The Spirit of Prayer and Meditation in Mary

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1931

There was never a soul on earth that practised in so perfect a manner as the Blessed Virgin the great lesson taught by our Saviour, that we ought always to pray, and not to faint. [Luke 18:1] From no one, says St. Bonaventure, can we better take example, and learn how necessary is perseverance in prayer, than from Mary: "Mary gave an example which we must know and not faint;" for Blessed Albert the Great asserts, that, after Jesus Christ, the Divine Mother was the most perfect in prayer of all who ever have been, or ever will be." Her prayer was continual and persevering. In the very first moment, in which she had the perfect use of reason, which was, as we have said in the discourse on her nativity, in the first moment of her existence, she began to pray. That she might be able to devote herself still more to prayer, when only three years of age she shut herself up in the retirement of the temple; where, amongst other hours set aside for this exercise, as she herself told St. Elizabeth of Hungary, "she always rose at midnight, and went before the altar of the temple to offer her supplications." For the same purpose, and that she might constantly meditate on the sufferings of Jesus, Odilo says, "she very frequently visited the places of our Lord's Nativity, Passion, and Sepulture." Moreover, she prayed with the greatest recollection of spirit, free from every distraction and inordinate affection, nor did any exterior occupation ever obscure the light of her unceasing contemplation, as we are assured by Denis the Carthusian.

Through love for prayer, the Blessed Virgin was so enamoured of solitude, that, as she told St. Bridget, when she lived in the temple she avoided even intercourse with her parents. On the words of the prophet, Isaias, Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel. [7:14] St. Jerome remarks, that the word virgin, in Hebrew, properly signifies a retired virgin; so that even the prophet foretold the affection which Mary would have for solitude. Richard of St. Laurence says that the Angel addressed her in these words, The Lord is with thee, on account of her great love for retirement. For this reason St. Vincent Ferrer asserts that the Divine Mother "only left her house to go to the temple, and then her demeanor was all composed, and she kept her eyes modestly cast down." For the same reason, when she went to visit St. Elizabeth, she went with haste. [Luke 1:39] From this, St. Ambrose says, "that virgins should learn to avoid the world.

St. Bernard affirms that on account of Mary's love for prayer and solitude, "she was always careful to avoid the society and converse of men." She was therefore called a turtle-dove by the Holy Ghost: Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle-dove's. [Cant. 1:9] "The turtle-dove," says Vergello, "is a solitary bird, and denotes unitive affection in the soul." Hence it was that the Blessed Virgin always lived solitary in this world as in a desert, and that of her it was said, Who is she that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke?
[Cant. 3:6] On these words the Abbot Rupert says, "Thus didst thou, indeed, loving solitude, ascend by the desert."

Philo assures us that "God only speaks to souls in solitude." God Himself declares the same thing by the prophet Osee: I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart. [2:14] "O happy solitude!" exclaims St. Jerome, "in which God speaks familiarly and converses with His Own." "Yes," says St. Bernard, "for solitude, and the silence which is there enjoyed, force the soul to leave the earth in thought, and meditate on things of Heaven."

Most holy Virgin, do thou obtain us affection for prayer and retirement, that, detaching ourselves from the love of creatures, we may aspire only after God and Heaven, where we hope one day to see thee, to praise thee, and to love thee, together with Jesus, thy Son, for ever and ever. Amen.

Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. [Ecclus. 24:26] Mary's fruits are her virtues. "Thou hast had none like thee, nor shalt thou have an equal. Thou alone of women hast above all pleased Christ."


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