walls near the Lion Gate, and only a few yards from the Temple area. In 1855 he acquired the site and it became The Sion Convent.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s, long after the death of Alphonse, that the Mother Superior realised that the convent could be over the site of the Roman Barracks at the time of Jesus. The excavations were more successful than could ever have been imagined. They had discovered the Praetorium. There were the vast cisterns to hold water. There were the grooved slabs to enable horses to get a grip. There was the paving slab scoured out with ‘The Kings Game’ which the soldiers played. But also there Jesus would have been scourged. There he would have been crowned with thorns. Did the soldiers decide to play their ‘Kings Game’ with a real person, someone who claimed to be a king? “Let’s honour him by making fun of him…let’s crown him using a crown of thorns.” There Pontius Pilate moved his tribunal to be near the rioting crowd waiting outside the Antonia Gate. There he presented Jesus and said “Behold the man” and there he finally washed his hands and condemned Jesus to death on the Cross.
There must be something very special about the church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte where Our Lady appeared to Alphonse. It was at that same altar that St. Maximilian Kolbe offered his first Mass after his ordination.
OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE 1846
The parish of La Salette in the Dioceses of Grenoble comprises a few tiny hamlets in the French Alps. At that time France was in ferment. The great Revolution was over but its after effects were still being felt. Practising one’s faith was at a low ebb. Fewer and fewer went to Sunday Mass.
The visionaries were Melanie aged 14 and Maximin aged 11. Both came from poor families. When Melanie was quite little she had been sent into the streets to beg. Later she got seasonal work on farms and, at this time, was taking a small herd of cows onto the high towering slopes to graze. Melanie was known to be quiet, somewhat morose. She had not had any schooling and only infrequently went to church.
Maximin was different in that he was reputed to be something of a scamp spending much of his time roaming the streets. Like Melanie he did not attend school and had an unhappy home life where he did not get on with his step-mother though his father, although known to spend much of his money on drink, did occasionally take the boy to church and even taught the him some elementary prayers.
Maximin had never previously worked, everyone thought he was too much of a scamp to be given responsibility. But, due to the illness of his usual herder, a local farmer needed someone to herd his cows. This would take Maximin into the same fields as Melanie. Although they lived in the same small isolated town of Corps they had never previously met.
So it was on Saturday 19th September 1846 that the two were herding their cows on the mountain slopes. At noon the Angelus sounded and the children drove the cows to a ravine, to water them at a spring. Then they sat down to eat their packed lunches. Perhaps it was the warmth of the day plus the food which made them sleepy but they both stretched out on the ground and had a nap.
Over an hour later Melanie awoke and was concerned for her cows. Where were they? She woke Maximin and they went in search of their small herds. They soon found them crazing placidly. It was getting on towards the middle of the afternoon and time to journey down off the mountains.
Melanie turned back towards where they had been sleeping to collect their knapsacks when she suddenly halted, thunderstruck. Below, in a ravine she saw a circle of brilliant light, outshining the sun. She called to Maximin “Come quickly! See the light down there!” He dashed to her side “Where?”. She pointed. He too saw it.
As they watched, the splendour of the light intensified, dazzlingly. They were both puzzled and fear-stricken and were about to flee when they observed that the luminous circle was opening. Gradually they could make out, ever more sharply defined, the figure of a woman. She was seated, her face in her hands, in an attitude of sorrow, weeping. Slowly, with unearthly grace, she arose. With her arms crossed on her breast and her head somewhat inclined, she confronted them.
The loveliness of her grieving face was magnetic. But they noticed as well the details of her vesture: the headdress topped by a crown with roses; the golden crucifix hanging from a chain about her neck, a hammer on one side of it, a pair of pincers on the other. And all was suffused in glory. As they gazed in fascination, the children heard the woman speak in a voice both commanding and reassuring.
(If I were writing about Lourdes, Fatima or Medjugorje or any other apparition I would have to condense the details of Our Blessed Mother’s appearance and words. But for the apparition at La Salette that is not necessary. The whole apparition lasted about fifteen minutes. Certainly no more than half an hour. So I can give details of every word which was spoken.)
“Come to me, my children,” she said “Do not be afraid. I am here to tell you something of great importance.” She spoke in French, not in their dialect. They found it hard to follow her, but grasped her meaning. They moved slowly to the ravine, and came within touching distance of her. They could now see her closely and noticed the tears upon her cheeks.
(Why did she speak first in French, which the children did not fully understand? Probably to make it clear that her message was not just for the local La Salette district but for the whole of France.)
Again she addressed them, at first in French, later in their own dialect. “If my people will not obey, I shall be compelled to loose my Son’s arm. It is so heavy, so pressing that I can no longer restrain it. How long I have suffered for you! If my Son is not to cast you off, I am obliged to entreat Him without ceasing. But you take not least notice of that. No matter how well you pray in future, no matter how well you act you will never be able to make up to me what I have endured for your sake.”
“‘I gave you six days for working. I have kept the seventh for myself. And they will not give it to me.’ This is what causes the weight of my Son’s arm to be so crushing. The cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son’s name. These are two things which make my Son’s arm so burdensome.”
“If the harvest is spoiled, it is your own fault. I warned you last year by means of your potatoes. You paid no heed. Quite the reverse, when you discovered that the potatoes had rotted, you swore, you abused my Son’s name. They will continue to rot, and by Christmas this year there will be none left.” “If you have grain, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the beasts will devour, and any part of it that springs up will crumble into dust when you thresh it.”
“A great famine is coming. But before that happens the children under seven years of age will be seized with trembling and die in their parent’s arms. The grownups will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes will rot, and the walnuts will turn bad.”
(Both children received secrets which they never disclosed verbally though, at the request of Pope Pius IX, they were encouraged to write them down and they were transmitted to the Pope. We know nothing more about the secrets.)
The Lady continued: “If people are converted, the rocks will become piles of wheat, and it will be found that potatoes have sown themselves.”
There was a pause, then with a searching look the Lady said, “Do you say your prayers well, my children?”
“No,” they murmured, shamefaced.” We say them hardly at all.”
“Ah, my children, it is important to say them, at night and morning. When you don’t have time, at least say an Our Father, and a Hail Mary. And when you can, say more.”
The Lady continued: “Only a few rather old women go to Mass in the summer. All the rest work every Sunday throughout the summer. And in the winter, when they don’t know what to do with themselves, they go to Mass only to poke fun at religion. During Lent they flock to the butchers shops, like dogs”. (This must be a reference to fasting from meat.).
“My children, haven’t you ever seen spoiled grain.” Maximin answered “No, never”
“But, my child, you must have seen it once, near Coin, with our papa. The owner of the field said to your papa, ‘Come to see my spoiled grain’. The two of you went. You took two ears of grain in your fingers. You rubbed them, and they crumbled to dust. Then you came back from Coin. When you were but a half hour away from Corps, your papa gave you a piece of bread and said, ‘Well my son, eat some bread his year, anyhow. I don’t who’ll be eating any next year, if the grain goes on spoiling like that.’”
She was right! Just such an incident had occurred; those very words had been spoken! Maximin had clean forgotten, but astonishingly, this woman knew all about it. “It’s very true Madame. Now I remember it. Until now I did not remember.”
The woman looked earnestly at them. “Well, my children, you will make known this to all my people.” Slowly she turned away, gliding along the ravine, paused, and, without facing them , repeated the command, “You will make this known to all my people.” She proceeded to higher ground, stood still for a moment, then rose in the air. They saw her look towards heaven, joy in her face. Then she began to disappear and faded into the air.
The children looked at the spot where they had last seen her and finally looked at each other. “Perhaps she was a great saint” said Melanie. It was the nearest either came to attributing any identity to the woman.
When the children returned to Corps they told, in detail, the story of what they had seen and heard. They were questioned separately but their stories always agreed.
At this point the story of La Salette differs from all other apparitions in that Melanie and Maximin were immediately believed by many of their family members. (When we think of Lourdes or Fatima we learn that the visionaries were not believed and were sometimes cruelly scolded for telling their stories.) The grandmother Pra, whose family owned the herd which Melanie tended, said to her son “You see! You hear what the Blessed Virgin said to this child! I suppose you’re still going to work tomorrow – it’s Sunday -, remember – after that!” These few words are notable in two respects: one, the old woman was the first to suggest that the lady was the Blessed Virgin; two, it was indeed habitual, as the lady had complained, that the people worked on Sunday as if it were a weekday and not sacred to the Lord.
The ‘belief’ continued the next day when the children were sent to the Priest to tell what they had seen and heard. He immediately told them “It must have been the Blessed Virgin whom you saw.” At Mass he gave the congregation an emotional account of the children’s experience. This action on the part of the Priest goes against any other apparition stories. In most other cases the Priests were unbelieving with considerable reserve and caution.
From then on the children were questioned and re-questioned time and again. But, despite whatever pressure was put on them their story never changed. They were taken up the mountain to where the apparition took place and to carefully re-enact what had take place. While they were there it was discovered that water was gushing out from where the Lady had appeared. This had been a water source but only after heavy rains or when the snows were melting. Now, with neither having occurred, the spring flowed steadily and copiously. Water from it was brought back to town in a bottle. It was given to a woman who had long been seriously ill. She began a novena to Our Lady, and each day she drank a little of the water. On the ninth day she quit her bed and resumed her normal life, her health perfectly restored.
The local Bishop was informed and he sent a team to investigate the happenings. One priest, Father Lagier, who was a native of Corps, questioned Melanie for fifteen hours. He was sharp and merciless but whatever device he resorted to he could not involve her in any contradictions. No more could he discompose Maximin.
Then the Bishop instituted a formal juridical inquiry. Included in its terms of reference were for it to consult all clergy and laymen who might aid the investigation, and especially any doctors who had treated people said to have been cured after drinking the water from the miraculous spring or having invoked Our Lady under the title of La Salette. Attention was drawn to twenty-three claimed cures.
Maximin’s father, Mr Giraud, did not believe his son’s story. When, on the 20th September, he listened for the first time to the story his reaction was to forbid the boy to repeat such a nonsensical tale. A few days later, annoyed by all the people demanding to question the boy, he threatened the child with severe punishment to make him shut up. “But papa, she spoke to me about you!” Maximin exclaimed. And he told his father about the episode of the spoiled wheat at the Coin farm and the piece of bread he gave his son. Mr Giraud’s memory being awoken he was now astonished. This was, for him, the beginning of a genuine conversion which included a miraculous cure of his persistent asthma.
From the earliest days spontaneous pilgrimages began firstly from nearby towns, then from a much wider area. People toiled up the mountain in great numbers, prayed at the ravine and drew water from the spring.
At the same time it was noticed that the pleas of the Lady of Light were having an effect. Violation of Sunday rest ceased. Regular in attendance at Mass were people who had been missing for years. Long lines waited at the confessional. The drunken carousing which had existed in Corps was changed by Holiness. Priests in other parishes in the region noticed similar changes in their congregations.
Melanie and Maximin were kept under scrutiny. What was noticed was that they became more and more incompatible, they were markedly different, except in the story of what happened on the mountain on the19th September 1846. That in this, and this alone, they were indefatigably at one, strengthened the credibility of their claim.
In 1850 Maximin was taken to meet, Jean Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars. For some time the Cure of Ars was confused and unsure. But after having asked for a favour in the name of Our Lady of La Salette, and having the favour granted he stated; “I am a firm believer in La Salette.”
On the 1st May 1852 the elderly Bishop made the assent of the mountain to lay the cornerstone of what is now a large basilica. Also a new community of priests began to function called The Missionaries of La Salette. This was to grow and to establish houses in many parts of the world. In 1879 the basilica was completed and consecrated. The granite had been quarried in the mountains surrounding the site; but all other materials had to be brought up the mountain by donkey or ox cart. It was a monumental task.
What of the visionaries. Maximin tried to prepare for the priesthood but found he had no vocation. He tried various lines of work – none of which succeeded and he died aged forty.
Melanie, who had been subjected to much attention and shown exaggerated deference by the laity and even by some of the clergy, eventually came to crave both. She made several attempts to enter religious life, but could never accept the obscurity and discipline which this imposed. She became a wanderer, seeking notice, giving highly coloured accounts of her childhood in order to attract notice, and uttering threats especially against the clergy and the religious because of their failure to perceive and proclaim her personal importance. She died in 1904 while dressing to go to Mass, at which she assisted daily.
Whatever may be said about the visionaries, they had carried out the Lady’s orders. The huge basilica way up in the mountains, along with other buildings, which provide accommodation and meals for the pilgrims, are a testimony to them having done what the Lady had asked of them.
Result of Our Lady’s Appearances
Local people, who for years hadn’t followed their faith, returned to Mass and the Sacraments. Many cures were credited to Our Lady of La Salette. The water in the ravine, which normally only ran during wet weather or when the snow melted, has been used for cures and is considered as precious as is the water at Lourdes. Since then the water has never ceased flowing. Thousands of feet up in the mountains a basilica with all the other necessary buildings for pilgrims has been built. This in itself was an incredible achievement. The Missionaries of La Salette operate in many countries including the USA and England. That all this has happened from an extremely brief apparition is a miracle in itself.
OUR LADY OF LOURDES 1858
Lourdes and Bernadette are so well known that it might seem unnecessary to retell the story. But on recently returning from a parish pilgrimage to Lourdes I told the young lady at the reception at the gym I attend where I had been. At the word Lourdes her face went blank, it was obvious that she had never heard of it. So I mentioned Bernadette. If I was expecting a more positive response then I was disappointed! She had never heard of either Lourdes or Bernadette. So, on the basis that we never know who might get to read this text – the story of Lourdes will be told.
What a beautiful story it is. As so often happens it is not to someone of culture and high rank who is chosen for the apparition but a lowly illiterate young girl who only three weeks early had been working as a shepherdess in the nearby village of Bartres. Bernadette was said to be ‘not exactly pretty but she was attractive and her dark eyes were frequently enlivened by a sparkle. She had a pleasant smile, a rich voice, and a sense of humour.’ (It is significant that the Parish Priest of Bartres said of her “When I see Bernadette my mind flies to the children of La Salette” where Our Lady appeared earlier in the century.)
It was on February 11th 1858 that Bernadette Soubirous went with her sister and a friend to collect wood at a place by the river called Massabielle. The wood was needed to keep the fire alight in the one single room where the Soubiruous family lived. The room had formerly been the town’s prison but had been closed down as it was considered unsuitable for human habitation. The reason the Soubirous family were there is that due to new methods of mechanisation their flour mill could not compete and they were forced out of business. But that is not the only reason. It might be said that Bernadette’s father was a poor business man – but that doesn’t take into account his perfect charity. No-one coming to their door for help was turned away. And money which was loaned was seldom if ever repaid. That is the way they lived - perfect charity.
After their flour mill closed they were allowed to live in the abandoned prison room. Six people lived in this tiny room which is probably no more than twenty feet square with a tiny stone sink in one corner.
At Massabielle their might be deposits of wood brought down by the River Gave. But at Massabielle there was also a large cave and rocky outcrop, a grotto, which over the years, in bad weather, had probably often been used by shepherds to shelter themselves and their flocks.
Bernadette’s sister and friend had crossed the Gave to where they hoped to find some wood. But Bernadette found the water so cold that she delayed and was just about take off her stocking when she heard a great noise like the sound of a storm. The noise frightened her and she stood up and, looking towards the grotto saw at one of the openings of the rock, a rosebush moving as if it were blown by a very high wind. Almost a the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden coloured cloud, and soon a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom Bernadette had never seen. The Lady came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the rosebush. The Lady smiled at Bernadette and motioned her to come near. At this all fear left Bernadette. She felt as if she were in a trance and rubbed her eyes, shut them, opened them again – but the Lady was still there. In a moment of inspiration Bernadette took her rosary and after the Lady had made the sign of the cross Bernadette commenced to pray the Holy Rosary which is something which she had learned from her good parents. To quote Bernadatte’s words “The Lady left me to pray all alone; she passed the beads of her rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did she say the ‘Gloria’ with me.”
Later this observation was regarded as extremely significant. The Pater Noster and the Ave would logically be omitted by one who had no need to pray for her daily bread and who would certainly not salute herself, while, on the other hand, she would gladly glorify the Trinity.
As soon as the rosary was finished the Lady disappeared, Bernadette’s sister and friend returned to find Bernadette on her knees. They laughed at Bernadette calling her an imbecile and a bigot and asked if she would go back with them to collect more wood. As she crossed the River Gave she found the water warm “as warm as the water for washing plates and dishes!”
Bernadette had told her sister of her vision and during evening family prayers Bernadette started to cry and her sister recounted the story. As one would expect Bernadette’s mother did not believe and told her daughter “These are illusions.”
The apparitions eighteen in all, were to continue until the 16th July 1858. The local Padre was also sceptical of what was happening and when the Lady asked Bernadette to have a chapel built he replied “Tell her that the Cure of Lourdes is not in the habit of dealing with mysterious strangers. If she wants a chapel built she must reveal her identity.” I was on the 16th apparition that the Lady responded. Using the local dialect rather than the French which Bernadette wouldn’t understand she said “Que soy era Immaculado Conceptiou.” But, even though the words were spoken in her dialect, they meant nothing to Bernadette. She had to keep repeating them to herself as she ran to tell the Padre. On hearing the words the Padre believed. There is no way that this illiterate young girl could have invented those words. Also the Padre had heard those words before. Four years earlier Pius IX had defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Now here was Our Lady coming to confirm the doctrine beyond all doubt.
(It is worth recalling that in 1830 Mary appeared to Catherine Laboure. Mary was standing on a globe with rays of light streaming from her hands, surrounded by the words “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” From this vision came The Immaculate Medal now known as The Miraculous Medal. )
Earlier, on the occasion of the ninth apparition, the Lady had told Bernadette to “Drink from the fountain and bathe in it.” There was no spring water at Massabielle and Bernadette had to scratch at loose gravel which became moist. From the water which flowed she was able to drink and wash her face. The next day, the pool was overflowing and water was dripping down over the rock. Since then it had become the water what we all know as Lourdes Water. There must be gallons of it in containers all over the world as well as the many gallons which it takes to fill the Lourdes baths where pilgrims, both sick and healthy, can be immersed.
After the final apparition Bernadette entered a convent in Nevers where she spent the last twelve years of her life as a nun. Rather than treating her as someone special it appears that some of her fellow nuns treat her with some disdain perhaps finding it difficult to understand how this illiterate young girl could have been granted such a gift from heaven. Surely they thought, they who had dedicated their lives to God without any apparitions, were more worthy than this young girl. God’s ways are not our ways!
At thirty-five Bernadette, having received the last sacraments on three previous occasions, died from an attack of tuberculosis. Later when, her body was exhumed, it was been found to be in-corrupt. He body now lies in a glass coffin.
Result of Our Lady’s Appearance
It was to a large degree due to Bernadette’s apparitions at Lourdes that the Doctrine of Pius IX of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception proclaimed four years earlier became widely known by the masses. After the pronouncement, made by the Blessed Virgin herself, in the local dialect, the situation changed. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception became a matter of general discussion.
Our Lady praying the beads with Bernadette has made The Rosary a prayer of great importance for Roman Catholics. It is certain that this method of praying is very acceptable and conducive to our journey to eternity.
A further result of Our Lady’s appearance at Lourdes are the miraculous healings, both mental and physical. Lourdes has become a leading shrine – perhaps the leading shrine – for the lame and blind from all parts of the world.
Of all the thousand who have been healed only sixty-five are recognised as miraculous. Great care is taken in assessing the cures – so that only the most miraculous can be accepted.
The apparitions at Lourdes, which in total took place over only five months, have illumined the lives of millions. Lourdes is accepted world-wide as the shrine to visit above all others. God wanted this and through His Blessed Mother and the co-operation of Bernadette He has attained it.
OUR LADY OF KNOCK 1879
As I commence to write the story of Knock I feel an overwhelming sense of excitement. The apparition at Knock was like no other. What treasures are there to be found? (Two days before I commenced writing about Our Lady of Knock I received a postcard from a dear Nun on holiday in Eire. It was a postcard of the apparition at Knock. That this arrived at this time seemed like a premonition. The postcard gave me a detailed view of the apparition. I am also reminded of the words of Father Joseph Pius who lived, worked and prayed alongside Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotundo. During one of his talks he said “Knock is the most important Shrine of these times.” That seemed an amazing statement to make so I asked him “Why?” His reply “Because it was the start of all the most recent apparitions.”)
Knock is different from all others in many ways. No-one was there when the apparition commenced. No-one was there when it finished. The figures in the apparition did not move nor did they speak. The figures appeared solid but were not; they were of an ethereal nature. No other apparition had so many heavenly figures – most others have only one – either an Angel, Our Lady perhaps holding baby Jesus or Jesus himself. No other apparition has ever been seen by so many people at the same time.
There is a tradition that St Patrick, in his travels, halted at Knock and prophesied that one day it would become a centre of devotion, drawing multitudes from far and near. That prophecy has been fulfilled. No day of the year finds Knock without its Pilgrims sometimes as many as 50,000 at a time coming from all parts of the world.
Let us examine the story and see what we can make of the ‘differences’ from other apparitions.
I will start with someone who at the beginning seemed to play a minor role in the happenings at the Knock Church of St John the Baptist – the Archdeacon Cavanagh. He arrived in Knock in 1867. He was a saintly man who had a deep devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and was fond of referring to her as ‘the ever Immaculate Mother of God.’ He lived frugally, was known to have sold his watch, and on another occasion his horse, to relieve the famine-stricken. “He had no bank account” said an obituary notice; “for he never had anything to put into one. All he ever had went to the poor.”
In 1878, the year before the event that was to make Knock famous, a great storm partially wrecked the little church of St John the Baptist. The slate roof and the windows were badly damaged and the statues smashed. Two new statues were at once ordered, but these got broken in transit from Dublin. It seemed that some evil power was working to prevent the restoration of the church. But Archdeacon Cavanagh was not a man to be daunted by storms or accidents: his church could not be left without a statue of Our Lady. He at once ordered two more statues, one of them a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes; these arrived safely and were installed after the roof had been repaired. Bear in mind that his parishioners were mainly poor tenant farmers with little money to spare towards these repairs and renewals. The parish consisted of a dozen or more humble homes clustered about the small square-towered church. The times were bad. Small holdings of poor; undeveloped land; the exaction of rack-renting landlords, some of who never set foot in Ireland; the cruelties of their merciless, grasping agents; evictions, emigrations; recurring famine and fevers; general misery and desolation –such was the background to rural life in Ireland which was mirrored in Knock. Add to that a mini-famine was being experienced just in that particular part of Ireland. So where did the Archdeacon obtain the finances to carry out the repairs? It is certain that he paid for most of it himself.
Not only was the Archdeacon a man who handled finances carefully but he was also a holy man with a great devotion to The Souls in Purgatory. There is surely some significance to the apparition that in May 1879 he commenced offering one hundred Masses for those in Purgatory. That act of charity was completed on the very morning of the most memorable day Knock was ever to know.
The first person to see the apparition without realising it, was a Mrs Carty who was passing by the church at about 7.30p.m. She saw ‘the statues’ and her reaction was “Another collection, God help us!” The next person to witness the apparition was the Archdeacon’s housekeeper, Mary McLoughlin. After visiting parishioners the Archdeacon had come home soaked by the wet weather and Mary had set a turf fire for him to dry himself. At half past eight she went to visit her nearby friend, Margaret Beirne. As she passed by the church she noticed, at the gable end, ‘some statues’. The Archdeacon being keen on obtaining new statues she probably thought that these were yet some more which he had forgotten to tell her about. She also noticed the light on the gable end of the church but thought it was some trick of the evening dusk.
Half an hour later both women walked back towards the church and it was then that they realised that what they were seeing were not just ‘statues’ but an apparition of Our Lady, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and an altar with on it a Lamb with angels flying alongside and in the background a Cross. The whole was illumined by a brilliant light. Mary Breine said “It’s the Blessed Virgin”. After a while staring in wonder she went to fetch her family. Eventually there were fifteen people watching in awe at the apparition. The ages of those watching raged from six to seventy-five years old. Some of them prayed the Rosary others just stood and stared transfixed by what they were seeing. (A farmer working in his nearby fields didn’t see the apparition but, next day, asked “what was the bright light at the church last evening?” He was later to be greatly blessed, living to see three of his sons ordained to the priesthood, a privilege accorded to few fathers.)
What did the people see? In the centre of the gable end of the church was an altar and on it a lamb which was facing west; facing towards the other figures which made up the tableau – for ‘tableau’ is the best way of describing what they saw. Behind the lamb was a Cross and around it were two angels ‘flying back and forth’, though their faces could not be seen as they were looking towards the lamb.
On the left of the altar was, firstly, St John the Evangelist. He was recognised by Mary Beirne who had seen a statue of St John in another church, the only difference is that this St John was wearing a mitre. Next was certainly Our Lady and the third figure was recognised as St Joseph. All the figures were clothed in dazzling white raiment which shined like silver. Our Lady’s robe, strikingly white, was covered by a large white cloak that fastened at the throat and fell in folds to her ankles. On her head was a brilliant crown surmounted with glittering crosses and over the forehead where the crown fitted the brow was a beautiful rose. She held her hands extended apart and upward as a priest does when offering Mass. (Descriptions of the position of her arms was to play an important part when the evidence was later collected. Those seeing the apparition would never previously have seen anyone praying that way though it is how the first Christians would have prayed. When they were questioned they all gave the same description of Our Lady’s raised arms.) Our Lady had bare feet and one lady viewer went forward to kiss them but, whereas the figure looked solid, all she found was ‘thin air,’ there was nothing solid to kiss. She also noticed that, although it was raining, the area of the tableaux was dry. The wind was driving the rain towards the gable end but it was not reaching it. Also at the gable end the grass was quite high. The figures (the whole tableau) was floating on a level above the grass.
St Joseph who was on Our Lady’s right, had his head bent towards her as though bowed in respect and devotion. Those watching must have been able to see more than just ‘dazzling white’ because they described St Joseph as having “more colour in his face than the other figures, his hair and beard were gray and he looked old.”
St John was standing on Our Lady’s left. He was dressed as a Bishop, but wore a short mitre rather than the usual high Bishop’s mitre. He held a large open book in his left hand while he kept the fingers of his right hand raised as though preaching or teaching. Thirteen year old Patrick Hill went so close that he saw the lines and letters in the book. (Young Patrick’s testimony was later found to be very reliable in the examination of the apparition.)
There is one other factor which is surely relevant. Whilst the apparition was taking place outside the church, it was only a wall thickness away from the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle inside the church. None of the figures would be unaware of their closeness to the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. The lamb was symbolic. That the angels faces could not be seen is not surprising as they would have been facing the wall, paying honour to the place where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved.
All this time “it was teeming with rain.” The visionaries started to disperse. The first to leave was Mary Beirne. Then Mary McLouglin went to tell Archdeacon Cavanagh what was taking place. But he didn’t seem interested. It came out later that his housekeeper was inclined to take a ‘tipple’ and he probably thought that ‘the drink’ was responsible for the fantastic story she was telling him!
Others remained at the church until 11.00p.m. One lady left only because she assumed that the apparition would always be there. She hadn’t thought of it as being transitory. One of the ladies, Judith Campbell, had left her ill mother at home and conscience-stricken she went home. But when she got there it was to find her mother collapsed at the front door. The ill old lady had tried to drag herself towards the church but the effort had been too much for her. Judith’s shout for assistance brought all the others running from the church to help carry the ill lady back to bed. She died the next day.
When they returned to the church there was nothing but the wind and the rain. The gable end of the church was dark, with the rain lashing against it – the figures – the tableau, were gone. The stark contrast must have been the cause of great sadness for those who, a few moments earlier, had viewed the apparition.
The next day Archbishop Cavanagh realised that, on the previous evening, something special had happened. Naturally he regretted not having seen the apparition himself. But he came to realise that perhaps it was by God’s design that he had kept away. On these occasions other clergy tend to be very sceptical – “is this an attempt to further the good fortunes of the Knock Parish?” So it were better that he had not seen - that he was not to be one of those to be interviewed regarding the truth of the apparitions.
What can we deduce from the silence? There has never been such a mixed age of those seeing an apparition. In other cases they have either been all children or, in the case of Sister Catherine Laboure (The Miraculous Medal) an adult. To talk to a mixed group of ages from six to seventy-five, so that everyone would clearly understand, would not be easy and might lead to confusion. Might that be a reason for the silence? Or was the apparition of such intensity that no words were necessary?
Within two months a Commission had been set up to examine the Knock happenings. One of the ‘possibilities’ was that the vision was no more than a Magic Lantern Slide and/or the use of luminous paint. This was investigated both at that time by a scientist and later by a newspaper reporter from the Daily Telegraph. Both stated that such an answer to the vision was impossible.
By the end of 1879 the Commission had completed its examination but made no statement of its findings. All other examinations of the Knock witnesses were not able to find any cause for finding the apparition to be false.
Shortly after the apparition, people began reporting miraculous healings. Archdeacon Cavanagh kept careful records of these cures, which numbered 394 and included the notations that John O’Brien born blind, had gained his sight after making a pilgrimage to Knock. In addition Archbishop Murphy of Hobart, Tasmania, recovered his sight at the age of eighty, and Archbishops Clune of Perth, Australia and Lynch of Toronto, Canada, both received cures of their illnesses.
Over the years the pilgrimages have continued and many Popes have seen fit to give their endorsement to the shrine. In September 1979 Pope John Paul II visited Knock raising the newly built church to the status of a basilica.
A special airport has had to be built to cope with the 1.5 million people every year who make a pilgrimage to Knock where the miraculous cures continue, and to experience the place where Our Lady exhibited her silent adoration of God.
What conclusions can we make? I do wonder whether Archdeacon Cavanagh’s devotion to the souls in Purgatory was somewhat responsible for the apparition. Perhaps Our Lady came to comfort the parishioners who, on top of their everyday privations, were also experiencing a mini-famine. I also think that not enough has been made of the fact that the apparition was only ‘a wall thickness away’ from the sacred species in the church tabernacle. Our Lady would not be so close to her son without acknowledging the fact. Her arms raised in prayer were therefore praising her son. St Joseph and St John were also similarly encouraging us to do the same. The lamb on the altar was symbolic of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle only ‘a wall thickness away’. Is there also some significance that the Knock Church was that of St John the Baptist? Jesus said of St John “In truth I tell you, of all the children born to women, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Mathew 11:11.
One final thought; the lamb, symbolic of Jesus, was facing the three figures. Those figures were very special to Jesus, His Mother, His Guardian, and ‘the disciple whom He loved..’ John 21:7. Perhaps the secret of Knock is ‘love.’
OUR LADY OF FATIMA 1917
Fatima has become a ‘must-visit’ for pilgrims. The fact that the apparitions (in 1917) happened during the time of some who are still alive today makes it new compared to other major shrines.
If we ask the question ‘why was Fatima chosen for these apparitions?’ we find an interesting answer. As well as being honoured by Christians and especially Roman and Orthodox Churches, Mary is also honoured by those of the Muslim faith. The Islamic prophet Muhammad’s eldest daughter was called Fatima. The story goes that in 1158 a high ranking party of the Moorish occupiers, including Fatima, were ambushed by some Christian knights. The leader of the knights, Goncalo Hermingues, became enamoured with Fatima and asked if she could be his wife. Fatima agreed and became a Christian. She died young and was buried in a place which took on her name ‘Fatima’ which is where the apparitions took place. It would seem presumptuous to hold that Our Blessed Mother’s appearance in Fatima, rather than any one of a dozen sounding places within a few kilometres, was an oversight. Also the Arabic name of Fatima means ‘lady’. For some, seeing a Muslim name being used as the name of one of the greatest shrines in Christendom is ironic. “What could be more pleasing in these troubled times,” runs a well known comment, “than to see Catholics praying to a Jewish mother in a place named after Muhammad’s eldest daughter.” Indeed, when Iranian Television broadcast a film of Fatima pilgrims walking the penitential way on their knees, the commentator told its viewers that the pilgrims were Catholics paying homage to Islam!
The Fatima Story
Three young children, Lucia aged nine, her cousin Francisco aged eight and Francisco’s sister, Jacinta aged six were the visionaries. A year before their meeting they had apparitions of an Angel who prayed with them. It was the Angel who gave them the words “My God, I believe, I adore, I trust, and I love You. I beg pardon for those who do not believe, who do not adore, who do not trust and who do not love You. Amen ” which we sometimes use in our prayers.
On another occasion the Angel appeared holding a chalice with a host suspended above it. From the host drops of blood fell into the chalice and, leaving both suspended in the air, the angel prostrated himself upon the ground and three times repeated this sublime prayer of reparation:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I adore You profoundly and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He Himself is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.”
The angel then arose, gave the host to Lucia and the contents of the chalice to Francisco and Jacinta, saying “Take and drink the Body and blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
On the 13th May 1917, in almost the same spot where a year earlier the Angel had appeared to them, the children were once more tending their sheep. They had prayed their Rosary, eaten their meager luncheon and begun to play when suddenly, out of an azure blue sky, a brilliant flash of light appeared. Fearing a storm, they were running to gather their sheep when another flash, this time more brilliant and arresting, literally rooted them to the spot. A vision had suddenly materialised above the branches of a small holm oak tree. It was writes Lucia, ‘a most beautiful Lady dressed all in white, more brilliant than the sun.’
The children’s first impulse was to run away, but the Lady beckoned to them and bade them come nearer. Her face was youthful, that of a girl of sixteen, yet tinged with an expression of sadness. Her hands held a white rosary.
It was Lucia who broke the silence when she asked. “Where do you come from?” “I come from Heaven.” was the reply. Lucia continued “Why have you come?” The Lady’s reply was “I want you to come here on the thirteen of each month at the same hour. In the month of October I shall tell you who I am and what I want you to do.”
Lucia had gained confidence and she asked questions which elicited replies that she, Jacitna and Francisco would all go to heaven but Francisco would have to pray many rosaries. Then the Lady was asked about two little playmates who had died the pervious year. “Yes, they were in heaven.” But when they asked about Amelia it was to be told “Amelia will be in purgatory till the end of the world.” Early books on Fatima had stated that Amelia was seven years old but sometime in the late 1950’s Lucia, in an interview, stated that Amelia had been eighteen years old. As Lucia said “For one mortal sin a soul may be in Hell forever.”
The Lady asked if they would offer themselves to God in order to accept all the sufferings He would send them, in reparation for sin and for the conversion of sinners? With childlike simplicity they answered unison “Yes, we want to.” Before leaving them the Lady told them that they would have much to suffer, but God’s grace would strengthen them. Then the Lady floated away out of sight.
They had decided to tell no-one but in the evening Jacinta broke down and told her mother what had happened. By the following day it was the talk of the village. It was then that they learnt of the suffering of which the Lady had told them. They were ridiculed and rebuked and Lucia was given a severe beating, and treated as a liar even by members of her own family.
But there was one who refused to be swayed by the storm of ridicule and abuse. It was Ti Marto, father of Francisco and Jacinta. From the beginning he was a tower of strength and despite his lack of formal education he proved to be a man of sound judgement.
On the lady’s second visit a small crowd of some thirty people had come to watch including Ti Marto. The Lady appeared and gave them the words which we recite at the end of each decade of the Holy Rosary. “Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of Hell and lead all souls to Heaven especially those most in need of Thy Mercy.” Also on this visit the Lady said that Francisco and Jacinta would soon go to heaven but Lucia would have to wait a longer time. (As I write this on the 10th November 2003 Lucia in her nineties and still alive.) Before the Lady left them they had a vision of her Immaculate Heart pierced by thorns.
Over the next months the children suffered greatly. Their priest suggested that the apparitions might be caused by devil. That frightened Lucia who wanted to miss attending one of the month’s apparitions and Francisco and Jacinta said that they would not go without her. But, just before they were due to leave, a great peace came over her, she felt safe and the three children attended the apparition.
At one of the apparitions they were shown Hell. “…..we saw huge numbers of devils and lost souls in a vast and fiery ocean. The devils resembled black animals, hideous and unknown, each filling the air with despairing shrieks. The lost souls were in their human bodies and seemed brown in colour, tumbling about constantly in the flames and screaming with terror…..” The vision was so frightening that Lucia stated that she would have died of fright if the Blessed Lady had not been standing beside them.
When the vision had finished the Lady told the children that, in order to save souls, God wanted to establish in the world the devotion to her Immaculate Heart. Further she asked that Russia should be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. If that were done then Russia would be converted otherwise Russia would spread its errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church. The Holy Father would suffer much.
Now the civil authorities became involved. The local administrator (A Pontius Pilate sort of character), who was responsible for peace in his district, took the children for questioning and purposely imprisoned them so that they could not attend the next apparition.
On that occasion 18,000 people had assembled and when they got to know that the children were imprisoned they became angry and intended to go to the authorities with a strong protest. Such action would only have made the administrator more firm in wanting to deal with the matter. But, as the crowd were discussing their action, out of a clear blue sky there came a rumble of heavy thunder, the sun grew pale, the whole atmosphere changed to a dull, sickly yellow while a light cloud, of beautiful shape, appeared and hovered a while over the oak tree, at the place of the apparitions. Filled with awe at this manifestation the crowd became calm and peacefully dispersed to their homes.
Meanwhile the children were undergoing the terror of interrogation. The administrator thought that total fear would make them retract their story. So he told them that he was going to fry them alive in a red-hot frying pan. He took them out one at a time, each one thinking that they were going to their awful deaths, but the administrator’s plot failed. The three young children did not retract a word of their story. The administrator was beaten. He took them back to their Parish Priest who returned them to their parents.
The next time the Lady appeared she complained about the actions of the administrator but the main conversation was to speak to the children about the necessity for penance, both for one’s own transgressions and those of the sinful world.
By this time Lucia’s mother was convinced of the genuineness of the apparitions and was full of remorse for the harsh treatment she had meted our to her daughter.
On the September 13th a crowd of some 30,000 attended the apparition and many prayed the rosary fervently. But that crowd was nothing compared to the crowd of the 13th October when a ‘miracle’ had been promised. On the day tens of thousands from all over Portugal and beyond made their way to the holm oak where the Lady would appear. But the night of the 12/13th was appalling. It was as if the devil had unleashed wind and rain from Siberia so when the time came for the children to make their way through the crowd it was through puddles of mud with all around them rain-soaked blankets, wilting sombreros or black umbrellas.
Word had got around that some of the belaboured pilgrims were in an ugly mood. If the promised ‘miracle’ did not happen then these children had lied and they would want some revenge for their waste of time and effort. The children were aware of this but they knew that the Lady would keep her word.
The children seemed serenely unafraid whilst Francisco and Jacinta’s mother was very concerned.
At the appointed time the Lady came, as she had promised, she told them her name “I am the Lady of the Rosary” she said. Then she imparted her last message to the children “People must amend their lives, ask pardon for their sins, and not offend Our Lord any more for He is already too greatly offended.”
As the Lady took her leave of the children she opened her hands, and from them rays of light extended in the direction of the sun. “There she goes! There she goes!” shouted Lucia and her words found echo in the great cry of astonishment from the multitude, by now observing the first awe-inspiring manifestations of the Miracle of the Sun.
Gradually the sun grew pale, lost its normal colour, and appeared as a silver disk at which all could gaze directly without even shading their eyes. Then, to the astonishment of all present, rays of multicoloured lights shot out in every direction; red, blue; yellow; green – every colour of the spectrum. Meanwhile, the very heavens seemed to be revolving as the sun spun madly on its axis like a gigantic wheel of fire. Three times it stopped and three times the mad dance was resumed. Then, while the crowd went to its knees in abject terror, the sun suddenly seemed to be torn loose from its place in the heavens. Down it hurtled, close and closer to earth, staggering ‘drunkenly’ as it zigzagged through the skies while from all parts of the now terrified multitude arose cries of repentance and appeals for mercy.
“It’s the end of the world,” shrieked one woman hysterically.
“Dear God, don’t let me die in my sins,” cried another.
“Holy Virgin, protect us,” implored a third.
As suddenly as it had started its downward plunge the sun started its way back to its place in the sky.
When the people got control of themselves they discovered another miracle. Their rain soaked clothes were dry. Everybody felt comfortable. It was a gracious maternal gesture on the part of the Blessed Mother in the wake of the greatest miracle our generation has ever known.
The future of the children came about as the Lady had foretold. In October 1918, just one year after the apparitions the greatest influenza epidemic ever known was taking its toll. Francisco was the first of his family to fall victim. He suffered a painful illness and died on April 4th 1919. The day previous he had made his first Holy Communion.
Jacinta fell ill with the same fever. She recovered for a while but then relapsed and died early in 1920. So the Lady’s words had come true. Both Francisco and Jacinta were taken to their eternal reward when they were very young.
Now Lucia was left alone. Previously she could go to Francisco and Jactina for support. Now there was nowhere to turn. It was eventually decided that she should leave Fatima and go to a girl’s school in Porto run by nuns. One condition was that the apparitions were not to be mentioned. They were taboo! She was undoubtedly a matter of great interest to the Community who viewed her with mixed curiosity and suspicion. Away from her family and her two special friends she was starved of spiritual sympathy and it must have been a very difficult time for her.
In November 1926 she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Dorothy and made her final vows in 1934. For nearly fourteen years she exerted every possible effort to spread the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In 1948 she entered the Carmelite Order of Coimbra where she was able to devote the rest of her life to her own spiritual perfection.
Eighty-six years have elapsed since the Blessed Mother gave us her “Peace Plan from Heaven.” She tried to stem the flow of moral evil that led to the Second World War and the spread of Communism throughout the world. Sadly her efforts ended in failure. Not her fault but ours. Listen to her prophetic words in July 1917 and consider in what a welter of human agony the threatened calamities have come to pass: “If the people do as I shall ask, many souls will be converted and there will be peace. This war (the 1914/18 war) is going to end, but if people do not cease offending God, not much time will relapse and during the Pontificate of Pius XI another and more terrible war will begin… If my requests are heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the entire world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church. The good will suffer martyrdom: the Holy Father will suffer much; different nations will be annihilated.”
Early in 1989 Lucia announced that God had accepted John Paul II’s March 25th 1984 Consecration of ‘Russia and The World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary’. It was in 1989 that the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved itself soon thereafter.
The most important and memorable words are those of our Blessed Mother. “In the end my Immaculate Heart will Triumph.”
To be true to Fatima we should recite the Rosary daily, make a determined effort for our personal sanctity, attend Mass on the first Saturdays and consecrate ourselves to our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart.
Because Sister Lucia is still alive, now in her mid-nineties, she may yet receive further manifestations which she will convey to us. We need to pray for her, thanking God for her, and for the immense weight of responsibility which she has carried for nearly ninety years.
OUR LADY OF BEAURAING 1932-33
Our Lady first appeared in Beauraing in Belgium on the 29th November 1932. Beauraing is a small town sixty miles south east of Brussels. Our Lady appeared to five children; Fernande aged fifteen, Gilberte aged thirteen, Albert aged eleven, Andree aged fourteen and another Gilberte aged nine.
On that evening they were in the courtyard of the school of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine when they were astonished to see a figure walking above a railway viaduct which was built close to the convent. They immediately recognised that it was the Blessed Virgin. They ran home frightened but when they reached their respective homes their parents did not believe them. This was to be the first of thirty-three apparitions.
They returned to the courtyard the next night and again saw the woman above the viaduct. On the third night the figure appeared in a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes which was close to the courtyard. From then on she appeared on the lowest branch of a hawthorn tree.
The woman spoke to the children for the first time on the 2nd December when she nodded her assent when Albert asked if she were the Immaculate Virgin. She asked that they should always be good.
Beginning on December 4th the children noticed that the Virgin carried a rosary. During subsequent visits she asked for a chapel to be built and showed them her Immaculate Heart, which burned with a radiant gold. She told the children, “Pray, pray very much.” She asked that people should come on pilgrimage.
On her final appearance on the 3rd January 1933, in the presence of ten thousand of more spectators, the children entered into a state of ecstasy, remaining impervious to pinches, pinpricks, bright lights, even the touch of flames. After they emerged from the ecstasy, their skin showed no sign of these tests. “I am the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven. Pray always.” “I will convert sinners.” Then she disappeared. But Fernande had not seen the Virgin and was heartbroken and crying – then there was a loud crash and Fernande saw the Blessed Virgin.
Because Our Lady had saved her words to Fernande till last it seems likely that she wished to place special emphasis on these words. “Do you love my Son?” Our Lady asked.”
“Do you love me?”
“Then sacrifice yourself for me.”
Then as she disappeared she said “Goodbye.,”
In the first year more than two million people visited the convent garden, reporting many cures and favours due to Our Lady of Beauraing’s intercession. One startling conversion was that an editor of a Communist newspaper who had given up his faith. He was imprisoned and while there promised the Blessed that he would return to his faith if he were released. He was released but did not keep his promise. He was imprisoned again and again but still did no return to his faith.
In September 1945 the young man was struck by the thought that he should visit Beauraing. He did not know where the thought came from and he tried to banish it. But the thought would not go away; it haunted him. Almost against his will he found himself at Beauraing. He stood facing the hawthorn tree. Suddenly he was thrown to the ground. “I was trying to protect myself from the fall,” he said. “For a long time he saw nothing but the figure of Our Lady in the hawthorn tree. A complete transformation was produced. The next day the former Communist editor went to Confession and Holy Communion.
Having carried out investigations in February 1943 the local Bishop authorised public devotions to Our Lady of Beauraing. In July 1949 the Bishop sent a letter to the clergy of his diocese. It said: ‘We are able in serenity and prudence to affirm that the Queen of Heaven appeared to the children of Beauaring during the winter of 1932-33 especially to show us, in her maternal Heart, the anxious appeal for prayer and the promise of her powerful mediation for the conversion of sinners.’
In 1947 the cornerstone was laid of the chapel which Our Lady had requested. In August 1954 the chapel was completed and consecrated.
The children shunned the limelight. All five married. They had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. They accepted that they were not important. They were merely instruments through which Our Lady gave her message to the world.
Some people express surprise that the children married instead of entering religious life but the children merely followed the vocations which God had sent them.
(Seventy years on we see the same situation with the Medjugorje visionaries. One of the boys did try for a priestly vocation only to discover that it was not for him. They have all married.)
The message of Beauraing can be summed up briefly by using Our Lady’s words at Fatima; 1) Prayer, especially the Rosary. 2) Sacrifice. 3) Devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart.
Mary said; “I will convert sinners?” How can she, a creature herself, say that? Should she not have said “I will obtain the conversion of sinners”? The only answer seems to be that God has entrusted tremendous power to Mary and that He refuses her nothing. She is the Mediatrix of All Graces in the full sense of the term. All our prayers and requests go to God through Mary, and she distributes all the graces that come from God. Mary’s Universal Mediation is not yet a dogma of the Church, but many theologians accept the idea.
OUR LADY OF BANNEUX 1933
Twelve days after the last apparition at Beauraing, news first began to circulate of miraculous happenings fifty miles to the north in the Belgian hamlet of Banneux. Naturally it was thought that the visionary had got ‘caught up in the thrill of apparitions!’
It was January 1933 when eleven-year-old Mariette Beco was awaiting her brother’s return for dinner. As she peered out of the window, she caught sight of a luminous figure. A beautiful young woman, about five feet tall, dressed in a white flowing gown and veil, with a bright blue sash and a golden rose on her right foot, was standing near the family’s vegetable garden, holding a rosary and smiling at Mariette.
Becoming excited, Mariette called to her mother. Able to discern only a shadowy figure, Mrs Beco was frightened that her daughter had seen a witch. As the young girl began praying the rosary, the woman gestured to her to approach. But her mother had locked the door to keep Mariette in. When she returned to the window the woman had vanished.
Convinced that she had seen the Blessed Virgin. Mariette exhibited a profound change in her behaviour, returning to school, studying her catechism, attending Mass and saying her prayers.
Three nights later, Mariette was waiting outside for the woman, kneeling on the frozen ground and praying the rosary. She suddenly perceived the woman floating toward her. Mr. Beco, who was not following his faith, having found his daughter on her knees, quickly summoned a neighbour as witness. As the girl continued to pray, the woman came closer, then beckoned Mariette to follow her to a nearby spring. There she spoke for the first time. “Thrust your hands into the water.” When Mariette obeyed, the woman asserted. “This spring is mine.” Then she retreated into the sky.
The following evening, when the woman appeared for the third time, Mariette asked her name. “I am the Virgin of the Poor,” she replied. Leading Mariette to the spring, she explained that it was “reserved for all nations, for the sick.” Then she vanished as before.
During the fourth apparition. the Virgin requested that a chapel be built near the spring. On the fifth apparition the Virgin disclosed “I have come to relieve suffering.” On subsequent appearances the Virgin told Mariette “Believe in me and I will believe in you” and exhorted her to “pray hard.” During her final visit, the eighth, the Virgin said, “I am the mother of the Saviour, Mother of God.” and again she advised Mariette to, “pray hard.”
Bernadette of Lourdes and Mariette were similar in that they both came from poor families. But Bernadette’s family had a strong faith while Mariette’s had little or none.
The local parish priest came to visit Mariette bringing with him a Benedictine Monk. On their way to the Beco’s the priest mentioned that he would like to see some ‘sign’ such as Mr Beco returning to his faith. Before they left the house Mr Beco approached the priest and requested to see him the next day to confess and receive Holy Communion. The priest’s ‘sign’ had been granted!
Mariette had to undergo a continuous trial from the world’s cruellest tormentors, school children. The boys would genuflect before her and ask her blessing, and one day they beat her so badly that she carried black and blue marks on her face for some time. The girls would give vulgar imitations of Our Lady and then with great glee sing out, “Good morning, Bernadette.”
As happened to the children of Beauraing, Mariette married and had a family. She resisted all publicity.
Two small chapels have been built. One next to the Beco home and the other over the spot where Our Lady appeared at the spring. The spring has been capped off and its source directed into multiple outlets in a wall extending along both sides of the spring.
Over 500,000 pilgrims every year travel in Mariette’s footsteps and keep a staff of priests in the confessionals during the influx in summer. Two million members of the International Union of Prayers join with that Rosary, which has been recited continually at Banneux each evening at seven o’clock since the Virgin first appeared, to pray for the poor, the suffering, and peace among all nations.
Works of charity attributed to Our Lady’s appearance include a Home for poor children, nine religious orders who teach and pray, and serve at a 250 bed hospital where three-day retreats are held for the sick, five national centres of information on the devotion to the Virgin of the Poor, 300 chapels, over 3000 monuments and shrines, and 25 churches throughout the world dedicated to the Virgin of the Poor. They are all eloquent testimony to the spirituality of Banneux.
But why did Our Lady appear so soon after her appearances at Beauraing and why in a place so near to Beauraing? Some things we will only get to know on the other side the grave!
OUR LADY OF ALL NATIONS 1945 to 1959
On March 25th 1945, the feast of the Annunciation, near the close of World War II, Isje Johanna Peerdman, called Ida, was talking in her living room with her sisters and her spiritual director. Suddenly she saw a light coming from an adjoining room and felt drawn to it. Then the room seemed to disappear and she saw a lady coming toward her out of empty space. Ida thought her to be the Blessed Mother. The woman told Ida to slowly repeat what she said and the spiritual director and her sisters transcribe the words. Thus began a long series of visits and supernatural experiences that would continue for decades.
When the first vision occurred, Ida was forty years old. Although Ida’s spiritual director and one or two of her sisters were present during many of the apparitions, only Ida saw or heard the lady. Information about the apparitions was not made public for many years.
The lady did not identify herself until 1951, when she said “I am the Lady – Mary – Mother of All Nations” I wish to be known as this. Let all the children of men, of all countries in the world, be one!”
Most of Our Lady’s messages were extraordinarily prophetic, predicting such events as the division of Korea into North and South, the landing on the moon, the construction of the Berlin Wall, even the development of chemical and biological weapons. In some cases the prophecies predated the events by more than twenty years.
Perhaps most remarkably, Mary began to prepare the hearts and minds of humankind for a new Marian Dogma, telling Ida, in 1951, “It is the wish of the Father and the Son to send Me into the world in these times as the Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate.” Our Lady explained,
“The following is the explanation of the new dogma: As Co-Redemptrix,
Mediatrix and Advocate, I am standing on the globe in front of the Cross
of the Redeemer. By the will of the Father, the Redeemer came on earth.
To accomplish this, the Father used the Lady. Thus, from the Lady, the
Redeemer received only – and I am stressing the word “only” – flesh and
blood, that is to say, the body. From my Lord and Master the Redeemer
received His divinity. In this way the Lady became Co-Redemptrix.
As Our Lady pointed out, in 1954, “I am not bringing a new doctrine. I am now bringing old ideas.” Indeed the fathers and mothers of the church believed that as Christ was the New Adam, so Mary was the New Eve.
Our Lady continued to visit Ida until 1959 but in 1958 there commenced eucharistic visions and locutions which included communications from all three persons of the Trinity. The messages were overwhelmingly hopeful, pointing not only to Christ’s redemption of humankind but also to the victory of Our Lady over Satan. Ida’s last Eucharistic vision took place in 1984.
Ida suffered ridicule and persecution but in May 1996 she received ecclesiastical approval by Auxiliary Bishop Josef Punt, of the Haarlam-Amsterdam Diocese. That was a great solace to her. She died soon afterwards.
OUR LADY OF MEDJUGORJE 1981 and continuing
When I commenced writing about Knock I said that I ‘felt an overwhelming sense of excitement.’ As I commence to write about Medjugorje I have that same feeling. By appearing in Medjugorje during our lifetime, and by continuing to appear for the past twenty-four years (as at Oct. 2005), Our Lady has given us the chance to visit a place where she is appearing, to see and meet the visionaries, to be present on the hill and mountain when she appears.
So we can no longer complain in our hearts “If only we had been able to be at Lourdes or Fatima at the time of the apparitions.” Now we can be where Our Lady is appearing. Initially the opportunity takes our breath away but then, if we are not careful, we become blasé about it. How many are ‘putting off’ the chance till next year or maybe the year after. Our Lady will not be appearing for ever. If Our Lady is calling us then we should go now!
The story of Medjugorje starts with six children, four girls and two boys. The youngest, was one of the boys aged ten the others were teenagers. The story differs from other apparitions in that, although Medjugorje can not be called a prosperous place, nevertheless none of the children came from poor families.
Two of the girls were walking along a stony pathway towards their village when they had a vision of a lady who they immediately recognised might be Our Lady (or Gospa, which is the name the Croatians know her by). The lady was beckoning to them but fear seized their hearts and they ran away. They met some other friends and cautiously they all went back to see if the vision was still there. It was, and once again they fled.
Their families were disbelieving which is not surprising. (This normal disbelief is one of the factors which was not present a La Salette. On that occasion the Holy Spirit must have been present to give confidence to the families of Melanie and Maximin and to the Priest.)
The group, which had now grown to six, went back the next day at the same time and once again the lady was there beckoning to them. On this occasion all fear disappeared and they ran towards her at great speed. They were running over very rocky ground scattered with small bushes containing sharp thorns. I have walked over this ground and was only able to do so very slowly. One of the group, the ten year old boy, fell into a bush but picked himself up and carried on running with no injuries. Some curious villagers had followed and were amazed at the speed of the young people. They were witnessing the first miracle of the many hundreds, maybe thousands, which were to occur in that special place which God had chosen for Gospa to appear.
One of the girls had brought some holy water with her and threw it over the lady who smiled. They asked her who she was and she replied “I am the Blessed Virgin Mary.” They asked her why she had come and she replied “I have come to tell you that God exists, and He loves you. Let the others, who do not see me, believe as you do.” She said also the words that were to become both her refrain and her prophecy over the coming years: “Peace, peace, peace! Be reconciled! Only peace. Make your peace with God and among yourselves.”. This is simply the Gospel message, the same repentance message preached by John the Baptist, the same message preached by Jesus when he said “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Our Lady is repeating the Gospel message.
Since then Gospa started to appear every day to the six young people. At the beginning she asked them to pray Seven Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s. Later she added other prayers including, as at Lourdes and Fatima, her Holy Rosary.
When he heard of the appearances of the Gospa, the Parish Priest of the Franciscan Church of St James was sceptical. One day he was in church praying for guidance when he felt an inner voice telling him to go to the church door; the children needed his help. He followed the command and as he opened the door it was to see the young people running towards him. They were being chased by the Communist authorities. He hid them in the church and, from then he believed. What should we believe? The happiness which pilgrims receive at Medjugorje, the large number who take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the many physical and spiritual healings plus the many miraculous phenomena which take place make it difficult to disbelieve.
I have mentioned the phenomena. Let me explain some of them:
Croatian word for ‘Peace’.
In the early days Gospa appeared to the six visionaries all at the same time. But later, as the years went by, she appeared to them separately. This was because, as they grew up, they were not always together. Some would remain in or near Medjugorje but, in order to promote Medjugorje and tell of Gospa’s request for ‘peace’, others would travel the world. With six of them carrying out the task they could cover a larger area than if they stayed together. One of the boys came to England and while he was at Aylesford he had his daily apparition of Gospa.
When we think of Bernadette of Lourdes and Lucy of Fatima it becomes automatic to think that visionaries will become religious. But in Medjugorje this has not happened. One of the boys did enter a seminary but it became clear that it was not his calling. Now all the visionaries are married and have children.
As Gospa appeared to them separately she started to give them ‘Secrets’. In all there are ten such secrets to be given to each visionary. None of the visionaries know what secrets have been given to each. Once the ten secrets have been conveyed then their daily apparition stops and they only see Gospa once a year – perhaps on their birthdays or at Christmas. At this time (Oct. 2005) there are still three of the visionaries who have only received nine secrets.
Secrets are secrets so it is useless to try and guess what they are or why they are necessary. Secrets are one of the ‘phenomena’ of some of the apparitions. At La Salette and Fatima secrets were conveyed. The La Salette secrets have never been revealed whilst the Fatima secret, given to Sister Lucia, was revealed. It told of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
One of the Medjugorje secrets has been mentioned by Gospa herself. When all the visionaries have received the ten secrets she has promised that ‘a great sign will appear to convince many who do not believe’. It is expected that this ‘sign’ will appear on the hill of apparitions where Gospa first appeared. She has said that it will lead many to conversion.
Gospa has now been appearing daily for over twenty-four years (as at Oct. 2005). During that time the very country she is appearing in has been shaken by the conflict of war. It was miraculous that Medjugorje did not suffer from bomb damage. On one occasion a bomber pilot tried to sight the village for an attack. But for no known reason his vision was blurred, he could not see the target, so he did not drop his bombs. On another occasion a bomb dropped one killing a cow in a field. The Parish Priest at that time, Fr Slavko, maintained that Medjugorje did not escape suffering. Many of its men were casualties and consequently families were damaged and suffered.
Medjugorje is now second only to Lourdes for the annual number of pilgrims
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MIRACULOUS IMAGES OF OUR LADY
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Our Lady as Mediatrix
‘The Motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the final fulfilment of the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix.’ Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 969.
Some non-Catholics object to this title of Mediatrix. They point to the writings of St Paul who states that Christ is ‘…one mediator between God and man’ (1 Timothy 2:5). But Paul touched upon this mystery again when he stated ‘We are God’s co-workers.’ (1 Corinthians 3:9). If God is the mediator why would He have co-workers? Can’t He get the job done by Himself? Of course He can. But since He is a father His job is raising up mature sons and daughters: and the way to do that is by making us co-workers. Can the answer be that it is Mary who takes our prayers and petitions to Christ who then takes them to The Father? There is a school of thought which says that all our prayers and petitions go through Mary to Christ. That would be difficult to accept by those who claim that they pray directly to Christ and can’t understand why we honour and pray to Blessed Virgin. Theologians continue to search for a definitive answer to Mary’s mediation. It was hoped that Vatican II would make a firm statement but that did not happen. In fact almost up to the last day of the Council the arguments continued and eventually the word ‘Mediatrix’ was deleted. Nevertheless the title of Mary as Mediatrix has been applied in the East since the fifth century and in the West since the ninth. Pope Pius XII used the word Mediatrix eight times in his writings.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater Pope John Paul II mentioned Mary as a Mediator. He wrote “Mary entered in a way all her own, into the one mediation ‘between God and men’ which is the mediation of the man Christ Jesus.” I believe that those words give emphasis to the suggestion that, whether we realise or not, Mary takes all our prayers and petitions to Christ.
Our Lady as Co-redemptrix
If referring to Mary as a Mediatrix is going to cause difficulties for some of our separated brethren then to call her a co-redemptrix might cause apoplexy! It is perhaps the most controversial of all the Blessed Mother’s titles.
The controversy stems, in part, from an imperfect understanding of the title’s meaning. Most people believe that a Co-redemptrix is one who has an equal role in human redemption. However in this case the prefix ‘co’ does not mean ‘equal’; rather, it means ‘with,’ ‘together,’ ‘associated in action with another’ or ‘having a usually lesser share in duty or responsibility.’ This is the manner in which Mary fulfils her role as a Co-redemptrix.
She is seen to participate in Christ’s redemption of creation in three ways.
of Christ’s already accomplished redemption.
in Christ’s redeeming action.
This last is the controversial point, and it is of relatively modern interpretation. Pope Saint Pius X in his 1904 letter Ad diem illum wrote ‘Owing to the union of
suffering and purpose existing between Christ and Mary, she merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world.’
Pope Benedict XV in a 1918 apostolic letter wrote ‘To each extent did she suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to each extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him – insofar as she could – in order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ.’
Pope Pius XI wrote extensively on the concept of Mary as Co-redemptrix. For example in his letter Miserentissimus redemptor he explained, ‘She brought forth Jesus the Redeemer, fed Him, offered Him as a victim at the cross, by her hidden union with Christ, and an altogether singular grace from Him, was likewise the Reparatrix.’ In 1933 when speaking to pilgrims he said ‘We invoke her under the title Co-redemptrix.’
Pope John Paul II has used the term Co-redemptrix – which has sometimes been translated co-operator – more than any other pope. For example, in an address on the 8th September 1982 he said, ‘Mary, though conceived and born without the taint of sin, participates in a marvellous way in the suffering of her divine son, in order to be a Co-redemptrix of humanity.’ On January 31st 1985 he proclaimed, ‘Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her son.’
In his apostolic letter Salvifici doloris John Paul II said ‘….her intense sufferings were not only a proof of her unshakeable faith, but also a contribution to the Redemption of all…..’ ‘……her standing at the foot of the cross together with her beloved disciple were a special sort of sharing in the Redeeming death of her Son.’
The idea these popes have represented is that as the mother of Christ, Mary had a special calling. By co-operating in the Redemption, she herself helped to redeem the world. We accept that these encyclicals, apostolic letters and speeches are not infallible statements though, in preparing these words, one has to wonder whether the Holy Spirit was assisting the Holy Fathers.
Finally, this chapter might give rise to misunderstanding if it were not clearly stated that none of these statements do more than honour Mary. Adoration is reserved for God alone.
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Things of a spiritual nature, and especially apparitions, do not happen without a reason. There must be a constant theme running through all of Our Lady’s appearances.
Whenever we turn away from the commandments we not only put ourselves in danger of being lost but we hurt Jesus. We take part in the Passion; we add our weight to those who offend Him. So he sends his Mother, Our Lady, to convey His love and to encourage us to remain faithful.
It has to be significant that she comes, not to the wealthy, but to the poor and nearly always to children. (‘Let the little children be, and do not hinder them from coming to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 19:14) Sometimes she comes to those who are poor spiritually and at other times to those who are living in poverty. The spiritually poor need help to raise themselves out of their stupor. Those living in poverty need reminding of the poverty in which Jesus and Mary lived. Poverty is not to be looked down on. Poverty and humility go hand in hand and are the cure for riches and pride.
But what lessons are to be learnt from the differing lengths of the apparitions. From only half an hour at La Salette and only three hours a Knock to over twenty-three years at Medjugorje which is still ongoing. Our Lady is being given the maximum time to make the maximum impact. God’s love for us is such that he does not want any of us to be lost.
Surely the ongoing Medjugorje apparition is in answer to the constant attack, in today’s world, on everything spiritual. Abortion on demand; divorce; homosexual practices; same sex marriages; priests leaving their vocation; fewer people attending church; a watering down of religion in schools – all these are attacks on our spiritual life which can weaken our faith which needs defending. Our Lady comes to warn us of the consequences of not listening to the warnings. Are we listening?
Michael Blackburn December 2003
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Meditations on the Nativity.
Bernard Gallagher who organizes regular pilgrimages to Medjugorje and edits his own Medjugorje publication has written the following meditation.
‘Jesus, in the stable was being born into our own hearts, perhaps not the cleanest and most accommodating at times, but nevertheless we did not have to be perfect for him to be born to live in our hearts. But, if that is the case then why could he not be accommodated at the inns, by no means places of perfection, either?
The inns were closed, doors were shut, and there just wasn’t any room for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But a cave has no door – it has an open entrance, where all sorts of creatures can find shelter – truly an open heart.
Our Lady cleaning the cave is symbolic of the way she cleans our hearts ready to receive her son.’
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As far as can be discovered the use of ‘one hundred and fifty’ came from the early Monasteries where the monks obeyed the strict rule of St Benedict by daily recitation of the King David’s one hundred and fifty Psalms. In those early days, many of the monks were illiterate so to either read or memorise the Psalms was beyond them. To enable them to take part in the prayer of the community they were allowed to recite an appropriate number of Our Fathers (known as Paternosters). To keep track of the numbers they used a knotted string. People from the neighbouring villages would attend the services and they too followed the monks example and so the use of beads was accepted by the laity.
The next stage in the story takes us to the eleventh century and to St Anselm who was Archbishop of Canterbury. He composed a prayer to Mary which was based on the Psalms and consisted of one hundred and fifty verses, which he divided into three, each verse commencing with the word ‘Ave’. This prayer became know as ‘Our Lady’s Psalter’. Now we move forward to the fourteenth century when a famous Carthusian monk, Henry Egher, claimed to have had a remarkable vision of Our Lady in which she taught him to say the ‘Psalter’ in her honour. He described this occurrence to one of the Priors in his order and in a short space of time the prayer became known throughout the country.
In the same century Eton College was founded by King Henry VI which Included in its statutes that the students were required to recite, every day, ‘the complete Psalter of the Blessed Virgin consisting of a Credo, fifteen Paters and one hundred and fifty Ave Marias’. This was in accordance with the instructions given by Our Lady to the Carthusian monk. Gradually, from being based on the psalms, the Ave-Psalter began to develop a clear character of its own, and the division into the fifties came to represent the three moods that make up the rosary.
But why the name ‘Rosary’? In the early days of the church statues of Mary (Our Lady) would have roses put on her head in the shape of a crown or halo. It seems very credible that it is from those roses has come the name Rosary.
Some of the Joyful Mysteries are attributed to St Thomas a Becket who was Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King Henry II. He composed a hymn on the seven joys of Our Lady. Some of his themes are now used as Joyful Mysteries. Over many centuries there followed a natural progression. Having prayed and meditated on the Joyful mysteries is was a natural to want to pray and meditate on the Sorrowful and then the Glorious themes in the life of Jesus and Mary so the other mysteries came into being.
There is a strong tradition that The Rosary, as it is known today, started in England. This seems to be confirmed by a report on the state of England in 1496 made by a secretary of the Venetian Embassy: “They all hear Mass every day, and say many Paternosters (Rosaries) in public, the women carrying long strings of beads in their hands.......”.
There is a tradition that Our Lady gave the Rosary in its present form to St Dominic. It is believed that on 16th July 1251 Our Lady gave the brown scapular to St Dominic so it is not hard to believe the tradition that she also gave the Rosary to him. The church often accepts tradition. It has always done so in the case of the Sixth Station of the Cross. There is nothing in the Bible regarding Veronica Wiping the Face of Jesus – it is ‘tradition’. That St Dominic was a man of remarkable character is not in doubt. He had the deepest compassion for every sort of human suffering. It is possible that he prayed the Rosary when working with the sick and it is from that the tradition began of him having being given the Rosary by Our Lady or he may in fact have been the recipient of the Rosary from Mary herself.
The Rosary has proved to be a most powerful prayer. There are many instances where praying the Rosary has averted disasters. In 1558 a massive Muslim fleet set out to capture Malta and to rid the Mediterranean of The Knights of Malta. The whole world waited for news that Malta had fallen to the Muslims. In the meantime Pope Pius V later to be canonized, encouraged everyone to recite the rosary. To everyone’s amazement the Muslims were defeated. They had attacked with vastly superior forces but lost 30,000 men. After the battle the number of Knights was reduced to only 600 men. The Muslims were horrified by their defeat and were determined to get their revenge. This time two fleets, one of Christians from Malta and one of Muslims from Turkey set sail to do battle. Each of the Christian galleys carried a priest to offer daily Mass and all the sailors were faithful to the rosary which was recited daily. Whilst the Muslims fully expected to win this battle the one worry they had was that Pope Pius V would be praying against them. When the fleets met there was a tremendous sea battle which finished in favour of the Christians. The casualties were heavy: 7,500 Christian lives were lost and twelve galleys sunk. The Muslims lost even more galleys and the lives of 30,000 men. The Muslims were using Christians as galley slaves and 15,000 of these were freed. During the evening of the battle the Pope was in the midst of discussions in his small study in the Vatican when he suddenly broke away from his companions and crossed to a window. He paused and with a radiant smile turned to announce that a great victory had been won. This was more than two weeks before the official courier from Venice arrived in Rome with the news.
Had this battle been lost then it is almost certain that the whole of Europe would have been overcome by the Muslim forces. We know that ‘the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church’ but it would have put the life of every Christian in great danger and would have made the Church’s job extremely difficult. In Rome Pope Pius V, giving joyful thanks for the deliverance of Christian Europe decreed that the date of the battle, 7th October, would thereafter be the feast of Our Lady of Victories. This feast day still remains in the calendar of the church except that its name has been changed to Our Lady of the Rosary.
A story from the end of the last war confirms the power of the Rosary. Following the end of hostilities on the 8th May 1945 the Russians kept going for a further few days by entering Austria to ‘liberate it.’ Their idea of ‘liberation’ was to take everything they could lay their hands on and transport it in trainloads back to Russia! That went on for seven years until a priest in a small parish in the area where the Russians were active asked his parishioners to take up their Rosaries. When Cardinal Koenig heard of this he backed it up by asking everyone to pray their Rosaries and reports of this request were mentioned on the radio. After six months of this the Russian troops moved out without any negotiations and Austria was saved form Russian domination.
There are many other instances of the power of the Rosary. Padre Pio called the Rosary his ‘weapon’ and said that, after the Mass, the Rosary is the most powerful prayer.
In October 2002. John Paul II declared ‘A Year of the Holy Rosary’ from October 2002 to October 2003. He also announced five New Decades to be known as the Luminous Decades (Or Decades of Light).
These decades are:
1 The Baptism of Jesus.
2 The Marriage Feast in Cana.
3 Jesus declares his New Kingdom and asks for our Conversion.
4 The Transfiguration.
5 The Last Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist.
The Holy Father suggests that the days for praying the decades can be:
Monday. The Joyful Mysteries.
Tuesday. The Sorrowful Mysteries.
Wednesday. The Glorious Mysteries.
Thursday. The Luminous Mysteries.
Friday. The Sorrowful Mysteries.
Saturday. The Joyful or Luminous Mysteries.
Sunday The Glorious Mysteries.
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100 Names of Mary.
Anthony F Chiffolo
St Anthony Messenger Press
U. S. A.
A Woman Clothed with the Sun.
Eight Great Apparitions of Our Lady
Edited by John J Delany.
A Doubleday Images Book.
Hail, Holy Queen.
Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd
1 Spencer Court
140-145 Wandsworth High Street
Miraculous Images of Our Lady.
By Joan Carroll Cruz
Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.
Rockford, Illinos 61105
U. S. A.
New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible.
Published in New York.
U. S. A.
The Madonnas of Europe.
By Janusz Rosikin.
Published by Rosikin Press.
The Modern Catholic Encyclopaedia.
Edited by Michael Galzier and Monika K. Hellwig.
Published by Gill & Macmillan Ltd
The Mystical City of God
The Venerable Mary of Agreda.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
The New Jerusalem Bible
Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd
1 Spencer Court
140 – 142 Wandsworth High Street
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