Doing the Works of Mercy with Mary, Mother of Mercy

Although I have had a relationship with Mary since I was a child and had been praying the Rosary since my early twenties, I developed a closer relationship with Mary as a mother and came to understand her as the Mother of Mercy because of her role in my apostolate to senior priests. In my friendships with senior priests living in nursing homes, I have experienced Mary’s merciful love and compassion for me and for the priests. I have learned that we need the intercession and guidance of Mary whenever we practice the works of mercy.

We call Mary Mother of Mercy because she is the mother of God who is Divine Mercy, and as our mother, she obtains God’s mercy for us through her intercession. Mary is also the greatest example of how to be merciful to others.

St. Pope John Paul II taught that Mary “obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way as no other person has. At the same time, still in an exceptional way, she made possible with the sacrifice of her heart her own sharing in revealing God’s mercy. This sacrifice is intimately linked with the Cross of her Son, at the foot of which she was to stand on Calvary.”1 As our mother, she is kind and merciful to us and shows us how to be merciful to others, for example, in her service to her cousin Elizabeth in the Visitation, and praying with the Apostles at the beginning of the Church. St. John Paul II explained that Mary, through her “sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, was called in a special way to bring close to people that love which he had come to reveal: the love that finds its most concrete expression vis-à-vis the suffering, the poor, those deprived of their own freedom, the blind, the oppressed and sinners . . .”2

The Gospels tell of Mary’s life of mercy. First, Mary accepted God’s request to be the mother of Jesus, our Savior. Then, she went “in haste” on a long difficult trip to assist her cousin Elizabeth after learning from the Archangel Gabriel that Elizabeth was expecting a baby. At the wedding in Cana, Mary saw the need of the couple and acted to help them, by interceding with her Son to ask Him for His first public miracle that would be the beginning of His ministry. Although it is not described in Sacred Scripture, we can assume that Mary, as Jesus’ first disciple, was helping her Son in His mission through her prayers and service. Mary was with Jesus on His way of the Cross and stood by Him during His crucifixion, sharing in His suffering. Before He died, Jesus gave Mary to St. John as His mother, and at the same time, designated her as our mother.

St. John Paul explains: “Mary is also Mother of Mercy because it is to her that Jesus entrusts His Church and all humanity. At the foot of the Cross, when she accepts John as her son, when she asks together with Christ, forgiveness from the Father for those who do not know what they do (cf. Lk 23:34) Mary experiences, in perfect docility to the Spirit, the richness and the universality of God’s love, which opens her heart and enables it to embrace the whole human race. Thus Mary becomes Mother of each and every one of us, the mother who obtains for us divine mercy.”3

Tradition tells us that Jesus first appeared to Mary after His Resurrection. Mary had an active role in the beginning of the early Church, praying with the Apostles, some women, and relatives of Jesus in the upper room in Jerusalem. She was present with the Apostles at Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit. Mary continues to be our mother after her Assumption into Heaven. As the Second Vatican Council teaches in Lumen Gentium, “For taken up to Heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by danger and difficulty until they are led to their blessed home.” (62).4

Mary is the mother of priests and she has had a very important role in my apostolate to senior priests over the last nine years. I have always asked her to pray for the priests I visit, and to assist me in helping them. She has provided the greatest assistance through the Rosary. In my friendships with priests, we have helped each other by praying together, and their favorite prayer has been the Rosary.

My friendship with Father Edward Ryan began when he wanted someone to bring him to the chapel of the nursing home he was living in, so he could spend time with Jesus in prayer. I wanted to get to know him better, but he was often tired and did not talk much. It was by praying the Rosary together that we became friends, and praying the Rosary became part of our every visit together. I noticed that as he prayed the Rosary, he seemed to grow stronger, had more energy, and experienced great peace and joy — which I felt too.

My friend Father John Rooney also prayed the Rosary with me, often offering his intention for the residents in the nursing home and the indulgence for the souls of his family members in purgatory. As the chaplain of the organization I started, he led our meetings, and always concluded them by praying the Hail Holy Queen, and sometimes by singing the Salve Regina in Latin with our group.

I have seen how praying the Rosary can completely transform someone. There was a priest I only visited twice, as he lived in a nursing home far away from me. He had dementia and great difficulty in hearing, and seemed very weak. The day we first met, he did not respond much to anything I said, and I didn’t know if he could hear me, but when I gave him a Rosary, he kissed it, blessed himself, and prayed it with me. On my second visit, I suggested that we pray the Rosary, and every now and then as we prayed, he would say, “This is so wonderful,” “This is so beautiful,” and seemed happy. I learned that he died a few weeks after my last visit, and I am glad I was able to meet him and pray with him.

In my visits with priests, I have been inspired by Mary’s example at two moments in her life, which teach us how to practice the works of mercy. In her visitation of Elizabeth, Mary put her cousin’s needs ahead of her own and went to be of assistance to her. In my visits, I hope to also provide assistance, even in in small things, like reading to a priest who does not see well. Mary endured great suffering in seeing her Son suffer on the Cross. She remained beside Him to provide Him strength and consolation. Some of the priests I was friends with experienced suffering caused by their health problems and by the difficulties of living in a nursing home. I tried to be supportive of priests who weren’t feeling well, by praying for them and with them to feel better. I also tried to be supportive of priests when they experienced problems in their nursing homes by listening to them and sharing their concerns with their family members.

In The Soul of the Apostolate, Father Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O, spoke of the necessity of devotion to Mary for anyone engaged in an apostolate, teaching that Mary will make the apostolate effective and help with difficulties. “Never will the true son of Mary run out of arguments, of means or even of expedients when it becomes necessary in almost hopeless cases, to strengthen the helpless and give consolation to those who cannot be consoled.” 5 When we want to do something to help someone but don’t know what to do, we need to remember that Mary can help them. Mary loves the person we want to help even more than we do, and her intercession is always powerful. I have visited senior priests when they were in terrible pain. I wanted so much to make them feel better but knew I could not help them myself. I turned to Mary and prayed what St. Mother Teresa called a “flying Novena” of nine Memorares; I often prayed a Rosary for them too. I also prayed with the priests for Jesus and Mary to heal them from the pain. Almost every time, their pain eventually went away.

We have a long history in the Church of honoring Mary as Mother of Mercy, and especially asking for her intercession when we die. In the Salve Regina, a prayer from the eleventh century, we pray “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy” and ask her to lead us to Jesus after “this our exile” — meaning our time on earth. In the Hail Mary, we ask Mary to pray for us now—to assist us with all our daily needs — and at the hour of our death: to help us to have the grace of final perseverance, dying with love of God, having repented of our sins, and trusting in His mercy. Mary was with Jesus at the hour of His death and according to tradition, was with St. Joseph when he died. We know she supported them with her love and prayers, and we trust her to help us too. She is also a great support to us when we are spending time with our family and friends in their last days, as they prepare to meet God.

I have felt very supported by the Blessed Mother when I was visiting people I loved at the end of their lives. My first experience was with my mother. As she was dying of pneumonia in a hospital, I remember praying the Rosary over and over again for her and really understanding for the first time, in a very real way, the meaning of the words “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” I know Mary’s intercession helped my mother to die peacefully, with me beside her, praying for her.

In April 2016, God gave me the gift of being with my friend and spiritual father, Father Rooney, when he died. I had been praying the Rosary for him and with him that day and in the days before, and God gave him a very special last day on earth. His friend Father O’Connor celebrated Mass with him in his room, he was able to receive Holy Communion, and he later received the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Pardon. I know Mary’s intercession for her priest son Father Rooney helped him to have a peaceful, holy death.

I have a special memory of visiting my friend Father Ryan two days before he died, with my friend Cassandra and her two-year-old daughter. We prayed the Rosary with Father Ryan, who was very weak but was alert and praying with us. He had such a great devotion to the Blessed Mother that I am certain she was praying for him at the hour of his death, as he had requested so many times in the Hail Mary.

I was able to spend some time with Father Bede Fitzpatrick, OFM, a holy Franciscan friar, in the days before he died. We had become friends during my visits to the friary he was living in, which was a home for senior friars. He often spoke to me of the Blessed Mother and her role in our lives. I spent most of my last visits with Father Bede, praying for him, especially the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary. He was awake on and off and was able to pray with me at times. While I was with him, I really felt the presence of Jesus and Mary. Father Bede died on the Most Holy Name of Mary Day and his funeral Mass was on Our Lady of Sorrows Day. This connection to Mary’s feast days seemed to me a sign of Mary’s intercession for him.

In the approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother, she comes to bring a message of mercy; for example, at Fatima, asking us to pray and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. In every way, Mary is the model of how to be merciful. As her spiritual sons and daughters, we can imitate her by practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Sometimes doing the works of mercy can be difficult, but we have Mary to help us. We can do the works with her, not alone, asking for her intercession and for her to show us how to bring Jesus’ love and mercy to others.

  1. St. John Paul II, Rich in Mercy, 9.
  2. St. John Paul II, Rich in Mercy, 9.
  3. St. John Paul II, Splendor of Truth, 120.
  4. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 62.
  5. Jean Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O., The Soul of the Apostolate (Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2012), 291.
Louise Merrie About Louise Merrie

Louise Merrie is a freelance writer on Catholic subjects. Her articles have been published in Catholic Life, Catholic Exchange, Novena Magazine, and the Saint Austin Review. She is the author of Fulton Sheen: Evangelist of the Modern Age, published by the Catholic Truth Society. She is the founder of the Community of Mary, Mother of Mercy, an organization which supports senior priests through prayer, friendship, and service (communityofmary.org).

Comments

  1. I share whole heartedly and endorse your testimony to the incredible act of mercy of Our mother Mary help of the afflicted, help of Christians. It’s a joyful occasion to be visited by Our Lady where upon she reveals in the fullness of time her Son to us :where upon such a visit from our lady, we experience the reality of Christ awaken in our souls. It is as though the Word becomes flesh in our souls. Just such a treasure and beautiful gift of Our lady sharing the life of her Son Jesus Christ with us in the here and now.

    Thank you.
    Bernadette

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