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St. Catherine of Siena, O.P.

‘O Mary peaceful sea ! Mary giver of peace! Mary fertile soil You Mary are the new sprung plant from whom we have the fragrant blossom, the word, God’s only begotten son, for in you, fertile soil was this word sown! Mary my tenderest love, in you is written the word, from whom we have the teaching of life. You are the tablet that sets this teaching before us.’

From her childhood St. Catherine had a tremendous love for our Blessed Lady. She daily attended compline in the Dominican church to hear the friars sing the Salve Regina every night as their last prayer and spent hours on Saturdays keeping the Virgin company at her Altar while listening to the Little Office of the Virgin recited by the Dominican Tertiaries.

We know that St. Dominic would spend whole nights at the altar of the Blessed Virgin, praying and invoking the queen of heaven for his friars and their preaching, as Mary brought the word in to the world, becoming a channel of grace. Every Dominican has to see himself as an image of Mary, every Dominican is to bring the word into the world, to give Christ our flesh, but especially our voices to preach him near and far to the ends of the earth. Before preaching Dominic always invoked the Blessed Mother, for she is the wind which carries the word to implant in our hearts, the preacher of grace must invoke she who brought grace into this world.

Naturally Catherine from her early childhood was saturated with the love the friars had for the Blessed Virgin, and this saturation of love for the Virgin would become a hall mark of her whole life, both in her writings and work.

Nearly every letter Catherine wrote or dictated begins, ‘In the name of sweet Jesus and his most sweet Mother.’  If Jesus was everything for Catherine, Mary took fittingly second place, for many times she refers to her Lord as Jesus son of sweet Mary, always joining the son to his most holy mother.

Catherine tells us in her dialogue that the Lord Jesus was the seed taking root in the field of Mary, and then she says, ‘Rejoice, O happy and sweet Mary, you have given us the flower of sweet Jesus. In another place Catherine tells her sisters how gracious God is to us, to have given us the sweetest fruit, which is Mary’s Immaculate Heart, a heart that loves us so much and how we show our love for her.

Catherine continually tells her Dominican sisters and brothers that like our father Dominic, we too must stay close to mother Mary for the strengthening of our faith and for consolation when things may go wrong, we should like the apostles at Pentecost always stay close to Mary, for she will teach us all things about her son. In another place she tells the prior of Siena, ‘In great tribulations dearest father, make your community of friars stay close to Mary who loves us without measure.’

To a prostitute Catherine would say, ‘Run to Mary for she is the mother of mercy and compassion, stay in her company and all will be well.’

The Lord Jesus called Catherine to live the first few years of her Dominican life in her own room, at home in her parent’s house. From here she would always council her family that she was spending this time in her little hermitage in the company of sweet Mary and her crucified son. Mary was teaching Catherine in these few years everything about her son’s life.

We can imagine Catherine pondering the life of the Lord through the eyes of Mary, seeing his life in the company of she who knew him best. It was like in many ways the Dominican rosary.

At the end of these enclosed years it was in a vision Catherine saw the Blessed Mother calling her over to her son. She held out Catherine’s hand and placed it in the hands of her son. The Lord Jesus we are told placed a ring on her wedding finger, while Mary held her arm, Mary gave Catherine to her son in marriage, Mary always leads to her son and never to herself.

These years in the hermitage of her little cell where to prepare Catherine to enter the world and set fire to it with her love of Jesus and his Church.

Mary was the signpost to the world for Catherine, now Catherine had to give Christ her hands and feet to enter the world, like Mary had formed Christ’s little hands and feet in her womb.

In this Jubilee Year of the Dominican Order, may St. Catherine lead us to an intimate life of prayer with Mary, in whom the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. From this intimacy, may the fire of God’s love renew the Order of Preachers under the mantle of the Virgin Mary.

In the words of Catherine who loved Mary so much, ‘O Mary, Mary! Temple of the Trinity, O Mary Bearer of the fire, Mary minister of mercy, Mary seed bed of the sacred fruit, draw us ever closer to your Son.’

Lay Dominican of the Irish Province.

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