CHAPTER NINE: His Devotion Towards the Most Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, and the Other Saints
The great Saint Bernard once said we should honor the most holy virgin Mary with the deepest affection of our hearts. Such is the will of him who has bestowed all manner of favors and graces upon us by the mediation of this incomparable Virgin.1 This is not a pious invention of the human mind, nor a fruit of some particular devotion. It is an order established by the will of God that we give special honor to her whom he favored to the point of choosing her to be the mother of his only Son, that she in turn would receive true and perfect subjection and obedience from him.
The entire Church has always recognized this truth, and in every age has shown its respect and devotion towards the most holy Mother of God. It celebrates her feasts, venerates her images, and has always offered her solemn prayers. To this very day the Church continues to chant this praise by hymns and canticles, and by other means suggested by the Holy Spirit. All the great saints joined in this veneration and devotion towards the queen of angels and men. We have every reason to assume that Monsieur Vincent, always so careful to seek out the will of God and to follow faithfully the direction of the Church and the example of the saints, faithfully followed all the duties of piety and devotion towards the holy Mother of God. We have many proofs and reminders of this.
First, in the rules he left to his Congregation was this one. He regarded it as one of the main ones, and he often commended it to his confreres: “We should strive, all of us in general and each one in particular, to fulfill perfectly with the help of God our duty of honoring the most holy and most glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God: (1) by honoring her with some special practice every day, as homage given to our lady and mistress, Mary, the Mother of God; (2) by imitating as much as we can her virtues, particularly her humility and purity; (3) by exhorting others at every opportunity to honor her as she so richly deserves.”2
He always recommended and advised that each of the members of the Congregation have a special devotion to the queen of heaven, but more important than words, he used the force of his personal example. He fasted on the vigils of her feasts and prepared to celebrate them with practices of mortification and good works. Thus by his good example he introduced this custom among his confreres. He never failed to preside at the solemn offices of her feasts, and he did so with such devotion that the sentiments of his heart were obvious. He also loved to celebrate mass in chapels and altars dedicated to her.
He opened every conference or assembly at which he presided by the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and he was equally exact to end them always by an anthem or prayer in honor of the holy Mother of God.
He wore a rosary on his belt, not only because he used it often, which he did, but also as an exterior mark of his veneration and devotion towards the queen of heaven. By this practice he declared himself openly to be one of her most faithful and devoted servants.
Wherever he was, whether at home or in the city, and even in the presence of people of rank, when he heard bells sounding the Angelus he would fall to his knees (except in Paschal time or Sundays, when he would pray standing) to recite this prayer with the greatest possible devotion. His example moved others to follow this same practice.
Out of devotion, he often went to visit churches dedicated to God under the invocation of the most blessed Virgin. Likewise, during the troubled times of the wars he urged the members of the Clergy Conferences of Saint Lazare to make pilgrimages in her honor, to beg of God, through the intercession of this Mother of Mercy, peace and tranquility and the return of the subjects of the king to the obedience they owed His Majesty. He persuaded the Ladies of Charity to make similar pilgrimages to various places dedicated to this same holy Virgin, and to implore God’s mercy through her intercession in this time of public calamity. He himself went to these places to offer mass and give communion to these pious ladies. He once went to the cathedral of Chartres for the express purpose of praying through the powerful intercession of Mary for a priest who had been named a bishop. He asked that the priest would receive the necessary spiritual insights to realize that God was calling him to the vocation of this sublime estate, since as a bishop he could render great services to the Church; and that he would overcome his great humility and accept this office.
The devotion of this saintly man for the Mother of God was evident in the sermons he gave on the various missions he preached. He introduced the practice among the missionaries to instruct the people thoroughly in their obligation as Christians to serve and invoke the holy Mother of God, and to have recourse to her in all their needs. Finally, the many confraternities he established, and those he encouraged elsewhere, to honor our Lord in his love for the poor, were all put under the special protection of the blessed Mother. The various other groups and assemblies for pious works that he founded were also testimony to his devotion to this most holy Virgin, and to his zeal that she should be known and loved by others.
Since he was so filled with this spirit, and always so careful to render all honor and service to the queen of angels and men, can we be surprised that his enterprises were favored with such success, and so greatly blessed? They were all placed, in a special way, under the powerful protection of the Mother of God.
Monsieur Vincent himself was well aware, and often taught on the missions he gave, that the honor given to the Mother of God and to the other saints was ultimately directed to almighty God, whose servants they were. In this regard he particularly appreciated the apostles as those who had enjoyed the happiness of living close to the Son of God. They had drawn from the fountain of the Savior that water which springs up to eternal life. He regarded and honored them as the first and greatest of the missionaries, since they carried the light of the Gospel throughout the world and worked with God’s blessings for the instruction and conversion of all peoples. Among all the apostles he particularly respected Saint Peter. He had loved the Savior more than any of the others, and had been chosen to be the first Vicar of Christ upon earth, the head and sovereign pastor of the Church. He loved and venerated Saint Paul, the master and teacher of the gentiles, who had worked harder than anyone else. Since he bore his name, he also strove to imitate his virtues.
He had a special devotion towards his guardian angel and never entered or left his room without directing his attention to greet and honor him. He introduced this same custom among his confreres, in regard to their own guardian angels, whom they were to acknowledge when they entered or left their rooms.
He also had a strong devotion to his patron, the martyr Saint Vincent [of Saragossa]. Hearing once that a worthy and pious acquaintance of his had some Spanish connections, he asked him to use his good offices to find out more about this saint from the traditions of that locality than was found in the standard lives of the saints. He also honored Saint Vincent Ferrer, and it was noticed that on many of his retreats he read from the book written by this saint. He was so strongly influenced by what he had read about this saint’s life and teachings that he often quoted them in the talks he gave to his community. He imitated this saint, particularly in his great zeal for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of souls.3
He piously honored the relics of the saints. He spoke one day to his community about the procession which the priests of the chapter of Notre Dame of Paris were to make to Saint Lazare, in which they carried the most notable of the relics of their church. “We must put ourselves in a frame of mind to receive these precious relics as if we were receiving the saints themselves, doing us the honor of paying us a visit. Thus we will honor God in his saints, and we must ask him to allow us to share in the graces he so abundantly showered upon them.”4
Monsieur Vincent’s chief intent in honoring the saints and angels was to honor in them the gifts of God and of his Spirit, whose temple they were. God was the object and end of the prayers he offered, and his expressions of piety towards them were ways of glorifying his divine majesty, and invoking their intercession to help him in this duty. He was faithful to the Church’s teaching on the invocation of the saints. He saw to it that his confreres also were faithful to the teachings of this common mother of all the faithful, and submitted themselves to her guidance in all things which he recognized as inspired by him who is the author of all holiness.
Just as the fervor of his devotion led him to urge others to adopt the same sentiments as filled his heart, so too the coldness and indifference of many Christians of his time greatly afflicted him. On many occasions tears came to his eyes when he spoke of the fervor and exactitude of the Moslems in the practices of their false religion, their profound bows, their silence, modesty, and reserve in their mosques. He used to say that we must greatly fear that they will one day be our judges, and they will witness against our own laxity and lack of devotion.
We should not fail to mention his devotion for the comfort and deliverance of the souls suffering in purgatory. He often urged his confreres to do this duty of charity. He said they should consider these dear departed as living members of Jesus Christ, vivified by his grace, and destined one day to share his glory. Because of this we should love, serve, and help them to the full extent of our powers. He prayed and frequently offered the sacrifice of the mass for their intentions. He saw to it that the other priests of the Mission offered their masses for this same intention. The sacristan of Saint Lazare told how Monsieur Vincent often directed him to have the mass for the souls in purgatory said, especially for those detained there for a long time, with no one to pray for them. In all the houses of the Congregation, he directed that the De profundis be recited three times each day, after the two particular examens before meals, and in the evening prayer.
Let us conclude this chapter with by the testimony of two worthy priests regarding the devotion and piety they observed in Monsieur Vincent. The first of them said:
Although Monsieur Vincent was deluged with business matters and had to deal constantly with many different people, conditions not usually conducive to recollection or devotion, we can say, nevertheless, that his heart was always filled with devotion. He seized every occasion that presented itself, no matter how difficult, to further the glory of God and the good of the neighbor. He showed that devotion is nothing other than charity, lovingly and promptly practiced, especially for those most abandoned and in the greatest need. His sense of devotion was such that his conversation alone moved those he spoke to. To hear him speak of God so respectfully and lovingly was to feel some spark of the sacred fire which Jesus Christ himself aroused in the hearts of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. It was evident that this same Jesus Christ inspired his words, and all his other actions as well.
The second priest gave the following written testimony: Concerning the devotion and piety of Monsieur Vincent, you had only to see him in choir, at the altar, or in the other exercises of piety, or even in his everyday activities, for his posture, his modesty, and his recollection, were all pencils sketching out his devotion. Several members of the clergy conference of Saint Lazare have spoken of how they came to these conferences mainly to hear him speak. When, through modesty, he would refrain from speaking, as happened now and again, they were very disappointed.