St Josemaria and Our Lady of Loreto – 10 December
Msgr Josemaria Escriva went to Loreto for the first time on January 3 and 4, 1948. But he considered himself especially indebted to Our Lady of Loreto for a very particular reason: she had heard his prayer in a time of acute need. The 1950s were years of great suffering for St Josemaria because of misunderstandings and conflicts. Amidst all these difficulties he decided to go to Loreto to place himself under our Lady’s protection. In her book Tiempo de Caminar, Ana Sastre tells the story of that visit:
“On August the fourteenth, 1951, Monsignor Escrivá decided to go to Loreto by car to be there on the fifteenth and consecrate Opus Dei to our Blessed Lady. The heat was stifling and they were very thirsty all the way. There was no motorway. The road followed the line of valleys, went steeply up the Apennine Mountains and finally plunged down towards the Adriatic coast.
According to a centuries-old tradition the Holy House of Nazareth has stood on the hill of Loreto since 1294, and a basilica was later built around it. The Holy House is rectangular in shape and its walls are about four and a half meters high. One of the walls is modern, but the others, which have no foundations and are blackened by the smoke of candles, are, according to tradition, the walls of the House at Nazareth. The structure of the Holy House and the materials of which it is built, bear no relation to those of local architecture in olden times but are exactly similar to houses built in Palestine twenty centuries ago: sandstone blocks with a limestone mortar. The shrine stands on a ridge covered in laurel-trees, from which comes the name ‘Loreto’.
St Josemaria’s party parked in the central square and he got out of the car quickly. For fifteen or twenty minutes he was lost to sight among the people filling the basilica. Finally he emerged, after praying to our Lady, smiling and in good spirits. It was seven-thirty in the evening and they had to go back to Ancona to spend the night.
The next morning, before the sun was high, they drove back to Loreto. In spite of the early hour, the shrine was already completely full. St Josemaria vested for Mass in the sacristy and came to the altar of the Holy House of Nazareth to say Mass. The small space was packed with people and the heat was stifling.
Under the votive lamps, he wanted to celebrate the sacred liturgy with all possible devotion. But he had not allowed for the fervour of the congregation on this feast day. He wrote later, “When I would kiss the altar in accordance with the rubrics, three or four local women would accompany me. It was distracting but certainly moving. I also noticed that above the altar in that holy house, which tradition says was the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, these words were written: ‘Here the Word was made flesh.’ Here, on a bit of the earth on which we live, in a house built by men, God dwelt” (Christ is Passing By, 12).
During the Mass, without a formula but in words filled with faith, St Josemaria consecrated Opus Dei to our Lady. Afterwards, speaking quietly to the people with him, he repeated it in the name of everyone in Opus Dei. “We consecrate to you our being and our life; everything that is ours: all that we love and all that we are. Our bodies, our hearts and our souls are for you; we are yours. And to make this consecration truly effective and lasting, today at your feet, O Mary, we renew the dedication that we made to God in Opus Dei. Inspire us with a deep love for the Church and the Pope and make us live in full submission to all their teachings.”
Invoking our Lady:
St Josemaria had been noticeably tired when he left Rome. But on the way back he seemed like a new man, as though all the obstacles in God’s path had crumbled into dust. Some weeks before he had suggested a new aspiration to his sons and daughters in Opus Dei, an invocation to the Mother of Jesus for them to repeat constantly: “Most sweet heart of Mary, prepare a safe way!” Our Lady’s loving smile always went ahead along the paths of Opus Dei. Once again, its founder had stepped forward in the parameters of faith. He used the human means but trusted in a decisive intervention from on high. “God is the same as always. It is men of faith that are needed: and then, there will be a renewal of the wonders we read of in the Gospel. Ecce non est abbreviata manus Domini, – God’s arm, his power, has not grown weaker!” (The Way, 586).
St Josemaria visited the Holy House of Nazareth on six further occasions: 7 November, 1953; 12 May 1955; 8 May 1960; 22 April 1969; 8 May 1969 and the last one on 22 April 1971. On 9 December 1973, he said, “I think that all the representations, all the names, all the invocations given by Christians to the Virgin Mary, are wonderful. But in Loreto I am especially indebted to our Lady.”