Feast of the Immaculate Conception On 8 December each year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated. O gentle maid, O lovely-hearted woman, Sprung from the seed of patriarchs and kings, Conceived immaculate, divinely destined Virgin! When the poet Sr M Faith OP in her poem 'Annunciation' thus addresses Mary of Nazareth, she is referring to the belief that God granted special grace to the Mother of God in that, upon her conception, she received a gift of grace usually received during the Sacrament of Baptism. This gift was of value for the future Mother of God as preparation for her holy mission, to contain God within her prior to delivering Him to a suffering world crying out for His Redemption. Ark of the New Covenant As the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary required special graces for her mission, and received the Immaculate Conception as preparation for her call. In the Old Testament, the Written Word of God, the Ten Commandments, and the Miraculous Bread from Heaven - the Manna - were in the same place as the Holy Ark. In the New Testament, the Ark of the New Testament, the Blessed Virgin Mary, contained the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Living Bread from Heaven. The Ark of the Old Covenant contained the Rod of Aaron, which signified the true High Priest. The Ark of the New Covenant contained Jesus Christ, Who is called the High Priest (Hebrews 3 verse 1.) The Ark of the Old Testament was overshadowed by the Presence and Power of God (Exodus Chapter 40 verses 34 and 35). In the New Testament, Mary of Nazareth is overshadowed by the Presence and Power of God (Luke Chapter 1 verse 35). The belief of the Immaculate Conception of Mary of Nazareth is that the future Mother of God was overshadowed by the Presence and Power of God at her conception preparatory to her call and Second Overshadowing by the Presence and Power of God. The second Overshadowing was at the Incarnation of God into her womb prior to Jesus being birthed as Saviour and King of all the world. Ineffabilis Deus Pope Pius IX (1846 - 1878) wrote Ineffabilis Deus, in which the Immaculate Conception is ascribed to a singular grace and privilege from Almighty God, granted in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the World's Saviour. Lourdes, France On several occasions during the course of the year 1858, Mary of Nazareth appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a little shepherdess, in a grotto at Massabielle in Lourdes, France. Asked for her name, she replied: "I am the Immaculate Conception." She asked Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners. Instructed by the Lady, Bernadette, digging with her hands in the soil, found a spring in the grotto. A number of authenticated miracles have been ascribed by users of this water. Poetry in Praise of Mary In America, which falls under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, many twentieth century poets sang the praises of Mary. Like flowers of various shapes and colours, grown from a packet of mixed seeds, their poetry ranges from the cheerfully colloquial to the profoundly contemplative. Among the former variety is found 'Our Lady of America', a simple verse for youth by Sr Maryanna OP, published in the November 1947 issue of Junior Catholic Mission. Marked by simplicity and rhythm, it contains no trace of sentimentality. Mary Immaculate, Lady blue-gowned, slippered in moonbeams, Virgin star-crowned, bend down from heaven to bless this our land, prairie and mountain and city and strand. Watch over Washington, pray for St Paul, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles - all cities that linked form a rosary chain from Oregon's Portland to Portland in Maine. On village and hamlet, on country and town, Mary of Nazareth, gently look down. The fine poetry of the poets has not known as much exposure as deserves, burgeoning as it does with a sense of faith, love and hopefulness that make the reading of it an ever fresh delight. Much of the work was published only in religious magazines and then forgotten, along with some of its creators. Though the majority of these poets never achieved any marked degree of fame, a few had their poetry published in general or personal anthologies. In one of the former we find 'Mary Immaculate' by Sr Angela Marie. The third stanza starts off with a metaphoric explanation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary: Upon this earth 'neath Anne's sweet breast a seed is stirred, virgin-veiled; the Word of God bends low with grace. Mother Mary Bertrand OM in her Song of the South Winds (For Our Lady's Birthplace) give a description of Anne's womb while she carried Mary. She regards this as a thurible containing burning incense. The poet equates the moment of Mary's conception with the budding of a lily whose fragrance overwhelms the sweetness of the perfumes borne on the wind from Egypt and the East to her Palestinian home: ... the hours burnt silver in your censer and the perfumes of Egypt and the East were dulled by the budding of a lily that one white morning hour released. Sr Maryanna OP metaphorically describes Anne's pregnancy as the spinning of thread upon a loom: Anne was the spinner, Anne spun the thread Petal-soft, rosewhite, Filament starbright To which an angel said: Hail, full of grace! Sr M Julian RSM gives an encapsulated account of a Lourdes pilgrimage with its links to Mary's Immaculate Conception in a characteristically concise poem titled 'For Our Lady of Lourdes'. 'Blessed are they who have not seen ...' but who have sought on mountain paths your beauty poised above a winter rose. 'Blessed are they ...' for life shall be for them this only: your name and the fair music of your smile. Sr Mary Lucina in her poem 'To Our Lady on December 8', which may be found in the December 1971 issue of the periodical 'Sisters Today', uses the symbolism of pure snow to celebrate Mary's Immaculate Conception. This conceit is frequently found in the oeuvre of the American nun-poets of the twentieth century. The poet differentiates between the symbolism of snow and that of the heat of a candle's flame. Thus she contrasts Mary's spotless purity, which lights up the world's darkness, with the warmth of her motherly love, which embraces eternity: Down in the courtyard flakes fall on your shrine, a white oasis in our winter. Snowy pines enclose you in a cathedral. Everywhere darkness stretches like an immense grave. Stars hide the sky is moonless. But below in the courtyard you burn like a candle, your flame travelling light years beyond the pines. On a profoundly spiritual level, the contemplative Jessica Powers (Sr Miriam of the Holy Spirit OCD) captures the essence of Mary's Immaculate Conception in her composition 'The Immaculate Heart': Light is intensely the inhabitant of this unsullied place of consecration, the Virgin's heart. Light is itself the air and firmament and sea and foliage. Her thoughts are Godward mirror, one in their orientation. At the same time the poet expresses the fulfilment of the promise of the Immaculate Conception. In the absence of anything evil, from the very moment of her conception, Mary of Nazareth's natural inclination of heart was towards God, enfolding His grace with total openness. Mary bore God's every feature in the loving environ of her soul, and within the Ark of her human body. Marian Library Dayton That many American nun-poets of the twentieth century were teachers is clear from their religious poetry, in which religious instruction is combined with literary fluency in a way which is most convincing and yet easily understandable. Their poetry contains not only vivid descriptions of the qualities of faith, hope and love but also has great pedagogic value. The Marian Library at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, is a custodian of an extensive collection of poetry in honour of the Blessed Virgin. See links Marian Library at University of Dayton Ohio http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/library.html The Mary Page, University of Dayton http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/
Our Lady of Everlasting Help In 1886 Luigi Goretti, a poor farm labourer, married Assumpta Carlina. Among their little wedding presents was a picture of Our Lady of Everlasting Help, the ancient image in which Christ is depicted as an infant with His mother, clutching her right hand with both His Hands for comfort. This picture must have provided most of what was colourful in the poverty-stricken life of the couple's little daughter Maria, who was born to them on a small farm near Ancona, Italy, on 16 October 1890, after Assumpta had borne two sons, the first of whom had died soon after birth. The second son was named Angelo. The day after Maria was born, she was baptised. She in her turn brought colour into her parents' lives, for her mother would one day describe her as "happy, good, openhearted, without whim but with a sense and seriousness beyond her years and never disobedient." Lodgers By the time Maria was nine four more children had been born, named Mariano, Alessandro, Erzilia and Teresa. The poor have little choice of privacy in their lives. Necessity dictated the sharing of a house by the family with Luigi's partner Giovanni Serenelli, a widower, and his son Alessandro, both of them lapsed Catholics. The partners were working on the estate of Count Mazzoleni at Ferriere di Conca, Campagna, a spot situated some seven miles from the nearest town, Nettuno. The house where they stayed was small. A flight of wornout stone steps led to a humble yard. The family lived in poverty. Yet the picture of Our Lady of Everlasting Help retained its place of honour in the quarters used by the Goretti family. Mass at Nettuno It took four hours on Sundays to walk to and fro from Mass at Nettuno. Maria, small though she was, never missed a Sunday Mass. She would take her brothers along and tell them stories on the way to make the distance appear shorter. It grieved her that she could not attend catechism lesons and was therefore unable to receive the Blessed Eucharist. In the year of 1900 on the sixth of May, Luigi Goretti died. Afterwards Maria took charge of the family's daily recitation of the Rosary. Assumpta worked on the fields while her little daughter took care of the house and the family. Catechism lessons were arranged in the vicinity of the farm and two years later, in May 1902, at the age of eleven, Maria Goretti and her brother Angelo made their First Holy Communion. As usual, they walked the seven miles to Nettuno and back. Assumpta could not even go with them - such was their poverty which barred them from hiring transport so that the family could have shared in their joy. Maria had been to Confession on the previous day but at Nettuno she begged the priest to hear her confession again. Though surprised, he acceded to her request. Maria radiated joy as she first received the Holy Eucharist and the long walks to and from the church at Nettuno appeared short to her in relation to her happiness at being able to share in the reception of the Eucharist. Decision The death of Luigi had not touched Alessandro Serenelli, the son of Luigi's partner. Allessandro, now ninenteen years old, did not pray and avoided church-going. In his room he had placed suggestive pictures and Maria hated going inside it to perform chores. Alessandro cast his eye on Maria, now that Luigi was out of the way and Assumpta was alternately labouring in the fields and caring for her children. He decided to seduce Maria. About a month after her first Communion, in the middle of June, when Assumpta was working in the fields he tried to take Maria in his arms and told her of his intentions. He threatened her that if she told her mother he would kill both of them. She held her tongue and wound her rosary around her wrist for protection. Threats A week later Alessandro renewed his overtures, again resorting to threats when his advances were spurned. On one occasion in June Maria asked her mother not to leave her to go to the land because she herself was afraid. Assumpta told her not to be silly - God would look after her. Assumpta, noticing Maria's coolness towards Alessandro, berated her for what she believed to be rudeness, while Alessandro, burning with resentment at having been turned down twice by Maria, planned his revenge. He procured a 20 cm awl - a sharp shoemaker's tool used for making holes in leather. In front of Assumpta he told Maria that he was leaving his shirt on this bed for her to mend. When he was gone she fetched it quickly and started sewing in the courtyard. Meanwhile Alessandro requested Assumpta to look after his cart as he was leaving for a short while. She agreed without suspicion. At the house, Alessandro rushed past Maria and called her. When she refused to come in, he ran out and dragged her inside. Again he made overtures to her. Maria's horror overcame her dread of him. "What are you thinking of, Alessandro?" she asked. "No! No!" Alessandro pulled out the awl and showed it to her. Despite her overwhelming fear,Maria remained adamant in her refusal. "No, Alessandro!" she said. In a frenzy of hatred and frustrated passion, Alessandro lifted his weapon above her head, then drove it several times into her body. She tried to fight back, kicking, scratching and evading him. The awl was driven into body eight times before she lost consciousness and collapsed. When she recovered consciousness she tried to crawl to the door. Alessandro stabbed her six more times before abandoning her and runing away. Agony Alessandro's father, Giovanni Serenelli, found Maria in his room and called a neighbour, Mrs Caremelli, with whom Maria had arranged to go to Mass the following day. They alerted Assumpta who ran in and crouched down on the ground beside her daughter. When Maria regained consciousness, she groaned in agony, then whispered: "Mother! Mother!" "What happened to you, dearest?" "It was Alessandro who did it." "But why?" "Because he wanted me to commit sin and I kept saying "No! No! No!" Serenelli Senior brough a doctor who administered first aid. The seven mile ambulance journey to Nettuno across the rutted road and farmtracks that followed was a nightmare. At Nettuno, the horrified staff operated that night and Maria's dreadful thirst could not be alleviated. Conscious Maria remained conscious during most of the two hour operation, calling on the names of Jesus and Mary with great love. Next morning, the 6th of July, Father Signori, a Passionist priest, came to the hospital to give Maria the Sacrament of the Dying. Before granting her absolution he spoke of Christ's forgiveness on the Cross. "And you Maria, do you forgive Alessandro for what he has done to you, for the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ?" In her weakness, Maria could barely whisper her reply but it was made with great conviction: "Yes, I forgive him! I forgive him for the love of Jesus and I wish him to join me in heaven!" Remaining on his knees, the priest invested her with the blue ribbon and medal of the Child of Mary which she kissed repeatedly. Ward off attack After the priest had left, Maria appeared to be reliving the scene of her martyrdom. Those gathered around her bed heard her gasp: "What are you doing Alessandro" Don't touch me or you'll go to hell!" With these words she raised herself and moved her arms as though to ward off an attack. She fell back on the bed, dead. It was early afternoon of 6th July, 1902. Compassion At the trial of Alessandro Serenelli for her daughter's murder, Assumpta Goretti begged the judge for compassion. "My daughter and I have forgiven him," she said. Yet, despite her intercession on his behalf, Alessandro failed to repent of his crime for many years. Meanwhile preparations for the declaration of Maria's sainthood were under way. A booklet of the event found its way into Alessandro's cell and he read it. That night he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him. She was in a garden, where beautiful lilies grew in abundance. She plucked them one by one and offered them to him as a bouquet. As the lilies touched his hands, they seemed to him to turn into flames. When he awoke, Alessandro asked for permission to confess his sins and to beg Assumpta's pardon. He was released from jail for good behaviour after twenty-seven years. He went to visit Assumpta and she took him to Mass with her to the astonishment of the congregation. Canonisation Half a million people were present at Maria's canonisation on 24 June 1950. From a window in the Vatican, Assumpta looked down. She and her daughters Erzilia and Teresa wept when they heard Pope Pius XII place Maria Goretti among the number of Saints of the Church and ordered her feast to be kept on July 6, the anniversary of her death. never before had a mother been present during the canonisation of her child.
During his sermon, the Pope addressed himself to the children in the audience. "Oh my dearly beloved children, boys and girls," he said. "Tell me: Are you firmly resolved to resist at all costs with the help of divine grace, every attempt that may be made against your purity?" In reply, all the children present on St Peter's Square shouted: "Yes! We will!" After the ceremony, the Holy Father presented Assumpta with a white box, which contained the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour; the second one she had received since her wedding 64 years earlier. Kissing the picture, she said: "As the Madonna helped my daughter, so she will come to the aid of her mother."
Bibliography Models of youth - Maria Goretti by Rev Wm Raemers, C SS R, Glasgow, John S Burns & Sons Die Grossen der Kirche by Georg Popp unter Mitarbeit von . . . Dr Ronald Ross. Wurtzbur: Arena-Verlag Lives of the Saints by Hugo Hoever S O Cist, Ph D. 1977. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co.
Prayer St Maria Goretti http://www.mariagoretti.org/