We rightly honor Our Lady under the title of Help of Christians. Our Lady helps Christians in so many ways that we could make an encyclopedia on this topic. One aspect of this help comes from having a lively devotion to Our Lady.
A lively devotion to Our Lady generally begins with some help from her that triggers a dawn of confidence to rise in the soul. True devotion to Our Lady usually begins with Our Lady extending her good offices to a person.
How a Lively Devotion Develops
A man gets into trouble. It can be a spiritual crisis, an economic need or anything. He asks Our Lady to save him. While saving him from those difficulties, Our Lady also works inside his soul through imponderables and grace, whereby he acquires a taste of her maternal, smiling, affable and kind goodness. With this sample of her kindness, he gains a lively hope that she will heed him again in other difficult circumstances.
This experience leads to his insistent pleading for all kinds of graces. He should, above all, ask her for love of God. This habit of asking results in a crescendo of devotion to Our Lady. She becomes ever more maternal and inclined to favor him. Her assistance is more meticulous, which prompts the person to grow in this acquired taste for her affable and smiling providence.
At times, he asks Our Lady for real trifles. She grants these little insignificant things, like a mother who wants to give her child things great and small. Indeed, she smiles with special affection when asked for small things.
An Aurora of Confidence
When this bond happens, the person experiences a kind of aurora of confidence. It is a dawn of true understanding that defines his relationship with Our Lady. Even if the soul goes through very long and tough trials and periods of aridity and difficulties, something of this lively confidence remains. It is a light that accompanies the person throughout his life, including the bitterest throes of death.
It is highly recommendable to ask Our Lady for the grace of placing ourselves on this special, tender loving path of making these small requests, since asking for these small favors forms an intimacy with her.
Sometimes she will even go beyond the favor we ask her. This happens when we ask her for something, which is not in her designs to grant. She desires that we pass through a trial to help our spiritual life. Thus, Our Lady does not give us what we ask but provides us with the strength to endure what is coming, which turns out to be a much bigger favor. She ends up giving something better than the original favor.
Medieval Legends Present True Aspects of Our Lady
Medieval devotional books and legends about devotion to Our Lady present real and imagined stories that demonstrate the grace and kindness of Mary Most Holy in dealing with souls. They tell their stories in a magnificently amenable and interesting way.
Whether the story is true is not important, especially concerning the actions of its human characters. However, the stories are all truly characteristic of Our Lady’s manner of acting. She really acts in this way portrayed in these stories. Although these are legends, they are theologically correct Marian legends that give us a precise idea and feeling of what Our Lady is like.
An example of this is an episode found in the writings of Saint Alphonsus Liguori in his book, The Glories of Mary, which we reproduce here:
“Father Silvanus Razzi relates that a devout ecclesiastic who had a tender love for our Queen Mary, had heard her beauty so much extolled that he ardently desired once to see his Lady, and with humble prayers asked this favor. The kind mother sent an angel to tell him that she would gratify him by allowing him to see her, but on this condition, namely, that after seeing her, he should become blind. He accepted the condition.
“On a certain day, behold the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, and that he might not become wholly blind, he at first wished to look at her with one eye only but afterward becoming enamored of the great beauty of Mary, he wished to contemplate her with both, and then the mother of God disappeared. Deeply grieved at having lost the presence of his queen, he could not cease weeping, not indeed for his lost eye, but that he had not seen her with both. Then he began to supplicate her anew, that she would again appear to him, and he would be willing to lose the other eye and become entirely blind. ‘Happy and satisfied, O my Lady,’ he said, ‘I will remain if I become wholly blind for so good a cause, which will leave me more enamored of thee, and of thy beauty.’
“Again Mary was willing to satisfy him, and again she consoled him with her presence; but because this loving queen can never injure anyone, when she appeared to him the second time, not only she did not take from him the other eye, but she even restored to him the one he had lost.”
Whether this episode really happened is not important, because we know that this is how Our Lady actually is! She can have us go through dire straits to prove our love, take away one of our eyes or make us go through some anguish. However, she ends up rewarding us with a smile. Though we must pass through the necessary trials, everything ends with her smile.
Another better-known legend is the famous juggler of Our Lady. It tells the story of a monk who could not sing or pray well but knew the art of juggling, which he learned before entering the monastery. Wishing to please Our Lady, he went to a church late at night when no one was there and presented his juggling act to her. Our Lady appeared to him and smiled to show how pleased she was by his small gift.
Filial Confidence in Our Lady
We should act in a similar way. When presenting our offerings to Our Lady, however small they may be, we should be entirely confident that she will be pleased.
Our devotion to her will never be perfectly true if we fail to act in this way. We must have an attitude of unquestioning ease and intimacy toward Our Lady. We must be like a son who, even when he saddens Our Lady, presents himself before her completely confident of obtaining her help and smile.
This attitude is the ineffably suave starting point of a lively devotion to Our Lady.
That is not to say that this attitude is enough. To the degree that our intellectual development allows, we should study the foundations of devotion to Our Lady. We need to have everything reasoned out well so that we might form profound convictions based on dogma. However, intellectual formation is one thing, and the life of devotion is another. Each one compliments the other. This magnificent union of doctrine and devotion explains precisely why such a great Doctor of the Church as Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote his book, The Glories of Mary, which illustrates doctrinal theses with concrete devotional facts and stories.
Thus, we should pray to Our Lady, Help of Christians, to ask for the grace of a special sweetness in our devotion.
The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on May 18, 1964. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.