Chapter III: Mary, Patroness of a Happy Death.
In the destiny of every Christian there are three outstanding events: his baptism, his first communion, his death. On the day of our baptism God takes possession of our soul; He marks us as His own; He sets His seal upon us and anoints us unto kingship for eternity. On the day of our first communion we have the unspeakable happiness of embracing Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist. The meeting between a child and a long absent parent is no doubt a wonderful joy for both. What then can we say of the first meeting of a child and his God? But of all days, the most solemn and decisive is assuredly the day of our death. On that day a battle is won or lost, a battle which determines our eternal future and puts the seal on our eternal predestination or on our eternal condemnation.
Mary has a part to play in these three great events of our life. She smiles on us at our birth, and, so to speak, holds us in her arms at the moment of baptism. She blesses us on the day of our first communion, and leads us to the banquet of her Son. She shows herself to be our mother in a very special way on that most terrible of days, the day of our death. Holy Scripture speaks of death as being the day of the Lord, dies Domini. It may also be called the day of Mary.
Three awful thoughts cross the mind of a dying sinner: the vision of his past life with all its sins; the vision of the future and the inevitable punishment to come; the vision of the present and the divine justice from which he cannot escape. The judgment commences on the death bed. It is the opinion of theologians that man is judged in the actual spot where he dies. Ah! if the day of death were the day of divine justice only, it would too often be a dreadful day. But it is also Mary’s day and for that reason it is a day of mercy and rejoicing. To counteract discouragement, Mary places three consoling visions before the eyes of the dying: the thought of the past and all the favors received from her; the vision of Paradise where she reigns as Queen; and even, as has frequently occurred, her presence at death beds. No matter what temptation assails the child of Mary, he is strengthened and consoled by his heavenly Mother.
Mary deserves the title of patroness of a happy death. Firstly, she prevents our being surprised by death, by helping us to lead a Christian life; secondly, she assists us in a very special manner when that dread hour approaches.
To die in the state of grace is a favor which we cannot merit. God alone, absolute master of grace and of death, is able to unite death and the state of grace. The death of the just, then, is the result of a special predestination; the same love of God which gives us life also causes our death; the same act which calls us to glory decrees also that we die at that moment. A child just baptized may by some unforeseen accident fall from the arms of the person who carries it and die in that fall. It may appear fortuitous, but in reality it is all in the designs of God, Who predestines the child by a special grace to die in that hour.
Mary aids her children in a very special manner at the actual moment of death. By assisting at Calvary at the death of the Head of the predestined, according to St. Alphonsus, she obtained the privilege of assisting all other predestined souls in the hour of their last agony. God decreed that His Christ should become incarnate by the cooperation of Mary and that He should die before her eyes; He also decreed that His other Christs should be formed by Mary and that she should receive their last sigh.
It is certainly an awful moment when we await the call and the judgment of God. The soul is about to appear before its Maker and Judge. Nothing else matters; those around the bed of the dying person are powerless to help any longer. But God is not alone with the soul; the demon and his satellites are also there. Satan, realizing how short a time remains to him, makes one last tremendous effort to conquer his victim. And now this is Mary s opportunity. More terrible than an army in battle array, she confronts the enemy of salvation, whom she vanquishes by a single look. As St. Antoninus says: If Mary is for us, who is against us?
St. Alphonsus assures us that Mary has been seen assisting at the death bed of her faithful clients, removing the sweat of agony from their faces, refreshing their fevered brows. For such souls death has no horrors, it is a drink which they taste with delight. We even hear of holy souls, like the pious Suarez and a saintly Dominican soul, crying out in a transport of joy: Ah! I did not know it was so sweet to die. Mary watches over her children like a tender and loving mother, they sleep the sleep of the just, they die in the embrace of the Lord.
We are told in the life of St. Clare that the Blessed Virgin appeared at her death-bed, accompanied by a band of virgins. She lovingly embraced the dying saint, and gave her the kiss of peace, while the virgins surrounding the bed covered her with a cloth of gold.
It is customary in the order of St. Dominic to sing the Salve Regina at the death bed of its members, and on more than one occasion during the singing of this antiphon the dying religious suddenly smiled sweetly, and then slept peacefully in the Lord, cradled as it were in the arms of Mary.
We know not what death God has reserved for us; but this we do know: that, if we continue to the end as faithful servants of Mary, our last moment will certainly be made easy for us. Our mother will sweeten the bitterness of that hour, our last day in truth be a blessed day, dies Mariae: the day of Mary.
These thoughts have not brought us away from the consideration of the Rosary, for in the Mysteries we see Mary entering upon her office of patroness of a happy death; she assists her glorious spouse, St. Joseph, in his agony; later on she assists the King of the Elect. The Master of life assuredly has no need of succor, but He wishes, nevertheless, that the presence of His mother should assuage the sufferings of His cruel sacrifice. The Rosary then recalls to our mind the death of Jesus, the death of Mary, the death of Joseph.
Meditation on the agony of Jesus will strengthen us against the attacks of the demon when our own agony draws nigh. Whilst meditating on the Mysteries of the Crucifixion and Assumption we can unite our disposition to those of Jesus and Mary, and we may be sure the King and Queen of the elect will favor us with very special graces when our own time comes. Let us not forget while reciting these two Mysteries to ask for the grace of final perseverance. They are pre-eminently the Mysteries associated with a happy death. But each one of the fifteen Mysteries will surely obtain for us this grace of graces, for each time we say the Ave Maria and the words Pray for us now and at the hour of our death, do we not repeatedly implore her assistance in our last agony? We can rest assured that Mary will not fail to come to our aid; she will succor the members of her guard of honor and, if necessary, obtain pardon of their sins for them. The Rosary is truly the school wherein we can learn to die well; whosoever is faithful to it will be able to look death fearlessly in the face.
The following incident is related in the life of St. Dominic by several trustworthy authors. Through the efforts of the saint a certain young man was enrolled in the Confraternity of the Rosary. Shortly afterwards, his death occurred suddenly and his body was thrown into a pit. On hearing the tragic news Dominic hastened to the edge of the pit and in a loud voice called the dead man by name. He came forth alive, confessed his sins with devotion and contrition and lived for two days longer. He replied that he would certainly have been damned, had not the merits of the Rosary obtained for him the grace of perfect contrition. This story may or may not be true, but it gives us some idea of the manner in which Mary performs her office of patroness of a happy death by means of the Rosary. The glories of Mary and the glories of the Rosary are inseparably united.
We have said that the question of salvation may be summed up in three words: predestination, grace, death. The part played here by Mary may also be summed in three words. She is the model of the predestined, she is mediatrix of all grace, she is the patroness of a happy death. Again three words sum up the part played by the Rosary in this matter: it helps us to imitate the model of our predestination, it communicates to us the graces which God has given into the hands of the Blessed Virgin, it obtains for us the grace of a happy death.
By means of this devotion we assign to our Blessed Lady her true place in the divine plan. Notwithstanding what has been said to the contrary by the innovators of the sixteenth century and the rationalists of later times, the Rosary is one of the principal devotions of Christianity and a sure means of attaining to sanctity.