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DISCOURSE IV

THE ANNUNCIATION OF MARY

March 25.

 

In the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, Mary could not have humbled herserlf more than she did humble herself:  God, on the other hand, could not have exalted her more than he did exalt her.

 

Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted ("Qui autem se exaltaverit, humiliabitur; et qui se humiliaverit, exaltabitur"—Matt. xxiii. 12).  These are the words of our Lord, and cannot fail.  Therefore, God having determined to become man, that he might redeem lost man, and thus show the world his infinite goodness, and having to choose a Mother on earth, he sought amongst women for the one that was the most holy and the most humble.  But amongst all, one there was whom he admired, and this one was the tender Virgin Mary, who, the more exalted were her virtues, so much the more dove-like was her simplicity and humility, and the more lowly was she in her own estimation.  There are young maidens without number: one is my dove, my perfect one ("Adolescentularum non est numerus; una est Columba mea, Perfecta mea"—Cant. vi. 8).  Therefore God said:  This one shall be my chosen Mother.  Let us now see how great was Mary's humility and consequently how greatly God exalted her.  Mary could not have humbled herself more than she did humble herself in the Incarnation of the Word; this will be the first point.  That God could not have exalted Mary more than he did exalt her; this will be the second.

 

I.

The Holy Spirit in the sacred Canticles, speaking precisely of the humility of the most humble Virgin, says:  While the king was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odor thereof ("Dum esset Rex in accubitu suo, nardus mea dedit odorem suum"—Cant. i. 11).  St. Antoninus, explaining these words, says that "spikenard, being a small and lowly herb, was a type of Mary, the sweet odor of whose humility, ascending to heaven so to say, awakened the divine Word, reposing in the bosom of the Eternal Father, and drew him into her virginal womb" ("Nardus est herba parva, sed significant Beatam Virginem, quae dedit odorem suae humilitatis; qui odor usque ad coelum ascendit, et in coelo accumbentem quasi evigilare fecit, et in utero suo quiescere"—P. 4, t. 15, c. 21, #2).  So that our Lord, drawn as it were by the sweet odor of this humble Virgin, chose her for his Mother, when he was pleased to become man to redeem the world.

            But he, for the greater glory and merit of this Mother, would not become her Son without her previous consent.  The Abbot William says, "He would not take flesh from her unless she gave it" ("Nec carnem volebat sumere ex ipsa, non dante ipsa"—Delrio, In Cant. i. 2).  Hence, when this humble Virgin (for so it was revealed to St. Elizabeth of Hungary) was in her poor little cottage, sighing and beseeching God more fervently than ever, and with desire more than ever ardent, that he would send the Redeemer; behold, the Archangel Gabriel arrives, the bearer of the great message.  He enters and salutes her, saying:  Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women ("Ave, gratia Plena!  Dominus tecum; benedicta tu in mulieribus"—Luke, i. 28).  Hail, O Virgin full of grace; for thou wast always full of grace above all other saints.  The Lord is with thee, because thou art so humble.  Thou art blessed amongst women, for all others fell under the curse of sin; but thou, because thou art the Mother of the blessed one, art, and always wilt be blessed, and free from every stain.

            But what does the humble Mary answer to a salutation so full of praises?  Nothing; she remains silent, but reflecting upon it, is troubled:  Who having heard was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be ("Quae cum audisset, turbata est in sermone ejus, et cogitabat quails esset ista salutation").  Why was she troubled?  Did she fear an illusion, or was it her virginal modesty which caused her to be disturbed at the sight of a man, as some suppose, in the belief that the angel appeared under a human form?  No, the text is clear:  She was troubled at his saying ("Turbata est in sermone ejus").  "Not at his appearance, but at what he said" ("Non in vultu, sed in sermone ejus"—In Fer. 4 p. Dom 4 Adv.), remarks Eusebius Emissenus.  Her trouble, then, arose entirely from her humility, which was disturbed at the sound of praises so far exceeding her own lowly estimate of herself.  Hence, the more the angel exalted her, the more she humbled herself, and entered into the consideration of her own nothingness.  Here St. Bernardine remarks, that "had the angel said, O Mary, thou art the greatest sinner in the world, her astonishment would not have been so great; the sound of so high praises filled her with fear" ("Si dixisset: Tu, O Mari! es lascivior quae sit in mundo;—non ita admirata fuisset; unde turbata fuit de tantis laudibus"—T. III. Quardr. S. 37, p. 3).  She was troubled; for, being so full of humility, she abhorred every praise of herself, and her only desire was that her Creator, the giver of every good thing, should be praised and blessed.  This Mary herself revealed to St. Bridget, when speaking of the time in which she became Mother of God: "I desired not my own praise, but only that my Creator, the giver of all, should be glorified" ("Nolui laudem meam, sed solius Datoris et Creatoris"—Rev. l. 2, c. 23).         

            The Blessed Virgin was already well aware, from the sacred Scriptures, that the time foretold by the prophets for the coming of the Messiah had arrived; that the weeks of Daniel were completed; that already, according to the prophecy of Jacob, the scepter of Juda had passed into the hands of Herod, a strange king: she already knew that a virgin was to be the Mother of the Messiah.  She then heard the angel give her praises which, it was evident, could apply to no other than to the Mother of God.  Hence, may not the thought, or at least some vague impression, have entered her mind, that perhaps she was this chosen Mother of God?  No, her profound humility did not even admit such an idea.  Those praises only caused great fear in her: "so much so," as St. Peter Chrysologus remarks, "that as Christ was pleased to be comforted by an angel, so was it necessary that the Blessed Virgin should be encouraged by one" ("Sicut Christus per Angelum confortari voluit, ita decuit Virginem per Angelum animari"—Suarez, De Inc. q. 30, a. 2).  St. Gabriel, seeing Mary so troubled and almost stupefied by the salutation, was obliged to encourage her, saying, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace with God ("Ne timeas, Maria; invenisti enim gratiam apud Deum"—Luke, i. 30).  Fear not, O Mary, and be not surprised at the great titles by which I have saluted thee; for if thou in thine own eyes art so little and lowly, God, who exalts the humble, has made thee worthy to find the grace lost by men; and therefore he has preserved thee from the common stain of the children of Adam.  Hence, from the moment of thy conception, he has honored thee with a grace greater than that of all the saints; and therefore he now finally exalts thee even to the dignity of being his Mother.  Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son: and thou shalt call His name Jesus ("Ecce concipies in utero, et paries filium, et vocabis nomen ejus Jesum")

            And now, why this delay, O Mary?  "The angel awaits the reply" (says St. Bernard); "and we also, O Lady, on whom the sentence of condemnation weighs so heavily, await the word of mercy" ("Exspectat Angelus responsum; expectamus et nos, O Domina! verbum miserationis, quos miserabiliter permit sentential damnationis"); we, who are already condemned to death.  "Behold, the price of our salvation is offered thee; we shall be instantly delivered if thou consentest" ("Ecce offertur tibi pretium salutis nostrae; statim liberabimur, si consentis"), continues the same St. Bernard.  Behold, O Mother of us all, the price of our salvation is already offered thee: that price will be the divine Word, made man in thee; in that moment in which thou acceptest him for thy Son we shall be delivered from death.  "For thy Lord himself desires thy consent, by which he has determined to save the world, with an ardor equal to the love with which he has loved thy beauty" ("Ipse quoque omnium Dominus, quantum concupivit decorum tuum, tantum desiderat et responsionis assensum, in qua nimirum proposuit salvare mundum"—De Laud. V. M. hom. 4).  "Answer then, O sacred Virgin," says St. Augustine, or some other ancient author; "why delayest thou giving life to the world?" ("Responde jam, Virgo sacra! vitam quid tricas mundo?"—Serm. 120, E. B. app.).  Answer quickly, O Lady; no longer delay the salvation of the world, which now depends upon thy consent.

            But see, Mary already answers; she says to the angel:  Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word ("Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum"—Luke, i. 38).  O, what more beautiful, more humble, or more prudent answer could all the wisdom of men and angels together have invented, had they reflected for a million years?  O powerful answer, which rejoiced heaven, and brought an immense sea of graces and blessings into the world!—answer which had scarcely fallen from the lips of Mary, before it drew the only begotten Son of God from the bosom of his Eternal Father, to become man in her most pure womb!  Yes indeed; for scarcely had she uttered these words, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word, when instantly the Word was made flesh ("Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis"—John, i. 14); the Son of God became also the Son of Mary.  "O powerful Fiat!" exclaims St. Thomas of Villanova; "O efficacious Fiat!  O Fiat to be venerated above every other Fiat!  For with a fiat God created light, heaven, earth; but with Mary's fiat," says the saint, "God became man, like us" ("O fiat potens!  O fiat efficax!  O fiat super omne fiat, perpetuo honore venerandum!"—De Ann. conc. 1).

            Let us, however, not wander from our point, but consider the great humility of the Blessed Virgin in this answer.  She was fully enlightened as to the greatness of the dignity of a Mother of God.  She had already been assured by the angel that she was this happy Mother chosen by our Lord.  But with all this, she in no way rises in her own estimation, she does not stop to rejoice in her exaltation; but seeing, on the one side, her own nothingness, and on the other the infinite majesty of God, who chose her for his Mother, she acknowledges how unworthy she is of so great an honor, but will not oppose his will in the least thing.  Hence, when her consent is asked, what does she do? what does she say? Wholly annihilated within herself, yet all inflamed at the same time by the ardor of her desire to unite herself thus still more closely to God, and abandoning herself entirely to the divine will, she answers, Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Behold the slave of the Lord, obliged to do that which her Lord commands.  As if she meant to say:  Since God chooses me for his Mother, who have nothing of my own, and since all that I have is his gift, who can ever think that he has done so on account of my own merits?  Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  What merit can a slave ever have, that she should become the Mother of her Lord?  Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  May the goodness of God alone be praised, and not his slave: since it is all his goodness, that he fixes his eyes on so lowly a creature as I am, to make her so great.     

            "O humility!" here exclaims the Abbot Guerric; "as nothing in its own eyes, yet sufficiently great for the divinity!  Insufficient for itself, sufficient for Him whom the heavens cannot contain" ("O humilitas, angusta sibi, ampla Divinitati! Insufficiens sibi, sufficiens ei quem non capit orbis!"—In Assumpt. s. 3).  O great humility of Mary! which makes her little to herself, but great before God.  Unworthy in her own eyes, but worthy in the eyes of that immense Lord whom the world cannot contain.  But the exclamation of St. Bernard on this subject is still more beautiful, in his fourth sermon on the Assumption of Mary, in which, admiring her humility, he says: "And how, O Lady, couldst thou unite in thy heart so humble an opinion of thyself with so great purity, with such innocence, and so great a plenitude of grace as thou didst possess?" ("Quanta humilitatis virtus cum tanta puritate, cum innocentia tanta, imo cum tantae gratiae plenitudine!")  "And how, O Blessed Virgin," continues the saint, "did this humility and so great humility ever take so deep root in thy heart, seeing thyself thus honored and exalted by God?  Whence thy humility, and so great humility, O blessed one?" ("Undo tibi humilitas, et tanta humilitas, O Beata?")  Lucifer, seeing himself endowed with great beauty, aspired to exalt his throne above the stars, and to make himself like God:  I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . I will be like the Most High ("Super astra Dei exaltabo solium meum . . . similes ero Altissimo"—Is. xiv. 13).  O what would that proud spirit have said, and to what would he have aspired, had he ever been adorned with the gifts of Mary!  The humble Mary did not act thus; the higher she saw herself raised, the more she humbled herself.  Ah, Lady! Concludes St. Bernard, by this admirable humility thou didst indeed render thyself worthy to be regarded by God with singular love; worthy to captivate thy king with thy beauty; worthy to draw, by the sweet odor of thy humility, the Eternal Son from his repose, from the bosom of God, into thy most pure womb.  "She was indeed worthy to be looked upon by the Lord, whose beauty the King so greatly desired, and by whose most sweet odor he was drawn from the Eternal repose of his Father's bosom" ("Digna plane quam respiceret Dominus, cujus decorum concupisceret Rex, cujus odore suavissimo ab aeterno illo paterni sinus attraheretur accubitu"—In Assumpt.. s. 4).         

            Hence Bernardine de Bustis says that "Mary merited more by saying with humility, Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Than all pure creatures could merit together by all their good works." (Beata Virgo plus meruit, dicendo humiliter: 'Ecce ancilla Domini,' quam simul mereri possent omnes purae creaturae").  Thus, says St. Bernard, this innocent Virgin, although she made herself dear to God by her virginity, yet it was by her humility that she rendered herself worthy, as far as a creature can be worthy, to become the Mother of her Creator.  "Though she pleased by her virginity, she conceived by her humility" ("Etsi placuit ex virginitate, tamen ex humilitate concepit"—De Laud. V. M. hom. 1).  St. Jerome confirms this, saying that "God chose her to be his Mother more on account of her humility than all her other sublime virtues ("Maluit Deus de Beata Maria incarnari propter humilitatem, quam propter aliam quamcumque virtutem"—Euseb. De Morte Hier).  Mary herself also assured St. Bridget of the same thing, saying "How was it that I merited so great a grace as to be made the Mother of my Lord, if it was not that I knew my own nothingness, and that I had nothing, and humbled myself" ("Unde promerui tantam gratiam, nisi quia cogitavi et scivi, me nihil a me esse vel habere?"—Rev. l. 2, c. 23).  This she had already declared in her canticle, breathing forth the most profound humility, when she said:  Because He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid . . . He that is mighty hath done great things to me ("Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae . .  fecit mihi magna qui potens est").  On these words St. Laurence Justinian remarks, that the Blessed Virgin "did not say he hath regarded the virginity, or the innocence, but only the humility ("Non aid: Respexit virginitatem, innocentiam; sed humilitatem tantum"—De Vita sol. c. 14); and by this humility, as St. Francis de Sales observes, Mary did not mean to praise the virtue of her own humility, but she meant to declare that God had regarded her nothingness (humility, that is nothingness) ("Humilitatem, id est, nihilitatem"), and that, out of his pure goodness, he had been pleased thus to exalt her.

            In fine, St. Augustine says that Mary's humility was a ladder by which our Lord deigned to descend from heaven to earth, to become man in her womb: "Mary's humility," he says, "became a heavenly ladder, by which God came into the world" ("Facta est certe Mariae humilitas scala coelestis, per quam descendit Deus ad terras"—Serm. 208. E. B. App.).  This is confirmed by St. Antoninus, who says that the humility of Mary was her most perfect virtue, and the one that immediately prepared her to become the Mother of God.  "The last grace of perfection is preparation for the conception of the Son of God, which preparation is made by profound humility" ("Ultima gratia perfectionis est praeparatio ad Filium Dei concipiendum; quae praeparatio fuit per profundam humilitatem"—P. 4, t. 15, c. 6, #2).  The prophet Isaias foretold the same thing:  And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root ("Et egredietur virga de radice Jesse, et flos de radice ejus ascendet"—Is. xi. 1).  Blessed Albert the Great remarks on these words, that the divine flower, that is to say, the only-begotten Son of God, was to be born, not from the summit, nor from the trunk, of the tree of Jesse, but from the root, precisely to denote the humility of the Mother:  "By the root humility of heart is understood" ("In radice humilitas cordis intelligitur").  The Abbot of Celles explains it more clearly still, saying:  "Remark that the flower rises, not from the summit, but out of the root" ("Nota quod non ex summitate virgae ascendit flos"—De Sanct. s. 56).  For this reason God said to his beloved daughter, Turn away thy eyes from Me, for they have made Me flee away ("Averte oculos tuos a me, quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt"—Cant. vi. 4).  St. Augustine asks, "Whence have they made Thee flee, unless it be from the bosom of Thy Father into the womb of Thy Mother?" ("Unde avolare, nisi a sinu Patris in uterum Matris?"—De Ass. conc. 3).  On this same thought the learned interpreter Fernandez says, that the most humble eyes of Mary, which she always kept fixed on the divine greatness, never losing sight of her own nothingness, did such violence to God himself, that they drew him into her womb:  "Her most humble eyes held God in such a way captive, that the Blessed Virgin, with a kind of most sweet violence, drew the Word himself of God the Father into her womb" ("Ita illius oculi humillimi Deum tenuerunt, ut, suavissima quadam violentia, ipsummet Dei Patris Verbum in uterum suum attraxerit"—In Gen. xxiv. Sect. 1).  "Thus it is that we can understand," says the Abbot Franco, "why the HolY Ghost praised the beauty of this his spouse, so greatly, on account of her dove's eyes:"  How beautiful art thou, my love! how beautiful art thou! Thine eyesare dove's eyes ("Quam pulchra es, Amica mea!  quam pulchra es!  oculi tui columbarum"—Cant. iv. 1).  For Mary, looking at God with the eyes of a simple and humble dove, enamoured him to such a degree by her beauty, that with the bands of love she made him a prisoner in her chaste womb.  The Abbot thus speaks: "Where on earth could so beautiful a Virgin be found, who could allure the King of heaven by her eyes, and by a holy violence lead him captive, bound in the chains of love?" ("Ubinam terrarium tam speciosa, quae Filium Dei de sinu Patris alliceret; ut vinculis charitatis p9ia violentia captivum traberet"—De Grat. Dei, l. 6).  So that, to conclude this point, we will remark, that in the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, as we have already seen at the commencement of our discourse, Mary could not have humbled herself more than she did humble herself.  Let us now see how it was that God, having made her his Mother, could not have exalted her more than he did exalt her.

 

II.

To understand the greatness to which Mary was exalted, it would be necessary to understand the sublimity and greatness of God.  It is sufficient, then, to say simply, that God made this Blessed Virgin his Mother, to understand that God could not have exalted her more than  he did exalt her.  Arnold of Chartres, then, rightly asserts that God, by becoming the Son of the Blessed Virgin, "established her in a rank far above that of all the saints and angels" ("Maria constituta est super omnem creaturam"—De Laud B. M.).  So that, with the exception of God himself, there is no one who is so greatly exalted ("Nulla comparatione, caeteris superis est gloriosior"); as St. Ephrem also asserts: "Her glory is incomparably greater than that of all the other celestial spirits."  This is confirmed by St. Andrew of Crete, saying, "God excepted, she is higher than all" ("Excepto Deo, omnibus altior"—In Dorm. S. M. s. 3).  St. Anselm also says, "No one is equal to thee: God alone is above thee, and all that is not God is inferior to thee" ("Nihil tibi, Domina, aequale; omne enim quod est, aut supra te est, aut subtus te; quod supra, solus Deus; quod infra, omne quod Deus non est"—De Conc. B. M.).  In fine, says St. Bernardine, "the greatness and dignity of this Blessed Virgin are such, that God alone des, and can, comprehend it" ("Tanta fuit perfectio Virginis, ut soli Deo cognoscenda reservetur"—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 3, c. 1)

            In this reflection we have more than sufficient, remarks St. Thomas of Villanova, to take away the surprise which might be caused on seeing that the sacred Evangelists, who have so fully recorded the praises of a John the Baptist and of a Magdalene, say so little of the precious igfts orf Mary: "It was sufficient to say of her, 'Of whom was born Jesus.'"  "What more could you wish the Evangelists to have said of the greatness of this Blessed Virgin?" continues the saint.  "Is it not enough that they declare that she was the Mother of God?  In these few words they recorded the greatest, the whole, of her precious gifts; and since the whole was therein contained, it was unnecessary to enter into details" ("Sufficit quod scriptum est, quia de illa natus est Jesus.  Quid ultra requires? Sufficit tibi quod Mater Dei est.  Ubi ergo totum erat, pars scribenda non fuit"—De Nat. V. conc. 2).  And why not?  St. Anselm replies, "that when we say of Mary she is the Mother of God, this alone transcends every greatness that can be named or imagined after that of God" ("Hoc solum de Sancta Virgine praedicari, quod Dei Mater sit, excedit omnem altitudinem quae, post Deum, dici vel cogitari potest"—De Excell. V. c. 2).  Peter of Celles, on the same subject, adds: "Address her as Queen of heaven, sovereign mistress of the angels, or any other title of honor you may please, but never can you honor her so much as by simply calling her the Mother of God" ("Si coeli Reginam, si Angelorum Dominam, vel quodlibet aliud protuleris, non assurget ad hunc honorem, quo praedicatur Dei Genitrix"—De Pan. c. 21)

            The reason of this is evident:  for, as the angelic Doctor teaches, the nearer a thing approaches its author, the greater is the perfection that it receives from him; and therefore Mary being of all creatures the nearest to God, she, more than all others, has partaken of his graces, perfections, and greatness.  He says, "The Blessed Virgin Mary was the nearest possible to Christ; for from her it was that he received his human nature, and therefore she must have obtained a greater plenitude of grace from him than all others" ("Beata autem Virgo Maria propinquissima Christo fuit, quia ex ea accepit humanam naturam; et ideo prae caeteris majorem debuit a Christo gratiae plenitudinem obtinere"—P. 3, q. 27, a. 5).  To this Father Suarez traces the reason for which "the dignity of Mother of God in above every other created dignity;" for he says, "It belongs in a certain way to the order of hypostatic union; for it intrinsically appertains to it; and has a necessary conjunction with it" ("Dignitas matris est altioris ordinis; pertinet enim quodammodo ad ordinem unionis hypostaticae; illam enim intrinsice respicit, et cum illa necessariam conjunctionem habet"—De Incar. P. 2, d. 1, s. 2).  Hence Denis the Carthusian asserts, that "after the hypostatic union there is none more intimate than that of the Mother of God with her Son" ("Post hypostaticam conjunctionem non est alia tam vicina, ut unio Matris Dei cum Filio suo"—De Laud. V. M. l. I, c. 35).  This, St. Thomas teaches, is the supreme, the highest degree of union that a pure creature can have with God: "It is a sort of supreme union with an infinite person" ("Est suprema quaedam conjunction cum Persona infinita").  Blessed Albert the Great also asserts, that "to be the Mother of God is the highest dignity after that of being God" ("Immediate post esse Deum, est esse Matrem Dei"—Super Miss. r. ad 3, q. 140).  Hence he adds, that "Mary could not have been more closely united to God than she was without becoming God" ("Magis Deo conjungi, nisi fieret Deus, non potuit")

            St. Bernardine says, that "to become Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin had to be raised to a sort of equality with the divine Persons by an almost infinity of graces" ("Quod femina conciperet et pareret Deum, oportuit eam elevari ad quamdam aequalitatem divinam, per quamdam infinitatem gratiarum"—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 5, c. 12).  And as children are, morally speaking, regarded one with their parents, so that their properties and honors are in common, it follows, says St. Peter Damian, that God, who dwells in creatures in different ways, dwelt in Mary in an especial way, and was singularly identified with her, making himself one and the same thing with her.  "The fourth mode," he says, "in which God is in a creature is that of identity; and this he is in the Blessed Virgin Mary, for he is one with  her."  Thence he exclaims in those celebrated words, "Let every creature be silent and tremble, and scarecely dare glace at the immensity of so great a dignity.  God dwells in the Blessed Virgin, with whom he has the identity of one nature" ("Quarto modo inest Deus uni creaturae, videlicet Mariae Virgini, identitate, quia idem est quod illa: hic taceat et contremiscat omnis creatura, et vix audeat aspicere tantae dignitatis immensitatem; habitat Deus in Virgine, cum qua unius naturae habet identitatem"—In Nat. B. V. s. 1)

            Therefore St. Thomas asserts that when Mary because Mother of God, by reason of so close a union with an infinite good, she received a dignity which Father Suarez calls "infinite in its kind" ("Dignitas Matris Dei suo genere est infinita"—Loco supra cit).  The dignity of Mother of God is the greatest dignity that can be conferred on a pure creature.  For although the angelic Doctor teaches that "even the humanity of Jesus Christ could have received greater habitual grace from God,—since grace is a created gift, and therefore its essence is finite; for all creatures have a determined measure of capacity, so that it is yet in God's power to make another creature whose determined measure is greater" ("Cum enim gratia habitualis sit donum creatum, confiteri oportet quod habeat essentiam finitam.  Est cujuslibet creaturae determinate capacitates mensura, quin posit aliam creaturam majoris capacitates facere"—Comp. Theol. c. 215),—yet since his humanity was destined to a personal union with a divine Person, it could not have for its subject anything greater; or, as the saint expresses himself in another place, "though the divine power could create something greater and better than the habitual grace of Christ, nevertheless it could not destine it to anything greater than the personal union of the only-begotten Son of the Father" ("Virtus divina, licet posit facere aliquid majus et melius, quam sit habitualis gratia Christi; non tamen posset facere, quod ordinaretur ad aliquid majus, quam sit unio personalis ad Filium unigenitum a Patre"—P. 3, q. 7, a. 12).  Thus, on the other hand, the Blessed Virgin could not have been raised to a greater dignity than that of Mother of God.  "Which dignity is in a certain manner infinite, inasmuch as God is an infinite good; in this respect, then, she could not have been made greater" ("Beata Virgo ex hoc quod est Mater Dei, habet quondam dignitatem infinitam ex bono infinito, quod est Deus: et ex hac parte, non potest aliquid fieri melius"—P. 1, q. 25, a. 6).  St. Thomas of Villanova says the same thing:  "There is something infinite in being the Mother of him who is infinite" ("Utique habet quondam infinitatem, esse matrem Infiniti"—De Nat. V. conc. 3).  St. Bernardine also says, that "the state to which God exalted Mary in making her his Mother was the highest state that could be conferred on a pure creature: so that he could not have exalted her more" ("Status maternitatis Dei erat summus status, qui purae creaturae dari posset"—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 8, a. 3).  This opinion is confirmed by Blessed Albert the Great, who says, that "in bestowing on Mary the maternity of God, God gave her the highest gift of which a pure creature is capable" ("Deus Beatissimae Virgini summum donum donavit, cujus pura creatura capax fuit, scilicet Dei maternitatem"—Sup. Miss. q. 138)

            Hence that celebrated saying of St. Bonaventure, that "to be the Mother of God is the greatest grace that can be conferred on a creature.  It is such that God could make a greater world, a greater heaven, but that he cannot exalt a creature more than by making her his Mother" ("Quid mirabilius quam esse Dei Matrem? ipsa est qua majorem Deus facere non posset: majorem mundum posset facere Deus, majus coelum; majorem matrem quam matrem Dei non posset facere"—Spec. B. V. lect. 9, 10).  But non one has so well expressed the greatness of the dignity to which God had raised her as the divine Mother herself when she said, He that is mighty hath done great things in me ("Fecit mihi magna qui potens est").  And why did not the Blessed Virgin make known what were the great things conferred on her by God?  St. Thomas of Villanova answers, that Mary did not explain them because they could not be expressed: "She did not explain them, because they were inexplicable" ("Non explicat quaenam haec magna fuerint, quia inexplicabilia"—Umbra Virg. exc. 14)

            Hence St. Bernard with reason says, "that for this Blessed Virgin, who was to be his Mother, God created the whole world" ("Propter hanc totus mundus factus est"—In Salve Reg. s. 3).  And St. Bonaventure, that its existence depends on her will.  He says, addressing her, "The world which thou with God didst form from the beginning continues to exist at thy will, O most holy Virgin" ("Dispositione tua Virgo, perseverat mundus, quem et tu cum Deo fundasti ab initio"—Psalt. B. V. ps. 118); the saint adhering in this to the words of Proverbs applied by the Church to Mary: I was with Him forming all things ("Cum eo eram cuncta componens"—Prov. viii. 30).  St. Bernardine adds, that it was for the love of Mary that God did not destroy man after Adam's sin:  "He preserved it on account of his most singular love for this Blessed Virgin" ("Propter singularissimam dilectionem quam habebat ad Virginem, praesevavit"—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 5, c. 2).  Hence the Holy Ghost with reason sings of Mary: She has chosen the best part ("Optimam partem elegit"—Off. Assumpt. evang.); for this Virgin Mother not only chose the best things, but she chose the best part of the best things; "God endowing her in the highest degree," as Blessed Albert the Great asserts, "with all the general and particular graces and gifts conferred on all other creatures, in consequence of the dignity granted her of the divine maternity" ("Beatissima Virgo fuit gratia plena, quia omnes gratias generales et speciales in summon habuit"—Bibl. Mar. Luc. n. 13).  Thus Mary was a child, but of this state she had only the innocence, not the defect of incapacity; for from the very first moment of her existence she had always the perfect use of reason.  She was a Virgin without the reproach of sterility.  She was a Mother, but at the same time possessed the precious treasure of virginity.  She was beautiful, even most beautiful, as Richard of St. Victor asserts (In Cant. s. 26), with St. George of Nicomedia (Or. de Ingr. B. V.), and St. Denis the Areopagite, who (as it is believed) had the happiness of once beholding her beauty; and he declared that had not faith taught him that she was only a creature, he should have adored her as God.  Our Lord himself also revealed to St. Bridget that the beauty of his Mother surpassed that of all men and angels.  Allowing the saint to hear him addressing Mary, he said: "They beauty exceeds that of all angels, and of all created things" ("Omnes angelos, et omnia quae create sunt, excessit pulchritude tua"—Rev. l. I, c. 51).  She was most beautiful, I say; but without prejudice to those who looked upon her, for her beauty banished all evil thoughts, and even enkindled pure ones, as St. Ambrose attests: "So great was her grace, that not only it preserved her own virginity, but conferred that admirable gift of purity on those who beheld her ("Tanta erat ejus gratia, ut, non solum in se virginitatis gratiam reservaret, sed etiam his, quos viseret, integritatis insigne conferret"—Inst. Virg. c. 7).  This is confirmed by St. Thomas, who says, "that sanctifying grace not only repressed all irregular motions in the Blessed Virgin herself, but was also efficacious for others; so that, notwithstanding the greatness of her beauty, she was never coveted by others" ("Gratia sanctificationis non tantum repressit in Virgine motus illicitos, sed etiam in aliis efficaciam habuit; ita ut, quamvis esset pulchra corpore, a nullo unquam concupisci potuit"—In Sent. iii. d. 3, q. 1, a. 2, s. 1).  For this reason she was called myrrh, which prevents corruption, in the words of Ecclesiasticus, applied to her by the Church: I yielded a sweet odor like the best myrrh ("Quasi myrrha electa, dedi suavitatem odoris"—Ecclus. xxiv. 20: Off. B. V. resp. 4).  The labors of active life, when engaged in them, did not interrupt her union with God.  In  her contemplative life she was wrapped in him, but not so as to cause her to neglect her temporal affairs and the charity due to her neighbor.  She had to die, but her death was unaccompanied by its usual sorrows and not followed by the corruption of the body.

            In conclusion, then, this divine Mother is infinitely inferior to God, but immensely superior to all creatures; and as it is impossible to find a Son more noble than Jesus, so is it also impossible to find a Mother more noble than Mary.  This reflection should cause the clients of so great a Queen not only to rejoice in her greatness, but should also increase their confidence in her powerful patronage; for, says Father Suarez, as she is the Mother of God, "she has a certain peculiar right to his gifts" ("Unde fit, ut singulare jus habeat ad bona Filii sui"—De Inc. p. 2, d. 1, s. 2), to dispense them to those for whom she prays.  Se. Germanus, on the other hand, says, "that God cannot do otherwise than grant the petitions of this Mother; for he cannot but acknowledge her for his true and immaculate Mother."  Here are his words addressed to this Blessed Virgin: For thou, who by thy maternal authority hast great power with God, obtainest the very great grace of reconciliation even for those who have been guilty of grievous crimes.  It is impossible that thou shouldst not be graciously heard; for God in all things complies with thy wishes as being those of his true and spotless Mother" ("Tu autem, quae maternal in Deum auctoritate polles, etiam iis qui enormiter peccant, eximiam remissionis gratiam concilias; non enim potes non exaudiri, cum Deus tibi, ut verae ac immaculatae Matri suae, in omnibus morem great"—In Dorm. V. M. s. 2).

Therefore power to succor us is not wanting to thee, O Mother of God, and Mother of us all.  The will is not wanting: "neither the power nor the will can fail her" ("Nec facultas ei deesse poterit, nec voluntas"—In Assumpt. s. 1).  For thou well knowest (will I say, addressing thee in the words of thy servant the Abbot of Celles) that "God did not create thee for himself only; he gave thee to the angels as their restorer, to men as their repairer, to the devils as their vanquisher; for through thy means we recover divine grace, and by thee the enemy is conquered and crushed" ("Non solum sibi ipsi te fecit; sed te Angelis dedit in instaurationem, hominibus in reparationem, daemonibus in hostem; per te, Deus homini pacificator, diabolus vincitur et conteritur"—Cont. de V. M. c. 4)

            If we really desire to please the divine Mother, let us often salute her with the "Hail Mary."  She once appeared to St. Mechtilde (Spir. Grat. L. 1, c. 67), and assured her that she was honored by nothing more than this salutation.  By its means we shall certainly obtain even special graces from this Mother of mercy, as will be seen in the following example.

 

EXAMPLE

The event recorded by Father Paul Segneri, in his "Christian Instructed" (Crist. Istr. P. 3, r. 34, #2), is justly celebrated.  A young man, of vicious habits and laden with sins, went to confession to Father Nicholas Zucchi in Rome.  The confessor received him with charity, and, filled with compassion for his unfortunate state, assured him that devotion to our Blessed Lady could deliver him from the accursed vice to which he was addicted; he therefore imposed on him as his penance, that he should say a "Hail Mary," to the Blessed Virgin, every morning and evening, on getting up and on going to bed, until his next confession; and, at the same time, that he should offer her his eyes, his hands, and his whole body, beseeching her to preserve them as something belonging to herself, and that he should kiss the ground three times.  The young man performed the penance, but at first there was only slight amendment.  The Father, however, continued to inculcate the same practice on him, desiring him never to abandon it, and at the same time encouraged him to confide in the patronage of Mary.  In the mean time the penitent left Rome with other companions, and during several years traveled in different parts of the world.  On his return he again sought out his confessor, who, to his great joy and admiration, found that he was entirely changed, and free from his former evil habits.  "My son," said he, "how hast thou obtained so wonderful a change from God?"  The young man replied, "Father, our Blessed Lady obtained me this grace on account of that little devotion which thou taughtest me."  Wonders did not cease here.  The same confessor related the above fact from the pulpit; a captain heard it who for many years had carried on improper intercourse with a certain woman, and determined that he also would practice the same devotion, that he too might be delivered from the horrible chains which bound him a slave of the devil (for it is necessary that sinners should have this intention, in order that the Blessed Virgin may be able to help them), and he also gave up his wickedness and changed his life.

            But still more.  After six months he foolishly, and relying too much on his own strength, went to pay a visit to the woman, to see if she also was converted.  But on coming up to the door of the house, where he was in manifest danger of relapsing into sin, he was driven back by an invisible power, and found himself as far from the house as the whole length of the street, and standing before his own door.  He was then clearly given to understand that Mary had thus delivered him from perdition.  From this we may learn how solicitous our good Mother is, not only to withdraw us from a state of sin, if we recommend ourselves to her for this purpose, but also to deliver us from the danger of relapsing into it.

 

Prayer

O immaculate and holy Virgin!  O creature the most humble and the most exalted before God!  Thou wast so lowly in thine own eyes, but so great in the eyes of thy Lord, that he exalted thee to such a degree as to choose thee for his Mother, and then made thee Queen of heaven and earth.  I therefore thank God who so greatly has exalted thee, and rejoice in seeing thee so closely united with him, that more cannot be granted to a pure creature.  Before thee, who art so humble, though endowed with so precious igfts, I am ashamed to appear, I who am so proud in the midst of so many sins.  But miserable as I am, I will also salute thee, Hail, Mary, full of grace.  Thou art already full of grace; impart a portion of it to me.  Our Lord is with thee.  That Lord who was always with thee from the first moment of thy creation, has now united himself more closely to thee by becoming thy Son.  Blessed art thou amongst women.  O Lady, blessed amongst all women, obtain the divine blessing for us also.  And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  O blessed plant which hath given to the world so noble and holy a fruit!  "Holy Mary, Mother of God!"  O Mary, I acknowledge that thou art the true Mother of God, and in defence of this truth I am ready to give my life a thousand times.  Pray for us sinners.  But if thou art the Mother of God, thou art also the Mother of our salvation, and of us poor sinners; since God became man to save sinners, and made thee his Mother, that thy prayers might have power to save any sinner.  Hasten, then, O Mary, and pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death.  Pray always: pray now, that we live in the midst of so many temptations and dangers of losing God; but still more, pray for us at the hour of our death, when we are on the point of leaving this world, and being presented before God's tribunal; that, being saved by the erits of Jesus Christ and by thy intercession, we may come one day, without further danger of being lost; to salute thee and praise thee with thy Son in heaven for all eternity.  Amen.  


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