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!
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.
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.