The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The word litany is derived from the Greek word, litaneo, meaning: I pray with insistence. Since the earliest days of the Church the faithful have sought Divine assistance through the use of the litany–an alternating form of prayer.
"The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary," says Bossuet, "is a series of titles of honor which the Fathers of the Church have given to Our Lady, chiefly because of her exalted dignity as the Mother of God." Her Litany–part of the official prayer of the Church–is composed of wondrous, golden invocations addressed to the great Mother of God.
It is noteworthy that from the first half of the sixteenth century it was customary at the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto to recite a Marian litany every Saturday, and on all vigils and feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hence, Our Lady's official Litany is known as the "Litany of Loreto."
Her Litany can be divided by its content into four distinct parts. In the first part, the sacred person of the Blessed Virgin Mary is commemorated and praised. The second part mentions the principal symbols from the Old Testament which prefigured the Immaculate Mother of God. The third part, beginning with "Health of the Sick," proclaims Our Lady's role in the Redemption of mankind, and the immense power which she, as a consequence, exercises on behalf of the faithful. In the last part, the Blessed Virgin is praised for the glory she enjoys in Heaven as the Immaculate Queen of the Universe.
A complete text of the Litany of Loreto appeared in 1578, in a booklet written for pilgrims to the Holy House of Loreto, and in 1587, Pope Sixtus V granted an indulgence for the recitation of the Litany. Like the other litanies, the Litany of Loreto opens with invocations to Our Lord Jesus Christ and to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, and concludes with the words of St. John the Baptist: "Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sin of the world!" (John 1: 29).
Throughout the last 150 years, various other titles have been added by the Popes, not only as a mark of their great esteem and love for Our Lady, but also to defend her singular privileges. Following his solemn definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854, Pius IX inserted the invocation: "Queen, Conceived without Original Sin." It is wonderful to note that Our Lady herself confirmed his words four years later, telling St. Bernadette at Lourdes: "I am the Immaculate Conception."
On December 24, 1883, Pope Leo XIII added: Queen of the Most Holy Rosary," a most appropriate homage from a Pope who wrote an encyclical on the Holy Rosary for each year of his long pontificate. He also added "Mother of Good Counsel" on April 22, 1903, in response to the many graces and miracles wrought under this title of Our Lady from her shrine in an Augustinian church in Rome, and as a fitting rebuttal to the self-sufficient pride of the Rationalists and intellectuals of his day (and our own!).
At the height of the Great War–World War I–on November 16, 1915, Pope Benedict XV lifted up his voice in supplication to Our Lady under the title: "Queen of Peace." Our Lady's apparition at Fatima with her "Peace Plan" was a direct response to the Holy Father's urgent plea, and her message remains the one certain hope for a true and lasting peace on earth. Finally on the Feast of All Saints, November 1, 1950, Pius XII solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into Heaven, and ordered that this title be included in her Litany: "Queen, Assumed into Heaven."
The virtue of temperance restrains our passions and moderates, according to right reason and faith, the use of food, sleep, and our sense. It is a cardinal virtue. If moderation is praiseworthy in everthing, it is especially so in the use of natural things: food, rest and pleasure. Contributing to temperance is modesty, that is, the fear which St. Thomas Aquinas calls "reserve" and also decency, that is, decorous behavior.
The fruits of temperance are: mortification, abstinence, sobriety, modesty and a just measure of rest and recreation. Created things are good. Scripture says, in fact, "Thou waterest the hills from Thy upper rooms: the earth shall be filled with the fruit of Thy works: bringing forth grass for cattle, and herbs for the service of men. That Thou mayest bring bread out of the earth: and that wine may cheer the heart of man. That he may make the face cheerful with oil: and that bread may strengthen man's heart." (Ps. 103:13-15) The use of natural things is good in itself; sin lies in the abuse of created things.
Temperance also teaches modesty, that is, a proper manner of dressing, adorning oneself, walking, talking, visiting, etc. "Where there is Christ there is also modesty," says St. Gregory. "Dress yourselves, speak, look, and walk in a manner pleasing to God, in keeping with your dignity, and edifying to your neighbor," says St. Ambrose. St. Paul wrote to Timothy: "In like manner I wish women to be decently dressed, adorning themselves with modesty and dignity, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good works such as become women professing godliness." (1 Tim. 2: 9-10)
Even humility comes from temperance. It restrains our natural craving for grandiose things and the esteem and praise of men, by giving us a true estimation of ourselves, not an exaggerated one. It is a virtue proper to God's children.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was temperate in food, mortified in repose, regulated in the affections and sentiments of her heart.
St. Jean Marie Vianney was so temperate in eating that one wonders how he could have lived so long and labored so vigorously; St. Thomas Aquinas was so privileged as to be miraculously freed from the desires of the flesh; St. Charles Borromeo limited his hours of sleep to a very few each night. All of the saints knew how to regulate themselves with self-denial and mortification, abstaining from sin and everything that would lead to sin. The Blessed Virgin Mary, however, surpassed them all as their Teacher and Queen. Conceived without the least stain of sin, through the gift of integrity, there was neither excess nor abuse in her; all was moderate. She ate without being concerned about the taste of food, but only and always to maintain herself in God's holy service. Her body rested, but her Immaculate Heart kept vigil with God. The sole object of her pure Heart, with all its strength, was the Lord God; in Him alone she loved her chaste spouse, St. Joseph, her relatives, and all of mankind. Repugnance never kept her from fulfilling her obligations; never did any intemperate desire drag her to excesses.
Man, created in the image and likeness of God, possesses certain passions, which are forces that can spur him on to good or evil, but, unfortunately, having become rebellious and fallen through Original Sin, they often urge him on to evil. In the Blessed Virgin Mary this was not the case: human passions were perfectly regulated and only served for good. Her burning love was always directed towards good; hatred always turned implacably against evil. She always fervently desired God's Kingdom and His Justice; she was irreconcilably opposed to sin. She greatly rejoiced in everything that pleased the Triune Divinity; she only feared for offenses against God.
Arrogance is an exaggerated self-esteem and desire for glory. It puffs us up, it is conceited and rejoices in vain things. The Virgin Mary was perfectly humble; in her mind, where the truth alone ever held sway; in her will, which always sought God's glory alone; in her dress and comportment, which was simple, decorous and modest; in her actions, for she served everyone, took the last place, and was always perfectly obedient to God in the person of His representatives on earth.
Pride is the root of every sin; humility is the foundation of every virtue. The Virgin Mary was profoundly humble. "Just as there never was such an exalted creature," says St. Bernardine of Siena, "so, too, there was never a creature who had such a lowly opinion of herself."
Mary did not consider herself a sinner, for she knew that "He Who is mighty had done great things" unto her. She indeed recognized her exalted privileges, but she attributed them all to God's infinite goodness, regarding herself as a poor handmaid gratuitously adorned by His Majesty. In her sublime canticle, the Magnificat, she speaks of none but God and herself; of God, to exalt Him, and of herself, to be humbled. It is as if she said to her saintly cousin who reverently venerated her: "Thou, O Elizabeth, dost exalt me for the dignity I possess, but I exalt only the Lord Who has thus given it to me."
This humblest of all creatures keeps her treasure jealously concealed. She learns the sublime mysteries from the Archangel, but because they redound to her glory they remain hidden in her Immaculate Heart. She does not speak of them to anyone, not even to the High Priest, Zachary, her relative; nor to Elizabeth to whom she knew God had miraculously revealed them; nor even to St. Joseph, under the most delicate circumstances, when it seemed she had every reason to speak. And that was not all. When her Divine Son performed wondrous miracles: fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, freed the possessed, cured the sick and raised the dead, Mary simply remained hidden in the crowd. However, when Jesus ascended Calvary and expired as a condemned criminal upon the Cross, then Our Lady made herself known as Christ's Mother, and publicly assisted Him in His Agony.
God shed numberless gifts upon the Blessed Mary: nobility of birth, talents of spirit and perfection of body; beauty, but without ostentation; wisdom, but without arrogance; affability, but without frivolity. The beauty of the dawn, the mid-day sun, the silver moon, the most exquisite blossoms and most beautiful plants are all images of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Rich in interior gifts, she has: a keen mind, an upright will, no disorderly inclination, admirable attraction for virtue, imperturbable calm in emotions and manner and an affable character. Even in the midst of such a wealth of gifts, what was Mary's bearing? It was always reserved, composed, and simple. What a remarkable masterpiece of virtue–this Blessed Lady whom we are privileged to serve–and what a marvelous example for our instruction, inspiration, and imitation!
We are called to the perfect exercise of temperance, according to the command of Our Divine Lord: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) Moderation teaches us not to be discouraged by contradictions and opposition, nor to exalt ourselves in success. The earthly lives of the children of God are composed of both tribulations and consolations. "Now we know that for those who love God, all things work together unto good." (Rom. 8:28)
Thus was Mary's entire life. She was always even-tempered: she suffered, but she never became discouraged by sorrow; she rejoiced in consolation, but did not exalt herself; her virtue was perfect. This is called the virtue of equinimity.
Without humility it is impossible to be saved: "Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven," Our Divine Lord declared to us. (Matt. 18:3) "If you asked what road leads to truth, or what virtue is principal in religion and in the imitation of Christ, I would answer: the first is humility. What is the second? Humility. What is the third? Humility. If you questioned me one hundred times, I would give the same answer each time... Do you wish to build a great edifice that not only reaches the sky, but also to the very sight of God? Think first of the foundation of humility, and the higher you wish to erect the building, the deeper must you dig the foundation of humility." (St. Augustine)
When faced with contradictions, moderation in anger produces meekness. Jesus said: "Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Matt. 11: 29) Jesus rightly associates meekness with humility, for one cannot be practiced without the other. Meekness must not be confused with weakness of character; for dominating ourselves requires great strength and virtue. The truly meek not only moderate their anger, but abstain from it, according to what Jesus Christ said: "But I say to you, love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you." (Matt. 5:44) What is here commanded is a Christian patience under injuries and affronts, and to be willing even to suffer still more, rather than to indulge the sinful desire of revenge.
Does this not describe the entire life of the Immaculate and Sorrowful Virgin whom we are so privileged to call our own Mistress? Let us earnestly endeavor to conform our hearts and our conduct to hers, employing that essential art of self-denial commanded by her Divine Son, that we may be worthy children of so great a Mother and Queen.
"If My Requests are not heeded, there will come another great war..."
In light of present military conflicts, Our Lady's words recall to us the real reason for the tragedy of war: the sins of mankind. Her mournful prophecy is thus a warning of conflicts to come, since the vast majority of men have not heeded her requests.
In order to truly understand the veracity of her words, however, it is imperative that Fatima apostles be fully aware of the diabolical nature of the evil forces which are threatening to destroy the last vestiges of the old Christian order, which still provides a modicum of freedom for mankind to know and accept the saving doctrines of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That would not be possible in a country governed by sharia, the strict Islamic law of the fanatical Muslims with whom we are now at war. Indeed, the long and blood history of Islamic expansion is replete with horrible atrocities perpetrated upon Catholic Europe, in its quest to dominate the world with its rabidly anti-Christ religion. From the very beginning of this potent force of error, their infamous imposter prophet Mohammed set forth a brutal ultimatum to subjugated peoples: "Convert to Islam or die!"
Throughout the centuries, the Popes have clearly been the most important defenders of the world from this diabolical menace. Nothing is more revealing about the present apostasy in Rome than its ecumenical pleas of "mercy" for Christendom's most ancient military enemy, which stands in striking contrast to the courageous condemnation of the evils of Communism under Popes Pius XI and Pius XII. What a terrible chastisement if the fanatical Imams of Islam were to consummate their evil marriage with the unrepentant Marxist potentates of Russia, China, North Korea, and dozens of other Socialist and Muslim states across the globe. What a price would be paid in souls lost for all eternity! Let us resolve to pray and sacrifice to avert such a chastisement, and labor to make these truths known to complacent "Catholics," that they too may realize their peril and strive to avert it!
PRAYER: THE CHIEF DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN
The Ascetical Doctrine of St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori
Following the conditions to pray "for ourselves," and to pray "for things necessary for salvation," St. Thomas Aquinas then assigns a third condition for our prayers to be heard by God, that we pray "piously," that is, with humility and confidence.
The Lord God does indeed regard the prayers of his servants, but only of his servants who are humble. "He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble: and He hath not despised their petition" (Psalm 101:18). Others He does not regard, but rejects them: "Wherefore He saith: God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble" (James 4:6). He does not hear the prayers of the proud who trust in their own strength; but for that reason leaves them to their own great frailty; and in this sad condition, deprived of God's aid, they will certainly perish. David was forced to acknowledge that this is the case: "Before I was humbled I offended... It is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that I may learn thy justifications" (Ps. 118:67, 71). "I sinned because I was not humble."
The same misfortune occurred to St. Peter on the terrible night of Our Lord's betrayal, after he had been plainly warned by Jesus that all of the disciples would abandon Him, "All you shall be scandalized in Me this night" (Matt. 26:31). Nevertheless, instead of humbly and prudently acknowledging his own weakness, and begging Our Lord's aid against his unfaithfulness, Peter was too confident in his own strength, and said that he would never leave Him: "And Peter answering, said to Him: Although all shall be scandalized in thee, I will never be scandalized" (Matt. 26:33).
And although our Savior again foretold to him, in a special manner, that in that very night, before the cock-crow, he should deny him three times; yet, trusting in his own courage, he boasted, saying, "Yea, though I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee" (Matt. 26:35). But what came of it? Scarcely had the unhappy man entered the house of the high priest, when he was accused of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and three times he denied with an oath that he had ever known him: "Then he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man" (Matt. 26:74). If Peter had humbled himself, and had asked Our Lord for the grace of constancy, He would not have denied it to him. We ought all to feel that we are standing on the edge of a precipice, suspended over the abyss of all sins, and supported only by the slender thread of God's grace. If this thread fails us, we shall certainly fall into the abyss, and shall commit the most horrible sins. "Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in Hell" (Ps. 93:17).
If God had not assisted me, I should have fallen into a multitude of sins, and should now be burning in Hell. So said the Psalmist, and so ought each of us to admit. This is what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he said that he was the "worst sinner" in the world. "But, my Father," said his companion, "what you say is not true; there are many in the world who are certainly worse than you are." "Yes, what I say is but too true," answered St. Francis; "because if God did not keep His Hand over me, I would commit every possible sin."
It is a doctrine of Faith, that without the aid of grace it is impossible for us to perform any good work, or even think to entertain a good thought. "Without grace men do no good whatsoever, either in thought or in deed," says St. Augustine (De Corr. et Gr. c.2). "As the eye cannot see without light, so," says this holy Father, "man can do no good without grace." The Apostle had declared the same thing before him: "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5). And holy David had said it even before St. Paul: "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Ps. 126:1). In vain does man weary himself to become a saint, unless God lends a helping hand: "Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it" (ibid.) If God did not preserve the soul from sins, in vain will it try to preserve itself by its own strength: therefore did the holy prophet protest, "I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me" (Ps. 43:7). I will not hope in my arms; but only in God, Who alone can save me.
Therefore, whoever finds that he has done any good whatsoever, and does not find that he has fallen into any greater sins than those which others commit, let him say with St. Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10), and for the same reason, he ought aways to be fearful of falling into every occasion of sin which may present itself: "Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). St. Paul obviously saw the need of warning us that he who, in his pride, feels secure of not falling, is in the gravest danger of falling." He even gives the reason for our peril where he says, "If any man think himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceiveth himself" (Gal. 6:3). This is why St. Augustine wrote so wisely that "the presumption of stability renders many unstable; no one will be so secure as he who feels himself insecure" (Serm. 76 E.B.) If a man says he has no fear, it is a sign that he trusts in himself and in his good resolutions; but such a man, with his pernicious self-confidence, deceives himself, because, through trust in his own strength, he neglects to fear; and through not fearing he neglects to recommend himself to God, and then he will certainly fall.
And thus, we should all abstain from pridefully examining the sins of others; but rather should then esteem ourselves as worse than they are, saying, "Lord, if thou hadst not helped me, I should have done worse." Otherwise, God will permit us to fall into worse and more shameful sins to punish us for our pride. For this cause St. Paul instructs us to labor for our salvation; but how? Always in fear and trembling: "With fear and trembling work out your salvation" (Phil. 2:12). Yes, for he who has a great fear of falling, mistrusts his own strength, and therefore places his confidence in God, and will have recourse to Him in all dangers, and God will aid him, and so he will overcome his temptations, and will be saved.
St. Philip Neri, walking one day through Rome, kept saying, "I am in despair!" Another religious admonished him for his apparent fault, and the saint thereupon answered, "My father, I am in despair for myself; but I trust in God." And we must also say thus, if we wish to be saved; we must always live in despair of doing anything by our own strength. In so doing we shall imitate St. Philip, who used to say to God the first moment he woke in the morning, "Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee."
According to St. Augustine, this is the sum total of Christian knowledge, to know that we are nothing, and can do nothing. "This is the whole of the great science, to know that man is nothing" (In Ps. 70, S. 1). For then we will never neglect to furnish ourselves, by prayer to God, with that strength which we do not possess of ourselves, but which we need in order to resist temptation and to do good. It is thus, with the help of God, Who never refuses anything to the man who prays to him in humility, we will be able to do all things: "The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds, and he will not depart until the Most High behold" (Ecclus. 35:21). The prayer of a humble soul penetrates the heavens, and presents itself before the throne of God; and departs not without God's looking favorably upon it, and hearing it. And although the soul be guilty of any amount of sin, God never despises a heart that humbles itself: "A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 50:19). "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble" (James 4:6). As the Lord God is severe with the proud, and resists their prayers, so is He kind and generous to the humble. This is precisely what Jesus Christ revealed to St. Catherine of Sienna: "Know, my daughter, that a soul that perseveres in humble prayer gains every virtue" (Ap. Blos. in Concl., p2. c.3).
However, our humility must not be that kind of impractical lamentation which is in reality a species of pride. True humility is eminently practical in its dire necessity. It will be useful here to give the advice of the learned and pious Palafox, Bishop of Osma, for spiritual persons who desire to become saints. Speaking of the grades of supernatural prayer with which God had favored St. Teresa of Avila, the bishop tells us that these supernatural graces are not, strictly speaking, necessary in order to arrive at sanctity, since many souls have become saints without them. On the other hand, there are many who have arrived at holiness, and then relapsed into sin and have been damned.
Therefore he says it is superfluous, and even presumptuous, to desire and to ask for supernatural gifts of this kind in prayer, when the true and only way to become a saint is to exercise ourselves in virtue and the Commandments, and in the love of God; and this is done by means of prayer, imploring the assistance of God, Who wishes nothing so much as to see us saints. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3).
Here is a summary of the bishop's wise advice for those who truly wish to be sanctified in prayer:
But none of these graces can be obtained unless we pray for them. With prayer, however, provided it be humble, confident, and persevering, everything useful for our eternal salvation is obtained.
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