Skip to comments.[Catholic Caucus] The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gueranger)
Posted on 07/01/2018 9:39:00 PM PDT by CMRosary
OUR LADY’S VISIT to her cousin Elizabeth already engaged our attention while we were preparing for the Christmas festival. But it is only fitting to return again to an event so important in our Lady’s life; the mere commemoration of this mystery made on Ember Friday in Advent would be insufficient to bring forward all it contains of deep teaching and holy joy. Since in the course of centuries, the holy Liturgy has been gaining more and more completeness, it is but natural that this precious mine should come to be further opened in honor of the Virgin Mother. The Order of St. Francis, it would seem, as well as certain particular Churches, such as Rheims and Paris for example, had already taken the initiative, when Urban VI, in 1389, instituted today’s solemnity. The Pope counselled a fast on the vigil of the feast, and ordered that it should be followed by an octave; he granted for its celebration the same indulgences as Urban IV had, in the previous century, attached to the festival of Corpus Christi. The Bull of promulgation, stopped by the Pontiff’s death, was again taken up and published by Boniface IX, his successor on the Chair of Peter.
We learn from the Lessons of the Office formerly composed for this feast, that the end of its institution was, as Urban conceived it, to obtain the cessation of the schism then desolating the Church. The papacy, exiled from Rome for seventy years, had barely re-entered it, when hell, infuriated at a return which crossed all its plans, had taken revenge by ranging under two leaders the Flock of the one Sheepfold. So deep was the obscurity wherewith miserable intrigues contrived to cover the authority of the legitimate Shepherd, that numbers of Churches, in all good faith, began to hesitate, and ended at last in preferring the deceptive staff of a hireling. Thicker yet was the darkness to grow, till night should be so dense, that for a moment the conflicting mandates of three Popes would simultaneously spread through the world; while the Faithful, struck with stupor, would be at utter loss to discern accurately which was the voice of Christ’s true Vicar. Never had the Bride of the Son of God been in a more piteous situation. But Our Lady, to whom the true Pontiff had turned at the first rising of the storm, deceived not the Church’s confidence. During all those years while the unfathomable justice of the Most High let the powers of hell hold sway, she stood for the defense of holy Church, trampling the head of the old serpent so thoroughly under her victorious foot, that despite the terrific confusion he had stirred up, his filthy spume could not sully the faith of the people. Their attachment was steadfast to the unity of the Roman See, whosoever it might be, in this uncertainty, its veritable occupant. Thus the West, divided in fact, but, in principle, ever one and undivided, reunited herself spontaneously as soon as God’s moment came for the return of light. The hour having arrived for the Queen of Saints to assume the offensive, she would not content herself with merely re-establishing, at its former post, the army of the elect; hell now must expiate his audacity, by being forced to yield back to holy Church those conquests which for centuries had seemed his forever. The tail of the dragon had not yet ceased to whisk at Basle, when Florence had already beheld the heads of the Greek schism, the Armenians and Ethiopians, the cavillers of Jerusalem, of Syria, and of Mesopotamia, all compensating by their unhoped-for adhesion to the Roman Pontiff for the anguish just suffered in the West.
It was now to be shown that such a return of nations, in the very midst even of the tempest, was indeed the work of Her who had been called upon by the Pilot, half a century before, to succor the Bark of Peter. Even they of the factious assembly of Basle gave proof of this, in a way which has unfortunately been too much overlooked by historians who undervalue the high importance that liturgical facts hold in the history of Christendom. When about to separate, these last abettors of the schism devoted the forty-third session of their pretended council to the promulgation of this very feast of the Visitation, in the first establishment of which Urban VI had, from the outset, placed all his hoped. Notwithstanding the resistance of some of the more obstinate, the schism may, from that hour, be said to have ended. The storm was subsiding; the name of Mary, invoked thus by both sides, shone resplendent as the sign of peace amidst the clouds, even as the rainbow in its sweet radiance unites both extremities of the horizon. Look upon it, says the Holy Ghost, and bless him that made it: it is very beautiful in its brightness. It encompasseth the heaven about, with the circle of its glory: the hands of the most High have displayed it.
But, it may be asked, why was the feast of the Visitation specially chosen, more than any other, as the monument of restored peace? The answer seems to be suggested in the very nature of the mystery itself and in the manner of its accomplishment.
Here, more particularly, does Mary appear as the Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her the Emmanuel, the living Testimony of a more true reconciliation, of an alliance more sublime between earth and heaven, than that limited compact of servitude entered into between Jehovah and the Jews, amidst the roar of thunder. By her means, far better than through Adam, all men are now brethren; for He whom she hides within her is to be the First-born of the great family of the sons of God. Scarce is he conceived than there begins for him the mighty work of universal propitiation. Arise, then, O Lord, into thy resting place, thou and the Ark which thou hast sanctified, whence thine own sanctity will pour down upon our earth! During the whole of her rapid passage from Nazareth to the mountains of Judea, she shall be protected by wings of Cherubim jealously eager to contemplate her glory. Amidst his truest warriors, amidst Israel’s choirs of singing men, David conducted the figurative Ark from the house of Adinadab to that of Obededom; but better far, the escort deputed by the Eternal Father for this sacred Ark of the New Covenant, troops of the noblest princes of the heavenly phalanx.
Favored with benediction was that Levite’s house, while for three months it sheltered the Most High hidden on the golden propitiatory: more favored still, the home of the priest Zachary, harboring, for the same lapse of time, Eternal Wisdom enshrined in the Virginal womb, wherein that union, so ambitioned by his Love, had just been accomplished. Yet beneath Zachary’s roof, blessed as it was, the enemy of God and man was still holding one captive: the angelic embassy that had announced John’s miraculous conception and birth could not exempt him from the shameful tribute that every son of Adam must pay to the prince of death, on entering into this life. As formerly as Azotus, so now Dagon may not remain standing erect in face of the Ark. Mary appears; and Satan, at once overturned, is subjected to utter defeat in John’s soul, a defeat that is not to be his last; for the Ark of the Covenant will not stay its victories till the reconciliation of the last of the elect be effected.
Let us then hymn this day with songs of gladness; for this Mystery contains the germ of every victory gained by the Church and her sons: henceforth the sacred Ark is borne at the head of every combat waged by the new Israel. Division between man and his God is at an end, between the Christian and his brethren! The ancient Ark was powerless to prevent the scission of the tribes; henceforth if schism and heresy do hold out for a few short years against Mary, it shall be but to evince more fully her glorious triumph at last. In all ages, because of Her, even as today and under the very eyes of the enemy now put to confusion, little ones shall rejoice, all shall be filled with benediction, and pontiffs shall be perfected. Let us join the tribute of our songs to John’s exulting gladness, to Elizabeth’s sudden exclamations, to Zachary’s canticle; therewith let earth re-echo! Thus is bygone days was the Ark hailed as it entered the Hebrew camp. Hearing their shout, the Philistines learned that help had come from the Lord; and seized with terror, they groaned aloud saying: Wo to us; for there was no such great joy yesterday and the day before: Wo to us! Verily this day, the whole human race, together with John, leaps for joy and shouts with a great shout; verily this day has the old enemy good reason to lament: the heel of the woman, as she stamps him down, makes his haughty head to wince for the first time: and John, set free, is hereby the precursor of us all. More happy are we, the new Israel, than was the old, for our glory shall never be taken away; never shall be wrested from us that sacred Ark which has led us dry-shod across the river, and has levelled fortresses to the dust at its approach.
Justly then is this day, whereon an end is put to the series of defeats begun in Eden, the day of new canticles for a new people! But who may intone the hymn of triumph, save She to whom the victory belongs? “Arise, arise, O Debbora, arise,—arise and utter a canticle. The valiant men ceased and rested in Israel, until Mary arose, the true Debbora, until a Mother arose in Israel. It is I, it is I,” saith she, “that will sing to the Lord, I will sing to the Lord the God of Israel. O magnify the Lord with me, as saith my grandsire David, and let us extol his Name together. My heart hath rejoiced, like that of Anna, in God my Savior. For even as in his handmaid Judith, by me he hath fulfilled his mercy, so that my praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever. For mighty is he that hath done great things in me; there is none holy as he. Even as by Esther, he hath throughout all generations saved those who feared him; in the power of his arm, he hath turned against the impious one the projects of his own heart, driving proud Amam out of his seat and uplifting the humble; the bow of the mighty is overcome, and the weak are girt with strength; the abundance of them that were rich hath passed to the hungry and they are filled; he hath remembered his people, and hath had pity on his inheritance. Such, indeed, was the promise that Abraham received and our fathers have handed down unto us: and he hath done to them even as he had promised.”
Daughters of Sion and all ye who groan in the thraldom of Satan, the hymn of deliverance has sounded in our land! Following in Her train, who beareth within her the Pledge of alliance, let us form into choirs; better than Mary, Aaron’s sister, and by yet juster title, she leads the concerts of Israel. So sings she on this day of triumph, and the burthen of her song gathers into one all the victorious chants which, in the ages of expectation, preluded this divine canticle of hers. But the past victories of the elect people were but figures of that which is gained by our glorious Queen on this day of her manifestation; for she, beyond Debbora, Judith, or Esther, has truly brought about the deliverance of her people; in her mouth the accents of her illustrious predecessors pass, from the burning aspiration of the prophetic age to the calm ecstasy which denotes her being already in possession of the long expected God. A new era is meetly inaugurated by sacred chants: divine praise receives from Mary that character which henceforth it is never to lose, not even in eternity.
The preceding considerations have been suggested by the special motive which led the Church to institute this feast in the fourteenth century. Again, in our own day, has Mary shown that this date is indeed for her a day of victory. On the Second of July, in the year 1849, Rome was restored to the exiled Pontiff, Pius IX. But we should far exceed the limits of our present scope, were we to strive to exhaust the teachings of this vast mystery, the Visitation. Besides, some have been already given in our Advent volume; and others, more recently on the feast and octave-day of Saint John’s Nativity. What we mean to add further on this subject, is brought to light by the Epistle and gospel of the Mass given below.
On this day whereon Satan, for the first time, sees his infernal crew fall back in face of the sacred Ark, two warriors of the army of the elect take their rank in our Queen’s cortège. Deputed by Peter himself, during this his glad Octave, to wait upon Mary, they have earned this honor by reason of their faith, which taught them to recognize in Nero’s condemned criminal the chief of God’s people.
The Prince of the Apostles was awaiting his martyrdom in the dungeon of the Mamertine prison, when, led by divine Mercy, there came to him two Roman soldiers, the very ones whose names have become inseparable from his own in the Church’s memory. One was called Processus, the other Marinianus. They were struck by the dignity of the old man, confided for some hours to their ward, who should not again see daylight till he must perish on the gibbet. Peter spoke to them of Life Eternal and of the Son of God who so lived men as to give the last drop of his Blood for their ransom. Processus and Martinianus received with docile heart this unexpected instruction; they accepted it with simple faith, and craved the grace of regeneration. But water was wanting in the dungeon, and Peter must needs make use of that power to command nature, bestowed by our Lord upon the apostles when he sent them into the world. At the word of the old man a fountain sprang up from the ground, and the two soldiers were baptized in the miraculous water. Christian piety still venerates this fountain which never either brims over or dries up. Processus and Martinianus were not slow to pay with their life for the honor conferred upon them of being thus initiated into the Christian faith by the Prince of the apostles, and they are numbered among God’s martyrs.
Their cultus is as ancient as that of Peter himself. In the age of peace, a Basilica was raised over their tomb. St. Gregory pronounced there, on the solemn anniversary of their combat, his thirty-second Homily on the Gospel. The great Pontiff therein renders testimony to the miracles which were operated on that holy spot, and he celebrates, in particular, the power which those two Saints have of protecting their devout clients on the day of the Lord’s Justice. Later on, St. Pascal I enriched the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles with their bodies. They now occupy the place of honor in the left arm of the Latin cross formed by the immense edifice, and they give their name to the whole of this side of the transept, wherein the Vatican Council held its immortal sessions; fitting was it that this august assembly should carry on its labors under the patronage of these two valiant warriors, who were not only St. Peter’s guards, but his conquest in the days of his own glorious confession. Let us not forget these illustrious protectors of Holy Church. The Feast of the Visitation, of more recent institution, has not lessened theirs; though their glory is now, so to say, lost in that of Our Lady, their power can but have gained in strength by this very approximation to the gentle Queen of earth and heaven.
MASS.—The Intriot is that of the Votive Masses of Our Lady for this part of the year. It is taken from Sedulius, the Christian poet of the fifth century, from whom the holy Liturgy borrowed so many graceful pieces at Christmas and Epiphany. Who can fail to recognize today in the sublime Magnificat which is the glory of this festival, the good Word of which our Intriot-Verse sings, or in other words, the Work which the Virgin Mother offers to the King!
Peace is the precious gift which earth was ceaselessly imploring since the original fall. Rejoice then now: for the Prince of Peace this day reveals himself by Mary. The solemn commemoration of the Mystery which we are celebrating will develop within us the work of salvation begun in that of Christmas at the opening of our cycle. Let us beg this grace, in the words of the Church, in her Collect.
In private Masses, at the end of the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion of the feast, a commemoration is made of the holy Martyrs Processus and Martinianus.
Commemoration of Saints Processus and Martinianus:
The Church introduces us into the depth of the Mystery. What she has just been reading to us is but the explanation of that word of Elizabeth’s which sums up the whole of today’s feast: when they voice sounded in mine ear, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. O Voice of Mary, voice of the turtle, putting winter to flight, and announcing spring-tide flowers and fragrance! At this sweet sound, John’s soul, a captive in the darkness of sin, casts off the badge of slavery, and suddenly developing germs of highest virtues, appears beauteous as a bride decked in nuptial array: and therefore, how Jesus hastes unto this well-beloved soul! Between John and the Bridegroom, oh! what ineffable outpourings! what sublime dialogues pass between them, from womb to womb of Mary and Elizabeth! Admirable Mothers! Sons yet more admirable! In this happy meeting, the sight, the hearing, the voice of the Mothers belong less to themselves than to the blessed fruit each bears within her; thus their senses are the lattices through which the Bridegroom and Friend of the Bridegroom see one another, understand one another, speak one to the other!
The animal man, it is true, understands not this language. Father, the Son of God will soon exclaim: I give thee thanks for that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Let him, therefore, that hath ears to hear, hear; but, Amen I say unto you, unless ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, nor know its mysteries. Wisdom shall nevertheless be justified by her children, as the Gospel says. The simple-hearted in quest of light, with all the straightforwardness of humility, let pass unheeded those mocking flickers that sport across the marshes of the world; they know right well that the first ray of the Eternal Sun will disperse these thin phantoms, leaving sheer emptiness before those who run in pursuit of them. For their part, these wise little ones already feed upon that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, having a foretaste, here below, of eternal delights.
Ineffably is John the Baptist experiencing all this. Accosted by the divine Friend who has been beforehand in seeking him, his soul at once awakens to full ecstasy. Jesus, on his side, is now making His first conquest; for it is to John, that is first addressed amongst all creatures (Mary of course excepted) the sacred Nuptial-song uttered in the Soul of the Word made Flesh, making His divine Heart throb with emotion. Yes, it is today (our Epistle tells us so), that in concert with the Magnificat, the divine Canticle of Canticles is likewise inaugurated, in the entire acceptation that the Holy Ghost wishes to give it. Never more fully than on this happy day shall the sacred ravishments of the Spouse be justified; never shall they find a more faithful response! Let us warm ourselves at these celestial fires; let us join our enthusiasm to that of Eternal Wisdom who makes His first step, this day, in His royal progress towards mankind. Let us unite with our Jesus in imploring the Precursor at last to show himself. Were it not ordered otherwise from on High, his inebriation of love would verily have made him at once break down the wall that held him from appearing, then and there, to announce the Bridegroom. For well knows he that the sight of his countenance, preceding the Face of the Lord Himself, will excite the whole earth to transports; he knows that his own voice will be sweet when once it has become the organ of the Word calling the Bride unto Him.
Together with Elizabeth, let us extol, in our Gradual, the Blessed Virgin to whom we owe all these joys of ours, and within whom love still keeps inclosed Him whom the whole world could not contain. The distich which is sung in the Verse was especially dear to the piety of the Middle Ages; it is to be found in different Liturgies, either as the opening line of the Hymn, or under the form of an Antiphon, in the composition of Masses or of Offices.
Mary, having learned from the archangel that Elizabeth was about to become a mother, is preoccupied with the thought of the services that will soon be needed by her cousin and the infant; she, therefore, starts at once on her journey across the mountains, amidst which stands the house of Zachary. Thus does the charity of Christ act, thus does it press, when it is genuine. There is no state of soul, in which under the pretext of more exalted perfection, the Christian may be allowed to forget his brethren. Mary had just contracted the highest union with God; and our imagination might perhaps be inclined to picture her, as it were, in a state of powerlessness, lost in ecstasy during these days in which the Word, taking Flesh of her flesh, is inundating her in return with the floods of his Divinity. The Gospel, however, is explicit on this subject: it particularly says that it was in those days even, that the humble Virgin, hitherto quietly hid in the secret of the Lord’s face, rose up to devote herself to all the bodily as well as the spiritual needs of a neighbor in such condition. Does that mean to say that works are superior to prayer, and that contemplation is not the better part? No, certainly not; for indeed never did Our Lady so directly and so fully adhere to God with her whole being as at this very time. But the creature when he has attained the summits of the unitive life, is all the more apt and fitted for exterior works, inasmuch as no lending of himself thereto, can distract him from the immovable center wherein he is fixed.
A signal privilege is this, resulting from that division of the spirit and the soul, to which all attain not, and which marks one of the most decisive steps in the spiritual life; for it supposes a purification of man’s entire being so perfect, that in very truth he is no other than one spirit with the Lord; it entails so absolute a submission of the powers, that without clashing one with the other, they yield, each in its particular sphere, obedience simultaneously to the divine breathing.
So long as the Christian has not yet crossed this last defile, defended with such obstinacy by nature to the last, so long as he has not yet won that holy liberty of the children of God, he cannot possibly turn to man, without, in some way, quitting God. Not that he ought, on that account, to neglect his duties towards his neighbor, in whom God wishes us to see no other than Himself; but, nevertheless, blessed is he who (like Mary) loses naught of the better part, the whole he attends to his obligations towards others! Yet how few are such privileged souls! and what a delusion it is to persuade ourselves to the contrary!
We shall return to these thoughts on the day of Our Lady’s triumphant Assumption; but the Gospel to which we have just been listening makes it a duty for us, even now, to draw the attention of the reader to this point. Our Lady has especially on this feast a claim to be invoked as the model of those who devote themselves to works of mercy; and if to all it is by no means given to keep their spirit, at the same moment, more than ever immersed in God, all, nevertheless, ought constantly to strive to approach, by the practice of recollection and divine praise, to those luminous heights whereon their queen shows herself, this day, in all the plenitude of her ineffable perfections.
The Offertory sings the glorious privilege of Mary, Mother and Virgin, bringing forth Him who made her.
The Son of God, being born of Mary, consecrated her Virginal integrity. Let us beg of him in today’s Secret, to vouchsafe, in memory of his Mother, to purify us of every stain, and so render our offering acceptable to God on high.
Commemoration of SS. Processus and Martinianus.
The Church possesses now within her, in the sacred Mysteries, the same Son of the Eternal Father whom Mary bore for nine months in her blessed womb. Therein did he take flesh, in order to come to us all. Let us then hail, in our Communion Antiphon, both the Mother and the Son.
The celebration of each one of the mysteries of our Salvation, by the participation of the divine Sacrament which contains them all, is a means of obtaining that evil be kept afar from us, both in this world and the next. This thought is expressed in the Postcommunion, touching on today’s mystery.
Commemoration of SS. Processus and Martinianus.
Who is she that cometh forth beautiful as the morning rising, terrible as an army set in array? O Mary, this is the day that thine exquisite brightness, for the first time, gladdens our earth. Thou bearest within thee the Sun of Justice; and his early beams striking first the mountain tops whilst the vales below are yet left in darkness, he at once illumines the precursor, than whom a greater hath not been born of woman. The divine Luminary, swift on his ascending course, will soon bathe the lowly valleys in his radiant fires. But how full of grace and beauty are these his first gleams peering through the veiling cloud! For thou, O Mary, art the light cloud, the hope of earth, the terror of hell. Contemplating from afar, through its heavenly transparency, the mystery of this day, Elias, the father of prophets, and Isaias, their prince, did both of them descry the Lord. They beheld thee speeding thy way across the mountains, and they blessed God; “for,” saith the Holy Ghost, “when winter hath congealed the waters into crystal, withered the valleys, and consumed as with fire the green mountains, a present remedy to all is the speedy coming of a cloud.”
Haste thee, then, O Mary! Come thou to all of us, and let not the mountains alone enjoy thy benign influence; bend thee down to those lowly ignoble regions wherein the greater part of mankind but vegetates, helpless to scale yonder mountain heights; yea, let thy kindly visit reach down even to the deepest abyss of human perversity well nigh bordering on the gulf of hell; let the beams of saving light reach even there. Oh! would that from the thraldom of sin, from the plain where the vulgar throng is swaying to and fro, we were drawn to follow in thy train! How beauteous are thy footsteps along these our humble pathways, how aromatic the perfumes wherewith thou dost inebriate earth this day! Thou wast all unknown, nay, thou wast even an enigma to thyself, O thou fairest among the daughters of Adam, until this thy first going forth, led thee unto our poor hovels, and manifested thy power. The desert, suddenly embalmed with heavenly fragrance, hails the passage, not of the figurative Ark, but of the “Litter of the true Solomon,” in these days of the sublime nuptials which has vouchsafed to contract. what wonder then, if at rapid pace thou dost speed across the mountains, since thou art bearing the Bridegroom who, as a giant, strideth from peak to peak?
Far different art thou, O Mary, from her who is portrayed in the divine Canticle as hesitating, in spite of the heavenly call, to betake herself to active work, foolishly captivated by the sweets of mystic repose, in such way as to dream of finding it elsewhere than in the absolute good pleasure of the Beloved! Thou art not one, at the voice of the spouse, to make difficulties about clothing thyself again with the garment of toil, of exposing thy feet, were it never so little, to be soiled with the dusty roads of earth. Nay, rather; scarce has he given himself to thee immeasurably, as none else can know, than (ever on thy guard against the mistake of remaining all absorbed in selfish enjoyment of his love) thou thyself dost invite him to begin at once the great work which brought him down from heaven to earth: “Come, my Beloved, let us go forth into the fields, let us get up early to see if the vineyard flourish, to hasten the budding of the fruits of salvation in souls; there, there it is, that I wish to be all thine.” And, leaning upon him, no less than he upon thee, without thereby losing aught of heavenly delight, thou dost traverse our desert; and the holy Trinity perceiveth between this Mother and her Son sympathies, harmonious agreements, unknown until then even to her; and the friends of the Bridegroom, hearing thy sweet voice, on their side also comprehend his love and partake in thy joy. With him, with thee, O Mary, age after age shall behold souls innumerable, who, swift footed even as the mystic roe and the young hart, will flee away from the valleys and gain the mountain heights where, in the warm sunshine, heaven’s aromatic spices are ever fragrant.
Bless, O Mary, those whom the better part so sweetly attracts. Protect that Order whose glory is to honor in a special manner thy Visitation. Faithful to the spirit of their illustrious Founders, they still continue to justify their sweet title by perfuming the Church on earth with the fragrance of that humility, gentleness, and hidden prayer, which made this day’s mystery so dear to the angels eighteen hundred years ago. In fine, O Lady, forget not the crowded ranks of those whom grace presses, more numerously than ever, nowadays, to tread in thy footsteps, mercifully seeking out every object of misery; teach them the way in which alone it is possible to devote themselves to their neighbor, without in any way quitting God: for the greater glory of God and the happiness of man, multiply such faithful copies of thee. May all of us, having followed in the degree measured out to us by him who divides his gifts to each one as he wills, meet together in our home yonder, to sing in one voice together with thee, an Eternal Magnificat!
Beautiful! Ave Maria, gracia plena.
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