The devotion of St Paul of the Cross to the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary
"At the cross Her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last. Through Her heart, His sorrow sharing, all His bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword has passed." (Stabat Mater prayer)
The Passion of Jesus was a the source and center of devotion in the life of St Paul of the Cross. The only devotion that could equal the devotion he had to the Passion was the tender devotion that he had towards our Blessed Lady. He began everything with Her blessing. Nearly all his greatest favours were received on Her feasts, and he was blessed with many beautiful visions of Her glory. The part of Her life that had the greatest attraction for him was Her sufferings at the foot of the Cross.
Paul knew that his devotion to the Passion of Jesus would not be complete without its counterpart: -devotion to the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin. His thoughts nearly always brought him to Mount Calvary; and who can ascend this mountain of bitterness without giving a thought to Her who stands transfixed with grief at the foot of the Cross? At times he would say, "Whoever goes to our crucified Lord will find His Mother with Him--where the Son is, there is the Mother." And in explaining the words of Jeremiah, "Great as the sea is thy sorrow," he used to say, "The sorrow of Mary is like the Mediterranean Sea, from which one passes into the boundless ocean of the Passion of our Lord." And he would often add: "The soul can always become rich by fishing for the pearls of the virtues of Jesus and Mary."
When speaking of Our Lady, he generally came to Her sorrows, and then he would exclaim, as if he felt those sorrows himself, "Ah, poor mother! poor mother! "
He said one day to the students (the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not then defined),-
"This doctrine (Immaculate Conception) has not been declared an article of faith by holy Church, but I would give my blood and sacrifice my life in torments in defence of it; and if by doing this I did not become a martyr, I am sure I should give great glory to this august Lady. Oh I happy me, if this might take place."
As he was often beset by illness and troubles he used to say,-"These are the times when the Blessed Virgin comes in to help." He never pronounced the name of Mary without bowing his head, or taking off his cap, after he began to wear one.
An interior voice and a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary
One day, in the summer of 1720, St Paul was returning home, after having been to Holy Communion in the church of the Capuchins, when he had the following vision: He was wrapped up in ecstasy, and saw himself clo thed in a long black tunic, with a whi te cross upon the breast of it, and the Sacred Name of JESUS in white letters written under it. He heard an interior locution, and the voice said:
"This is to signify how pure and spotless should be the heart which bears engraven upon it the Sacred Name of Jesus." Before the ecstasy ceased, the tunic was presented to him, and he embraced it joyfully. He then felt a burning desire to collect companions, and found, with the approbation of the Church, a congregation, he thought its name should be “The Poor of Jesus".
The habit of the Passionists
However, shortly after, when engaged in prayer, he saw the Blessed Virgin, who showed to him the same habit, but to the word JESU were added XPI PASSIO, which means, "The Passion of Jesus Christ". Paul wrote out a full account of those visions, and gave it to the Bishop, who simply looked at it and was silent. The Saint, unsure of himself because of the Bishops silence, began to hesitate a little, wondering as to whether he might not have been deluded, when again the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, in the same black habit, with the badge upon it, exactly as the Passionists wear it to the present day. She said "My son, you see that I am clothed in mourning. This is because of the sorrowful passion of my Son Jesus. Therefore, you are to clothed likewise, and are to found a congregation in which the members will be also be clothed in the same manner, and they are to mourn continually for the Passion and Death of my dear Son”.
When thinking of this vision many years later Paul exclaimed “Oh how beautiful!” In the first preface to the rules he wrote: "When I saw the holy tunic presented to me, I did not see any corporeal form; I saw it in God, that is, that is the soul knows that it is God, because He makes it understand this, by an intelligence infused into the soul."
His devotion to the sorrowful heart of Mary
Rosa Calabresi, a close friend of Paul’s later in his life, narrates an interesting vision that Paul had with the Blessed Virgin Mary concerning Her participation in the Passion. This is what Paul told her:
"One day after Mass I was making my thanksgiving when I heard a call from the image of the Sorrowful Mother which I had on my altar in Rome, and I seemed to see that image. Suddenly I saw visibly the Most Holy Mother with a sword in Her breast and with tears in Her eyes. She gave me a great awareness of her sorrows with words that would have broken rocks. She told me in particular that Her sorrows were most atrocious because of the great love she bore for Her Son, and because of the imcomparable breadth of her spirit, capable of holding a sea of sufferings."
"I asked the Most Holy Mother that She would let me know what had occasioned the greatest martyrdom for Her at the time of the Passion of Her Son. She answered me that the greatest pain that pierced Her heart was to hear Jesus accused of leading people astray and Herself reproached as if the She had not given Him a good upbringing."
While often beset by the crowds who gathered to hear his preaching, occasionally people would come or bring to him those who were oppressed or possesed by the demonic. In his devotion to our blessed Mother, St Paul of the Cross used to put a rosary around the neck of those persons oppresed by the demonic, and while doing so he would say to the bystanders "Don't worry. He/she is safe from the demons now. If we pray to Her, our blessed Mother will protect him." Later, if need be, he would assist in freeing the person through the ordinary means of the Church.
The lesson that St Paul was giving of course was to pray the Rosary to our blessed Mother, asking for Her protection and help in our spiritual battles.
St Paul of the Cross and devotion to Mary -taken from his letters:
"Meditate frequently on the sorrows of the Mother of God-sorrows inseparable from those of her beloved Son. If you go to the crucifix, you will there find the Mother, and, on the other hand, wherever the Mother is, there also is the Son." * "My heart breaks when I think of the sorrows of the most holy Virgin. Oh tender Mother, unutterable was Thy grief in finding thyself deprived of Your dear Son, and then in beholding Him dead in Thy arms! Ah! who can realize the sadness of Mary when she returned to Bethany after the burial of Her Son? Jesus expires on the cross! He is dead that we may have life. All creation mourns: the sun darkens, the earth trembles, the rocks burst, and the veil of the temple is rent in two; my heart alone remains harder than a rock!" * "All I say to you now is, console the poor Mother of Jesus. It is a miracle that She does not die; She is absorbed in the sufferings of Jesus. Imitate her, and ask Magdalen and the beloved disciple St. John what are their sentiments."