Mary’s Litany Expanded


On June 20, the world received the news that Pope Francis has added three new invocations to the Litany of Loreto. This litany is a long series of titles praising the Virgin Mary, and asking for her prayers in return. Each title is followed by the plea, “Pray for us.” So, for example, the litany proper begins with “Holy Mary,” to which we respond, “Pray for us.”

This Litany probably dates back to the 15th or 16th century. In the Dominican Order, it is a long-standing custom to sing this litany every Saturday–Saturday being the day of the week which is usually dedicated to Mary. In our monastery, we sing the litany during Compline. And we are really serious about it! One year when Christmas fell on a Saturday, a young sister thought maybe the prioress would dispense the community from this prayer. After all, it had been a long day and everyone was tired! But, no. We sing the litany every Saturday (except Holy Saturday, of course) and every day during May while we make a solemn procession to our statue of Mary, Our Lady of the Pines.
Although the litany had a general form from the beginning, it has become customary for a pope to add a title to the litany if he feels it necessary. For example, Pope Leo XIII added both the title “Queen Conceived without Original Sin” (1883) and “Mother of Good Counsel” (1903). Pope Benedict XV added the title “Queen of Peace” in 1917, when war ravaged Europe. Pope John Paul added two titles during his pontificate as well: “Mother of the Church” in 1980, and “Queen of Families” in 1995. Now, Pope Francis has given us three more: Mother of Mercy, Mother of Hope, and Solace of Migrants. Pope Francis seems to be the first Pope to add three titles at once. But, as we all know, we live in difficult times, and the signs of these times encourage us to look to Mary for mercy, for hope, and for solace, no matter where we are in life. .
During the month of May we had a series of commentaries on the more poetic titles of Mary, which are mostly taken from the Old Testament. Now, we would like to offer some brief comments on these three new titles. Keep watching this space to see more!

Help of Christians

St. John Bosco (or Don Bosco) had a great devotion to Mary under the title \”Help of Christians\”. In fact, he had a famous dream about how devotion to Mary and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament would one day completely prevail over the power of the enemy. 

In the dream, Don Bosco sees two great columns standing side by side in the ocean, with chains and anchors waiting. One column is Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; the other is Mary Help of Christians. As he watches, he sees a ship representing the Church trying to get to these two columns and there become safely anchored. But they are in grave danger of being defeated by an enormous number of enemy ships, equipped with all kinds of weapons. The Pope is the captain of the ship, and he strains to bring the ship between the columns, encouraging his brothers (priests, bishops, cardinals) not to give up. However, the Pope is seriously wounded. He gets up, but is killed by a second blow. The enemy has a moment of triumph, but they see to their dismay that the Church has elected a new Pope even before news of the former Pope\’s death was known. This new Pope is able to guide the ship safely between the columns and anchor it securely. A number of other, smaller boats join the ship, while the enemies are thrown into confusion, firing on each other, and eventually sinking. Don Bosco interpreted this dream as the attack of secularism on the Church. Although he had this dream in 1862, we can still see that the Church is under attack by the enemies of God. 

The Blessed Mother is celebrated under her title \”Mary, Help of Christians\” on May 24.

Mary, you are our Mother, who is always ready to help us when we are threatened in any way by the powers of evil. It may be something as terrifying as Don Bosco\’s dream, or it may be a seemingly simple desire to tell a \”little white lie\” or shoplift a candy bar. Help us in all things, so that we may one day guide the ships of our own souls in between the saving columns of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and Mary, Help of Christians.

Comforter of the Afflicted

Mary is the best of all mothers. Our human mothers, no matter how exceptional, only give us a reflection of the love and concern that Mary has for us. No wonder so many saints and holy people, deprived of their mothers by death or other misfortune, ask Mary to be their own true mother.
Pondering Mary as Comforter of the Afflicted, it seems this role shows us Mary as the intercessor par excellence. When we are drowning in sin, we call to Mary, who helps us to come safely to the shore where we can ask for God\’s forgiveness anew. Mary comes before God just as Queen Bathsheba entered the presence of King David, reminding him of his promise that their son Solomon would reign as king after him. She is like Esther, approaching God with a mixture of confidence and holy fear. We ask her help, because we know that God will not refuse His mother anything she asks of Him. 
Just as children do not always understand what their parents know is best for them, we sometimes become frustrated or angry with Mary. We have an idea of how our prayers should be answered, and if things don\’t go our way…..!! So we must always have trust in Mary, and through Mary, we have trust in her Son, who will make all things right in ways we cannot begin to imagine. 
Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted, intercede for us all during this time of pandemic. Help us to discern what God wants of us, and let us not ignore His guidance. 

Refuge of Sinners

Why do we call Mary the \”refuge of sinners\”? It seems that she has this title because, as the most perfect of mothers, she is one any sinner can turn to, no matter how terrible the sins, and ask for her mercy and intercession with Our Lord. So many promises of salvation through the intercession of Mary have been revealed to the saints. For example, Mary is said to have told St. Dominic, Blessed Alan, and St. Louis de Montfort all that anyone devoted to the Rosary would be saved. 
This does not mean, however, that we should be presumptuous and just commit any kind of sin we choose, imagining that a few hurried Hail Marys and Our Fathers will save us from hell. Instead, we should pray the Rosary with the hope of salvation in mind, with the desire to overcome our sinful tendencies and amend our lives. As a counterpoint to this welcoming image of Mary, we might remember Michelangelo\’s \”Last Judgement\”, where an implacable Christ sends those on His left hand into hell while His mother turns away, unable to bear the sight of her children leaving the face of God forever.

Holy Mary our Mother, Refuge of Sinners, help us to amend our ways and turn back to our Lord Jesus Christ, your only Son. May we never imagine that our salvation is guaranteed, and help us to avoid judging others, for only God knows the heart. 

Health of the Sick

For those unfamiliar with the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, this is a painting that tries to express the moment in her life when everyone had given up hope of her recovery from a mysterious illness. Suddenly, the statue of Mary seemed to come to life and smile at the sick girl, and she immediately recovered. 
What was this strange ailment the young Therese suffered from? Today, we might diagnose it as a nervous breakdown. This over-sensitive child, already suffering the loss of her mother, now realized she would lose her \”second mother\”, her oldest sister Pauline, who entered the Carmel in Lisieux. Although Pauline was close by, and the family visited her whenever possible–as often as once a week–Therese, as the littlest of the \”little girls\” was not allowed private conversation with Pauline, or even an opportunity to join in the general conversation. She was expected to \”be seen and not heard\”, The few moments at the end of the visit when Pauline spoke with directly were later described by Therese as \”crumbs\”. This went on for years. 
However, one day when her melancholy and distress seemed to be at the worst, the miracle occurred. The Virgin smiled at her, and all her previous illness vanished. For the rest of her life–including the years when she suffered horribly from tuberculosis and other ailments prior to her death at age 24–she never again lost her peace. 
We could also think of the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, in southern France. The spring first discovered by St. Bernadette in the nineteenth century is still pouring its healing waters on the innumerable people who come seeking cures every year. There are some miraculous healings: paralyzed people who walk again, cancers that disappear, and so on. But it is said that for everyone who bathes in the waters, there is a spiritual healing. The physical ailment they brought with them to Lourdes may not disappear, but they somehow gain a new acceptance and peace with their situation, and they thank God for this. The ability to accept the will of God peacefully is a healing we don\’t hear much about, but it is a true healing nonetheless, when we can let go of our resentment toward Him and welcome His peace instead.
Mary, health of the sick, in this time of pandemic help us to remember that you are our Mother, who always intercedes for us before God. We beg for healing and an end to this pandemic, but if this is not God\’s will, please obtain for us the peace we desperately need. 

Morning Star

The first star to appear in the evening–and the last to disappear as the sun rises–is not a star at all. It is the planet Venus. Pagan thought connected this planet with the goddess called Venus and had special rites and prayer according to the planet\’s position in the sky, both over time and in the course of the day. (Because, after all, Venus is still up there, though we can\’t see it when the sun is shining brightly!) 
In his novel Perelandra, C. S. Lewis presented the planet not so much as a pagan deity but as an entity whose aspect is feminine, just as Mars (or Malacandra) was seen as a masculine entity in his novel Out of the Silent Planet. He suggests that the pagans had the right idea about certain things (such as the apparent gender of the planets) although they were very wrong about many other things. But what does all this have to do with Mary? 
Mary is called the Morning Star because she was and is the Mother of Jesus. Just as we know morning is coming when we see the stars wink out, one by one, leaving only Venus shining brightly, so too the many prophets and different people who foreshadowed the coming of Christ fade into history as the Virgin Mary takes her preeminent role as the true herald of salvation. Her willing fiat is the first sign of a new creation in the world. At the same time, just as the morning star fades from sight as the sun rises, so too does Mary willingly surrender the attention of the world to her son Jesus, Who is our Savior.
Mary, Morning Star, help me to be aware of when God is asking me to shine and when He is asking me to step back. May I be gracious in allowing others to take the starring role in life when You ask this of me. 

Gate of Heaven

Mary is called Gate of Heaven for a simple reason: we all want to go to Heaven, and devotion to Mary is a sure way of getting there. As a true mother, she sees the good in all her children–and also sees how we let our weaknesses and foibles get in the way of our own desire to be good. And, instead of treating us harshly, she shows mercy. Mary is always interceding with her Divine Son to have mercy on all peoples.

Mary, Gate of Heaven, show us the true path we must follow. Guide us in the certain ways of holiness, and help us to live as your devoted children on earth, so that we may be with you forever in Heaven.