Our Lady is worth a whole lot to the church, and we owe everything to her.— Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
A common complaint among many non-Catholics is that the Church honors Mary too much. How much honor could be too much for the Mother of God? For Blessed Pier Giorgio, this devotion was a core component of his spirituality.
He belonged to many Marian organizations and prayed the Little Office of Our Lady. A very tangible witness of his all-consuming love for her was pinned to his study door: his handwritten copy of Saint Bernard’s Hymn to the Virgin from Dante’s Paradiso.
Like many of us, he had a special fondness for her under one particular title: the Madonna of Oropa. (His other favorite was Our Lady of Consolata in Turin.) According to a centuries-old local legend, the Madonna of Oropa is one of the black statues carved by Saint Luke and brought to Oropa by Saint Eusebius. According to a more recent legend, Pier Giorgio ran off to see her every single morning that he spent in Pollone. This is definitely a legend! His actual practice was to make a special trip to the shrine to pray at her feet upon arriving in and before departing from Pollone. Fittingly, his portrait now hangs in a side chapel there.
One of the simple joys I experienced whenever I stayed at the family home in Pollone was literally taking time to smell the roses. They grow in abundance in a variety of colors along the garden path. In the summer, a fresh-cut bouquet can always be found in Pier Giorgio’s bedroom. If he were alive, he would probably take them right from the vase and bring them to his beloved Madonna of Oropa!
“Flowers were his fervent and most obvious homage to the Blessed Virgin,” his sister Luciana wrote. “Wherever there was a celebration in her honor, Pier Giorgio would show up with a bunch of flowers. He did this from the time when he was a student at the Sociale, in other words, from when he was a young boy.”
After his death, several people shared testimonies of seeing Pier Giorgio walking to the shrine with flowers from the family garden. The priests there were particularly impressed by his visits in the winter snow. “We were amazed, and would say, ‘Why are you here in this weather, Pier Giorgio?’ He would answer, ‘I’ve brought some flowers for Our Lady.’”
Nearly every image we have of Pier Giorgio brings to mind a strong, handsome, athletic figure with a hint of a confident swagger. It’s beautiful to picture that same young man, so full of love for Our Lady, humbly cutting and carrying flowers to her.
Of course, the flowers were not the only or even the best gift he brought to her. His rosary was his constant companion, and he favored Our Lady with a daily bouquet of prayers, as well. According to Pier Giorgio’s best friend, Marco, “a day never passed that he didn’t weave at the feet of his heavenly Mother the crown of her favorite prayer.”
He was a master weaver, if ever there was one. How beautifully adorned Our Lady must have been on the day they finally met.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with You.
Blessed are You among women,
and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Is there an outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother near you? Bring to the statue a bouquet of flowers for Our Lady and pray a decade of the Rosary there.
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Know that the great Christian family is praying for you.
I was introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours on my very first morning in Nashville, back in 1995, and I have been praying it ever since — still with several of the people who introduced me to it — only now I’ve graduated to the large-print edition. Realizing this important prayer was also a component of Blessed Frassati’s spiritual life highlights for me the beautiful rhythm and continuity of the Church throughout the ages.
Pier Giorgio faithfully prayed the shorter form called the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary because this was the form required when he became a member of the Dominican Laity at the age of twenty-one. He explained to one of his friends, “We need to recite the Dominican Office of Our Lady or the Rosary every day, but if you deliberately omit this for one day or for a few days you don’t commit a mortal sin.”
Many people do not realize that the Liturgy of the Hours (also referred to as the Divine Office or the Breviary) is the public prayer of the Church, second only to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It adds rhythm to the day and does indeed connect those who pray it to the great Christian family. In fact, in a sense, Catholics have been praying the Office since the time of Christ, because it is rooted in the Jewish prayer tradition.
Much as in Pier Giorgio’s day, the times we are living in call for an increase in prayer. Short on time? The truth is we can always find the time for things that are important to us. Pier Giorgio managed to fit prayer into his busy day no matter where he was or what was on his schedule. Someone saw him one day on the tram immersed in his book and asked, “What are you doing, Pier Giorgio?” He answered with a smile, “I’m saying my Office.”
A priest in my former parish shared with our Breviary group a humorous pact made by some fellow priests. Should one of them die, the others agreed to find his Breviary and be sure all of the ribbons were in the right place so that no one would think he had grown lax in his prayer life. Priests, you see, have an obligation to pray the Office daily. For laypeople, it is encouraged but not required.
No matter what your vocation, staying committed to daily prayer is an essential part of the holiness formula. It keeps you out of the weeds and on the right path. Pier Giorgio knew this and modeled it for his friends so well that, according to his sister Luciana, they found his prayer book after his death “on his bedside table, open and well-worn.”
May our prayer books be likewise found — faithfully used and not covered with the dust of good intentions. And, of course, with all the ribbons in the right place.
There may be a Breviary group at your parish. If not, maybe you could start one with the help of your pastor. If you are not already praying a version of the Divine Office, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which Pier Giorgio prayed, may be a great place to start. There are many online sources of information about the origin of these prayers and how to pray them. At first, it may seem confusing or overwhelming, but it gets easier with practice. Try it!
This article is adapted from Christine M. Wohar’s forthcoming book, Finding Frassati: And Following His Path to Holiness. It is available to preorder as a paperback or ebook from your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
image: Stained glass depiction of Pier Giorgio Frassati at the Catholic University of America’s Buisness School chapel / photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)