The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, 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 CommonsThe sodalities occupy a middle place between the ecclesiastical Orders and the ordinary Confraternities of the laity. By reason of their organized membership, an exact direction on the part of the clergy and other Superiors, and by a closer bond of fellowship, they differ from the more ordinary Confraternities. For the same reason they bear a resemblance to the regular Religious Confraternities.

This Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, which is more especially intended for young students, owes its origin to the heart of genuine Catholic life in Rome.

In the year 1563, there lived in that city a young scholastic of the Society of Jesus, named John Leontius, a native of Luttich. He was professor in the German College, and, while laboring faithfully to enrich the minds of his pupils with worldly knowledge, lost no opportunity of leading their hearts to God.

Convinced that the protection of the Blessed Virgin is a most effective means of preserving holy innocence of life, and of advancing one in Christian perfection, the young professor from time to time would assemble together the most devout among his pupils, to recommend to them devotion to Mary, and to teach them how to make themselves worthy of her love. They set apart for themselves an oratory where they said their prayers in common, read edifying books and made solemn resolutions to honor the blessed Mother by a faithful imitation of her virtues and the frequent reception of the sacraments. This pious Association was known as the Sodality of the Annunciation.

The abundant fruits of sanctity reaped from these gatherings by the young students, brought upon them the notice and attention of the Superiors of the college where they studied. Father Claudius Acquaviva, who was the General of the Order of the Jesuits, communicated the matter to Pope Gregory XIII. That Pontiff not only approved the pious Association, but also by a bull of erection, dated the 5th of December, 1584, raised it to the dignity of a spiritual Society under the title and invocation of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, granting to it, moreover, abundant indulgences. Many succeeding Popes confirmed this approval and erection, and increased the indulgences.

In a short time other sodalities were formed among the students in many Catholic seats of learning. Even in Germany and Switzerland this fair plant struck deep roots and bore the fairest of fruits. It strengthened the young men in their faith, in piety, and virtue. It brought forth great saints. Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Charles Borromeo, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori, were zealous members, when students, of their respective college Sodalities. Saint Aloysius was not only a member when at college, but, after his canonization was chosen as patron and the illustrious model of college students in general, and also the protecting patron of the Sodality.

When Justus Lipsius, the renowned scholar and famous professor in the high school of Louvain, in Belgium, was dying in March, 1606, he was asked by his Confessor, who was no other than the pious and learned Lessius, what it was, among all his other actions, that brought him the most consolation on his death-bed. The learned professor replied without a moment’s hesitation, “My membership in the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin.”

Beside the illustrious French bishops, Bossuet and FĂ©nelon, Kings Ferdinand II and III of the imperial house of Austria, the Bavarian Dukes Ferdinand and Maximilian, we find as a true sodalist the most learned man of the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV, who, when chief pastor of the Church of Christ1 confirmed the erection of this beautiful Association and encouraged young students to join it and practice faithfully the duties thereby enjoined upon them. In his apostolic brief of the 27th of September, 1784, this Pope says, “It is impossible to describe all the benefits, which, by means of this beautiful and pious institution, have been obtained from Heaven for men of every condition of life. Many, who from childhood have walked in the ways of innocence and the fear of the Lord, under the protection of the ever Blessed Virgin, and without having ever wandered from the right path, have been enabled to keep their morals intact, and to lead a life becoming Christians and servants of Mary; they have never ceased to show to the world the brightest example, and have merited the grace to persevere to the end. Others, who, through temptation to vice, have unhappily gone astray, have been enabled to leave the path of unrighteousness which they were treading, and have become fully converted through the assistance of the compassionate Mother of God, to whose service they had dedicated themselves in the Sodality. They have adopted a temperate, just, and pious mode of life. Sustained by.the effective religious practices of that Society they have persevered in that new life. It has also come to pass that the tender love for Mary, imbibed in early years, has elevated many members to a high degree of perfection, so that we have seen them willingly and cheerfully renouncing the world, its treasures, and its idle, fleeting enjoyments, in order to choose in the monastery a better and a safer part. By their vows they have attached themselves to the cross of Jesus Christ, thenceforth to busy themselves with the salvation of the souls of their fellow-men and with the attainment of their own personal sanctification.

“From the foregoing it is clear to all how enlightened and salutary has been the course of the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors, who from the beginning have bestowed on the devotional exercises of the Sodalities the special protection of the Holy See, thereby seeking to further their growth and progress, and have also granted to the Superiors of the Sodalities, as well as to the members, many graces and eminent privileges.

“We, in fine, who, before our elevation to the Apostolic Chair, were a member of the Sodality, which, under the invocation of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had been erected in the professed house of the Society of Jesus in Rome – we, who remember, with pleasure, those pious, instructive and edifying devotions, consider it a duty to avail ourselves of the powers and privileges attached to the high office of Chief Pastor to favor and to encourage these pious and admirable Sodalities which have contributed so much to piety and to the salvation of souls. Hence, in our mandate, given under the form of a brief, bearing date April the 14th, we have approved, and confirmed and enlarged all former favors and privileges granted by our illustrious predecessors, as may be seen from the context of our letter.”

– 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