Octave of the Immaculate Conception
“Thou art terrible as an army set in array.”–Cant. vi.
The Holy Ghost assures us that the life of man is a warfare. It began at the fall of our first parents, and rested upon all of Adam’s descendants, excepting her, whose Immaculate Conception. Yes, it is a severe struggle which we have to maintain against the powers of darkness; against Lucifer and his allies, the fallen angels; against the world and the flesh, which, enrolled under the standard of the fallen prince of angels, and swayed by his influence and direction, oppose us as the enemies of our salvation.
The name of the Church upon earth, whose children we are, reminds us of this. We call it the “Church militant,” and this it really is. But for this very reason is she destined to be for all eternity the “Church triumphant.” If one day we desire to join her in the cry of victory, then must we also, like faithful children, combat and triumph with her. It is certain that we have a powerful enemy in Lucifer and his allies; still we have no reason to be discouraged on this account, since Christ, the victor over death and hell, has provided us with so many weapons with which, assisted by His grace, we can ably defend ourselves. He appointed His own mother, Mary, to be, in particular, the guardian of His Church and of His children.
Let us draw near to her. Assisted by her, we will most assuredly conquer. I say Mary is the terror of hell, the well-ordered army arrayed against the enemies of our salvation. Why? To this I will give the answer today. O Mary, we unite our prayers with those of the Church on this day, and fly to thee for aid and protection. Defended by thee, no temptation can harm us! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God! I called Mary the terror of hell. In her conception she crushed the head of Satan. Protected by her we will be stronger than all the powers of Satan.
The promise which was given in paradise by the Redeemer, points to Mary, the mother of the Saviour, as the strong woman who was to crush the head of Satan. And the same is verified by the various types which Scripture presents to us in the heroines of the Old Testament. Deborah and Judith were types or figures of the Blessed Virgin; and the Church refers the words of the Canticle, which speaks of a well-ordered army and the Ark of the Covenant, to Mary.
At the foot of the cross we behold Mary, the strong tower before which hung the armor of the mighty. I, therefore, justly call Mary the terror of hell. We will better understand these types by considering the reasons which cause a general to fear his adversary.
The first is the very person of an opponent, who, by his dignity, his character, and his talents, exercises an unbounded influence over the army intrusted to his command, so that his subjects, urged on by the consciousness of victory, obey his every word without hesitation. How terrible is Mary in this respect, as opposed to Satan. It is true, Lucifer and all the fallen angels were’ gifted with incomparably higher talents than we; but this, their former natural glory, disappears when we remember the grandeur of Mary. She is the mother of the Jesus, whom the eternal Father has so exalted that in His name, and in acknowledgment of His power, every knee in heaven and on earth shall bend.
Next to Christ, seated on a throne of glory, is His mother Mary, who reigns as queen of heaven and earth, surrounded with such glory and magnificence as to cause all the former splendor of Satan to vanish. In connection with this honor and glory, Mary, as mother of Jesus, also enjoys a power which gives her the right to say with Christ: “To me is given all power in heaven and on earth,”–a power which likewise justifies her in saying with her Son: “No one is able to wrest my sheep from me,” as long as they have recourse to me, their mother and queen. Jesus, my Son, has shared His power with me. I can oppose hell with His words. And if I would ask Him to send me even a legion of angels to fight against thee, Lucifer, and thy hosts, He would grant my request at once.
Not only is Mary in herself a power so terrible to hell, but how many other powers are prepared, awaiting only her command to fight against hell! A general and his soldiers are filled with still greater dismay when they perceive the approaching commander to be at the head of a mighty army, valiant, experienced in warfare, and in every respect superior to their own. Mary is the queen of angels, of whom each one has baffled and triumphed over Lucifer.
Let us call to mind the arrogance of Sennacherib who, relying on the strength of his armies, contemned God, and, as it were, challenged Him to combat. The following day 185,000 corpses were strewn around Jerusalem. In one night they were slain by one single angel whom God had sent, and Jerusalem was delivered. I make the application and say: All the angels look up to Mary as their queen, and they are prepared to fight against hell at any moment, when there is question of the salvation of a soul who implores the protection of the mother of God.
Thus it occurred at one time that a number of evil spirits besieged the death-bed of a woman who, in her agony, called upon Mary. Mary summoned Michael, the archangel. He, accompanied by numerous angels, advanced towards the dying person, and the evil spirits fled in dismay. So also St. Francis Jerome, dying, cast a glance on an image of the Blessed Virgin, and sighed: “O Mary, thou who hast ever been my refuge, protect me in this hour!” And lo! his countenance became radiant, and, bowing to the image of the Virgin, he said joyfully: “Now all is right–Magnificat”; and his spirit was eleased.
Just as a person is terrified and draws back when a flash of lightning has struck something near him, so also Satan retreats, when, in temptation, we call upon Mary. This is affirmed by Thomas a Kempis. A general is filled with dread if he is aware that the commander who opposes him possesses more strategic talents than he, and is thereby better fitted to command. Lucifer knows full well that he has such an opponent in Mary, the queen of the cherubim, the seat of heavenly wisdom, the wisest of virgins. And when a general knows that his opponent has often fought, and has always been victorious, this knowledge especially strikes terror into his soul. But count the victories of Mary.
St. Bernard could in truth address the Blessed Virgin thus: “O Mary, it is unheard of, that any one has fled to thy protection or sought thy mediation without obtaining relief.” And does not the Church refer these words also to Mary: “Whoever seeks me will find life, and obtain salvation from the Lord?” And the holy Fathers unanimously declare that the veneration of the Blessed Virgin is a sure pledge of perseverance in the hour of death. It is indeed a highly consoling thought expressed by the spiritual writers, that no one for whom Mary has once offered her prayers to God will be lost. Mary obtains for those souls the grace of conversion and of perseverance to the end; that is, if we earnestly desire to do all that Mary requires of us. And what these requirements are, can be inferred from the words she addressed to the waiters in the dining-hall at Canaan: “Do all that He bids you to do; “that is to say, if we have but the sincere good-will to follow Christ in the manner in which the Church teaches us, then we may expect every thing from the Blessed Virgin, even if the bringing about of our conversion required a miracle.
It is especially the devotion to Mary in her Immaculate Conception, which proves a powerful weapon in our strife against hell. If you are severely tempted, say one Ave every night and morning, in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Call on the Blessed Virgin in the hour of temptation, and you will be victorious. When confidence fills the warrior’s breast, then may it be said that victory is assured. And we certainly will not lack this feeling of confidence if we place ourselves under the victorious banner of Mary, for she is the mother of the children of God, and the mother of sweet hope.
May the Blessed Virgin so dispose our hearts in fighting for God, and for the salvation of our immortal souls, that with her we may conquer and be crowned! Amen!
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.