St. Paul of the Cross and Mary

There is a powerful and discreet presence of Mary in Scripture and Liturgy. We find it also in the history of the saints. Mary touched the life of St. Paul of the Cross from his early youth. Signs of her presence were many and clear, and all of them pointed toward her Son Jesus.

Paul was raised in a family of deep faith, where he learned to converse with Mary daily through the Rosary. As a young boy, he fell into the Olba River and was miraculously saved by Mary. During the intellectual visions of the summer of 1720, Mary showed Paul the habit of mourning and penance and the Passionist Sign he and his companions were to wear, and explained the meaning of the Passionist habit in terms of their mourning for the Passion and Death of Jesus.

Paul had a very special devotion to the Mystery of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple. On that particular feastday “he said farewell to the world and desired to be clothed in the habit of the Passion, and thus offered himself in the flower of his years to the Divine Majesty, in imitation of that great queen, who, in offering herself in the temple, made of herself a sacrifice so agreeable to the heart of God.” (quoted from St. Vincent Strambi: The Life of Blessed Paul of the Cross, p. 204).

On his first trip to Rome, the ship stopped at Monte Argentario, and St. Paul of the Cross recalled the words he had heard in prayer before a statue of our Lady: “Paul come to Monte Argentario, for I am there alone.”

In September, 1721 when he was refused audience with the Pope, Paul went immediately to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and in the Borghese Chapel made a vow to promote devotion to the Passion of Christ in the hearts of the faithful and to gather companions for the same purpose.

Throughout his whole life, Paul was deeply united to Mary because of her intimate association in the Mystery of Redemption. On his deathbed, Paul pointed to his crucifix and said, “There are all my hopes, in the Passion of Jesus Christ and the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” St. Vincent Mary Stambi related that “Mary came at the moment of death to assist Paul and lead his soul to paradise.”

Presence of Mary in the Congregation

On his deathbed, Paul left the Passionist Congregation in the hands of Jesus Crucified and our Sorrowful Mother. Mary — always associated with the person and work of her Son, continued to give her maternal presence and intercession to the Passionists.  This Marian presence was a ‘constant’ in the Congregation, and took on special intensity in the Passionist saints such as St. Vincent Mary Strambi, Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, Venerable Mother Mary Crucified and St. Gemma Galgani.

When the Congregation was founded in the United States, that same, strong Marian presence was experienced. Many foundations bore her name. Devotion to our Mother of Sorrows was intimately linked to the memory of the Passion. Passionist missions, novenas and retreats all integrated the mystery of Mary with the mystery of Christ’s Passion and Death. The famous Monday Devotions always honored our Mother of Sorrows. The Confraternity of the Passion has done exceptional work in spreading devotion to our Sorrowful Mother. All our communication media have done the same. But the most powerful Marian experience goes on in the hearts of our men — known only to the Heart of God and His Mother.

The Passionist Constitutions single out the Marian presence in prayer: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Lord, is present in a special way in our life of prayer. Like her, we too ponder God’s Word in our hearts. We revere Mary as our Mother and seek to imitate her trustful, persevering prayer. In our love for her, we endeavor compassionately to share her sorrow in the mystery of the Cross, chiefly by contemplating the mysteries of the holy Rosary. Invoking her help, we are confident that her motherly intervention will win us the graces we need as sons making our way to the Father.” (#53)

Prayer of Pope John Paul II

The Marian presence in our ministry is perhaps best expressed by Pope John Paul II  on the occasion of the beatification of Passioinst Brother Isidore De Loor:

“I cannot but conclude with a sincere wish, which I have taken from a letter addressed by your founder to his confreres in 1751: ‘May this small congregation, a work of divine mercy, develop throughout the world so that . . . everywhere there may be holy workers who, like loud trumpets animated by the Holy Spirit, may awaken souls sleeping in sin through the holy preaching of the most holy sufferings of the Son of God, Christ Jesus; so that, contrite, they may shed salutary tears of repentance and with constant devout meditation on the same most holy sufferings, they may become ever more inflamed with the holy love of God, living devoutly according to their proper state.’ (Letter IV, 229)

“I entrust these wishes to the motherly heart of our Lady of Sorrows, Queen of your Congregation, and I commend to her each and every dear Passionist.” (Pope John Paul II, October 1, 1984).

adapted from Mary in the Life of St. Paul of the Cross
by Columkille Regan, C.P.


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