On the Practical Death

Jesus and the Widow of Naim


And when He came nigh to the Gate of the City, Behold a Dead
Man was carried out, the only Son of his Mother; and she was a
Widow: and a Great Multitude of the City was with her - Luke 7:12


On the Practical Death
On what Ordinarily Happens
at the Death of Men of the World

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

It is Related in this Day's Gospel, that going to the City of Naim, Jesus Christ met a Dead Man, the only Son of his Mother, who was Carried-out to be Buried. "Behold a Dead Man was carried out, the only Son of his Mother" - Luke 7:12. Before we proceed farther, let us stop at these Words, and 'Remember' Death. The Holy Church directs Her Ministers to-say-to Christians every Year, on Ash Wednesday: Memento homo quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. "Remember Man thou art but Dust, and into Dust thou shalt Return". Oh! would to God that Men had Death, always before their Eyes; if they had, they certainly should not Lead such Bad Lives. Now, Beloved Brethren, that the Remembrance of Death may be Impressed-upon you, I will this Day, place-before your Eyes the Practical Death, or a Description-of what Ordinarily Happens at the Death of Men of the World, and of all the Circumstances attending-to it. Hence we shall consider, in the First (1st) Point, what-happens at the Time of his Last Illness; in the Second (2nd) Point, what-happens when the Last Sacraments are Received; and in the Third (3rd), what-happens at the Time of Death.


First Point
What Happens at the Time of the Last Illness

I do not intend in this Discourse, to Speak-of a Sinner who has always Lived-in Habitual Sin; but of a Worldling, who is Careless about his Salvation, and always Entangled-in the Affairs-of the World, in Contracts, Enmities, Courtships, and Gaming. He has Frequently Fallen-into Mortal Sins, and after a Considerable Time, has Confessed them. In a word, he has been a Relapsing Sinner, and has generally Lived-in Enmity with God, or at least, has been generally Perplexed with Grievous Doubts of Conscience. Let us consider the Death of such Persons, and what ordinarily-happens at their Death.

Let us Commence-with the Time at which his Last Illness appears. He Rises-in the Morning, he goes out to look after his Temporal Affairs; but while he is Engaged-in Business, he is Assailed by a Violent Pain in the Head, his Legs totter, he feels a Cold Shivering, which Runs-through every Member, a Sickness of the Stomach, and Great Debility over the Whole Body. He immediately returns-home and throws himself on the bed. His Relatives, his Wife and Sisters, run to him and say: Why have you Retired so Early? Are you Unwell? He answers: I feel Sick. I am Scarcely able to Stand; I have a Great Headache. Perhaps, they say, you have got a Fever. It must be so, he replies; Send for a Physician. The Physician is immediately sent for. In the mean-time, the Sick Man is put to bed, and there he is Seized-with a Cold-fit, which makes him Shiver from Head to Foot. He is loaded-with Covering, but the Cold continues for an Hour or Two, and is succeeded by a Burning Heat. The Physician arrives, asks the Sick Man how he feels; he Examines the Pulse, and finds he has a Severe Attack of Fever. But, not to Alarm him, the Physician says: You have a Fever, but it is Trifling. Have you given any Occasion to it? The Sick Man replies: I went out by Night, a few days ago, and caught Cold; or I dined with a Friend, and Indulged my Appetite to Excess . . . . It is Worth Nothing, the Physician says, it is a Fullness of Stomach, or more probably, One of those Attacks which occur at the Change of Season. Eat nothing today; take a Cup of Tea; be not Uneasy; be Cheerful; there is no Danger. I will see you Tomorrow. Oh! that there was an Angel, who, on the Part-of God, would say to the Physician: What do you say? Do you tell me that there is no Danger in this Disease? Ah! the Trumpet of the Divine Justice has, by the First Symptoms of his Illness, given the Signal of the Death of this Man; for him, the Time of God's Vengeance has already Arrived.

The Night comes, and the Poor Invalid gets no Rest. The Difficulty of Breathing, and Headache increase. The Night appears to him a Thousand Years. The Light scarcely Dawns, when he Calls-for some-of the Family. His Relatives come, and say to him: Have you Rested well? . . . . Ah! I have not been able to Close my Eyes during the Entire Night. O God! how much do I feel Oppressed! Oh! how Violent are the Spasms in my Head! I feel my Temples Pierced-by Two Nails. Send Immediately for the Physician; tell him to come as-soon-as possible. The Physician comes and finds the Fever Increased; but still he continues to say: Have Courage; there is no Danger. The Disease must take its Course. The Fever which accompanies it, will make it Disappear. He comes on the Third (3rd) Day, and finds the Sick Man, Worse. He comes on the Fourth (4th) Day, and the Symptoms-of Malignant Fever appear. The Taste-on the Mouth is Disagreeable; the Tongue is Black; every part of the Body is Restless, and Delirium has Commenced. The Physician, finding that the Fever is Acute, prescribes 'Purging', 'Blood-letting' and 'Iced Water'. He says to the Relatives: Ah! the Sickness is most Severe; I do not wish to be alone. Let other Physicians be called in, that we may have a Consultation. This he says in Secret to the Relatives, but not to the Sick Man - on the contrary, not to Frighten him, he continues to say: Be Cheerful; there is no Danger.

Thus, they Speak-of Remedies, of more Physicians, and of a Consultation; but not a word about Confession or the Last Sacraments. I know not how such Physicians can be Saved. Where the Bull of Pope Pius V is in Force, they expressly Swear, when they receive the Diploma, that after the Third (3rd) Day of his Illness, they will pay no-more Visits to any Sick Man, until he has made his Confession. But some Physicians do not Observe this Oath, and thus so many Poor Souls are Damned. For, when a Sick Man has Lost his Reason, of what use is Confession to him? He is Lost. Brethren, when you Fall Sick, do not Wait till the Physician tells you to Send-for a Confessor; Send-for him of your own Accord; for Physicians, through Fear of Displeasing a Patient, do not Warn him of his Danger until they Despair, or nearly Despair of his Recovery. Thus Brethren, Send First (1st) for your Confessor; Call First (1st) for the Physician of the Soul, and Afterwards for the Physician of the Body. Your Soul is at-Stake, Eternity (∞) is at-Stake; if you Err then, you have Erred Forever (∞); your Mistake shall be Forever (∞) Irreparable.

The Physician then Conceals-from the Sick Man, his Danger; his Relatives do what is still Worse; they Deceive him by Lies. They tell him that he is Better, and that the Physicians give Strong Hopes for his Recovery. O Treacherous Relatives! O Barbarous Relatives, who are the Worst of Enemies! Instead of Warning the Sick Man of his Danger (as is their Duty, particularly if they are Parents, Children, or Brothers), that he may Settle the Accounts of his Soul, they Flatter him, they Deceive him, and cause him to Die in the State of Damnation. But from Pains, Oppression, and Restlessness, which he feels from the Studied Silence of Friends who visit him, and from the Tears which he sees in the Eyes-of his Relatives, the Poor Invalid Perceives that his Disease is Mortal. Alas! he says, the Hour of Death is come; but through Fear of giving me Annoyance, they do not Warn me of it.

No, his Relatives do not let him know, that he is in Danger of Death; but because they Attend-to their own Interest, about which they are more Solicitous, than they are about anything else, they bring in a Scrivener (Notary), in Hope that the Dying Man will Leave them a Large Portion-of his Property. The Scrivener arrives. Who is this?, asks the Sick Man. The Relatives answer: He is a Scrivener. Perhaps for your own Satisfaction, you would like to make your Will . . . . Then is my Sickness Mortal? Am I near my End? . . . No, Father, or Brother, they say; we know that there is no Necessity for making a Will; but must One Day make it, and it would be better to do it now, while you have the Full use of your Faculties . . . . Very well, he replies, since the Scrivener is come, and since you Wish me to do it, I will make my Last Will. The Scrivener First (1st) asks the Sick Man, in what Church he wishes to be Buried, in case he should Die. Oh! what a Painful Question! After choosing the Place-of his Interment, he begins to Dispose-of all his Goods. I Bequeath such an Estate or Farm to my Children; such a House to my Brother; such a Sum of Money to a Friend; and such an Article of Furniture to an Acquaintance. O Miserable Man, what have you done? You have Submitted-to so much Fatigue, you have Burdened your Conscience with so many Sins in-order-to Acquire these Goods; and now you Leave them Forever (∞), and Bequeath them to such and such Persons. But there is no Remedy; when Death comes, we must Leave all things. This Separation-from all Worldly Possessions is very Painful to the Sick Man, whose Heart was Attached-to his Property, his House, his Garden, his Money, and his Amusements. Death comes, gives the Stroke, and Separates the Heart from all the Objects of its Love. This Stroke, Tortures the Sick Man with Excruciating Pain. Ah Brethren! let us Detach our Hearts from the Things-of this World, before Death Separates us from them with so much Pain, and with such Great Danger to our Salvation.


Second Point
What Happens at the Time
in which the Sacraments are Received

Behold! the Dying Man has made his Will. After the Eighth (8th) or Tenth (10th) Day of his Illness, seeing that he is Daily growing-Worse, and that he is Near his End, One of his Relatives asks: When shall we Send for his Confessor? He has been a Man of the World. We know that he has not been a Saint. They all agree that the Confessor should be Sent-for; but all Refuse-to Speak-to the Sick Man on the Subject. Hence they Send-for the Parish Priest, or some other Confessor, to make known to the Dying Man his Danger, and the Necessity-of Receiving the Last Sacraments. But this is done only when he has Nearly Lost the Use-of his Faculties. The Confessor comes; he Inquires from the Family about the State-of the Sick Man, and the Sort-of Life which he Led. He finds that he has been Careless about the Duties-of Religion, and from the Circumstances which he hears, he Trembles for the Salvation of the Poor Soul. Understanding that the Dying Man has but a Short Time to Live, the Confessor, First (1st) of all, Orders the Relatives to Leave the Room, and to Return-to it, no-more. He then Approaches and Salutes the Sick Man. The Latter asks: Who are you? . . . I am, replies the Confessor, the Parish Priest, Father Such-a-one. Do you Wish me to do anything for you? Having heard that you had a Severe Attack of Illness, I have come to Reconcile you with your Creator . . . . Father, I am Obliged to you, but I Beg of you, for the present, to let me take a Little Rest; for I have got no Sleep for Several Nights, and I am Scarcely Able to Speak. Recommend me to God.

Knowing the Dangerous State of the Soul and Body of the Sick Man, the Confessor says: We hope that the Lord and the most Holy Virgin will Deliver you from this Illness; but Sooner or Later you must Die. Your Illness is very Severe. You would do well to Make your Confession, and to Adjust the Affairs of your Soul. Perhaps you have Scruples of Conscience; I have come, on Purpose to Calm the Troubles of your Mind . . . . Father, I should have to make a Long Confession; for my Conscience is Perplexed and Burdened with Sin. At present, I am not able to do it. I Feel a Lightness in my Head, and I can Scarcely Breathe. Father, we will see about it Tomorrow; at Present I am not able . . . . But who knows what may happen? Some Attack may Come-on, which will not Leave you Time to make your Confession . . . . Father, do not Torment me any longer. I have said that I am not able; it is Impossible for me to do it. But the Confessor, who knows that there is no Hope-of Recovery, feels himself Obliged-to Speak more Plainly, and says: I think it is my Duty to Inform you that your Life is about to Close. I Entreat you to make your Confession, for perhaps, Tomorrow you shall be Dead . . . . Why Father, do you say so? . . . . Because, replies the Confessor, so the Physicians have said. The Poor Dying Man then begins to Rage against the Physicians and against his Friends. Ah! Traitors have Deceived me. They knew the Danger, and have not Informed me of it. Ah! Unhappy me! The Confessor Rejoins, and says: Be not Alarmed at the Difficulties of making your Confession; it is enough to Mention the most Grievous Sins which you Remember. I will Assist you. Be not Afraid. Begin at once to tell your Sins. The Dying Man forces himself to Commence his Confession, but his Mind is all Confusion; he knows not, where to begin; he tries to tell his Sins, but is not able to Explain himself. He Feels but Little, and Understands still Less, what the Confessor says to him. O God! At such a Time, and in such a State, Worldlings are Obliged-to Attend-to the most Important of all Affairs, the Affair-of Eternal (∞) Salvation! The Confessor hears, perhaps, many Sins, Bad Habits, Injuries done to the Property and Character of others, Confessions made with Little Sorrow, and with Little Purpose-of Amendment. He Assists the Dying Man, as-well-as he can, and, after a Short Exhortation, tells him to make an Act of Contrition. But, God Grant that he may not be as Insensible-to Sorrow, as the Sick Man, who was attended-by Cardinal Bellarmine. When the Cardinal Exhorted him to make an Act of Contrition, he said: Father, do not Trouble yourself; these things are too High for me; I do not Understand them. In the End, the Confessor Absolves the Dying Man; but who knows if God Absolves him?

After giving him Absolution, the Confessor says: Prepare yourself now, to receive Jesus Christ for your Viaticum . . . . It is now, replies the Sick Man, Four or Five Hours after Night; I will Communicate in the Morning . . . . No, perhaps in the Morning, Time shall be no more for you; you must at-Present receive the Viaticum and Extreme Unction . . . . Ah, Unhappy me! the Dying Man says, am I at the Point of Death? He has Reason to say so, for the Practice of some Physicians is to put-off the Viaticum till the Patient is near his Last, and till he has Lost, or nearly Lost his Senses. This is a common Delusion. According to the Common Opinion of Theologians, the Viaticum ought always to be Administered, when there is a Danger of Death. It will be useful here to observe, that Benedict IV, in his Fifty Third (53rd) Bull, says that Extreme Unction may be given whenever the Sick Man Labors-under a Grievous Illness. Hence, whenever the Sick can Receive the Viaticum, they can also Receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. It is not Necessary-to Wait, as some Physicians recommend, till they are near the Agony, or till they Lose their Senses.

Behold! the Viaticum arrives, the Sick Man hears the Bell. Oh! how he Trembles! The Trembling and Terror increase when he sees the Priest coming into the Room with the Holy Sacrament, and when he Beholds around his Bed the Torches-of those who assisted-at the Procession. The Priest recites the Words-of the Ritual: "Accipe frater viaticum corporis Domini nostri Jesu Christi qui te custodiat ab hoste maligno, et perducat in vitam eternam. Amen". Brother, receive the Viaticum of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He may Preserve you from the Wicked Enemy, and that He may bring you to Eternal (∞) Life. He Receives the Consecrated Host upon his Tongue; the Priest then gives him a little Water, to enable him to Swallow it, for his Throat is Dry and Parched.

Administration of Extreme Unction - by Poussin
(Click to enlarge)


The Priest afterwards gives the Extreme Unction, and begins by Anointing the Eyes, while he says the following Words: "Per istam sanctam unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Deus, quidquid visum deliquisti". He then Anoints the other Senses - the Ears, the Nostrils, the Mouth, the Hands, the Feet, and the Loins, saying: "Quidquid per auditum deliquisti per odoratum, per gustum et locutionem, per tactum, per gressum, et lumborum delectationem". And during the Administration-of the Extreme Unction, the Devil is Employed-in Reminding the Sick Man of all the Sins he Committed-by the Senses - by Eyes, the Ears, the Tongue, the Hands; and says to him: After so many Sins, can you expect to be Saved? Oh! what Terror is then Caused-by every one of those Mortal Sins, which are now called Human Frailties, and which, Worldlings say, God will not Punish! Now, they are Disregarded; but then, every Mortal Sin shall be a Sword that will Pierce the Soul with Terror. But let us come to what happens at Death!


Notare Bene - A more comprehensive Explanation-of Extreme Unction is given here, by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. The Administration of this Sacrament, starts-with the Basic Psychological Fact, that we cannot think of a Single (1) Sin that ever got into our Soul, that did not come-through our Body.


Third Point
What Happens at the Time of Death

'Time shall be no-Longer' - Revelation 10.6
MINIATURIST, English - Douce Apocalypse, circa 1270
Bodleian Library, Oxford

After having Administered the Sacraments, the Priest departs, and leaves the Dying Man alone. He feels more Terror and Alarm after the Sacraments, than before he Received them, for he Knows that his Entire Preparation-for them, was made in the Midst-of Great Confusion of Mind and Great Uneasiness of Conscience. But the Signs-of Approaching Death appear; the Sick Man falls-into a Cold Sweat; the Sight grows Dim, and he no-longer Knows the Persons that Attend him; he has Lost his Speech, and can scarcely Breathe. In the Midst-of this Darkness of Death, he continues to say: Oh! that I had Time; that I had another Day, with the Use of my Faculties, to make a Good Confession! For the Unhappy Man has Great Doubts about the Confession which he has made; he feels that he was not able-to Excite himself to make a True Act of Sorrow. But, what Time? What Day? "Time shall be no longer" - Revelation 10:6. The Confessor has the Book open, to Announce-to him his Departure from this World. Proficiscere anima Christians de hoc mundo. Depart, Christian Soul, from this World. The Dying Man continues to say within himself: O Lost Years of my Life! O Fool that I have been! But, when does he say this? When the Scene is about to Close for him; when the Oil in the Lamp is 'Consumed'; and when the Great Moment has arrived, on which his Eternal (∞) Happiness or Misery depends.

But Behold! his Eyes are Petrified; his Body takes the Posture-of a Corpse; the Extremities, the Hands and Feet, have become Cold. The Agony commences; the Priest begins to Recite the Prayers for the Recommendation-of a Departing Soul. After having-Read the Recommendation, he feels the Pulse of the Dying Man, and feels that it has Ceased-to Beat. Light, he says, Immediately the Blessed Candle. O Candle, O Candle, show us Light, now that we have Health; for, at the Hour of Death, thy Light shall Serve only to Terrify us the more. But, already the Breathing-of the Sick Man is not so-Frequent; it has Begun-to Fail. This is a Sign that Death is very Near. The Assisting Priest, Raises his Voice, and says to the Poor Man in his Agony: Say after me: O God, Come to my Aid; have Mercy on me. My Crucified Jesus, Save me through Thy Passion. Mother of God, Intercede for me. Saint Joseph, Saint Michael the Archangel, my Holy Angel-Guardian, and all ye Saints in Paradise, Pray to God for me. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and Mary, I give you my Heart and my Soul. But, Behold the Last Signs of Death; the Phlegm is confined-in the Throat; the Dying Man sends-forth Feeble Moans; the Tears rush-from his Eyes; finally he twists the Mouth, he Distorts the Eyes, he makes a Few Pauses, and at the Last Opening-of the Mouth, he Expires and Dies.

The Priest then brings a Candle to the Mouth of the Dead Man, to try if he still be Alive; he sees that the Flame is not-moved, and thence Infers that Life is Extinct. He says: Requiescat in Pace. May he Rest-in Peace. And turning-to the Bystanders, announces that he is Dead. I Hope, he adds, he is Gone-to Heaven. He is Dead; and 'How' has he Died? No one Knows, whether he is Saved or Damned; but he has Died in a Great Tempest. Such is the Death of those Unfortunate Men who, during Life, have Cared Little about God. "Their Soul shall Die in a Storm" - Job 36:14. Of everyone that Dies, it is usual to say, that He is Gone to Heaven. He is Gone-to Heaven, if he 'Deserved' Heaven; but, if he 'Merited' Hell, he has Gone-to Hell. Do All go to Heaven? Oh! how Few enter into that Abode of Bliss!

Before the Body is Cold, he is covered-with a Worn-out Garment; because it must soon Rot with him, in the Grave. Two (2) Lighted Candles are placed-in the Chamber; the Curtain of the Bed on which the Dead Man lies, is Let-down; and he is Left-alone. The Parish Priest is Sent-for, and Requested-to come in the Morning, and take-away the Corpse. The Priest comes; the Deceased is Carried-to the Church; and this is his Last Journey on this Earth. The Priests begin to say the "Die profundis clamavi ad te Domine", etc. The Spectators, who look at the Funeral as it passes, Speak-of the Deceased. One says: He was a Proud Man. Another: O that he had Died, Ten Years ago. A Third: He was Fortunate in the World; he made a Great Deal of Money; he had a Fine House; but now he takes Nothing with him. And while they Speak-of him in this Manner, he is Burning in Hell. He arrives-at the Church, and is placed-in the Middle, surrounded-by Six (6) Candles. The Bystanders look at him, but suddenly Turn-away their Eyes, because his Appearance Excites Horror. The Mass is Sung for his Repose, and after Mass, the "Libera"; and the Function is concluded-with these words: Requiescat in pace - May he Rest in Peace. May he Rest in Peace, if he Died in Peace with God; but, if he has Died in Enmity with God, what Peace! what Peace can he Enjoy? He shall have no Peace as-long-as God shall be God. The Sepulcher is then Opened; the Corpse is thrown-into it; the Grave is covered-with a Tombstone; and he is left there to Rot, and to be the Food of Worms. It is thus that the Scene-of this World, Ends for each of us. His Relatives put-on Mourning; but they First (1st) Divide among themselves the Property which he has left. They shed an Occasional Tear for Two (2) or Three (3) Days, and afterwards Forget him. And what shall become-of him? If he be Saved, he shall be Happy Forever (∞); if Damned, he must be Miserable for Eternity (∞).


- End of Liguori Sermon -


Prayer for the Graces Necessary for Salvation

Eternal Father, Your Son has Promised that You will Grant us all the Graces which we ask for in His Name. In the Name and Merits of Jesus Christ, I ask the following Graces for myself and for all Mankind. Please give me a Lively Faith in all that the Church Teaches. Enlighten me, that I may know the Vanity of the Goods of this World, and the Immensity of the Infinite Good that You are. Make me also see the Deformity of the Sins I have Committed, that I may Humble myself and Detest them as I should.

Give me a Firm Confidence of Receiving Pardon for my Sins, Holy Perseverance, and the Glory of Heaven, through the Merits of Jesus Christ, and the Intercession of Mary. Give me a Great Love for You, that will Detach me from the Love of this World, and of myself, so that I may Love none other, but You.

I Beg of You a Perfect Resignation to Your Will. I Offer myself entirely to You, that You might do with me, and all that belongs to me, as You Please.

I Beg of You a Great Sorrow for my Sins.

I ask You to give me the Spirit of True Humility and Meekness, that I may Accept with Peace, and even with Joy, all the Contempt, Ingratitude and Ill-treatment I may receive. At the same time, I also ask You to give me Perfect Charity, which shall make me wish well to those who have done Evil to me.

Give me Love for the Virtue of Mortification, by which I may Chastise my Rebellious Senses and oppose my Self-Love. Give me a Great Confidence in the Passion of Jesus Christ and in the Intercession of Mary Immaculate. Give me a Great Love for the Blessed Sacrament, and a Tender Devotion and Love to Your Holy Mother. Give me, above all, Holy Perseverance, and the Grace always to Pray for it, especially in Time-of Temptation, and at the Hour-of Death.

Finally, I recommend to You the Holy Souls of Purgatory, my Relatives and Benefactors, and in a special manner I recommend to You all those who Hate me or who have in any way Offended me; I Beg You to Render them Good, for the Evil they have done or may wish to do me. Grant that, by Your Goodness, I may come One Day to sing Your Mercies in Heaven; for my Hope is in the Merits of Your Blood and in the Patronage of Mary. Mary, Mother of God, Pray to Jesus for me.



Ancient Miraculous Prayer to Saint Joseph
Patron of Departing Souls

This Prayer was found in the Fiftieth Year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In 1505 it was sent from the Pope to Emperor Charles, when he was going into Battle. Whoever shall Read this Prayer, or Hear it, or Keep it about themselves, shall never Die a Sudden Death, or be Drowned, nor shall Poison take-effect on them; neither shall they Fall into the Hands of the Enemy, nor shall they be Burned in any Fire, nor shall they be Overpowered in Battle.

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O Saint Joseph, whose Protection is so Great, so Strong, so Prompt before the Throne of God, I Place in you, all my Interests and Desires.

O Saint Joseph, do Assist me by your Powerful Intercession, and Obtain for me from your Divine Son, all Spiritual Blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having Engaged here below your Heavenly Power, I may Offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers.

O Saint Joseph, I never Weary Contemplating you and Jesus Asleep in your Arms; I dare not approach while He Reposes near your Heart. Press Him in my name and Kiss His Fine Head for me, and ask Him to Return the Kiss when I Draw my Dying Breath, Saint Joseph, Patron of Departing Souls, Pray for us.


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Many Miracles have been attributed to this Daily Prayer.
Make this Prayer known everywhere . . .


Consecration to God thru Mary