Dignare Me Laudare Te, Virgo Sacrata

Friday, July 27, 2007

How to Guard Holy Purity - Antonio Cardinal Bacci

The following, which is reproduced in full from the blog Antonio Cardinal Bacci: Meditations For Each Day, should be spread far and wide.

William Bouguereau's L'Innocence

How to Guard Holy Purity

1. Purity of heart is a quality which attracts everybody, even those who are evil themselves. It makes a man seem like an angel in human form, for it shines from his countenance. Unfortunately, the virtue of purity is as difficult as it is beautiful. It is fatal for anyone to cast himself into the mire. The first sin of impurity is a disaster, because it is often the first link in a tragic chain which makes him the slave of his lower impulses and of the tyrannical enemy of souls, the devil.

We must resist the earliest suggestions of the flesh by every means in our power, both natural and supernatural.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that none of the passions dethrones reason so much as sensuality (Summa, II-II, q. 53, a. 6). St. Augustine warns us also in his Confessions that lust has its cause in a perverse will, and if anybody surrenders to it, he acquires the evil habit. If this habit is not resisted, the sin becomes a frightening necessity. Resist from the beginning if you wish to avoid ruin and the slavery of the devil, who cunningly uses this passion to capture souls. If a man is overcome by violent temptation and falls into sin, however, he should not lose courage. God is infinitely good and merciful. He knows our weakness. When anyone falls, let him rise immediately. Let him return to God by repenting and making a good confession. Let him resolve to make any sacrifice rather than fall again.

2. Because it is so difficult to preserve the angelic purity of the soul, it is absolutely essential to make good use of the measures favoured for this purpose by the masters of the spiritual life. The first of these is prayer; the spirit of prayer will keep us close to God. If our mind and heart are united to God in the performance of every action, we will never allow ourselves to be separated from Him by impurity. This spirit of prayer must be based on humility and the consciousness of our continual need of God, and must be kept alive by love for Him.

The second measure is to avoid the occasions of sin. "Sensuality is best conquered by flight." (Summa, I-II, q. 35) St. Thomas advises us. "He who loves danger will perish in it." (Ecclus. 3:25) Battles like this said St. Francis de Sales, are won by the soldiers who retreat. As soon as an impure thought or image intrudes itself, drive it away as if a serpent were attacking you. It is fatal to allow the thought or image to gain ground, for at this stage victory becomes extremely difficult.

Thirdly, it often helps to occupy the mind and imagination immediately with things in which we are interested. The greatest danger of all in these moments of temptation is idleness.

3. Let us examine our conscience now and we shall perceive that every time we have fallen in any way it was always because we did not put into practice the remedies suggested. So let us not lose courage but renew our determination to employ at the first sign of danger the necessary means of defending our purity. It will be a hard struggle at times. But the grace of God will never let us down as long as we do our best to co-operate with it. Each one of us should remember that God is faithful and will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also give you a way out that you may be able to bear it (I Cor. 10:13). Our first reward will be the exhilaration of having fought hard and won.

**Appendix: Some addition advice from Fr. Tim Finigan of the excellent blog The Hermeneutic of Continuity:

Several meetings kept me in London all day today: one social, one business and one both. The last was in Golden Square followed by a meal at a nearby Italian restaurant. I don't think I will need to eat at all tomorrow. I was careful to memorise the map of that somewhat labyrinthine area of London to avoid ending up walking to Piccadilly via any of the streets that have seedy clubs.

Mind you, custody of the eyes is necessary most of the time in central London. I often think of the advice of the book of Ecclesiasticus (9.7) when I am in central London: "Noli circumspicere in vicis civitatis" (do not look about in the lanes of the city). I first saw this quotation in an extract from Louis of Granada in a book of meditations. It is consoling to know that there is nothing new under the sun.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Real Mary Magdalen (On the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalen)

[Adapted from Chapter 7 of Rejecting the Da Vinci Code, edited by the American TFP Committee on American Issues]

“Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much.” —Luke 7:47

The Church has presented Saint Mary Magdalene as a repentant sinner who, treated by the Savior with great mercy, attained a high degree of sanctity by the intensity of her contrition, faith and love.

For this reason, devotion to her was always extremely popular in the Church, especially in an age of faith, when people understood the beauty of repentance and penance.


In keeping with Saints Augustine, Cyprian, Gregory the Great and Bernard, the Scripture scholar Fr. Cornelius à Lapide (1567–1637) explains:

Undoubtedly, Christ allowed St. Mary Magdalene to wallow in lust so that, once she was cleansed, His grace would stand out in her so that, from a sinner, she would become an angelic creature; for the greater the illness, the more it makes stand out the power of the doctor that heals it. Nor does the fact of having been a sinner destroy the honor of Magdalene, but rather increases it: because however great and constant she was in sinning, she showed an even greater courage to break free from sin and to do penance. Thus, God gave Magdalene as a living example of perfect penance to all sinners so they do not despair facing the enormity of their sins but rather confide in God’s immense mercy. For as Saint Paul teaches, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. But for this cause have I obtained mercy: that in me first Christ Jesus might show forth all patience, for the information of them that shall believe in Him unto life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:15). [Cornelius à Lapide, Commentaria inScripturam Sacram, Commentaria in Lucam (Paris: Ludovicum Vivès Bibliopola Editor, 1881), Vol. 16, p. 121.]


The Gospels give only a general profile of Saint Mary Magdalene, leaving us with an image that is both mysterious and sublime.

This is why Church scholars differed from the beginning on how to interpret some New Testament passages that seem to refer to her, especially Saint Luke’s passage on the repentant woman [Luke 7: 36-50]. However, beginning with Saint Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century, the thesis that Saint Mary Magdalene was the repentant sinner prevailed at least in the West and molded the piety of the faithful, as well as literature and arts.

The Church made no official pronouncement on the matter. She did, however, accept the identification of Saint Mary Magdalene with the repentant sinner both in the Mass and in the Divine Office until the 1969 liturgical reform. The feast day Mass on July 22 was that of “Saint Mary Magdalene, Penitent,” and the Gospel reading was Saint Luke’s narrative of the sinner who washed Our Lord’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and then anointed them with precious ointment [Cf. Luke 7: 36-50].

Therefore, even if scholars still dispute among themselves, there is no reason to challenge a whole culture of devotion to this saint as a model of conversion and penance that has been fashioned over centuries. This is all the more true since neither scholarly current carries sufficient weight to elicit adhesion in the absence of a definitive Church pronouncement. Without taking sides in this scholarly debate, we will present the position that has modeled the piety of the faithful, simply to demonstrate that it is not fruit of “mere confusion” as some claim, and even less of a “campaign” against Saint Mary Magdalene as The Da Vinci Code would have it.


The Gospels place Saint Mary Magdalene among the women who accompanied and served the Divine Master [Luke 8: 2-3] though seven devils had been expelled from her [Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9]. She remained faithful and stood by the Cross with Mary Most Holy, Mary Cleophas and Mary Salome [Mark 15:40; Matt. 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49]. She attended the burial of Christ and was the first witness of the Resurrection, having received the mission of announcing it to the Apostles [Matt. 27: 56-61; Mark 16: 1-10; John 20: 1-19; Luke 24:10].

These facts are indisputable since the Evangelists expressly refer to her by name. The doubt arises over whether she was the woman who anointed the feet and head of the Savior [Luke 7: 36-50; Matt. 26: 6-13; Mark 14: 3-9; John 12: 3-7].

Saint Luke cites neither the name of the city nor that of the woman, but designates the host that day as Simon the Pharisee. This evangelist is the only one who mentions that the woman was a “sinner in the city.”

Saints Matthew, Mark and John name the city as Bethany. However, the first two name the host as Simon the Leper, while Saint John says Our Lord was a guest of Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary. Saints Matthew and Mark do not name the woman, but Saint John clearly states it was Mary, the sister of Lazarus (Mary of Bethany). Likewise, in the preceding chapter, as he introduces Mary of Bethany he clarifies: “And Mary was she that anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair: whose brother Lazarus was sick.” [John 11:2].

Generally, commentators admit that the gesture of anointing the feet and head of the Savior took place on two different occasions: the first, by the repentant sinner in Galilee, and the second in Judea. Since in the phrase above, Saint John refers to an anointing that happened before the one he is about to narrate, that of Judea, many have concluded that he is referring to the Galilee anointing by the repentant sinner, narrated by Saint Luke. Hence, Saint John would be identifying Mary of Bethany with the repentant sinner.

Thus, there would have been two anointings, at different times and places, but carried out by the same woman. This argument is reinforced by the fact that the four Evangelists present the same moral and psychological profile of the woman, making it difficult to visualize two different people.


As stated above, Saint John, before narrating the second anointing, says that the sister of Lazarus was the one who anointed the feet of Christ and wiped them dry with her hair. Fr. Cornelius à Lapide argues that if the repentant sinner Saint Luke refers to was not the same sister of Lazarus, Saint John should have clearly distinguished between the two so as to avoid confusion in such an important matter. And Alcuin comments that, as there were many Marys among the pious women who followed Jesus, Saint John, in order to clearly identify the sister of Lazarus, mentions her most noteworthy action, that is, the anointing previously narrated by Saint Luke. This is also the opinion of Saint Augustine.

For his part, soon after recounting the case of the repentant sinner, Saint Luke mentions Saint Mary Magdalene among the pious women who followed Our Lord and the Apostles to serve them and clarifies that seven devils were expelled from her [Luke 8:2]. Although he does not establish a link between the sinner and Saint Mary Magdalene, this is thought to be a discreet way of implying that she was the sinner who had just been mentioned.

The fact that seven devils were expelled from her is said to further reinforce that supposition. For while it is certain that diabolical possession can be permitted by God as a trial without the person’s guilt, God can also allow it, as Saint Bonaventure says, “be it as a punishment for sin, be it to correct the sinner.”

Starting from these leads, Saints Augustine, Cyprian, Gregory the Great, Bernard, Bernardine of Siena, Alphonsus Liguori and many others have understood that the repentant sinner, Saint Mary Magdalene and Mary the sister of Lazarus were one and the same person.

Many problems remain unsolved, such as the fact that Magdala is in Galilee and Bethany is in Judea. However, Fr. H. Lesêtre says:

The difficulties found in evangelical texts are not insuperable, and bearing in mind above all the sameness of characters, one has the right to affirm as probable that the three Marys are but one and the same person.

For his part, Fr. Cornelius à Lapide says that, by her family, Mary could be from Judea (Bethany) but actually lived in Galilee (Magdala) by reason of marriage or because she possessed there a property received as inheritance.

However, as we have said, the data provided by the Evangelists are not sufficient to solve all the mysteries involving the narratives about Saint Mary Magdalene.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Traditional Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ

(The following is taken from Dom Prosper Guéranger's entry in The Liturgical Year for July 1, in Volume XII of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)

"John the Baptist has pointed out the Lamb, Peter has firmly established his throne, Paul has prepared the bride; their joint work, admirable in its unity, at once suggests the reason for their feasts occurring almost simultaneously in the cycle. The alliance being now secured, all three fall into shade; whilst the bride herself, raised up by them to such loftly heights, appears alone before us, holding in her hands the sacred cup of the nuptial-feast."

"This gives the key of today's solemnity, revealing how its appearance in the heavens of the holy liturgy at this particular season is replete with mystery. The Church, it is true, has already made known to the sons of the new covenant, in a much more solemn matter, the price of the Blood that redeemed them, its nutritive strength, and the adorng homage is its due. On Good Friday, earth and heaven beheld all sin drowned in the saving stream, whose eternal flood-gates at last gave way beneath the combined effort of man's violence and of the love of the divine Heart. The festival of Corpus Christi witnessed our prostrate worship before the altars whereon is perpetuated the Sacrifice of Calvary, and where the outpouring of the precious Blood affords drink to the humblest little ones, as well as to the mightiest potentates of earth, lowly bowed in adoration before it."

"How is it, then, that holy Church is now inviting all Christians to hail, in a particular manner, the stream of life ever gushing from the sacred fount? What else can this mean, but that the preceding solemnities have by no means exhausted the mystery? The peace which this Blood has made to reign in the high places as well as in the low; the impetus of its wave bearing back the sons of Adam from the yawning gulf, purified, renewed, and dazzling white in the radiance of their heavenly apparel; the sacred Table outspread before them on the waters' brink, and the chalice brimful of inebriation - all this preparation and display would be objectless, all these splendours would be incomprehensible, if man were not brought to see therein the wooings of a love that could never endure its advances to be outdone by the pretensions of any other. Therefore, the Blood of Jesus is set before our eyes at this moment as the Blood of the Testament; the pledge of the alliance proposed to us by God [Exodus 24: 8; Hebrews 9: 20]' the dower stipulated by eternal Wisdom for this divine union to which He is inviting all men, and its consummation in our soul which is being urged forward with such vehemence by the Holy Ghost."

"'Having therefore, brethren, a confidence in entering into the Holies by the Blood of Christ,' says the apostle, 'a new and living way which He hath dedicated for through the veil - that is to say, His flesh - let us draw near with a pure heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with clean water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He is faithful that hath promised. Let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and to good works [Hebrews 10: 19-24]. And may the God of peace who brought again from the dead the great Pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Blood of the everlasting Testament, fit you in all goodness, that you may do His will: doing in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom is glory forever and ever. Amen! [Hebrews 13: 20,21].'"

Chalice of Blessed Pope Pius IX, given to him by the Passionists

"Nor must we omit to mention here, that this feast is a monument of one of the most brilliant victories of holy Church in our own age. [Blessed Pope] Pius IX had been driven out from Rome in [November] 1848 by the triumphant revolution; but the following year, just about this season, his power was re-established. Under the aegis of the apostles on June 28 and the two following days, the eldest daughter of the Church [a former nickname for France], faithful to her past glories, swept the ramparts of the eternal city; and on July 2, Mary's festival [the feast of the Visitation on the traditional calendar], the victory was completed. Not long after this, a twofold decree notified to the city and the world the Pontiff's gratitude and the way in which he intended to perpetuate, in the sacred liturgy, the memory of these events."

"On August 10, from Gaeta itself [a town between Rome and Naples], the place of his exile in the evil day, [Blessed Pope] Pius IX, before returning to reassume the governments of his States, addressing himself to the invisible head of the Church, confided her in a special manner to His divine care, by the institution of this day's festival; reminding Him that it was for His Church that He had vouchsafed to shed all His precious Blood. Then, when the Pontiff re-entered his capital [on 12 April 1850, when he was finally assured that the French would not interfere in his affairs], turning to Mary, just as [Pope St.] Pius V and [Pope] Pius VIII had done under other circumstances, the Vicar of Christ solemnly attributed the honour of the recent victory to her who is ever the help of Christians; for on the feast of her Visitation it had been gained; and he now decreed that this said feast of July 2 should be raised from the rite of double major to that of second class throught the whole world [under the pre-1962 system of classifying feasts and holy days]. This was a prelude to the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which the immortal Pontiff had already projected, whereby the crushing of the serpent's head would be completed."

Precious Blood of Jesus, save us!
Sanguis Christi, inebria me!