By Rachel Hoover
Rachel Hoover is a technical writer by day and a critic and essayist for several Catholic publications in the early evening. She holds a B.A. from Christendom College and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
The tract in the pre-1970 Mass of the Common of the Blessed Virgin begins: “Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, thou alone hast destroyed all heresies. Who didst believe the words of the Archangel Gabriel.”
Why is Our Lady the destroyer—or Exterminatrix—of all heresies? Because she believed the words of the Archangel Gabriel; her fiat of absolute faith in God is enough to overturn every heretical un-belief the rest of us can concoct. She allowed the quintessentially authoritative Word of God to inhabit her completely, body and soul, something no erroneous word could ever withstand.
Intellectually, it is a lovely idea, but does our experience bear this out? Yes. Throughout history, Our Lady has been a stumbling block to heretics and a nurturing mother to the truth.
In the fifth century, Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, preached against the Marian title Theotokos—God-bearer—preferring to call her Christokos, the Mother of Christ. He reasoned that it was impossible that a human mother could conceive and give birth to the Divine Nature and that Our Lady instead conceived and gave birth only to the human nature of Christ. The Council of Ephesus responded with twelve anathemas reaffirming the hypostatic union of the two natures of the one Person, Jesus Christ. But the very first anathema read: “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God, for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh, let him be anathema.”
In the 1200s, the Cathar (or Albigensian) heresy smote Christendom. The Albigensians considered the body and the material world to be evil, which naturally led them to believe that the holy God could not have become flesh and been born of a woman. But two devotees of Our Lady’s Rosary, St. Dominic and Simon de Montfort, would conquer this heresy with her help.
St. Dominic preached the true faith and converted many souls, interspersing his preaching with repetitions of the Hail Mary: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” God became flesh, the fruit of a virgin’s womb, without tainting Himself in any way. Simon de Montfort, according to St. Louis de Montfort, fought a literal war against the Albigensian forces, but he received miraculous aid and victories through Our Lady’s intercession because of his daily Rosary.
And who can forget the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Our Lady of the Rosary brought Christian Europe a great victory over the Muslim forces? Islam is typically considered a separate religion now; but at its inception, it was often seen as a Christian heresy (notably by St. John Damascene). It seems Our Lady may think the same; at least, she exterminated those particular heretics at Lepanto.
Lastly, I’ll share an example from personal experience. Once, when I was in conversation with my Protestant grandmother about our different beliefs, she said something like, “Maybe I won’t always stay Protestant, or maybe you won’t always stay Catholic.” The second clause shook me. I could not voice a reply because my feelings were torn between horror at the idea that I could abandon my Lord’s true Church—knowing myself to be sinful, I know that I could—and an urge to laugh at how irrational such a change of religions would be. Ceasing to be Catholic would mean giving up so much and receiving no replacement.
There is the certainty of apostolic succession. There is the yearly liturgical cycle, with all its beauty and variety. There is the sense of being immediately at home in the most impressive basilicas all over the world. There is, of course, the True Presence and the astonishing gift of being able to receive that Presence into myself…every day, if I choose! (Lord, Moses was afraid to see Your Majesty, knowing he would die, and yet I am permitted to chew and swallow You, then walk away alive?)
But more than all these things, what came to mind that particular day was Our Lady. I have done the total consecration, I have prayed the Rosary nearly every day for years, and as a child, I even “played Mary,” wrapping myself in flowing blue cloth from the dress-up bin and gazing piously at a window to depict the Annunciation. And every day that passes, I realize how little I really appreciate this Mother. Yet, if I were to become a Protestant, what would happen?
Suppose I read a few more Scripture verses or witnessed another hideous scandal in the upper ranks of the clergy and decided, “I cannot be a Catholic anymore.” Suppose I joined my grandmother’s non-denominational-but-sort-of-Presbyterian “church.” Suppose I formally renounced Catholicism. (How does one even do that? Is it similar to how Michael Scott from The Office declares bankruptcy?) I suppose, then, I would have to say goodbye to my habitual Marian devotions.
I am tempted to laugh again as I picture myself clearing my spiritual throat, as it were, and saying something like this: “Dear Mother, I have realized it is wrong to talk to you. No one ever talked to you in the Bible, I guess, so I better stop. This is the last time. But don’t worry; I’ll always love your Son, Jesus. Sincerely, Rachel.”
How dreadfully awkward! It can’t be done. And this is why she is the Exterminatrix of All Heresies. It is possible for a Catholic who has rattled some beads once in a while to fall away from the Church, but it is not possible for someone who actually talks to Our Lady to renounce Catholicism in favor of any typical heresy.
St. Louis de Montfort wrote in True Devotion to Mary that “the heretic and the reprobate have nothing but contempt and indifference for our Blessed Lady.” He does not specify the heretic’s heresy; it seems to be a universal disease of them all. One cannot love her without desiring chastity, humility, perseverance, and complete faith. One cannot talk to her without learning to say, “Fiat; Thy Will be done.”
We live in a time of heresy. Modernism, which St. Pius X called the “synthesis of all heresies,” has afflicted the Church to some degree for over a century. Prominent Catholics routinely and openly deny basic moral teachings of the Church. Islam is on the rise. Communism is on the rise. And my dear grandmother, bless her, is still a Protestant. But Our Lady came to visit us at Fatima in 1917 and told us, once again, to pray the Rosary. Will we listen to her? Will we call the Exterminatrix?