Titles of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto

Comforter of the Afflicted

Consolatrix Afflictorum

Our Lady of Consolation of Luxemburg

A woman once said that she never realized how empty her sympathy was until she had sorrow of her own. Her life was sunny, happy. Her friends had many sorrows, and in the kindness of her heart she went to comfort them in their affliction. She meant well, but she did not know the language of suffering. Then came an affliction to her which broke her heart. She knew then how empty up to that time had been her words of sympathy. Pain can be valuated in others only if you have suffered pain yourself. The more you have been afflicted, the more you have needed comfort, the better qualified you are to apply comfort to others. You have learned the language of Sorrow.

The great Mistress of that language is the Mother of Sorrows. She can pity the wounded heart because Her own was the scabbard for seven swords. That is why this title—“Comforter of the Afflicted”—means so much to us in our afflictions, gives us so much confidence in Her ability to heal, for we know that as a mender of hearts She knows Her business. She has won Her diploma from the Divine Physician.

Mary studied long in the school of suffering. "Weeping, she hath wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks... O all ye that pass by the way attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow." (Lam. 1: 2, 12) "Thou art sorrowful and worthy of tears," says the Church in the Gradual of the Mass of the Seven Dolors, "O Virgin Mary, standing near the Cross of the Lord Jesus, Thy Son, our Redeemer." One has but to recall the Stabat Mater, the most sublime meditation ever given on the Sorrows of Mary, with its aching prayer to share in Her grief, Her comfort to Her Son: "Let me mingle tears with thee, mourning Him Who mourned for me, all the days that I may live. By the Cross with thee to stay, there with thee to weep and pray, is all I ask of thee to give."

She knew such agony as we shall never endure; hence from being surfeited with woe Herself, She knows how to comfort us. We may recall the beautiful lines of Father Faber—

For in Mary's ear all sorrow, singeth ever like a psalm.

Or again—

Mother of God, He broke Thy Heart that it might wider be,
That in the vastness of its love there might be room for me.

There is room in Her heart for all the children of God. That is what St. Ephrem meant when he called Her "the Comfort of the world," the "Mother of orphans," "the Liberator of those in prison," "the Redeemer of captives."

The view of Mary as the Comforter of the Afflicted is one of the oldest in the Church. The Salve Regina but expresses the belief of all ages in the power of Mary to comfort—"To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to Thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." Forsaken by all, we still have Her. There is at Valencia a miraculous image called Our Lady of the Forsaken (Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados). In 1380 ten men devoted themselves to the work of rescuing abandoned children. They organized a religious community and called it the "Mount of Pity" dedicated to the "Mother of the Forsaken." It has been one of the richest shrines in Spain, an indication of the love of the people for Mary, "Comforter of the Afflicted." (See Salve Maria Regina No. 166.) Speaking of abandoned children, St. Jerome Emilianus was a patrician of Venice—a soldier. While he was in prison, crushed by unhappiness, he resolved to change his sinful life and begged Mary for the courage to do so. Our Lady appeared to him, broke his chains, and released him from his prison tower. He devoted the rest of his life to the care of orphans. Our Lady had comforted him; he in turn comforted others. St. Jerome could well call Her, as did St. Laurence Justinian—"the Hope of malefactors." Blessed Claude Bernard had great devotion to Our Lady as "Comforter of the Afflicted." That was the constant theme of his preaching in hospitals, in prisons, everywhere. He was filled with charity for the afflicted because he sought to imitate Her kindness.

A lovely title of Our Lady, one kindred to that of "Comforter of the Afflicted," is that of "Our Lady of Pity." Another one is "Our Lady of Mercy" after the famous shrine of that name at Nantes, France. They are all variations playing on the theme of the pursuing love of Mary for us Her suffering or wayward children.

Sabbatine PrivilegeAnd in a special way Her comfort is given to the Poor Souls in Purgatory. That is particularly brought out by the history of the Brown Scapular, with special reference to the "Saturday Indulgence;" also called the "Privilege of Delivery" or simply the "Sabbatine Privilege." The history is that Our Lady promised Pope John XXII that She would withdraw from Purgatory, and especially on the Saturday after death, the associates of the Brown Scapular. It is a tremendous promise, but not too much to expect from Her who is called the "Queen of Purgatory." Our Lady said to St. Bridget of Sweden, "I am the Mother of all the souls in Purgatory," a self-evident truth from the commission of Christ on the Cross—"Woman, behold Thy Son." So St. Bernardine of Siena said—"Mary has a certain dominion and plenitude of power not only to relieve them, but even to deliver them from their pains." There is an old Irish prayer— "To those who are in the pit of pain, in fire, whose portion is suffering, deign Thy relief, O Mary."

Not only does Mary seek to free the souls from Purgatory out of the pity of Her heart, but, for the higher motive still, to populate Heaven with holy souls to chant the praises of God. It is this zeal for the glory of God that turns Her eyes of pity on us. Mary above all wants us to save our souls. Not that She is not interested in our poor bodily afflictions. Christ healed the sick, and Lourdes alone is proof enough that Mary has learned His skill as well as His pity. When we are in pain and distress She is listening to our cries. She is ever the nursing-mother. If She does not remove the affliction She obtains for us the grace to bear it patiently, and perhaps that is the best answer to our prayer. It is said that the sick who go to Lourdes hoping for a cure, may return home uncured, but that they obtain something better—submission to God's will and the gift of patience; they have learned that conformity to God's will is the health of the soul. In the little book of St. Thomas More, mentioned before, he says—"Let us in tribulation desire His comfort and help, and let us remit the manner of that comfort unto His own high pleasure; which, when we do, let us nothing doubt but that just as His high wisdom better seeth what is best for us than we can see ourselves, so shall His high sovereign goodness give us that thing that shall indeed be best."

It is our souls that need comfort most, and no one under God can comfort us as She who has been sealed to that labor of love, the "Comforter of the Afflicted," who knows what is good for us, in health and in happiness, in sickness and in sorrow. And so we pray to Her in the words of the Church's beautiful refrain in the Ave Maris Stella

Break the captives' fetters, light on blindness pour,
All our ills expelling, every bliss implore.

—that is to say, "Ask for us all that is truly for our good."

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