The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
ON THE VISITATION OF MARY
Mary is the treasurer of all the divine graces. Therefore to who desires graces should have recourse to Mary; and he who has recourse to Mary, should be secure of obtaining the graces he wishes.
HAPPY is that house esteemed which is visited by some royal personage, both for the honor it receives from him, and the advantages it hopes for; but more happy should that soul be called which is visited by the queen of the world, most holy Mary, who cannot but fill with mercies and graces those blessed souls whom she deigns to visit with her favors. The house of Obededom was blessed when it was visited by the ark of the Lord: The Lord blessed his house: "Benedixit Dominus domui ejus." But with how much greater blessings are those persons enriched who receive some loving visit from this living ark of God, as was the divine mother! Happy that house which the mother of God visits, wrote Engelgrave. This was experienced by the house of the Baptist, wherein scarcely had Mary entered, when she filled all that family with celestial graces and benedictions; and for this reason, the present feast of the Visitation is commonly called the feast of our Lady of graces. We shall consider to-day, in the present discourse, how the divine mother is the treasurer of all graces. We shall divide the discourse into two points. In the first, we shall prove that he who desires graces must have recourse to Mary. In the second, that he who has recourse to Mary, should be certain of obtaining the graces that he desires.
Point First. After the holy Virgin had heard from the archangel St. Gabriel, that her cousin Elizabeth had been six months pregnant, she was interiorly enlightened by the Holy Spirit to know that the Word which had taken human flesh and had already become her Son, wished to commence manifesting to the world the riches of his mercy, by the first graces that he desired to impart to all that family. Therefore, without interposing any delay, as St. Luke relates: Rising up, Mary went into the mountainous country in haste: "Exurgens abiit in montana cum festinatione." Rising then from the quiet of her contemplation, to which she was al ways devoted, and leaving her dear solitude, she immediately set out for the house of Elizabeth. And because holy charity suffers all things: "Charitas omnia suffert;" and can bear no delay, as St. Ambrose remarks, when treating of this gospel : The grace of the Holy Spirit knows no slow movements: "Nescit tarda molimina Spiritus Sancti gratia :" therefore not heeding the fatigue of the journey, the tender and delicate maiden quickly set forth on her way. Having arrived at that house, she saluted her cousin: "She entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth." And as St. Ambrose remarks, Mary was the first to salute Elizabeth: "Prior salutavit." But the visit of the blessed Virgin was not like the visits of the worldly, which, for the most part, consist in ceremonies and false display; the visit of Mary brought into that house an abundance of graces. For at her first entrance, and at that first salutation, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and John was delivered from guilt and sanctified, and therefore gave that sign of joy, exulting in the womb of his mother; for he wished in this way to make known the grace received by means of the blessed Virgin; as Elizabeth herself declared: "As soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy." So, as Bernardine de Bustis observes, in virtue of the salutation of Mary, John received the grace of the Divine Spirit, who sanctified him: When the "blessed Virgin saluted Elizabeth, the voice of the salutation entering through her ears, descended to the child, by virtue of which salutation he re ceived the Holy Spirit.
Now if these first-fruits of the redemption all passed through Mary, and she was the channel by means of which grace was communicated to the Baptist, the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth, the gift of prophecy to Zachary, and so many other blessings to that house, which were the first graces that we know to have been given upon earth by the Word, after he had become incarnate; we have great reason to believe that God, even from that time, had constituted Mary a universal channel, as St. Bernard calls her, through which thenceforth should be dispensed to us all the other graces which the Lord wishes to bestow on us, as it was said in p. 1 c. 5, of this work.
Rightly then is this divine mother called the treasure, the treasurer, and the dispensatrix of divine graces. Thus she is called by the venerable Abbot of Celles: The treasure of the Lord and the treasurer of graces: "Thesaurus Domini, et thesauraria gratiarum." By St. Peter Damian, also; The treasure of divine graces: Thesaurus divinarum gratiarum." By blessed Albertus Magnus: The treasurer of Jesus Christ: "Thesauraria Jesu Christi." By St. Bernardine: The dispensatrix of graces: "Dispensatrir gratiarum." By a Greek Doctor, quoted by Petavius: The store-house of all good things: "Promptuarium omnium bonarum." ingrediens ad pnerum descendit, vtrtute cujus salutationis poef Spiritum Sanctum accepit. Part 7, Sena. 4. Thus, also, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus says: Mary is called so full of grace, because in her the treasure of grace was hidden, And Richard of St. Laurence says that God has placed in Mary, as in a treasury of mercy, the gifts of all the graces, and from this treasure he en riches his servants.
St. Bonaventure, speaking of the field of the Gospel where the treasure is hidden which should be bought at any great price, as Jesus Christ hath said: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field, which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field;" remarks that this field is our Queen Mary, in whom is the treasure of God, that is, Jesus Christ, and with Jesus Christ the source and fountain of all graces. St. Bernard also affirms that the Lord has placed in the hands of Mary all the graces that he wishes to dispense to us, that we may know that whatever of good we receive, we receive it all from her hands.) And of this Mary herself assures us. when she says: In me is all grace of tlie way and of the truth: "In me gratia omnis viae et veritatis." In me are all the graces of true blessings that you men can desire in your life. Yes, our mother and our hope, well do we know, to use the words of St. Peter Damian, that all the treasures of the divine mercies are in thy hands. And before Damian, St.Idlephonsus asserted it with more force, for addressing the Virgin he said to her: Oh Lady, all the graces which God has determined to bestow upon men, he has determined to dispense by thy hands; and therefore has he committed to thee all the treasure of graces. Hence, oh Mary, concluded St. Germanus, no grace is dispensed to any one except by thy hands; no one is except by thee; no one receives the gift of God except through thee. The blessed Albertus Magnus makes a beautiful reflection upon the words of the angel to the most holy Virgin; "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God," saying: Oh, Mary, thou hast not stolen grace as lucifer wishes to steal it; thou hast not lost it as Adam lost it; thou hast not bought it as Simon the Magician wished to buy it; but thou hast found it because thou hast desired and sought it. Thou hast found the uncreated grace, that is, God himself, become thy Son; and at the same time thou hast found and obtained all created good. St. Peter Chrysologus confirms this thought, by saying that the great mother found this grace by restoring salvation to all men. And else where he says, that Mary found grace in its fullness, sufficient to save all men. In the like manner as God made the sun, says Richard of St. Laurence, that by it the earth may be illuminated, so hath he created Mary, that by her means all divine mercies may be dispensed to the world. And St. Bernardine adds that the Virgin, as soon as she was made mother of the Redeemer, acquired, as it were, a jurisdiction over all graces: when the Virgin Mary conceived the Word of God in her womb, she obtained, as I should say, a certain jurisdiction over all the temporal manifestations of the Holy Spirit; so that no creature obtained any grace from God, unless according to the disposal of this pious mother.
Let us conclude this point in the words of Richard of St. Laurence, who says, that if we wish to obtain any grace, we must have recourse to Mary, who cannot but obtain for her servants whatever she demands; since she has found, and always will find, divine grace. And this he took from St. Bernard, who said: Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary, for what she seeks she finds, and cannot be frustrated. If, then, we desire graces, we must go to this treasurer and dispensatrix of graces; for this is the sovereign will of the Giver of every good, as St. Bernard himself assures us, that all graces are dispensed by the hands of Mary. All, all, Totum, totum; he who says all, excludes nothing. But, because confidence is necessary in order to obtain grace, we now will pass on to consider how certain we should be of obtaining graces, if we have recourse to Man
Second Point. And why should Jesus Christ ever have placed in the hands of this his mother all the riches of the mercies which he wishes to use for our benefit, if not that she may en rich with them all her servants who love and honor her, and with confidence recur to her? "With me are riches .... that I may enrich them that love me: "Mecum sunt divitise .... ut ditem diligentes me." Thus the Virgin herself speaks in this passage, which the holy Church applies to her on so many of her festivals. Therefore, for no other use, but for our benefit, says Adam the Abbot, are the riches of eternal life preserved by Mary, in whose bosom, the Saviour has deposited the treasure of the wretched, that, supplied from this treasure, the poor may become rich. And St. Bernard adds, as I learn from another author, that for this purpose Mary has been given to the world, for a channel of mercy, that by her means graces may continually descend from heaven upon men.
From this the holy Father goes on to ask, why St. Gabriel, having found the divine mother already full of grace, according to his salutation: Hail, full of grace: "Ave gratia plena:" afterwards says that the Holy Spirit was to come to her, to fill her still more with grace; if she was already full of this grace, what more could the coming of the Holy Spirit effect? Mary was already full of grace, thus answers St. Bernard, but the Holy Spirit came upon her for our good, that from her superabundance we poor sinners might be provided. For this reason Mary was called the moon, of which it is said: the moon is full, for herself and others; "Luna plena sibi, et aliis."
"He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord." Blessed is he who having recourse to me finds me, says our mother. He will find life, and will find it easily; for, as it is easy to find and draw water (as much as one wishes) from a great fountain, so it is easy to find graces and eternal salvation by going to Mary. A holy soul hath said, we have only to ask graces of our Lady and we shall have them. And St. Bernard says, that before Mary was born, the world was without this abundance of graces, that now are overflowing the earth, because this desirable channel (Mary) was wanting. But now that we actually have this mother of mercy, what graces can we not obtain, if we cast ourselves at her feet? I am the city of refuge, thus St. John of Damascus makes her to say, for all those who have recourse to me: come, then, my children, and yon will obtain from me graces, in greater abundance than you can imagine.
It is true that many experience what the venerable Sister Maria Villain saw in a heavenly vision. This servant of God once saw the moth er of God in the likeness of a great fountain, to which many went to draw the waters of graces; but what then happened? Those who carried vessels which were whole, preserved afterwards the graces received; but those who caryied broken vessels, that is, souls laden with sins, received the graces, but quickly lost them again. As for the rest, it is certain that by means of Mary, men, even the most ungrateful and wretched sinners, daily obtain in numerable graces. St. Augustine says, address ing the Virgin: Through thee the wretched obtain mercy, the ungrateful grace, sinners pardon, the weak support, the earthly heavenly things, mortals life, and travelers their country.
Let our confidence, then, ever revive, oh devoted servants of Mary, as often as we have recourse to her for graces. And to revive this confidence, let us ever remember the two great privileges which this good mother possesses, namely: the desire she has to do us good, and the power she has with her Son to obtain what ever she asks. That we may know the desire Mary has to aid all, it would be sufficient only to consider the mystery of the present festival, namely, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. The journey from Nazareth, where the most holy Virgin lived, to the city of Hebron (called by St. Luke a city of Judah), where, according to Baronius and other authors, Elizabeth dwelt, was about sixty-nine miles, as the author of the life of Mary, Father Giuseppe of Jesus, one of the barefooted Carmelites, asserts, as also Bede and Brocardo. But this did not prevent the blessed Virgin, tender and delicate as she then was, and not accustomed to such efforts, from immediately setting forth moved by what? moved by that great charity with which her most tender heart was ever filled, to go and commence from that time her great office of dispenser of graces. Precisely thus does St. Ambrose speak of this her journey: She did not go as if incredulous of the announcement, but happy in her desire, hastening for joy, and in tent upon her office. Not that Mary, as the saint says, went to inform herself of the truth of what the angel had told her concerning Elizabeth, but joyful through her desire to help that household, hastening for the joy she felt to do good to others, and wholly intent on that charitable errand. Rising up, she went with haste; "Exurgens abiit cum festinatione." Here let it be observed that the Evangelist, when he spoke of Mary going to the house of Elizabeth, said that she went in haste: Abiit festinatione; but speaking of her return from that house, he makes no more mention of haste, but simply says: "And Mary abode with her about three months, and she returned to her own house." What other object, then, says St. Bonaventure, caused the mother of God to hasten when going to visit the house of the Baptist, except the desire to do good to that family?
Certainly, since the assumption of Mary into heaven, this her affection of charity towards men has not ceased; nay, it has ever been increasing, for there she better knows our necessities, and feels more pity for our miseries. Bernardine de Bustis writes, that Mary more earnestly desires to do us good than we desire to receive it from her. To such a degree, that St. Bonaventure says, she considers herself injured by those who do not ask favors of her; for this is the desire of Mary, to enrich all with her graces; for, indeed, according to the assertion of the Idiot, she superabundantly en riches her servants.
Hence the same author says, that he who finds Mary finds every good: "Inventa Maria, invenitur omne bonum." And he adds, that every one can find her, were he even the most abandoned sinner in the world; for she is so gracious that she sends away none who have recourse to her. I invite all to come to me, Thomas À Kempis makes her say, I wait for all, I wish that all may come; neither do I ever deepise any sinner who comes to seek my help, however unworthy he may be. All who go to her asking favors, says Richard, will find her always ready, always inclined to succor them, and obtain for them every grace of eternal salvation by her powerful prayers : "Inveniet sem per paratam auxiliari."
I have said by her powerful prayers, for this is the other reflection which should increase our confidence, namely, knowing that she obtains from God whatever she asks in favor of her servants. Observe especially, says St. Bonaventure, in this visit that Mary made to Elizabeth, the great virtue of the words of Mary; for at the sound of her voice the grace of the Holy Spirit was given to Elizabeth as well as to her son, as the Evangelist has written: "And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salvation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost." On which St. Bonaventure remarks: Behold, how great is the virtue of the words of our Lady, for at the sound of them the Holy Spirit is given. Theophilus of Alexandria says that Jesus is much pleased when Mary prays to him for us, for then all the graces which he bestows on us through the supplications of Mary, he does not consider to be conferred on us, but rather on Mary herself. And let these words be noted: Persuaded by the prayers of his mother he gives: "Precibus suae genitricis evictus, donat." Yes, because Jesus, as St. Germanus attests, cannot but graciously hear Mary in all her petitions, wishing in this, as it were, to obey her as his true mother; hence the saint says that the prayers of this mother have a certain authority with Jesus Christ, so that she obtains pardon even for the greatest sinners, who com mend themselves to her.
And this is indeed confirmed, as St. John Chrysostom observes, by what took place at the nuptials of Cana, where Mary, asking of her Son the wine that was wanting, said: "They have no wine;"Jesus answered: "Woman, what is that to me and to thee, my hour is not yet come." But although the time for miracles has not yet arrived, as Chrysostom and Theophilactus explain; yet, says the same Chrysostom, our Saviour, in order to obey his mother, performed the miracle she requested, and converted the water into wine.
"Let us go therefore," thus the apostle exhorts us, "with confidence to the throne of grace; that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid." The throne of grace is the blessed Virgin Mary, says the blessed Albertus Magnus:" Thronus gratia est beata Virgo Maria. " If, then, we wish for graces, let us go to the throne of grace, which is Mary; and let us go with the hope of being certainly heard; for we have the intercession of Mary, who obtains whatever she asks of her Son. Let us ask for grace, I repeat with St.Bernard, and through Mary let us ask: "Quaramus gratiam et per Mariam quaeramus," trusting to what the Virgin mother said to St. Matilda, that the Holy Spirit, filling her with all his sweetness, had rendered her so dear to God that everyone wnot through her intercession, asked for graces, would certainly obtain them.
And if we give credit to that celebrated saying of St. Anselm We shall sometimes find grace sooner by having recourse to Mary, than by having recourse to our Saviour Jesus himself; not that he is not the source and Lord of all graces, but because if we go to Mary, and she intercedes for us, her prayers will have more power, as the prayers of a mother, than ours. Let us never then leave the feet of this treasurer of graces, but say to her with St. John Damascene: Open to us, oh blessed mother of God, the door of thy mercy, for thou art the salvation of the human race. Oh mother of God, open to us the door of thy mercy, by praying always for us; for thy prayers are the salvation of all men. And when we have recourse to Mary, it would be best to ask her to pray for us, and obtain for us those graces which she knows are most ex pedient for our salvation; which is precisely what Brother Reginald, a Dominican, did, as is related in the chronicles of the order. This servant of Mary was infirm, and asked of her the grace of bodily health. Our Lady appeared to him, accompanied by St. Cecilia and St. Catherine, and said to him with the greatest sweetness: "My son, what shall I do for thee?" The religious at this kind offer of Mary was troubled, and knew not what to answer. Then one of those saints gave him this counsel: "Reginald, do you know what you should do? Do not ask for anything, place everything at her disposal, because Mary knows how to obtain for thee a grace greater than you could ask." The sick brother followed her advice, and the divine mother obtained for him the grace of health.
But if we also desire the happy visits of this queen of heaven, it will greatly aid us if we often visit her before some image, in some church dedicated to her. Let us read the following example, and learn with what special favors she rewards the devout visits of her servants.
It is related in the Franciscan chronicles, that two religious of that order, who were going to visit a sanctuary of the Virgin, were overtaken by night in a great wood, where they became bewildered and so troubled that they knew not what to do. But advancing a little, they discerned through the darkness something which seemed to them a house. They went groping along with outstretched hands, and at length touched a wall; they found the door, knocked, and heard some one within asking who they were? They answered that they were two poor religious who bad lost their way by accident in that wood and were seeking a shelter, that at least they might not be devoured by wolves. But suddenly they heard the door open, and saw two pages richly dressed, who received them with great courtesy. The religious asked them who inhabited that palace? The pages answered that a very kind, good Lady inhabited it. We wish to pay our respects to her, said they, and thank her for her charity We will take you to her, said the pages, for she too wishes to speak to you. They ascended the stairs, found the apartments all illuminated, richly furnished, and perfumed as with an odor of paradise; they finally entered the apartment of the Lady, who was majestic and most lovely in her appearance, and who welcomed them with the greatest kindness, and then asked them in what direction they were travelling? They answered that they were going to visit a certain church of the blessed Virgin. If that is the case, said the Lady, when you go I will give you a letter from myself, which will greatly aid you. And whilst the Lady was speaking to them, they felt all inflamed with love of God, and filled with a joy such as they had never before experienced. They afterwards went to rest, if perchance they could sleep in the midst of so much joy, and in the morning they went again to take leave of the Lady of the mansion, thank her, and at the same time receive the letter, they did so and departed. But when they had gone a little distance from the house, they perceived that there was no superscription to the letter; but they turned and returned, and could not find the house again. At last they opened the letter, to see to whom it was sent, and what it contained, and found that it was from the most holy Mary, and was written to themselves, and let them know that she was the Lady whom they saw the night before, and that on account of the devotion they cherished for her, she had provided a house and refreshment for them in that wood. She exhorted them to continue to serve and love her, for she would well reward their devotion, and assist them in life and in death. At the bottom of the letter they read the signature of the Virgin Mary. We may easily imagine the thanks that those good religious offered to the divine mother, and how greatly they were inflamed with the desire of loving her and serving her to the end of their lives.
Immaculate and blessed Virgin, since thou art the universal dispenser of all divine graces, therefore thou art the hope of all, and also my hope. I always thank my Lord that he hath given me to know thec, and the means that I must use to obtain graces and save myself. Thou art this means, oh great mother of God, for I now understand that it is principally through the merits of Jesus Christ, and after those, through thy intercession, that I am to be saved. Ah, my queen, thou didst make so great haste to visit, and sanctify with thy visit, the house of Elizabeth; ah, visit, and visit quickly the poor house of my soul. Ah, hasten! thou knowest better than I how poor it is, how infected with many maladies, with irregular affections, bad habits, and actual sin, all those fatal diseases which will bring it to eternal death. Thou canst enrich it, oh treasurer of God! and thou canst heal all its infirmities. Visit me then in life, and visit me especially at the hour of my death, for then thy help will be more necessary to me. I do not, indeed expect, neither am I worthy that thou shouldst visit me on this earth with thy visible presence, as thou hast done to so many of thy servants, but servants not so unworthy and ungrateful as I am. I will be content to be allowed then to see thee in thy kingdom of heaven, there to love thee better, and thank thee for whatever good thou hast done me. At present I will be content that thou shouldst visit me with thy mercies. It is enough that thou dost pray for me.
Pray for me then oh Mary, and commend me to thy Son. Thou knowest better than now myself, my miseries and my necessities. What more would I say to thee? Have pity on me. I am so miserable and ignorant that I do not even know, and cannot even ask, the graces that are most necessary for me. Oh my queen and most sweet mother, ask thou and obtain for me, from thy Son, those graces which thou knowest to be most useful and necessary for my soul. Into thy hands I entirely abandon myself, and only pray the divine Majesty, that through the merits of my Saviour Jesus, he may grant me those graces that thou dost ask of him for me. Ask, ask then for me, oh most holy Virgin, whatever thou esteemest best. Thy prayers are never rejected. They are the prayers of a mother to a Son, who loves thee so much, and finds his joy in granting whatever thou dost ask of him, thus the more to honor thee, and at the same time, show thee the great love he bears thee. Oh Lady, thus let it be. I will live trusting in thee. Thou must think only on saving me. Amen.