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Mother of Mercy: Our Lady of Ostrabrama

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By Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC (Nov 16, 2018)
On the interior facade of the "Gate of the Dawn" in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania, there appears the inscription: MOTHER OF MERCY, WE FLY BACK TO YOUR PATRONAGE. This inscription is not only a prayerful invocation to her "who shines in the Gate of the Dawn" [words from a Polish epic poem], but a witness to over 300 years of veneration of the Virgin Mary as the "Mother of Mercy."

The shrine of the Mother of Mercy is a chapel built over the eastern gate that belonged to the ancient defensive walls of the city. It was around the year 1626 that the image of Mary which is presently venerated there replaced a previous one that was severely deteriorated by that time. Near the gate the Discalced Carmelites, custodians of the shrine, founded a new monastery. In a special register kept they recorded graces attributed to Mary's intercession. On the chapel's altar, above which hung the revered image, they celebrated Holy Masses; and to the people gathered below in the street leading to the gate they addressed their sermons. The Carmelites also introduced the custom of chanting the Litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the evenings.

The veneration of Our Lady of "Ausros Vartu" or "Ostrabrama" crossed the borders of Lithuania and Poland long ago. The honor of her "Who shines in the Gate of the Dawn" was carried far from their native land by exiles and emigrants. For their wanderings they took with them images of the Mother of Mercy, either printed on paper or embossed on tiny metal shields, which they wore suspended from a chain around their necks; and in their hearts they nurtured devotion toward her, and in fervent prayer begged "that she bring them back to the bosom of their native land."

True to her title of "Mother of Mercy," it was on the facade of this her shrine that fifty years ago [this article is from 1985] she let the faithful of this city set their eyes for the first time upon another image, that of her Divine Son, under the kindred title of "The Divine Mercy." From that very same place and city this image, too, found its way with exiles and emigrants of a more recent time to lands, homes, and churches on all this earthly globe's continents, bringing with it everywhere the timely and urgent message of His merciful concern for this world, and by means of it soliciting the world's trust in Him — the only guarantor of true peace for it.

Truly, Our Lady proved herself once again to be the Dawn that ushered in "The Morning Star from on High," who promises the reassuring light of day. She ushered in again "The Sun of Justice," the One Who in His justice, as God, is ever faithful to His promises, and who, therefore, can be trusted when He proclaims: "The greater the sinner, the greater right he has to My mercy; ... it is not the healthy who need a doctor; ... though your sins are ... red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

It was precisely for the solemn closing of the celebrations of the Holy Year of the Redemption at this shrine in 1935 that the image of Jesus, The Divine Mercy, was seen by St. Faustina. The "Secretary" and "Apostle" of His Mercy — to have "come alive" — and the rays depicted on it were seen by her as bursting forth from His merciful Heart and penetrating with their saving power the faithful gathered there to give thanks for the Redemption accomplished 1,900 years earlier.

May these life-giving and soul-comforting "rays of mercy" of the Divine Son of the Mother of Mercy who "shines in the Gate of the Dawn" never cease "to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death" but continue "to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Song of Zechariah).

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