The Virgin Mary
Every founder of a religious Congregation and Society propagated devotions to the Virgin Mary. This was clearly a sign that they were inspired by God. Like them, Blessed George Preca, was intensely and profoundly devout to the Mother of God.
Like all the saints, his devotion to the Virgin Mary was not superficial but sprang from an intense love. In fact Blessed George Preca had recourse to the main traditional devotions to the Virgin, which were in many instances practised in a superficial way and gave them their original meaning. As a Carmelite Tertiary, he felt himself bound to the scapular of the Lady of Mount Carmel. This zeal to the scapular emanated from the fact that when he was about four or five years old, on the feast of the Lady of Mount Carmel he was saved from nearly being drowned. He used to emphasize the words that the Virgin Mary said to Saint Simon Stock: 'Those who die wearing the scapular are saved from eternal damnation'. He wished that every Member, not only wore the scapular, but also encouraged others to wear it. In fact, in his sermons or talks he very often spoke of the scapular's importance.
Fr Preca also propagated devotion to the Miraculous Medal, that medal Our Lady gave to St Catherine Laboure. Fr Preca used to say, "Those who wear this medal are protected from bodily and spiritual evil". In fact he wished that the chapel at the Society's Headquarters be dedicated to this devotion. It is not by chance, that he was buried under its altar, and now, since May of this year, his body rests next to the same altar.
It is to be noted that Fr Preca was quite conscious that these devotions can be practised in a superficial way. He therefore emphasized that no one can sin having in mind that the Virgin will intercede for him. Such a behaviour, is absolutely an abuse and not a 'devotion'. Similar thoughts were expressed by St Louis Grignon de Montfort, who also wrote about seven different types of persons who, although venerate Mary, are not on the right path. St Louis clearly states that such persons are mistaken, for instead of loving Mary, they honour her in a false manner.
Another Marian devotion that our Founder treasured was the Holy Rosary. In order to encourage everyone to recite the rosary, he used to say: "Our Lady waits for our Rosary even up till midnight!". For him, the Rosary was not only a vocal prayer, but also a prayer of a meditative and contemplative nature. This can be seen clearly in his writing called The Mysteries of Light. A rapid glance at these mysteries will clearly show us that they do differ a lot form the ones we are used to. The first mystery is when Our Lord was baptized at the Jordan; the second consists in meditating the events of Christ's miracles; the third, when Jesus Christ taught the Beatitudes; The fourth about Our Lord's transfiguration; and the fifth is about the Last Supper.
Fr Preca loved the Rosary as a means of honouring the Virgin Mary to such an extent that he made it as a rule for every member of his society to recite five mysteries every day, and all the fifteen episodes on Marian feasts. He gave great importance to the meditative aspect of the Rosary as can be seen from what he wrote in his 'Spiritual Directory': 'Try to collect a set of holy pictures representing each mystery of the Rosary, and look at them while reciting it. In this way you will help your imagination to consider and contemplate this holy Rosary that Our Lady herself recommends so very much to the faithful of Jesus' (Directive No.604).
He devised four special programmes in honour of Our Lady so that the Members of the Society can be able to love her more in a genuine way. These programmes are that of the Annunciation (now the Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord), that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Assumption, and the one in honour of the Immaculate Conception.
Fr Preca taught us that emotional devotion to God, to the Virgin Mary and to the saints is not necessarily of a sound nature. He wrote in his Gymnasium for the Spiritual Life, Instruction No.96 "Emotional devotion is dangerous because it seeks conceit and satisfaction of one's will rather than that of God. Where feelings are concerned, human nature and the devil should not be trusted, because of deception".
In his days, many people used to nurture deep religious feelings. Although not condemning them, Fr Preca used to stress and teach the people about the true Marian devotion. For this end he wrote some books specifically on Mary. These are the Benedicta, the Lapidary, and the Aula Sanctae Matris Virginis. In his Spiritual Directory, he dedicated sixteen directives to the prayer of the Rosary. In this manner he wanted our devotion to Our Lady to be founded only on the teaching of the Church. This is expressed quite well in the resolution of Page Thirty-seven of The Great Book when he writes: "We resolve to study the teaching of the Church on Mary as 'Heaven's Gate', that we may increase our trust in her".
Blessed George Preca used to tell his listeners that although we are all unsure about our salvation yet if we are truly devoted to Mary, we may keep this as a sign of our salvation. So he writes: "If you truly honour our Lady you have a sign of predestination" (Page Thirty-seven of The Great Book). A similar thought is found in The Year of the Lord for 2nd February: "My child; foster in yourself a great confidence in the Mother of God, my mother, because her intercession is very powerful and God never denies her anything. A true and genuine devotion to her is a sign of predestination. She reigns with me as queen of heaven and earth and as mother."
Within the Church, Fr George used to call Mary "the Gate of Heaven". In page 37 of The Great Book, Blessed Preca writes: "She is the true Gate, and it was only through her that Christ wanted to enter into this world, because by means of her, He wanted to become flesh and consequently to die, rise from the dead and ascend into heaven." Hewrote also a prayer, which we still recite during The Cult for our God: "Oh Virgin Mary, Oh Gate of Heaven, Oh Mother of Mercies, you are the delight of God so pray for us: for we know that He that constituted you as his Mother never denies you anything".
His love of Mary stemmed from the theological fact that she was the person who through her 'Fiat' the human nature of Christ was formed in her womb. In The year of the Lord, for 25th August he teaches us clearly this truth: "As a true human being, I am created, predestined and substantially a true Son of God from the time of my conception in the pure womb of my Virgin Mary." To emphasize further this theme, in 1936 he commissioned Chev. Raphael Bonnici Cali to paint a Madonna with open hands and the words Verbum Dei Caro factum est, written on the chest and Terror Domonum (The terror of devils) on her head. In 1949 he asked Bonnici Cali for the second time to make another painting, this time with some minor changes. The artist did so, and Fr Preca was very pleased with the end result. Like all Catholic authors and theologians, Fr Preca's devotion to the Virgin Mary was complimentary and not contradictory to the genuine love for Jesus Christ.
The fertile imagination of Fr Preca makes him so original in the way he writes about Our Lady, and expresses his love for her. A case in point is two of his books. In the Benedicta Fr Preca imagines that the Archangel Gabriel is narrating truths and facts about her, and in The Lapidary he speaks of a number of marble stones with messages inscribed on them, with St John the Evangelist depicting and helping the readers as they tour each of the inscriptions.
St Francis de Sales writes in the Introduction to Devout Life that saints are rather to be admired than imitated. Yet as for us, being the spiritual children of Fr George, we must try to imitate him in his devotion to the Virgin Mary. We can also learn from him to be uninterested in material gains, lead a genuine life, and dedicate our lives solely to the Love of God. This we can achieve through the help of the Blessed Virgin.
Angelo Xuereb sdc
Qala - Gozo
Preca Calling - Issue 51 (November 2001)