Have you ever wondered what the Holy Family did with the gifts which the magi brought? I seem to remember that St Gertrude asked this question of our Lord or the Blessed Virgin in one of her visions, but I never read what answer she received. But Ven. Mary of Agreda has an account of it in The Mystical City of God:

After the departure of the three Kings and after the due celebration of the great mystery of the adoration of the Infant Jesus, there was really nothing to wait for in that poor yet sacred place, and they were free to leave it. The most prudent Mother then said to saint Joseph: “My master and spouse, the offerings which the Kings have made to our God and Child must not remain here idle; but they must be applied in the service of his Majesty and should be used according to his will and pleasure. I deserve nothing, even of temporal goods; dispose of all these gifts as belonging to my Son and to thee.”

The most faithful of husbands answered, with his accustomed humility and courtesy, that he would leave all to Her and would be pleased to see Her dispose of them. But her Majesty insisted anew and said: “Since thou makest an excuse of humility, my master, do it then for love of the poor, who are waiting for their share; they have a right to the things which their heavenly Father has created for their sustenance.”

They therefore immediately concluded to divide the gifts into three parts: one destined for the temple of Jerusalem, namely the incense and myrrh, as well as part of the gold; another part as offering to the priest, who had circumcised the Child, in order that he might use it for him self and for the synagogue or oratory in Bethlehem, and the third part for distribution among the poor. This resolve they executed with generous and fervent affection.

I wonder if St Louis de Montfort has yet been appreciated at his true worth.  Of course, many people have made use of his ‘True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary’, but his reputation seems to be that of a simple devotional writer.  Yet his writing in fact is always admirably clear and precise, and theologically solid.

Many people would probably be surprised to hear his recommendation of ‘Marian consecration’ or ‘Marian slavery/service’ described as patristic.  It is however anticipated in both Greek and Latin Fathers.  Here is St Ildephonsus, who was born about 607 and became Archbishop of Toledo:

In order that I may be shown to serve God, I wish to have the dominion of His Mother over me in proof of it.  In order to be the devout slave of the Son, I wish to become the slave of the mother (‘servus fieri appeto genitricis’).  For when the handmaid is served, this is understood as done for the Lord; what is given to the mother redounds to the Son […] The honour passes to the king, which is paid in the service of the queen (‘On the perpetual virginity of St Mary’, PL 96:108A).

From the East, here is St John of Damascus, preaching on the Assumption:

We, too, approach thee today, O Queen; and again, I say, O queen, O virgin Mother of God, supporting our souls with our trust in thee, as with a strong anchor. Consecrating* to thee understanding, soul,  body and the whole of ourselves, rejoicing in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles we reach through thee One who is beyond our reach on account of His Majesty (‘1st Homily on the Dormition’, PG 96:720 C-D).


* ‘anathemenoi’.  One translation renders this as ‘lifting up’. Lampe’s ‘Patristic Greek Lexicon’ gives as the meanings of the verb ‘refer, attribute, assign; set up [objects of worship]; set up as votive gift, dedicate; set apart, devote’

The book called The Mystical City of God contains an account in four large volumes of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said to have been revealed to a seventeenth century Spanish nun, Mary of Agreda.  I first heard about it some fifteen years ago.  At the time I was extremely cautious, partly because the person telling me about it, while not stupid, seemed a bit fanciful; partly because of some of things which this person said it contained (see below); and partly (if truth be told) because of a certain prejudice on my part against Spain and the Baroque.

(When he was about six years old, C.S. ‘Jack’ Lewis had this precocious conversation with his father:

Jack: ‘Daddy, I have a prejudice against the French.’  His father, amused: ‘Why’s that, Jack?’  Jack: ‘If I knew why, it wouldn’t be a prejudice.’)

However, I filed the book’s title in my memory, especially as the authoress was a ‘Venerable’, and I was reminded of it not long ago by seeing it taken seriously in a scholarly compendium of Mariology published in 2007 with a foreword by Cardinal Burke.  A few months ago I started investigating it for myself.  I am still a long way from having read the whole work, which is monumental.  But already I can say that it is one of the most astonishing things I have ever come across.

Venerable Mary of Agreda, in religion, Sr Mary of Jesus, and before that, Maria Coronel y de Arana, lived from 1602 to 1665, being of Jewish ancestry on her father’s side.  She, along with her sister and both her parents, entered religious life when she was 16; becoming abbess in her twenties, she governed her community for most of the rest of her life.  She wrote out the life of our Lady not once but three times, having obediently burned the first two manuscripts when told to do so by temporary confessors at her monastery.  Her own advice was regularly sought by King Philip IV of Spain – her surviving correspondence with the king contains more than 600 letters.

The Mystical City of God certainly contains things which at first sight are startling, and which may sound like pious exaggerations or even doubtfully to be within the bounds of orthodoxy.  Among these things are that our Lady at her birth was taken bodily into heaven to be brought before the throne of God; that she received the beatific vision several times in the course of life; and that she had the use of reason from the first moment of her existence.

Mary of Agreda herself was concerned about the first of these statements, asking how it was compatible with the Church’s belief that the gates of heaven were opened only after Christ’s death.  She says that our Lady told her that while this is indeed the law that applies to mankind in general, she was herself exempted from it in virtue of the foreseen merits of Christ; and that as regards the possibility of human beings entering heaven bodily before death, she reminded her of how St Paul says he was taken into the third heaven, and that he does not know whether it was in the body or not, thereby leaving open the possibility that someone might so enter.

Again, as regards the possibility of receiving the vision of God in a transitory way in the life, St Augustine and St Thomas both favour the opinion that St Paul experienced this too (see Summa theologiae, 2a 2ae 175, 3).  Suarez likewise holds that our Lady possessed the use of reason from the first instant of her conception – he argues that St John the Baptist possessed it even before birth, since his ‘exulting’ in his mother’s womb is not understood by the fathers as a mere metaphor, and that it was fitting that Mary should possess a higher privilege than he.

Yet the book is also remarkable in the other direction, in the emphasis that it places on our Lady’s abasing herself before God.  For example, Mary of Agreda writes that it was the custom of the Blessed Virgin to prostrate herself before the child Jesus at the beginning and end of each day, asking pardon for any faults of which she might have been guilty in His regard.  That is startling: but if she had not received the revelation at that point of her own impeccability, it would I suppose have been the right course of action, since no one can know without revelation that he is not guilty of some fault in God’s sight.

(Reflecting on how the book might be criticised from opposite sides, both for unduly exalting and unduly abasing our Lady, I was reminded of Chesterton’s remark that when you hear some person or institution criticised for diametrically opposite reasons – he was thinking of the things that he had heard in his youth about the Church herself – then you have good ground for assuming that that person or institution has it right.)

The book is rigorous and precise: there is a section in volume one on our Lady’s possession of the cardinal virtues which could serve any professor of ethics for a commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics.  It throws additional light on the gospel: for example, there is a psychologically plausible description of how Judas went from being an enthusiastic follower of Christ to a traitor.  Above all, it is a supernatural book, by which I mean that it is interested not so much in the material details of our Lady’s earthly life – here it contrasts with Anne Catherine Emmerich – as with the state of her soul, and with the relevance of her life for the spiritual lives of Christians.

Extraordinary claims require very strong evidence.  As regards the authenticity of this book, good evidence is furnished by the facts of Mary of Agreda’s own life.  It seems certain that she evangelised the Indians of New Mexico without ever leaving her convent – see this series of short articles (this link is not necessarily a general endorsement of the entire site.)  She was declared venerable by Pope Clement X less than ten years after her death.  It appears that French Jansenists, hostile to what they deemed the book’s excesses, succeeded by some interpolations or mistranslations in having it put briefly on the index, and perhaps as a result her cause for beatification stalled.  Her coffin was opened for the first time in 1909, and the body was found incorrupt.  A second investigation of the body, in 1989, found that no changes had occurred in it.  It is venerated in the conventual chapel in Agreda, in the north east of Spain.

Princeps legibus subditus non est, Augusta vero licet sit subdita, princeps tamen eadem privilegia illi concedit, quae ipse habet (De Legibus).

(“The ruler is not subject to the laws; although the empress is subject, nevertheless the ruler grants to her the same privileges which he himself possesses.”)


There is no one who doubts that the canticle which it is given to virgins alone to sing in the kingdom of God, is sung also by her who is Queen of virgins, sung with the others and before the others.  Yet I believe that as well as singing that canticle which, although it is sung only by the virgins, is nonetheless, as I have said, common to all of them, she makes glad the city of God also with some other song that is still more sweet and gracious.  And that beautiful melody, none even of the other virgins is found worthy to utter and chant, for it is rightly sung by her alone who alone may glory also in a child-bearing, and in a child-bearing that is divine (St Bernard, 2nd Homily ‘In praise of the Virgin Mother’).


The ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ has let out Canterbury Cathedral to the Masons to perform their blasphemies at the same moment as the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster will be Consecrating England to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

O Immaculate Virgin Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Mother of Grace,
and Queen of the kingdom of thy Son,
humbly kneeling before thee,
we offer thee this country in which we live.
It once was thine.
Before it was robbed of the holy Faith
all its children were thy children,
and thou wast honoured throughout its length and breadth
as its Protectress and its Queen.
Again do we consecrate it to thee;
again do we dedicate it as thine own Dowry.
We offer our own hearts,
that their love and service
may ever grow and increase.
We offer all our brethren
those multitudes who know thee so little
or know thee not at all.
May thy prayer bring back the country’s ancient faith.
May thy intercession lead us to a closer union
with thy divine Son.
We consecrate ourselves to Him through thee.
Obtain for us,
and for England thy Dowry,
every grace and blessing,
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O Holy Mother of God, Virgin ever blest,
O Mary Immaculate, pray for us,
intercede for us, disdain not to help us.
For we are confident and know for certain
that thou canst obtain all thou wiliest from thy Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
God Almighty, the King of ages,
who liveth with the Father and the Holy Ghost,
for ever and ever.



“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate are now under visitation according to a report on Rorate. What is behind suppression of the Franciscans of the Immaculate?

As an outsider who only has access to information in the public domain – it seems that suppression of  this order represents an escalation of persecution and the removal of a great consolation.

Why these Franciscans? They promote devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady and the secrets of Fatima through their apostolate  ‘A day with Mary’. They are young, vibrant, faithful and orthodox with a preference for the vetus ordo.

It seems like the Devil wouldn’t need much help in picking a target.

Pray for them, they are suffering with Christ – and so shall we.

{This came up recently, in a discussion of the Assumption. The relevant verse is near the end. But it’s full of good things; also about our Lady as mediatrix of all graces, and co-redemptrix. It’s daring, perhaps, as the author, Coventry Patmore, not infrequently was. Anyway, it is a Laodicean Marian post, for May.}

“The Child’s Purchase” by Coventry Patmore

 As a young Child, whose Mother, for a jest,
To his own use a golden coin flings down,
Devises blythe how he may spend it best,
Or on a horse, a bride-cake, or a crown,
Till, wearied with his quest,
Nor liking altogether that nor this,
He gives it back for nothing but a kiss,
Endow’d so I
With golden speech, my choice of toys to buy,
And scanning power and pleasure and renown,
Till each in turn, with looking at, looks vain,
For her mouth’s bliss,
To her who gave it give I it again. 

   Ah, Lady elect,
Whom the Time’s scorn has saved from its respect,
Would I had art
For uttering this which sings within my heart!
But, lo,
Thee to admire is all the art I know.
My Mother and God’s; Fountain of miracle!
Give me thereby some praise of thee to tell
In such a Song
As may my Guide severe and glad not wrong
Who never spake till thou’dst on him conferr’d
The right, convincing word!
Grant me the steady heat
Of thought wise, splendid, sweet,
Urged by the great, rejoicing wind that rings
With draught of unseen wings,
Making each phrase, for love and for delight,
Twinkle like Sirius on a frosty night! 

Aid thou thine own dear fame, thou only Fair,
At whose petition meek
The Heavens themselves decree that, as it were,
They will be weak!
Thou Speaker of all wisdom in a Word,
Thy Lord!
Speaker who thus could’st well afford
Thence to be silent;—ah, what silence that
Which had for prologue thy ‘Magnificat?’—
O, Silence full of wonders
More than by Moses in the Mount were heard,
More than were utter’d by the Seven Thunders;
Silence that crowns, unnoted, like the voiceless blue,
The loud world’s varying view,
And in its holy heart the sense of all things ponders!
That acceptably I may speak of thee,
Ora pro me 

   Key-note and stop
Of the thunder-going chorus of sky-Powers;
Essential drop
Distill’d from worlds of sweetest-savour’d flowers
To anoint with nuptial praise
The Head which for thy Beauty doff’d its rays,
And thee, in His exceeding glad descending, meant,
And Man’s new days
Made of His deed the adorning accident!
Vast Nothingness of Self, fair female Twin
Of Fulness, sucking all God’s glory in!
(Ah, Mistress mine,
To nothing I have added only sin,
And yet would shine!)
Ora pro me 

   Life’s cradle and death’s tomb!
To lie within whose womb,
There, with divine self-will infatuate,
Love-captive to the thing He did create,
Thy God did not abhor,
No more
Than Man, in Youth’s high spousal-tide,
Abhors at last to touch
The strange lips of his long-procrastinating Bride;
Nay, not the least imagined part as much!
Ora pro me 

My Lady, yea, the Lady of my Lord,
Who didst the first descry
The burning secret of virginity,
We know with what reward!
Prism whereby
Alone we see
Heav’n’s light in its triplicity;
Rainbow complex
In bright distinction of all beams of sex,
Shining for aye
In the simultaneous sky,
To One, thy Husband, Father, Son, and Brother,
Spouse blissful, Daughter, Sister, milk-sweet Mother;
Ora pro me 

   Mildness, whom God obeys, obeying thyself
Him in thy joyful Saint, nigh lost to sight
In the great gulf
Of his own glory and thy neighbour light;
With whom thou wast as else with husband none
For perfect fruit of inmost amity;
Who felt for thee
Such rapture of refusal that no kiss
Ever seal’d wedlock so conjoint with bliss;
And whose good singular eternally
‘Tis now, with nameless peace and vehemence,
To enjoy thy married smile,
That mystery of innocence;
Ora pro me 

   Sweet Girlhood without guile,
The extreme of God’s creative energy;
Sunshiny Peak of human personality;
The world’s sad aspirations’ one Success;
Bright Blush, that sav’st our shame from shamelessness;
Chief Stone of stumbling; Sign built in the way
To set the foolish everywhere a-bray;
Hem of God’s robe, which all who touch are heal’d;
To which the outside Many honour yield
With a reward and grace
Unguess’d by the unwash’d boor that hails Him to His face,
Spurning the safe, ingratiant courtesy
Of suing Him by thee;
Ora pro me 

   Creature of God rather the sole than first;
Knot of the cord
Which binds together all and all unto their Lord;
Suppliant Omnipotence; best to the worst;
Our only Saviour from an abstract Christ
And Egypt’s brick-kilns, where the lost crowd plods,
Blaspheming its false Gods;
Peace-beaming Star, by which shall come enticed,
Though nought thereof as yet they weet,
Unto thy Babe’s small feet,
The Mighty, wand’ring disemparadised,
Like Lucifer, because to thee
They will not bend the knee;
Ora pro me 

   Desire of Him whom all things else desire!
Bush aye with Him as He with thee on fire!
Neither in His great Deed nor on His throne—
O, folly of Love, the intense
Last culmination of Intelligence,—
Him seem’d it good that God should be alone!
Basking in unborn laughter of thy lips,
Ere the world was, with absolute delight
His Infinite reposed in thy Finite;
Well-match’d: He, universal being’s Spring,
And thou, in whom are gather’d up the ends of everything!
Ora pro me 

In season due, on His sweet-fearful bed,
Rock’d by an earthquake, curtain’d with eclipse,
Thou shar’d’st the rapture of the sharp spear’s head,
And thy bliss pale
Wrought for our boon what Eve’s did for our bale;
Thereafter, holding a little thy soft breath,
Thou underwent’st the ceremony of death;
And, now, Queen-Wife,
Sitt’st at the right hand of the Lord of Life,
Who, of all bounty, craves for only fee
The glory of hearing it besought with smiles by thee!
Ora pro me 

Mother, who lead’st me still by unknown ways,
Giving the gifts I know not how to ask,
Bless thou the work
Which, done, redeems my many wasted days,
Makes white the murk,
And crowns the few which thou wilt not dispraise.
When clear my Songs of Lady’s graces rang,
And little guess’d I ’twas of thee I sang!
Vainly, till now, my pray’rs would thee compel
To fire my verse with thy shy fame, too long
Shunning world-blazon of well-ponder’d song;
But doubtful smiles, at last, ‘mid thy denials lurk;
From which I spell,
‘Humility and greatness grace the task
Which he who does it deems impossible!’

I know very many very good people for whom the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje have played an enormously important role in their conversions and/or devotional life. I also know many people, whose discernment I greatly respect, who have been extremely skeptical about the phenomenon. When I have investigated the negative claims they have generally been vindicated. I have long heard advocates of Medjugorje say that the Holy See had suspended the authority of the diocesan bishop and the local episcopate in regard to the alleged apparitions. I always ask to see the document that effected this and it has never been forthcoming.  It is now clear from the US Nuncio’s letter on behalf of the CDF that it does not exist. One of the foremost signs of a false private revelation is refusal to submit to legitimate ecclesiastical authority. Some devotees of Medjugorje I know have cited (apparently authentic) counter-examples. Thus such disobedience must be only a strong sign of in-authenticity rather than a proof. I know a priest who used to accompany pilgrimages to Medjugorje but openly denied the authenticity of the revelations. Another priest I know who lived in Bosnia for some time summarized the view of many such persons as “I am sure the Holy Spirit is present in Medjugorje, I’m just not convinced Our Lady has ever been there”. The question is, if the most recent letter is a trailer for a formal rejection of Medjugorje by the CDF, how will its devotees react? The loose expressions used by the Pope in his two recent interviews and the perception, fostered by liberals and the MSM, that he is ambiguous in his support for the Pro-Life movement and his opposition to the progress of organised sodomy could easily be used to justify some sort of mutiny. A papal approval of a revelation does not guarantee its authenticity (although the canonization of the visionary effectively does) only that it is not unreasonable to accept it and it won’t do you any harm. A condemnation is different, it really does command obedience from the faithful. If it were specified that the revelations were doctrinally deviant it would also command assent. If a revelation is inauthentic there are three obvious explanations: fraud, hysteria or the devil. Hysteria seems unlikely in this case. If fraud is the explanation then the motive seems obvious as the financial benefits are clear. If the explanation were the third and most disturbing option then the question arises ‘why would the evil one perpetrate a deception which has occasioned so many conversions’? The opponents of Medjugorje have often suggested that this moment is precisely the end game prepared for. A condemnation of Medjugorje would be a massive test of faith and obedience for many pious souls. We must prepare ourselves for a perfect storm.


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