Our Lady of Consolation

September 4th – Octave of the Solemnity of our holy father St. Augustine

Behold your mother was simultaneously Christ’s last will and testament to the beloved disciple and his first message to the newly-born Church. When in our era the Holy Spirit came upon the 2,000 year-old Church to invigorate and strengthen its life and mission, and the college of bishops in solemn council concluded their blueprint for renewal by pointing to “Mary, sign of true hope and comfort for the pilgrim people of God” (Lumen gentium 68), a twentieth-century seal was most firmly set on the tradition of honoring the Mother of God, united with her Son, now gloriously living forever for all who come to God through him (Hebrews 7:25).

Mary’s motherhood had been full of mystery from it very beginning. Then, when it all seemed to end in meaningless cruelty and destruction on Calvary, as her innocent Son suffered a criminal’s death, the Spirit once more overshadowed her and another astonishing word came from God: Woman, behold your son. In silence she gave herself anew to a motherhood set free from the limitations of flesh and blood, time and space, to embrace all the disciples of her Risen Son and Lord. The tradition of praying to the Mother of God for the gift of consolation dates back to the early centuries, an expression of the Church’s belief that the cloud of witnesses, the elect in glory, never cease to pray for the Church on earth. The first written evidence of prayer to the Mother of God, theotokos, is written in Greek on a scrap of Egyptian papyrus dating from between 300-540. And she is invoked as thecompassionate one: “Beneath the shelter of your tender compassion we fly for refuge, Mother of God. Do not overlook our supplications in adversity but deliver us out of danger.” This prayer, perhaps written by a believer in danger of death because of allegiance to Christ, makes clear a vivid faith in Mary’s consoling role. It has been hallowed by centuries of use, private and liturgical, in both the Eastern and Western Churches.

In Augustinian tradition the particular devotion to Mary under the title of Mother of Consolation appears to have sprung from two different sources. both originating from a mother’s distress over a son in danger. The earliest story has been treasured by the Order of Saint Augustine. It tells of Saint Monica in the fourth century, distraught with grief and anxiety for her wayward son, Augustine, confiding her distress to the Mother of God, who appeared to her dressed in mourning clothes but wearing a shining cincture. As a pledge of her support and compassion, Our Lady removed the cincture and, giving it to Monica, directed her to wear it and to encourage others to do the same. Monica gave it to her son, who in turn gave it to his community, and so the Augustinian devotion to the wearing of a cincture as a token of fidelity to our Mother of Consolation came into being. In the sixteenth century the flourishing devotion gave rise to the Confraternity of the Cincture and to the popular picture of Mary with the Child Jesus, who holds the end of the cincture in his right hand.

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