Rationale for Book

Madonna of the Meadow (Madonna del prato) - by BELLINI, Giovanni - from National Gallery, London .  .  .  .  . (click to enlarge)

This depiction is filled with symbolism: the Madonna sitting down in a barren rocky land signifies she is a Madonna of Humility; in the background other attributes referring to her are added: the fortress on the hill, the doorway, the well, the clouds (symbol of the humanity of Christ and also of divine mysteries), and the struggle between the pelican (a figure of Christ) and the snake (a figure of Satan).


This, in turn, is followed by an introduction where he explains his reasons
 for writing the book and points out the common bond he shares
 with his readers by virtue of Mary's spiritual motherhood (29-33)


Rationale for Book

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

My beloved reader and brother in Mary: Since the devotion that led me to write, and moves you to read, this book makes us happy children of the same good Mother, should you hear it remarked that I might have spared myself the labor, as there are already so many celebrated and learned works on the same subject, I beg that you will reply, in the words of the Abbot Francone, that "the praise of Mary is an inexhaustible fount: the more it is enlarged the fuller it gets, and the more you fill it so much the more is it enlarged" - ("Laus Mariae fons est indeficiens, qui, quanto longius extenditur, tanto amplius impletur, et quanto amplius impletur, tanto latius dilataturDe Grat. Dei. lib. vii).  In short, this Blessed Virgin is so great and so sublime that the more she is praised the more there remains to praise; so much so, says an ancient writer, "that if all the tongues of men were put together, and even if each of their members was changed into a tongue, they would not suffice to praise her as much as she deserves" - ("Etsi omnium nostrum membra verterentur in linguas, eam laudare sufficeret nullusSerm. 208. E. B. App.).

I have seen innumerable works of all sizes which treat of the Glories of Mary; but finding that they were rare, voluminous, or did not answer the object I had in view, I endeavored to collect, from as many authors as I could lay my hands on, the choicest passages, extracted from Fathers and theologians, and those which seemed to me to be the most to the point, and have put them together in this book, in order that the devout may with little trouble and expense be able to inflame themselves with the love of Mary, and more particularly to furnish priests with matter for their sermons, wherewith to excite others to devotion towards this divine Mother.

Worldly lovers often speak of those whom they love, and praise them, in order that the object of their affections may be praised and extolled by others.  There are some who pretend to be lovers of Mary, and yet seldom either speak of her or endeavor to excite others to love her: their love cannot be great.  It is not thus that true lovers of this amiable Lady act; they desire to praise her on all occasions, and to see her loved by the whole world, and never lose an opportunity, either in public or in private, of enkindling in the hearts of others those blessed flames of love with which they themselves burn towards their beloved Queen.

That every one may be persuaded how important it is, both for his own good and that of others, to promote devotion towards Mary, it is useful to know what theologians say on the subject.

Saint Bonaventure says that those who make a point of announcing to others the glories of Mary are certain of heaven; and this opinion is confirmed by Richard of Saint Laurence, who declares "that to honor this Queen of Angels is to gain eternal life" ("Honorare Mariam, thesaurizare est sibi vitam aeternamDe Loud. B.M.V. l.2, p.1); and he adds, "that this most gracious Lady will honor in the next world those who honor her in this" - ("Glorificabit in futuro honorificantes se in praesenti."—Ib.).  And who is ignorant of the promise made by Mary herself, in the words of Ecclesiastes, to those who endeavor to make her known and loved here below, "they that explain me shall have life everlasting"; ("Qui elucidant me, vitam aeternam habebuntEcclesiasticus 24:31) for this passage is applied to her by the Church, in the office of the Immaculate Conception.  "Rejoice, then", exclaims Saint Bonaventure (who did so much to make the glories of Mary known), "rejoice, my soul, and be glad in her; for many good things are prepared for those who praise her" - ("Exsulta, anima mea, et laetare in illa; quia multa bona sunt laudatoribus praeparataPsalt. B.V. p. 43); and he says that the whole of the sacred Scriptures speak in praise of Mary: "let us therefore always with our hearts and tongues honor this divine Mother, in order that we may be conducted by her into the kingdom of the blessed" - ("Si enim omnes Scripturae loquuntur de ea, Deiparam perpetuo contemplemur corde, et lingua celebremus, ut ab ipsa ad gaudia perpetua perducamurPaciucch. in Ps. 86, exc. 25).

We learn from the revelations of Saint Bridget, that the blessed Bishop Emingo was in the habit of always beginning his sermons with the praises of Mary.  One day the Blessed Virgin herself appeared to the saint, and desired her to tell him that in consequence of his pious practice, "she would be his Mother, that he would die a holy death, and that she would herself present his soul to God" (Rev. extr. C. 104.—Rev. l. 4, c. 125.); he died like a saint in the act of praying, and in the most heavenly peace Mary also appeared to a Dominican friar, who always concluded his sermons by speaking of her; when on his deathbed the Blessed Virgin defended him from the devils, consoled him, and then she herself carried off his happy soul (Auriem. Aff. scamb. P. 1, c. 13.).  The devout Thomas ΰ Kempis represents to us Mary recommending a soul who had honored her to her Son, and saying, "My most loving Son, have mercy on the soul of this servant of Thine, who loved and extolled me" ("Fili mi amantissime, Miserere animae famuli tui, amatoris et laudatoris meiAd Nov. s. 21).

Next, as to the advantage of this devotion for all, Saint Anselm says, that as the most sacred womb of Mary was the means of salvation for sinners, the hearing of her praises must necessarily convert them, and thus also be a means of their salvation; "how can it be otherwise than that the salvation of sinners should come from the remembrance of her praises, whose womb was made the way through which the Savior came to save sinners?" - ("Quomodo fieri potest, ut ex memoria laudis ejus salus non proveniat peccatorum, cujus uterus factus est via ad sanandum peccatores?De Excell. V. c. 1.)  And if the opinion is true, and I consider it is indubitably so (as I shall show in the fifth chapter), that all graces are dispensed by Mary, and that all who are saved, are saved only by the means of this divine Mother, it is a necessary consequence that the salvation of all depends upon preaching Mary, and exciting all to confidence in her intercession.  It is well known that it was thus that Saint Bernardine of Sienna sanctified Italy, and that Saint Dominic converted so many provinces.  Saint Louis Bertrand never omitted in his sermons to exhort all to love Mary; and many others have done the same.

I find that Father Paul Segneri the younger, who was a very celebrated missioner, in every mission preached a sermon on devotion to Mary, and always called it his beloved sermon.  And in our own missions, in which it is an inviolable rule to do the same, we can attest, with all truth, that in most cases no sermon is more profitable, or produces so much compunction in the hearts of the people, as the one on the mercy of Mary.  I say, on her mercy; for, in the words of Saint Bernard, "we praise her virginity, we admire her humility; but because we are poor sinners, mercy attracts us more and tastes sweeter; we embrace mercy more lovingly; we remember it oftener, and invoke it more earnestly" - (Laudamus virginitatem, humilitatem miramur; sed miseris sapit dulcius mesericordia; misericordiam amplectimur carius, recordamur saepius, crebrius invocamusIn Assumpt. S. 4.); and for this reason I here leave other authors to describe the other prerogatives of Mary, and confine myself for the most part to that of her mercy and powerful intercession; having collected, as far as I was able, and with the labor of many years, all that the holy Fathers and the most celebrated writers have said on this subject; and as I find that the mercy and power of the most Blessed Virgin are admirably portrayed in the prayer "Salve Regina", the recital of which is made obligatory for the greater part of the year on all the clergy, secular and regular, I shall divide and explain this most devout prayer in separate chapters.  In addition to this, I thought that I should be giving pleasure to Mary's devout clients, by adding discourses on the principal festivals and virtues of this divine Mother, and by placing at the end of the work the devotions and pious practices most used by her servants, and most approved of by the Church.

Devout reader, should this work, as I trust it will, prove acceptable to you, I beg that you will recommend me to the Blessed Virgin, that she may give me great confidence in her protection.  Ask this grace for me; and I promise you, whoever you may be, that I will ask the same for you who do me this charity.  O, blessed are they who bind themselves with love and confidence to these two anchors of salvation, Jesus and Mary.  Certainly, they will not be lost.  Let us then both say, devout reader, with the pious Alphonsus Rodriguez, "Jesus and Mary, my most sweet loves, for you may I suffer, for you may I die; grant that I may be in all things yours and in nothing mine" - ("Jesu et Maria, amores mei dulcissimi!  pro vobis patiar, pro vobis moriar; sim totus vester, sim nihil meus").  Let us love Jesus and Mary, and become saints; we can neither expect nor hope anything better.  Farewell, then, until we meet in Paradise, at the feet of this most sweet Mother and of this most loving Son; there to praise them, to love them face-to-face for all eternity