No one wants to be forgotten. The last thing you want to hear if you email someone or call them on the phone is, “Who are you again?” Especially not when you thought this was a friend or if you need help.
We all want to be remembered.
In this month of May, the church especially remembers Mary, the Mother of God. We remember her with May crownings, May altars and on the feast of the Visitation on May 31. (This year, May 31 is a Sunday.)
We remember Mary and she, in turn, remembers us.
This is especially clear to us in our prayer life, and with one particular prayer associated with several saints: the Memorare.
“Memorare” means “remember” in Latin, and it is the first word in this prayer which some people incorrectly attribute to St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The prayer we know today actually is a shorter version of a Latin prayer, from about three centuries after St. Bernard, called “Ad sanctitatis tuae pedes, dulcissima Virgo Maria,” (“At the feet of your holiness, O sweet Virgin Mary.”)
The more modern version begins, “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, … was left unaided.”
With this assurance of protection in mind, a 17th century French priest, Fr. Claude Bernard, popularized the Memorare. Known as “the poor priest,” Fr. Claude often said that he learned this prayer from his own father and that, when Fr. Claude was taken seriously ill as a young man, he had prayed it and was quickly healed. Dedicating his ministry to the poor, the ill and prisoners in Paris, Fr. Claude entrusted them all to Mary and taught them to pray the Memorare. At his own expense, the priest had 200,000 leaflets printed, in several languages, with the prayer on it and distributed them around Paris.
About a century later, Pope Pius IX helped make the prayer even more popular by attaching a partial indulgence for those who prayed it devoutly. According to canon law, “An indulgence is the remission, in the sight of God, of the temporal punishment due for sins, the guilt of which has already been forgiven” (n. 992)
There are partial and full indulgences, and understanding them can be confusing. Certain prayers or devotions traditionally have partial indulgences associated with them. At one time, these partial indulgences were indicated as a certain number of days’ release from purgatory. However, since purgatory is not a place nor does it exist in time, we need to think of a “release from purgatory” in terms of being freed from whatever purgation would have resulted from our transgressions. Pope Paul VI himself removed any “time equivalencies” from partial indulgences. It’s really sufficient to know that God looks graciously on those who offer such devotions and prayers, either for themselves or for the souls of the departed.
In the past century, the Memorare was tied with yet another person on the road to sainthood: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was fond of the Memorare and prayed it as “a novena:” a total of nine repeated devotions. This has come to be called Mother Teresa’s “express novena.”
Msgr. Leo Maasburg, a friend and spiritual advisor of Mother Teresa, later wrote that the diminutive Missionary of Calcutta also added a tenth Memorare to her novenas. He said she immediately offered the 10th prayer in gratitude for the favor which she completely trusted would be answered because of the novena.
Such trust is voiced in the prayer itself, when it says, “Never was it known” that this trust in God’s help through Mary’s request, would fail the person who prayed.
As Fr. Francis “Rocky” Hoffman noted in a book about the Memorare: “That is a promise of the highest order. It says that Mary is going to help us to find the peace and the protection that we seek and the graces that we need to serve Jesus.”
Mary never fails to remember us, just as we remember her in May, and throughout the year. Feel free to call whenever you need.
Sources: “Mother Teresa of Calcutta, A Personal Portrait”; Indulgentarium Doctrina at vatican.va; the 1983 Code of Canon Law; the “Catholic Encyclopedia”; catholicculture.org; the “Raccolta” at preces-latinae.org; “Familiar Prayers: Their Origin and History;” and “For Immediate Assistance, Pray the Memorare.”