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Our Lady of the Privileges - January 9

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
In the year 1224 a miraculous event took place in the Franciscan Monastery of Alenquer, Portugal. There was a novice of innocent soul who committed a slight fault and, for his penance, the Master of Novices told him not to leave the altar of Our Lady in the Chapter Hall until she had revealed to him the prayer she most liked.


The novice is commanded to pray without ceasing until Our Lady gives her answer

What caused the Master to give such a strange penance? Either he wanted to test the humility and obedience of the novice or, moved by some special grace, he was expecting some extraordinary fact.

The novice persevered all day, praying on his knees before the altar. As the night passed, he addressed Our Lady with heartfelt words and great affection, saying: "O Most Holy Virgin, Mother of Pity, I humbly beg Thee to manifest to this Thy servant what the Master commanded me by obedience to ask of Thee. Blessed Mother, I will not leave from this place without an answer."

O great marvel! Behold the Queen of the Angels, who, inclining forward from the altar where she stood, responded:

"Go, beloved son, and tell your Master that the hymn O Gloriosa Domina that the Church sings to me is, amongst all the prayers, the one that most pleases me. And to prove that what I say you is true, this, my Infant, who until now I held in my right arm, I now pass to my left arm. For this reason, you may go with confidence and give my response, for when all will see such an extraordinary marvel, they will believe what you say. So go, and invite the Master and the other religious to come visit me."

The novice, consoled by such a great favor, thanked Our Lady and then went to tell what had happened to the Master of Novices. The latter, accompanied by all the religious of the Monastery, went to the altar in the Chapter Hall. Seeing that miracle, they all believed the words Our Lady had told the novice about the prayer O Gloriosa Domina.


The gothic Monastery & Church of St. Francis in Alenquer were destroyed by an earthquake in 1755; barroque buildings replaced them, above

Thenceforth devotion to Our Lady grew a great deal even until this day. From that day forward the Infant remained in the left arm of Our Lady, giving testimony of the miracle, for the signs remained in the sculpture that before the Divine Child had rested in her right arm.

To commemorate this miracle, every Saturday after Compline and the ringing of the Great Bell, the entire Monastery goes in procession with lit candles to the Chapter. With solemnity and devotion they sing the hymn O Gloriosa Domina.

It seems that this was the origin of the great devotion St. Anthony had for this hymn. He would intone it in his grand difficulties, such as on the night when the Devil tried to drown him in revenge for the great success his preaching had produced in Italy. The Devil took flight when St. Anthony sang this hymn.

Comments of Dr. Plinio

This history is very beautiful if we imagine its details.

We can think of a good novice with an innocent and virile soul who presents himself to his Superior – in the times when there were good novices and good superiors in good religious orders. He bows before the Superior and says: "Father Master, I committed this fault." And conscious that any fault is grave in the eyes of those who truly understand reality, he asks for a punishment.


The monk asks Our Lady for the door to open to end an impossible situation

To test him, the Master of Novices gives him the described punishment: that he should not leave the statue of Our Lady until she tells him her preferred prayer. The novice leaves, a little embarrassed and disturbed by the nature of the punishment, having in his soul the question any creature would have.

Even if he liked to pray before the statue of Our Lady holding the Child, he could not imagine doing this until that statue of wood or stone would reveal what prayer She loves most. The sentence is tantamount to being condemned to pray for a long, long time.

He could think: "Well, I am condemned to pray perpetually, to a perpetual prayer that ends in an enormous temptation, because in our earthly condition perpetual praying is a torment."

He prays and prays… We can imagine the silence that gradually comes over the monastery as night falls; the habitual sounds fade away and the youth feels himself quite alone. Then, after everything becomes quiet, the noises of silence appear.

These are the noises that we do not hear during the day, the sounds that give us an idea of how alone we are: The noise of a furniture pops in far distance and makes the monk perceive that in all the intermediary spaces no one is doing anything; the night is so dense that far way noise can be heard…

Next, a dog barks blocks away and he hears it. He says: "Everyone is sleeping and I am here excluded from communion with men. I am here by myself, condemned to this solitude…"

He looks at the statue of stone or wood, and it is impassive. The hours go by, the Rosary beads roll through his fingers, his fatigue grows. Then, suddenly, it is a mouse that scampers by, then a moan of a sleeping monk tossing in his bed, and then again, silence… A silence that seems like physical layers of invisible syrup into which a man sinks as he goes deeper into sleep. The novice feels more like a man in a diving suit submerged in that silence than a man in normal conditions. Through a stained glass window filters a flickering moonlight ray… He prays and prays.


The statue inclines forward & begins to move the Divine Infant to her left arm

What is his state of spirit? Instead of becoming discouraged, the selection tells us that he is fervent in the prayer. Our Lady is giving him graces and he is animated. At a certain moment he feels an intense piety and devotion and makes a request to her: "I am here, bound by obedience; Thou knowest what obedience is; I cannot leave. So, I beg Thee: Open the doors so that I can return to the human community. Give me, O my Mother, the words of assistance and mercy that can free me, tell me what is the prayer that most pleases Thee."

He had prepared with long prayer to make this request. Finally, probably when he could bear it no longer, he makes his plea, knowing that it is the critical hour, the hour when there is no solution when a solution comes. Then, he presents his request.

We can imagine his surprise when Our Lady moves and leans toward him. She speaks to him and answers his question, saying: "My son, here is the sign." And lovingly she moves her Divine Infant to her other arm.

We can imagine how he felt under that loving gaze of Our Lady, how he felt penetrated by her gaze. There is no way to describe how that gaze would have been. Also the incomparable grace the novice received when he heard her voice. What could have been the timbre of her voice? Then, she tells him to go and transmit her answer to the Master of Novices.


The monks process to the Chapel singing the hymn

We can figure the next scene: He goes and communicates to the Master: "Father, Our Lady told me that the hymn she prefers is O Gloriosa Domina." The Superior asks: "But how do you know this?" And the novice says: "Our Lady appeared and told me, and so on…" The Superior: "Let us go there to her altar and see. Ring the bells."

At three in the morning the entire Monastery arises and processes to the Chapter Hall singing O Gloriosa Domina and finds the proof there: The Child is the other arm of Our Lady, leaving marks on the left arm of the sculpture indicating the place He had been before. The miracle was proved. We can figure with what devotion that hymn was sung that night in honor of the Lady of Glory. You see the thousand things Our Lady does for those who love her, above all, for those who pray to her.

I remember that when we used to go to meetings of the Third Order Carmelites in the Carmel Basilica the choir used to sing a canticle to Our Lady of Carmel whose refrain was: "O Mary, to the Carmelites give privileges." The correlation between devotion to Our Lady and the privileges she grants as a consequence seems to me a fundamental element of devotion to Our Lady and has always charmed me.

Privilege is a Latin word that comes from privata lex, private law, the law specifically for a person or for a group, and not for the rest.


Our Lady gave the Carmelite Order the scapular & the Sabbatine privilege

The Order of Carmel has the famous Carmelite privilege of the scapular with the Sabbatine promise: Whoever dies wearing the scapular has the guarantee that his soul will leave Purgatory on the Saturday following his death.

Our Lady as Mother does not treat her children according to general rules. She has general rules, it is obvious, but she knows how to open an exception and grant a privilege for her beloved children. Each child of Our Lady is privileged in some way. We should realize how we are privileged and how the privilege applies to each one of us.

In the case reported, Our Lady granted a privilege to that novice and, in the person of the novice, to the Monastery and to the entire Franciscan Order: She called all of them to sing that hymn in order to unite themselves more especially with her. It is for this reason she made that miracle.

We should have a notion of the privilege given to each one of us, a notion that can be, however, at times very confused in our minds. We can discern that privilege in this way: On some occasion of our life we received from Our Lady some grace that profoundly touched our soul. Then, years later, another grace came unexpectedly, then another. If we study the link among these graces, we see that they have a meaning; by understanding the meaning we understand the privilege. We begin to realize how in that particular point we do not follow the general rule.

In that point Our Lady had a pity on me that she did not have for anyone else. She gave me that grace which gave me a breath of fresh air, an encouragement that does not happen with others. Investigating that grace I find the privilege for me.

walled city

The medieval walled City of Alenquer

She does these favors for each one of us. It is why we can call her Our Lady of the Privileges.

With this I close, leaving an invitation to seek to know the privilege she conceded to each one of us.

Let us make the beautiful prayer of the Carmelites our own, asking Our Lady: "O Mary, to the counter-revolutionaries give privileges."

This is what we want: to be against egalitarianism even in the spiritual life, because a privilege in itself implies inequality. Our Lady of the legitimate and harmonic inequalities is Our Lady of the Privileges. Our Lady of the Privileges is Our Lady of the Counter-Revolution.


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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.