THE ANNUNCIATION OF MARY
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.