I am delighted to have been asked by Father Delargy to share a short reflection on Mary the Mother of God, during her month of May. I hope to convey the impact she has had on my life and to bring all of you closer to Jesus’ mother, who is also your mother, and my mother.
Growing up, I wasn’t particularly religious and whilst at university I had stopped going to Mass. But I had this routine whereby I couldn’t go to sleep without saying four Hail Marys in bed each night. I didn’t dwell much on why I had to do this, but it was a daily ritual through good times and bad.
About two years after university a friend invited me to his house in Mayo. I set off from where I was living in Cork and arrived about three hours later, only to realise that his house was about 100 yards from the grounds of Knock, where Mary appeared to the largest number of people in any apparition during 1879. I remember walking around the grounds, spending more time in prayer and just soaking in the pure sanctity of the place. Looking back, this was a key moment in my life. I seemed to have experienced a taste of the peace that only God can give.
Looking into the events of the Apparition, we can come to understand the person of Mary, the Mother of God. The evening of Thursday, 21st August 1879, was a very wet night, atypical for Ireland. At about 8 o’clock the rain was beating down heavily when Mary Byrne, a young girl of the village, stopped suddenly as she came in sight of the gable of the little church. There she saw standing a little out from the gable, three life-size figures. She ran home to tell her parents and soon others from the village had gathered. The witnesses stated they saw an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist. Behind them and a little to the left of Saint John was a plain altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb, with adoring angels.
The soil of Knock was recently analysed and was found to be one of the poorest quality soils in the whole of Ireland. I see this as if Mary was trying to stress the importance of poverty, of helping those less fortunate than ourselves and encouraging us to embrace poverty of spirit.
Those who witnessed the apparition stood in the pouring rain for up to two hours reciting the Rosary. Mary didn’t say a word during this apparition, which is recounted in the lines of the beautiful hymn of the Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, “Though her message was unspoken, still the truth in silence lies.” The benefit of silence is largely unappreciated these days, but I can understand why Mary didn’t say a word on that wet August night. Cardinal Sarah of the African region of Guinea has some great reflections on silence in his book entitled, “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” I’d like to share three of them with you.
“Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God.”
“The greatest things are accomplished in silence—not in the clamour and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice.”
“Silence is man’s greatest freedom.”
In our world of Facebook, WhatsApp, iPhones and 24-hour television, we are bombarded with so much noise. Over time, thanks to the grace of God, I have learned to cherish silence, simply being in the presence of God and letting myself be loved by the one from all goodness has its source. I encourage you to do the same. Of course, sometimes it is a struggle. But Mary’s silence in Knock encourages us of the importance of silence and prayer. As do the words of the Jesuit philosopher and priest, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Just like Saint Francis de Sales said, “Half an hour of meditation daily is required, except for when you are busy. Then a full hour is required.”
Of all the moments in the Bible involving Mary, the one which I connect most profoundly with is the nativity. Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God, not in comfort and warmth but amongst animals, amidst the rough and tumble of cows and goats. Clearly, by ordaining it that Jesus was to be laid in a “manger,” basically a trough, it strikes me how much God wanted to say that Jesus is a man who identifies himself with all animal creatures, whom his father created through his life-giving breath of love.
The word “manger” comes from the Latin “mandere,” which means “to chew.” This fits well with the words of Jesus, who said, “He who eats my flesh will live forever” and “I am the Bread of Life.”
Another key point is that Jesus was born in the way-off town of Bethlehem, which literally means “House of Bread.” In a similar way, Mary appeared in the way-off town of Knock, which, at the last census, had a population of 972 people.
Mary, Queen of the Angels
When we say, the Queen of the Angels, it can seem slightly sentimental and harmless. Oh but when you look at the biblical sources for this title of Mary as Queen, you will soon see that it is anything but. One great place to look is the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The visionary sees a woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon at her feet, and on her head, a coronet of twelve stars. She’s a queen. And we find out, she’s about to give birth. However, waiting there in front of her, ready to devour the child when he is born, is a dragon. The Queen Mother gives birth to a son, and much to the consternation of the dragon, mother and son are spirited away.
And then we’re told that a great war broke out between the dragon and his angels and Saint Michael and his angels. This cluster of images is not twee and sentimental and harmless. Mary is a warrior queen, if you want, queen of an army of angels.
Now, queen of angels, of angels.
Again, we’re in danger of seeing this in a superficial or sentimental way. Perhaps we think of cherubs in paintings. But an angel is really a being from a higher dimensional system, from beyond this universe. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that an angel is so unique that each angel constitutes its own species. Let’s think about that a little bit. Think of every human being that has ever lived, think of every human being who is currently living, think of every human being that will ever live from now until the end of time. Now, gather them together into one great being, that’s what one angel is. As we pray to Mary and as we live our lives, we give public witness by our love and by our compassion and by our non-violence, cooperating with Mary’s army which is much more powerful than anything we could ever imagine.
So let’s once again remember that great title, Mary, Queen of the Angels. Let’s claim that title, and let’s march in her army.
The Litany of Loreto
The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Marian litany originally approved in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V. It is also known as the Litany of Loreto, for its first-known place of origin, the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto (Italy), where its usage was recorded as early as 1558.
Holy Mary, Pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, Pray for us.
Mother of Christ, Pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, Pray for us.
Mother most pure, Pray for us.
Mother most chaste, Pray for us.
Mother inviolate, Pray for us.
Mother undefiled, Pray for us.
Mother most amiable, Pray for us.
Mother most admirable, Pray for us.
Mother of good counsel, Pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, Pray for us.
Mother of our Saviour, Pray for us.
Virgin most prudent, Pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, Pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, Pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, Pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, Pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, Pray for us.
Mirror of justice, Pray for us.
Seat of wisdom, Pray for us.
Cause of our joy, Pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, Pray for us.
Vessel of honour, Pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, Pray for us.
Mystical rose, Pray for us.
Tower of David, Pray for us.
Tower of ivory, Pray for us.
House of gold, Pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, Pray for us.
Gate of heaven, Pray for us.
Morning star, Pray for us.
Health of the sick, Pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, Pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, Pray for us.
Help of Christians, Pray for us.
Queen of Angels, Pray for us.
Queen of Patriarchs, Pray for us.
Queen of Prophets, Pray for us.
Queen of Apostles, Pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, Pray for us.
Queen of Confessors, Pray for us.
Queen of Virgins, Pray for us.
Queen of all Saints, Pray for us.
Queen conceived without original sin, Pray for us.
Queen assumed into heaven, Pray for us.
Queen of the most holy Rosary, Pray for us.
Queen of Families, Pray for us.
Queen of Peace, Pray for us.