From the beginning of our SSPX Japan mission, we recite some thanksgiving prayers with all faithful present together after each Mass, following the customs and the usage. One of the prayers we make is "prayer to Mary, Morning Star, for the conversion of Japan".
Recently, Mr. Alphonsus Maria Nunobe, coordinator of Tokyo, found the very interesting story about the genesis of this prayer: how it was written and how it became to be first indulgenced by Pope St Pius X himself! The following is an English translation from a section of a book titled "Los Marianistas en el resurgir del Japón (1888-1931)", written originally in Spanish by José María Salaverri, SM, and published in Madrid in 2016.
Looking for aid
The project of an Apostolic School in Japan was taken with great enthusiasm not only by all the Marianists of the world, but transcended outside the Marianist environments ... We had to raise funds to start it. It was necessary to beg, because the resources of the Society [of Marianists], expelled from France, were minimal. L'Apôtre de Marie magazine, echo of the works and missions of the Society, started a campaign, month after month. Talks with slides on the evangelization of Japan were given everywhere. The theme reached the heart of the faithful. The project was made known to the Vatican Congregation of Propaganda fide, in charge of the Catholic missions, which also contributed. Pope Pius X himself, through an extensive letter addressed to the Superior General and signed by Cardinal Merry del Val, expressed his support, his joy and his blessing. It started like this:
It is a joy for me to inform you of your Reverend Father, the high and particular satisfaction with which the Supreme Pontiff welcomed the news of the founding of an Apostolic School near the city of Urakami in the Empire of Japan ... etc ., etc ... Rome, April 30, 1907.
It will not be the last time that Saint Pius X expresses his interest in the evangelization of Japan. When Fr. Emilio Heck, taking a sabbatical year, is dedicated to touring Marianist or ex-Marianist places in Europe, giving talks to collect funds, Pius X will receive him in a private audience, being very interested in the evangelization of Japan and will give him in hand a sum of his own money.
The aid campaign, in addition to enthusiasm, gave rise to very varied initiatives. The director of the College of St. Mary of Rome, Fr. Ernesto Maurice, fascinated by the name Star of the Morning given to Mary at the school in Tokyo, wrote a prayer to the Virgin for the conversion of Japan.
"O Mary, bright Star of the Morning, who didst already, appearing for the first time on the earth, herald the coming rise of the Sun of Justice and Truth, deign to shine with sweetness in the eyes of the citizens of the Japanese Empire, so that soon, once the darkness of the spirit has been dispelled, they may dutifully recognize the splendor of the eternal Light, Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Lord. Amen."
It occurred to Father Maurice to present it to Pius X. He liked it so much, that a decree of the so-called Holy Office approved it as a prayer to ask for the conversion of Japan and granted it indulgences. Its Latin version appeared in Acta Apostolicae Sedis of August 1909. Its great diffusion made for many the title Morning Star equivalent to Our Lady of Japan.
Impossible to relate so many aid initiatives. In Belgium, Cardinal Mercier headed the donations and even the ambassador of Japan contributed to Brussels ...
Thus we know that the prayer was written by Fr. Ernesto Maurice, then director of L'Istituto Santa Maria in Rome, sometime between 1907 and 1909.
It is very likely that his original prayer was French, given that most, if not all, of the Marianist fathers in Europe at that time would have made the presentations and appeals for their Japan mission in French and Fr Maurice was Marianist himself (his name appears in the history of the Marianists).
The prayer was indeed first indulgenced by Pope St Pius X himself, because he liked the prayer so much! The prayer was given partial indulgence of 300 days. For plenary indulgence, the usual requirements and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father apply, though it has to be prayed for the duration of one month.
Through this we can know the strong affection of Pope St Pius X with this prayer and his fervent support of the Japan mission.
We found the prayer in French at page 290 of a book titled "Propos japonais", written by R. P. Urbain-Marie, O. F. M., Missionnaire Apostolique du Japon, and published in Quebec in 1922 (available at: <https://www.forgottenbooks.com/download_pdf/Propos_Japonais_1200064166.pdf>). It goes like this:
0 Marie, brillante Etoile du matin, qui déjà, en apparaissant pour la première fois à la terre, avez annoncé le prochain lever du Soleil de justice et de vérité, daignez luire avec suavité aux yeux des citoyens de l'Empire Japonais, afin que bientôt, les erreurs des esprits étant dissipées, ils reconnaissent avec fidélité l'Eclat de la lumière éternelle, votre fils Notre Seigneur Jésus—Christ. Ainsi soit—il.
We have also found the official Latin version online in a book titled "Les mission de Chine et du Japon. Troisième Année.", written by J.-M. Planchet, Missionnaire Lazariste, and published in Peking in 1919 (available at: <imageserver.library.yale.edu/digcoll:243119/500.pdf>):
O Maria, fulgida Stella matutina, quae jam primum terris apparens, proximum Solis justitiae et veritatis ortum significasti ; imperii Japonensis civibus suavitei illuscere dignare, ut mox, discussis mentium tenebris, Lucis aeternae candorem, Filium tuum Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum fideliter agnoscant. Amen.
Indulgence de 300 jours chaque fois (Pie X, 8 Juil. 1909) et indulgence plénière pour ceux qui l’ayant récitée pendant un mois, se confesseront, communieront et prieront aux intentions du Souverain Pontife. (Acta Apostolicae Sedis. 1918. p. 153 ).
By the way, there is also an indulgenced prayer for the conversion of China and Mongolia in the same book of Fr. Planchet, just before the above prayer for Japan. The readers may want to use it to pray for China:
Pour la Chine. Oratio.
Domine Jesu Christe, unice Salvator universi generis humani. qui « jam dominaris a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos orbis terrarum », aperi propitius sacratissimum Cor tuum etiam miserrimis imperii Sinensis necnon Mongoliæ incolis, qui adhuc in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent, ut, intercedente piissima Virgine Maria, matre tua immaculata, et Sancto Francisco Xaverio, relictis idolis, coram te procidant, et Ecclesiæ tuæ sanctæ aggregentur. Qui vivis et regnas in sæculorum. Amen.
Pater, Ave et Gloria.
Indulgence de 300 jours ( Pie X , le 27 mai 1909 ).
Our translation: Lord Jesus Christ, only Saviour of whole human race, who "shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth", favorably open Thy most Sacred Heart even to the most poor inhabitants of Chinese and Mongolian Empire, who are sitting still in the darkness and in the shadow of death, so that through the intercession of most affectionate Virgin Mary, Thy immaculate mother, and of Saint Francis Xavier, leaving their idols, they would kneel down in front of Thee, and that they would be added to Thy holy Church. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.
We found this prayer mentioned in a 1943 report of the M.E.P. (available at: <http://archives.mepasie.org/fr/annales/la-c-glise-catholique-au-japon>):
(...) since several years, an invocation to the Sacred Heart and a prayer to Mary, Morning Star, enriched with indulgences by Benedict XV on 18th January, 1918, are recited more and more in many dioceses, especially in France, for the conversion of Japan.
(...) depuis quelques années, une invocation au Sacré Coeur et une prière à Marie, Etoile du matin, enrichies d'indulgences par Benoît XV le 18 janvier 1918, sont récitées de plus en plus dans beaucoup de diocèses, surtout en France, pour la conversion du Japon.
Now that we know this prayer was first composed, most likely, in the French language, I can appreciate more clearly its poetic excellence in the original French language and how it may have helped impress St Pius X:
- "brillante", because this morning star is really bright (= Mary is the powerful morning star)
- "apparaissant pour la première fois à la terre", because the morning star must appear first to start shining before the Sun rises (= Mary appearing first on this earth before Jesus is to show his presence)
- "avez annoncé le prochain lever du Soleil", because the morning star announces the imminent rise of the Sun (= Mary announcing the imminent rise of Jesus Christ)
- "daignez luire avec suavité", because the light of the morning star is not strong but gentle (= Mary's light is sweet)
- "ils reconnaissnet ... l'Eclat de la lumière éternelle", because, when the darkness is dissipated, the people will then recognize the shining light of the Sun (= when the darkness is dissipated from the spirit of the people, they will then see the splendor of the Eternal Light, Jesus Christ)
The English version of the prayer was found in a pamphlet titled "Apostleship of Prayer", which seems to have been published in Ireland in 1910, just after the Pope St Pius X granted an indulgence to this prayer for the conversion of Japan the previous year:
O Mary, bright star of the morning, who, coming forth, didst first herald to the Nations the speedy rising of the Sun of justice and truth, vouchsafe to shed thy rays benignly on the inhabitants of the Empire of Japan, that the darkness of their minds being presently dissipated they may dutifully recognize the Splendour of the Eternal Light, thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Even though this English translation is not strictly literal, it does convey the meaning of the original, using old-fashioned words, and it must have been really used, at least in Ireland, at that time.
We have also checked the Japanese prayer in a still older prayerbook "公教會聖歌集祈祷文 札幌教區長ヴェンゼスラウス、キノルド認可" (1920).
An Italian artist, Luisa Mussini Franchi, painted an icone on the subject of this prayer. For the realisation of this image, a great contribution was given by Rear Admiral Stephen Shinjiro Yamamoto (1877-1942) of the Imperial Japanese Navy, one of the most influential Catholic laymen in pre-war Japan.