Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Transition of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Transition of the Blessed Virgin Mary

And a little known privilege she received

By Robert J. Siscoe
(Published in the August 2012 issue of Catholic Family News)

On December 8, 1854, in the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, Bl. Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Many non-Catholics mistakenly believe the Immaculate Conception refers to the virginal conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of His mother.  In reality, the term refers to the conception of the Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.  Through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary received the singular privilege of being exempt from the universal law of sin from the moment of her conception.  The dogmatic definition reads as follows:  the most Blessed Virgin Mary … in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin". 

According to St. Thomas, sin consists in a two-fold element: a turning away from God, and a turning toward creatures.  The formal element of original sin is the privation of original justice, by which the will is turned away from God.  The material element of original sin is concupiscence, whereby the will is turned toward creatures.  St. Thomas wrote: “original sin is concupiscence, materially, but privation of original justice, formally”. (II-II Q83, A3)

At Baptism, the formal element of original sin is removed through the infusion of sanctifying grace and charity into the soul, but the material element remains, and must be combated by reception of the sacraments, self denial and the practice of virtue.   By a singular privilege, the Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin – not only the formal element (lack of sanctifying grace), but the material element as well.  As such, the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from concupiscence, which impedes the pure and perfect love of God, for she was truly “full of grace” (Luke 1:28).  “It was not fitting”, wrote St. Bernadine of Sienna, “that He, the Son of God, would be born of a Virgin, and take her flesh, were she in the slightest decree stained with original sin”.

This privilege was granted to the Blessed Mother through the merits of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was indeed her Savior (Luke 1:47); but unlike others who are saved by being cleansed from sin through the merits of Christ, the Blessed Mother was saved through His merits by being preserved from sin.  In fulfillment of the prophecy of Gen. 3:15 – “I will put enmity between thee and the woman” – the Blessed Mother was exempted from the universal law of sin that passed onto all men due to the transgression of Adam, the father of the human race.  It was fitting that she, who was destined to crush the head of serpent – “she shall crush thy head” (Gen. 3:15) – should be free from all stain of sin, so that he, whose head she will crush, would never have any place in her.  Referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John Damascene said “the serpent never had any access to this paradise”.  Her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, would have it no other way.   

Now, since bodily death is the consequence of sin (Romans 5:12), the question arises:  If the Virgin Mary was exempted from the universal law of sin, would she also be exempt from having to suffer bodily death?

On November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII defined, as an article of Faith, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into heaven at the end of her life.  He wrote: “we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”.

The question of whether or not the Blessed Mother died before being assumed into heaven was specifically avoided in the definition, since the purpose was only to define the Assumption.  He merely stated that she was assumed into heaven after “having completed the course of her earthly life”.  In the same document, however, the Pope indicates, in numerous places, that the Blessed Mother did die before being assumed into heaven, and he cites multiple sources to support this belief.  For example, he quotes the following from the sacramentary that Pope Adrian I sent to the Emperor Charlemagne: "Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death…”, as well as the Byzantine liturgy, which says:  "God, the King of the universe, has granted you favors that surpass nature. As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb."  He also quotes St. Alphonsus, who wrote: “Jesus did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death…”, and St. Francis De Sales, who asked: “What son would not bring his mother back to life and would not bring her into paradise after her death if he could?" 

There is a solid tradition, in both the East and West, that the Blessed Mother suffered death before being assumed into heaven.  In the eighth Century, St. John of Damascus (676-749) formulated the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem as follows:

“St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven”. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

In the Mystical City of God, Ven. Mary of Agreda recounts the same events as described above, but adds many more details, including a little-known privilege that was granted to the Blessed Mother.  The events concerning the Transition of the Blessed Mother were revealed to her in detail: She saw Our Lord “descend from heaven on a throne of ineffable glory, accompanied by all the Saints and innumerable angels”.  He spoke to her the following words: “My dearest Mother, whom I have chosen for my dwelling place, the hour is come in which thou art to pass from this life… into the glory of My Father and Mine, where thou shalt possess the throne prepared for thee at my right hand….  And since, by my power and as my Mother, I have caused thee to enter the world free and exempt from sin, therefore also death shall have no right or permission to touch thee at thy exit from this world.  If thou wishest not to pass through it, come with Me now to partake of my glory, which thou hast merited”.  The blessed Mother responded: “My Son and Lord… thou, who art my true God, hast suffered death without being obliged to do so; it is proper that, as I have followed Thee in life, so I follow Thee also in death”.   The Lord approved of this request, and the Blessed Mother pronounced the same words as Our Lord when He expired on the cross – “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit” – then closed her eyes and expired.  In the book The Glories of Mary, St. Alphonsus quotes Bernardine de Bustis as follows: “Mary, by a singular privilege granted to no other Saint, loved, and was always actually loving God, in every moment of her life, with such ardor that, as St. Bernard declares, it required a continued miracle to preserve her life in the midst of such flames” (pg 411). Interestingly, according to Ven. Mary of Agreda, it was the suspension of this miracle that resulted in her death.  It was revealed to her that the Blessed Virgin Mary “died at the moment when the divine power suspended the assistance, which until then had counteracted the sensible ardors of her burning love of God.  As soon as this miraculous assistance was withdrawn, the fire of her love consumed the life-humors of her heart and thus caused the cessation of her earthly existence” (Vol. 4, pgs 625-627). 

The Lord was so pleased with this final sacrifice of His mother, in choosing to follow Him in death, that He granted her a new privilege for the benefit of her spiritual children.  The Blessed Mother explained this privilege in the following words spoken to Ven. Mary of Agreda:

“My daughter, besides what thou hast understood and written of my glorious Transition, I wish to inform thee of another privilege, which was conceded to me by my divine son in that hour.  Thou hast already recorded, that the Lord offered me the choice of entering into beatific vision with or without passing through the portals of death. … I chose death freely in order to imitate and follow Him. … Since I had seen my Son and true God die, I would not have satisfied the love I owe Him, if I had refused death, and I would have left a great gap in my conformity to and my imitation of my Lord, the God-man, whereas He wished me to bear a great likeness to Him in His most sacred humanity. … Hence my choosing to die was so pleasing to Him, and my prudent love therein obliged Him to such an extent, that in return, He immediately conceded to me a singular favor for the benefit of the children of the Church…  It was this, that all those devoted to me, who should call upon me at the hour of death, constituting me as their Advocate in memory of my happy Transition and of my desiring to imitate Him in death, shall be under my special protection in that hour, shall have me as a defense against the demons, as a help and protection, and shall be presented by me before the tribunal of His mercy and there experience my intercession.  In consequence the Lord gave me a new power and commission and He promised to confer great helps of His grace for a good death and for a purer life on all those who, in veneration of this mystery of my precious death, should invoke my aid” (ibid. pgs. 629-630).

This privilege, granted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, will be applied to those who call upon her at the hour of death, in memory of her happy Transition, and the death she willed to endure.  One way to remember this privilege, and thereby profit from it, is to form the habit of recalling it when saying the Forth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary (the Assumption).  In addition to offering this decade for the grace of a holy death, we should offer it in honor of the privilege granted to the Blessed Mother, as a result of her holy death, asking for the grace to call upon her at the hour of our death; for “they are certainly saved and reign in heaven for whom the Queen of mercy intercedes”. (Bl. Denis the Carthusian)   

Prayer: Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, my Mother and Advocate.  In honor of thy glorious Transition and the death you willed to endure in imitation of thy Divine Son, and in honor of the privilege you received through your death, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst assist me at the hour of my death, and present me to thy Divine Son, asking that He be merciful to me, as a favor to thee.  And should I, in my final agony, forget to call upon thee, do thou, O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, remember this prayer, and do not forget to intercede for me.  Amen. 


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Glorious Patriarch St. Joseph

The Glorious Patriarch St. Joseph

By Robert J. Siscoe
(This article was published in the March 2012 issue of Catholic Family News -
 On March 19, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ and Patron of the Universal Church.  The genealogy of St. Joseph, as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, includes fourteen Patriarchs from Abraham to David, fourteen Kings from David to the transmigration to Babylon; and fourteen princes or chiefs of the people from the time of the transmigration up to the birth of Christ.  St. Joseph was a descendent of King David, through the line of Salatheil and Zorobabel (Mt. 1), who were the rightful heirs of David’s throne.  The genealogy in the Gospel of St. Luke traces our Lord’s royal blood line through the Blessed Mother, from whom he received his human nature (Romans 1:3).  While our Lord received his royal blood from His mother, he was heir to the throne of David through St. Joseph, his father according to the law.  If the Jews, rather than the Romans, governed the Holy Land at the time of our Lord’s birth, it would have been St. Joseph, not Herod, who would have reigned as King of the Jews.  “In the veins of St. Joseph, therefore, flowed the blood of David and Solomon, and of all the noble kings of Judah. If his dynasty had remained on the throne, St. Joseph would have been the heir and would have sat on the throne in his turn. … injustice had expelled his family from the throne to which he had the right. For this he was no less a king, the son of these kings of Judah, the greatest, noblest and richest in the world. Thus in the census records of Bethlehem, St. Joseph was inscribed and recognized by the Roman governor as the heir of David” (St. Peter Julian Eymard). 
As St. Joseph was the rightful heir to the throne of David, so too was his legal son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.  From this we can see that our Lord was not only King of the Jews by Divine Right, but also by right of inheritance which He derived from his legal father, St. Joseph. 
The Angelic Doctor teaches that it is a fundamental law of God, that when he chooses a person for a particular office, he endows him with the graces necessary to acquit him with the dignity and perfection of such office.  Now, St. Joseph held the singular privilege of being the earthly father of the only begotten Son of the Eternal Father.  As such, St. Joseph shared in the Divine Paternity of God the Father, as earthly father of His Divine Son.   In thus considering the role of St. Joseph, we can arrive at an appreciation of the measure of grace congruent with such an exalted position.  Regarding this point, Abbot Rupert wrote “at the same time that God formed the body of His Son from the most pure blood of the Virgin, He infused into the heart of St. Joseph His own paternal love, in order that the latter might be for the Incarnate Word upon earth, what He Himself is to the Uncreated Word in eternity”.  St. Joseph was also chosen to be the spouse of She who was the spouse of the Holy Ghost.  What graces must he have received who was not only a son of the Eternal Father, but the father of the Eternal Son, and the spouse of the spouse of the Holy Ghost?
The following is taken from the revelations of the Blessed Mother to Ven. Mary of Agreda (+1665 AD): “The heavenly Lady was either the instrumental or meritorious cause of the holiness of her spouse, or at least the final object or purpose of this holiness.  For all the vast perfections of his virtues and graces were conferred upon St. Joseph for the purpose of making of him a worthy protector and spouse of Her, whom God selected as His mother.  According to this standard, and according to the love of God for his most holy Mother, is to be measured the holiness of Saint Joseph; and… if there had been in the world a man more perfect and more worthy, the Lord would have chosen this other one for the spouse of His Mother.  Since he was chosen by God, Saint Joseph was no doubt the most perfect man upon earth.  Having created and destined him for such a high end, it is certain that God, in His almighty power, prepared and perfected him in proportion to the exaltedness of his end.” (Mystical City of God).
According to the same author, St. Joseph was 33 years of age when he was espoused to the Virgin Mary. The learned Gerson (d. 1429 AD), one of the most prominent theologians of the Council of Constance, as well as other holy writers, taught that St. Joseph was sanctified in his mother’s womb and freed from the sources of concupiscence.   
On this point, Ven. Mary of Agreda wrote: “He was sanctified in the womb of his mother seven months after his conception, and the leaven of sin was destroyed in him for the whole course of his life, never having felt any impure or disorderly movements. … The Lord hastened in him the use of his reason, perfecting it in his third year, endowing it with new graces and virtues. … At this premature age he already practiced the highest kinds of prayer and contemplation and eagerly engaged in the exercise of the virtues proper to his youth; so that, at the age of seven years or more, St. Joseph was already a perfect man in the use of it, and in holiness.  He was of a kind disposition, loving, affable, sincere, showing inclinations not only holy but angelic, growing in virtue and perfection and advancing toward his espousal with most holy Mary, by an altogether irreproachable life” (Mystical City of God).
 While some apocryphal writings claim St. Joseph was a widower with children from a prior marriage, it is the more common opinion that he was a virgin, which St. Peter Damian affirms so positively that he seems to hold it as an article of faith.
St. Joseph was the spouse of the Blessed Mother, who is the Queen of Heaven.  Now, according to ancient law, whoever espouses a queen becomes king by virtue of his marriage.  From this, St. Leonard of Port Maurice draws the following conclusion: “Mary is the Queen of the Angels and Saints; St. Joseph is the spouse of Mary, therefore, he is also King of the Angels and Saints; and consequently it is allowable to invoke him by this title, notwithstanding that the Church has consecrated the custom of addressing this invocation principally to Jesus Christ”.
The Blessed Mother spoke the following words to Ven. Mary of Agreda, about her beloved spouse St. Joseph: “My daughter, although thou hast described my spouse St. Joseph, as the most noble among the princes and Saints of the heavenly Jerusalem; yet neither canst thou properly manifest his eminent sanctity, nor can any of the mortals know it fully before they arrive at the vision of the Divinity.  Then all of them will be filled with wonder and praise as the Lord will make them capable of understanding… The whole human race has much undervalued the privileges and prerogatives conceded to my blessed spouse, and they know not what his intercession with God is able to do.  I assure thee, my dearest, that he is one of the greatly favored personages in the divine presence and has immense power to stay the arms of divine vengeance    From now on, during the rest of thy mortal life, see that thou advance in devotion and in hearty love toward my spouse, and that thou bless the Lord for thus having favored him with such high privileges and for having rejoiced with me so much in the knowledge of all his excellences.  In all thy necessities thou must avail thyself of his intercession” (Mystical City of God, Vol 3., pg 167).
St. Theresa of Avila speaks of her devotion to St. Joseph and the power of his intercession in the following words: "I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him… I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed Saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other Saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities, but of this glorious Saint my experience is that he succors us in them all, and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth. (…)  I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious Saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him (…).  I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him”.
According to Ven. Mary of Agreda, St. Joseph died at the age of sixty, in the 26th year of our Lord, while in the holy presence of both Jesus and Mary.  It is the opinion of many pious authors that St. Joseph was one of those who rose from the dead, body and soul, after the resurrection of Jesus (Mt. 27:33), and that he ascended into heaven bodily, fifty days later.  According to St. Francis De Sales “St. Joseph is in heaven body and soul, of this there can be no doubt”. 
The Blessed Mother informed St. Bridget that Holy St. Joseph frequently repeated the words “May heaven grant that I may live so as to accomplish the will of God”.  And she added: “Therefore it is that the glory of St. Joseph is so great”.  As we know from our Lord, what makes one truly great is not whose parent they are, or what lineage they descend from (Mt. 3:9) but rather how well their life conforms to the Will of God (Luke 11:28).  Therefore, let us imitate that in St. Joseph which made him truly great: Let us seek in all things that our life may be in conformity with the Holy Will of God.  And let us not neglect to petition the glorious Saint Joseph in all our needs, putting the following words of the Blessed Mother into practice: “In all thy necessities thou must avail thyself of his intercession”.
 (Note from the author: Some of the information in this article was taken from the book The Divine Favors Granted to St. Joseph, published by TAN.)