St. Monica, Mothers, Manutergium and Father Michael


Today is the feastday of Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, whose tomb I meant to visit on my last trip to Rome, but got sidetracked, because I am an idiot. As the mother of two young men, I need her help!

Her feastday has Fr. Michael Duffy thinking about his mother and the mothers of priests and the manutergium:

In recent years many newly ordained have carefully set aside these purificators in a bag with their name on it so that they may retain this purificator and present it to their mother. The same word has been retained for the cloth (manutergium).

According to tradition the manutergium is placed around the hands of the mother of a priest as she lies in the coffin. When she arrives to the gates of heaven she is escorted directly to our Lord. Our Lord says to the woman – “I have given you life, what have you given to me?” She hands him the manutergium and responds, “I have given you my son as a priest.” At this Jesus grants her entry into paradise.

Noting that a man does not become a priest on his own, he adds:

I presented to my own mother the manutergium with which I wiped the Sacred Chrism from my hands during my ordination. Before that I grasped a pair of wooden rosary beads so that the oil would soak in. At my first Mass I presented those rosary beads to my only sister. To my father I presented the stole with which I heard my first confession.

Meanwhile, Brandon Vogt is posting a review of Restless Heart, a film about Augustine (and has posted a trailer) which includes this bit of dialogue between Saint Monica and Bishop (Saint) Ambrose:

Monica: “I should have been a better mother.”

Bishop Ambrose: “Is there a better mother than God? And yet how many of his children repudiate him! But don’t lose hope. If Augustine had been an easy child, God wouldn’t have given him a mother like yourself.”.

Is there a mother alive who does not say, “I should have been a better mother…”

From the Confessions of Saint Augustine:

And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead. We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth–for you are the Truth–what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man. We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.

That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said: “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?”

I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?”

We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”

I hope when I am on my deathbed, I have something like that to say to my sons, and not, you know, “I don’t like that show, see what’s on another channel…”

Saint Monica, pray for us mothers, and for all our children.

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About Elizabeth Scalia