Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae, or Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy is a familiar refrain at Sacred Heart Academy. When we say, or better yet chant, the Salve Regina, we are imploring Mary’s assistance to lead us to Jesus Christ, her son, and our salvation.
“To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up or sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
On Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis proclaimed in his papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, that beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015, the Church would enter into an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. The opening of a Jubilee Year includes the tradition of the opening of the Holy Doors, which Pope Francis will do tomorrow, followed by the opening of the Holy Doors at other Churches throughout the world. If you would like to know more about Jubilees and the Holy Door, you can find information here. If you would like to know more about papal bulls, you can find information here.
As Mary is the Mother of Mercy, it is quite fitting that the Year of Mercy would begin on the feast day honoring her Immaculate Conception. Contemplating the mystery of the Immaculate Conception can help us to understand God’s mercy and how we can grow in it. Father Marie-Dominique Phillippe, O.P., the founder of the Community of the Brothers of St. John, wrote that the Immaculate Conception, is an act of “the Father’s mercy in all its purity.” (From Totus Tuus: A Contemplative Approach to Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, p. 24.) Father Phillipe explains that God the Father is always ahead of us because “the light of his mercy is his eternal gaze.” (p. 25.) He describes that contemplating the Immaculate Conception can help us understand this aspect of God’s mercy:
We must try to understand the mystery of the Immaculate Conception not only in itself, but in its source which is precisely the mystery of the Father’s prevenient mercy. There can be no mercy more absolute or more complete. Saint Thomas speaks of prevenient mercy as a particular act of mercy. Prevenience is, in fact, what characterizes mercy (from the Latin prae venire: to come before).
If we want to understand what prevenient mercy is and what it means for us, we must consider the mystery of the Immaculate Conception: the first fruit of prevenient mercy, its fruit par excellence. Thus, the Immaculate Conception must enable us to penetrate this special abode of the Father’s mercy.
Totus Tuus, p. 25.
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” This is the first verse of Psalm 136. Through 26 verses, this psalm proclaims God’s work in creation and in history, with each verse using the refrain, “for his mercy endures forever.” The history recounted in this psalm ends with Israel’s arrival in the Promised Land, but we could certainly continue with verses of God’s work in history that continue up to the present day. One of those works would certainly be the Immaculate Conception. God’s gift of this singular grace to Mary, preserving her from the taint of sin at the moment of her conception, is a work of God’s “infinite mercy for our fallen humanity.” (Totus Tuus, p. 18.) The Immaculate Conception is a work in history, and a gift of mercy for each of us. In response, we can proclaim in thanksgiving, “his mercy endures forever.”
Father Phillipe notes that “we must live the mystery” of the Immaculate Conception. (Totus Tuus, p. 39.) Through the mystery, we “understand Christian mercy, the mercy of Christ’s blood, which radically redeems the sinner and completely liberates him from sin.” (Id.) For Mary, this redemption occurred in a single moment, and God could have willed the same for us, but he did not. “He willed that it be in and through Mary that we rediscover the mystery of prevenient mercy.” (Id.) Thus, as we petition in the Salve Regina, it is through Mary’s eyes of mercy that we can truly see Jesus.
This is a great mystery. I am frequently asked how it is that a federal prosecutor becomes the Headmaster of a Catholic school. My answer is typically something along the lines of “Jesus asked me to do it and I said yes.” While that is true, it does not include the whole story. I will not recount it for you here, but suffice to say that it would not have been possible for me to hear Jesus without Mary. On my baptism in 1999, I received a Rosary. I never prayed it until May of 2013, and during that month, I prayed it every day. That then led me to regular confession, to discover the Liturgy of the Hours, the universal prayer of the Church, and then, to Eucharistic Adoration. Through Mary, I was able to truly turn to God and experience his great Mercy. My hardened heart was created anew, and I was able to hear the Word. Mary continues to lead me. But for God’s merciful gift of the Immaculate Conception, none of this would be possible.
Thus, I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures, forever.” The Mother of Mercy can and will do the same for us all! This Year of Mercy is a great opportunity for each of us to become closer to Our Lady and ask for her help to bring us closer to her Son, who is Mercy. As we grow closer to Mercy Himself, we grow in this great virtue and are used as vessels of His mercy to our neighbor. Maria, Mater Misericodiae, ora pro nobis!
Even if you do not pay attention to the media, I predict it will be awfully hard to live through this week and not hear about the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to the United States of America. As Catholic Americans, we have a dual responsibility, as Christians and as citizens, to pay close attention to this historic visit. All can expect non-Catholic family members, friends, and neighbors to engage in conversation about the visit, and we should be prepared to do so joyfully and well-informed. I offer the following thoughts and resources to assist you.
First and foremost, we pray. The USCCB has collected a series of prayers for each significant part of the journey so that the faithful might make a spiritual pilgrimage with Pope Francis as he visits Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. Those prayers are available here.
While the journey to the United States originally arose out of his acceptance of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, there is much more to the trip. Pope Francis will arrive in the United States at 4 p.m. at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland on Tuesday, September 22nd. A complete schedule of the major events for the visit is listed here.
On Wednesday, the Holy Father will celebrate the first canonization on U.S. soil with the Mass of Canonization for Blessed Junipero Serra. Those of you who have this month’s Magnificat, can read about Fray Serra’s story in an essay on page 336 and also in the Art Essay at the back of the Magnificat. More information is available here and Bishop Robert Barron offers a video commentary here.
On Thursday, Pope Francis will become the first pope ever to address a joint session of the United States Congress. The complete historical significance of this event will only be known with the passage of time, but I think it is fair to note the significance of this platform for our Holy Father. It is important to be mindful that the United States and the Holy See have only had official diplomatic relations since 1984. An additional twist, Pope Francis is going way outside his comfort zone to deliver his address in English. Our own Father Sirico will be in attendance at this historic event. You may follow Father Sirico’s coverage of the papal visit here.
On Friday, Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly. On Saturday and Sunday, he will travel to Philadelphia, where he will conclude his journey following celebrating Mass on Sunday at 4 p.m. for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. I know there are many in our community who will be making a pilgrimage to Philadelphia. We will keep all involved in our prayers.
There will be many versions of what “Pope Francis said” floating around the media. In order to fulfill our dual responsibility as Christians and citizens, I think it is necessary for us to take the time to listen to, or read for ourselves the actual and complete words of Pope Francis. His actual words will be posted by the USCCB here and archived in EWTN’s library and accessible here. In addition, EWTN TV and our own Holy Family Radio will have comprehensive live coverage of the major events throughout the week.
Enjoy this very special week!
June is the month of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We were blessed in his Most Sacred Heart to finish the year with several wonderful events. Over 200 people walked in our three-mile Corpus Christi procession through the neighborhood, taking Jesus to several shut-in parishioners. We also had over 200 souls honoring the close of the academic year on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with a solemn Mass and celebration afterward. On the last day of school, we asked the students to spend the summer contemplating the image of the Sacred Heart, especially the flames above the heart that show Jesus’s overwhelming love for us, and to ask Jesus for hearts that are on fire for him, as is contemplated in the Litany of the Sacred Heart: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like to Thine.” We encourage you to join us in this contemplation.