The Radiance of Her Face by Dom Xavier Perrin, Angelico Press, 93pp, £10
The original French title of this short but profound devotional book, first published in 2006, gives a clue to its nature: Regards sur l’Immaculée (“Gaze on the Immaculate Mary”). Xavier Perrin is a Benedictine monk of the Solesmes Congregation from Brittany. He is now Abbot of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. That small island two hours from London is an oasis of plainsong, since as well as Quarr you have the nuns of St Cecilia’s Abbey just up the road, also part of Solesmes, and famous for the beauty of their singing in Latin. That is the French monastic tradition which shaped Abbot Xavier.
His book opens with the image of the three panels of a triptych, the first the Annunciation, the second the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and in the third, central panel, “Mary Immaculate stands in all her majesty … ruling over the world, treading the serpent under foot, she sheds rays of heavenly graces.” This is a reminder of the image of Mary found in the Miraculous Medal that was struck after the Rue du Bac apparitions of 1830.
Abbot Xavier builds his argument, submitting to “prudent examination” the account of Mary’s birth in the apocryphal “Protogospel of James”, finding that it reveals “a strong affirmation of Mary’s special holiness from her very origin”.
He looks at the testimony of two “privileged witnesses”, Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, and Maximilian Kolbe, who insists in a slightly startling way on a complete and total identification with Mary. And he explores what the Gospel narratives, such as John’s account of the marriage at Cana, tell us about Mary’s role as intercessor: “When Mary sees our needs – or when we speak to her of them – she turns immediately to Jesus.”
Reading this book means plunging into industrial-strength Mariology. No wonder Dom Benedict Hardy of Pluscarden observes in his foreword: “There are some rather bold statements to be found here.” But as Pope Francis has said, “devotion to Mary is … a requirement of the Christian life”. So for those who struggle to relate to her, The Radiance of Her Face will repay careful study.
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