Antidote Against Heresy:
The Most Holy Rosary
by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori taken from The Glories of Mary
It is well known that the devotion of the Rosary was revealed to St. Dominic by the Blessed Mother Herself.
This occurred at a time when the saint was troubled and bemoaning to Our Lady the fact that the Albigensian heretics were doing a great deal of harm to the Church. The Blessed Virgin said to him: “This land will always be sterile until rain falls on it.” St. Dominic was then given to understand that this rain would be devotion to the Rosary, which he was to propagate.
This he proceeded to do, preaching the new devotion everywhere until it was embraced by Catholics all over the world. So successful was he, that even today there is no devotion more widely practiced by the faithful of all classes than the recitation of the Rosary. What is there that heretics — Calvin, Bucer, and others — have not said to discredit the use of the beads? But the extraordinary good that this precious devotion has brought to the world is too well known. How many souls have been delivered from sin by means of the Rosary! How many have been converted to a holy life; how many have died a good death and are now saved! To be convinced of this, all we have to do is read any of the numerous books on the subject.
It is enough to know that this devotion has been approved by the Church and that the sovereign pontiffs have enriched it with many indulgences. Principal among these is the plenary indulgence which may be gained when the Rosary is recited in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, either exposed or in the tabernacle, provided one goes to confession and receives Holy Communion.1
The Rosary should be recited as devoutly as possible. And here we may call to mind what the Blessed Virgin said to St. Eulalia: that She was more pleased with five decades said slowly and devoutly than with fifteen said in a hurry and with little devotion. It is well to say the Rosary kneeling, before an image of the Blessed Virgin; and before each decade, to make an act of love to Jesus and Mary, and to ask Them for some special grace. It is also preferable to say it with others rather than alone.
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin is said to have been composed by St. Peter Damian.2 Many indulgences have been granted to those who recite it, and the Blessed Virgin has shown many times how pleasing this devotion is to Her. This is brought out especially in the little work by Father Auriemma.
Mary likewise is very much honored when we recite the Litany of Loreto which is also indulgenced. The hymn Ave maris stella pleases Her too. She recommended that St. Bridget recite it every day. The canticle Magnificat is very dear to Her because these are the very words She Herself used to praise God.
Many who are devoted to Mary honor Her by fasting on bread and water on Saturdays and the vigils of Her feasts.
Holy Church dedicates Saturday to the Blessed Virgin because, as St. Bernard says, on the day after the death of Her Son She remained steadfast in Her faith. That is why we honor Her on that day by some particular devotion. For example, we may fast on bread and water, as St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Toledo, and many others did. Nithard, Bishop of Bamberg, and Father Joseph Arriaga, S.J., preferred to eat nothing at all on Saturday.
Father Auriemma describes in his little book many of the graces the Mother of God had dispensed to those who follow this practice. One example will suffice: There was a famous leader of a band of robbers who did not die when his head was cut off but remained living until he could make his confession because the poor man was in a state of sin. After confession he announced that the Blessed Virgin had granted this great favor because of this devotion. Then he expired.
It would not be a very great burden for one who claims to have a special devotion to Mary to offer Her this fast on Saturdays, particularly if he has already deserved hell on account of his sins. I maintain that those who follow this practice can hardly be lost. I do not mean to say, of course, that if they reach the point of death in mortal sin the Blessed Virgin will deliver them by a miracle, as She did the bandit. These are prodigies of divine mercy which occur very rarely, and it would be the height of folly to expect eternal salvation by means such as these. But I do maintain that Mary will make perseverance in God’s grace easy for those who practice this devotion, and will obtain a good death for them.
All the members of our humble Congregation, who are able to do so, practice this devotion. I say those who are able to do so. For if health does not permit it, we should at least content ourselves with something less on Saturday, or observe an ordinary fast, or abstain from fruit, or something that we particularly like.
All the faithful should try to practice some special devotion to the Mother of God on Saturday, such as receiving Holy Communion, hearing Mass, visiting a shrine dedicated to Mary, wearing a haircloth or something of that sort. On the vigils of Her seven principal feasts, they could profitably make the attempt to fast, or to do whatever their health allows.
Visiting Mary’s Shrines
Father Segneri says that the devil could think of no better way to make good his losses from the destruction of idolatry than by goading the heretics on to attack sacred images. But Holy Church has defended images even with the blood of martyrs. And the Blessed Mother has proved by miracles how pleasing to Her are visits paid to Her shrines.
St. John Damascene had his hand cut off for daring to defend the icons of Mary by his writings, but Our Lady miraculously restored it to him. Father Spinelli relates that in Constantinople a veil covering a picture of the Blessed Virgin used to draw itself aside every Saturday, and then after Vespers closed again of its own accord. The veil over a picture of Our Blessed Lady that St. John of the Cross used to visit was once withdrawn the same way. The sacristan, thinking that the saint was a robber, kicked him, but his foot at once withered.
Lovers of Mary are fond of visiting shrines and churches dedicated in Her honor. St. John Damascene calls these places “cities of refuge” where we can be safe from temptation and the punishment we have deserved for our sins. The first thing that the Emperor St. Henry used to do on entering a city was to visit a church dedicated to Mary. Father Thomas Sanchez would never return home without having visited some church named after Her.
Let us therefore not regard it as too much of a burden to visit our Queen every day in some church or chapel, or even in our own home, where we can have a quiet place set aside as a little oratory, with Her statue or picture which we can keep decorated with drapery, flowers, candles or lights. Before it we should recite the litany, rosary, and other prayers. For this purpose I have published a little book (available from Our Lady’s Book Service) of visits to the Blessed Sacrament as well as to the Blessed Virgin, for every day in the month.3 A devout client of Mary could also arrange to have one of Her feasts celebrated in a church or chapel with greater solemnity than it would otherwise be — perhaps by having it preceded by a novena, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and even with sermons.
May I here relate a fact recorded by Father Spinelli in his book Miracles of the Madonna. In the year 1611, on the vigil of Pentecost, an immense crowd of people had gathered at the celebrated shrine of Mary at Montevergine. While the people were profaning the feast with dances, drunkenness, and immodest acts, a fire suddenly broke out in the hall, and in less than an hour and a half the building was reduced to ashes and more than fifteen hundred persons perished.
Five people who escaped swore that they had seen the Mother of God Herself set fire to the place with two torches. I implore all lovers of Mary, therefore, to keep far away from such places on Her feasts and, if they are able to do so, to prevent others from going there. Such occasions afford more honor to the devil than they do to the Blessed Virgin. Let those who are devoted to the Blessed Mother visit Her shrines, to be sure, but not as an occasion for merrymaking and sin.
In bygone days the servants of famous people were distinguished by the fact that they wore the livery or distinctive garb of their masters. The servants of Mary too can be distinguished by the fact that they wear Her livery, namely, Her scapular, as a sign that they have dedicated themselves to Her service and that they are members of the household of the Mother of God. Heretics, as a rule, ridicule this devotion. But Holy Church has approved it by many bulls and indulgences. Fathers Crasset and Lezzana, in their accounts of the scapular of Mount Carmel, relate that in the year 1251 the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock, an Englishman, and gave him the scapular, telling him that all who wore it would be saved from eternal damnation. She said: “Receive, My son, this scapular of your Order, the badge of My confraternity, a privilege granted to you and to all Carmelites. Whoever dies while wearing this will not suffer hell-fire.”
Father Crasset also relates that Mary appeared to Pope John XXII and commanded him to make it known that all who wear this Brown Scapular will be delivered from purgatory on the Saturday after their death.4 He declared this in a bull which was later confirmed by Alexander V, Clement VII, and other popes. Pope Paul V, as we have already remarked, clarified the bulls of his predecessors, and set out the conditions that must be observed in order to gain the promised privilege. These conditions are: that each one should observe the chastity required of his state of life5 and that he should recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.6 If a person is unable to read, he should at least observe the fasts of the Church and abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The indulgences attached to the scapular of Mount Carmel, as well as those attached to the scapulars of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, of the Blessed Trinity, and especially of the Immaculate Conception, are innumerable — both partial and plenary — during life and at the hour of death. I have made it a point to be invested in all these scapulars. It is worth knowing that the scapular of the Immaculate Conception which is blessed by the Theatine Fathers, enjoys many special indulgences.7
Confraternities of Our Blessed Lady8
Some disapprove of confraternities because they say they give rise to quarrels, and because many join them for purely social reasons. But just as we do not condemn churches and sacraments just because there are many who make a wrong use of them, so neither should we condemn confraternities. The supreme pontiffs, far from condemning them, have approved and highly commended them, and have enriched them with many indulgences.
St. Francis de Sales earnestly exhorts the laity to join them. St. Charles Borromeo spared no pains to establish and increase the number of these confraternities. In his synods he particularly recommends that confessors urge their penitents to join them. And with good reason. For sodalities, and especially those of Our Blessed Lady, are like so many Noe’s arks, in which the laity may find a refuge from the deluge of temptations and sins which inundate the world. From our experience with missions we are well aware of the benefits of such institutions. As a rule, a person who does not attend the meetings of some spiritual society commits more sins than twenty who do attend them. A confraternity can well be called a tower of David; a thousand bucklers hang upon it — all the shields of valiant men (Cant. 4:4). The reason such societies do so much good is that the members acquire many defensive weapons against hell, and are provided with the means for preserving divine grace. Those who are not members of confraternities use these weapons and resources only rarely.
1. In the first place, one means of salvation is meditation on the eternal truths: Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin (Ecclus. 7:40). How many people are lost because they neglect to do this! With desolation is all the land made desolate; because there is none that considereth in his heart (Jer. 12:11). Those who attend the meetings of their society, on the other hand, are led to think of these truths by the many meditations, lectures, and sermons that they hear: My sheep hear My voice (Jn. 10:27).
2. To save one’s soul, prayer is necessary: Ask, and you shall receive (Jn. 16:24). This is what the members of confraternities are constantly doing. God hears their prayers more willingly because He Himself has said that He grants graces willingly to all those who pray in common: If two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by My Father (Mt. 18:19). Commenting on this, St. Ambrose says: “Many who are individually weak become strong when united, and it is impossible that the prayers of so many should not be heard.”
3. Confraternities are likely to encourage persons to frequent the sacraments, both by reason of the rules and because of the example set by the other members. Perseverance in grace is obtained more easily. The Council of Trent has declared that Holy Communion is an antidote which frees us from daily faults and preserves us from mortal sins.
4. Besides frequenting the sacraments, the members of these societies also perform acts of mortification, humility, and charity toward sick brethren and toward the poor. It would be well if this practice of aiding the sick and poor were extended to all the confraternities.
It would also be very profitable to introduce the custom of having private confraternities of the more devout brethren in honor of the Blessed Mother. I will briefly describe here the exercises which such groups are accustomed to practice: 1. They make a half-hour’s spiritual reading. 2. Vespers and Compline of the Holy Spirit are said in common. 3. The litanies of the Blessed Virgin are recited, during which the members perform some act of mortification. 4. They meditate for a quarter of an hour on the Passion of Jesus Christ. 5. Each one accuses himself of transgressions against the rules, and receives an appropriate penance from the Father Confessor. 6. One of the brethren designated for this purpose reads the list of mortifications performed the preceding week, and then an announcement is made of coming novenas, etc. The meeting is closed with some form of external penance during which the Miserere and the Salve are recited, and then each member approaches and kisses the feet of our crucified Savior, placed at the foot of the altar.9
The rules could then provide that each member should: 1. Make some mental prayer every day. 2. Visit the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin. 3. Examine his conscience every night. 4. Read something spiritually edifying. 5. Avoid worldly pursuits. 6. Receive Holy Communion frequently and perform some act of mortification regularly. 7. Pray for the souls in purgatory and for sinners every day. 8. Visit some sick members.
5. We have already noted how profitable it is for our salvation to serve the Mother of God. But what else do the members of confraternities do except serve Her? They praise Her. They offer prayers to Her. Members are consecrated to Her service the moment they join the society. They choose Her in a special way as their patroness and protectress. Their names are inscribed in the book of the children of Mary. Every member of a confraternity of Mary can justly say: All good things together come to me in Her company (Wis. 7:11).
Let each member however pay attention to two things: First of all, the object he should have in view above all else should be to serve God and His Mother Mary, and to save his own soul. Second, he should not allow worldly interests to interfere with his attendance at the regular meetings. What is discussed there is the most important business in the world for him, namely, his eternal salvation. He should also try to induce as many others as he can to join the confraternity, and especially to bring back to active membership those who have lapsed.
What drastic punishments the Lord has inflicted on those who have abandoned the confraternity of Our Blessed Lady without reason! There is a story told of a man in Naples who did so. When he was urged to return, he answered: “I will do so when my legs are broken and my head is cut off.” Without knowing it, he had made a prophecy. Not long afterward, certain enemies of his broke his legs and cut off his head.
On the other hand, Mary looks after all the needs of the members who persevere. All Her domestics are clothed with double garments (Prov. 31:21). Father Auriemma tells of many special graces granted by Mary to members of confraternities, especially at the moment of death. Father Crasset gives the account of a young man who lay dying in the year 1586. He fell asleep, but afterwards awoke and said to his confessor: “Father, I was almost damned, but Our Blessed Lady saved me. The devils presented my sins before Our Lord’s tribunal, and they were preparing to drag me off to hell. But the Blessed Virgin came and said to them: ‘Where are you taking this young man? You have nothing to do with this servant of Mine who has served Me so long in My confraternity.’ When the devils heard this, they fled, and I was delivered from them.” The same author tells about another member who also had a great battle with hell at the hour of death. But finally, having won the victory, he exclaimed: “What a blessing it is to belong to Mary’s confraternity!" Filled with consolation, he expired.
Father Crasset gives another example. When the Duke of Popoli was dying in Naples, he said to his son: “Son, you know that I attribute what little good I have done during my life to membership in the confraternity. I can leave you no more valuable treasure than the confraternity of Mary. I consider myself luckier to have been a sodalist than Duke of Popoli.”
Servants of Mary are accustomed to give alms to the poor in honor of Our Blessed Lady, especially on Saturdays.
St. Gregory tells in his Dialogues about a holy shoemaker named Deusdedit who used to distribute to the poor on Saturdays whatever he had left of his week’s earnings. A privileged soul once saw in a vision a gorgeous palace which God was preparing in Heaven for Deusdedit, but it was being built only on Saturdays.
St. Gerard the Martyr never refused anything that anyone ever asked for in the name of Mary. Father Martin Guttierez, S.J., followed the same practice, and later admitted that he had never asked Mary for a single grace which he had not obtained. When this servant of Hers was put to death by the Huguenots, Mary appeared to his companions, accompanied by virgins who, at Her direction, wrapped his body in linen and carried it away.
St. Eberhard, Bishop of Salzburg, also gave alms in honor of Our Lady, and a holy monk once saw him as a child in the arms of Mary who said: “This is My son Eberhard, who has never denied Me anything.” Alexander of Hales, who followed the same practice, was once asked by a Franciscan brother to join the Order in the name of Mary. He complied at once, gave up the world, and became a friar.
Let no servant of Mary therefore think it too much of a burden to give some alms every day in Her honor, no matter how trifling the amount, and to increase this on Saturdays. If he can do nothing else, he should at least perform some charitable act for the love of Mary, such as visiting the sick, praying for sinners, or for the souls in purgatory, etc. Works of mercy like these are very pleasing to the heart of the Mother of mercy.
Frequent Recourse to Mary
No devotion is more pleasing to Our Blessed Mother than that of calling upon Her in all our special needs. For example, when we have to give or ask for advice, or when we are beset by dangers, afflictions and temptations, most particularly temptations against purity. Mary will certainly listen to us and help us if we appeal to Her and recite the antiphon “We fly to Thy patronage …”; or if we recite the Hail Mary, or even if we merely invoke the most holy name of Mary, which is endowed with special power against devils.
Blessed Fra Santi, the Franciscan, was once tempted with an impure thought and appealed to Mary. She immediately appeared to him, placed Her hand on his shoulder and delivered him. It is also useful on these occasions to kiss or press to our heart our rosary or scapular, or to look at an image of the Blessed Virgin. And it is well to note that the Church has enriched with special indulgences the invocation of the sacred names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Other Practices in Honor of Mary
1. To say or hear Mass, or to have Mass offered in honor of the Blessed Virgin. It is true that the Holy Sacrifice can be offered to God alone. It is offered to Him principally as an acknowledgment of His supreme dominion. But the Council of Trent says that this does not prevent Mass from being offered at the same time in thanksgiving for the graces granted to the saints and to our Blessed Mother, so that while we are mindful of them they may intercede for us. That is why at Mass we say: “That it may avail to Their honor, but also to our salvation.”
Our Blessed Lady personally revealed to a holy soul that this devotion of offering the Mass, as well as the saying of the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be to the Father three times, in honor of the Holy Trinity and in thanksgiving for the graces granted to Her, are very pleasing to Her. Since the Blessed Virgin is unable to thank Our Lord adequately for all the precious gifts He has given Her, She is very glad when Her children help Her to thank God.
2. To have a special devotion to the saints who are more closely related to Mary, such as St. Joseph, St. Joachim, and St. Anne. The Blessed Virgin Herself recommended to a certain nobleman devotion toward Her mother, St. Anne. It is well also to honor the saints who were most devoted to the Blessed Mother, such as St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, St. John Damascene, the defender of Her images, St. Ildephonsus, the defender of Her virginity, and others.
3. Daily read a book that deals with the glories of Mary. Try to instill into all, particularly those close to us, a devotion to the Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin once said to St. Bridget: “See to it that your children are also My children.” It is commendable to pray every day for those most devoted to Mary, both living and dead.10
I omit many devotions which may be found in other books, such as the devotion of the seven joys of Mary, of the twelve privileges of Mary, and the like. I conclude with the beautiful words of St. Bernardine of Siena:
"O Lady, blessed among all women, You are the glory of the human race, the salvation of all our people. Your merits are limitless, and You have power over all creation. You are the Mother of God, the sovereign Lady of the world, and the Queen of Heaven. You are the dispenser of all graces, and the ornament of Holy Church. You are the model of the just, the consolation of the pious, and the root of our salvation. You are the joy of paradise, the gate of Heaven, the glory of God. We have been happy to sing Your praises. We beg You, O Mother of Mercy, to make up for our weakness, to excuse our presumption, to accept our devotion, to bless our labors. Imprint Your love in the hearts of all of us, so that after having loved and honored Your Son on earth, we may with You praise Him and bless Him forever in Heaven. Amen."
(1) St. Alphonsus enumerates the indulgences in his day. See current indulgences in Enchiridion Indulgentiarum.
(2) St. Peter Damian did not compose the Little Office but ardently propagated its use.
(3) St. Alphonsus’ Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary are in 65 languages.
(4) This is called the “Sabbatine privilege.”
(5) Should anyone fall into a sin of unchastity and subsequestly regain God’s grace through perfect contrition or confression, that person again qualifies as one observing the chastity required of his state of life.
(6) Thous ound to the daily recitation of the Canonical Hours satisfy this condition by their recitation of the Divine Office.
(7) Those scapulars and the Passion Scapular are referred to as the “5 scapulars.”
(8) Pertains to membership in Sodality, the Legion of Mary, the Rosary Sciety, etc.
(9) Practices recommended here may seem unusual today but were not uncommon in St. Alphonsus’ day.
(10) St. Alphonsus lists numerous indulgences granted in his time for popular Marian devotions. A revision of these may be found in any approved book of indulgences.