BVM Votive Mass; Our Lady Help of Christians
Madonna della Guardia Altar; Vatican Gardens
Knights of Columbus Board Meeting
Feb. 10, 2020
On the cover of our program is depicted Pope Benedict XV, surrounded by Knights of Columbus in their formal attire, at this very spot in the Vatican Gardens, near the Shrine of “Our Lady of the Watch” or, if you will, “Our Lady of the Guard”, the Altar of Nostra Signora della Guardia. My only disappointment is that you, brother knights and ladies, did not don formal attire for this occasion – but then again, I’m not Benedict XV!
One hundred years ago, the Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus came here to mark the beginning of the Order’s special service to the Holy See and its special relationship with successive Holy Fathers, including and especially Pope Francis with whom we have visited today. Earlier today we were blessed with a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica where we viewed the many restorations that were funded by the Order. Yesterday we had a whirlwind tour of the campi sportivi which were entrusted to the Order by Pope Benedict XV and his successors. No longer merely “playgrounds”, these beautiful athletic facilities are places where young people and their families engage in healthy sporting activities and where their “integral formation” is also attended to. Pope Benedict XV would be very pleased to see how attentive the Knights remain to the work he entrusted to us. And how we should rejoice that our Order has strong ties to the Successor of Peter, ties that are expressed in faith and worship and indeed in the works that we do. Truly, in God’s grace, we have earned the title, “the strong right arm of the Church”! No wonder we receive such extraordinary letters of greetings from Pope Francis whenever we gather for our Supreme Convention!
Our Lady of the Guard
In that century-old photo of the Knights here in the Vatican Gardens is seen the particular altar where are offering Holy Mass this afternoon. As noted a moment ago, it is dedicated to “Our Lady of the Watch” or “Guard”. This devotion came to the Vatican Gardens from the hometown of Pope Benedict XV, namely, Genoa. Like some of his predecessors, Pope Benedict built a shrine to remind him of home, and to leave a mark of beauty in this wonderfully serene space. The original shrine to Our Lady of the Watch is located atop Mt. Figogna, a strategic observation station for monitoring the movement of armies along all the approaches to the City of Genoa. From the heights, one can see all around Genoa, and on a clear day, one can see as far as the Island of Corsica. Upon this strategic spot, a shrine was built to Our Blessed Lady upon whose intercession and loving protection the Genoese continue to rely.
Our Lady of the Guard is therefore a Marian title that goes to the heart of Mary’s loving protection of the Church. Indeed, if the powers of darkness could not induce Mary to discouragement or despair as she stood beneath the Cross and as a sword of sorrow pierced her sinless heart, we can be sure that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Nostra Signora della Guardia, will continue to intercede and watch over the Church in our times as well.
With that in mind, we are celebrating the votive Mass of Mary, Help of Christians, a Mass that commemorates the extraordinary watchfulness and assistance that the Mother of God provides to the Church in times of challenge and persecution, such as the Church is facing in these days. In the Preface of this Votive Mass we shall pray for three qualities: first, that ‘we might be fearless in waging the battle of faith’; second, that we be ‘steadfast in holding to the teaching of the Apostles’; and third, that we would be ‘tranquil in spirit amid the storms of this world’ … Let us reflect for a moment on what we are asking in faith.
Fearless in Waging the Battle of Faith
First, we shall pray to be fearless in waging the battle of faith. While all of us are attracted to the tenderness of Mary’s maternal love, Scripture reminds us that Mary played a central role in the battle between good and evil, the battle between life and death. Mary’s faith-filled response to the Angel, “Let it be done to me as you say” brought to a head the epic struggle described into today’s reading from Revelation. Mary, who gave birth to the Messiah, is indeed “the woman clothed with the sun”, the woman from whose sinless heart the glory of God shone forth without distortion. Mary’s “fiat” set into motion the crux of God’s redemptive plan in which Christ, by his death and resurrection, would defeat Satan and his evil forces, Satan, who is symbolized in the Book of Revelation as a ferocious dragon. Satan was angry with the woman, with Mary, for consenting to God’s plan and, make no mistake, he is angry with us when we also are faithful to God’s plan.
The Knights of Columbus engages in this struggle to remain faithful in a faithless age; it engages in spiritual combat to profess and live the faith, not only in times of relative peace in the Church’s life but especially in days like these when the Church is assaulted from within and without. But we dare not fight alone! We dare not engage in this struggle without the help of Mary, without harking to the standard of the woman who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. She not only watches out for us but she indeed goes ahead of us in battle.
Steadfast in Holding to the Teaching of the Apostles
In our Preface, we shall also pray to be “steadfast in holding to the teaching of the Apostles”. Here we turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Wedding Feast of Cana. At this wedding Feast was Mary, her Son Jesus, and the Apostles, the Apostles who had been newly chosen to share in Jesus’ redeeming mission. At Cana Jesus would work the first of his signs, his miracles, by which the Apostles would come to believe in Jesus and be formed in the faith that they would one day profess to the ends of the earth. Notice how Mary prods her Son into action and alerts the waiters to what was coming. Even before the stone jars were filled with water, she said to them, “Do whatever he tells you” and indeed water was transformed into the best of wine, just as the best of wine in the Eucharist is changed into the Blood of Christ.
At Cana, Mary gave the Apostles, and she gave us her Son’s disciples, a lesson, a vitally important lesson on the obedience of faith – faith in her Son and fidelity to the teaching he would bequeath to the Church through the Apostles and through their successors. As Knights we are called to be “practical Catholics”, a term that sounds minimalist, but we are not content with the minimum as we are striving in God’s grace to inculcate in ourselves, our members, and their families a deep and durable faith. In times like these, we know we need to watch over our life of faith lest we fall prey to relativism or grow lukewarm or compromise with the world. Mary watches not only over our outward fortunes; she also watches over our heart.
Tranquil in Spirit Amid the Storms of This World
Finally, Mary, Help of Christians, helps us to be tranquil amid the storms of this world. As the Risen and Exalted Lord was preparing to depart from this vale of tears, he told his disciples, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” I can tell you from experience that when I add up the challenges that are facing that little portion of the Lord’s vineyard entrusted to me, it is easy to feel a sense of dread, to have a heart that is troubled and distracted. We can all feel that way as we grapple with the challenges our Order is facing or perhaps we feel that way amid the challenges of caring for our families. In those moments we turn to Mary to ask her to guard our sleeping and our waking, as we say, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”
Mary, help of Christians, teaches us both trust and fortitude. As Mary arrived at the house of her cousin Elizabeth, her cousin said of her, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Trust and courage go hand-in-hand, for Mary would not have had the courage to endure what she endured had she not been blessed with an absolute trust in the Providence of God. Otherwise, she could never have taken the risks that she did and remain so steadfast in prayer and so constant in her discipleship. The trust and fortitude that we must have as Knights is not of human origin, but are gift of the Holy Spirit, gifts that Mary possessed in fullest measure. She who has gone before us in the glory of heaven will guide us through the storms of this world and bring us safely home to heaven.
Nostra Signora della Guardia – pray for us!