Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Holy and Sweet Name of Mary, Light of the Despairing, Star of the Sea! – Selected Writings and Prayers

The Holy Name of Mary, by St. Bernard

         "And the virgin's name, wrote Luke, was Mary. Let us speak of this name for a few moments. It is said to mean "star of the sea," a name applied most appropriately to the Virgin Mary. She is compared most aptly to a star. As a star emits its rays without loss of its essential nature, so the Virgin Mary without loss of her virginity, brings forth her Son. Neither do the rays lessen the brightness of the star, nor the Son the inviolateness of the Virgin. She is the glorious star which rose out of Jacob, whose rays light up the whole world, whose brilliance gleams in heaven, penetrates to hell. She floods the whole earth with her light, warms minds rather than bodies, fosters virtues, melts away sins. She, I say, is that brilliant shining star lifted in nature above this vast and boundless sea, gleaming with merits, enlightening by her example.

         "Whoever you are, when you find yourself tossed by storms and tempests upon this world's raging water's, rather than walking upon firm dry land, never take your eyes from the brightness of this star lest you be overwhelmed by the storm. When the winds of temptation blow, when you run upon the rocks of disaster, look to the star. Cry out to Mary! If you are cast away upon the waves of pride or ambition of detraction or jealousy, look to the star. Cry out to Mary! When anger, avarice, or the lusts of the flesh assail the ship of your mind, look up to Mary. When you are worried by the enormity of your sins, troubled by a confused conscience, or terrified by the horrors of the judgment to come, when you begin to drown in the bottomless pit of sorrow or sink in the abyss of despair, think of Mary.

         "In danger, in difficulties, in doubts, think of Mary. Call upon Mary! Never let her name be absent from your lips or absent from your heart. If you would obtain the help of her prayers, do not neglect to follow the example of her conduct. If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you need not despair. If you think of her, you will not err; sustained by her, you need not fear; guided by her, you will walk without weariness. If she smiles upon you, you will succeed. You will experience in your own heart with what justice it is said: and the Virgin's name was Mary.

         "Take not your eyes from the light of this star if you would not be overwhelmed by the waves; if the storms of temptation arise, if you are thrown upon the rocks of affliction, look to the star, invoke Mary. Are you confounded at the enormity of your sins, are you ashamed at the defilement of your conscience, are you terrified on account of the dreadful judgment, so that you begin to be overpowered by sadness, or even to sink into the abyss of despair, then turn your thoughts to Mary. In dangers, in distress, in doubt, call on Mary. She will not be far from your mouth, or your heart; and that you may obtain her intercession omit not to imitate her conduct. When you follow her, you will not go astray; when you invoke her, you will no longer be in doubt; when she supports you, you will not fall; when she leads you, you will surely come to eternal life, and will find by your own experience that she is justly called Maria--that is, Star of the Sea."

         The Roman Pontiff, Innocent XI, ordered the feast of this most venerable name, which special devotion in certain parts of Christendom, be celebrated annually by the universal Church. This feast was to be a perpetual memorial to that great deliverance of the Christian people, won through the intercession of Mary help of Christians, from the inhuman tyranny of the Turks who trampled upon their necks--that remarkable victory won at Vienna in Austria.

Ave Maris Stella (Latin, "Hail Star of the Sea/Ocean")

Ave Maris Stella is a popular liturgical hymn of unknown origin. It can be dated back to at least the 9th century for it is preserved in the Codex Sangallensis, a 9th century manuscript now in the Swiss Monastery of St. Gallen. Its appearance in the Codex points to a composition possibly in the 8th century. The hymn is frequently attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and sometimes has been attributed to King Robert (1031), both of whom are too late to have authored it. It has also been attributed to Venantius Fortunatus (d 609) and Paul the Deacon (d 787). It is found in ancient codices of the Divine Office for Vespers on Marian feasts. Today it is still in use in the Divine Office and in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.

HAIL, O Star of the ocean,
God's own Mother blest,
ever sinless Virgin,
gate of heavenly rest.

Taking that sweet Ave,
which from Gabriel came,
peace confirm within us,
changing Eve's name.

Break the sinners' fetters,
make our blindness day,
Chase all evils from us,
for all blessings pray.

Show thyself a Mother,
may the Word divine
born for us thine Infant
hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

Praise to God the Father,
honor to the Son,
in the Holy Spirit,
be the glory one. Amen.

A Prayer to Mary, Queen of Heaven and our Advocate

"Mary is that woman by whom hell is overcome, the devil trodden upon, man saved."--St. Anselm.

Hail, Queen of Heaven, the ocean star,
Guide of the wanderer here below!
Thrown on life's surge we claim thy care,
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the Sea,
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me.

O gentle, chaste, and spotless Maid,
We sinners make our prayers through thee;
Remind thy Son that He has paid
The price of our iniquity.
Virgin most pure, Star of the Sea,
Pray for the sinner, pray for me.

Sojourners in this vale of tears,
To thee, blest advocate, we cry;
Pity our sorrows, calm our fears,
And soothe with hope our misery.
Refuge in grief, Star of the Sea,
Pray for the mourner, pray for me.

And while to Him who reigns above,
In Godhead One, in Persons Three,
The source of life, of grace, of love,
Homage we pay on bended knee;
Do thou, bright Queen, Star of the Sea,
Pray for thy children, pray for me.

Titles of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto

Morning Star (Latin: Stella Matutina)

There is no title in all the Litany more descriptive of Mary's loving office to men than "Morning Star." Every star, indeed, is an image of Her. Her most popular figure is "Star of the Sea," due no doubt to the loveliest of Her hymns—the Ave Maris Stella, which goes back at least to the ninth century, and to the Alma Redemptoris Mater, of the eleventh century.

Mary had much to do with stars. The Star of Bethlehem was the only lamp for the cave. "We have seen His star in the East," said the Magi, and they found it again reflected in the eyes of Mary.

There is a lovely legend about an old well in the Holy Land, called "Mary's well." The story is that once when the Holy Family was going from Bethlehem to Jerusalem they rested by that well and drank of its waters. When the Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem, they lost the star for a while, but they found it again shining in the waters of Mary's well.

The "Morning Star" has always had a special application to Mary. The Church interprets the verse in the Canticle of Canticles (vi, 9) as descriptive of Her. "Who is She that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun?" Every church today, as in ages past, has its altar of the Blessed Virgin. In the old Cathedrals, the Lady Chapel was situated behind the choir and the high altar, and to the extreme east, as the symbol of Her as the Morning Star. We read in an old book of the 16th century: "Like as the morning cometh before the sun rising, and divideth the night from the day, so the Virgin Mary rose as the morning before the Sun of Justice, and divided the state of grace from the state of sin, the children of God from the children of darkness. Whereupon the Church singeth to Her praise that Her glorious life gave light to the world and illumined all the Church and congregations of faithful people." So a Solemn Mass was sung every day at early dawn in Her honor, and the bell for rising was called "Saint Mary's bell." St. Bridget of Sweden calls Her "the star preceding the sun."

The Hymn for the Feast of Our Lady's Apparition at Lourdes, has this stanza: "O dawn that goeth before the sun, joyous herald of our salvation, thy people, O Virgin, suppliantly invoke Thee amid the shades of night." Dante must have been thinking of Her when he wrote, as coming out of the Inferno: "Thence issuing we again beheld the stars;" and surely of Her when he wrote: "Of tremulous luster like the Matin star," and "Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars." To him the Inferno was "the air pierced by no star." St. John in the Apocalypse tells of the Woman Clothed with the Sun: "On Her head was a crown of twelve stars." So in art Our Lady is often picture as the Madonna of the Star. Stars are embroidered on Her veil or on the right shoulder of Her blue mantle. Art glorifies Her as the Morning Star, the Star of the Sea, the Star of Jacob, the Fixed Star.

The very thought of Light brings up the vision of Mary, so much had She to do with the Light of the world. Her arms were the candlestick for that Light. Candlemas, the Feast of Lights, is Her Feast, as She holds up to a darkened world the true Light. So, St. Epiphanius († 403) called Her "Mother of Eternal Light." In the Hymn for the Feast of the Guardian Angels She is also called "Mother of Light," and in the Hymn for the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary: "Twelve stars now crown the brow of the glorious Mother; near the throne of Her Son She reigns over all created things."

An old woman who saw the Little Flower when she was dead, said that her feet looked "as if they had walked on light." A convert in India who had a vision of Our Lady was asked what She looked like. He answered, "She was composed of light, She was all light." Even when little Bernadette had her visions of Our Lady and went into ecstasy at the sight, the onlookers said they could never forget the child's face, it was so full of beauty and light, as if it were the reflection from the light of the Mother of God. Our Lady of Hope appeared to some children at Pontmain, France. They described Her as surrounded by stars. "Oh, there are so many stars the Blessed Virgin will soon be gilt all over."

Yes, as the Hymn Quem terra sings—She is the "refulgent hall of Light." She is also called "Light of the Despairing," "Daughter of the Light Unapproachable," "Our Light," "Bright Moon of Purity," "Brilliant Star of Purity," "Rising Moon of Purity," "Sun without a Stain," "Living Light of Holiness."

"Our Lady of Light" was an old title of Hers in the Middle Ages. It is said that She Herself suggested that title to St. Thomas of Canterbury. There was a Confraternity of Our Lady of Light, and St. Francis Xavier and his companions were enrolled in it before they set out for the Indies. The Confraternity of Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost was founded in England, in 1824. Pope Leo XIII indulgenced this prayer: "Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, I give Thee my whole self, soul and body, all I have or may have, to keep for Jesus that I may be His forever more. Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, pray for me."

But the most common "Star" figure, which all the spiritual writers have used, is "Star of the Sea," the guide to man who is sailing on the sea of life. St. Bernard, as many others, interpreted Miriam (Hebrew for "Mary") as meaning Star of the Sea, and thus explains it: "Because without loss of its own integrity, a star sends forth its rays—and so Mary brought forth Jesus. She is, therefore, that noble star risen out of Jacob, whose ray illuminates the whole earth, whose splendor both shines above and pierces the nether darkness, enlightening the earth and giving heat rather to souls than to bodies, nourishing virtues, expelling vices. Mary is the excellent, bright and wonderful Star lifted up necessarily above this great and wide ocean, shining with merits, illuminating with example. Behold the Star!"

It is a strange thing, but almost all the figures of speech in Scripture about the sea refer to its power and its dangers. All dreaded the unknown sea. Having no compass in those days, many ships were lost in the great traffic on the Mediterranean. The sea has always had its dangers. The sailors knew that better than anyone else. A strange name the Eastern sailors gave Her—Mother of Tears, evidently because the sea made so many mothers weep for their lost sailor boys. But the Catholic sailor was devoted to the Star of the Sea. He needed Her protection in his dangerous calling, so he called his boat after one of Her titles, paid his homage to Her shrines along the coast, made vows of pilgrimage and of offering to Her. One of the most famous shrines of France is that of Our Lady of Mariners, at Marseilles. At the end of the 12th century a fisherman of Marseilles was overtaken in his boat by a violent storm. He raised his eyes to the rock of the Garde. He beheld a figure there. He sang the Ave Maris Stella. Somehow he got to land. Many sailors saw that same apparition on the rock. A chapel was erected and a statue was placed there, called "Our Lady of Help" or "Help of Mariners." Since then She is honored as the Protectress of Marseilles. Many stories are told of sailors in distress seeing Our Lady at the wheel guiding their boat through the storm. She was, indeed, "the Star above the storms."

From our childhood many of us have been familiar with the idea of the Star of the Sea protecting us in our voyage of life. We sang Fr. Faber’s hymn—"Sweet Star of the Sea."

"Deep night hath come down on us, Mother, deep night, And we need more than ever the guide of Thy light; For the darker the night is, the brighter should be Thy beautiful shining, sweet Star of the Sea."
St. Bonaventure compares life to a tempestuous sea into which sinners have fallen from the ship of Divine Grace. "O poor lost sinners," he makes Our Lady say, "despair not; raise up your eyes and cast them on this beautiful star; breathe again with confidence, for it will save you from this tempest and will guide you into the port of salvation."

And St. Ephraim calls Her "the safe harbor of all sailing on the sea of the world," the same expression being used by Pope Leo XIII—"Safe Harbor of travelers." St. Thomas draw his lesson from it—"She is blessed among women because She alone has removed the curse of Adam, brought blessings to mankind, and opened the gates of Paradise. Hence She is called Mary, which name signifies Star of the Sea, for as sailors steer their ship to port by watching the stars, so Christians are brought to glory by the intercession of Mary." The Irish of old had a beautiful expression—"O Mary, meet me at the port." St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi had a vision in which She saw a vessel in which were all the clients of Mary, and Mary Herself steering the ship into port. This is Dante's thought: "If thou follow but thy star, thou canst not miss at last a glorious haven."

Mary is compared to the merchant's ship, "She bringeth Her bread from afar" (Prov. 31: 14). So do we look up to Her—we who "have walked in the waves of the sea" (Eccli. 24: 8). Thus St. Gertrude the Great prayed, "O Jesus, my only hope, my Savior and my God, send to me, at my last hour Thy tender Mother Mary, that soft-shining Star of the Sea, that She may stand by me as my sure defense. Her face, fair as the bright dawn of morning will make me feel and know that Thou, too, O Divine Sun of Justice, art drawing near to my soul in all Thy splendor."

How can we ever meditate on the Star of the Sea without reading St. Bernard's classic: "O Thou who feelest thyself tossed by the tempests in the midst of the shoals of this world, turn not away thine eyes from the Star of the Sea, if thou wouldst avoid shipwreck. If the winds of temptation blow, if tribulations rise up like rocks before thee—look at the Star, send a sigh towards Mary! If the waves of pride, ambition, calumny, or jealousy seek to swallow up thy soul—look at the Star, send a prayer to Mary! If anger, avarice, or love of pleasure toss thy fragile bark—seek the eyes of Mary. If horror of thy sins, trouble of conscience, or dread of the judgments of God begin to plunge thee into the gulf of sadness, the abyss of despair—attach thy heart to Mary. In dangers, in sufferings, in doubt—think of Mary and invoke Her aid. Let Mary be always in your heart and often upon your lips. To obtain Her help in death, follow Her example in life. In following Her, you will not go astray; by praying to Her, you will not despair; if you cling to Her, you will not go wrong. With Her support, you fall not; under Her protection you have no fear; under Her guidance you do not grow weary; if She is gracious to you, you will reach the port. Thus you will experience how rightly it is said: 'And the Virgin's name was Mary'." 

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