The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
ON THE ANNUNCIATION OF MARY
Mary could not humble herself more than she did in the incarnation of the Word. On the other hand, God could not exalt her more than he has exalted her.
"WHOSOEVER shall exalt himself shall be hum.bled, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." These are the words of our Lord, and cannot fail. Therefore, God having determined to make himself man, in order to redeem lost man, and thus manifest to the world his infinite goodness, being about to choose on earth his mother, sought among women the holiest and most humble. Among them all he saw one, the youthful virgin Mary, who, as she was the most perfect in all virtues, so was she the most simple; and humble as a dove in her own esteem. "There are young maidens without number; one is my dove, my perfect one." Let this one,then, said God, be my chosen mother. Let us then see how humble Mary was, and how God exalted her. Mary could not humble herself more than she did in the incarnation of the Word; this will be the first point. That God could not exalt Mary more than he exalted her. will be the second.
First Point. Our Lord in the holy Canticles, speaking precisely of the humility of this most humble Virgin, said: "While the King was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odor thereof. St. Antoninus, commenting on these words, says that the spikenard, inasmuch as it is a small and lowly plant, was a type of the humility of Mary, whose odor ascended to heaven, and drew, even from the bosom of the eternal Father, into her virginal womb the divine Word. The spikenard is a small herb, and signifies the blessed Virgin, who exhaled the odor of humility; which odor ascended even to heaven, and in heaven as it were awakened him who was in his repose, and brought him to rest in her womb. Thus the Lord, drawn by the odor of this humble Virgin, chose her for his mother, when he wished to become man to redeem the world. But he, for the greater glory and merit of this his mother, would not make himself her Son without first obtaining her consent. He would not take flesh from her with out her consent. Therefore, when the humble young Virgin was in her poor dwelling, sighing and praying to God more earnestly than ever that he would send the Redeemer, as was revealed to St. Elizabeth, a Benedictine nun, behold the Archangel Gabriel came, bearing the great embassy. He enters and salutes her, saying: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women." Hail, oh Virgin, full of grace, for thou wast always rich in grace, above all the other saints. The Lord is with thee because thou art so humble. Thou art blessed among women, for all others have incurred the curse of original sin; but thou, because thou art to be the mother of the Blessed One, hast been and wilt always be blessed, and free from every stain.
But what does the humble Mary answer to this salutation so full of praises? She answered nothing, but she was disturbed thinking on such a salutation: "And when she had heard, she was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be." And why was she disturbed? through fear of illusion, or through modesty at the sight of a man, as some suppose, remembering that the angel appeared to her in human form ? No, the text is plain; she was troubled at his saying, "turbata est in sermone ejus," as Eusebius Emissenus remarks: Not by his appearance, but by his speech: Non in vultu, sed in sermone ejus." Such a disturbance was then wholly owing to her humility at hearing those praises, so far beyond her humble esteem of herself. Hence the more she is exalted by the angel, the more she humbles herself, and the more she considers her nothingness. St. Bernardine remarks: If the angel had said that she was the greatest sinner in the world, Mary would not have been thus surprised; but in hearing those exalted praises she was greatly disturbed. She was troubled because, being so full of humility, she abhorred every praise, and desired that none but her Creator, the giver of every good, should be praised and blessed. Mary said exactly this to St. Bridget, speaking of the time when she be came mother of God. "I disliked my own praise, and only wished to hear that of the giver and Creator."
But I would remark, that the blessed Virgin had already well learned from the Holy Scriptures that the time foretold by the prophets for the coming of the Messiah had arrived; that the weeks of Daniel were now completed; that already, according to the prophecy of Jacob, the sceptre of Judah had passed into the hands of Herod, a strange king, and she well knew that a virgin was to be the mother of the Messiah; and ehe hears those praises offered by the angel to herself, which seemed to belong only to the mother of God; did it then come into her mind that perhaps she herself might be that chosen mother of God? No, her profound humility did not permit this thought. These praises had no other effect than to cause her great fear; so that, as St. Peter Chrysologus remarks: As Christ wished to be consoled by an angel, so must the Virgin be encouraged by an angel. As the Saviour willed to be comforted by an angel, so it was necessary that St. Gabriel, seeing Mary so full of fear at that salutation, should encourage her, saying: "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God." Do not fear, oh Mary, nor be surprised by the great titles by which I have saluted thee, for if thou art so little and humble in thine own eyes, God, who exalts the humble, has made thee worthy to find the grace lost by man; and therefore has he preserved thee from the common stain of all the children of Adam; therefore, even from the moment of thy conception he has adorned thee with a greater grace than that of all the saints; and therefore, finally, he now exalts thee to be his mother: "Behold, thou shalt conceive and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus."
Now why this delay? The angel, oh Lady, awaits thy answer, as St. Bernard says: We rather await it who are condemned to death. Behold, oh our mother, continues St. Bernard, to thee is now offered the price of our salvation, which will be the divine Word in thee made man; if thou wilt accept him for a son, we shall be immediately delivered from death; be hold the price of our salvation is offered to thee; immediately we are liberated if thou dost consent Thy Lord himself, as he is greatly enamored of thy beauty, so much the more desires thy consent, on which he has made the salvation of the world depend. Answer quickly, oh Lady, adds St. Augustine, delay no longer the salvation of the world, which now depends on thy consent.
But, behold, Mary already answers; she answers the angel, and says: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word." Oh, what more beautiful, more humble, and more prudent answer could all the wisdom of men and of angels united have in vented, if they had thought of it for millions of years! Oh powerful answer, which gave joy in heaven, and poured upon the earth a vast flood of graces and blessings! Answer, that hardly came forth from the humble heart of Mary before it drew from the bosom of the eternal Father, the only begotten Son, to be come man in her most pure womb! yes, for hardly had she uttered these words: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me accord ing to thy word; when immediately the Word was made flesh: "Verbum caro factum est;" the Son of God became also the Son of Mary. Oh powerful Fiat! exclaims St. Thomas of Villanova; oh efficacious Fiat! oh Fiat to be reverenced above every fiat! for by another fiat God created the light, the heaven, and the earth; but by this fiat of Mary, says the saint, God be came man like us.
But let us not wander from our point, let us consider the great humility of the Virgin in this answer. She was indeed well enlightened to understand how great was the dignity of the mother of God. She already had been assured by the angel that she was this happy mother chosen by the Lord. But with all this she is not at all raised in her own esteem, stops not at all to enjoy her exaltation, but considering on one side her own nothingness, and on the other the infinite majesty of her God, who chose her for his mother, she knows how unworthy she is of such an honor, but would by no means oppose herself to his will. Hence, when her consent was asked, what does she do? what does she say? Wholly annihilated as to self; all inflamed, on the other hand, with the desire of uniting hereelf thus more closely to God, by entirely abandoning herself to the divine will: Behold, she answers, behold the handmaid of the Lord: "Ecce ancilla Domini." Behold the slave of the Lord: obliged to do whatever her Lord commands. And she intended to say: If the Lord chooses me for his mother, who have nothing of my own; if all that I have is his gift, who could think that he selects me for any merit of my own? Behold the handmaid of the Lord. What merit can a slave have, to be made the mother of her Lord? Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let the goodness of God alone be praised, and not the slave; since it is wholly his goodness which has led him to place his eye on a creature so lowly as I, and make her so great.
Oh humility, exclaims here Guerric the Abbot; small in its own eyes, great in the eyes of God! Insufficient to itself, sufficient to him whom the whole world cannot contain! But still more beautiful on this occasion is the exclamation of St. Bernard, which he makes in the fourth sermon on the Assumption of Mary, in which, admiring the humility of Mary, he says: Oh Lady, how have you been able to unite in your heart such an humble esteem of yourself with so much purity, so much innocence, and with such fulness of gracef as thou dost possess! And whence, oh blessed Virgin, did this humility, this so great humility, take such deep root in thee, when thou wast so honored and exalted by God? Lucifer, seeing himself endowed with great beauty, aspired to exalt his throne above the stars, and make himself like to God. Now what would not that proud spirit have said and attempted if he had seen himself adorned with the privileges of Mary? Not so the humble Mary; the more she saw herself exalted, the more she humbled herself. Ah Lady, for this beautiful humility, concludes St. Bernard, thou hast indeed merited to be regarded by God with peculiar love, to charm thy King with thy beauty; to draw him with the sweet odor of thy humility, from his repose in the bosom of God, into thy most pure womb. Hence St. Bernardine de Bustis says, that Mary merited more by that answer: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord," than all creatures could merit by their works.
Thus, says St. Bernard, this innocent Virgin, although by her virginity she rendered herself dear to God, yet by humility afterwards rendered herself worthy, as much as a creature can render itself worthy, to be made the mother of her Creator. Although she pleased by her virgin ity, by her humility she conceived: "Etsi placuit ex virginitate, tamen ex humilitate concepit." And St. Jerome confirms this by saying, that God chose her for his own mother more for her humility, than for all her other sublime virtues. Mary herself expressed this to St. Bridget, by saying to her: How much did I merit such a grace to be made the mother of my Lord, if not becausa I knew my nothingness, and humiliated myself? And this she declared before in her Canticle, so full of the deepest humility, when she said: "Be cause he hath regarded the humility of his hand maid . . . He that is mighty hath done great things to me." Upon which words St. Lawrence Justinian remarks, that the blessed Virgin does not say, he regarded my virginity, my innocence, but only my humility. And by this humility, as St. Francis de Sales remarks, Mary did not intend to praise the virtue of her humility, but wished to proclaim that God had regarded her nothingness, humility, that is, nothingness: "Humilitatem, id est nihilitatem," and through his pure goodness had willed thus to exalt her.
In a word, St. Augustine says that the humility of Mary was like a ladder, by which our Lord deigned to descend upon earth to become man in her womb. And St. Antoninus confirms this by saying that the humility of the Virgin was her most perfect and the next preparation to become the mother of God. And by this is explained what Isaias predicted: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. The blessed Albertus Magnus remarks, that the divine flower, namely, the only-begotten of God, according to Isaias, would come forth, not from the top or the trunk of the tree of Jesse, but from its root, which precisely denotes the humility of the mother, And this is more clearly explained by the Abbot of Celles. Observe, says he, that not from the top, but from the root this flower is to spring up. And therefore our Lord said to his beloved daughter; "Turn away thy eyes from me, for they have made me flee away." "And from whence flee, unless from the bosom of the Father to the womb of Mary?" as St. Augustine says. Upon which the learned interpreter Fernandez observes, that the most humble eyes of Mary, with which she always contemplated the divine greatness, never losing sight of her nothingness, did such violence to God herself that they drew him into her bosom. And by this we are to understand, says Francone the Abbot, why the Holy Spirit so much praised the beauty of this his spouse for her eyes, which were like those of a dove: "How beautiful art thou, my love! how, beautiful art thou! thy eyes are like doves eyes;" because Mary, looking on God with the eyes of a simple, humble dove, he was so mucli enamored of her beauty, that with the bands of love she made him a prisoner in her virginal womb; these are the words of the abbot: In what place on the 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 charity? We will conclude this point by remarking that Mary, in the incarnation of the Word, as we have seen from the beginning, could not have humiliated herself more than she did. Let us now see how God could exalt her no higher than he did by making her his mother.
Point Second. In order to comprehend, the greatness to which Mary was elevated, it would be necessary to comprehend the sublime majesty and grandeur of God. It is sufficient, then, only to say , that God made this Virgin his mother, to have it understood that God could not exalt her more than he did exalt her. Rightly did St. Arnold Carnotensis affirm, that God, by making himself the Son of the Virgin, established her in superior rank to all the saints and angels: "Maria constituta est, super oranem Creaturam." So that, next to God, she is in comparably higher than the celestial spirits, as St. Ephrem asserts: "Nulla comparatione caeteris superis est gloriosior." St. Andrew of Crete confirms this, saying: God excepted, she is the higest of all: "Excepto Deo, omnibus est altior." And St. Anselm also says: Oh Lady, there is none equal to thee, because every other, is above or beneath thee; God alone is superior to thee, and all others are inferior. So great, in a word, says St. Bernardine, is the exaltation of this Virgin, that God alone is able to comprehend it.
This removes the surprise expressed by some persons, remarks St. Thomas of Villanova, that the holy Evangelists, who have so fully recorded the praises of a Baptist and a Magdalene, have been so brief in their descriptions of the privileges of Mary ; for, says the saint, it was enough to say of her, that from her Jesus was born. What more would you wish the Evangelists to say, continues the saint, of the grandeur of this Virgin? let it be enough for you, that they atest her to be the mother of God. Having recorded in these few words the greatest, and, indeed, the whole of her merits, it was not necessary for them to describe each separately. And why not? because, as St. Anselm answers: To say of Mary this alone, that she was the mother of a God, transcends every glory that can be attributed to her, in thought or word, after God. Peter of Celles adds, remarking on this same thought: By whatever name you may wish to call her, whether queen of heaven, ruler of the angels, or any other title of honor, you will never succeed in honoring her so much as by calling her only the mother of God.
The reason of this is evident, for as the angelic Doctor teaches: The nearer a thing approaches its author, the greater the perfection it receives from him; therefore, Mary being the creature nearest to God, she has partaken more than all others of his grace, perfection, and greatness. To this Father Suarez traces the cause why the dignity of mother of God is of an order superior to any other created dignity; because it appertains, in a certain manner, to the order of union with a divine person, with which union it is necessarily connected. Hence St. Denis the Carthusian asserts, that after the hypostatic union, there is none more intimate than the union of the mother of God with her Son. This, as St. Thomas teaches, is the highest union that a pure creature can have with God. And the blessed Albertus Magnus affirms, that to be mother of God is a dignity next to that of being God; therefore he says, that Mary could not be more united to God than she was, without becoming God.
St. Bernardine affirms, that in order to become mother of God, it was requisite that the holy Virgin should be exalted to a certain equality with the divine Persons, by a certain infinity of graces. And as children are esteemed morally one with their parents, so that their possessions and honors are in common, therefore St. Peter Damian says, that if God dwells in creatures in different modes, he dwelt in Mary in a singular mode of fitness, making himself one with her. And he exclaims in these celebrated words: Here let every creature be silent and tremble, and scarcely dare to behold the immensity of so great a dignity. God dwells in a virgin with whom he has the identity of one nature.
St. Thomas asserts, that Mary, being made mother of God, by reason of this close union with an infinite good, received a certain infinite dignity, which Father Suarez calls infinite of its kind. The dignity of mother of God is the highest dignity which can be conferred on a pure creature. The angelic Doctor teaches, that the humanity of Jesus Christ, though it might have received greater habitual grace from God, yet, as to the union with a divine Person, could not receive greater perfection; so, on the other hand, the blessed Virgin could receive no greater dignity than to be the mother of God. For a habitual grace (this is his reasoning) is a created gift, we must acknowledge that its essence is finite. The capacity of every creature is limited in measure, which however prevents not the divine power from being able to form another creature of greater capacity. Though the divine power may create something greater and better than the habitual grace of Christ, yet it could not destine it to any thing greater than was the personal union of the only begotten Son with the Father. The blessed Virgin, because she is the mother of God, has a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good, which is God; and in this respect nothing greater can be created. St. Thomas of Villanova says the same thing: Certainly there is something infinite in being the mother of the Infinite One. And St. Bernardino says, that the state to which God exalted Mary as his mother was the highest, so that he could exalt her no higher. And this is confirmed by Albertus Magnus. The Lord conferred on the blessed Virgin the highest gift which any pure creature was capable of receiving, namely, the maternity of God.
Therefore St. Bonaventure wrote that celebrated sentence, that God could make a greater world, a greater heaven, but could not exalt a creature to greater excellence than by making her his mother. But better than all others has the divine mother herself described the height to which God has elevated her when she said: He that is mighty hath done great things to me: "Fecit mihi magna qui potens est." And why has the holy Virgin never made known what were the great favors conferred upon her by God? St. Thomas of Villanova answers, that Mary did not explain them, because they were eo great that they could not be explained.
St. Bernard therefore, with reason, says that God has created all the world for this Virgin, who was to be his mother: "Propter hanc totus mundus factus est." And St. Bonaventure says that the preservation of the world is at the disposal of Mary. The saint in this place adheres to the words of Proverbs, applied by the Church to Mary: I was with him forming all things: "Cum eo eram cuncta componens. " St. Bernardine adds, that God, for love of Mary, did not destroy man after the sin of Adam. Hence the Church, with reason, sings of Mary: She has chosen the best part: "Optimam partem elegit." For this virgin mother not only chose the best things, but she chose the best part of the best things; the Lord bestowing upon her, in the highest degree, as the blessed Albertus Magnus attests, all the graces, and the general and particular gifts conferred on all other creatures, wholly in consequence of the dignity granted her of becoming mother of God. Thus Mary was an infant, but of this state she had only the innocence, but not the defect of incapacity, for from the first moment of life she always had the perfect use of reason. She was a virgin, but without the reproach of sterility. She was a mother, but with the privilege of virginity. She was beautiful, even most beautiful, as Richard of St. Victor asserts, and also St. George of Nicomedia, and St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who, as many believe, once had the happiness of enjoying the sight of her beauty, and said that if faith had not ted the beauty of all men and angels, allowing the saint to hear him say to Mary: "Thy beauty exceeds that of all the angels, and of all creatures." She was most beautiful, I repeat, but without injury to those who looked upon her, for her beauty put to flight impure emotions, and Suggested even pure thoughts, as St. Ambrose attests: So great grace had she, that she not only pn served her own virginity, but also conferred a remarkable gift of purity on those who beheld her. And St. Thomas confirms this: The grace of sanctification not only repressed in the Virgin illicit emotions, but also had efficacy for others; so that although she was beautiful in person, she never excited impure desires. Therefore she was called myrrh, which prevents corruption: I yielded a sweet odor like the best myrrh: "Quasi myrrha electa dedi suavitatem odoris;" as the holy Church applies it. She was occupied in active life, but labor did not interrupt her union with God. In the contemplative life she was recollected in God, but without neglect of the temporal life, and of the charity due to the neighbor. Death came upon her, but without its suffering, and without the cor ruption of the body.
To conclude then: this divine mother is infinitely inferior to God, but immensely superior to all creatures; and if it is impossible to find a Son more noble than Jesus, it is also impossible to find a mother more noble than Mary. This should cause the servants of such a queen not only to rejoice in her greatness, but also to increase their confidence in her most powerful protection; for, being mother of God, says Father Suarez, she has a certain right to his gifts, to obtain them for those for whom she prays. St. Germanus, on the other hand, says that God cannot but hear the prayers of this mother, for he cannot but recognize her for his true and immaculate mother. Thus says the saint addressing the Virgin: But thou, who dost prevail with God by a maternal authority, even for those who grievously sin, thou dost obtain the great grace of reconciliation; for thou canst not but be graciously heard, as God in all things conforms to thy wishes as to those of a true and pure mother. Therefore, oh mother of God, and our mother, in thee is not wanting the power to help us. The will, too, is not wanting. Nec facultas, nec voluntas illi deesse potest. For thou knowest, I will say with thy servant the Abbot of Celles, that God has not created thee for himself alone, but has given thee to the angels for their restorer, to men for their deliverer, and to the demons for their conqueror, for by thy means we recover divine grace, and by thee the enemy is conquered and crushed.
And if we wish to please the divine mother, let us often salute her by saying the "Hail Mary." One day Mary appeared to St. Matilda, and told her that no one could honor her better than by this salutation; and we shall certainly obtain through it, peculiar graces from this mother of mercy, as will be seen by the following example.
A well-known incident is related by Father Paul Segneri in his "Christian Instructed. A Roman youth, of evil habits and laden with sins, went to confession to Father Kiccolas Zucchi. The confessor received him kindly, compassionated his misery, and told him that devotion to the blessed Lady would free him from his accursed vices. He therefore imposed it upon him as a penance, that until the time of his next confession, every morning and evening, on rising and going to bed, he should recite a "Hail Mary" to the Virgin; making an offering to her of his eyes, hands, and his whole body, praying her to keep him as her own; and that he should kiss the ground three times. The young man practised this penance, and at first with very little improvement; but the father continued to exhort him never to give it up, encouraging him to trust in the patronage of Mary. In the mean time, the penitent left home with some other companions, and travelled over the world. Having returned to Rome, he went again to seek his confessor, who to his great joy and surprise, found him entirely changed, and free from his former impurities. "My son," he said, "how have you obtained from God so happy a change?" "Father," answered the youth, "the blessed Virgin, for that little devotion which you taught me, has obtained for me this grace." But the wonder did not cease here. The same confessor related this fact from the pulpit. An officer, who, for several years, had kept up an illicit intercourse with a certain woman, heard it, and proposed also himself to practise the same devotion, in order to free himself from that horrible tie which held him a slave of the devil (which intention is necessary for all such sinners, that the Virgin may aid them): and he also quitted his bad practices and changed his life.
But what followed? At the end of six months, foolishly and too confidently trusting in his strength, he wished, one day, to go and find that woman, to see if she had also changed her way of life. But on approaching the door of her house, where he was in manifest danger of falling again into sin, he felt himself thrust back by an invisible force, and soon found himself distant from the house the whole length of the street, and before his own door; he was then en lightened to see clearly that Mary had thus rescued him from his destruction. Thus we perceive how solicitous is our good mother, not only to save us from sin, if we for that end commend ourselves to her, but also to protect us from the danger of falling into it again.
Oh immaculate and holy Virgin loh creature the most humble and the greatest before God! thou wast so small in thy own eyes, but so great in the eyes of thy Lord, that he exalted thee even to choose thee for his mother, and therefore to make thee queen of heaven and of earth. I then thank that God who hath so much exalted thee, and rejoice with thee in seeing thee so closely united to God, that more is not permitted to a pure creature. I am ashamed to appear before thee who art so humble, with so many graces; I, a miserable sinner, and so proud with so many sins. But wretched as I am, I, wish to salute thee: Hail Mary, full of grace: "Ave Maria, gratia plena." Thou art already full of grace; obtain a share of it also for me. The Lord is with thee: "Dominus tecum." The Lord who hath ever been with thee even from the first moment of thy creation, is now more intimately with thee, by making himself thy Son. Blessed art thou among women: "Benedicta tu in mulieribus." Oh woman, blessed among all women, obtain for us also the divine benediction. Oh blessed plant which hath given to the world a fruit so noble and so holy: "Et benedictus fructus ventris tui." Holy Mary, mother of God: "Sancta Maria, mater Dei." Oh Mary, I confess that thou art the true mother of God, and for this truth I would give my life a thousand times. Pray for us sinners; "Ora pro nobis peccatoribus." But if thou art the mother of God, thou art also the mother of our salvation, and of us poor sinners; since it is to save sinners that God made himself man; and he has made thee his mother that thy prayers may have the power to save every sinner. Pray for us, oh Mary. Now and in the hour of our death: "Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae." Pray always; pray now, while we are in life, in the midst of so many temptatiens and so great danger of losing God; but still more, pray in the hour of our death, when we are on the point of leaving this world and being presented at the divine tribunal; that being saved by the merits of Jesus Christ, and by thy intercession, we may one day come, without the danger of losing thee any more, to salute thee and praise thee, with thy Son, in heaven, for all eternity. Amen.