The Sodality of Our Lady (also known as the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in Latin, Congregationes seu sodalitates B. Mariæ Virginis) is a Roman Catholic Marian Society founded in 1563 in the Roman College of the Society of Jesus. On December 5, 1584, Pope Gregory XIII issued the Papal Bull "Omnipotentis Dei" commending this Sodality, enriching it with indulgences and establishing it as the Prima Primaria, that is, a mother Sodality which can communicate to other Sodalities affiliated with it the privileges and indulgences possessed by itself.
Subsequent Popes increased the privileges of the Sodality. The most remarkable of the Pontifical favours is the Bull Gloriosae Dominae of Pope Benedict XIV known as the "Golden Bull" because, in token of special honour for the Mother of God, the seal was not made of lead, as was customary, but of gold. The Apostolic Constitution Bis Saeculari of Pope Pius XII summarized the historical and contemporary relevance of the sodality.
The growth of the Sodality was not confined to students of Jesuit Colleges. Others also were added who had never been Jesuit pupils at all, men from all vocations in life. Soon there were Sodalities of priests, of nobles, of merchants, of working-men, of clerks, of married men, of unmarried men, of soldiers, and so on, each confined to a particular class of people, and all affiliated to the Prima-Primaria Sodality in the Roman College.
The Sodality was especially linked to devotion to the icon of the Salus Populi Romani in Rome, of which the third Head of the order, Francesco Borgia was given permission by Pope Pius V to make copies.
Among the members, known as Sodalists, were learned men and writers like Corneille, Lipsius, Bollandus, James Joyce; there were painters like Rubens; there were preachers like Bossuet, Fénelon, Segnari, Bourdaloue; there were magistrates, generals and ministers of State, like Tilly, Turenne, Don Juan de Austria; there were counts and dukes and princes of the blood royal, like Emmanuel of Savoy, Emperor Leopold of Austria, Albrecht von Wallenstein; there were kings and emperors, Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and Popes. In the seventeenth century alone seven Popes belonged to the Sodality of Our Lady. In the twentieth century, Sodalist Popes have included Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII and John Paul II.
Apostolic Constitution Bis Saeculari
On September 27, 1948, to mark the 200th anniversary of the "Golden Bull" of Benedict XIV, Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution Bis Saeculari on the Sodalities of Our Lady. In Bis Saeculari, the Pope praises the Sodality for its "numerous and great services to the Church" and says of Sodalists "Indeed in propagating, spreading and defending Catholic doctrine they must be considered among the most powerful spiritual forces". Of the Rules of the Sodality he says "through them the members are perfectly lead to that perfection of spiritual life from which they can scale the heights of sanctity" and adds that "wherever Sodalities are in a flourishing condition - holiness of life and solid attachment to religion readily grow and flourish". He illustrates the point by adding that "the fact that they ever had the common good of the Church at heart and not some private interest is proved by the unimpeachable witness of that most brilliant series of Sodalists to whom Mother Church has decreed the supreme honours of the Altars; their glory throws lustre not merely on the Society of Jesus but on the secular clergy and on not a few religious families, since ten members of the Sodalities of Our Lady became founders of new Religious Orders and Congregations".
On its rolls are the names of many saints, amongst whom may be mentioned: Saint Charles Borromeo, the zealous reformer of Church Discipline; St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church; Saint Alphonsus Liguori, the Bishop, Moral Theologian, Doctor of the Church, Founder of the Redemptorists; St. Camillus de Lellis, the patron of Catholic hospitals; St. Leonard of Port Maurice, the Franciscan preacher; St. John Baptist de Rossi, the Vincent de Paul of Rome; St. Peter Claver, the apostle of slaves; the humble Jesuit Brother, St. Alphonsus Rodriguiez; Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart;Saint Julie Billart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur; Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes.
The Children of Mary
On May 1, 1835, St. Catherine Laboure told her Spiritual Director of a revelation she had received from the Blessed Virgin Mary during a series of apparitions she received in the Convent of the Rue du Bac, Paris, from 1830: "It is the Blessed Virgin's wish that you should found a Confraternity of the Children of MARY. She will give them many graces. The month of May will be kept with great splendour and MARY will bestow abundant blessings upon them."
These Children of Mary Sodalities first embraced the pupils and orphans of the schools and institutions of the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. In 1847, Blessed Pius IX affiliated them to the Jesuit Roman Sodality.
The Children of Mary organization flourished in the mid 20th century. Young women went through a period of aspirancy of six months prior to acceptance as a fully fledged child of Mary, who had the right to wear the distinctive blue cape and carry the blue off of a Child of Mary. When a Child of Mary married, she was embraced on arrival on the Church steps by other Children of Mary who removed the blue cape from over her Wedding gown. In retrospect this can be viewed as a metaphorical deflowering of the young virgin as she went to be joined with her husband in the arms of the Catholic faith.
Spirit and Aims
The Sodality is not a mere pious organisation. The first of its rules states that the Sodality: "is a religious body which aims at fostering in its members and ardent devotion, reverence, and filial love towards the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through this devotion, and with the protection of so good a Mother, it seeks to make the faithful gathered together under her name good Catholics, sincerely bent on sanctifying themselves, each in his state of life, and zealous, as for as their condition in life permits, to save and sanctify their neighbour and to defend the Church of Jesus Christ against the attacks of the wicked."
Until the advent of the Second Vatican Council, the "Sodality of Our Lady" or the "Children of Mary" as it was commonly known, was a well-known part of the life of Catholic Communities worldwide. Since then, its character has been viewed as old-fashioned and the number of active Sodalities has dwindled. The Sodalities of Our Lady are sometimes known as Marian Congregations, Congregaciones Marianas in Spanish and Congregações Marianas in Portuguese or Marianische Kongregations in German. Many Sodalities were transformed in Christian Life Community by the Jesuits, who redirected their Church policies after Vatican II towards social concern.
Among the more notable restorations of the Sodalities of Our Lady may be numbered the Marianische Frauencongregation or Ladies Sodality of Our Lady of Regensburg. HSH Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis is the re-founding Prefect.
- "Children of Mary". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03659d.htm.
- "Sodality". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14120a.htm.
- Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria, Miami, Florida, U.S.
- The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin and St. Patrick, Dublin, Ireland
- Mens Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, Altotting, Bavaria
- Ladies Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, Regensburg, Bavaria
- National Confederation of Sodalities, Brazil
- Sedes Sapientiae Sodality, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil