Thou Art All Fair, O Mary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, who appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the Pyrenees mountains, in Southern France. When, on a next visit, at the request of her priest, the young girl asked the name of the Lady, she answered: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

This was in 1858. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had just been proclaimed four years before, in 1854, by Pope Pius IX.

The belief was in the Church from the beginning. St Justin Martyr and St Irenaeus of Lyon, in the second century, and many other Fathers of the Church affirmed it, though not in the rather technical term that we use now, and most people believed in the incomparable purity of their Queen and Mother during all Church history. The Latin hymn which appears as the title of this post dates back to the fourth century. There was a liturgical feast and office in many places since high Middle Ages.

But the theology was uncertain and scholars did not find compelling arguments for one position or the other. As long as the controversy was not settled, believers and contradictors alike were allowed their opinion, and were forbidden to try and condemn the other side.

Then how could a girl from the back country, certainly devout but illiterate, have come up with an expression so sophisticated that only a small number of learned Catholics knew it at the time? And moreover, the Lady said it in the regional dialect of the Pyrenees, so the tiny possibility that Bernadette could have heard it in French in a sermon was also ruled out. The priest knew instantly that she was telling the truth.

For an overview of the biblical and patristic arguments on the Marian dogmas, Dr Scott Hahn published a book titled Hail, Holy Queen. In a very lively talk on the subject, he recounts how he became acquainted with the prerogatives of the Holy Virgin even before entering the Catholic Church. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o50ajVvJ5I)

The Latin hymn Tota pulchra es (Thou Art All Fair) follows.

Tota pulchra es (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67owsGWBdaM)

Tota pulchra es is an old Catholic hymn, written in the fourth century. It is one of the five antiphons for the psalms of Second Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
Et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Ierusalem,
Tu laetitia Israel,
Tu honorificentia populi nostri,
Tu advocata peccatorum,
O Maria,
Virgo prudentissima,
Mater clementissima,
Ora pro nobis.
Intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum.
In conceptione tua, Immaculata fuisti.
Ora pro nobis Patrem cuius Filium peperisti.
Domina, protege orationem meam,
Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

Thou art all fair, O Mary,
And the original stain is not in thee.
Thou art the glory of Jerusalem,
Thou, the joy of Israel,
Thou art the honor of our people,
Thou art the advocate of sinners.
O Mary,
Virgin most prudent,
Mother most tender,
Pray for us.
Intercede for us with Jesus Christ our Lord.
In thy conception, Holy Virgin, thou wast immaculate.
Pray for us to the Father, Whose Son thou didst bring forth.
O Lady! aid my prayer,
And let my cry come unto thee.

Oremus.

SANCTA Maria, regina caelorum, mater Domini nostri Iesu Christi, et mundi domina, quae nullum derelinquis, et nullum despicis: respice me, domina, clementer oculo pietatis, et impetra mihi apud tuum dilectum Filium cunctorum veniam peccatorum: ut qui nunc tuam sanctam et immaculatam conceptionem devoto affectu recolo, aeternae in futurum beatitudinis, bravium capiam, ipso, quem virgo peperisti, donante Domino nostro Iesu Christo, qui cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu vivit et regnat, in Trinitate perfecta, Deus, in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Let us pray.

HOLY Mary, Queen of heaven, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and mistress of the world, who foresakest no one, and despisest no one, look upon me, O Lady! with an eye of pity, and entreat for me of thy beloved Son the forgiveness of all my sins; that, as I now celebrate, with devout affection, thy holy and immaculate conception, so, hereafter, I may receive the prize of eternal blessedness, by the grace of Him whom thou, in virginity, didst bring forth, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, in perfect Trinity, God unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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