The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
ON THE PURIFICATION OF MARY
The great sacrfice which Mary this day made to God in offering him the life of her Son.
THERE were two precepts of the ancient law concerning the birth of first-born sons. One was, that the mother should remain as an un clean person, retired in her house, for forty days; after which she should go to purify herself in the temple. The other was, that the parents of the first-born should take him to the temple, and there offer him to God. On this day the most holy Virgin desired to obey both precepts. Although Mary was not bound by the law of purification, since she was always a virgin, and always pure; yet, by her love of humility and odedience, she wished to go, like other mothers, to be purified. At the same time she obeyed the second precept, to present and offer her Son to the eternal Father; "And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they car ried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord." But the Virgin offered him in a different manner from that in which other mothers offered their sons. Others offered them, but they knew that this was a simple ceremony of the law, through which, by redeeming them, they made them their own, without the fear that they should be obliged to offer them again, and to death. Mary really offered her Son to death, knowing certainly that the sacrifice of the life of Jesus which she then made, should one day be actually consummated upon the altar of the cross; so that Mary, by offering the life of her Son through the love she bore this Son really sacrificed herself entirely to God . Laying aside, then, all the other considerations which we might make upon the various mysteries of this festival, let us only consider how great was this sacrifice that Mary made of herself to God, by offering to him, on this day, the life of her Son. And this will be the only subject of the following discourse.
The eternal Father had already determined to save man, who was lost through sin, and free him from eternal death. But because he wished that, at the same time, his divine justice should not be defrauded of a full and due satisfaction, he did not spare the life of his own Son, already made man in order to redeem man; but he required that he should pay, to its most rigorous extent, the penalty merited by men: "He that spared not even his own Son," says the apostle, "but delivered him up for us all." He sent him therefore on the earth to become man, destined for him a mother, and chose the Virgin Mary; but as he did not wish his divine Word to become her Son before she accepted him by her express consent, so he did not wish that Jesus should sacrifice his life for the salvation of men without the concurrence of the consent of Mary, that together with the sacrifice of the life of the Son, the heart of the mother might be sacrificed also. St. Thomas teaches, that the relation of mother gives an especial right over her children; hence Jesus, being innocent in himself and not deserving any punishment for his own sins, it seemed fitting that he should not be destined to the cross as the victim for the sins of the world without the consent of his mother, by which she should voluntarily offer him to death.
But although Mary, from the moment she was made mother of Jesus, gave her consent to his death, yet the Lord wished her, on this day, to make, in the temple, a solemn sacrifice of herself, by offering solemnly her Son, and sacrificing to the divine justice his precious life. Hence St. Epiphanius called her a priest: "Virginem appello velut sacerdotem." Now we begin to see how much this sacrifice cost her, and what heroic virtue she was obliged to practise when she had herself to sign the sentence of condemnation of her dear Jesus to death.
Now behold Mary actually on her way to Jerusalem to offer her Son; she hastens her steps towards the place of sacrifice, and she herself carries her beloved victim in her arms. She enters the temple, approaches the altar, and there, filled with modesty, humility, and devotion, she presents her Son to the Most High. At this Nmoment St. Simeon, who had received the promise from God that he should not die before seeing the expected Messias, takes the divine child from the hands of the Virgin, and, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, announces to her how much sorrow this sacrifice must cause her, this sacrifice which she was about to make of her Son, with whom must her blessed soul also be sacrificed. Here St. Thomas of Villanova contemplates the holy old man, who, when he had come to announce the fatal prophecy to this poor mother, is agitated and silent. Then the saint considers Mary, who asks: Why, oh Simeon, in the time of so great consolation, are you thus disturbed? "Unde tanta turbatio?" To whom he answers: Oh, noble and holy Virgin, I wished not to announce to thee such bitter tidings, but since the Lord wishes it thus, for thy greater merit, hear what I say to thee. This infant who now causes thee, and with reason, so much joy, oh God, shall one day bring thee the most cruel suffering that any creature has ever experienced in the world; and this will be when thou shalt see him persecuted by men of every sort, and placed on earth as the mark of their sneers and derision, even until he is put to death before thy eyes. Know that after his death there will be many martyrs who, for love of this thy Son, will be tormented and slain; but if their martyrdom will be of the body, thy martyrdom, oh divine mother, will be of the heart.
Yes, of the heart, for nothing but compassion for the sufferings of this Son so dear could be meant by the sword of sorrow that St. Simeon predicted was to pierce the heart of the mother: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce." Already the most holy Virgin, as St. Jerome says, had been enlightened through the divine Scriptures to know the sufferings which the Redeemer was to endure in his life, and still more at the time of his death. She well understood from the prophets, that he was to be betrayed by one of his friends: "Who ate my bread hath greatly supplanted me;" as David predicted. Abandoned by his disciples: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: "Percute Pastorem, et dispergentur oves." Well did she know the insults, spitting, blows, and derision that he was to suffer from the people;" I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them; I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me and spit upon me." She knew that he was to become the scandal of men, and the outcast of the lowest of the people:" But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people," even to be laden with insults and outrages: "He shall be filled with reproaches." She knew that at the end of his life his sacred flesh would be torn and bruised by scourges: "He was wounded from our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins," "so that his body would be wholly disfigured by them, become as a leper, all sores; "There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness, and we have thought him, as it were, a leper," even till the bones were uncovered: "They have numbered all my bones." She knew that he was to be pierced by nails. That he was to be reputed with the wicked. And that finally he was to die, hanging on the cross, slain for the salvation of men: " And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced."
Mary, I repeat, already knew all the sufferings that her Son was to endure, but in the above quoted words of St. Simon: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce," as the Lord revealed to St. Theresa, all the minute circumstances of the external as well as internal sufferings which her Lord Jesus was to endure in his passion, were made known to her. She consented to all with a firmness which made the angels wonder, and pronounced the sentence that her Son should die, and die by a death so ignominious and painful, in these words: Eternal Father, since thou dost will it, not my will, but thine be done: "Non mea voluntas, sed tua fiat;" I unite mine to thy holy will, and sacrifice to thee this my Son; I am satsified that he should lose his life for thy glory, and for the salvation of the world. And I also sacrifice to thee my heart; let grief pierce it as much as pleases thee; it suffices to me that thou, oh my God, art glorified and satisfied; not my will, but thine be done. Oh, charity without measure! oh, constancy without example! oh, victory, that merits the eternal admiration of heaven and of earth!
And hence Mary, in the passion of Jesus was silent when he was unjustly accused; she said nothing to Pilate, who was inclined to liberate him, for he had already known his innocence; but she only appeared in the public to be present at the great sacrifice, which was to be offered on Calvary. She accompanied him to the place of punishment ; she was with him from the first moment he was placed upon the cross: There stood by the cross of Jesus his mother: "Stabat juxta crucem Jesu mater ejus;" until she saw him expire, and the sacrifice was consummated. And all this to complete the offering which she had already made of him to God in the temple.
In order to understand the violence that Mary had to offer herself in making this sacrifice, it would be necessary to comprehend the love which this mother bore to Jesus. Generally speaking, the love of mothers is so tender for their children, that when they are at the point of death, and they are about to lose them, they forget all their faults, their defects, and even the injuries they have received from them, and they suffer an inexpressible grief. And yet the love of those mothers is a love divided among other children, or among other creatures. Mary has one only Son, and he is the most beautiful of all the children of Adam; he is most amiable, for he has all lovable qualities; he is obedient, virtuous, innocent, holy, in one word, he is God. The lore of this mother too is not divided among other objects; she has centered all her love upon this only Son, neither does she fear loving him to excess, for this Son is God, who merits an infinite love. And this Son is the victim whom she had voluntarily to offer to death.
Let every one consider, then, how much it must have cost Mary to sacrifice on the cross the life of a Son so amiable, and what strength of mind she must have exercised in this act. Be hold the most fortunate of mothers, because she is the mother of a God, but she is at the same time a mother most worthy of compassion, because the most afflicted; being the mother of a Son whom she saw destined to the cross from the day when he was given her for a Son! What mother would accept a son, knowing that afterwards she should lose him by such a painful and infamous death, and that she should be present to see him die? Mary willingly accepted this Son with so hard a condition; and not only accepted him, but offers him herself this day, with her own hands, to death, sacrificing him to the divine justice. St. Bonaventure says, that the blessed Virgin would willingly have taken upon herself the sufferings and death of her Son; but to obey God she made the great offering of the divine life of her beloved Jesus, conquering, but with the greatest grief, all the tenderness of love that she bore him. Hence it is, that in this offering Mary had to do more violence to herself, and was more generous, than if she had offered herself to suffer all her Son Was to suffer. Therefore she surpassed all the martyrs in generosity, for the martyrs offered their own lives; but the Virgin offered the life of her Son, whom she loved and esteemed infinitely more than her own life.
Neither did the suffering of this painful offering end here; rather it commenced here; for from that time forward, through the whole life of her Son, Mary had always before her eyes death, and all the pains he was to suffer in his death. Hence, the more this Son discovered to her how beautiful, graceful, and amiable he was, so much more did the anguish of her heart constantly increase. Ah, afflicted mother! if thou hadst loved thy Son less, or if thy Son had been less lovely, and had loved thee less, thy suffering would certainly have been less in offering him to death. But there never has been, and there never will be, a more loving mother than thou, because there never has been, and never will be, a son more amiable and more loving towards his mother than thy Jesus. Oh God! if we had seen the beauty, the majesty of countenance of that divine child, could we have had the courage to sacrifice his life for our salvation? And thou, oh Mary! who art his mother, and a mother so loving, couldst thou offer thy innocent Son foi the salvation of men, to a death more painful and more cruel than any criminal had ever enr dured on this earth?
Alas! what a fearful scene from that day forward did love continually place before the eyei of Mary, representing to her all the injuries and mockeries which were to be offered to her poor Son! Behold love already representing him to her in his agony in the garden, then torn by scourges, and crowned with thorns in the hall of Pilate, and finally hanging from the infamous wood on Calvary! Behold, oh mother, said love, what a lovely and innocent Son thou hast offered to such sufferings, and to so dreadful a death! And of what avail will it be to thee to rescue him from the hands of Herod, in order to reserve him for so piteous an end?
Thus Mary not only offered her Son to death in the temple, but was offering him up at every moment of her life; for she revealed to St. Bridget, that this grief which St. Simeon announced to her, never left her heart till she was assumed into heaven. Hence St. Anselm says: Oh Lady, I cannot believe, that with such a sorrow thou wouldst have been able to live one moment, if God himself, who gives life, had not strengthened thee by his divine power. And St. Bernard affirms, speaking of the great sorrow that Mary endured on this day, that henceforth she suffered a living death, bearing a grief more cruel than death. She lived, dying at every moment, because grief for the death of her beloved Jesus, which was more cruel than any death, was at every moment assailing her.
The divine mother then, on account of the great merit she acquired in this great sacrifice, which she made to God for the salvation of the world, was justly called by St. Augustine: The restorer of the human race: "Reparatrix generis humani." By St. Epiphanius: The redeemer of captives: "Redemptrix captivorum." By St. Ildephonsus: The restorer of the ruined world: "Reparatrix perditi orbis." By St. Germanus: The consolation of our miseries: "Restauratio ealamitatum nostrarum." By St. Ambrose: The mother of all believers: "Mater omnium credentium." By St. Augustine: The mother of the living: "Mater viventium." By St. Andrew of Crete: The mother of life: "Mater vitse." For, as St. Arnold Carnotensis says: In the death of Jesus, Mary united her will to that of her Son in such a manner, that both offered the same sacrifice; and therefore the holy abbot says, that thus the Son and the mother effected human redemption, obtaining salvation for men. Jesus by satisfying for our sins, Mary by obtaining for us that this satisfaction should be applied to us. And hence blessed Denis the Carthusian likewise affirms, that the divine mother may be called the salvation of the world, since by the pain she endured in commiserating her Son (voluntarily sacrificed by her to divine justice), she merited that the merits of the Redeemer should be communicated to men.
Mary, then, having been made the mother of all the redeemed, by the merit of her sufferings, and of the offering of her Son; it is just to believe that only by her hand may be given them the milk of those divine graces, which are the fruits of the merits of Jesus Christ, and the means to obtain life eternal. And it is to this that St. Bernard alludes, when he says that God has placed in the hands of Mary the whole price of our redemption.! By which the saint gives us to understand, that by means of the intercession of the blessed Virgin, the merits of the Redeemer are applied to souls, as by her hand these graces are dispensed, which are precisely the price of the merits of Jesus Christ. And if the sacrifice of Abraham in offering up to him his son Isaac so pleased God that he promised, as a reward, to multiply his descendants as the stars of heaven: "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake, I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven;" we must certainly believe that the more remarkable sacrifice which this great mother made of Jesus was much more agreeable to the Lord , and, therefore, it has been granted her, that by her prayers, the number of the elect should be multiplied, that is, the favored succession of her children, for she holds and protects as such her devoted servants.
St. Simeon received a promise from God that he should not die until he had seen the Messiah born: "And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord." But he did not receive this grace except by means of Mary, for he did not see the Saviour until he saw him in the arms of Mary. Hence, whoever wishes to find Jesus, will not find him except through Mary. Let us, then, go to this divine mother if we wish to find Jesus; and let us go with great confidence. Mary said to her servant Prudentiana Zagnoni, that every year, on this day of the purification, a great mercy would be shown to some sinner. Who knows but one of us may to-day be that favored sinner? If our sins are great, greater is the power of Mary. The Son can deny nothing to this mother, says St. Bernard. If Jesus is offended with us, Mary immediately appeases him. Plutarch relates that Antipater wrote to Alexander the Great a long letter of accusations against Olympias, the mother of Alexander. Having read the letter, he answered: "Does not Antipater know that one tear of my mother is enough to cancel an endless number of letters of accusation?" Thus we may imagine Jesus would also answer to the accusations which the devil presents him against us when Mary is praying him for us: Does not lucifer know that one prayer of my mother, in favor of a sinner, is enough to make me forget all the accusations of offences committed against me? The following example is a proof of this.
This example is not recorded in any book, but a priest, a companion of mine, related it to me, as having happened to himself. Whilst this priest was hearing confessions in a certain church (for sufficient reasons he did not mention the place where this occurred, although the penitent gave him leave to publish the fact), a youth stood before him, who appeared to wish and not to wish to come to confession. The Father, after looking at him several times, at length called him, and asked him if he wished to make his confession. He answered, yes; but as he required a longtime for it, the confessor took him into a retired room. There the penitent began by telling him that he was a foreigner, and of noble birth, but be could not believe that it was possible for God to pardon him after the life he had led. Besides innumerable other sins he had committed of impurity, homicide, etc, he said, that being entirely in despair of salvation, he had set about committing sins, not so much for his own gratification, as to defy God, and manifest the hatred he bore him. He said, that among other things, he had with him a crucifix, which he had beaten out of contempt. He said that just before, on that very morning, he had made a sacrilegious communion, and for what object? That he might put under his feet the consecrated wafer. And that, in fact, he had actually received, and was about to put in execution this horrible intention, but was prevented by the people who observed him. He then consigned to the confessor the consecrated host, wrapped in a paper, and told him that as he was passing by that church he had a great desire to enter. He could not resist this desire, and had entered. That then he felt great remorse of conscience, together with a certain confused and irresolute desire to make his confession. For this reason he had placed himself before the confessional, but while standing there he felt so confused and timid, that he wished to go away, but it seemed as if some one had retained him by force: "til," he said, "you, Father, called me; and now I find myself hero; I find myself making my confession; but I know not how to do it." The Father then asked him if he had practised any act of devotion during that time; meaning towards the most holy Mary; for such sudden con versions only come through the powerful hands of the Virgin. "None, Father; what devotion could I offer," answered the youth, when I believed myself lost?" "But try to remember more carefully," replied the Father. "Father, nothing." But accidentally putting his hand to his breast, he remembered that he wore the Scapular of the Seven Dolors of Mary: "Maria addolorata." "Ah, my son," said the confessor to him, "do you not see that our blessed Lady has bestowed this grace upon you? And know," he added, "that this church is a church of our blessed Lady." Hearing this, the youth was moved to contrition, and began to weep. He confessed his sins, and his compunction increased to such a degree that, bursting into tears, he fell, overcome with grief, as it seemed, at the feet of the Father, who, having restored him by a cordial, finally finished hearing his confession, and absolved him with the greatest consolation, as he was entirely contrite and resolved to amend his life. The Father sent him back to his own country after having obtained from him full liberty to preach and publish everywhere the great mercy exercised by Mary towards him.
Oh holy mother of God my mother Mary, didst thou then feel so great care of my salvation that thou didst even consent to offer up to death the object dearest to thy heart, thy beloved Jesus? If thou, then, hast so greatly desired to see me saved, it is just that next to God I should place in thee all my hopes. Oh, blessed Virgin, I do indeed confide entirely in thee. Oh, by the merit of this great sacrifice of the life of thy Son which to-day thou hast offered to God, pray him to have pity on my soul, for which this immaculate Lamb did not refuse to die upon the cross.
To-day, oh my queen, I also, in imitation of thee wish to offer my poor heart to God; but I fear that he will refuse it, seeing it thus filthy and loathsome. But if thou wilt offer it to him, he will not refuse it. All the offerings made him by thy most pure hands he accepts and receives. To thee, then, oh Mary, I present myself to-day, miserable as I am, and to thee I give myself entirely. Offer me as thine to the eternal Father and to Jesus, and pray him that through the merits of his Son, and by thy favor, he may accept me, and take me for his own. Ah, my sweetest mother, for the love thou bearest this Son whom thou hast sacrificed, aid me always, and do not abandon me. Do not permit that I should one day lose, through my sins, this my most loving Redeemer, to-day offered by thee with so much anguish to die on the cross. Say to him that I am thy servant; say to him that in thee I have placed all my hope; say to him, in a word, that thou dost wish for my salvation, and he will certainly graciously hear thee. Amen.