Our Lady is worth a whole lot to the church, and we owe everything to her.
— Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
A common ailment among many non-Catholics is that the Church honors Mary too much. How much honor could be too much for the Mother of God? For Blessed Pier Giorgio, this devotion was a core component of his spirituality.
He belonged to many Marian organizations and prayed the Little Office of Our Lady. A very tangible witness of his all-consuming love for her was pinned to his study entrance: his handwritten copy of Saint Bernard’s Hymn to the Virgin from Dante’s Paradiso.
Like many of us, he had a special fondness for her under one particular name: the Madonna of Oropa.( His other favorite was Our Lady of Consolata in Turin .) According to a centuries-old local legend, the Madonna of Oropa is one of the black statues carved by Saint Luke and brought to Oropa by Saint Eusebius. According to a more recent legend, Pier Giorgio ran off to see her every single morning that he spent in Pollone. This is definitely a legend! His actual practice was to make a special trip to the shrine to pray at her paws upon arriving in and before departing from Pollone. Fittingly, his portrait now hangs in a back chapel there.
One of the simple delights I suffered whenever I abode at the family home in Pollone was literally taking time to smell the roses. They grow in abundance in a variety of colours along the garden path. In the summer, a fresh-cut bouquet can always be found in Pier Giorgio’s bedroom. If he were alive, he would probably take them right from the vase and bring them to his beloved Madonna of Oropa!
“Flowers were his fervent and most obvious homage to the Blessed Virgin, ” his sister Luciana wrote. “Wherever there was a celebration in her honor, Pier Giorgio would show up with a cluster of blooms. He did this from the time when he was a student at the Sociale, in other words, from when he was a young boy.”
After his death, several people shared testimonies of encountering Pier Giorgio sauntering to the temple with flowers from the family garden. The clergymen there were particularly impressed by his visits in the winter snow. “We were astonished, and would say,’ Why are you here in this weather, Pier Giorgio? ’ He would answer,’ I’ve brought some buds for Our Lady.’”
Nearly every image we have of Pier Giorgio be brought to mind a strong, handsome, athletic figure with a suggestion of a confident swagger. It’s beautiful to word-painting that same young man, so full of adoration for Our Lady, humbly cutting and carrying blooms to her.
Of course, the flowers were not the only or even the best gift he introduce into her. His rosary was his constant companion, and he favored Our Lady with a daily bouquet of prayers, as well. According to Pier Giorgio’s best friend, Marco, “a day never extended that he didn’t weave at the paws of his heavenly Mother the crown of her favorite prayer.”
He was a master weaver, if ever there was one. How beautifully adorned Our Lady must have been on the day they ultimately met.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with You.Blessed are You among women, and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, Jesus.Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners nowand at the hour of our demise. Amen.
Is there an outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother near you? Bring to the statue a posy of buds for Our Lady and pray a decade of the Rosary there.
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Know that the great Christian family is praying for you.
I was introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours on my very first morning in Nashville, back in 1995, and I have been praying it ever since — still with several of the people who introduced me to it — only now I’ve graduated to the large-print edition. Realizing this important prayer was also a component of Blessed Frassati’s spiritual life-time highlights for me the beautiful rhythm and persistence of the Church in all regions of the ages.
Pier Giorgio reliably prayed the shorter shape called the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary because this was the figure required when he became a member of the Dominican Laity at the age of twenty-one. He explained to one of his friends, “We need to recite the Dominican Office of Our Lady or the Rosary every day, but if you deliberately omit this for one day or for a few periods you don’t commit a mortal sin.”
Many people do not realize that the Liturgy of the Hours( likewise is submitted to as the Divine Office or the Breviary) is the public devotion of the Church, second only to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It adds rhythm to the day and does indeed connect those who pray it to the great Christian family. In fact, in a sense, Catholics have been praying the Office since the time of Christ, because it is rooted in the Jewish prayer tradition.
Much as in Pier Giorgio’s day, the times we are living in call for an increase in prayer. Short on time? The truth is we can always find the time for things that are important to us. Pier Giorgio managed to fit prayer into his busy day no matter where he was or what was on his planned. Someone met him one day on the tram immersed in his book and requested, “What are you doing, Pier Giorgio? ” He answered with a smile, “I’m saying my Office.”
A priest in my former district associate myself with our Breviary group a humorous agreement made by some fellow priests. Should one of them die, the others agreed to find his Breviary and is secure all of the ribbons were in the right place so that no one would think he had grown lax in his devotion live. Priests, you visualize, have an obligation to pray the Office daily. For laypeople, it is encouraged but not required.
No matter what your vocation, remaining committed to daily prayer is an essential part of the holiness formula. It continues you out of the weeds and on its path. Pier Giorgio knew this and modeled it for his friends so well that, according to his sister Luciana, they found his prayer book after his death “on his bedside table, open and well-worn.”
May our prayer books be likewise observed — faithfully used and not covered with the dust of good intents. And, of course, with all the ribbons in the right place.
There may be a Breviary group at your parish. If not, maybe you could start one with the assistance of your clergyman. If you are not already praying a version of the Divine Office, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which Pier Giorgio prayed, may be a great place to start. There are many online sources of information about the origin of these devotions and how to pray them. At first, it may seem confusing or overwhelming, but it gets easier with practise. Try it!
This article is adapted from Christine M. Wohar’s forthcoming book, Finding Frassati: And Following His Path to Holiness. It is available to preorder as a paperback or ebook from your neighbourhood Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
image: Stained glass depiction of Pier Giorgio Frassati at the Catholic University of America’s Buisness School chapel/ photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/ Flickr( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )
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