A questioning may arise in many souls: “Why this persistence in asking for Mary’s protection at the hour of death?”
Newsdesk (July 8 2021 15:42, Gaudium Press) In the prayer that we so often address to Our Lady there are two distinct parts, which should be analyzed: one concerns the present, the other the future. The first one changes continuously with regard to the subject of the request; the second does not vary, it always prays for the same grace.
Pray for us now is the request of the present hour, whose object will be different according to our needs. Sometimes it will be a request for a protective grace, other times for consolation, sometimes for relief and healing from some illness.
But pray for us at the hour of our death concerns the future, and is always the same request that we made yesterday, we make today, repeated 200 times in the Rosary, and we will make again tomorrow, if God grants us a new day and if we pray the Angelic Salutation in it.
Then, why has Holy Church, through the Hail Mary, a daily prayer familiar to all Christians, even the most indifferent, formulated this request: Pray for us at the hour of our death? It can only be for reasons very worthy of her wisdom; it is because in the hour of death the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary is supremely necessary and extremely effective for us.
Need for Mary’s assistance in the last moments
To understand well how necessary Our Lady’s assistance is in our last moments, we must remember that the hour of death is properly the decisive and difficult hour of all. In it our destiny will be fixed for all eternity. When a tree falls, on the right or on the left, there where it falls, it remains, says Ecclesiastes (11, 3). If it falls on the right side, if we die in God’s grace, we will be happy forever; but if it falls on the wrong side, if we die in God’s enmity, our place will be with the reprobate. The hour of death is the hour of supreme combat. If we triumph over the devil, all our past defeats will be repaired, we will be victorious forever, we will take our place among the eternal triumphants, and the King of Heaven will gird us with the crown of eternal glory.
Let’s look at the good thief. His life was stained by various crimes. He had been an infamous criminal who had dyed his hands in the blood of brothers; a few moments before he died, he repented, was forgiven, his crimes were erased and – as a pious thief in Heaven, as he is called – by an instant of sincere penitence, he went to share the joys of Paradise with the patriarchs and the prophets who spent their whole lives in the practice of good deeds.
If, on the contrary, at the last moment, our enemy, the devil, triumphs over us, our already acquired victories, however numerous or resounding they may have been, will be useless to us. All our good works, although we had lived as the righteous for many years, would be lost forever and would vanish like a cloud scattered by the wind. We would be like sailors who, after triumphing over several storms on the high seas, are shipwrecked at the very port of arrival.
A tragic last-minute defection
Let us remember the story of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste. They were 40 soldiers who, together, in the troops of the Roman army, fought countless battles on this earth, besides winning battles in Heaven, by the practice of the Christian virtues, under the banner of Jesus Christ. To defend the Religion, they appeared before the tribunal of their persecutors, bravely confessing their faith, without allowing themselves to be intimidated by threats or seduced by promises. They were all thrown into the dungeon and condemned to die on a frozen lake. The angels were already flying over them, carrying in their hands the crowns destined for these glorious athletes, when one of them, overcome by the cold, came out of the lake for a bath of warm water prepared with a view to the withdrawal of one of them. Shortly afterwards he died (due to the sudden change of temperature), losing for an instant of weakness the fruits of a long life spent in the exercise of virtues, the shining merits of his confession of faith, and the glory of an almost consummated martyrdom, leaving his companions immersed in the incomparable pain of his defection.
The hour of death is a decisive hour, but it is also a difficult hour.
Anguish of the dying
How atrocious are the anguishes of the dying, who have not completely lost their faith, when the remorse of conscience, the fear of impending judgment, and the uncertainty as to eternal salvation unite to fill them with perturbation and dread! The demons redouble their rage to seize this prey that escapes them. They rush around the sick man’s bed to make a supreme effort.
If only the dying man could react in the fullness of his strength! But he can’t! He has never been attacked so violently, and he has never been so weak to defend himself. The deficiency of the body provokes a disastrous backlash in the soul. The imagination becomes totally disordered. It is as if it were an open field through which wild animals – it would be better to say ghosts of the most lugubrious and frightful kind – cross freely in all directions. The spirit is filled with darkness, the will is without energy and full of languor.
The imperative need for God’s help at the hour of death
How necessary is God’s help in this hour! How indispensable is divine grace for perseverance! However, grace, especially the grace of final perseverance, is a gift of God that is not given to us to because we deserve it, but we can obtain infallibly by our prayers.
Now, since by a very special privilege of God, who wants to honor his Mother in this way, the Blessed Virgin is the obligatory Mediatrix, through whose hands all the favors of Heaven must pass, it is to Her that we must ask for this grace of graces. Let us understand then why Holy Church leads us to ask so often for the assistance of Mary Most Holy at the hour of our death. Let us also understand why She urges us to repeat every day: Holy Mary, pray for us at the hour of our death.
In this hour, infallible intercession of Mary Most Holy
The intercession of Mary Most Holy is as necessary as it is effective for us in this supreme and solemn circumstance. How happy are the souls assisted by Mary in this hour! They cannot perish. Although they are captive to the tyranny of the devil, this good Mother will break their chains and obtain for them the good fruits of a sincere conversion, urging them to do true penance. She will be there near their bed of pain, like a mother at the bedside of her dying child, dispelling their anguish, calming their pain, sweetening their sorrows, providing a holy patience and taking their defense before the furious and multiple attacks of the spirit of darkness.
When the last hour comes for a devotee of Our Lady, says St. Bonaventure, this good Mother sends her the angelic spirits who are at her orders, together with St. Michael, her chief. And She, who is the scourge of hell – as St. John Damascene says – She who has, by mission, the hatred of the infernal serpent, makes him feel, especially when some of her devotees are going to leave this world, all her victorious power. She is to the devil, on this occasion, terrible as an army in order of battle. It becomes against him like that tower of which the Song of Songs speaks, where a thousand shields are raised with the weapons of the most valiant.
No, a servant of Mary cannot perish! – declares St. Bernard. – No, he for whom Mary has deigned to pray can no longer doubt his salvation and his going to the glory of Heaven! – says St. Augustine.
No, he for whom Mary prayed once will not perish! No, he who has piously recited the Hail Mary every day will not be abandoned at the last hour! – exclaims also Saint Anselm. This prayer possesses all the qualities capable of making it infallibly victorious.
First of all, it is holy in its motivation. In effect, what do we ask for? The final perseverance “at the hour of our death”. Then, through the Blessed Mary, we confess to our misery, by putting on a title that suits us so well: “poor sinners”.
It is also confident, for we turn to the most powerful intercessor there can be, to the One who is called “Supplicant Omnipotence”, in view of her outstanding holiness and her incomparable dignity as the Mother of God: “Holy Mary, Mother of God”.
This prayer is persevering. What prayer can be more persevering? Even if, by assumption, we only prayed one Hail Mary a day, how many times during our lifetime would we have asked Her to intercede for us at the hour of death? And what then, if we pray at least a decade of the Rosary? Even more so if we make it a habit of saying an entire rosary every day? Is it possible that Mary Most Holy, so zealous for our salvation, will not hear us? No! That is impossible! This is opposed to the promises, the oaths of Jesus Christ our Lord concerning prayer, as well as the goodness and tenderness of his Blessed Mother.
Let us therefore make the resolution to pray every day of our life, with a new faith, a new confidence and a new care, this short but so beautiful and effective prayer of the Hail Mary. Thus we will obtain each day those particular graces we need and, above all, the grace needed at the end of life, the greatest of these, the most important of all graces, the grace of final perseverance.
Saint Andrew Aveline
It is said that at the time of death of St. Andrew Avelino, a great servant of Mary, his bed was surrounded by more than ten thousand demons; during his agony, he had to fight a battle against hell so terrible that it stunned all the religious present. They watched his face decay and turn livid. He trembled in all his limbs, gritted his teeth, tears streamed abundantly down his face, witnessing the violence of the assault to which he was subjected. The spectacle brought tears to the eyes of all those present. Each one doubled his prayers and trembled for himself, seeing a saint die in this way. Only one thing consoled the religious: the dying man often turned his face toward an image of the Virgin, thus indicating to ask for her help, and reminding them that he had said several times during his life that Mary Most Holy would be his refuge in the hour of death.
In the end, it pleased God to put an end to this combat, granting the saint the most glorious victory. The agitation ceased, the dying man’s face returned to its first serenity; he was seen to remain tranquil, keeping his gaze fixed on the image, bowing in recognition, and then expiring sweetly in the arms of the Blessed Virgin, whom he had invoked so much during his life, and who came to make him feel her almighty protection in that supreme moment.
Let us imitate the devotion of Saint Andrew Avelino and, like him, in our last hour we will be assisted and helped by the most merciful Queen of Heaven.
(Translation, with adaptations, from “L’Ami du Clergé” n° 39, September 23, 1880)