Saturday, August 23, 2008

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Refuge of Sinners

Apparently some Catholic with a quirky sense of humour put a sign outside his home: Refuge of Sinners...

Be that as it may, to celebrate the liturgical solemnity of Our Lady's Immaculate Heart, there was a Holy Hour at the Pro., followed by Mass at 6.30pm.  I arrived in due time to kneel before Our Lord exposed in the monstrance, to say some Office, and to pray Vespers from the Breviary.  Fr Rowe read a prayer to the Sacred Heart of Mary, and then gave Benediction, after which we sang the Lourdes Hymn.

Having been suddenly inspired, I enquired in the sacristy to ask if Fr wanted a sung Mass?  The answer being in the affirmative, we all bustled about, and got underway slightly late: I sang the Rossini propers (Gregorian propers solo being beyond me), and together with the faithful we used the popular favourites of Missa de Angelis, Credo III, Salve Regina in the simple tone (at Offertory), Ave verum (at Communion) and, for vernacular hymns at the start and end, "O purest of creatures" and "Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all", seeing as how these allude to Mary's most pure heart.  It was a very simple and rough musical contribution, but shews that it is perfectly possible to have sung Mass easily; I know that if he could, Fr would have sung Mass every day.

As for me, it was moving to sing and reflect on the words of the Alleluia verse and the Offertory: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour..."  (Which words were nicely complemented by the Gradual, quoting Psalms 12:6; 44:18 to form a dialogue - Mary's heart rejoicing and singing unto God the Giver of all good gifts, and all peoples praising her down the ages - itself alluding to the whole of the Magnificat).

I was very pleased - being a sermon junkie - that Fr chose to preach, and preach he did, on the Immaculate Heart of Mary as the Refuge of Sinners.  I will try and recall salient points, bringing in my own.  ("They that explain me, shall have life everlasting." - last verse of the beaut lesson appointed for the Epistle, Ecclesiasticus xxiv, 23-31.)  Relying on the truth shewn us in the Holy Gospel sung at Mass to-day (St John xix, 25-27), that Our Lord, crucified, gave us all to His Mother as her children in the person of St John (a truth the text of the Communion repeated), he went on to illustrate the consequences of this donation, using the figure of the woman of Thecua (II Kings xiv, 4-11):

...when the woman of Thecua was come in to the king, she fell before him upon the ground, and worshipped, and said: Save me, O king. 
And the king said to her: What is the matter with thee? She answered: Alas, I am a widow woman: for my husband is dead.
And thy handmaid had two sons: and they quarrelled with each other in the field, and there was none to part them: and the one struck the other, and slew him.
And behold the whole kindred rising against thy handmaid, saith: Deliver him that hath slain his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother, whom he slew, and that we may destroy the heir: and they seek to quench my spark which is left, and will leave my husband no name, nor remainder upon the earth. 
And the king said to the woman: Go to thy house, and I will give charge concerning thee. 
And the woman of Thecua said to the king: Upon me, my lord, be the iniquity, and upon the house of my father: but may the king and his throne be guiltless. 
And the king said: If any one shall say ought against thee, bring him to me, and be shall not touch thee any more.
And she said: Let the king remember the Lord his God, that the next of kin be not multiplied to take revenge, and that they may not kill my son. And he said: As the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth. 

How could a mother, seeing the death of one son, not desire her other son, even though the guilty party, to be spared death?  Just as the woman of Thecua interceded with King David for her remaining, sinful son, that he not be put to death for the murder of his brother, so Our Lady intercedes with God for all wretched sinners, who by their sins have crucified her Only Son, that they not be cast into perdition, but spared and saved.  For, being a loving mother, she has an especial tender concern for sinners, especially the most vile and degraded, since she sees their great danger of being damned to hell, and ceases not to pray for them.    If the prayer of a righteous man availeth much (St James v, 16), and how much greater the power of an angel's prayer, or that of a saint in heaven, what can be said of the efficacy with God of Mary's prayer, she upon whom the Divine ever gazed with infinite complacency?  

Our Lady's Immaculate Heart is truly then the Refuge of Sinners; and she is such particularly at the dread moment of our death (for her protection at which time we all pray continually in the Hail Mary).  It is then that, "knowing that he hath but a short time", "the devil [will] come down unto you, having great wrath" (Apoc. xii, 12): then, more and more furiously will the inhuman enemies of our salvation strive to tear us from God; then, the soul being in fearful agony, the need for that precious and unmeritable grace of final perseverance shall be manifest.

Therefore, at death's hour, we must flee unto Mary and her Heart of refuge and peace, for she will interpose herself as our gentle Mediatrix with her Son and God, reminding him "that he hath paid the price of our iniquity".   As the Church sings in the Introit, applying the text to Mary, "Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" - for she says, as it were (continuing with the Introit verse), "My heart hath uttered a good word: I will speak my works to the king."  Glory be to the Trinity, for having vouchsafed us the Heart of Mary!

It is as happened to the young St Francis de Sales; though but a youth of seventeen, and not in fact struck down by death, yet he suffered a terrible time of temptation (a figure of death), when Satan put it into his heart that he was among the eternally reprobate, as if God had decreed him from all eternity to not be among the elect saved: being filled with fear and nigh unto despair, this faithful young man, ever devout client of Our Lady, threw himself before her altar and prayed her that he might at the least serve her Son lovingly in this life, if (so to speak) he were not to serve Him in the next.  At the very moment of his confused petition, he felt a great peace descend upon him, and was no more troubled with fear of reprobation: this grace was obtained from the Lord by the maternal Heart of Mary.

As with St Francis, so with us all, after the model of holy Job: the Lord God permits times of special temptation to befall us, and at these times we ought in particular adhere to Mary and pray her to get help for us from God our Saviour.  When all earthly helps are lacking, Mary will not fail us.  For this very reason, in the midst of the most cruel combat of the Second World War, Pope Pius XII established this feast on this day, beseeching God to heed the Virgin's prayer for peace: and as all men know, the war was ended the next year, on the very day commemorating her Assumption into heaven.  The Virgin at Fatima had spoken of this devotion to her Immaculate Heart, as a sure way to secure salvation and peace, and for utterly the same reason Russia has been consecrated to her Heart, with ongoing results that, please God, shall more and more conform that great though sinwracked nation to its most high calling, to be Holy Russia as of old.

I always like to attend to the orations of the Mass, and the focus of them was instructive: in the Collect, we are pray that we, devoutly celebrating Our Lady's Heart, may live after the pattern of God's own Heart - for such was Mary's Heart, conformed unto the Divine, because prepared by the Almighty as a dwellingplace of the Holy Ghost (and therefore most obviously we must beg God to grant us a like supernatural grace).  Interestingly, rather than alluding to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the collect bids us pray to imitate the Heart of God, which of course is not a physical organ, but a figure of the lovingkindness and stedfast mercies of our God.

The Secret, likewise, focusses our attention in the first place upon the Act being performed - the offering up of the spotless Lamb of God, making present Christ's voluntary sacrifice in sacramental guise - and in the second place asks for a specific, apposite grace: that the divine fire (surely the Holy Ghost dwelling therein) that inflamed Mary's Heart should come down and burn brightly within us, thereby likewise conforming us to the Divine by imparting lifegiving supernatural charity.

The Postcommunion by its very nature first refers to the dogmatic truth of our refreshment by the divine things received, and then asks for appropriate graces consequent upon this Communion, through Our Lady's intercession (God delighting in acting through secondary causes): that we be freed from present perils, and brought in due course to the joys of life eternal.  This reflects, of course, the themes of the sermon and the very Gospel: that Christ, dying in sacrifice for us, disdained not to grant us in Him the secondary assistance of His Blessed Mother, as an essential part of our Christian life and passage from this world to heaven.

After Mass, and a few prayers of course, I ended up having dinner with Fr and with Michael, one of the guys serving, normally based down in Bunbury but staying here in Perth for a while, whom I've known since I met him in Melbourne some years back.  Rather than buy some fish 'n' chips, Michael offered to cook some...  Hours later (very late, we were all exhausted!), having finally found some half-suitable ingredients at various supermarkets, we partook of a slightly unusual meal...  We did enjoy a bottle of good dark ale, Canadian Unibroue "Terrible", which I'd bought at the bottleshop while Michael was trying to find some fish to buy.

I also made a great find en route: six bottles of a good drop from South Australia, Barossa Valley Kalleske Wines 2007 "Clarry's", at 33% off.  It is a very rich and tasty drop (65% grenache, 35% shiraz) that I've enjoyed before and have been anxious to buy again.  Tonight, or soon enough, I will be enjoying it before the fire while reading Lovecraft's stories...

"Where Catholics are found in every clime, 
There's plenty of laughter and good red wine;
The Lord Himself hath made it so - 
Benedicamus Domino."  (Hilaire Belloc)

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