by Rev. Albert F. Ernst, O.S.F.S.
May is the month of Mary, the Mother of God. She is praised variously in hymns, canticles, litanies, poems and in every language of the world. She is praised by the greatest geniuses of mankind in every department of art. Some of the most inspiring masterpieces of architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature have been inspired by her, and dedicated to her. The Church chants Mary’s praises incessantly in every manner possible. The Holy Father, the cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns and the faithful of every age and class compete with one another in extolling Mary’s excellence and in eulogizing her saintliness, glory and power.
A friend of Mary praises her most especially during the month of May. If, at all possible, he attends the public devotions in honor of Our Lady, preferably in his parish church, to give and receive edification and stimulation in the pursuit of Mary’s honor. If he cannot be present at these beautiful devotions in honor of the Queen of May or as the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in his parish church, he attends them if at all possible in some other church that he can approach with greater convenience. By doing so he honors her.
Another way of venerating Mary is to say the Hail Mary or a series of Hail Mary’s in the form of a rosary. A person who does these things, as a rule enjoys the benefits of hearing Mass and receiving Holy Communion frequently or of attending Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament often during the months of May and October. For this loving attention and loyalty to Mary in her favorite months, such a person will receive very great rewards which he will be able to visualize only in eternity.
While some Catholics seem to instinctively appreciate and love the rosary, some non-Catholics seem to misunderstand, underrate and dislike it. They consider the continuous repetition of the Hail Mary, fifty-three times in succession, tiresome and absurd. They look upon prayer which uses the beads as something purely mechanical, on the order of the automatic machine-like prayers of certain pagans; hence touching on superstition and causing more spiritual harm than good. They also maintain that the Rosary favors Mary and therefore injurious to God. It honors her more than it honors God since there is but one Our Father to God said while there are ten Hail Mary’s recited in her honor in every decade. Accordingly, we give ten times more homage to a creature than we pay to her Creator.
These and similar objections to the rosary, a Catholic cannot take seriously. They seem absolutely groundless and pointless. There is, or course, a great deal of repetition in the recitation of the rosary but hardly more than there is in the uninterrupted chant of the angels in heaven before the throne of the Most High God who, “Day and night say; Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” (Apoc. 4:8) If the repetition of praise is not wrong or silly in heaven, it cannot be blameworthy or foolish on earth.
It is foolish to think that Jesus feels insulted that in the rosary we pray ten times as much to Mary as we pray to Him. God is a jealous God, it is true. He declares it very emphatically. But He is not jealous in a small and narrow way. Since Our Lord is not only but also man, we can in some instances, judge the sentiments of His heart by scrutinizing our own virtuous sentiments.
Isn’t it both natural and honorable for a dutiful son to be jealous of the honor paid to his mother even though the honor is given to her on his account? Does not this honor often please the son more than if it were paid to him directly? Would it be in keeping with the son’s heroic character, or would it elevate him in the estimation of others if he peevishly resented the compliments paid to his mother saying, “I do not want you to honor my mother. Honor me, I am the one who deserves it.”
Besides, whatever honor we pay to Mary rebounds, as it were, in a reinforced degree to the honor of Jesus. The only reason we honor Mary is to honor Jesus more. There are two ways of honoring an artist. You can honor him directly by praising his genius, his creative power, his originality of conception, his sense of harmony and proportion, his idea of perspective, his excellent choice of colors, his delicate shading, his fine use of light and shadow, etc. The artist will, no doubt, enjoy these compliments if they are uttered with sincerity.
However, would the artist, knowing you were wholeheartedly sincere, grow angry and indignant at you because you chose to give great attention to his masterpiece and less to him? Would he not be satisfied in knowing that every praise you gave to the work of his genius was ultimately meant for him? And, would he not cherish it accordingly?
It is sheer nonsense, therefore, to fear that Our Lord may feel slighted when we are entranced by the beauty of His masterpiece, His own Mother. When we ponder the marvelous gifts and qualities He has bestowed upon her, we grow to understand and love His own greatness and splendor more because of their reflection in the person of His Mother. As we cannot conceive that Jesus could have grown jealous when the woman praised His mother exclaiming, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the breasts that nursed Thee,” (Luke 11:27) so we cannot picture Him becoming jealous when He hears us repeat again and again the words of the angel, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed are thou among women.” (Luke 1:28)
St. Bonaventure calls our attention to the very noble and gracious contest that goes on between Mary and Our Lord. Mary is in all eagerness to humble herself. The Lord is burning with desire to exalt her. Mary makes herself as little as possible. God makes her as grand as a creature can become. She feels she should be satisfied with the lowest place. God insists she must occupy the highest place. She wants to refer all praise upon God alone. He lavishes praise and glory upon her and God reserved to Himself the honor and privilege, through the archangel, to be the first to say the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is…” He thereby begins the endless chain of Hail Mary’s that have poured forth from uncounted millions of lips and hearts in loving homage to Mary. We must continue that tradition. God would have us do so.