How Mary is Honored in the Cloistered Orders, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a stained glass rose window of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception; date unknown, artist unknown; Saint Nicholas Catholic Church, Zanesville, Ohio; photographed on 31 December 2014 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsEvery Christian is obliged to imitate Christ, to attain to Christian perfection. In Mary, the Mother of Jesus, every well-meaning Christian discovers the most glorious example and the most powerful help in accomplishing the difficult task of walking resolutely in the way of salvation.

It is, however, in a special manner the bounden duty of the Religious Orders to imitate the perfection of Christ, to imitate the virtues of the Blessed Virgin and to honor her in her attainment of Christian perfection.

The members of every Religious Order bind themselves to the observance of the evangelical counsels by pronouncing the vows 0f Chastity, obedience and poverty. But, Christian reader, can there be, after the divine Redeemer Himself, a more beautiful, more winning or more perfect model in this respect than Mary of Nazareth?

The member of a Religious Order solemnly vows eternal chastity; what is it that impels him to the utterance of such a vow? What encourages and enables him to keep it? It is the example of the pure and immaculate Virgin, the chaste Mother of God. It is also that distinguished approval which the Almighty has been pleased to extend to all Virgina] souls, in choosing a pure virgin to be the Mother of His only-begotten Son. But, still, extraordinary fortitude and abundant grace are required in order to enable man to persevere during along life in his ceaseless struggles against the unceasing assaults of hell, the world, and his own inordinate inclinations. Oh, how often must such an earnest soul, consecrated as he is to God, seek this fortitude and this grace before the image of her who was not only adorned by her Lord with the glorious attribute of perfect purity, but who herself in the brightest years of her youth, spontaneously and joyfully uttered her vows of perpetual virginity! She uttered them, too, in opposition to the wishes, opinions and fixed ideas of her people, uttered them with the full knowledge and understanding that she was thereby excluding herself from the most sublime dignity attainable by woman, namely, the dignity of becoming the mother of the promised Messias. Who will say that the help-needing and help-seeking soul of man will not find strength and grace from such a Virgin 2 Is it not becoming that Mary should be propitious to those persons who by reason of their vows, their sacrifices, and their struggles seek to resemble her as closely as possible in the sublime characteristic of purity, and who endeavor to nullify the evil effects of original sin in their souls?

The member of a Religious Order makes a vow of voluntary and perfect poverty. At the moment that he willingly renounces his worldly goods, and disclaims all right to the things of earth, then, and ever afterwards when he finds in his bare and lonely cell hardly the necessaries of life, and certainly none of its comforts, there rises before his contented gaze, to gladden his heart and soul, the first, the most beautiful, the most lovable temple of holy poverty that the world ever saw, namely, the lowly home of Mary at Nazareth. Before the eyes of his satisfied soul appears the gentle figure of the Virgin who, although descended of a kingly family, was pleased to share with her spouse, Saint Joseph, himself of royal blood, his laborious duties, to eat with him the bread earned by the sweat of his brow. Who will’venture to say that this holy Mother of Jesus, she who was of her own choice poor in worldly riches, that she might be rich in heavenly graces~who will say that she does not look down benignly, lovingly and encouragingly on those persons who strive to imitate her divine Son – who had not wherein to lay His head?

Every member of a Religious Order utters a vow of holy obedience. This is the hardest of all sacrifices, for it subjects his own opinions, his own will, even his free disposal of his own person, to the command of a creature like himself. Here, too, the example of the Blessed Virgin is needed to strengthen and to comfort the obedient monk. When the angel of the Lord brought to her the message that she would conceive of the Holy Ghost, she at once yielded a willing consent, although she did not comprehend the nature of the duty required at her hands. She said cheerfully and humbly. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word!” It was thus that Mary, by her believing obedience, loosened the unhappy fetters which had been riveted on the soul of man by the doubting and disobedient Eve. That consent of Mary’s, that submissive “Fiat,” or “Be it done,” prevails both in theory and practice today in every phase of convent life. The Mother of that Lord and Saviour, who Himself was obedient unto death, even unto the death of the cross, will afford help and confidence to every loving and believing soul in the hour of its most trying sacrifice of obedience.

In the course of ages God and the requirements of souls brought forth many holy founders of Religious Orders. These were saintly men who, with souls filled with love for God and with His divine grace, by their rules of life, by their experience, and by their devotedness to God, were to mark out the way of perfection for themselves, and for hundreds of thousands of their obedient sons and daughters in religion. And if these heaven-inspired men recognized in the Blessed Virgin the most lovable and glorious example of Christian perfection, if, too, they bequeathed to their several religious institutes, as a precious legacy, a sincere, inward reverence for the glorious Queen of heaven, they did so because they saw in all this devotion a powerfully efficient means of sanctification. They understood, however, that this devotion should consist not so much in devotional practices as in a true and joyous imitation of her life, her virtues, her reverence for God, and her love for the holy Church and for immortal souls. Hence we find that the hearts of religious people, who have cheerfully renounced every sensual affection, invariably glow with a spiritualized, self-sacrificing love for the ever immaculate Virgin.

All Religious Orders, too, honor and glorify the Mother of Jesus by their sacred vows. For in the observance of these vows they seek not only to imitate her life in a general way, but they also endeavor, by a life of increasing sacrifice, to attain, as nearly as possible, to that perfection of life and fullness of grace which the Mother of God attained in consequence of her Immaculate Conception – a happy state, which all the rest of mankind lost by the defection of our first parents.

We read in Church history that even in the days of the apostles, and in the immediately succeeding centuries, many pious Christians of both sexes were called by the voice of Heaven to serve God as hermits in the solitude of the desert. Egypt especially, that favored land hallowed by the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin, of her divine Infant, and of her chaste spouse, was in those early times a very sanctuary, where the most angelic lives were led by thousands. Writers of ancient Church history describe these Egyptian deserts as blooming gardens of sanctity, whose peaceful solitudes resounded day and night with the praises of God and Mary.

Benedictines

Saint Benedict, who died in the year 543, was the real founder of regularly organized religious life in Europe. It is true, indeed, that in his heaven-inspired rule of life we do not read any special command, or even counsel, to honor the Mother of God, but yet we can say this much, namely, that it was this Order that planted in Europe devotion to Mary, cultivated it, diffused it, and established it firmly in the hearts of the people, in the same way in which it established and maintained faith and science among the rude Europeans.

One of the fundamental principles of the Benedictine Order is, “Nothing shall have the preference before the service of God.” It was in virtue of such principle that there grew up within the cloister-walls of that Order our admirable Psalmody, or chant of sacred song, ever since used in the service of the Church. Within the sacred precincts of the Benedictine chantries might be heard at all hours of the day and night the sounds of praise to God and His blessed Mother. It was in this Order, too, that the cycle of the Church festivals took its rise and assumed its present beautiful and regular form. The feasts of the Blessed Virgin were ever solemnized With strict punctuality, much tender devotion, and careful and elaborate ceremony. A very ancient and reliable tradition avers that in every church of that Order, although the church itself might not be specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the first altar next to the grand altar was invariably consecrated to her. Some of the most sumptuous cathedrals that were dedicated to Mary were erected by the members of the Benedictine Order. The same Fathers, century after century, maintained and served many places of pilgrimage where the Mother of God was pleased to obtain countless blessings of soul and body for devout pilgrims. Among these the most notable are Our Lady of Einsiedeln, in Switzerland; Montserrat, in Spain; and Altotting, in Bavaria. Among the many thousands of saints produced by this ancient Order of Saint Benedict we discover untold numbers of devout and learned servants of Mary. The pious belief in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the holy Mother of God ever found in the ranks of this Order its ablest and most eloquent defenders. The very feast itself was permanently established in the year 667 by Saint Ildephonsus, himself a Benedictine.

Franciscans

The Order of Saint Francis found the cradle of its infancy in a sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin, namely, the Church of Our Lady of Angels, at Assisi. The blessed founder of the Order, Saint Francis, was called “the seraph,” on account of the angelic love for God that dwelt within his pure soul. In loving God he took Mary for his model, whose love for the Blessed Trinity far transcends the love of all the seraphim and cherubim. All through his active life he labored to promote what he knew to be the dearest wish of Mary’s heart, namely, that Jesus Christ should be ever known and firmly beloved by all the sons and daughters of Adam. He loved to preach often and fervidly on the most adorable Saviour, especially on the mystery of the Incarnation. He loved and honored Jesus in His character as Saviour in the manger, or in the arms of His blessed Mother in the stable at Bethlehem. He loved also to imitate Jesus and Mary in their poverty and humility in every circumstance of their lives on earth. And, indeed, that is the tenderest and most salutary means of honoring Mary. To honor her on the one hand in her dignity of God’s Mother, and on the other to love and reverence her in her poverty and abandonment – no other means could be more tender and salutary. Ever since the days of Saint Francis, who died in the year 1226, his faithful sons have never ceased to venerate Mary in the most eminent manner in her maternal dignity, and to imitate her in her poverty.

Dominicans

The sons of Saint Dominic are the champions of the holy Rosary. Hence they must necessarily be devoted servants of Mary. Who has not heard of the inestimable good that they have wrought for their fellow-men, and of the incalculable glory they have shed on Mary’s name by means of this glorious devotion of the Rosary? For centuries, too, the Dominicans were the standard-bearers of Church discipline and knowledge. Who is not familiar with the name of Saint Thomas of Aquinas, called the “angelic doctor”? Who does not know, moreover, that this great saint imbibed all his wondrous knowledge under the shadow of the crucifix, and near the “Seat of Wisdom”?

Jesuits

To refute the heresies of the so-called Reformation of the sixteenth century, and to form a bulwark of resistance to the disasters that threatened the Church in consequence of that rebellion, God raised up an army of brave and learned champions of the truth in the Society of the Jesuits. It was the Blessed Virgin who, unknown to himself, trained, educated and fitted the saintly founder of this glorious Order for his sublime mission. From a soldier of the world, Mary transformed Ignatius of Loyola into a brave and zealous servant of God. This miraculous transition in the saint took place at the foot of the celebrated miraculous image of the Virgin in the sanctuary of Montserrat. In defense of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in promoting love and devotion to the Mother of God, in carrying her name to the four quarters of the globe, the Jesuits have been prominently active and successful. Remember, Christian reader, the name of the great apostle of the Indies, Saint Francis Xavier, the beloved companion of Saint Ignatius. Recall what you have read and heard of his childlike love for his blessed Mother, of all the hardships and exposures he suffered and the dangers he encountered when, throughout his extensive missions, he labored to establish love for Jesus and Mary. Many of the most efficient sodalities instituted to honor Mary, took their rise among the followers of Saint Ignatius.

Redemptorists

Have you ever read more beautiful, more tender, or more devotional,writings than those of that great doctor of the Church, Saint Alphonsus Liguori? How sublime the sentiments that pervade all his works on the Blessed Virgin, more especially his well-known “Glories of Mary”! No man, save one whose soul is ravished with the most inward love for the immaculate Mother, could write as he has written. This illustrious servant of God was the founder of the Redemptorists, or Liguorians, an Order whose members have ever been champions of Mary’s honor, and who today are loved and revered by the faithful because of their zeal in that sacred cause. Saint Liguori, when dying, in the year 1789, bequeathed as a precious legacy to his faithful sons a sincere love for the Queen of heaven and earth.

Knightly Orders

That monks and nuns, in the peaceful solitudes of their cells and chapels, seek, by pious devotion, solemn chants, and profound contemplation, to honor Mary, awakens no surprise in our souls. We look upon it as a matter of course. But we are not so readily disposed to look for such tender piety among those who mingle in the turmoil and distractions of the world. Yet there have been associations of noble, eminent men in the world, princes of peace and heroes of the battle-field, whose large, brave hearts have throbbed with the tenderest sentiments of filial piety and devotedness towards their blessed Lady in heaven. Such were the associations of men, known in the history of the Church as the Religious Knights. In contrast to the oppression and the unworthy treatment of the female sex among the pagan nations, especially before the time of Christ, the women of Christian peoples at all times, but notably in the chivalric Middle Ages, became the objects of tender, pure and respectful affection and esteem. Female honor was looked upon as something sacred. To defend and protect it was the noble duty of the Knight. All this was founded naturally on supernatural religious love and reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the purest, fairest and noblest specimen of the devout female sex.

Towards the close of the eleventh century all Europe resounded with the loud and bitter complaints and the urgent appeals of the Eastern Christians for help and protection against the Saracens. Everywhere was heard in response to these cries the watchword of the enthusiastic peoples of Europe who, in their desire to aid their oppressed brethren, cried, “God wills it, God wills it!” Then the Christian heroes united in bands and societies in order to conquer and to hold possession of Palestine which had been the fatherland, not only of the Redeemer, but also of their blessed Lady and Patroness. The Crusader vowed and resolved to protect and defend the Christian pilgrims in their wanderings through the places made sacred by the precious blood of the suffering Saviour. Then sprang into existence the Knights of Saint John, or the Knights of Malta, the Order of the Knight Templars, the German Knights, and others of the same kind. The last-named Knights entertained a marked devotion to the Blessed Virgin. It took its rise from a confraternity that had been established in the year 1128 for the purpose of caring for sick and destitute German pilgrims in a hospital founded at Jerusalem. As that hospital, as well as the adjoining oratory had been dedicated to Mary, these Knights came to be called Marianites.

Although these Knights were not priests, they pronounced the ordinary vows of a Religious Order. From the way and mode that the uttering of these vows took place, and from the ceremonies attending the reception of members into the Order, we may easily discover how deeply they reverenced the Blessed Virgin and how strict were their obligations to serve her in the Order. The master of the Order would propose to the candidate for knighthood the following questions, “Do you swear, beloved brother, by God and the Holy Virgin, to be obedient to your superiors during your whole life? Do you swear, by God and the ever Blessed Virgin, to be pure of heart and to abstain from matrimony? Do you swear to renounce forever all your worldly goods, to serve the Order as one of its own members and to sacrifice your life, if necessary, for the sake of the Holy Land? If you swear to all these things we receive you into the fellowship of our Order, promising you labor and suffering, the poor garb of our community, and bread and water.”

What an edifying spectacle these Knightly Orders offer to our view! Manly dignity, masculine beauty, heroic bravery,religious enthusiasm and chaste souls and bodies were their chief characteristics. Whence did they derive all these manly and noble virtues? From those consecrated altars, near which they partook of the Bread of life and before which they dedicated themselves to the sublime Queen of heaven. When they had received the necessary graces they went forth cheerfully to the battlefield in the distant country, preceded by the standard of the Blessed Virgin, obedient to her call to the defense of the just and the true.

Female Orders Devoted to Charity for the Neighbor

Amid fallen humanity, both spiritual and bodily misery stalks about under every variety of form. Yet Christian charity, founded in faith and in love for God, knows how to bring help and relief in fully as many heavenly forms. The great Creator has specially endowed the tender soul of woman with a rich fund of compassion, of self-sacrificing and self-forgetting devotedness to suffering and pitiable humanity. But it is only the heart of that woman who has first been deeply imbued with the sublime teachings of religion and impressed with the truths of salvation, that is really capable of such a life of sacrifice and possesses the fortitude necessary to trample under foot the selfishness usually found in the untrained human heart.

If we, as Christians, look with admiration at those noble, daring Knights who, while leading a pure life, devoted all their energies to the service of the destitute, were willing to sacrifice their means and even their blood in the cause of religion, certainly our admiration must be even more fully enlisted for those weak maidens. the Sisters of Charity, who devote themselves and their all to the most heroic works of mercy towards their neighbor.

We live in an age where religious associations are disparaged and calumniated. And, yet, who among infidels would dare to speak irreverently of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, of the teaching Sisters, or of any one of the many branches of the beloved Sisters of Charity? Listen to the rough but honest soldier: how affectionately he speaks of the hospital Sister, or of “the angel of the battle-field!”

Now where do these self-sacrificing, comforting, loving beings find their model and their strength? Oh, they know of a certain tender, sympathetic, virginal heart, a motherly heart, to which we, the poor, banished children of mother Eve, may turn weeping and hoping in this valley of tears-a heart which we call the refuge of sinners, the comfort of the afflicted, the seat of mercy. When these pious souls have, by their sacred vows, made themselves as much like the Blessed Virgin as possible, they seek at once to imitate that same compassionate Mother in her maternal solicitude and care for the most abandoned children of the human family. Is it any wonder, dear Christian reader, that between such a spouse of Christ and the Mother of Christ there exists a most intimate confidential bond of affection? Can we doubt for a minute that the loving Queen of heaven rewards the sacrifices of these devoted servants, extending to them, too, her special protection, her choicest favors, and a profound joyousness and peace of soul?

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898