The hermits of the first centuries, who could not read the psalter, used to recite one Our Father and one Hail Mary in the place of every psalm; and in order to note the number they said, they made use of small stones, or of seeds strung on a cord. St. Dominic was the first who made the custom general of substituting one hundred and fifty Hail Marys for the one hundred and fifty psalms; hence the rosary used to be called the Psalter of Mary. When, about the year 1200, the heresies of the Albigenseans wrought great mischief in the south of France and the north of Italy, St. Dominic was commissioned by the Pope to preach in refutation of their erroneous tenets. His efforts availed little, and he besought the aid of the Mother of God. She appeared to him, and bade him make use of the rosary as a weapon against her enemies. He accordingly introduced it everywhere, and before long it had effected the conversion of more than a hundred thousand heretics. The use of the Rosary soon spread throughout Christendom, and it became a most popular devotion. It is a method of prayer at once simple and sublime; the prayers are so easy that a child can repeat them, and the mysteries are so profound that they supply a subject for meditation to the most learned theologians. It is a prayer of contemplation as well as a prayer of supplication, for it places before the mind the principal truths of the faith. The Rosary is a compendium of the Gospels; a complete and practical manual of instruction wherein the chief points of Christian doctrine are presented under the guise of prayer. By meditation on the events of Our Lord's life faith and charity are increased; from the example of our divine Redeemer we learn to be humble, gentle, obedient; we are incited to imitate the virtues which the mysteries teach, to strive after what they promise us. Moreover the union of vocal and mental prayer makes the Rosary easy, pleasant, and profitable. As a method of prayer it is unrivaled; the longer and more devoutly it is practiced, the more one appreciates its excellence and becomes convinced of its supernatural origin.
1. The Rosary is well pleasing to God, because of its humility, and because it is an imitation of the unceasing song of praise sung by the angels.
The Rosary is the prayer of the humble, for in it well-known truths are simply stated and constantly repeated. The proud despise it, but God, Who looks down on the low things (Ps. cxii. 6), approves it. It is an imitation of the angel's song; we read in Holy Scripture that the angelic choirs cry to one another: " Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of hosts; all the earth is full of His glory " (Is. vi.3). And when we recite the Rosary, we praise the Mother of God in a similar manner. It is beyond a doubt that this form of prayer is most acceptable to the Mother of God, for when she appeared at Lourdes she had a rosary in her hand. Pope Pius IX unhesitatingly asserts that it is her gift to men, and she loves no other prayer as well.
2. The Rosary is a most useful devotion, for by it we obtain great graces and sure help in time of trouble; many indulgences are besides attached to it.
The Rosary is a very treasury of graces. Many sinners owe their conversion to it. It possesses marvelous power to banish sin and restore the transgressor to a state of grace. By it the just grow in virtue. All the saints who have lived subsequently to the institution of the Rosary have been assiduous in its use, and this may have contributed largely to their sanctification. Several holy bishops and servants of God are known to have pledged themselves by vow to recite it daily; St. Charles Borromeo, despite the numerous and pressing duties of his position, recited it every day with the seminarists and the members of his household. Blessed Clement Hofbauer was accustomed to say the Rosary while passing through the streets of Vienna, and rarely did he recite it in vain for the conversion of a sinner. It is recorded of several distinguished officers and victorious commanders that they never engaged in battle without first saying the Rosary, and to this they attributed their military successes. The Rosary has been called "the thermometer of Christianity," for the reason that where it is diligently recited faith is ardent, and good works are manifest; and where it is neglected religion is at a low ebb. In seasons of general calamity, miraculous aid has been granted to Christendom by means of the Rosary; this was especially the case in wars with the Turks, the victory of Lepanto (1571), the deliverance of Vienna (1683), the victory of Belgrade were all owing to the power of the Rosary. It was said that the beads of the chaplet did more execution than the bullets of the soldiers. It was in thanksgiving for these victories that the Holy See instituted the feast of the Holy Rosary on the first Sunday in October. Pope Sixtus IV declared that many dangers which threatened the world are averted, and the wrath of God is appeased by the prayers of the Rosary. Our Holy Father Leo XIII says that, as in St. Dominic's time the Rosary proved a sure remedy for the evils of the age, so it may now effect much towards the amelioration of the ills that afflict society.
Every one who recites the Rosary must feel its supernatural power; there is no prayer which affords more consolation in affliction, more tranquillity to the troubled breast. It soothes in sorrow, it imparts the peace spoken of in the Gospel. Another proof of its excellence is the hatred and contempt wherewith unbelievers regard it. The devil incites them to decry what is a fruitful source of grace to the Christian, and by which souls are wrested from his grasp. The Rosary has been richly indulgenced by the Holy See, and the recital of it strongly urged upon the faithful. An indulgence of five years and five quarantines may be gained if five consecutive decades be said, on a properly indulgenced rosary. Our Holy Father Leo XIII. has decreed that every day during the month of October, the Rosary, together with the litany of Loretto, be said in church either during the parish Mass, or in the afternoon, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed. For every time of assisting at this devotion seven years and seven quarantines are granted. 'Pope Pius IX. bequeathed, as a legacy to the faithful, this admonition: "Let the Rosary, this simple, beautiful method of prayer, enriched with many indulgences, be habitually recited of an evening in every household. These are my last words to you; the memorial I leave behind me." Again he said: "In the whole of the Vatican there is no greater treasure than the Rosary."
The Hail Mary
BY THE KEV. CHARLES BRUEHL, D.D.
My friends, a striking feature of the Catholic religion is its harmony with human nature and its wonderful accord with all the nobler aspirations of our heart. There is not a lofty and pure sentiment that is not called into play by some practice or doctrine of our Holy Church; there is not a chord in our breast that does not vibrate with sweet music to the touch of our holy faith. And it is for this reason that the Catholic Church has such a firm hold upon its members, since it not only satisfies the cravings of the understanding, but also captivates the hearts and enlists every intended sentiment. One of these doctrines and practices appealing to the tender feelings of our soul is the devotion to the blessed Virgin Mary. According to Catholic teaching Mary, the Mother of God, is also our Mother. This position has been given to her by her divine Son. And if our Lord is our brother, and, as St. Paul puts it, "the first born amongst many brethren" (Rom. viii. 29), then truly His Mother must be also our Mother.
Now, there is nothing that has such power and influence over the human heart as the name, the thought and the memory of a mother. A Church that gives us a heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother must, accordingly, become endeared to us. It will not remain a cold and icy thing to our feelings; but it will necessarily grow into our affections and become a thing of the heart, an object of love and enthusiasm. It will be to us a home. And it is in this light that the Catholic looks upon his Church. Everything in it attracts him; he finds there the images of his heavenly Father and Mother; nay, their living presence. He loves to linger there. There he unburdens his soul. There he is cheered and comforted. There prayer becomes easy. The hours spent in the sweet silence of his heavenly Father's house and his heavenly Mother's home do not seem long; they have wings, and soft and soothing is their step.
The devotion to the Blessed Virgin makes religious exercises dear to us, and the church homelike. It softens the solemnity of ceremonies and mitigates the awe that religion inspires. This is one of the reasons why we add the Hail Mary to the Our Father. The Our Father is a great prayer. But it is so overwhelmingly solemn; it has such a grave accent and proceeds in such majestic pace. Therefore, we mingle with the organ-like tones of the Lord's Prayer the lighter keys of the Angelic Salutation.
The prayer, which can most emphatically be called the prayer of the Blessed Virgin, is the Hail Mary. It is an authentic formula, sanctioned by God and the Church and endorsed by all Christian ages and generations. It embodies all the characteristics of the devotion to the Blessed Lady and eminently produces its great and glorious effects. It is a polished mirror, focusing all that is best in the various forms of the devotion to Mary; even as the sparkling glow of the diamond flashes forth all the bright colors and tints which other precious gems only reflect in part. There is no exaggeration in the words of the devout Thomas a Kempis, when he says: "When I recite the Hail Mary, heaven rejoices, the earth marvels, Satan withdraws, hell trembles, all sadness vanishes, joy returns, the heart glows, the soul is filled with holy unction; hope animates my bosom and a wonderful consolation gladdens my whole being." The holy fathers are unanimous in extolling the merits and the power of the Hail Mary. Let us quote one more passage. It reads: "The Hail Mary is small in extent, but great as to the mysteries it expresses; it is easy to pronounce, but mighty in its effects; it is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold. It should be frequently on our lips and re-echo in our hearts."
The Hail Mary is a great means of salvation. Many a one has it snatched from eternal perdition and led to everlasting glory. Its efficacy is principally manifested in three ways. It obtains for us:
Perseverance in Grace,
Strength in Temptation, and
Perseverance is the crowning grace of a Christian life. "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved" (Matt.xxiv. 13). We are frail. Each new day brings its temptations and its struggles. Our fervor languishes. We grow weary. Perhaps the next day will witness our sad fall. And the goal is yet afar off. Many have begun under splendid auspices; but they came to a deplorable end. Their strength failed before they had reached the top of the mountain. Some ignominiously perished in the very sight of the gates of heaven. Yea, it is a gift, and a great gift, the grace of perseverance.
We may obtain it by prayer in general; but especially by prayer to the Blessed Virgin. Through the hands of the Blessed Virgin we can receive all graces, consequently the grace of perseverance. The Hail Mary has a direct reference to this grace, as it invokes the assistance of Mary for the hour of death; but a holy death is the essential element of perseverance. Mary possessed in an extraordinary degree the grace of perseverance, since she never lost the initial grace that she received at her immaculate conception. She was faithful to every grace God imparted to her. Thus she can also procure this grace for her followers and children. Saint Bernard declares: "If thou dost enjoy Mary's favor, thou art sure of salvation." And a very happy and comforting assurance it is! No prayer will more readily gain for us the good will of Mary than the Angelic Salutation. Recite this prayer daily; recite it devoutly and the Blessed Mother will guide you unscathed through the lurking dangers, and she will prepare for you the crown of perseverance. Numbers, legions of blessed souls owe their salvation to the daily recital of the Hail Mary. Devotion to the Blessed Lady is a badge of predestination.
Constant prayer is indispensable to perseverance. But we shall not pray constantly if we do not learn to love prayer. If prayer proves for us an irksome task we will shirk it. There is no easier prayer, none more charming, than the Hail Mary. We will never feel it burdensome to recite a Hail Mary. Through the Hail Mary we shall acquire a taste and love for prayer, and thus make sure of our perseverance. And then it is so easy to pray to Mary. It is like speaking to one's mother. The lips open spontaneously, the tongue is loosed, prayer wells up from the bottom of the heart; the eye is beaming with confidence, love and rapture. If you drop into a church and behold in the hallowed gloom, of the subdued light a fervent worshiper, his knees glued to the floor, his eyes fixed on the altar, his lips incessantly murmuring in sacred monotony, you know that the beads of his rosary are slipping through his fingers, and that he is ever repeating with waxing fervor the Hail Mary. A long prayer may fatigue us or weary our attention; it may irritate our mind by overtaxing its capacity. Not so the Hail Mary. You cannot become tired of it. It is short. It cannot pall on you. It is profound and subtle. It cannot vex your understanding. Its expression is simple. No, you will never find the shadow of an excuse for not reciting a Hail Mary. And so you will say your Hail Mary every day until your last hour, because it involves no difficulty, no effort, no supreme exertion; because it requires no time; because it will be in the way of no engagement; because it will become familiar, a habit, an unconscious practice. Thus, you will comply with the injunction of our divine Lord, "Always to pray and not to faint" (Luke xviii. i). So the Hail Mary guarantees our perseverance because it makes prayer easy and delightful.
But after all Jesus is our Saviour. "For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved" (Acts iv. 12). This is undoubtedly true. Yet it takes nothing away from the efficacy of the Hail Mary. If we remain united to our Lord we shall live, we shall persevere. But the Hail Mary and the devotion to the Blessed Virgin bring us nearer to Jesus. The name of Jesus is emblazoned in the Hail Mary; it culminates in this saving name. Therefore, the Hail Mary has all the power and the saving qualities of the glorious name of Jesus.
Mary makes Jesus a living reality in our life; she makes Him a strong, clearly denned element in our consciousness and gives Him a prominent place in our affections. For those who do not honor Mary Jesus becomes but too frequently a vague sound and a being of the dim past. He is for them only a shadow. But united to Mary, His Mother, Jesus becomes real, living, breathing for us. For a shadow has no mother. Mary links us to Jesus and makes Him live in us. By means of the Hail Mary the memory of Jesus and of His incarnation is kept alive in our souls; the great mysteries of the redemption are brought before our eyes; we live in Jesus and Jesus lives in us. Do we not say in the Angelic Salutation, "The Lord is with thee?" Well, then, if Mary is with us, Jesus is with us also. And if Jesus is with us we are saved. The Hail Mary, therefore, is a most efficacious means to be intimately united to Jesus and to remain in Him, who is the way, the truth and the life.
Mary is styled the gate of heaven. And the Angelic Salutation may fitly be called the key to heaven. Let us not tire of this beautiful and powerful prayer which will help us to persevere in grace, to remain united to Jesus and to attain to the glory of eternal life.
The Hail Mary is very helpful in overcoming temptations and sin. Through temptation we all must pass, as the gold passes through the crucible to be freed from dross and base alloy; as the grape passes through the scorching heat of summer to acquire its delicious ripeness. But they are dreadful moments when heaven and hell hang in the scales; for we may stagger and sink, never to rise again. We need not fear, God has provided powerful help for the fatal hour of temptation.
An impervious shield against the fiery darts of hell is the name of Mary and the Angelic Salutation. The power of Satan is paralyzed when we utter this holy name. St. John Chrysostom assures us, "The holy names of Jesus and Mary have an intrinsic power over the devil and arc a terror to hell." And well may we imagine it; is not Mary the woman that has crushed the head of the serpent? The blessed name of Mary spells defeat for Satan and his infernal kingdom. And it was precisely the Angelic Salutation that marked the overthrow of Satan's dominion on earth. The Ave Maria sounds to the ears of the devil as his death knell; it strikes terror to his very heart and thwarts his mischievous designs. As the shadows of night vanish at the approach of the dawn; as wax melts before the fire; so do the powers of darkness disappear and so does their force dwindle at the sound of the Hail Mary. Let us arm ourselves with this impregnable shield against the powers of the deep, "against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Ephes.vi. 12).
How many have been deterred from a foul and disgraceful deed by the memory of their mother! And will not the thought of our heavenly Mother, of her maidenly purity, make us recoil from everything low and impure and shameful? However strong the temptation may be, if we think of our pure, undefiled heavenly Mother, we will not stoop to gratify our basest passions! Her memory will save us in the hour of darkness from degradation. And nothing will bring the thought of our Blessed Mother so forcibly before your mind as the Hail Mary. Mutter this little prayer and a sweet vision will rise before your eyes; Mary will loom up in all her splendor and celestial purity; her shadow will fall upon you and you will feel her eye pierce your very soul. Every evil thought will shrink back, as vermin creep into the dark crevices, when a ray of the sun strikes their hideous forms. The very atmosphere about you will become purified and hallowed!
And where will a child feel safer than near its mother? We know the absolute trust which a child places in the power of its mother. Nothing does it fear when the mother is nigh! Aye, but our heavenly Mother is powerful, "terrible as an army set in array" (Cant. vi. 3). She is the tower of David, impregnable against the assaults of the devil. She can put to flight all the infernal hosts! Let us seek her presence when the emissaries of hell assail us! Let us call her to our aid when the armies of darkness close in around us!
Let us fervently recite the Hail Mary in the decisive hour of temptation, and the Blessed Lady will be with us and we shall not succumb to the violent attacks of the wicked spirits. St. John Damascene invokes the Blessed Virgin with the following touching words: "Draw near, dear Mother of my Saviour! Thou art my help, my consolation in life. Be near, and I will not be scorched in the midst of the flames of temptation ; be near, and Surrounded by the snares of the devil I shall not perish; be near, and the waves and tempests aroused by the enemies of God will not wreck and shatter the bark of my salvation! I fear nothing, if thou art my protection! Thy name is my shield! Thy assistance is my armor! Thy help is my sword! By thy strength I repel the enemy and gain the victory!"
If the Hail Mary is made for anybody it certainly is made for the sinner. Of course we mean not the obstinate, hardened sinner who defies God and spurns grace; but the struggling, striving sinner. Who falls through weakness and frailty and who groans under the weight of vicious habits, which he has contracted. For him, the Hail Mary is a precious boon: the antidote against relapse. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin will set the seal upon his conversion and ensure final repentance. Segneri, a great Italian preacher, tells us a very instructive story about a dissolute youth wishing to forsake his evil ways. Ah, but his passions had grown strong and evil habit held him with firm grip. He became disheartened, despairing of overcoming his inveterate habits. His confessor advised him to recite three Hail Mary's every morning in honor of the Blessed Virgin. After some time the young man returned full of joy and happiness; for by the power of the Hail Mary he had broken the bonds of his sinful habits. Mary had obtained for him a complete conversion.
I can relate an edifying incident from my own experience. A certain Saturday afternoon one of my penitents made her confession as usual. After she had received absolution she asked me to pray for her. As there was a lull in the confessions just then, I recited a Hail Mary for her. And lo, shortly after she returned, telling me that from shame she had concealed a grievous sin. Well, that Hail Mary had helped her to make good her confession and earned for her the grace of repentance. Whoever knows how strong false shame is will realize that Mary helped that girl to gain a great victory.
No one cannot remain in habits of sin while daily reciting a Hail Mary. The thought of the purity of the Blessed Virgin will fill his soul with shame, will make him loathe his sinful life; will prick his conscience and incite him to make heroic efforts in order to reform his ways. And the Blessed Virgin will encourage him, succor him and lavish on him the choicest graces, until he has emerged from the depths of his disgrace.
But I go further! I maintain that a person reciting daily a Hail Mary, whatever else his life may be, is not likely to be lost. I do not intend to encourage presumption or to embolden sinners to delay their conversion! That always is terribly dangerous and hazardous! Yet we have instances that men who led a notoriously bad life received the grace of a final and sincere repentance. And in some cases this grace was the reward of a single Hail Mary recited faithfully every day, even in the years of dissipation and debauch! Do not base your hopes of salvation on a similar practice; but do recite daily a Hail Mary. It may prove the anchor of salvation! It may be the saving straw in the rushing maelstrom of perdition! Mary is the refuge of sinners. She will stretch out her hand to rescue her clients when the mouth of hell threatens to engulf them.
My friends, great is the power of the Hail Mary. A wonderful prayer it is and easy for everybody. And then it so perfectly tallies with the better instincts of our heart, since it is a prayer to our heavenly Mother; a prayer to the purest, sweetest and most amiable of all mothers. If we are just, friends of God and children of grace, let us recite frequently the Hail Mary, that our heavenly Mother may obtain by her infallible intercession for us the great grace of perseverance. If we are battling against sin and struggling against temptation, let us recite often this beautiful prayer, that Mary may help us to rout the enemies of our salvation, to fight a good fight and to win the crown of justice. But if we have fallen into sin, if we walk on the edge of the precipice, if we are dragged down by the weight of our crimes, ah, let us implore the Blessed Mother to deliver us from this dreadful state and to save our unfortunate soul. And if we feel the grip of hell tightening on us, and our soul sinking into darkness, let us cry out with undaunted confidence: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. Amen!