§ 21. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Suffering Souls.
85. One of the most beautiful narratives of Holy Scripture is the touching story of Esther. Belonging to the banished Jewish people, this poor virgin, on account of her beauty and virtue, was called to ascend the throne, and by so doing saved her people. In her we recognize an image of that other virgin, also descended from the Jewish people, poor, but of noble lineage, and selected by God to become the mother of Him who redeemed sinful mankind. In virtue of this sublime motherhood Mary became the Queen of Heaven, the Mediatrix of mankind; and to her therefore the Church applies the words spoken by Joachim, the high-priest, to the victorious Judith, "Thou art the glory of Jerusalem; thou art the joy of Israel; thou art the honor of thy people." (Judith, xv. 10) Mary, like Esther, is the most fair amongst women, and to her are applied the words,"Thou art all fair, and there is not a spot in thee." (Cant. iv. 7.) For this reason she found favor in the eyes of the divine King, so that He divided His reign with her, retaining for Himself omnipotence, and turning over to her the dominion of mercy. Esther, when appearing before the king, was attended by two servants, one of whom supported her, whilst the other bore her train; in like manner the Blessed Virgin Mary is served by angels and men, whose Queen she is. Finally, as Esther became her people's helper and intercessor, so Mary became ours. Hence we hasten to her in every distress, saying, "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God !... Despise not our prayer.' 1 And whence is it that Mary is so sublimely elevated above all mankind, why do "all generations call her blessed ?" The angel Gabriel in his salutation tells us the reason: "Hail, full of grace!" he said to Mary.
86. Mary was "full of grace" before her birth. Before and in our birth we are devoid of grace, we are in the state of original sin. Mary, however, possessed sanctifying grace in the first moment of her conception, and possessed it to such a degree that even the shadow of sin and of concupiscence was excluded from her soul.
Again, Mary ever advanced in grace; that is, she increased in merit from day to day, and therefore became more and more filled with grace. We admire the various saints for their particular virtues, for instance St. Aloysius for his purity, St. Francis of Assisi for his seraphic ardor, etc. But what is the purity of St. Aloysius compared with that of Mary, the love of St. Francis compared with hers ? It is the glimmering of a star compared with the splendor of the midday sun. As the rainbow unites all the colors gleaming in the individual rain-drops, thus Mary unites in herself alone air the virtues of the saints in a supreme degree. Hence she is called the Queen of martyrs, of virgins, of all saints. Oh, what an ineffable wealth of grace she must have possessed at the end of her life! According to the general acceptation she lived over sixty years, and devoted her whole life to the pursuit of virtue : how greatly she must have surpassed in it all the saints!
There is another reason why Mary was full of grace: she brought forth the Author of all grace. The Source of all grace, He who merited it for us by His death, was her Son. As He selected Mary for His mother and deigned to take human nature from her, it is obvious that he adorned her with more grace than all the angels and saints. Not for Mary's sake alone, not in order to adorn her alone with grace did Jesus become man, but for the sake of fallen humanity. All the graces we receive, we receive through Christ, but Christ we received through Mary. She is the heavenly aurora which brought to us the Divine Son, Jesus Christ. Hence it is the will of our Savior, that Mary should be our mediatrix. She was, as it were, the bridge over which Jesus passed in coming to us; hence she is also the bridge over which we come to Jesus in heaven. As she has brought us Christ, thus she is also by her intercession to bring His grace to our immortal soul. There is therefore no need for Mary in heaven first to merit deliverance for the souls in Purgatory; she received this grace whilst on earth, together with her dignity of Mother of God. She is, in truth, the bridge by which the suffering yet happy spouses of her Divine Son cross from Purgatory to heaven.
87. The clients of this Mother most element are indeed to be called happy, for she is their consolation and help not only in this world, but also in Purgatory. Besides promising that she would preserve from hell those who devoutly wear her holy habit, the scapular of Mount Carmel, she added a second privilege, namely that of speedy release from Purgatory. This latter promise was made about seventy years after the introduction of the scapular. Mary deigned to appear to Pope John XII. and recommended to his care the Order of Carmelites. Extending her maternal solitude even to the next world, she promised to assist the souls of the members in Purgatory, to console them and to release them as soon as possible, particularly on the Saturday following their decease. The pope published this privilege in a Bull dated March 3, 1322. (Beringer, Indulgences, page 711.) The meaning of this promise is that Mary gives those who wear the holy scapular and fulfil the conditions prescribed, as much assurance of their eternal salvation as can be obtained during mortal life, at the same time declaring that if they are constant in her service and lead a Christian life, they shall also receive the grace of final perseverance. Simon Stock, the General of the Carmelites, when giving this holy habit to his brethren, addressed them as follows: "Preserve deeply impressed on your minds the memory of this bounty, and be intent on receiving strength in your vocation by the exercise of good works. Never relax in doing good, watch and pray without ceasing, that the promises of Heaven may be fulfilled, and may show themselves in their full splendor for the praise of the Most Holy Trinity, and for the honor of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary."—The mere wearing of the scapular, then, does not make us partakers of the second privilege. The Blessed Virgin, appearing to the 'Venerable Dominic of Jesus-Mary, addressed him thus: "My son, though many wear my scapular, yet there are few that perform what is necessary to acquire the Sabbatine privilege."—It was affirmed also by other supernatural revelations, that they who wear the scapular are released from Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death only on condition that they have fulfilled all the duties imposed thereby.—A deceased Sister appeared to the Venerable Frances of the Blessed Sacrament and said, "There are few who receive the benefit of this privilege, because there are few who observe its conditions."
88. Mary is solicitous for the Suffering Souls in Purgatory because she is the Mother of pure souls. St. Bernardine remarks, " In this prison of the spouses of Christ she exercises, so to say, absolute sovereignty in mitigating their pains, and in delivering them from their sad imprisonment." Mary demonstrated her charitable and tender heart even in this life. "And Mary rising up in those days, went unto the hill country with haste," when she heard that Elizabeth in her age had been blessed with a son. She did this to express her affection and to offer her services. At the wedding-feast in Cana her tender heart caused her to anticipate the embarrassment of the host. Now the distress of the souls in Purgatory is incomparably greater than that of either Elizabeth or of the married couple at Cana. Their torments are so great that all the sufferings of the sick, all the pains and torments of the martyrs since the beginning of the world added together do not in the least compare with those of Purgatory, because the former are but trials, whilst the latter are punishments. The pains of the Poor Souls are similar to those inflicted by the surgeon or executioner.
Hence Mary descends with truly maternal charity into Purgatory and eases its torments. St. Bonaventure applies to her the words, " I have penetrated into the bottom of the deep" (Eccli. xxiv. 8.), and adds, in our Blessed Mother's name, " into the abyss of Purgatory, there to mitigate the pains of the Suffering Souls." St. Vincent Ferrer exclaims, " O how amiable and benevolent Mary shows herself to them that suffer in Purgatory; for through her they continually receive comfort and consolation." By her mediation the poor captives are released from their fiery prison. St. Bernardine remarks, " To Mary was given the power, by her intercession and merits, to release the souls from Purgatory, particularly those that were foremost in their devotion to her."—St. Bridget one night was addressed by the Blessed Virgin as follows: "I am the Mother also of the souls in Purgatory. Their torments are continually eased in some manner through my intercession. For it pleases the Lord to remit in this manner some of the punishments which are their due by justice."
89. St. Thomas and nearly all the holy Fathers teach that the Blessed Virgin Mary comes to the aid of the Suffering Souls. The Church also, in the Masses of Requiem prays that God may grant eternal bliss to the deceased through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and all the saints. In the same manner she prays towards the end of the Litany of all saints.
Why should our heavenly Mother feel less affection for her captive children than an earthly mother does for her offspring? Can we imagine that she will refuse her efficient consent for their deliverance from the fiery prison r when we remember that she gave her consent for the redemption of the world ?
When Robert of Flariders was held captive by Stephen de Blois, the prisoner's mother was filled with sorrow at the thought of the gloomy abode of her son; and yearning to see him, she continually exclaimed, " Once more let me see my son ! I must visit, I must see and console him." And her prayer was granted.— Can we imagine that Jesus would refuse His Mother's prayer ? She is His Mother, and also the Mother of the Suffering Souls; and therefore it gives Him the sweetest pleasure to release them, or at least to mitigate the torments of those for whom she pleads. And she never ceases her intercession, for, says St. Liguori, " the less the souls are able to help themselves, the more she increases her benevolence and solicitude for them."
Therefore the Queen of Heaven rejoices at being invoked for intercession in behalf of the Suffering Souls; and the more assiduously we pray to her for this purpose, the more efficiently will she co operate with us for their relief. The Venerable Boudon therefore teaches that we should not be content with invoking her intercession for the Suffering Souls, but that we should trustfully place all our good works and prayers at her disposal for their benefit. "For", he remarks, " no one can dispose of them more equitably, and moreover, we cannot give a stronger evidence of love for and confidence in her."