|Devotion to Our Lady||
Mother of the Savior
The new creation spoken of in the preceding title is at the same time a salvation. The ruin of the first creation was such that man, left to himself, could never have repaired it. Therefore the Son of God “came down from heaven for us and our salvation” (Nicean Creed). St. Joseph is directed by an angel to call His name Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And the reason for the great joy announced by the angel at the birth of Jesus is that a Savior has been born. The salvation brought to us by Jesus is deliverance from slavery, reconciliation with God, restoration of what had been lost. Mary, the Mother of the Savior, cannot be separated from this salvation; she has given us the Savior and she has co-operated with Him in a manner that merited for us congruously what Jesus merited condignly (Pope St. Pius X, Denzinger 3034).
Deliverance From Slavery
“Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). But sin being the will of Satan, the sinner becomes by it Satan's slave. What a degrading slavery it was! St. Paul thus describes it: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, factions, parties, murders, drunkenness, carousings, and such like” (Galatians 5:19).
It was the realization of this misery and helplessness that called forth the burning desire and the ardent prayers for the coming, of the Savior, that we find in the Old Testament and that are still echoed in the advent liturgy of the Church, especially in the great antiphons, “Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us — come, and bring forth from the prison house the captive that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death come, and deliver man, whom Thou didst form out of the dust of the earth — come to save us, O Lord our God.”
Against such a background how wonderful is the love of God, of which holy Church sings in the Exultet, “O wondrous condescension of Thy kindness toward us, O tenderness of love beyond understanding, that to ransom a slave Thou didst give up the Son.” Must we not apply the same words to the Mother of the Savior?
What good would it have done us to be free from slavery, if we had remained excluded from the friendship of God? The fullness of redemption's blessing consists in this that we were reconciled with God, again adopted as His children and made heirs of heaven. “Christ, the Innocent, reconciled sinners with the Father” (Easter Sequence). And so, “we have received a spirit of adoption of sons, by virtue of which we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. But if we are sons, we are heirs also, heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15). Truly, where sin has abounded, grace has abounded more. The blessings of redemption far surpass the gifts enjoyed by our first parents in Paradise.
The Savior's Mother
The tide, Mother of the Savior, is a title of sublime honor, and Mary paid for it as far as human labor and pain, humble, generous, self-effacing love can do so. The trials and heart-rending sorrows of her life came to her precisely because she was the Mother of the Savior. She would not have known the poverty of Bethlehem, the fear and anxiety of her flight into Egypt, she would not have experienced the tortures of spiritual martyrdom at the sight of the cruel sufferings of Jesus and the pain and disgrace of His death, had she not been His Mother.
As it is, her sorrows increase from day to day until they become a veritable avalanche rolling down upon her from the cross of her dying Son. “Holy Mary, Queen of heaven and Mistress of the world, overwhelmed with grief, stood by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. O all you that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow” (Tract, Feast of Seven Sorrows).
But co-operating with Jesus in our redemption, she also acquired a certain part ownership in its blessings. Therefore all graces and blessings of redemption reach us through her hands; she is the Mediatrix of all graces: “Our salvation is in thy hands; merely turn thy eyes to us and we shall serve the King, our Lord, with gladness” (Feast of Mediatrix of All Graces).
As long as we live here below we must co-operate with the Savior and His Mother, working out our salvation with fear and trembling. But we must likewise co-operate in the salvation of others after the example of our heavenly Mother, who “has not spared her life by reason of the distress and tribulation of her people, but has prevented our ruin in the presence of God” (Feast of the Assumption).
The price paid by the Savior and His Mother for the salvation of souls, as well as the abundance of redemption's blessings which we have received, should arouse us to an ardent missionary zeal. But as we thus work for the salvation of others, we ever more firmly secure our own salvation, for, “My brethren, if any one of you strays from the truth, and someone brings him back, he ought to know that he who causes a sinner to be brought back from his misguided way, will save his own soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19 ff.).
Mother of the Savior, help us to save our own souls and the souls of others!
“Then the Creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and He that made me rested in my tabernacle, and He said to me: ... Take root in My elect. From the beginning, and before the world was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling-place I minister before Him ... I made that in the heavens there should rise light that never faileth ... and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord” (Ecclesiasticus 24:12-14) ... “I made that in the heavens there should rise light that never faileth” (Ecclesiasticus 24:6).
The Humility of the Creator
Mary was the Mother of Jesus―“there stood by the Cross of Jesus, Mary, His Mother” (John 19:25)―and He was the Light of the world, of whom St. John says: “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” (John 1:10).
Wondrous thought, that the creature (Mary) should be the mother of the Creator (Jesus), yet so it is. “God saw that all His works were good, but a mother was a thing so good, so beautiful, that He would fain have one of His own.” Dante expresses this truth in his own inimitable way in the lines beginning Vergine Madre, Figlia del tuo Figlio:
Oh, Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
Created beings all in lowliness
Surpassing, as in height above them all;
Term by the eternal Council pre-ordained;
Ennobler of thy nature, so advanced,
In that its great Creator did not scorn
To make himself his own Creation.
No, God did not disdain to depend on His creature for the human body He deigned to assume, and it is of this fact that we remind Him daily in the first verse of the “Memento rerum Conditor”. He loves to be reminded of it, for He loves His holy Mother with a love as far exceeding that of other children for theirs as His heart surpasses theirs in magnitude, and in consequent capacity for love.
The Creature and the Creator
And Mary, what of her thoughts and feelings when she realized that He who made her rested in her tabernacle? Her hidden, silent, prayerful life is explained by this mystery. Why should she wish to converse with creatures when she was ever listening for the gentle voice of her Creator, who had taken up His abode with her? Why should she desire to be seen by men who was living in the sight of the whole court of Heaven? Nor did she crave to do work that would show, for she had grasped the truth that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”
She was ever employed in secret communion with Him, her Lord and Creator, praising Him, invoking blessings on others, thanking Him for His choice of her, and realizing that she had been in His mind from all eternity, for there is no past and present with Him, and thus she could truly say the words put in her mouth by holy Church:
“The Lord possessed me in the beginnings of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity and of old, before the Earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived; neither had the fountains of water as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth; He had not yet made the Earth nor the rivers, nor the poles of the Earth. When He prepared the heavens I was there; when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the depths; when He established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters; when He compassed the sea with its bounds and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits; when He balanced the foundations of the Earth, I was with Him, forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world, and my delight is to be with the children of men.”
How lovingly God would make the places which were to be the earthly sojourn of His spotless Mother, whence such perfect praise would rise up to Him. When He prepared the heavens she was present. He had before Him those eyes that would penetrate further into their depths than any others, and whose beauties would be to her a never-ending source of admiration and praise of their Maker.
He pictured her on the hills round Nazareth, where she would play as a child, the mountains of Judea over which she would pass when hastening on her visit of charity to her holy cousin, St. Elizabeth, bearing with her the light of the world, who was later to be the Sun of the heavens. “And the Lamb is the lamp thereof.” So she was in God, and God was in her, and so will they be ever united through the endless ages of eternity. May we not adapt to her St. Francis of Assisi’s verses on divine Love, and say:
Fire nor sword can part in twain,
Nor can dissolve so close a tie;
Sorrow nor death can e’er attain
The soul that has been raised so high;
And from that height she sees how vain
All earthly things beneath her lie.
Fair maid, how hast thou soared
Unto so high an aim?
From Christ the favor came.
Embrace thy sweetest Lord.
The Two Creations
In this title, the work of Christ is implicitly referred to as a creation. We speak of two creations: the first is recorded in the Book of Genesis, the second in the Gospel. The Creator in both is the same; the Son of the Blessed Virgin. Mary’s divine motherhood brings her into closest relation to the second creation.
There is a profound, mysterious analogy between the mutual relations of the divine Persons and creation. Though creation is common to all divine Persons, we attribute some phases in it rather to one Person than to Another. Let us recall that the Son proceeds from the Father as His Word, “the brightness of His glory and the image of His substance” (Hebrews 1:3). In this image the Father beholds the infinite perfection of the divine nature; also Its infinite imitability through creation. Out of the infinite number of possible worlds which He could create, He chooses one which at the appointed moment is to become a reality. Thus the “Image of His substance” becomes the pattern; the “Word,” the eternal creative fiat for all things created. “All things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been made” (John 1:3). To the Holy Spirit we attribute the carrying out of the divine plan, culminating in the creation of man and his elevation to the supernatural order: “And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good” (Genesis 1:31).
The order and beauty of the first creation did not last. Sin destroyed it. Man lost the life of grace, was expelled -from Paradise, and God’s curse descended upon this Earth. However, the designs of God cannot be thwarted. If He allows the first creation thus to be disturbed, it is because He has decreed from all eternity that another, better one, should take its place.
Holy Church refers to the glory of the second creation when during holy Mass, at the mixing of wine and water, she prays, “O God, who didst create human nature in wonderful dignity and restore it more wonderful.” The Creator in this new creation is the same as in the first, but now He is incarnate, having assumed the nature of man; the procedure in this second creation is not the same as in the first. In the first creation the Creator was alone; in the second creation He associates with Himself a Mother from whom He assumes human nature, so that the same nature that brought about the destruction of the first creation, might be the instrument to effect the second creation. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Romans 11:33.)
The second creation begins with the remaking of human nature in the Mother of the Creator. The almighty fiat of the second creation provides for her a nature that is untouched by sin, and endowed with a fullness of grace immeasurably exceeding that of the first human mother. The same almighty fiat rules out for Mary’s Son a human father. The natural course of generation, by which original sin is transmitted, is not to be the way for the incarnate Word of God to enter this world. The Holy Spirit comes down upon the chosen Mother of the Creator and she conceives through the overshadowing of His love. The miraculous conception is followed by the miraculous, virginal birth of the Creator. Thus the foundation is laid and the pattern established for the new creation of man in justice and true holiness.
The Word of God born of the Virgin Mary becomes the Head of the human race, so that all men might be renewed in Him. As He began the second creation through and with Mary, so He will continue and bring it to an end through Mary. In the moment in which the Savior’s side was pierced on the cross the Church was born. As the Creator formed the first Eve from a rib taken out of Adam’s body, so the Church is formed from the body of the second Adam, who is also the Creator. But as this body had been given Him by His Mother, it is through her that He now espouses the Church to co-operate with Him in the new creation.
Through the operations of the Church the wonderful works of the second creation now begin to unfold in all their glory. By water and the Holy Spirit man is born again, “a heavenly offspring, conceived in holiness and born again as a new creature comes forth from the font’s immaculate womb” (blessing of baptismal water, Holy Saturday). By means of bread and wine, changed into the body and blood of the Creator, the new life is sustained and brought to its ultimate perfection in life everlasting. All the other sacraments serve the same purpose. So all is new again, matter and spirit, Earth and man, and lifted to heights which probably would never have been reached in the first creation. All this stupendous grandeur of the second creation was, according to the divine decree, to depend upon Mary. We must agree with St. Thomas when he says that the consent of the whole human race was expected in the answer of the Virgin at the Annunciation; through her the whole world received again what had been lost through the destruction of the first creation.
The second creation is everlasting; it cannot be destroyed, as was the first creation, for the whole human race, but it can be destroyed in the individual soul. May the Mother of the Creator and our Mother preserve us from such a fearful calamity.
What Kind of Children of the Creator Are We?
And has our eternal Father treated us far differently from His holy Mother, though we are vile sinners, rebellious children, further removed from our Immaculate Mother than is the Earth from Heaven? He has told us by the mouth of His prophet that He has loved us with an everlasting love; He has placed over us the same sky, and below our feet the same beautiful Earth. He has provided us with pleasant homes, loving parents, kind friends, and above all, does He not Himself deign to enter our very hearts, and unite Himself so closely to us that theologians liken it to the melting together of two pieces of wax?
Oh, would that we received all these marks of Thy love with the same joyous gratitude as did Thy holy Mother! Add to all Thy favors, Lord, that of creating within us a pure and clean heart, a lowly thankful heart that will be somewhat less unfit a dwelling than that which Thou has now to put up with when Thou dost to come to visit us. Mary, sweetest Mother, join thy prayers to ours, and obtain for us this favor from our God.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us!
“Counsel and equity is mine” (Proverbs 8:14).
“Her thoughts are more vast than the sea, and her counsels more deep than the great ocean” (Ecclesiasticus 24:3).
“She is easily seen by those that love her, and is found by them that seek her” (Wisdom 6:15).
Advocate and Counsel
One of the most beautiful titles of Our Lady in the Salve Regina is “Our Advocate.” It is rich in meaning. Advocate means one who is summoned to aid, one who pleads the cause of another as does the lawyer in court, one who espouses any cause by argument, a pleader, an adviser, an intercessor. One readily sees the many implications of the title as applied to our Lady, our advocate, our counsellor, Mother of Good Counsel.
Though the title is comparatively recent in the Litany, the essence of it has been with the Church from the beginning. The Salve Regina comes to us from the eleventh century, but the use of the title “Our Advocate” goes back to the Fathers of the Church, who, in a thousand different passages, delighted in calling attention to her great intercessory power, her might with God. As Dante puts it—Grace then must first be gained: Her grace, whose might can keep thee. Thou in prayer seek her.
Recent Addition to Litany
The title “Mother of Good Counsel” was added to our Litany, April 22, 1903, by the Congregation of Rites under Leo XIII, who had a great devotion to her picture of this title. How things grow in the Church is seen in a striking degree in this case. The story of the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel is a beautiful one. It runs thus.
There is a little town, twenty-five miles southeast of Rome, called Genazzano. In pagan times it was a celebrated shrine for the worship of Venus, but in the fourth century a church was built there in honor of Our Lady and called the Church of the Virgin Mother of Good Counsel. In course of time the little church became dilapidated and almost fell into ruins, remaining so until sometime in the fifteenth century when a pious woman gave all she had for its restoration.
Meanwhile there was at Scutari, in Albania, as early as the tenth century, a little church dedicated to the Annunciation, and in this church was a very ancient picture of the Blessed Virgin, said to have been brought there in a miraculous manner. When the increasing victories of the Turks threatened the church and the picture, the picture was seen to be hidden entirely by a white cloud and then removed in the air to Rome as if carried by invisible hands.
The Madonna from Paradise
One day, April 25, 1467, which was a Sunday, a great crowd was gathered at the little unfinished church at Genazzano to take part in the annual festival of the Virgin Mother of Good Counsel. To their amazement they saw a white cloud descending toward the church, while wondrous music sounded in the skies, and the old church bells suddenly rang out, to be answered by every bell in town, with not a hand ringing them. The cloud was suddenly dissipated and then against the wall of the little chapel of St. Blaise, which was being renovated, was seen the miraculous picture hanging in air and supported by no human power. The people saw the picture with awe and welcomed it with joy. In a burst of inspiration they named the picture “The Madonna From Paradise.”
At once the church, which was served by the Augustinians, was completely restored and the Chapel of St. Blaise became a very rich shrine, indeed, to harbor this gift from Heaven. The picture, after the name of the church, became known as Our Lady of Good Counsel and soon was the scene of many miracles and the object of perpetual pilgrimages. Several popes have set their seal of approval on the miraculous picture. Pope Innocent XI, 1682, had the picture crowned with gold. Pope Benedict XIV, July 2nd, 1753, approved the confraternity of the Pious Union of Our Lady of Good Counsel and became its first member. Blessed Pope Pius IX was also a member.
Counselor of Popes
Our Lady of Good Counsel should have a special meaning to the Vicar of Christ, who needs counsel, the wisdom of governing all humanity. Leo XIII added even greater honors. He approved the Scapular of Our Lady of Good Counsel and was the very first to wear it. He had great devotion to the picture and had a copy of it in his desk. On one copy of the picture he had written with his own hand the scripture text--“My Son, hearken to her counsels,” and as we have seen, he added the title of Mother of Good Counsel to the Litany.
We should be grateful to Pope Leo XIII for this gift to us. It is a title that means a lot to us. And the Church has sealed the title to her not only in the Litany, but also in the Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Thus are applied to her in the Gradual of the Mass the Words of the Proverbs (chapter 8): “I, wisdom, dwell in counsel, and am present in learned thoughts.” And again in the Tract (Psalm 8): “Counsel and equity are mine.”
The prophet Isaias speaks of the Messias as the Angel of the great counsel, that is, the messenger of God, sent to carry out the decree of man's redemption. Mary, the Mother of the Angel of the great counsel, must be expected to have a profounder knowledge than any other created mind of the reasons why the Passion and death of the Savior was chosen as the means to redeem mankind. Pride had to be atoned by humiliation, disobedience by obedience unto death, sinful pleasure by suffering; thus men would come to realize more thoroughly the purpose of their existence, do penance for their sins, and strive after holiness of life.
The life of Mary shows that she fully understood this divine counsel. At the Annunciation she has but one question to ask: How shall this be done? She sees in the poverty of Bethlehem and in the flight to Egypt the divine counsel and she joyfully conforms to it without complaining. She does not waver in her total dedication to the Lord when told by Simeon that a sword of sorrows will pierce her heart, and she perseveres in this attitude of mind and will until all is consummated on Calvary. Thus understanding the divine counsel and having lived according to it, she is qualified to counteract the work of Eve, who listened to the evil spirit and by her counsel to Adam brought ruin and death to the whole human race.
Who Doesn’t Need Counseling?
We always need advice. There are a thousand problems we have to solve, a thousand knots we have to untie, a thousand difficulties we seek to escape from, a thousand cross-roads when we have to choose the road. There are not only spiritual problems. In the daily grind we need someone to tell us what to do, problems of daily sustenance for ourselves and others, of food and shelter and clothing, and, most of all, happiness and peace of mind. No one is better able to advise us than she who had these problems too. Hers was no bed of roses.
We mistakenly visualize Mary at Nazareth and Bethlehem with folded hands having nothing to do but listen to angels. Listen to angels, she always did this, but she had to work for a living. She had her family, Jesus and Joseph, to look after, to draw the water for them, to cook their meals, to wash their clothes. She had, as we all, her struggle for existence. So she understands the needs of her children, and if we but ask her she will tell us how--“I did it this way.” Mother tell me what to do; and she will tell us for the asking.
Our Legal Counsel Before God
Mother of Good Counsel is but a new combination of words to express a very old idea. And even the title itself can be traced back to the Prophet Isaias. We read (9:6) the magnificent passage: “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace.” She, the Mother of the great Counsellor, is His associate counsel. She is the spouse of the Holy Ghost—the Paraclete, the advocate.
Counsel was hers in a supreme degree, for from the beginning of her existence, in her Immaculate Conception, she had the wisdom which qualified her for her degree of advocate. We will not here enter into the discussion of the knowledge possessed by Mary. It is enough to say that it is the general teaching of the Church that she had the use of reason from the beginning, an infused knowledge, that is, a knowledge directly conferred upon her by God, in distinction from acquired knowledge which is acquired by personal effort. So that adding to that infused knowledge — her acquired knowledge, her abundance of grace, her growth in grace, her share in the Redemption, her share in the work of her Son—the Counsellor, her share in the Beatific Vision; add them all together and then multiply them indefinitely, and you get a little idea of her qualifications for being chosen as our counsel. It is an old slogan when one has a case at court to say—”Get a good lawyer.” Certainly we have chosen the best one in Mary.
Our Spiritual Counsel
Holy Mother Church, in the Collect of the Mass of the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, prays --“O God, Who givest us the Mother of Thy beloved Son, to be our Mother, and wast pleased to give honor to her beauteous picture by a wonderful sign; grant, we beseech Thee, that by ever cleaving to her counsels, we may be able to live after Thine own heart and happily win our heavenly country.”
Mary is essentially spiritual, she is our best adviser in spiritual things, as we stand at the cross-roads and seek the way that leads to eternal life. She is not only there to point the right away, but she is ready to go along with us, to take upon herself the work of guiding our feet and even carrying us when we get too tired. So that there is not one idea connoted by Counsel that is not emphasized in her. And the beauty of it is that she is Counsel not for the Prosecution, but Counsel for the Defense.
She is our pleader. She studies our particular case well. She uses all her oratory, all her powers of persuasion, with the One Who has such a sure case against us. We know we have a mighty poor case, we know that if our case stood on its own merits at this very moment, it would be lost. But she knows our regrets, and she is willing to go to court for us. To have a friend at court is a great step to the favor of the King. And with this new Esther at court to plead for us, her little ones, we feel that our case will be settled in our favor as soon as it is tried, just because we are lucky enough to have her appointed by the court as our Counsel. We have nothing with which to pay such Counsel, but she feels we pay her well when we give her our repentance and our love once she has obtained the settlement of our case and its dismissal by our Judge. Newman had the thought when he wrote--“I assuredly have a simple faith in the omnipotence of her intercession.”
There is a beautiful old legend that St. Patrick asked God to be allowed to judge the Irish on the last day and that God promised him that mercy to Patrick's Sons. The truth is more beautiful still. We will have the All-Merciful God to be our Judge, and we will have as our friend at Court our Mother of Good Counsel.
Ourselves and Counsel
People give it right and left, and often on matters they but little understand. The emissaries of Satan are ever on the outlook to lead the unwary into dangerous paths, and our own self-reliance and natural impetuosity make us impatient of seeking the opinions of the wise and experienced, which perhaps a secret prompting tells us would not be altogether in accordance with our wishes.
And so we rush on heedlessly, taking the advice only of those whose views square with our own, and who have not our real interests at heart, and who perhaps are only flattering us, not caring what may result from our course of action, or even urging us on to it with a secret view to their own advantage in some way. How many lives have been wrecked and prospects ruined, homes rendered miserable and souls robbed of their innocence through acting precipitately and not asking counsel!
Nor must we, who are Catholics, professing to place things eternal before those merely temporal, be satisfied always with seeking the advice of the worldly-wise, of the “children of this generation,” as our Lord called them, as if to draw attention to their looking only to what is to their advantage during this mortal life. We must strive to see what will be best for our eternal interests; we must not only be anxious to have clever advice, but that it be good and sound before God. So let us have recourse to our sweet Mother of Good Counsel, whose divine Son, the Infinite Wisdom, has His little arms twined round her neck, and His mouth placed close to her ear, ready to whisper the words that she will pass on to her trustful clients who look to her for guidance in their affairs, whether spiritual or temporal.
Not only is she always ready to receive those who need her, but we learn in the book of Wisdom that “she goeth about seeking such as are worthy of her,” such, that is, who are not too headstrong and self-willed to be counselled and advised, and “she showeth herself to them cheerfully in the ways.” … “He that considereth her ways in his heart, and hath understanding in her secrets, who goeth after as one that traceth and stayeth in her ways .... shall rest in her glory.”
Yes, even those who are well established in the ways of God, those already possessed of spiritual understanding, feel their need of our Lady of Good Counsel. For who so enlightened as to be always sure which of many good things is the best? Who is not at times puzzled as to which of two courses it would be better and safer to pursue? Let such have recourse to our Lady and say: “Good counsel give to me, Mother; tell me what I am to do.” She is our Lady of Light, the spouse of the Holy Ghost, one of whose seven gifts is that which we are seeking.
Those especially who have themselves to guide and advise others have, more than any, need of humble, childlike prayer to our blessed Mother under the title we are considering, and in this the supreme Pontiffs have again and again set a striking example. The gifts and privileges granted by them to the Sanctuary of the Madonna at Genezzano are sufficient testimony of this. And were we to go no further back in history than to our two late illustrious Popes, we should find in their lives touching proofs of the earnestness with which they sought light and guidance in their responsible office at the feet of our Lady of Good Counsel. Blessed Pope Pius IX, following in this the footsteps of his predecessors, used to gather his household daily round her picture for the devotions of the month of May, and one of the last acts of the reign of our late Holy Father was to add the title he so loved to the universally used Litany of Loreto.
Let us imitate this spirit of confidence in Mary, and let us remember what is written in Ecclesiasticus: “He that lodgeth near her house, and fastening a pin in her walls shall set up his tent nigh unto her, where good things shall rest in his lodging for ever. He shall set his children under her shelter and shall lodge under her branches: he shall be protected under her covering from the heat and shall rest in her glory.” Yes, Mother mine, that is where I would like to dwell, close to thee, so that at all times thou canst counsel and advise me, and thus in the passage through life I may act with wisdom, and not miss the “good things” in the home eternal.
Mother of Good Counsel, pray for us.
“Now the mother was to be admired above measure, and worthy to be remembered by good men” (2 Machabees 7:20).
“‘Thou wast perfect through My beauty, which I had put upon thee,’ saith the Lord God” (Ezechiel 16:14).
“How beautiful art thou, My love! How beautiful art thou! Thy eyes are dove’s eyes, besides what is hid within ... Thy lips are as a scarlet lace” (Canticles 4:1), “and thy speech sweet ... Thy cheeks are beautiful as a turtle dove’s, thy neck as jewels” (Canticles 1:9).
“How beautiful thou art, my beloved, how beautiful!” Such is the Creator's exclamation when gazing on the work of His hands. When He made the Earth, the sea, the heavens, we read that “He saw that they were good.” If He saw that in His irrational creation, how much more good does He find a soul that He has made to His image and likeness, on which is reflected some of His own incomparable beauty, and which He destined to be His own spotless Mother! And if He, the Almighty, can gaze with admiration on His creatures, should we not be unsympathetic and out of touch with what interests Him if we too did not exclaim, viewing His creation: “How beautiful thou art, how beautiful!” (Canticles 4:1).
Provided we never forget who is their Maker, can we too much admire His works? Do they not show forth His goodness, His beauty, His power? Do we not give pleasure to an artist when we stand in rapt admiration before a picture over which he has spent weeks or months, and into which he has worked all his conception of what is beautiful? If we wish to be of one mind with God we must admire His works. Thus David showed he was in sympathy with his Creator when he cried out: “O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Thy name throughout the whole world!” (Psalm 8:2).
The Greatest of All God’s Works
But of all God's works, which is the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most highly finished? Undoubtedly, Mary. So that she even evoked admiration from her Maker, for He does not say of her merely that she is “good,” which was the utmost He said of the rest of His marvelous creation, the starry heavens with all their splendor, this fair earth and all its beauties; but He cries out as if in astonishment at the work of His hands: “How beautiful thou art, my beloved, how beautiful!”
Then, as if the vision of her as a whole were not enough, He goes on to describe and dwell on the perfection of her different parts in detail, and it must please Him when we do the same. If we greatly admire a poem or any other work of art, what a pleasure it is to find another dwelling lovingly on the points that have most struck us. Such sympathy in tastes makes at once a bond of union, and so let us be united with God, and go over in spirit the various points of beauty to be found in His chef d'oeuvre, His incomparable Mother.
Rejoicing in Admiration
In those whom we love, we rejoice to see whatever is good and excellent, whatever distinguishes and raises them above the common. Mary, the Mother amiable, loved more than any earthly mother ever was loved, presents to our affectionate gaze, excellencies so great and exalted, that they cannot but add to our love profoundest admiration, speechless awe, and exultant jubilation. She is the Mother admirable, because her motherhood is divine and priestly, universal and ever active.
Even natural motherhood is something mysterious, something divine. God works in the mother. He forms the body of the child, not out of the slime of the earth, but out of the flesh and blood of the mother; not directly and immediately, but by the laws which He has laid down in human nature; then He Himself directly and immediately creates the soul and makes the fruit of the mother's womb a human person. Every mother must agree with the pious and valiant mother of the Machabees as she addressed her youngest son, “I know not how your were formed in my womb; for I neither gave you breath, nor soul, nor life, neither did I form the limbs of every one of you. But the Creator of the world, that formed the nativity of man and that found out the origin of all” (Machabees 7:22).
In Mary the mystery of motherhood is infinitely more profound. She becomes Mother without the co-operation of a father. Her motherhood calls for the direct operation of divine power not only as to the soul but also as to the body of her offspring. In a much more comprehensive sense than any human mother is she the Mother of Jesus. All that is in Christ's body has taken its origin from her; and He, who is born of her, is not only man but also God, the incarnate Word divine. “Admirable” is His name, admirable is His Mother.
The son of an ordinary human mother may become a priest, but the mother's participation in the holy sacrifice offered by her son does not go beyond the participation in the sacrifice that is common to all the faithful. The ordinary human priest offers the divine Victim, not his own body and blood; consequently there is nothing of the mother that enters the sacrifice offered by her son. In the sacrifice offered by our Saviour upon the cross the body nailed to the cross, the blood shed in Christ's Passion is also her flesh and blood; the victim is in the fullest sense of the word her Son, and she offers Him with all her love and all her maternal rights. She is a priestly Mother; her motherhood a priestly, sacrificial motherhood.
Ordinary motherhood extends to only a limited number of children. In their regard the mother is the proximate cause of their physical life, and she takes care of their education until they have reached maturity; at all events, any direct influence upon the child comes to an end when she dies. Mary's motherhood reaches as far as Christ's redeeming sacrifice. Since Christ died for all, Mary is the Mother of all and her motherhood is active so long as life lasts.
“However, Mary is not Mother of the faithful and of infidels, of the just and sinners in exactly the same way ... Mary is Mother of infidels in that she is destined to engender them to grace, and in that she obtains for them actual grace, which disposes them for the faith and for justification. She is the Mother of the faithful who are in the state of mortal sin in that she watches over them by obtaining for them the graces necessary for acts of faith and hope, and for disposing themselves for justification. Of those who have died in the state of mortal sin she is no longer the Mother; she was their Mother. She is fully the Mother of the just, since they have received sanctifying grace and charity through her. She cares for them with tender solicitude, so that they may continue in grace and grow in charity. She is in an eminent way the Mother of the blessed, who no longer can lose the life of grace” (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Mother of the Savior).
In Her Care
Thus, next to Christ as the principal cause, Mary is active as the secondary cause in giving to the soul the life of grace. Then she continues to be active in her spiritual children's behalf, not only through the years of their physical childhood, but throughout life. Spiritually we remain children, in need of her motherly care, as long as we live.
Hence the axioms: “There is no salvation without Mary,” and “No one will be lost who has a tender devotion to Mary,” rest on solid foundation. All this also explains why in our days, when the salvation of the faithful is exposed to greater dangers than ever before, Mary shows such a striking solicitude in behalf of the world, and why the Church with ever increasing trust and love turns to her for protection and safety.
This is the meaning of the words of Pius XII in consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: “In this tragic hour of human history we confide, entrust, and consecrate to thy Immaculate Heart the holy Church, the mystical body of thy Son Jesus, which bleeds now from so many wounds and is so sorely tried. We consecrate likewise to thy Immaculate Heart the whole world, torn as it is by deadly strife, afire with hatred and paying the penalty of its own wickedness.”
There is no end to the discoveries we shall make in contemplating the wonders of Mary's motherhood. Admiration will then pass over into veneration, veneration into imitation, imitation into love and trustful surrender of ourselves to her motherly care.
“Her ways are beautiful ways, and all her paths are peaceable” (Proverbs 3:17).
“Her conversation hath no bitterness nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness” (Wisdom 8:16).
“In her is the spirit of understanding ... eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure” (Wisdom 7:22-23).
“She was exceeding fair, and her incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all” (Esther 2:15). “Yea, and the Lord of all things hath loved her” (Wisdom 8:3).
Amiable is what deserves our love. The word comes from the Latin “amabile” which is derived from the Latin verb “amare” meaning “to love.” We could say “loveable” or “amiable” which seems to be a notch above the more common expression of “loveable.”
Amiable means lovable; it means having qualities of heart that makes one person become enamored with another. It signifies that natural sweetness, affability or kindliness that makes a person be admired, taken into one’s circle of friends and becoming there the object of special consideration and affection. This admiration grows as the object of one’s love becomes known more intimately. For, with the exception perhaps of parental love, there is no real love in a heart for a person entirely unknown. The reason is that the will―of which love is the chief manifestation―is a blind faculty, and can tend only to what the intellect presents as being good. So that once the kindliness and tenderness of a person are appreciated, that person will be loved—loved because they are amiable.
Love is a Duty
Now, since it is co-natural to man to rise from the known to the unknown, from the sensible to the super-sensible, from the visible to the invisible, Mary’s name of Mother Most Amiable can become a living active and dynamic force towards a lasting love of the Blessed Virgin if we cast but a cursory glance at the lovableness of any earthly mother.
No one ever outgrows a mother’s love, a love that begins before a child knows what it is to be loved, and then never, never ends. That child has felt her kindly arms around him from the beginning; he has heard her soothing voice, and looked into two adoring eyes. He has been nursed and washed and clothed by her; he has found a mother his friend, his comforter, his all, a part of his very life, whom he has called, and many, many times the most wonderful person in the world. That filial love and parental love are taken for granted, and are too sacred to be brought into the open.
God is infinitely amiable because He possesses in an infinite degree whatever is lovable. Created beings are amiable or lovable to the extent to which they partake in the perfection of God. Next to God, the Mother of God is the most amiable, because she is the most perfect of all created beings―God Himself loves her above all His creation.
One of the reasons which makes Mary the “Mother Most Amiable” is her beauty. In an age that is besotted with beauty, looks, and appearances, perhaps it appropriate to look upon true beauty. Mary is that true beauty. The conclusions that we arrive at might suggest that we abandon all pursuit of vain beauty and must make ourselves more beautiful by becoming her lovable children by loving and imitating her.
What is Beauty?
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, beauty is whatever pleases by its very sight or perception. God is the Author and Prototype of all beauty, He is Beauty Itself. He has made the world so beautiful with its starry sky, its enchanting landscapes, lovely mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, its flowers and birds. Surely, then, He must have made Mary the most beautiful of all, for she was to be the Queen of all creation.
If the types or prefigurations of the Blessed Virgin, in the Old Testament, were celebrated because of their beauty, what must we not expect of the antitype, of Mary, who was to impress the likeness of her features upon the Son of the eternal Father.
Judith, who slew Holofernes, the leader of her people’s enemies, “appeared to all men’s eyes incomparably lovely” (Judith 10:4). Should she who crushed the head of the hellish serpent and brought liberty to all nations be less beautiful? Of Queen Esther we read that, “she was exceeding fair and her incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all” (Esther 2:15). By her beauty she appeased the king and saved her people from destruction. Should Mary, with whom the King of kings was so enamored, as to choose her for His Mother and Queen of His kingdom, be less beautiful?
The spouse in the Canticle is spoken of as the fairest among women: “How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou ... Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee” (Canticles 10:6-9; 4:1, 7). St. Andrew of Crete says that Mary was, as it were, a statue sculptured by God, an exquisitely wrought image of the divine Archetype. St. Bernadette would not look at a picture of the Blessed Virgin after having seen her in vision; the difference would be too distressing. The children of Fatima speak only of the beautiful Lady and all attempts of artists to produce an image of her remain disappointing.
Physical or Spiritual Beauty?
Physical beauty is surpassed by the beauty of the soul, the beauty of innocence, virtue, and holiness. Where it is absent, where sin has left its trace upon the human face, we cannot speak of real beauty anymore; there may be a bewitching makeup, the trappings of sensuality, but something will be missing: the reflection of the Beauty ever ancient, ever new.
Spiritual beauty is a participation in the beauty of God. It is for this reason that saints tell us, if we could see a soul in the state of sanctifying grace, we would die with delight. This divine beauty also shines through man’s mortal frame and explains why saints are so attractive, even though they may be of homely features. Yet among all angels and saints there is none that can compare in grace and holiness with the Blessed Mother of God. So Holy Mother Church can ask the wondering question in the Divine Office for the feast of the Assumption: “Who is she coming up like the morning dawn, beautiful as the moon, chosen as the sun, terrible like an army in battle formation?”
Come To Me!
“Whosoever is a little one, let Him come to me,” and to the unwise she said: “Come.” When we see any persons drawing children to themselves, winning their affections, showing care and attention to those who are imbecile or in any way mentally afflicted, we know they are kind-hearted, and we feel at once attracted towards them. Kindness is a striking characteristic of the heart of Mary, our amiable, lovable mother, of whom St. Bernard says: “There is nothing austere or frightening about her; she is all sweetness.”
Listen to the proclamation made by the gentle Queen of Heaven to her subjects: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me.” So after all there is some advantage in being small, something to be gained by not being great. We have the privilege of a free entrance to the court of our gracious sovereign at all hours, day or night, for there is no particular time fixed. We have only to represent to her angelic retinue that we are a little one, and have come by the Queen’s special invitation. And who is there that could resist a child’s simple confidence? Will not the arms of our loving and lovable Mother be held out to receive us? Will she not listen patiently to all we have to say as we pour out into her heart our joys, our sorrows, our desires? And there is also another class who are always welcome in her audience chamber—the unwise.
Which of us does not come into that category, at some times, at any rate? And when we have made a blunder, a mistake, do we not long for someone into whose ear we can pour out our tale, and feel that they will not utterly condemn us? Let us, when this is the case, fly to Mary. In her is the spirit of understanding; milk and honey are under her tongue; her conversation hath no bitterness; her spirit is sweet above honey and the honeycomb. There will be no reproaches, even though in our folly we have sold our birthright, bartered away the eternal for that which passes like smoke, cast away priceless jewels and picked up some gaudy, worthless tinsel in their place. We can rely on her helping us, for she is “steadfast, assured, secure.” We may trust her implicitly, for she loves to do kindnesses, nor does she dally and put off, for she is quick, and allows no hindrance to stand in the way of her active charity.
Into either of these categories we can all easily fall, for are we not all little in virtue, and who can say he is truly wise?
Study That Amiable Mother
Let us often study the ways of our lovable Mother, for her ways are beautiful ones, and let us strive to imitate them. We read of her prototype, Queen Esther, that she was “exceeding fair, and her incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all.”
But there must have been more than mere beauty of grace and form to render her so general a favorite, for Vashti, too, was “exceeding beautiful,” but nowhere is it recorded that she was beloved by others. Where lay the difference? Vashti was proud, self-willed and obstinate, whereas we find that Esther was unselfish, unexacting and a model of obedience. So little did she care about her personal appearance that she never chose her own clothing, but was quite contented with what was given her. She was humble and docile, for even after she was raised to the dignity of queen, we notice that she still observed all that her uncle commanded, and did all things in the same manner as she was used to doing at that time, when he brought her up a little one; while her unselfishness was so great that she risked the king’s displeasure, nay, even her own life, for the sake of her people.
Now, Mary, our lovable Mother, excelled in all those qualities. Her obedience and docility to St Joseph we see by the readiness with which she went to him to Bethlehem at a time when it must have cost her sore, fled into Egypt at his bidding, and returned to Nazareth when he willed it. She was ready to put herself aside to help or assist others, and, as we know, is ever pleading with God for us His people. Nor need we ever fear a cold uncordial glance from Mary when we turn to her as our Mother. “Her eyes are dove’s eyes, besides what is hidden within.” The light of the Holy Ghost, whose spouse she is, who descended upon her, and who deigned to appear under the form of a dove, shines out of them. They are lit up by the fire of love which He, the Spirit of love, has kindled within.
Our Duty of Love
Love of God is the great commandment of the law. God must be loved above all created things because of His infinite perfection. Catholic teaching is that the more a person possesses of the perfection of God, the more that person deserves our love. So the simple conclusion drawn by theologians is that the angels and saints of God in heaven must be loved most next to God, more even than those who are closest to us in life. Yet, among all angels and saints there is none so close to God, possessing so much of His perfection, as the Blessed Mother of God; therefore it is our duty to love her, next to God, above any and every created being.
We are children of Mary; we ought to be the loving and lovable children of the Mother amiable. We prove our love of Mary by frequent loving thoughts of her. Her wonderful virtues are an inexhaustible source of light and inspiration for a holy life. Loving thoughts are followed by loving desires and deeds. We can daily recite the rosary, the litany, short ejaculations; we can celebrate her feasts with childlike joy, and there will be found innumerable other ways of honoring her, for love is inventive. Such love will lead to the imitation of her virtues, and these virtues will produce in us more and more the likeness of our heavenly Mother and make us pleasing in the sight of God.
The likeness of Mary is the likeness of her divine Son, and likeness with Jesus is the sign of predestination, “For those whom he has foreknown, he has also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). For those, who do not love Mary, there is no place in heaven; they do not fit into the heavenly company, for in heaven all love Mary. The Father loves her as His most faithful daughter, the Son loves her as His Virgin Mother and faithful companion in the labors and sufferings of His life, the Holy Spirit loves her as His immaculate Spouse, and all the angels and saints love her as their most glorious Queen and Mother.
Mother amiable, I love thee — increase my love for thee.
A Spotless Life
We have already discussed Mary’s perpetual virginity, her supremacy of sanctity, which made her the Mother Most Pure, Most Chaste and, now, Undefiled. It is almost unnecessary to speak of her as untouched by sin. We take it for granted. But we get a better idea of her sinlessness if we view her in her own surroundings. She, the sinless one, was surrounded by sin. She was like a pure lily growing out of a heap of refuse.
“Thou art all fair, O My love, and there is not a spot in thee” (Canticles 4:7).
“Thou shalt be perfect and without spot before the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).
“She is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s Majesty” (Wisdom 7:26).
The expression “Mother Undefiled” may have been suggested by these texts, although it is more likely that it came from the Psalm 118—“Blessed are the undefiled in the way who walk in the law of the Lord”; and more likely still from the Canticle of Canticles, which is in almost every word applied to Our Lady—“Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled” (5:2).
From Inviolate to Undefiled
When, in the year 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed that the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, by a singular privilege of grace, bestowed on her through the merits of her Divine Son, was preserved free from the guilt of Original Sin, and when he declared that this same privilege was henceforth to be called the Immaculate Conception, to be incorporated in the deposit of Faith, he settled for Catholics, and forever, all doubt as to the sinless conception of our Blessed Lady. That doctrine was intended to be expressed in the words of the Litany, “Mother Inviolate” and will later be further specified by the later addition to the Litany of the title “Queen conceived without Original Sin” which puts, so to speak, the “icing on the cake” of “Mother Inviolate”. And so enough has been said on that subject to warrant our passing to that other title of purity, “Mother Undefiled”. So we could say that Mary was conceived “Inviolate” and that she lived a life that was “Undefiled”.
There is a passage in the Epistle of St. James (1:27) which he perhaps wrote, having in mind the Blessed Virgin, whose life he knew so personally and so intimately. “Religion clear and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world.” St. Paul speaks of Jesus, as “a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled” (Hebrews 7:26).
Pure Undefiled Wine
In any case, the word means supremely stainless, uncorrupted, not touched even by the breath of sin. Virgil uses the word intemeratum (undefiled) in connection with wine, “pure wine,” wine unmixed with any vitiating substance. In that connection one necessarily thinks of Cana where the water was turned into wine, and the words of the chief steward to the bridegroom--“Thou hast kept the best wine until now.” Mary played such an important part in getting Jesus to work that miracle, her very presence there when Jesus raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, that holy marriage of which she was so beautiful an exemplar, would let us see a secondary, a mystical meaning in those words, “the best wine until now,” Mary the pure wine, the undefiled one.
Staying Spotless is Not Easy
“Thou shalt be perfect and without spot before the Lord thy God.” Without spot. Could there be anything more expressive of the unsullied whiteness of Mary’s soul? We all know the difficulty of preserving unstained a light-colored garment, even for the space of a few weeks.
We know that the luster of the fairest lily is tarnished by a single drop of rain, but Mary’s beauty was not only unblemished by passing through the storms of life, and the waters of tribulation, but was positively enhanced by them, so that when the call came: “Rise up, my dove, my fair one, for the winter is past, the rain is over and gone”; “come from Lebanon, My spouse, come; thou shalt be crowned,” she went to her God in all the radiance of her spotlessness.
St Jerome, commenting on this last passage, says: “Not unjustly is she bidden to come from Lebanon, for Lebanon is so named on account of its stainless and glistening whiteness. The earthly Lebanon is white with snow, but the lovely heights of Mary’s holiness are white with purity and grace, brilliantly fair, whiter far than snow, sparkling with the gifts of the Holy Ghost. She is undefiled like a dove, all clean, all upright, full of grace and truth. She is full of mercy, and of righteousness that hath looked down from Heaven, and therefore is she without stain, because in her hath never been any corruption.” (St. Jerome, Sermon on the Assumption).
Nor was there any shadow of self-seeking in Mary’s endeavors to preserve her soul without spot. It was as if some exquisite painting endowed with reason and other powers were to continually exert itself to preserve its surface from being scratched or otherwise injured, not for the sake of the satisfaction of hearing its beauty praised by a crowd of admirers, but purely that the talent and capabilities of the artist might be recognized by all. She desired to sing for ever her canticle of loving gratitude: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
Perfect Reflection of God
A cracked or partially defaced mirror distorts the countenance it seeks to reflect, but the soul of our Lady was ever bright and without speck or flaw, and God’s beauty was reflected in it without let or hindrance, and all men praise Him for the perfection of His work in her. Sweet Mother, do not turn from thy poor children who have taken no pains to preserve unstained their baptismal robe; who daily contract a thousand spots and blemishes, and who scarce trouble to have recourse to the cleansing powers of the sacraments to restore them to at least some degree of whiteness. Whisper in our ears that it is the clean of heart who see God, and seeing Him love Him, and loving Him become more and more purified by those divine flames which preserved thee without spot from the first moment of thy existence till the last.
No Defiling Fires of Passion
When a fire breaks out in a forest, all the wild animals flee away in terror: so, if God’s love is lit up within us, the evil beasts, our passions and bad inclinations, will either be consumed or driven out. In Mary’s soul there were no such savage creatures, but like a prudent traveler in the desert she ever kept her beacon burning during the dark night of her journey through life, and so preserved her innocence unsullied till the day broke and the shadows retired, and she responded to the call of her Beloved: “Come from Lebanon, My spouse, come: thou shalt be crowned.”
Then did the fire within her leap up in one great jubilant flame, the “flamma amoris jubilantis,” to use St Bernardine of Siena’s term, which soaring upwards ever higher and higher, joined itself and became united for ever with Him who is the Light of the world, the Author of Light, “who enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world.”
The Undefiled One Wants to Help the Defiled
Satan was throwing it up before her eyes every moment of the day, taunting her with the thought of the countless host of his followers. From the royal court, from the temple, from the schools, from the little houses of the people, sin stalked brazenly, sin of unbelief, sin of uncharitableness, sin of impurity. It would seem almost an impossible task to cope with such enormity of sin. There were some splendid souls, but she alone, being absolutely undefiled, was, after her Son, conscious of the magnitude of the work of delivering mankind from the power of the devil. And because she knew that, she the Undefiled hated sin. Sin was going to cost her plenty before she died. But—“I will put enmities between thee and the woman.” She had her part in saving the world from sin, and valiant woman, she would do her part cost what it would.
But Forget Your False Ideas!
We are apt to get false notions about the mercy of Mary. Some people write as if she were more forgiving than God, as if Jesus were Justice and she is mercy; as if she laughed at sin; made little of it and was bound to get people into Heaven no matter how they cling to their sins. But that is blasphemy, treason. She loves the sinners, yes, but that is different from saying that she is tolerant of sin. She is the refuge of sinners, but of repentant sinners. John the Baptist had one message, repent. Jesus had one message, repent. And Mary had one message, repent. She wants us to be undefiled by sin.
Quit Sin! Pay for Sin!
On the eighth apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes—“I am the Immaculate Conception,” the sinless one—little Bernadette was transformed for an hour, and when she turned to the people, the message she gave them from Our Lady was: “Penance! Penance! Penance!” which includes and requires a prior “Repentance! Repentance! Repentance!” from sin. In other leave sin (repentance) then pay for sin (penance). It was the same when she appeared at La Salette. To the two children she gave a message for the people. She complained of the impiety of Christians, and threatened God’s chastisement, but promised mercy for those who would repent. She is not to be placated by any divided allegiance.
And that is one of the messages that we can take to ourselves from this title of the Litany, “Mother Undefiled”, that it is silly for us to think that we are singing the praises of her sinlessness, unless we try to approach and imitate her sinlessness. Oh, we know, how immeasurably we fall below that ideal, but we should have what the poet calls—“the transport of the aim.” Christ Himself has set the ideal for us in the Sermon on the Mount—“Be ye therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). No less than perfection, and that entails at least freedom from sin. So that it is not far-fetched to say that the Mother Undefiled is set for our example, when even the Heavenly Father is our model. And being the Mother Undefiled herself, hating sin and seeking to remove it from the face of the Earth, she has no greater desire than to free us from it, to deliver us from the enemy that would destroy us.
Try Quit Sin and Have Confidence in Her
That is what the saints mean when they turn to her intercession as the great hope of salvation. So St. John Damien prayed to her--“Having confidence in you, O Mother of God, I shall be saved; being under your protection, I shall fear nothing; with your succor, I shall give battle to my enemies and put them to flight; for devotion to you is an arm of salvation, which God gives to those whom it is His Will to save.” St. Ignatius knew that, too. On his conversion he chose her as his mother, his patroness. Sometimes he would spend whole nights before her image and could hardly be torn away. Well has Dante spoken of her as the one “by whom the key did open to God’s love.”
Nothing Defiled Shall Enter Heaven
But there is another thought that arises from a consideration of “Mother Undefiled.” It is the thought particularly of the undefiled body of Mary. St. John says of Heaven (Apocalypse 21:27), “There shall not enter into it anything defiled,” but she, the undefiled in soul and body, is already reigning there, even bodily, as Queen. Her immaculate body was never subject to the corruption of the grave. Although the Church has not yet defined the Assumption, it is the easiest of doctrines to believe, and the Church has always believed it from the beginning.
The Assumption of the Undefiled One
And why not? Everyone of us hopes that he too one day, by the grace of God, will be in Heaven body and soul, that he will have his own glorious assumption. So, is it not fitting to believe that Mary has already had her Assumption? Must she wait, like us, till the Day of Judgment? No, God does not do things that way. He anticipated the Day of Judgment for her. She balanced the scales of justice and holiness. It is all traced back to her Immaculate Conception. Had Adam and Eve remained sinless, they too would never have died but would have been assumed body and soul into Heaven. They would have had their assumption.
So Mary, being sinless—although she consented to die, to conform her life more to that of her Son Who consented to die—must have had her victory over the corruption of the grave. It was only fitting that Jesus Who was flesh of her flesh should single her out to be free from death’s corruption, as He singled her out for the Immaculate Conception. It is the infallible teaching of the Church, that this same body of Mary, although subject to death and the grave as was the body of her Son, never knew the humiliation of corruption. This beautiful thought and belief, long held in reverence in the Church, is now crystalized as a dogma, for―under the reign of Pope Pius XII—the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, body and soul into Heaven, was declared to be, like her Immaculate Conception, an article of Catholic Faith.
The story of the Assumption comes to us from the pen of Saint John Damascene (676-750), one of the greatest writers of all times and a great Doctor of the Church; and he called it, in his day, an ancient tradition. When the Blessed Virgin was dying, it is the Saint’s account—as found in the Roman Breviary—that the Apostles, as if inspired, suddenly appeared in Jerusalem. They had gone to the distant parts of the known world in keeping with their God-given Mission, “Going therefore, teach ye all nations.”
A vision appeared to the accompaniment of heavenly melodies; and, in their presence, Mary died. Her body, that had been the tabernacle of Jesus Christ, was borne by the Apostles to the melody of angelic song to the Garden of Gethsemane, and laid in a tomb, around which the heavenly chant continued for the space of three days. When the singing ceased, the apostles consented to open the tomb, so that St. Thomas could view the body—for he was absent as he had been once before—but all they could find was the winding-sheet, which exuded a sweet aroma. They then closed the tomb.
Awed by this miracle, they concluded that He who took flesh, became man and was born of the Virgin Mary, and who preserved her virginity after His birth, was pleased also after her death to keep her body from corruption, and have it borne to Heaven before the day of general resurrection. Since all of us hope for Heaven, it would seem incongruous that Christ should have His own Mother await another Annunciation from the trumpet of Gabriel to crown her body triumphantly in Heaven.
St. John Damascene goes on to say that besides the Apostles, among whom were included James, the brother of the Lord and Peter the highest and most ancient of theologians, there were also present St. Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, St. Dennis, the Areopagite, and a St. Hierotheus. Many other holy brethren, he continued, came to view that body which gave the world the Principle of life and enfolded God within itself; and having seen it, celebrated in song as best they may, the infinite goodness of divine power. On this discourse “On the Sleep of the Blessed Virgin” the Church posits its doctrine today.
Our Blessed Lady really departed from this life and has been admitted to the Beatific Vision. These two graces she has in common with every saint. But by the word Assumption is understood that she was exempt from the law of corruption, to which human bodies after death are subjected; and that by a special providence of God, she rose again after death, just as the saints shall rise at the last day, body and soul, glorious and immortal from the tomb; and that she was thus admitted into Heaven.
Assumption implies also that it was not by the exercise of her own power, but rather by the omnipotent love of her divine Son that Mary was thus glorified. It is our belief, says Saint Thomas, that after death the Blessed Virgin was raised to life again and carried into Heaven, according to the Psalm, “Arise, O Lord, into thy rest, thou and the ark which thou hast made holy.”
There is no relic of Mary; the Church never possessed one, whilst she has of every other canonized saint. Either then, she who has always manifested extraordinary solicitude about the bodies of the servants of God, took no care to preserve the sacred remains of her who gave flesh and blood to the Redeemer of the world, or else the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady is an indisputable fact. This belief is simply that tradition of the Church which originated with the Apostles, who stood beside the grave of the Virgin of virgins and found that God had preserved her body from corruption as He had preserved her soul from sin.
Moreover, her purity of body and soul seems to postulate this privilege. After the divine purity hers was the greatest; and perfect purity can no more consist with corruption than light with darkness. Then, too, among the children of Adam, Mary is “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Her singular purity above those who live should warrant a crowning exception to the lot of those who die.
There is much food for thought, too, in the consideration that Mary bore of all creatures the closest likeness to her divine Son. She was like Him as God; and He was like her as man. His fair beauty of body was her very own. His face had its comeliness from her chaste features; His eyes reflected the brightness of her vision; the heart, of which He had said that it was meek and lowly, beat and throbbed in unison with a mother’s heart that was meek and humble too. They were twin souls in sorrow and in joy, and even death could not find them unalike. As we believe Christ “died and was buried, that He arose the third day, and that He ascended into Heaven,” so do we believe that Mary died, that she was buried, that she lived again and was taken up into Heaven.
The Wage of Defilement is Death
Finally, although death, dissolution seems the natural end of whatever is material, and so not necessarily the wages of sin, corruption of the body is an effect of Original Sin. But, only in two persons of all who ever lived on this Earth was there found no germ of corruption, namely our Savior and His Blessed Mother. Incorruption was His by nature; it was hers through the fullness of His grace. He was the other Adam, and she was the second Eve. And just as our first parents forfeited their right to incorruption by an act of disobedience, our second parents won the right to incorruption by obedience.
And so, once again, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption is but a corollary of her Immaculate Conception. If other saints were taken up body and soul to Heaven after death—and we believe they were—that was by a very exceptional privilege. But it was entirely meet and fitting that the Mother of our Redeemer, she who is also the Queen of Heaven, should enter into her kingdom not by privilege but by right. Her lovely body in death must not be clogged with fulsome dust. Her head and heart and hands must never be ringed round with the household worms of corruption. In death as in life, Mary must be truly the "Mother Undefiled".
Inviolate to the End
“An exceeding comely maid, and a most beautiful virgin, and not known to man ... whom the Lord hath prepared for my Master’s Son” (Genesis 24:44), therefore “no defiled thing cometh unto her” (Wisdom 7:25).
“No defiled thing cometh unto her.” From the first moment of her existence Mary kept so firm and courageous a guard over her soul, that priceless treasure given her by her Creator, that naught displeasing to Him ever found an entrance into her mind or heart. Her thoughts were all of, or for, Him. He was all in all to her, and so she became the garden enclosed in which He ever found delight.
St Jerome writes: “The most holy Virgin is a garden enclosed where-into sin and Satan have never entered to sully the blossoms; a fountain sealed, sealed with the seal of the Trinity” (St Jerome, sermon on the Assumption). And that precious seal remained intact and inviolate to the end. Never was it broken by any unexpected rush of water, by any sudden impulse, so faithful was the guard kept over it. “She was a virgin not in body only, but in mind also; the purity of her thoughts had been defiled by no evil suggestions” (St. Ambrose). Our lives, our thoughts especially, are like a mad torrent, pent in by the banks of our passions, our likes and dislikes, ever and anon falling over some steep cliff, down to a lower level, and we have little, if any, control over the raging waters.
Not that we must imagine that there was aught cramped or narrow in the mind of Mary, for we read that “her thoughts are more deep than the sea, and more vast than the great ocean.” But she had perfect mastery over herself. The water that flowed from her fountain with its triple seal was clear and limpid, and so precious in the sight of her Maker, for whom, and for whom alone, it played unceasingly, that He made His angels to gather up and convey to Heaven the overflow, where it formed the crystal sea spoken of by St John (Apocalypse 4:6), which spread itself before the throne of God, and was mingled with fire; for even as Mary’s thoughts were not narrow and shallow, neither were they cold and impassive.
The fire of the love of God ever burning in her heart, mingled with them, and great and vast as was the ocean to which her thoughts are compared, the flames found their way through it and rode triumphantly on the surface, for we know that “many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it.”
Let us bathe our minds in that crystalline sea, that our thoughts may be purified, washed clean in its depths, and like those of our mother Mary, be henceforth more subject to our control, more stable, solid and reliable—for notice, the sea was of crystal, and those who had overcome were able to stand on it before the throne of God, showing the support our Lady is to those who seek God. May they, too, be charitable and inflamed with the love of God and their neighbour. In fine, may our hearts and minds resemble our Mother’s, and be “a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed.”
A Garden Enclosed
“My Spouse is a garden enclosed” (Canticles 4:12). The Divine Office speaks of “Mary’s Rosarium,” Mary’s Garden of Roses, to which she brings us to let us taste the fragrance of Christ’s life. The walks in the garden are the mysteries: on each separate walk are growing various species of Heavenly roses which Mary wishes us to see and admire. The celestial aroma of these flowers is to lift our souls above the things of Earth and make us yearn for God. Mary wishes to cause in us this thirst for God, although she knows this desire for the Infinite will bring us pain, will make the world distasteful to us; yet she knows, too, that this blessed thirst is the soul’s salvation and healing.
The soul is a spirit, and can be satisfied only with the Infinite Spirit. “Deep calls to deep,” the deep of the soul which is so profound that no created good can fill it, calls to the deep Essence of God, which, being infinite, can satisfy every longing. And the Rosary is a Heaven-sent means for stirring up this longing of the soul, and awakening it to its true interests. Men would dream away the hours in the lotus-laden atmosphere of created things, but if they continue sleeping thus they will be lost to God. And so, Ulysses-like, we must be up and away, and out on to the dancing waves where the soul is free!
Mary’s Garden of Roses is all fragrant with the breath of Heaven. Jesus, the God-Man, with the light of Heaven in His eyes and the sweetness of the Divinity permeating His Being, is the subject of our contemplation in this garden. Mary has one supreme subject of interest to occupy us with — namely, her Divine Son, His life, virtues, teaching, principles, interests.
Hence, day by day she invites us to this blessed garden, to rest by its fountains and running brooks, and breathe the scent of its flowers. We go there to learn more about the soul of Jesus. For we study our Lord’s external life as the manifestation of His soul, just as we are interested in all external human action because of the soul behind it. It is souls we are ever thinking about, it is souls that attract or repel us.
Now the soul of Jesus and His thoughts and affections we wish to study. The soul of Jesus is different from all other souls in this, that it is bathed in the glory of the Divinity, being personally united to the Word: it is the soul, sinless and infinitely holy, of God Himself. When Mary Magdalen, the sinner, wept at His feet, it was the tenderness of His soul, the gentle affection and mercy of His soul, that moved her and caused a fountain of tears to flow from the heart that had so long been deadened by worldly pleasures. So Mary, His Mother, wishes to bring us into contact with His Sacred Soul, and so leads us to the various scenes of His life.
The Angel’s greeting
In October, the Month of the Rosary, is also celebrated the Feast of the Holy Angels, and we may combine the devotion to them with our devotion to the Rosary. For we may claim the Angels’ help in a special way when saying the Rosary. It is really an Angel’s prayer, since the “Ave Maria” is Gabriel’s greeting; and the Angels are given to us as our friends in order to help us to pray.
See how they trooped down joyously to help the shepherds to pray at Bethlehem! since to send the shepherds to the crib and make them return praising and blessing God for all they had heard and seen was surely to teach them to pray. In like manner, the Angels will surely come to help us when we would have tidings of Him and seek a sign whereby we may identify Him. And with especial willingness will our own Angel Guardian come to do us this kindness.
To pray is, after all, just this, to seek to find Jesus. And just as the seeker after gold will ask an experienced miner to guide him, so when looking for the rich gold that is Jesus we turn to those experienced Angel guides who have already found Him and are in happy possession of Him in order that they may teach us their secret. For the snares and pitfalls and dangers by the way are many, and we see in the case of the shepherds and the Magi that supernatural guidance was necessary to reach Jesus. The world is full of spies from the devil’s army, and unless our intelligence department is properly worked, we shall be betrayed to the enemy by those traitors.
Now, our intelligence department officers are the Angels; they it is must warn us and save us from surprises. We are groping our way through life, playing our part in a huge battle, knowing very inadequately how the fight is going; and our Angels must help us or we shall be lost. If God has willed to appoint to each an Angel Protector, you may be sure there was good reason and urgent necessity for it. Men walk along happily, blind to their dangers. But God is solicitous for us. Hence the Saints had much devotion to their Angels. St. Frances of Rome had a constant vision of her Angel Guardian. So let us pray God to give us more faith in the existence of our Guardian Angel, and more devotion to this Heavenly friend, that through his help we may daily say our Rosary more perfectly.
After having called the Blessed Virgin "Virgin of Virgins" and "Mother Most Pure," it would seem to be something of a let-down to talk of Chastity, since Virginity is the more perfect form of Chastity. Perfect chastity, or virginity, means to refrain from all sexual pleasure whether sinful (as outside of marriage), or permissible (as in marriage). But imperfect chastity, which means refraining only from sinful pleasures, is the real meaning of the particular term "Chastity".
The Nuts and Bolts of Chastity
This chastity exists in the young person who, before marriage, refrains from illicit sexual pleasure, and it is then called an "imperfect virginity" unless he has the avowed purpose of ever preserving his bodily integrity from sinful gratification, and of never marrying. And chastity, in the strict meaning of the word, taken aside from virginity or perfect chastity, may even exist in the married state, in that it refrains from permissible sexual pleasures. This is called conjugal chastity, or marital chastity, which does not exclude non-sinful sensual pleasure, but moderates it.
The Perfect Chastity of Mary
The title "Mother Most Chaste" would mean therefore her perfect chastity, and consequently her perfect virginity. There can be no thought of mere chastity, or imperfect chastity, in reference to Our Lady. We know that Joseph also had the vow of virginity. Theirs was a virgin marriage. So that even the hint of anything sensual in regard to Mary would be blasphemous. She was all pure in body and soul, always the virgin of virgins, and, so we have said, very likely the application of the title of "Mother Most Chaste" is but a variant term, another repetition of the fact that she is the purest of creatures, all immaculate, all holy in body and soul.
And yet I like to think that the Church, in using this term "Mother Most Chaste", does not use a term meaning absolutely the same thing as the preceding expression "Mother Most Pure." For that would be a needless repetition.
Being applied to Mary, "Mother Most Chaste" must be essentially the same since there can be no idea of whittling away or limiting to the lower meaning of a word. So for that reason I want to believe that even while we cannot mention her virgin marriage in connection with any other marriage, even the most chaste marriage, and even the virginal marriages of some of the saints, we can take this title and apply it in a special way to her as the exemplar or model of a holy marriage and in view of her role as the great protectress of Christian marriage.
Mary has her titles of dominion over angels, virgins, martyrs, confessors, and every class of servants of God. Why should she not have a special title of. Queen of the Home, Queen of the Family? Perhaps, one day, a pope may add that title? Who knows? Marriage is sacred to God. He made it a sacrament. He wants every marriage to be a chaste marriage.
One of St. Joseph's titles is "Chaste Spouse." Today marriage is being violated as it never was before. Now more than ever does it need the mothering care of the Chaste Mother of God. For today marriage has been dragged into the mire and is, like the man who fell victim to the robbers in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, beaten, robbed, stripped naked and half dead.
No Synonym for Chastity
There are many synonyms given for chastity—it may mean continent, innocent, virtuous, pious, religious, holy, sacred. Yet there never was found a perfect synonym. Every word has its peculiar shade of meaning. But every one of these variants of chaste needs to be applied to the true Christian marriage. And to be such, marriage must be modeled as far as possible after the holy marriage of Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family is the only ideal for any family.
Exaggeration of Chastity
Mary did not disdain marriage; she glorified it as the Church has glorified it against the constant attacks upon it. When the Manicheans, the Marcionites, and others denounced marriage as a sinful thing, St. John Chrysostom said--"the worst licentiousness is not as wicked as their chastity" ― meaning that they exaggerated the demands of chastity to the point of sinfulness. Even Chastity, perfect Chastity, is not everything. One recalls how the nuns of Port-Royal were excoriated--"Pure as angels, proud as devils."
A monk of the Middle Ages, Brother Berthold of Ratisbon, preached thus in a sermon--"God sanctified Matrimony by making it one of His seven Sacraments. It is holier than any order ever founded, more sacred than that of the barefooted friars, or the preachers, or the grey monks. In certain respects none of these orders can be compared with marriage, because marriage is a necessary order, and therefore strictly enjoined by God, whereas all other-orders are merely of counsel. How could the predestined member of the elect ever be reached without Matrimony?"
The Sacredness of the Human Body
It is through bodily union of the sexes that the human race is propagated — God creating in each case the human soul. “Thus among the blessings of marriage the child holds the first place and, indeed, the Creator of the human race Himself, who in His goodness wished to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when, instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses, ‘Increase and multiply and fill the Earth” (Pius XI, Encyclical on Christian Marriage).
Destination to so sacred a purpose reveals the sacredness of man, not only as to soul, but also as to his body. Indeed, the human body is sacred, fashioned according to the laws which God laid upon human nature, enlivened by a soul which the divine Spirit breathed into it.
The whole man, soul and body, is destined to become a temple of God, member of the mystical body of Christ, and to live eternally in heavenly joy. Does not this idea of the dignity and destiny of man and, consequently, the sacredness of co-operation with the almighty God in giving existence to new human beings also show the intrinsic malice and hideousness of abusing the body in immoral and lustful mingling of the sexes?
The great Apostle impresses this idea forcibly upon the Corinthians when he writes: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ: Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? ... Or, do you not know that your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:15.)
The abuse of the body for the gratification of lust poisons the very fountains of life. Once this poison has been injected into a nation and is not stopped in its spread, that nation is on the way to extinction, for, “If anyone destroys the temple of God, him will God destroy; for holy is the temple of God, and this temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). And again, “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish, and the Gentiles shall be wasted with desolation” (Feast of Christ the King).
Marriage consecrates the human body to God in the most important function of which it is capable. This consecration to be effective and permanent must be based, according to Pius XI, on love — love of God, love of the spouse, love of offspring. Abuse of the generative faculty is a criminal injury inflicted upon the partner under the mask of love. Thus a life of conjugal chastity is in an eminent sense a life of love.
In view of human weakness such a life is impossible unless lived in close union with God. Mary, the Mother most chaste, though free from evil concupiscence and all inordinate inclinations, nevertheless practices all those things which insure victory over all evil lusts and temptations. She is given to prayer; God fills her mind and heart. She is always occupied doing the work God has assigned to her; idleness invites the tempter. There is reserve in her contacts with people excluding idle conversations; her eyes and ears are closed to whatever might contaminate the soul.
Above all, her heart is all aflame with the love of God, and where God is loved with the whole heart, unlawful love of creatures becomes an impossibility. In like manner the remembrance of God must sanctify the home and keep out of it the spirit of the world, strength must be sought in the frequent reception of the sacraments, the occasions of sin must be avoided. A chaste married life is the fruit of loving consecration of the body, with all its faculties and functions, to the sublime purpose of marriage, that is, consecration of the married in their whole person to God, their Creator and Last End. Let Mary, the Mother most chaste, be their inspiration and exemplar or model.
Chastity Requires Chastisement
Since the general notion of virtue consists in moderating some activity, but in a reasonable fashion, and since the word chastity is derived from an act of chastising, it is clear that chastity is a virtue. It is, moreover, a special virtue, with an object that no other virtue possesses, as it moderates those propensities of the flesh that incite to carnal pleasure. The word, moreover, comes from a custom, as old as the world, of chastising unruly children.
These pleasurable feelings, says Saint Thomas, are very like the antics of a child. The sensations are natural to man in all things pertaining to the conservation of the species and are much more incessant, much more compelling than those concerning the well-being of the individual. Hence, if these carnal movements are fostered by willfully consenting to, and dwelling upon them, they soon become unmanageable; and just as a child who has been allowed to follow his own whims becomes spoiled, so this longing for tactile pleasure needs an especial chastisement.
And although the danger of excess in this matter may be modified by matrimony, which gives free rein to these emotions, and even sanctifies them by a Sacrament, still this very freedom needs a special bridle and curb, lest it degenerate into an orgy of unrestrained passion. Marriage must ever be sacred to God; the dignity of the Sacrament must be maintained, according to which every marriage must be a chaste marriage. And, today, when marriage is being abused as never before, it needs the protection and guidance of her whom the Church calls the Mother Most Chaste, who, with her divine Son and St. Joseph constituted the ideal family —the Holy Family.
The World and Marriage Has DIstanced Itself From God
In a world that has gone so far away from Christ and, in so many ways, His teaching on marriage is, it would seem, the least respected and the most misunderstood. The sublime story of matrimony has its foundation, law and binding force in the “profunda Dei,” the deep things of God.
When the Creator looked complacently on His work, He said that it was good; but looking at His own masterpiece, man, He said: “It is not good for man to be alone.” But, to remedy the situation, He will consult the divine family; and then, He will not vivify other morsels of native dust to form a companion, for this would be only multiplication of the same image, and not a more explicit representation of the divine family, in which God the Father begets God and Son, and the Father and Son breathe forth the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from them as their mutual Love. And the Divine Family is complete.
So, too, the decree of Heaven is that man be made into a family--”to our own image and likeness.” Let his partner proceed from him, bone from bone and flesh from flesh. Then, let the vital energy and chaste passion of two persons produce a third, who in an effusion of tenderness both will call their own dear love. Thus the family of God has impressed His image on a human family: the image of His paternity and of His government.
Having become the image of God, by the holy prerogative of parenthood, father and mother should govern their little world, which is their flesh and blood, as God governs His world of creation by His power, His wisdom and His love.
To the father, more especially, belongs the exercise of power and wisdom; his it is to provide, to work, to bend under the yoke; his to keep peace and order, by a kindly exercise of his authority as head of the home. The great function of the mother is love. If the Father is the head, the mother is the heart of the family. Hers is a love that gives and does not always receive; her heart is the cradle where all her love is lavished, and little, apparently, returned.
Reflecting the Divine Family
One step more: God, the Divine Family, is also God, made Man. He, too, has a spouse called the Catholic Church; and He has children, humanity redeemed; and on it, He will imprint His image. Saint Paul says that the union of man and wife is a great Sacrament in Jesus Christ; and again he tells us that man is the head of the woman as Christ is head of the Church.
So that as Christ gives to His Church both His name and His honor; as He loves and protects her; and as He promises to be with her all days even to the consummation of the world; so, too, does the husband give his name and his honor to his wife; he loves and protects her; and his pledged word is to remain with her forever. And as Jesus demands a holy posterity from His Church, so should the husband demand a holy offspring of his wife.
Now, it is a safe assertion to make that when God established the family, He would also give stability to an institution bearing the impression of His perfection. And thus from the beginning He decreed that the bond of marriage could never be broken except by the death of the husband or wife: “What God hath joined together, let no man separate.”
Neither violence, nor entreaties, nor influence, nor plotting, nor loss of fortune, nor crime can break that bond. Human legislation, to its own detriment, has dared a violation; godless courts are marrying and giving in marriage, and just as freely separating and taking away, until they have made society something hideous to behold; their records are taken from the files of a nation’s defilement, and an indication of its gradual decline.
Divorce is not only a sin against God, it is also an insult to womanhood. In the question of chasteness there is here no parity; woman is in a higher sphere than man. A man may be most immoral; yet if in his social life he is well-behaved, his weakness is readily condoned, and he can leave his shame where he has left the victim of his sin.
But a woman who has fallen from her throne of purity carries her shame about with her, and brings it back to be the dishonor of her home. And it is a vile insult to her to think that her love can be tasted and then flung aside like the fruit that has lost its flavor. The love of a chaste woman is the gift of her whole life, and either it is to be reverently left untouched, or it is to be lovingly cherished till death.
A Lost Virtue
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" said Our Lord (Matthew 5:6). Today, very few have a clear view of God because the world has become so impure, unchaste and immodest. So much so, that, back in the early 1900's, Our Lady revealed to Blessed Jacinta Marto that most souls that are damned, are damned for sins of impurity in either thought, word or deed.
We think also of Amelia, the older friend of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta at Fatima, who had died aged around 18 years of age and Our Lady revealed that she would burn in the fires of Purgatory until the end of the world. Curious inquiries turned up information that it was probably for some sin or sins of impurity that she had been guilty, but had confessed.
It reminds us, too, the revelation made to Mother Mariana in Quito (to whom Our Lady of Good Success and Our Lord were appearing). Mother Mariana was shown Our Lord beginning His Agony, and she heard the voice of the Eternal Father saying, “This punishment will be for the 20th century.” She saw three swords hanging over the head of Christ. On each was written, “I shall punish heresy, blasphemy and impurity.” With this, she was given to understand all that would take place in the present era.
Tracing the Roots to Original Sin
Original Sin, besides darkening the understanding and weakening the will, has left as a sad heritage to man a strong inclination to evil; this tendency, fungus-like, feeds on every fiber of human life, but flourishes and fattens most of all in the generative powers of the human organism.
The Devil of Impurity
The demon of impurity attacks man long before he can use his reason, and swoops down like a wicked vulture to prey upon him before he knows right from wrong. He scrapes the surface of man’s curiosity, tempts him to evil thoughts, words and deeds. In the words of Holy Scripture, he calls in seven other devils worse than himself; he calls in older companions, bigger and more rueful than they. He calls in small groups to tell evil stories, use foul language, before they ultimately dare and defy the innocent to be bad.
No Escape, No Safe Haven
Today, it bombards the children from every angle—TV, internet, movies, billboards, fashions, everyday dress habits—wherever you turn, you find it brazenly staring at you. Thus it is that many a boy and girl are steeped in the venomous baths of impurity, before their years have time to be counted, and thus initiated, plunge into the very whirlpool of sinfulness, from which nothing but a miracle of God’s grace can extricate them.
No place, no condition of life, no age seems free from its diseased effects. City and country, the high and the low, the young and the old are carried away with the desire and practice of impurity. It is organized in every community by agents of Satan, and it flaunts its glaring seduction in streets and public places. No vice does more soul: scarring work than impurity; its allurements are to be found in social gatherings and conversation. It is a syren, bewitching the hearts of all.
Battles Many—Victories Few
It was of impurity that Saint Augustine wrote, that in all the encounters with which a Christian comes face to face, where purity is at stake, the battles are frequent and the victories are rare. What is more the demon of impurity never rests, never relaxes, never relents, never dies; he teases and tortures and ceases his temptings only in death. Indeed, this is one of the most consoling thoughts about death, that if it is the end of life, it is also the end of temptation.
But the answer is not despair; nor is the situation entirely hopeless. For, man, endowed with free-will can help himself, even naturally. He can have clean thoughts, clean reading, clean glances, clean environment. And it is a matter of experience that, when one looks down, all he sees is dust and dirt and mud and mire; but when he looks up into the sky, he can see blue skies and sunshine and white snow cradled in the unspotted mountain tops. When he lifts up his eyes unto the hills, he sees beauty always. It is ever thus, even to the point that a pure soul will always be encased in a pure body. These are the natural helps.
Supernatural Sources and Helps for Purity
In the supernatural order prayer is the first means of preserving purity. For prayer is union with God; it is to see God; and God said that it was the clean of heart, the pure that would see Him.
Next comes the frequent reception of the Sacraments. “Love the study of Holy Scripture,” was St. Jerome’s advice, “and thou wilt not love the voice of the flesh.”
Finally, “idleness has taught much evil;” and it was Saint Jerome who advised: “Do some work, so that the devil may always find thee employed.”
The Help of the Mother Most Pure
And, furthermore, God has given man a wonderful mother in Mary. She passed through every stage of human life—child, girl, maiden, wife and mother. And after nineteen hundred years, the world hails her and calls her by the most beautiful, the most attractive and most heavenly title known; for it calls her mother, and, as if that were not sufficient, it adds the words: “Most Pure.” This is a distinct creation of Christianity. And the origin of all the glory and all the honor that have accrued to purity of life, and particularly of body is the fact that Mary was so pure that Jesus chose to be born of her.
The Total Purity of Mary
Holy Mother Church, in the Mass for the Purest Heart of Mary, applies to her these words from the Book of Wisdom: “No defiled thing cometh into her. She is the brightness of eternal light and the spotless mirror of God’s majesty and the image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:25). Mary was preserved not only from Original Sin, but even from the least fault and imperfection.
This is the doctrine of the Church, as stated by the Council of Trent: “If anyone shall say that a person once justified ... can for the rest of his life avoid all sins, even the least, unless it is by a special privilege of God, such as the Church holds concerning the Blessed Virgin, let him be anathema” (Denzinger 833).
Long before the Council of Trent, St. Ephrem had expressed the faith of the Church in these beautiful words: “Thou alone, O Lord, and Thy Mother, Thou alone are perfectly holy; for in Thee, O Lord, there is no stain, nor is there any blemish in Thy Mother.”
Absence of sin is only the negative element in holiness; there must be added the positive element of virtue and progress. Though full of grace at all times, the Blessed Virgin could and did grow in holiness through her faithful co-operation with grace. The light and splendor of her holy life were like the sun hastening to his noonday brightness. Where there is no darkness there is light, but light can increase in intensity; where there is no sickness there is health, but health can increase in vigor and vitality.
Such was the progress of the Blessed Mother of God that from day to day and from hour to hour she reflected more brightly the brightness of eternal light and expressed more definitely and distinctly the image of His goodness.
“When Jesus had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He said to His Mother, ‘Woman, behold thy son.” Because Jesus loves the soul He commends it to His Mother’s care, telling her to treat that soul as her own child. And such a word of commendation from Jesus is a law to Mary. “And to the disciple whom He loved (and because He loved him) He said: ‘Behold thy mother.’” Look upon her as your mother, treat her as a mother, and expect from her the tenderness, gentleness, compassion, that experience tells us may be expected from a mother’s heart.
Devotion to the Pure Heart of Mary is, therefore, devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary, to this heart that embraces, in a love wider than the ocean, all the souls that Jesus died to save. Just as devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus means devotion to Him who is the supreme lover of mankind, the greatest of all lovers, so devotion to the Heart of Mary means devotion to her who loves us with a mother’s tenderness.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus
We speak habitually of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Heart that is indescribably sacred, because it is the Heart of the Word Incarnate. His Heart is holy with the untreated holiness of God, because it is actually the Heart of God Himself. It is sacred because consecrated by its union with the Divinity. “For Him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27).
The Most Pure Heart of Mary
Many may well remember the May devotions when we sang the hymn “O Purest of Creatures.” For many folk, when they hear the word “purest,” no matter what it is about, they instinctively think of Our Blessed Lady. Now, Mary’s Heart is pure and spotless because it has been sanctified, beyond all other hearts, by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, making it to be the dwelling-place of the sacred and divinely-sanctified Heart of Jesus. The Catholic Church, therefore, pays boundless respect to the Heart of the Mother, because it was the dwelling-place of the Son. Mary is the spotless tabernacle, the earthly resting-place prepared for the Son of God.
The Pure Heart of the Virgin John
It was on the Cross of Calvary that the pure Heart of Jesus gave His pure Mother Mary, to the pure and virginal John, His beloved Apostle. In His dying moments, Jesus gives her a mother’s heart for those whom He loves. She is bidden to regard, as her son, the “disciple whom Jesus loves.” If saints have overflowed with tenderness for human souls, even when steeped in sin, just because “Jesus loved them,” how must Mary’s heart be filled with tenderness for Christ’s little ones! How great, then, should be our confidence in her motherly love for us!
We Have to Be Pure to Receive Mary as Our Mother
Remember that, if Mary received a special commission from the dying lips of Jesus to regard as her children those whom Jesus loves, we, too, have received a commission from Him to regard and treat her as a mother. After that He saith to the disciple, “Behold thy Mother.” And we are told how St. John acted. “From that hour the disciple took her to his own”; she became part of his daily life, she was henceforward as a mother in his household.
So should we also take Mary into our daily life. She should manage our household for us, she should preside over the affairs of our soul, which is the household in which God reigns. In that interior mansion the busy life of prayer, worship and devotion, should proceed in an orderly way, just as in the life of a regular household. In the early hours of the morning takes place the supreme event of the day — namely, the visit of the Master and Lord of the Mansion. With Him come radiance and joy, light and strength and comfort. He comes to give us the kiss of peace, to fold us to His Sacred Heart, in order to tell us of His love. To know that love is the supremest of all facts for each one of us. To be sure of that, to taste that reality, is religion, is peace on earth, and is the essence of heaven, since heaven means the perfect realization that God loves you.
Clean Inside and Out
All the world hates―or it should hate―whatever is sordid, tainted and impure. Health authorities, everywhere, are waging a warfare of propaganda to stamp out impure food, impure air, impure water; and all because of the natural instinct for cleanliness, which is next to godliness.
Now, all this is good; it is very good; and yet, it is all very superficial. It is little more than cleaning the outside of the cup and of the dish. Because in last analysis, the only purity that matters is purity of soul that makes one like unto God, and like unto Mary, who, as St. Thomas so admirably expresses it, after God Himself, is the most pure. After God, she is everything that is superlatively good and spotless and beautiful.
Becoming Like Christ
It is the belief that, in physical appearance, Jesus looked like Mary because of the fact that all His flesh came from her alone. On the other hand we can say, therefore, that Mary looked like Jesus. Not only did she look like Him, but she was the most like to Him of any creature. It is a physical truism that husband and wife, who have lived together for years, get to resemble each other physically. The long years of association, of thinking the same thoughts, of having the same interests, of loving each other, of depending on each other, make them not only like each other in soul, but gradually eliminate the different facial characteristics.
Taking the physical and spiritual association of Jesus and Mary, one could develop that thought indefinitely. Whoever were as close as they? He the Redeemer, she His Co-operator. She had no will but to do His Will. We can never lift the veil that hides from our eyes the hidden years at Nazareth. But it requires no stretch of imagination to see their exchange of thought, their marks of mutual love, their intimate union, both thinking of nothing but the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
But Jesus, the All-Pure, could not tolerate such association with Him, except if it was with one who was most pure. That purity of hers must be such that even He would like to gaze upon it. He made her most pure at the moment of her creation. And when He came to her, to be born of her, to live with her, He could but keep on adding to that purity—thus making her more and more like Himself with each day they spent together.
The Church Speaks
Holy Mother Church, in the Mass for the Purest Heart of Mary, applies to her these words from the Book of Wisdom: “No defiled thing cometh into her. She is the brightness of eternal light and the spotless mirror of God’s majesty and the image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:25). Mary was preserved not only from Original Sin, but even from the least fault and imperfection.
This is the doctrine of the Church, as stated by the Council of Trent: “If anyone shall say that a person once justified ... can for the rest of his life avoid all sins, even the least, unless it is by a special privilege of God, such as the Church holds concerning the Blessed Virgin, let him be anathema” (Denzinger 833).
Long before the Council of Trent, St. Ephrem had expressed the faith of the Church in these beautiful words: “Thou alone, O Lord, and Thy Mother, Thou alone are perfectly holy; for in Thee, O Lord, there is no stain, nor is there any blemish in Thy Mother.”
Absence of sin is only the negative element in holiness; there must be added the positive element of virtue and progress. Though full of grace at all times, the Blessed Virgin could and did grow in holiness through her faithful co-operation with grace. The light and splendor of her holy life were like the sun hastening to his noonday brightness. Where there is no darkness there is light, but light can increase in intensity; where there is no sickness there is health, but health can increase in vigor and vitality.
Such was the progress of the Blessed Mother of God that from day to day and from hour to hour she reflected more brightly the brightness of eternal light and expressed more definitely and distinctly the image of His goodness.
A Twofold Power
What deep thoughts are aroused by this high praise of Mary, so consoling to Holy Church who names her Mother of Divine Grace! The title “Mother of Christ” implies Mary’s actual, physical motherhood; her spiritual maternity, on the other hand, arises from a pact whereby Mary as almoner bestows upon others the abundance of those graces which she, as His Mother, receives from Christ. Mary has by right, then, a twofold gift and power:
1. She acquires and possesses grace in a degree hitherto unknown and unprecedented, and
2. She is consumed with her desire to communicate graces to others.
This is why we shall find in Mary (if we are fortunate enough and blessed enough to ask her) the fullness of that prerogative which this title in her Litany implies. “Mother of Divine Grace!” It is praise and prayer! May we offer her both each time we repeat her Litany with loving hearts.
What is Grace?
That we may better fathom the depths of this ocean of grace in Mary’s heart, that we may better appreciate the plenitude of its bounty, it seems necessary that we first define the word grace — a word so often used, so seldom carefully considered.
Grace, by definition, is a gratuity — a free gift — designed by God’s loving providence to bring to us the special helps we need at different times, in various circumstances, and thus to assure our salvation. Consider the wide variety of these needs, changing not only with each individual, but even in the same person, changing again and again with changing times and circumstances. Grace, then, is the kind gift of a loving Father bending down to help His children on Earth in every condition of life. And since Mary is His Mother, her pure heart is His divine treasury of graces.
Types of Grace
Grace is of various kinds, to meet and satisfy varying needs: habitual, actual, sanctifying, sacramental. Sanctifying grace is nothing other than the state of a soul in union with God, a union resulting from the sheer goodness and graciousness of the Infinite Creator for His finite creatures. As we can never merit it, so can we never hope to match it or repay it in kind. It originates in the free gift of faith, conferred on each of us in holy Baptism. No act has merited that first grace. It is solely and simply the proof of a special choice by Omnipotence, of me, my individual soul, to be the recipient of those divine gifts by which I acquire the means of becoming a saint. Therefore, sanctifying grace, which is what we refer to when we speak of the state of grace, supposes a continuing state or condition in which we live for a considerable period of time in the love and intimate friendship of God. This state admits of no artifice, nothing but utter, complete sincerity between the soul and God.
The soul of the infant before Baptism is like a ship, perfectly equipped, seaworthy, prepared for the voyage of life,
but awaiting the master-touch of the Great Captain, and the wind of grace to fill its sails, before the port can be cleared. Sanctifying grace is this favorable wind: it fills the soul, renders it pleasing to God and launches it on its long voyage heavenward.
Sanctifying grace first makes us children of God, and then sustains us as living members of Our Lord’s Mystical Body, children of His Church on Earth and heirs of His heavenly kingdom. Mary co-operated with her Divine Son who obtained this grace for us through the Incarnation, when her beautiful soul and body became the first tabernacle of the Son of God on Earth and she received into her heart the plenitude of celestial graces. Before that time, divine "prevenient grace" (a fore-running grace, or a preparatory grace) had brought about her Immaculate Conception; Heaven’s choicest graces had illumined her infant crib. She strove ever to live in humility and obscurity, unknown to all but God, at Nazareth with her spouse, the humble carpenter Joseph.
Full of Grace
Yet though Earth knew her not, God’s Angels from Heaven watched with loving awe, for all their cumulative graces and favors were as nothing in comparison with the privileges and blessedness of the soul of the Maiden Mary. What then can we say of the added graces that enriched her soul at the Incarnation? Indeed, it was this mystery that enthroned Mary as Mother of Divine Grace, since by it she became Mother of God, the Author and Source of all grace.
Picture a pure mountain lake, ice-bound, high up amid eternal snows, while far below stretches a waste of arid desert. So before the Incarnation were all divine graces pent up within the eternal spheres, inaccessible to man, who wandered the hot, thankless desert of the Old Testament world. Then, in the fullness of time, God smiled upon Mary, His Mother; her willing Fiat melted that ice-bound lake and she became the channel through which, after four thousand arid years, the torrents of God’s grace came to fructify anew this parched Earth.
Among the many paradoxes of human existence is this reality that we are born children of nature, yet destined to be children of God. The beginnings of our life are rooted in the soil of the natural order, and the end of it points to, and is destined for Heaven. It is another chasm, such as that between Lazarus and Dives. God alone can bridge the impasse; and this He does by a gift known as grace. To appreciate as best we may the beautiful name of Mary, Mother of Divine Grace, because Mother of Him Who is the author of all favors bestowed on man in the supernatural order, we must know more about this divine aid; at least we should know more than the name, grace.
We Need the Help of Grace
We are destined for Heaven; but we cannot attain it without help from God. “No man can come to Me except the Father draw him,” is Christ’s own word; and St. Paul had the same thought in mind when he wrote we can neither think a good thought nor speak a good word, which can be of use to our salvation, without the assistance of God. Grace means a favor; it means a gift, or something done for somebody, out of sheer goodness on the part of the benefactor, and no peculiar merit on the part of the beneficiary. The word, however, is usually understood in a spiritual sense, as a gift from God, the purpose of which is to make one holy, pleasing to God, and, eventually, qualified for Heaven.
There is a grace, and it is called actual, that might be described as the initial motion given us by God on the road to holiness. Of itself it does not constitute sanctity. A good example of this would be the urge or determination to renounce a Protestant sect and to become a Catholic. This is a mysterious change of sentiment, or change of mind; an4 it sometimes happens instantaneously.
St. Paul was galloping on horseback to persecute Christ and the Christians of Damascus, when he suddenly uttered his “What wilt Thou have me to do?” Actual grace is supernatural in its origin and in its object; because it is a help and an inspiration, a definite determination to shun one’s evil ways and to enter on a life of goodness. It is like the lifting of a cloud from the face of the sun; it is like a sudden light that shines and shows what is good, and, therefore, what a person should do. This initial help, this impulsive elan comes to souls, to whom the merits of Christ have been applied.
Not the least difficult angle of this question of grace is that of its sufficiency for salvation,—a point to be touched on in passing. Since God wills that all men be saved, it stands to reason that He gives all men even the hardest sinners enough to help to work out their own salvation. That is what St. Paul meant when, writing to the Church at Ephesus, he said: “To every man is given grace.” Nay, more, to everyone is given more than enough for salvation, if he only cooperates with it.
For, as St. Augustine expresses it: God who created man without man, cannot save man without man. And still, this grace never interferes with human liberty; it does not force man to do anything against his will; but it does enable him to will and do that of which he was utterly incapable by himself. Hence free-will, an essential part of human nature, is in no way interfered with by grace, which only strengthens it, rectifies and perfects it.
The Grace of Friendship
The grace, however, that makes man a friend of God, pleasing to God, united with God, the grace that divinizes him, so to speak, and which, when persevered in, opens Heaven is sanctifying grace.
One of man’s most humiliating characteristics is the fact of his dependence on someone else from cradle to grave. He is born in another’s pain and he dies upon his own. And between these two milestones he is forever needing assistance from outside. He depends on his parents for his life; on the soil for sustenance; on the sun and the stars to guide his passage on the Earth.
He begins to die at the instant of birth; and unless everybody and everything in the whole expanse of the world lends him a hand, he must lay down the load of his life, as a burden too heavy to bear, and that, long before he has reached the zenith of his power or the pinnacle of his prestige.
Without Grace, We Can Do Nothing
Nor is that all. Man, we said, is destined for higher things, for Heaven, which is his hereafter, his home. And of this supernatural destiny Christ said: “Without me, you can do nothing.” Without Him, there is no faith, no hope, no love, no Heaven. Without Christ there is nothing but sinfulness and sin. For, by coming down from Heaven, by His life and death He opened the gates of this new order of grace,—the supernatural order—to man.
This life of holiness on Earth as in Heaven is infinitely beyond man’s reach; and for it he needs light and strength from above. He needs the supernatural aid for his native weakness and helplessness to see the light for himself, to direct his steps in the darkness of this valley of exile, to maintain for himself a sort of heavenly paradise in the universe of God. It is grace that turns the eyes of his soul towards what is lasting beauty; and it is grace—sanctifying grace—that guides his feet towards the vast expanse of the sea of divine love.
The moment a soul receives this precious gift, it passes into a state of intimate union with God, and it receives a new honor, a new inheritance, as it thereby becomes an heir to the kingdom of Heaven. Sanctifying grace makes men temples of the Holy Ghost, gives special quality of merit to everything they do. It beautifies the soul, as it clothes it in a mantle of all Christian virtues.
It was Saint Paul who said that it is the love of God, poured into men’s hearts by the Holy Ghost. The gift of grace, Saint Thomas tells us, excels every gift that any creature can receive, since it is a participation of the divine nature. Kingdoms and thrones art not to be compared with it; nor are riches or honors, or health or beauty.
From Christ, Through Mary
Grace, then, is from Christ, whose Mother is Mary. She is, accordingly, the Mother of Divine Grace. One of the most beautiful and touching qualities of our Faith is that we have been taught from infancy to go to Jesus through Mary. Our lips have long ago learned to say those prayerful words: “Never has it been known that anyone who had recourse to thee was left unaided.”
And just as our first love in life was mother-love, and just as we had gone to that dear angel of our cradle days; and just as it was she who first folded us in her maternal arms, fed us from her own substance; and represented for us everything that was noble and good and beautiful and true; so, too, it was to Mary that we turned when our infant lips first began to pray. Like Gabriel, we did not call her by her rightful name; like him we said: “Hail, full of grace.”
Being Mother of God—and this cannot be repeated too often, to make our devotion profound —she must have whatever was necessary for that divine dignity. She must have the corresponding grace and endowments because her Son was God, the same Son as had Our Father in Heaven. The Blessed Virgin, says Saint Thomas, by the very fact that she is the Mother of God, has a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good that is God. Her purity, says the same Saint, under Christ was supreme.
Pinnacle of Grace
The fact that she was the Mother of God gave her a special office, and so, she must have a special sanctity from which even her intellect was not excluded. God owed it to His honor that in all that knowledge by which the human mind is ennobled, Mary should surpass the rest of mankind. Though seemingly but a poor peasant woman, busy about the daily tasks of her humble home, she was full of divine wisdom because she was full of divine grace; she saw more clearly than any saint, or intellectual or scientist the manifestation of the glory of God in the realm of nature, and she had a vision of the beauty of His world to which no poet can ever attain.
Mediatrix of All Grace
In virtue of her mission of Mother of Grace, she has been called the great Mediatrix of all graces. The reason is evident; she is the Mother of the Redeemer, who, by His Blood, has purchased all the graces that have been given, or shall be given since the Fall. Then, too, she became a spiritual Mother of men at the Incarnation, a title she actually received on Calvary from her expiring Son. Hence the belief that it is through her hands we receive all the graces we seek in prayer, all the graces that lead us to the Sacraments, and prepare us for their worthy reception.
Truly is she the Mother of Divine Grace, full to overflowing with all the treasures of Heaven. And Jesus has given her to mankind, to be the channel through which all His graces flow, and all His blessings are bestowed—the blessings of faith and love, of hope and Heaven.
The Meaning of “Mother of Christ”
It would seem at first sight that since Jesus Christ is God, to call her “Mother of Christ” is but a repetition, being the same as calling her “Mother of God.” That is essentially so, of course. There is none of her titles that can approach in glory—”Mother of God.” You can say no more than that, and could make a litany out of that one name. But just as all the other titles are special qualifications, calling attention to some of her special offices or graces or dignities, so is it with her name “Mother of Christ.”
A Royal Title
It is her accolade of royalty that distinguishes her as Queen, because she is the Mother of the King; Queen of Prophets, because she is the Mother of the Prophet-King; and Queen of the Clergy, a title that is added to the Litany in our seminaries, because she is the Mother of the High Priest, or King-Priest. Thus it is a title full of beauty, crowning her as the Virgin Mother who gave birth to the Christ, the expected Deliverer of the people, the Expected of the nations.
The Mother of the “Anointed One”
Jesus is the personal name of Our Lord, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Joshua, meaning Jehovah, the Savior. And “Christ” is His title, a qualifying title, also Greek, and a translation of the Hebrew “Messias,” or “Anointed One.”
How that word “anointed” opens up the whole treasury of the Scriptures! We see the long line of prophets, priests and kings, set apart for their special offices as the oil was poured upon their head. It would take us too far afield to go into the history of the custom of anointing. It is lost in antiquity. It is found in the history of every people, being one of the most primitive of rites in pagan religions.
History of Anointings
From the very beginning we find it in the Jewish law. The oil of the olive which was used was ever a symbol of the illuminating spirit, no doubt because it was used for light. To the Oriental, so dependent upon the olive-tree for many things, it meant fruitfulness, beauty, strength and everlasting life. One readily sees how applicable that significance is to Christ. Chrism, the Greek word from which Christ is derived, means anything smeared or anointed. So that Christ, being anointed as Prophet, Priest and King, is fittingly called from several points of view the Christ or the Anointed One.
We are all familiar with the many occasions when the anointing with Holy Oil is used in our Catholic ritual. The blessing of those oils is a solemn thing, filled with poetry as well as religion.
There is a beautiful prayer for the blessing of the Chrism, from the Gelasian sacramentary : “Send forth O Lord, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit the Paraclete from Heaven into this fatness of oil, which Thou hast deigned to bring forth out of the green wood for the refreshing of mind and body, of soul and spirit, for the expulsion of all pains, of every infirmity, of every sickness of mind and body. For with the same Thou hast anointed priests, kings, and prophets and martyrs with this Thy Chrism, perfected by Thee, O Lord, blessed, abiding within our bowels in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Mother of the Messias
The realization of Jesus as the Messias, the Christ, the Anointed One, gives a special point to Mary’s title of “Mother
of Christ.” It endows her with a special glory. The fact that she was found worthy to be the Mother of the Messias is not the least of her merits. It is not just another title; Mary had her part and an important part in fulfilling prophecy. Were it not for her, perhaps the Messias would not yet have come. We have seen how some theologians say that the Son of God was so attracted by the beauty of her soul that He anticipated the time of the Incarnation.
There is a hint of that in the Gradual of the Mass of the Feast of the Assumption--“Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear; for the King hath greatly desired thy beauty” (Psalm 44). Nor is it too much to believe that her prayer did hasten the Incarnation, though, of course, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, she could not merit it. It was a matter in which she, even as an ordinary daughter of Israel, was deeply interested, just the same as many holy souls of her day and during the long ages before her.
Waiting for the Messias
The vital religious strain running all through Jewish history, especially during the times of defeat and oppression, was the expectation of and the longing for the Deliverer. This Deliverer they called the Messias, the Christ. He had been promised in the Garden of Eden. That promise had given hope to man and it had never been forgotten. True, as time went on and men forgot God, they lost sight of that vision of hope; but with the Jewish people that hope and sure expectation persisted so that it was very part of their nation.
No need to go into the details of that expectation, as noted in Scripture. Already in the Pentateuch a Liberator and Prophet is promised, Who shall come from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The identification becomes more definite. In the reigns of David and Solomon this Liberator is foretold as coming from their royal line, and finally, so as to leave no doubt about His complete identification, the Prophets not only tell His origin but even go into the details of His birth, His life, His passion and death and the perpetuity of His celestial Kingdom. As the Talmud puts it—“All the prophets only prophesied of the days of the Messias.”
The Jews of Mary’s time knew their Scriptures. They knew that the Messias would come one day. But most of them wrested the Scriptures to their own destruction. The reason of it was this. At that time theirs was on conquered nation. The heel of the oppressing Romans was on their necks. They hated the Romans, despised them. The Jews thought themselves superior, intellectually and every other way, to their conquerors.
Blind to the Messias
But in their pride of heart they had lost the spiritual touch. They were no longer interested in a spiritual Deliverer, and as for a suffering Messias, they would not deign to consider such a one. They wanted a King, a King as good as the Romans, stronger than the Romans, to give the Jews again their place in the sun. It was a perverted notion, a violation of all the spiritual glories for which their fathers had longed. They blinded themselves, and as we know, went blinded to their graves in spite of the glorious Sun of the Resurrection.
A Few Remained Faithful
But there was a remnant in Israel that was not so perverted, and a goodly remnant at that. How, otherwise, can you explain the high spirituality of Zachary and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, and the many others who were ready to follow John the Baptist and eventually Our Lord? Let the nation follow material things, embroil itself in petty politics. There were many who saw still through the eyes of God, and knew that nothing else mattered but the elemental things.
Now if there were these faithful ones who saw clearly what the Messias would be, and longed for His coming, what must
have been the thoughts of the Immaculate Mary, even before she had any hint that she was going to play such an important part in the fulfillment of the Messianic expectation. She knew the Scriptures by heart. How deep that knowledge was is evident from her composition of the Magnificat. The memorizing of Scripture was an easy thing to the Jews. They were well accustomed to it. And in the holy circle to which Mary belonged it was a labor of love. It may all be summed up in saying that she was a devout Jewess.
The Sinless Mother of the Sinless One
Yet there was more to it than that. As I have said, with our knowledge of the Immaculate Conception and its accompanying graces and power and knowledge, for she must have known at least all concerning the love of God and His Will, it would be quite impossible to over-estimate her spiritual concern about her own salvation and the salvation of the world.
She, the sinless one, was living in the midst of sin. She saw every manner of sin about her, and while it could not sully her, she hated it. She longed for the coming of Him Who would take away the sins of the world. We do not know of course, the great part that the prayers of the faithful had in hastening the coming of the Messias. We can believe these prayers were powerful, as all prayer is powerful. But if any prayer was powerful, what a power was the prayer of her who, though she herself had no clear idea of it, was all the while—yes, even from the beginning, being prepared for the most intimate association that could be with the Christ. We want to believe, we know, that the prayers of her immaculate lips did hasten the Deliverance of the World.
Then, when “to Nazareth, where Gabriel opened his wings.” (Dante) the Annunciation came to her that she was to be the Mother of the Messias, all was made to depend on her assent. Had she not assented—incredible, of course—we might still be waiting for our Messias to come, still beating our hands upon the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom to open to us, and to the dews of Heaven to rain down the Just One.
But “Christ, the Prince” (Daniel 9:25), has come, and thanks to Mary. That is the thought of the Church in the Introit of the Mass of her Nativity--“Hail, Holy Mother, who didst bring forth the King, Who ruleth Heaven and Earth for ever.” Mother of Christ--“for she was imaged there by Whom the Key did open to God’s love” (Dante).
The Incarnation of Christ
The Incarnation reveals the stupendous grandeur of the divine plan in regard to mankind. God not only would create, but He would lift up the whole of creation to Himself, to a participation in His divine life. He Himself would become man and be mankind’s Teacher, King, and Priest — the Christ, God’s Anointed. And so Mary, “in a marvelous birth . . . brought Him forth as source of all supernatural life and presented Him, new-born, as Prophet, King and Priest to those, who were the first come of Jews and Gentiles to adore Him” (Pope Pius XII, encyclical Mystici Corporis). As Mother of Christ Mary is not only the foremost beneficiary of the Incarnation but also most intimately associated with her divine Son in the exercise of His prophetic, royal, and priestly office.
Christ the Incarnate Word of God
It is a tragic fact of history that man, endowed with a mind to know God and with a will to love Him, should have fallen into those unspeakable aberrations of pagan idolatry, and should follow in our own days the even more degrading errors of atheistic and materialistic philosophy. “While professing to be wise, they have become fools” (Romans 1:22). It is a fearful illustration of the havoc original sin has wrought in the minds of men and of the influence Satan exercises in the world. Christ, the incarnate Word of God, came to speak to men the words of God and to teach them the ways of truth. He solemnly declares before Pilate: “This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). To make sure that this truth would reach all men, He founds the Church and commissions her to make all men His disciples; and in order to protect His Church against all falsifications of the truth, He bestows upon the head of the Church the gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.
Christ the King
Christ is King; His is a spiritual kingdom. It is of this fact that Christ speaks to Pilate, in order to allay his fears of a political uprising: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought that I might not have been delivered to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). The royal command for the spiritual conquest of the world is given when Christ sends out His Apostles to teach all men to observe all things He has taught. Since words teach, but examples draw, He places Himself at the head of His followers and shows the way. He does the will of the Father so as always to please Him; He humbles Himself and becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross. But obedience leads to victory; Christ’s death upon the cross is His eternal triumph.
Christ the Priest
It is for this reason that Jesus, although foretelling persecutions and suffering, can inspire all His followers with invincible courage: “In the world you will have affliction. But take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And so Christ rules as the King and Center of hearts; no earthly king ever possessed the love and loyalty of his followers as He does.
The most excellent of Christ’s offices is the priestly office, and the first and foremost function of the priestly office is the offering of sacrifice, in which our relations to God as our Creator and Last End find their most perfect expression. Isaias speaks of the Messias as a sheep led to slaughter because of our sins, the psalmist sees Him as the priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, and St. Paul speaks of the eternal priesthood of Christ.
Christ the Victim
Christ accepted His priestly mission in the very first moment of His earthly existence: “Therefore in coming into the world he says, ‘Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not, but a body thou hast fitted to me. . . . Behold I come — to do thy will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5 ff.). He actually offered His sacrifice, “on the altar of the cross, offering Himself as a stainless peace-offering in order to accomplish the mystery of man’s redemption” (Preface, Feast of Christ the King). He wished to perpetuate this bloody sacrifice in an unbloody manner through the instrumentality of priests in Holy Mass: “Do this in remembrance of Me. . . . For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:24 ff.).
Yet the sacrifice of the cross and that of the altar are substantially the same, since “the Victim is one and the same, the same is the offering priest . . . the manner of offering alone being different.” This is the definite teaching of the Council of Trent. Thus through the sacrifice of Christ sin is atoned, God’s justice satisfied, and the whole of creation returned to God from whom it came forth.
The mere fact that Mary is the Mother of Christ makes her inseparable from all blessings which Christ has brought to the world as Teacher, King, and Priest. Destined, however, to be also the spiritual Mother of men, she has taken and is taking an eminent part in the work of Christ.
Teacher of Christians
Mary, too, is teacher. She teaches in ways that can neither be seen nor heard externally, but are perceived by faith and experienced by the heart. She teaches by the sinlessness of her life, by her closeness to God in prayer, thought, and desire, by her absolute conformity to the will of God, by her love of souls, by her sufferings for the salvation of men.
Mary is Queen, Queen of the heavens, Queen of all angels and saints, Queen of the human race. She rules by the grace and authority of her divine Son. “Behold,” she says, “my Lord has delivered to me all things; there is nothing that is not within my power, nothing that He has not turned over to me” (Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces). Therefore she is called the suppliant omnipotence. With queenly authority, then, she calls upon men in her Fatima apparitions to stop offending her divine Son and to do penance.
Mother of the Priest
The Mother of Christ, the divine High Priest, though not vested with the priestly office in the strict sense of the word, nevertheless had a more eminent share in the offering of the sacrifice of our salvation than any other saint, for, the Victim on the cross is her Son, and His sentiments and priestly mind are also hers. Her whole life is part and parcel of this sacrifice and so profound and penetrating are her sufferings that she is the Queen of all martyrs.
And so Mary’s part in Christ’s sacrifice is the call and pattern for our participation, by which we must fill up in our bodies what is as yet wanting to the Passion of Christ. St. Peter speaks of the faithful as a royal, a holy priesthood, called to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. These spiritual sacrifices of the faithful receive their consecration, so to say, through union with the Eucharistic sacrifice, which they offer, “not only by the hands of the priest, but also to a certain extent, in union with him” (Mediator Dei).
The threefold office of Christ, Teacher, King, and Priest, and the part which the Mother of Christ has in the exercise of these offices, point out the only way in which the world can be saved and peace restored to mankind: return to God. “But man turns properly to God, when he acknowledges His supreme majesty and supreme authority; when he accepts divinely revealed truths with a submissive mind; when he scrupulously obeys divine law, centering in God his every act and aspiration; when he accords, in short, due worship to the one true God” (Pope Pius XII, encyclical Mediator Dei).
This means that Christ must be accepted as Teacher, King, and Priest. May Mary, the Mother of Christ, save the world by leading it to her divine Son.
Clean of Heart
No one can ever hope to be worthy of an angel’s visit, as was the Mother of God; and that she was so honored is part reason for the veneration in which she is held. We are reminded of the words of Our Lord, concerning one of the Eight Beatitudes: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Impurity blinds the spiritual mind, because it engrosses itself in lust and blinds itself to the things above. Mary was a virgin, a holy virgin—thus it is not surprising that she saw the things of God more frequently than others.
She heard from one of God’s most exalted messengers the greatest and the most sublime secret ever whispered to a human heart. From the sweet, prayerful simplicity of an otherwise ordinary existence, she was called up from among all creatures, and asked to be the mother of God. And her first reaction to the call has astounded the world to this day.
Honor Brings Humility
Usually when a person is asked to accept an honor, trifling or sublime, to be the leader of a small group or leader of an army, he rejoices; and before he counts the cost of his own ineptitude, he accepts it and is proud, proud of honors that do not nourish his family but only his pride. Not so, our Blessed Lady.
The Sacrifice of Virginity
Between her and God there had been a deep secret, as strange as it was deep. For, when every spiritual minded Jewish maiden, especially if she belonged to the royal family of David, had one thought for her future, and that was marriage, in the fond hope of becoming mother of the Messias, Mary, with a humility and love of God surpassing all human understanding would forego her chances for such an honor. She had made a vow of virginity. That is the interpretation which spiritual writers put on her words: “I know not man.” Virginity and motherhood were incompatible; Mary would renounce the latter, be it that even of Emmanuel, in order to be true to the former.
God’s Dignity Requires Virginity
Now, that the Immaculate Conception has been defined (1854), and the thousands of testimonies of the Fathers and Writers of the Church of all ages have been examined and classified, these seem to have crystallized into a teaching that makes us positively certain of Mary’s virginity. It seems abhorrent to think of her at any time, before or after the coming of Christ, as being anything but a Virgin.
The dignity of God the Father seemed to require it; because since His Son was also Mary’s, it is certain that He would not wish to share with another the paternity of Christ, whose own sinlessness demanded that He should take flesh from a virgin without the cooperation of man. It is, then, the constant and pious belief of all Christian ages that Mary was a vowed Virgin; that her body, her life, her heart were never to know the alleged ecstasy of passion; that her undefiled and beautiful body was never to respond to man’s importunate caresses. The white lily of her spotless purity was never to be blighted by man’s sensual touch.
She Sacrificed Being A Mother, And So Became A Mother!
This was her vision; this was her ideal; it was a vision of beauty and of loyalty never to be a mother, be it even the Mother of God. It was the solemn promise to which she clung with all the burning enthusiasm of her nature even when the extraordinary message of an angel swept suddenly like a summer storm into her life.
To be mother, mother, we repeat, even of God could not make her waver from that vow. She was a virgin, and virgin she would always remain. And she was so determined on that course that her first answer to the Archangel would imply a refusal: “How can this be, for I know not man?” And God would have to perform some new, some unprecedented miracle before she would change her mind.
One could paraphrase her words to mean that she would consent to be Mother of the Messias, on one only condition, that namely, she would never be asked to break her vow. Only when she had been reassured, did she answer her Fiat: “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
This very thought that a virgin conceived, a virgin bore a child, a virgin was fruitful, a virgin was forever a virgin puts a new and sublime interpretation on the Catholic doctrine of virginity.
Chastity and Virginity
There is a distinction between chastity and virginity, although the words are sometimes used indiscriminately. Virginity is the virtue of constancy in preserving oneself free from all sexual pleasures, whereas chastity preserves a person from inordinate or excessive pleasures only. Not everyone can be virginal, but everybody can and should be chaste. One may not be a virgin and be sinless; but a person can never be unchaste and still be without sin. Whenever in Holy Writ there is question of chastity the reference generally is to virginity, which is a distinctive result and effect of Christianity. It required nothing less than the virginal Son of a virgin Mother to create a condition of life so strange that it could be never understood by the greatest minds of the pagan world.
Mary had vowed to God her absolute abstinence from all sense pleasures; she had chosen it as a heritage; and Jesus chose to be born of it. This is the origin, source and cause of all the glorification showered on virginal life. We have mentioned how it was regarded by the Jews; and all history is witness that, in the rest of the known world, the tidal wave of sensuality had so broken down all reasonable barriers, that it, itself, had become an act of worship―much like it has become today, where sexual delight is the universal god that the neo-pagans worship and pursue.
A New Law of Purity
In the height of this pagan orgy, Jesus was born of a Virgin, and He became the great Law Maker of virginal chastity. His life, His example, the life and example of His Mother, became the fountain of the Christian reverence for such a vocation of purity. This new doctrine comes without interruption from Christ and Mary through Paul and John; and it grew and spread beyond any human or natural understanding. It was not merely a sentiment or a theory; it was an event, a historical fact, a reality.
A New Powerful Army
As suddenly as the sun rifts the lowering clouds, in a sex that had become chained to every human passion and indignity, there appeared countless maidens, despising what their own intimate associates had cherished, and giving a new glory to Christianity. “Look upon these troops of virgins and holy youths, as they address the Lord,” says Saint Augustine, “in Thy Church this race was nurtured; for Thee the vigorous bloom burst forth from the mother’s breast; there it lisped its first accents unto Thy name; Thee they made their prize; to Thee they offered their vow, and for the kingdom of heaven shut themselves off from marriage, not through dread of Thy threats, but through love of Thy promises.”
No sooner had Jesus drawn His virginal life from a virginal Mother, than a crowd of souls, betrothed to Him, sprang up over the face of the universe. No race on Earth had produced such a phenomenon; and now, the very weakest can boast of those who choose that self-denying life, on which the propagation of the supernatural life is based.
Virginity, since Mary, has become the condition of the Church’s fecundity, that shines forth in all its grandeur in the freely elected life of the clergy and the Religious Orders of men and women. They offer their sacrifice publicly, and seal their offering by a vow to virginity. They stand today, the glory of the Church, bidding an eternal defiance to worldliness and to the intimation of the futility of their lives for society. They can look back to day through the ever narrowing vistas of nineteen hundred years, and point to a Mary, an Agatha, a Cecilia, an Agnes, a John, an Ignatius, and Alphonsus, an Aloysius; they can point to thousands of men and women of their own age and condition, turning their backs daily on the mirage of earthly happiness, considering the most alluring pleasures as the passing pageant of an hour ‘ and be serenely content at its grandeur. Yes, to vow a life of virginity because one wants only God for a lover is a vocation that millions have followed and found in it peace and love.
Virginity Worthy of Motherhood
Now, this was the vow that Mary made to be worthy of her Son. She accepted motherhood only on the condition of a tremendous miracle. She was looking at Gabriel in a human form, yet making himself known, looking in amazed astonishment: “I know no man,” she said.
Was she actually refusing the proffered honor? Yes, no doubt, had not Gabriel come to her rescue. Softly, like the melody of an enchanting song, the solution broke upon her. The All wise God has ways unknown to man: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.”
This new and mysterious motherhood is to unite her to God in an inexpressibly marvelous way. Her Son will not be a human person, albeit having a human body and a human soul. His Person is Divine. And, therefore, His coming, far from destroying His Mother’s virginity, will only enhance and consecrate it. There is now no further objection on Mary’s part; her virginity will remain untarnished, and her answer, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” is, and must ever remain the answer of Faith, the bowing to the Will of God. “Thy Will be done.”
And so, Mary is a Virgin, because she pledged her body to God; and because of her great dignity of the Mother of God, she is the most wonderful of all; she is truly Virgin of all virgins. She is the Virgin of all those who worship before the throne, and who sing the song that no man could sing. They, too, are virgins, and they follow the Lamb wherever He goes; they were purchased by Him from among man, and “are found without spot before God.”
“Mother of Christ, Virgin of virgins!
Come with thy Jesus to me,
Though the world be cold,
My heart shall hold,
A shelter for Him and Thee.”
What An Honor!
“Whence is this to me,” Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, asked one day, “that the Mother of my God should come to me?” The answer, of course, is love. Men and women have always gloried in their titles to honor or to fame. They love to be called sir, madam, king, queen, etc. Soldiers serving their country and defending their flag, covet their well‑earned titles. And, yet, Mary shuddered at the thought of the most sublime title ever to be bestowed by God Himself.
Tradition has it that she was alone with God in the solitude of prayer when the Archangel Gabriel became the messenger of the Annunciation. It would be a great glory and a magnificent tribute to one’s greatness to be, say, mother of a Caesar, of a King, of a President of the United States. But all such names pale into dim insignificance before the essential glory of being the Mother of God. This Mary became when the Archangel said: “The Lord is with thee.”
A Title Rejected by Heretics
This dignity, always believed, had been disputed and disclaimed for four hundred years, because a host of heretics had denied the Incarnation. The most rabid of them maintained that Christ was a real man, man at his best, but fell short of being God. The error, like a fire fanned by contrary winds, spread through the nascent Church of Asia Minor and Greece, until all the Christian Bishops assembled at Ephesus, and in the year 431, defined as an Article of Faith that Christ was true God and true Man; and that, as a consequence, Mary is the Mother of God. Thus Gabriel’s salutation determined her mission: she was to have God, and she was to give God to the world.
If God is With His Creation, Then...
Those of us who have ever wandered alone by the seashore, or in the forest, who have stood alone in the open fields or on the summits of the mountains, will have felt that in the great free voice of nature which surrounds us, the soulless, voiceless things of God are forever singing Him a song of praise, a song of love. He who has not heard it is an exile in the Babylon of sin, a stranger to the harmonies of God. For, there is not a wind that sighs, not a flower that blooms, not a blade of grass that moves, each in itself almost an annunciation, but which whispers to the listening soul what the angel whispered to Mary: “The Lord is with thee.”
These words summed up the designs of God on the Blessed Virgin, and it is in them also that we can find the purpose of our own lives. For we are not cast upon the shores of time like wreckage from the ocean, thrown flotsam and jetsam aimlessly upon the strand. The main purpose in the life of the Blessed Virgin was to be filled with God, to have God, and in the fullness of time to give Him to the world, in word, in example and in literal reality.
A Masterpiece of God's Hands
At the very beginning of her life she came fresh from the hands of the Eternal Father, filled with innocence and glowing with the grace of God; and she saw, with the very first glimmerings of her reason, what God reveals to every soul, sooner or later, that, namely, all is vanity but to love Him and Him alone. Many a time, even before the Annunciation, the angels must have cried and called to her from Heaven: “The Lord is with thee.” When the fullness of time had come, they stood still in Heaven, and Mary received Christ into her heart, hid Him in her womb. “The Lord is with thee,” sang the angel, and loud and long the courts of Heaven echoed the refrain: “The Lord is with thee.”
So Close to God!
Because she was His Mother, Jesus was with her from the Annunciation to the Nativity; He was with her in the days of Bethlehem and Egypt. He was with her during the hidden life of Nazareth. A Mother’s eyes watched over Him, her mother arms entwined Him; a mother’s home guarded Him from winter cold and summer sun. She was His Mother, and He was with her in the poverty of Bethlehem, in the loneliness of exile, in her daily toil and daily prayer; with her as He was never with another before, except in the family of the Godhead in Heaven.
A Sharing Mother
But the purpose of the life of the Blessed Mother was also to give God to the world. Mary needed God because she needed love. Still, the greatness of her maternal heart would not suffer hers to be a selfish love. Through her maternity, Jesus chose to give Himself to the world. Scarcely had she folded for the first time the Son of God in her arms, when for the first time of many times, she gave Him to that saint of saints, Saint Joseph, solitary among all the saints, in his sanctity and in his simplicity.
She gave Him in turn to each of the shepherds, those rugged men, who in the simplicity of the accomplishment of their duty were keeping vigils over their flocks. She gave Him to the Wise Men, who when He had called, were undaunted by the length or the hardships of the journey. She gave her Divine Son to women as utterly distinct in sympathies as were Elizabeth and Magdalen. She gave Him freely to sinners. She gave Him with streaming eyes and breaking heart to the world where He was so much misrepresented and so little understood. Mary, the Mother of God, gave Him to Calvary and to the tomb; she gave Him to everyone and to everything, giving with Him consolation and hope and joy.
Not Counting the Cost
She did not count the cost; and it was because she gave Him so abundantly and gracefully, that He came back to her, only more completely, when on the day after His Resurrection she received Him again from the hands of her new‑found son, St. John. The Mother’s work is done, as far as her relations with Jesus are concerned. She passes from the pages of the Gospel thereafter forever.
Mother of the Man of Sorrows
It was on a day of bitterness and sorrow some thirty-three years after the Nativity, that the same Mother became, by the last testament of her only begotten Son, written in His Precious Blood on the death‑bed of a wooden Cross, became the Mother also of humanity redeemed.
The mysterious darkness had gathered around Golgotha, and the words, “Behold thy Mother” are the very last that Christ addressed to any human being. John is there, as is also Mary Magdalen, she had been at His feet before, on the evening of a day when her heart was breaking by some new betrayal and the rich ones of Jerusalem were feasting.
But the scene is different now. The lights of the banquet hall are dimmed, there is only the blackness of Calvary now; the voices of the revelers are hushed, and Jesus moans out His agony alone; the wine no longer gurgles in the goblets, but the blood of the Savior trickles down upon the Cross, and falls in saving benediction upon the crimes of the world.
Behold, another figure moves in, a woman sad and pale has taken her stand beneath the Cross. It is the Mother again, this time a Mother of Sorrows. She lifts her eyes, sees her Son, and is well‑nigh crushed and torn with grief; He is still her living Son; He is still the One who owes His human life to her.
Mother of Men
Then it was that the office of motherhood was born to her anew; it was her other Annunciation of the motherhood of men: “Behold thy son.” He thus bade her take St. John under her maternal care; and since that hour, the Church has always in her prayers and devotions looked upon the Mother of Jesus as also the Mother of mankind that He saved.
Since that day of divine sorrow the Catholic world has also taken Mary to its heart, has showered upon her all the love, reverence and piety that the fondest child could bestow on an earthly mother. It has called her Mother, and thrown itself in its joys and sorrows entirely and unreservedly under the cloak of her Immaculate protection. After her Son, she is our all in love and dignity.
Mother Disregarded and Discarded
Unfortunately, sh is also a mother that has been disregarded and discarded by modern man. In the last 50 years or so, devotion to her has grown, if we may use the words of Fr. Faber, "low and thin and poor! Mary is not half enough preached.
It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved, that heretics are not converted, that the Church is not exalted; that souls which might be saints wither and dwindle; that the Sacraments are not rightly frequented, or souls enthusiastically evangelized. Jesus is obscured because Mary is kept in the background. Thousands of souls perish because Mary is withheld from them. It is the miserable, unworthy shadow which we call our devotion to the Blessed Virgin that is the cause of all these wants and blights, these evils and omissions and declines" (Fr. Faber, Preface to his translation of True Devotion to Mary).
Because she is the Mother of God, says St. Thomas Aquinas, the Blessed Virgin has a species of dignity that is infinite, because it is derived from the infinite God; on this account, therefore, there cannot be anything better, just as there cannot be anything better than God.
Mary is the Mother of God, because her Son was God. She is the Mother for the same reason that any woman is mother of her child. But someone will object that Mary did not give her Son His Divine Nature, and therefore, she is not the Mother of God. No woman gives her child his spiritual soul, which is a direct gift of God. But, still she is none the less the child’s mother on that account.
Nor is Mary any the less her Child’s Mother though His soul and Divinity did not come from her. Other women are justly called the mothers of men, and Mary is justly called the Mother of God. God in giving us Mary as our Mother―Mary of Bethlehem, Mary of Cana, Mary who stood beside the Cross appeals to the human nature He has given us, which is so responsive to the name of “Mother.” It is His will that through Mary we should learn something of the infinitely greater tenderness of His own love for us.
We shall close this consideration of the motherhood of Mary by the Church’s prayer for the Feast of the day she became a mother: “O God, who didst please that Thy Word at the message of an angel, should take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary; grant that we who believe her to be I truly the Mother of God, may be aided by her intercession. Amen.”
Holy Mary! Holy, because she was chosen to be the Mother of God, while remaining the Holy Virgin of Virgins. Always holy! Holy one! And justly so, because it is in fact her real name—“the holy one.” Scholars have had endless discussion about the meaning of the name Mary, but to no practical end. I wish we knew the real meaning of it. It would be illuminating, for it is quite impossible to believe that God left to chance the naming of His Mother. She was too tremendous a creation for that. But so far, it is one of God's secrets, a secret that is perhaps reserved for us for the moment we get by the gates of Heaven.
The Name Mary
So whether Mary means "Star of the Sea" or "Drop of the Sea" or "Exalted" or "Strong" or "Powerful" or “Illuminating" or "Well-Beloved" or "Lady" or "The Beautiful or Perfect one" or "Bitter Sea," we are not absolutely sure in the way of knowing. But when all is said and done, God did give her her true name, even though He may not have chosen "Mary." He sent her, through Gabriel, her real name. Her first troubadour, pronounced it with his "Hail, full of grace!" That is the name that distinguishes her from other Mary's, the name that sets her apart as the "Holy Mary," the holy one, because she is full of the grace of God.
Holy comes before Mary
It is that grace, that holiness, added to the name Mary, that emblazons it against the blue of the sky, the Woman clothed with the Sun. Holiness—that is the essential meaning of Mary, the Mother of God; and holiness has to be the essential element in our own lives. St. Jerome had a like thought when he said--"What is there to name Mary but sanctification." Likewise, what is there that we can wish to possess in this world more than holiness?
“There is none holy as the Lord is” (1 Kings 2:2). “It is written: ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16) ...“You shall be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:46). Jesus said to us: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
If God is so holy, then the more we let God into our loves, the holier will be become. To Our Lady the Angel Gabriel said: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). As a result, she would be “born…of…the Holy Ghost” (John 3:5) and “grow up into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21) … “holy, pleasing unto God” (Romans 12:1).
Pinnacle of Creation
We learn from the book of Genesis that after His various creations God examined them, and saw that they were good. God loves all the things which He has created, loves them with an everlasting love; He loves men and minds and matter; He loves everything because everything that is, is good, that is, everything except sin. Sin He hates because He is infinitely holy, and because sin is the one big, black blotch on the face of creation. But that foul monster never touched or tainted the Immaculate Mother.
When He made His beautiful, His spotless one, He carefully numbered her. With what number, it may be asked? Surely number one, for she was the first of all creatures, the chef d’oeuvre, the masterpiece of the whole of God’s creation. We know that when a piece of choice material is folded together, it may seem faultless and clean, for we cannot see what is folded-away inside; but if it is opened out in broad daylight, many a flaw may be discovered, many a crease and perhaps unsightly spot will stand revealed; but in Mary’s holy, not a speck was visible, even to the searching gaze of the Maker. Nothing but a wide expanse of glittering, peerless brilliancy and holiness unrolled itself before Him. When my turn comes to be measured, what will come to light? One's mind shrinks in fear from the thought of our infinitely holy God handling anything so unholy. What will be shaken out of the endless creases? The imagination recoils in horror from the picture conjured up.
“He created her in the Holy Ghost, and saw her, and numbered her, and measured her. And He poured her out upon all His works, and upon all flesh according to His gift, and hath given her to them that love Him” (Ecclesiasticus 1:9-10). "He measured her." There is a calmness of purpose shown by that phrase. When we measure a thing we are in earnest about it. We want no mistakes, no ocular delusions. We take down our measurements. We examine if they are long enough, sufficiently wide for our purpose. Now God was deeply in earnest when He measured Mary. He was not like the foolish man against whom we are warned in the Gospel, who began to build a house, not having wherewith to finish it. He wanted her for a definite purpose. He wanted a mother for Himself, and so He "sanctified His tabernacle" (Psalm 45:5). He wanted, too, a mother for His brethren, and so, having measured her, and not finding her wanting, "He poured her out on all mankind."
Children Resemble their Parents
Mary, the Mother of the Holy One and full of grace, must be holy; the Queen of all saints must possess the highest degree of holiness. This holy Mother is also our Mother, and she desires nothing more than to see her children resemble her and her divine Son.
“In My holy mountain, in the high mountain of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel serve Me” (Ezechiel 20:40). Mary can be said to the that ‘mountain’—like Mount Carmel—who rises up above all the lowly hills of holiness that surround her. “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). The less ‘blemishes’ on the soul, the more powerful that soul’s prayer is before God: “Now we know that God doth not hear sinners: but if a man be a server of God, and doth his will, him He heareth” (John 9:31). The holiness of Mary is a holiness without blemish—hence her prayers possess a supreme power.
Power of Mary’s Holiness
“Now therefore pray for us, for thou art a holy woman, and one fearing God” (Judith 8:29). “And thou shalt sanctify all, and they shall be most holy” (Exodus 30:29). As Mary sanctified the household of Zachary, Elizabeth and the child in her womb—John the Baptist—so too can she sanctify our household if she is invited and listened to. Mary is the holy and believing daughter, mother and spouse of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Her holiness radiates to and sanctifies those who approach her. As St. Paul says: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband: otherwise your children should be unclean; but now they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). Likewise, the faithful and believing Mary will sanctify and save the unfaithful and unbelieving that we are, or once have been.
We Must Also Be Holy
It is not only Mary who has to be and is holy; nor is it—out the millions and billions of souls that have ever existed and will exist— just a few saints that have to be holy. No, every single soul was created by God to be holy. “Let them therefore be holy, because I also am holy, the Lord, Who sanctify them” (Leviticus 21:8). “Know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, Who is in you, Whom you have from God; and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). “But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity” (Ephesians 1:4). “The Lord will raise thee up to be a holy people to Himself, as He swore to thee: if thou keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9). In virtue of this life we are holy, but we are to become more holy from day to day, "for this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Sin Brings Death to Holiness
Sin and mediocrity, even though it exists, was not the desire, intention and plan of God. As Holy Scripture says, looking at the work of His creation “God saw that it was good… And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.” (Genesis 1:10; 1:31). Sin and mediocrity came into the world through the works of the devil and man. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “the sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56). “When concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death” (James 1:15).
The Medicine of Mary’s Holiness
We need the holiness of Mary to counter the evil of our sins. She is the holy masterpiece of God, the holy Temple of God: “The Lord is in His holy temple” (Psalms 10:5). “Know ye also that the Lord hath made his holy one wonderful” (Psalms 4:4). Holy Mary is without sin—her holiness is a perfect holiness—and she can help pull us out of the mire of sin: “Pray to the Lord your God, that He take away from me this death” (Exodus 10:17). We cry out to God and beg Him to give us Holy Mary as a help in our predicament: “Send her out of Thy holy Heaven, and from the throne of Thy majesty, that she may be with me, and may labor with me, that I may know what is acceptable with Thee” (Wisdom 9:10). “He created her in the Holy Ghost, and saw her, and numbered her, and measured her. And He poured her out upon all His works, and upon all flesh according to His gift, and hath given her to them that love Him” (Ecclesiasticus 1:9-10). “They that serve her, shall be servants to the holy one: and God loveth them that love her” (Ecclesiasticus 4:15).
God will gladly give Holy Mary to them that love Him and who want to be like Him—that is to say, holy: “And thou shalt sanctify all, and they shall be most holy” (Exodus 30:29). For holiness is our vocation; holiness is what perfects our being made in the image and likeness of God; holiness is a command of God’s; holiness is the means for attaining eternal life and avoiding the death of sin.
Catholics—like the Chosen People—have an
Obligation to Holiness
The words God addressed to the Chosen People of the Old Testament, apply equally to the Chosen People of the New Testament—the Catholics. God Himself says: “Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). “Sanctify yourselves, and be ye holy, because I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7). “You shall be holy unto Me, because I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from other people, that you should be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26). “Because thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee, to be His peculiar people of all peoples that are upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). These are the commands of God.
Universal Vocation of Holiness
This vocation to holiness and the role that Holy Mary has to play in it, is beautifully stated by St. Louis Marie de Montfort, in his book The Secret of Mary:
“Chosen soul, living image of God and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, God wants you to become holy like Him in this life, and glorious like Him in the next. It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation. All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake, must lead you towards that end. Otherwise you are resisting God, in not doing the work for which He created you and for which He is even now keeping you in being ... Chosen soul, how will you bring this about? What steps will you take to reach the high level to which God is calling you? The means of holiness and salvation are known to everybody, since they are found in the Gospel; the masters of the spiritual life have explained them; the saints have practiced them and shown how essential they are for those who wish to be saved and attain perfection. These means are: sincere humility, unceasing prayer, complete self-denial, abandonment to divine Providence, and obedience to the will of God. The grace and help of God are absolutely necessary for us to practice all these. We are sure that grace will be given to all, though not in the same measure. No one can contest these principles. It all comes to this, then. We must discover a simple means to obtain from God the grace needed to become holy. It is precisely this I wish to teach you. My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God” (St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of Mary).
The Name Mary
We first pronounce the world “Holy” and only then do we say “Mary.” Just as the soul gives life to the body; so too does holiness give life to the soul. A soul in the state that is opposed to holiness—namely, the state of sin—is either dying to God (as in the case of venial sin) or is already dead to God (as in the case of mortal sin). “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Matthew 8:36). What good is it giving someone a beautiful name if they are not also given the beauty of holiness? Will the beautiful name save them? No. The beauty of holiness will save them. Mary’s name is so powerful because she is so holy. Without that holiness, that name would lose its power.
What a reverence St. Bernard had for the Name of Mary! "In the Name of Mary every knee bows; the devils not only fear but tremble at the very sound of this name." And likewise Thomas à Kempis: "Glorious, indeed, and admirable is thy name, O Mary: for those who pronounce it at death need not fear all the powers of Hell." It brings to mind the verse concerning the woman clothed with the sun from the Book of Apocalypse, who is "like an army set in battle array."
Power and Weakness; Life and Death
Holiness brings a power in battle; sinfulness brings a weakness in battle. Holiness leads to life—eternal life in Heaven; sinfulness leads to death—eternal ‘death’ in Hell.
St Paul tells us our warfare is not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers and the spirits of evil in high places. And did Mary not withstand them? St Bonaventure says: "Mary alone was free from every vice and shone with every virtue. To pride she opposed humility most lowly; to envy, charity most loving; to sloth, diligence most unwearied; to anger, meekness most gentle; to avarice, poverty most straitened; to gluttony, sobriety most temperate; to sensuality, virginity most chaste" (Speculum B.V.M., Lect. 10).
To be holy is the first and foremost task of the Christian. A certain minimum of holiness is necessary for salvation, but the higher degrees of holiness are the aspiration and hope of all true lovers of God. Nothing bestows upon man greater worth and dignity. The beginning of Christian holiness was given us in baptism, and it is the will of God that we guard and develop it. Therefore St. Peter writes, “As the One who called you is holy, be you also holy in all your conversation; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15). As Mary is our leader to Christ, so she is our leader to holiness. The more we appreciate and desire her guidance, the more freely she can act.
That is why we, who are sinners, and who, of ourselves can do nothing but sin, have still Faith enough to call on Mary in our trials and our necessities. If we live in dread to approach her, because she is so holy, we must always remember the merciful titles which the hope and trust of all centuries have given her. As the pale, yet lovely moon does nothing but shine, so Mary, the holy woman, does nothing but love God and intercede for sinners—intercede and is never refused—That is why from the depths of our sinning hearts we say: “Holy Mary ... pray for us, pray for us sinners!”