The Dignity of THE PRIESTHOOD
St. Alphonse Liguori C.SS.R.
Doctor of the Church
THIS instruction may serve either for an instruction or for a sermon; but whether it be given in the form of an instruction or of a sermon, the person who gives the spiritual exercises to the priests is entreated not to omit this discourse, which is, perhaps, the most fruitful of all; for without devotion to the Divine Mother it is morally impossible for anyone to be a good priest.
Let us, first, consider the moral necessity of the intercession of Mary for priests; and secondly, the confidence which they ought to have in the prayers of this Divine Mother.
With regard to the necessity of invoking her intercession, it is necessary to know that although the Council of Trent has only declared that the invocation of the Saints is useful, still St. Thomas has asked the question: "Whether we should ask the Saints to pray for us," and has answered in the affirmative, saying, that the order of the Divine law requires that we mortals be saved through the Saints by obtaining, through their prayers, the graces necessary for salvation. The holy Doctor says: "Such is, after St. Denis the Areopagite, the order Divinely established for the government of kings, that those far off should return to God through the mediation of those that are nearer." "And as the Saints in Heaven are near God, we who are prisoners in the body and who travel far from God, we cannot, according to the order established return to our supreme end except through the mediation of the Saints." Other authors, particularly the continuator of Tournely and Sylvius, hold the same opinion. He afterwards adds: "The natural law prescribes for us the order established by God. Now God wishes that inferior creatures in order to reach salvation should implore the help of superior creatures." But if it is a duty to ask the prayers of the Saints, how much more strictly are we bound to invoke the intercession of Mary, whose prayers are more efficacious with God than the prayers of all the other Saints! St. Thomas says that through the abundant grace which God has given them the Saints can save many, but that the Blessed Virgin has merited grace sufficient to save all. St. Bernard has written that as we have access to the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, so we have access to the Son through the Mother. Hence he afterwards said that all the graces that we receive from God come to us through Mary: "God has placed in Mary the plenitude of all gifts. Acknowledge, then, that all that there is in us of hope, of grace, of salvation, we receive from her who is filled with delights. She is truly a garden of delights, so that from her are sent forth perfumes the most exquisite, that is, gifts and graces of God." The Saint assigns the following reason for asserting that all the Divine graces come to us through the hands of Mary: "It is the will of God to grant us all the graces of which we stand in need." This may be also inferred from all the texts of Scripture which the holy Church applies to Mary: He that shall find me shall find life. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth . . . They that work by me shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting. The words of the holy Church, in the Salve Regina, in which she calls Mary our life and our hope, are sufficient to confirm us all in this doctrine.
Hence St. Bernard exhorts us to have recourse to this Divine Mother, with a secure confidence of obtaining the graces that we ask her to procure for us; because the Son knows not how to refuse anything to the Mother. Hence the Saint afterwards calls Mary the entire ground of his hope: "My children, she is the ladder for sinners; she is the greatest motive of my confidence; she is the only cause of my hope." He concludes by saying that we should ask all the graces of which we stand in need, through Mary, because she obtains whatever she asks, and her prayers cannot be rejected. Before him St. Ephrem said the same: "O most sincere Virgin! only in thee do we repose confidence." St. Ildephonsus teaches the same doctrine: "All the good decreed by the sublime majesty for the benefit of men, this she has decreed to be conveyed to them through the hands of Mary; for to thee, O Mary! has been entrusted treasures and ornaments of grace." The same is held by St. Peter Damian: "In thy hands are all the treasures of Divine mercies." St. Bernardine of Siena says: "Thou art the dispenser of all graces; our salvation rests in thy hands." This, too, was the doctrine of St. John Damascene, of St. Germanus, of St. Anselm, of St. Antonine, of Idiota, and of so many other learned authors, such as Segneri, Pacciuchelli, Crasset, Vega, Mendoza, and Natalis Alexander, who says: "He [God] wishes that we should receive all the good that we wish from Him through the mediation of His powerful Mother, by invoking her as we should." Father Contenson has also held this opinion. Explaining the words of Jesus Christ on the Cross to St. John, he says: "Behold thy Mother. As if He said: No one will participate in My Blood except through the mediation of mM Mother. My wounds are the fountains of all graces, but these fountains flow only through Mary upon you. O My disciple John, as much as you love her, so much shalt thou be loved by Me."
And if, on account of the moral necessity of Mary's intercession for all, every Christian ought to be devoted to the Mother of God, how much more should priests, who are bound by greater obligations, and stand in need of greater graces for salvation, practice devotion in her honor! We priests should remain always at the feet of Mary, asking the aid of her prayers. St. Francis Borgia had great doubts about the salvation of those that have not a special devotion to Mary; because, according to St. Antonine, he who expects graces from God without the intercession of Mary attempts to fly without wings. St. Anselm has gone so far as to say: "It is impossible to be saved if we turn away from thee, O Mary." St. Bonaventure has said the same: "He that neglects her will die in his sins." Blessed Albertus Magnus says: "The people that do not serve thee will perish." And speaking of Mary, Richard of St. Laurence says: "All those whom this ship does not receive are lost in the sea of this world." But, on the other hand, he who is faithful in the service of Mary will be certainly saved, "O Mother of God," says St. John Damascene, "if I put my confidence in you I shall be saved. If I am under your protection I have nothing to fear; for to be devoted to you is to have certain arms of salvation which God gives only to those whose salvation He wills in a special manner."
Let us now pass to the confidence which we ought to have in the intercession of Mary, on account of her power and mercy.
1. As to her power. Cosmas of Jerusalem has called the intercession of our Queen not only powerful, but omnipotent. And Richard of St. Laurence has written: "From the omnipotent Son the Mother was made omnipotent." The Son is omnipotent by nature, the Mother by grace, inasmuch as she obtains from God whatsoever she asks. That this grace has been given to Mary we may infer from two reasons: first, because of all creatures Mary has been the most faithful, and the greatest lover of God. Hence, as Suarez says, the Lord loves Mary more than all the other Saints and all the Angels together. St. Bridget heard our Lord one day saying to His Mother: "Mother, ask what thou desirest of Me; for thy petition cannot be in vain . . ." Then He added: "For since on earth thou didst deny Me nothing, I will not deny thee anything in Heaven." The second reason is, that Mary is a mother: hence St. Antonine has said, that her prayers partake of the nature of a command, because they are the prayers of a mother. St. John Damascene says: "O Lady, thou hast all power to save sinners; thou needest no other recommendation to God, since thou art His mother." And St. George of Nicomedia has written, that Jesus Christ, in order to discharge the obligations that He owed in a certain manner to Mary for having given Him His human nature, grants whatever she asks from Him. Hence St. Peter Damian has gone so far as to say, that when Mary goes to Jesus to ask a favor for any of her clients, "she approaches the altar of human reconciliation; not asking, but commanding, not as a servant, but as a mistress; for the Son honors her by not refusing her anything."
From the time that Mary was on this earth she had the privilege of having all her prayers heard by her Son. Speaking of Mary's request to Jesus to provide wine when it failed at the marriage of Cana in Galilee, St. John Chrysostom says, that though the Redeemer appeared to refuse the favor, saying: Woman, what is to Me and to thee? My hour has not yet come, still He granted the petition of His mother.
The prayers of Mary, says St. Germanus,
obtain great graces for the most abandoned sinners, because they are
accompanied with the authority of a mother. In a word, there is no one,
however wicked, whom Mary does not save by her intercession when she
Hence St. George, Archbishop of Nicomedia, says, O great Mother of God:
"Thou hast insuperable strength, since the multitude of our sins does
outweigh thy clemency. Nothing resists thy power, for the Creator
thy honor as His Own." To thee, then, O my Queen, says St. Peter
nothing is impossible, since thou canst succor and save even those that
are in despair.
As the olive gives oil, the symbol of mercy, to him who, possesses it, so Mary pours her mercies on all who have recourse to her.
Blessed Amedeus has written, that our Queen is continually praying for us in Heaven. And before him Venerable Bede said: "Mary stands before her Son and does not cease to pray for sinners." St. Bernard asks, What else but mercy can flow from the fountain of mercy? St. Bridget once heard our Savior saying to Mary: "Mother, ask what you wish of Me." Mary answered: "I ask mercy for the miserable." As if she said: Son, since You have made me the Mother of Mercy, what will I ask of You? Nothing else than mercy for miserable sinners. "The great charity," says St. Bernard, "that reigns in the heart of Mary for all, obliges her to open to all the bosom of mercy."
St. Bonaventure says that, looking at Mary, he appeared no longer to behold the Divine justice that terrified him, but only the Divine mercy that God has placed in the hands of Mary, that she may assist the miserable. And St. Leo has said that Mary is so full of mercy that she is called mercy itself. And who after Jesus, exclaims St. Germanus, is so solicitous for our welfare as thou, O Mother of Mercy? Speaking of Mary, St. Augustine says: "We acknowledge that one, namely, that thou alone, takest care of us in Heaven." As if he said: O Mother of God, it is true that all the Saints love our salvation, but thy charity, in assisting us from Heaven, with so much love, and heaping on us so many graces, which thou continually obtainest for us, compels us to confess, that it is thou alone who truly loves us, and anxiously seeks our welfare. St. Germanus adds: "Her defense of us is never satisfied." Mary prays incessantly for us; she repeats her prayers, and is never tired praying in our defense.
Bernardine De Bustis says that Mary is more desirous of dispensing graces to us than we are of receiving them. The same author says "that as the devil, according to St. Peter, 'goes about seeking whom he may devour,' so Mary goes about seeking whom she may save."
Who, I ask, receives grace from Mary?-----he who wishes for them. A holy soul used to say, to obtain graces through Mary it is enough to ask them. And St. Ildephonsus has written, that we ought to ask nothing of Mary but to pray for us; for by her prayers she will obtain for us greater graces than we could ask. How, then, does it happen that there are many who do not receive graces through the prayers of Mary? Because they do not wish for them. He who is attached to any passion, to self-interest, to ambition, to an inordinate affection, does not wish for grace to be delivered from it, and therefore he does not ask it; had he asked, it of Mary, she would certainly have obtained it for him. But miserable and unhappy the man, said the Holy Virgin to St. Bridget, who, having it in his power to have recourse to me in this life, shall, through his own fault remain miserably in his Sins and in the state of perdition. A time shall come when he would wish, but will not be able, to have recourse to her.
Ah! let us not expose ourselves to this great danger. Let us always have recourse to this Divine Mother, who knows not how to let anyone who invokes her aid depart without consolation, says Blosius. Mary is always ready, as Richard of St. Laurence says, to assist those who ask her prayers. According to Richard of St. Victor, Mary's tenderness . . . procures aid for us before we pray to her. Because, adds the same author, Mary is so full of mercy that she cannot see our miseries without corning to our relief.
And who, exclaims Innocent III has ever had recourse to Mary without being heard? Who, says Blessed Eutichianus, has ever sought her aid and has been abandoned by her? St. Bernard has written: "O holy Virgin, if a man has been ever found who, after invoking your aid, remembers not to have obtained relief, I am satisfied that he should cease to praise your mercy.
No: such a case has never occurred, and never shall occur; for, says St. Bonaventure, Mary cannot but pity and relieve the miserable. Hence the Saint has said, that this Mother of mercy, who so ardently desires to assist us and to see us saved, is offended not only by those who do her a positive injury, but also by those who neglect to ask favors from her.
Let us then have recourse to Mary; and in seeing that our sins render us unworthy to be heard, let us not distrust her clemency. Our Lord revealed to St. Bridget that Mary would have saved Lucifer by her intercession had that haughty demon humbled himself and had recourse to her. And the Virgin herself said to the same St. Bridget, that when a sinner casts himself at her feet she regards not his sins, but the intention with which he comes. If he comes with a determination to change his life, she heals and saves him. Hence St. Bonaventure called Mary the salvation of them who invoke her. He that has recourse to Mary shall be saved.
I repeat, then, let us always have recourse to this great Mother of God, imploring her to protect us. But the better to gain her protection, let us endeavor to perform in her honor as many pious exercises as we can. That ardently devoted servant of Mary, Brother John Berchmans, of the Society of Jesus, being asked at death by his companions what they should do in order to obtain the favor of Mary, said: "However little it may be, provided it be done with perseverance." Every little act of devotion is sufficient to secure the patronage of this Divine Mother. She is content with any little exercise, provided it be constant; for, as St. Andrew of Crete says, she is so liberal that she is accustomed to reward the smallest homage by obtaining abundant graces. But we should not be content with small things: let us at least offer her all the acts of devotion which her clients ordinarily perform in her honor; such as, to recite the Rosary every day, to perform the Novenas of her festivals, to fast on Saturday, to wear the Scapular, to visit some image every day in her honor, asking her to obtain some special grace, to read each day a book that treats of her praises, salute her in leaving and returning home; rising in the morning and going to bed at night, to put ourselves under her protection, by saying three Hail Marys in honor of her purity.
Even seculars practice these devotions; but we priests can honor her much more by preaching her glories, and by inculcating in others the advantages of being devoted to her: They that explain Me shall have life everlasting. [Ecclus. 24, 31] She promises eternal life to him who endeavors in this life to make others know and love her; Blessed Edminco, Bishop, began every sermon by the praises of Mary. This was so pleasing to the Divine Mother, that she one day said to St. Bridget: "Tell that prelate that I will be a mother to him, and that at death I will present his soul to my Son." Oh, what pleasure would a priest give to Mary, if every Saturday he made a short discourse to the people on devotion to her; and especially on her tender compassion; for us, and her desire to assist all who pray to her! For, as St. Bernard says, it is the mercy of Mary that inspires in the people the greatest affection for her devotion. Let preachers at least endeavor in every sermon, before the conclusion, to exhort the hearers to have recourse to most holy Mary, and to ask some favor from her.
a word, Richard of St. Laurence says
that he who honors Mary acquires treasures of eternal life . . .
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