Thursday, May 25, 2017

Our Lady of Pity in Late Medieval England

The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, recently blessed a shrine to Our Lady of Pity on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of Our Lady Help of Christians and St Peter of Alcantara in Shrewsbury. The Catholic Herald refers to Our Lady of Pity as "a particular Marian devotion held by the people of Shrewsbury before the Reformation".

The Bishop commented on the shrine that it:

“will recall the ancient devotion of the people of Shrewsbury to the Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of Pity” and be “a new place where we seek Our Lady’s help in all our need and join with her in continuous prayer as the Church has always done since the beginning”.

“It is to Mary, ever-faithful, that I will entrust each one of you and all who will be called to continue in the priesthood – a life and ministry for the joy of all Christ’s faithful people.”

One aspect of this devotion was the Obsecro Te prayer:

I beseech thee O Holy Lady Mary, Mother of God most full of pity, the daughter of the highest king, mother most glorious, mother of orphans, the consolation of the desolate, the way of them that go astray, the safety of all that trust in thee, a virgin before childbearing, a virgin in childbearing, and a virgin after childbearing: the fountain of mercy, the fountain of health and grace, the fountain of consolation and pardon, the fountain of piety and gladness, the fountain of life and forgiveness. By that holy unspeakable gladness, by the which thy spirit did rejoice that hour, wherein the Son of God was unto thee by the Angel Gabriel declared and conceived. And by that holy unspeakable humility, in which thou didst answer the Archangel Gabriel: Behold the handmaid of our Lord, be it unto me according unto thy word: and by that divine mystery, which the Holy Ghost as then did work in thee: and by the unspeakable grace, pity, mercy, love, and humility by the which thy son our Lord Jesus Christ came down to take human flesh in thy most venerable womb: and by the most glorious joys, which thou hadst of thy son our Lord Jesus Christ: and by that holy and most great compassion, and most bitter grief of thy heart, which thou hadst when as thou didst behold thy son our Lord Jesus Christ, made naked before the cross, and lifted up upon the same, hanging, crucified, wounded, thirsting, and the most bitter drink of gall and vinegar put unto his mouth. Thou heardst him cry Eli, and didst see him die. And by those five wounds of the same thy son and by the sore shrinking together of thy inward parts, through the extreme grief of this wounds, and by the sorrow which thou hadst when thou didst behold him wounded. And by the fountains of his blood: and by all his passion, and sorrow of thy heart, and by the fountains of thy tears, that thou wouldst come with all the Saints and elect of God and hasten unto my help, and my counsel in all my prayers, and petitions, in all my distresses and necessities. As also in all those things, wherein I am to do anything, speak, or think, all the days and nights, hours, and moments of my life. And obtain for me thy servant of thy beloved son Our Lord Jesus Christ the accomplishment of all virtues, with all mercy, and consolation, all counsel and aid, all benediction and sanctification, all salvation, peace and prosperity, all joy and gladness: also abundance of all spiritual good things, and sufficiency of corporal, and grace of the Holy Ghost, which may well dispose me in all things, and may guard my soul, govern and protect my body, stir up my mind, order my manners, approve my acts, suggest holy cogitations, pardon my evils past, amend things present, and moderate things to come: bestow on me an honest, and chaste life, grant me faith, hope, and charity: make me firmly to believe the articles of the faith, and to observe the precepts of the law: rule and protect the senses of my body, and evermore deliver me from mortal sins, and defend me to my life's end: that he may graciously and meekly hear, and receive this prayer, and give me life everlasting. Hear and make intercession for me most sweet virgin Mary Mother of God, and Mercy. Amen.

In The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy explains that this was a very popular prayer and devotion in the late Middle Ages in England and was always in the Books of Little Hours of Blessed Virgin Mary. The French tradition was to include an image of Our Lady of Humility or the Madonna of Humility, showing Mary seated on the ground and holding the Baby Jesus in her arms, with this prayer. That kind of image is used in the shrine Bishop Davies recently blessed.

The image of the Madonna of Humility by Giovanni di Paolo, c. 1456 is in the public domain.

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