Mary our Sweetness: She renders Death sweet to her faithful children.
by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer
He that is a friend loveth at all times; and a brother is proved in distress, says the Book of Proverbs (17.17). We can never know our friends and relatives in the time of prosperity; it is only in the time of adversity that we see them in their true colors. People of the world never abandon a friend as long as he is in prosperity; but should misfortunes overtake him, and more particularly should he be at the point of death, they immediately forsake him. Mary does not act thus with Her clients. In their afflictions, and more particularly in the sorrows of death, the greatest that can be endured in this world, this good Lady and Mother not only does not abandon Her faithful servants, but as, during our exile, She is our life, so also is She, at our last hour, our sweetness, by obtaining for us a calm and happy death. For from the day on which Mary had the privilege and sorrow of being present at the death of Jesus Her Son, Who was the Head of all the predestined, it became Her privilege to assist also at their deaths. And for this reason the Holy Church teaches us to beg this Most Blessed Virgin to assist us, especially at the moment of death: "Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae!" (Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.)
Great are the sufferings of the dying! They suffer from remorse of conscience on account of past sins, from fear of the approaching judgment, and from the uncertainty of their eternal salvation. Then it is that hell arms itself, and spares no effort to gain the soul which is on the point of entering eternity; for it knows that only a short time remains in which to gain it, and that if it then loses it, it has lost it forever. The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time (Apoc. 12.12). And for this reason: the enemy of our salvation, whose charge it was to tempt the soul during life, does not choose at death to be alone, but calls others to his assistance, according to the Prophet Isaias: Their houses shall be filled with serpents (13.21). And indeed they are so; for when a person is at the point of death, the whole place in which he is, is filled with devils, who all unite to make him loose his soul.
If at the hour of death we have only the protection of Mary, what need we fear from all our infernal enemies? How quickly do the rebellious spirits fly from the presence of this Queen! David, fearing the horrors of death, encouraged imself by placing his reliance on the death of the coming Redeemer and on the intercession of the Virgin Mother. For though, he says, I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death... Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me (Ps. 22.4). The staff signifies the Cross, and the rod is the intercession of Mary; for She is the rod foretold by the Prophet Isaias: And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root (11.1). "This Divine Mother," says St. Peter Damian, "is that powerful rod with which the violence of the infernal enemies is conquered." And therefore does St. Antoninus encourage us, saying, "If Mary is for us, who shall be against us?"
St. Bonaventure tells us that Mary sends without delay the prince of the heavenly court, St. Michael, with all the angels, to defend Her dying servants against the temptations of the devils, and to receive the souls of all who in a special manner and perseveringly have recommended themselves to Her. The Saint, addressing our Blessed Mother, says, "Michael, the leader and prince of the heavenly army, with all the administering spirits, obeys thy commands,O Virgin, and defends and receives the souls of the faithful who have particularly recommended themselves to Thee, O Lady, day and night."
The Prophet Isaias tells us that when a man is on the point of leaving the world, hell is opened and sends forth its most terrible demons, both to tempt the soul before it leaves the body, and also to accuse it when presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ for judgment. The Prophet says, Hell below was in uproar to meet thee at thy coming; it stirred up the giants for thee (14.9). But when the soul is defended by Mary, the devils dare not even accuse it, knowing that the Judge never condemned, and never will condemn, a soul protected by his august Mother. He asks, "Who would dare accuse one who is patronized by the Mother of Him Who is to judge?" Mary not only assists Her beloved servants at death and encourages them, but She Herself accompanies them to the tribunal seat of God.
As St. Jerome says, writing to the virgin Eustochia, "What a day of joy will that for thee, when Mary the Mother of Our Lord, accompanied by choirs of virgins, will go to meet thee." The Blessed Virgin assured St. Bridget of this; for, speaking of Her devout clients at the point of death, She said, "Then will I, their dear Lady and Mother, fly to them, that they may have consolation and refreshment." St. Vincent Ferrer says, that not only does the Most Blessed Virgin console and refresh them, but that "She receives the souls of the dying." This loving Queen takes them under Her mantle, and thus presents them to the Judge, Her Son, and most certainly obtains their salvation.
Ecclesiasticus says, that Her bands are a healthful binding, and that in the latter end thou shalt find rest in Her (6.31). We are indeed fortunate if at death we are bound with the sweet chains of the love of the Mother of God! These chains are chains of salvation; they are chains that will ensure our eternal salvation, and will make us enjoy in death that blessed peace which will be the beginning of our eternal peace and rest.
You, devout reader, will, without doubt, experience the same joy and contentment in death, if you can then remember that you have loved this good Mother, Who cannot be otherwise than faithful to Her children who have been faithful in serving and honoring Her, by their visits, Rosaries, Her Scapular, and fasts, and still more by frequently thanking and praising Her, and often recommending themselves to Her powerful protection. Nor will this consolation be withheld, even if you have been for a time a sinner, provided that, from this day, you are careful to live well, and to serve this most gracious and benign Lady and Mother. In your pains, and in the temptations to despair which the devil will send you, She will console you, and even come Herself to assist you in your last moments.