There is no doubt, as Saint Jerome remarks, that whatever is worthily said of Our Blessed Mother redounds wholly to the praise and glory of God. Therefore, for the honor and glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and ardently desiring to produce a work which will tend to the praise of His most glorious Mother, I have judged it fitting to take for the subject-matter of my treatise the most sweet Salutation of this Blessed Mother. But I acknowledge my utter insufficiency for such an undertaking. First, because of the sublimity of the subject; secondly, because of the slenderness of my knowledge; thirdly, because of the aridity of my speech, and, finally, because of the unworthiness of my life, and the supreme glory and praiseworthiness of the person whose praises I wish to sing.
For who is there who would not deem that subject incomprehensible of which Saint Jerome does not hesitate to speak as follows: “That which nature possesseth not, which custom useth not, which eclipseth reason, which the mind of man is unable to compass, which maketh the heavens tremble, and striketh dumb the earth, which amazeth every inhabitant of Heaven, all this was divinely announced by Gabriel to Mary, and was fulfilled in Christ.” Therefore I confess myself unworthy to speak of such and so great a heroine. Again I say, how could my slender knowledge and my dull mind suffice to conceive praises worthy of Mary, when the illuminated mind of an Anselm faileth in presence of the task? For he saith: “My tongue faileth, Lady, for my mind is insufficient. Lady, all that is within me burns that I may render thee thanks for thy so great benefits. But I am unable to conceive worthy praise, and am ashamed to put forth that which is unworthy.”
Saint Augustine, addressing Mary, says: “What shall I, so poor in talent, say of thee, when whatever I may say of thee is less praise than thy dignity deserves?”
Again, how can my untrained tongue, my arid powers of interpretation not fail in the praises of Mary, when Augustine, that most eloquent of men, says: “What shall we, so little, so feeble, say in praise of Mary, when, if all our members were turned into tongues, no one of us would suffice to praise her?”
Again, if praise in the mouth of a sinner is unbecoming (Eccli. XV, 9), how shall I, a miserable sinner, a man of most unworthy life–how shall I dare to proclaim the praises of Mary, when I hear Jerome, a man of such great worth, hesitate ? For he saith: “I fear and tremble, all the while that I long to fulfill your expectations, lest I should prove to be an unworthy panegyrist. For there is in me neither sanctity nor eloquence, worthily to praise the Blessed and glorious Virgin.”
And again: “Why should I add to the sea a small cup of water? Why a stone to a mountain? And as Mary has already been so adequately praised by the tongues of men and angels, what can our puny efforts, and especially my own, add to these ?”
Finally, Saint Jerome, speaking of Mary, says: “If I am to speak the truth, whatever can be expressed in human words is less than the praise given by Heaven; for Mary has been excellently preached and praised by divine and angelic heralds, foretold by prophets, fore-shadowed by patriarchs, in types and figures, set forth and described by Evangelists, worthily and officially saluted by Angels.”
Having diligently weighed all these things, pious reader, I must beg your forgiveness for whatever insufficiency, whatever want of skill appears in this writing of mine. How shall I, so inefficient, succeed in a task before which Mary’s unique and zealous panegyrist, Saint Bernard, quailed ? For he saith: “There is nothing which gives me greater delight than to preach on the glory of the Virgin Mother.” And giving his reasons for this delight, he continues: “For all men honor, embrace, and receive her with the great affection and devotion that is fitting, yet whatever is said of one so unspeakably sublime, by the very fact of its being put into words, is less worthy, less pleasing, less acceptable.”
Yet Saint Jerome encourages and consoles me, saying: “Although none can be found who is worthy to praise her, yet let not even the sinner desist from glorifying her with all his might.”
And Saint Augustine, speaking of the manner in which the Son of God bestowed upon His Mother the gift of fecundity, yet took not away her integrity by being born of her, among other things says: “We who are so insignificant, cannot suffice to speak of so great a gift of God; and yet we are compelled to utter her praises, lest, by being silent, we should appear ungrateful. And certainly, that poor widow who made an offering so pleasing to God with her two brass mites, should not have withheld that offering because she could not give more; yea, rather by giving what she could, she pleased God exceedingly.”
Hence it is that I, so poor in talent, and equally devoid of knowledge and eloquence, have presumed to offer to so great a Queen this poor script of mine, that in it, so to speak, as in a dim mirror, the simpler lovers of this great Queen should in some imperfect manner perceive who and how great she is. And because this treatise is, as it were, a kind of mirror which reflects the life, grace, and glory of Mary, it is not unfittingly termed the Mirror of Mary. Oh, do thou, therefore, my most kind Lady and Mother, graciously accept this small gift offered to thee by thy poor lover! For with this puny gift, with this small work on thine own Salutation, I salute thee. On bended knee, with bowed head, with heart and lips, I salute thee, I wish thee blessing. Hail Mary, etc.
I – On the Angelical Salutation
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Hear, O most sweet Virgin Mary, hear things new and wonderful! Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear ! Hear that glorious messenger, Gabriel! Hear what is to be the wonderful mode of thy fecundity! Incline thine ear to a fruitful consent. Hear what is announced to thee as a certainty by God the Father ! See in what manner the Son of God is to become Incarnate of thee! Incline thine ear to the Holy Spirit, who is about to operate within thee ! Because thou hast ears to hear, hear !
And in the beginning of thy hearing, listen to this unheard-of salutation:
Hail Mary. This name, Mary, is not inserted here by Gabriel, but by the devotion of the faithful, inspired by the Holy Ghost. And the last sentence, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, was not uttered by Gabriel in his salutation, but was pronounced by Elizabeth in the spirit of prophecy. Let us each and everyone say, Hail Mary. O truly gracious and venerable, O truly glorious and admirable salutation! As Bede says: “Inasmuch as it is unheard of in human experience, so much more is it becoming to the dignity of Mary.”
In this sweetest of salutations five sweet phrases are set forth, in which are contained five sweet prerogatives of the Virgin. Oh, how sweetly are these praises insinuated! For here is signified how most pure, how most full, how most firm and secure, how most worthy, how most useful was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was most pure, because of the absence of all fault in her; she was most full and abounding, because of the plenitude of grace in her; she was most firm and secure, because of the Divine Presence within her; she was most worthy, because of the dignity of her person; she was most useful, because of the excellence of her Child. How pure Mary was because of the absence of all evil in her, is well expressed by the word Ave. Rightly is the word Ave addressed to her, who was ever entirely immune from the “vae” or “woe” of sin. Thus it behooved the Mother of God to be, as Saint Anselm testifies: “It was fitting that the conception of the God-Man should be of a most pure mother, that the purity of the Virgin-Mother, than which, under God, there was none greater, should be hers to whom God had designed to give His Only Son, whom He had begotten, equal to Himself, from His own Heart, that He should so give Him to her to be at the same time the Son of God and the Son of Man.”
Again, how full of grace was Mary by the abounding plenitude of her gifts is well signified when it is said to her: “Full of grace.” And truly full, and ever full, as Saint Anselm testifies, when he most devoutly exclaims: “O Woman full and overfull of grace, of whose abundance every creature is revived and refreshed.” Again, how secure and firm was Mary by the Divine Presence is well signified by the words, The Lord is with thee. Rightly is Mary safe and secure, when the Lord is present with her; for the Lord, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is with her, so that she is in an especial manner most intimately connected with God. Saint Bernard shows this when he says: “Nor is God the Son alone with thee, whom thou dost clothe with thy flesh; but also God the Holy Ghost, of whom thou dost conceive; and God the Father, who hath begotten that which thou conceivest.”
Again, how worthy was Mary, because of the dignity of her person, is well expressed when she is saluted in the words: Blessed art thou among women! For it could not be that her person, having been made venerable by such a blessing, was not most worthy. Therefore, Saint Anselm, overcome with amazement, exclaims: “O Blessed and ever Blessed Virgin, by whose blessing every creature is not only blessed by its Creator, but the Creator by the creature!” Again, how useful was Mary, by the excellence of her Child, is well expressed in the words: Blessed is the fruit of thy womb! For she availed to save the world, having brought forth the most excellent and powerful Fruit of salvation. Therefore doth the devout Saint Anselm say: “By thy fruitfulness, O Lady, the unclean sinner is justified, the condemned sinner is saved, and the exile is recalled. Thy Son, O Lady, redeemed the captive world, healed the sick, and raised the dead to life.”
You see, therefore, dearly beloved, in what manner Mary, because of her immunity from guilt, is rightly saluted with the Ave. Because of the abundance and immensity of her grace, she is rightly saluted as full of grace; because of the Divine Presence within her, and her intimacy with Our Lord, she is told: The Lord is with thee; because of the dignity and reverence of her person, she is rightly saluted as blessed among women; because of the excellence and utility of her Child, it is fittingly said to her: Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. We shall now treat of each of these points in order.
II – Freedom Of Mary From The Threefold Woe Of Actual Sin, From The Threefold Woe Of Original Misery, And From The Threefold Woe Of Eternal Punishment
Hail Mary, full of grace. Let us all utter this good and sweet word Ave, by which our redemption from eternal woe was begun. Let each one of us, I say, utter it; let all utter it most devoutly, saying: Ave Maria, Ave, Ave, and again a thousand times, Ave! Behold, Ave is said to the most holy Virgin Mary because of her absolute immunity from any fault; because of her perfect innocence and purity of life; rightly is Ave said to her in the very beginning of her salutation, Ave indeed and without woe (“a” or “absque vae”).
We must consider that the “vae” or woe, from which she is entirely immune, is threefold. There is the woe of guilt, misery, and hell. There is the woe of actual sin, of original misery, and the woe of the punishment or pain of hell. Of these three woes we may not unfitly understand what we read in the Apocalypse. “I heard,” says John, “the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven, and saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” Behold how each of these woes is multiplied by three, so that all together we have nine woes, against which Ave is rightly said to Mary. For there are three faults, three miseries, three hells in this woe, for the absence of which Mary is rightly saluted by the Ave.
First, the woe of guilt is threefold, i. e., the woe of the guilt of the heart, of the guilt of the lips, and of the guilt of deeds. On account of these three woes it may be said: “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” Woe, therefore, to sinners because of the guilt of the heart, as it is said in Isaias: “Woe to you who are of a deep heart, that ye hide counsel from the Lord.” Woe, indeed, to those who are of a deep heart unto evil, for the deep hearts of evil-doers are haunts of the devils, and sepulchers full of the filth of vice. Woe, therefore, to them, as is said in Saint Matthew: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, who are like to whited sepulchers, which appear outwardly to men fair, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all abominations.” Oh, how far from this woe was the most innocent heart of Mary, as Saint Bernard says: “Mary had no fault of her own, and far from her most innocent heart was repentance.” Of what could the heart of Mary repent when she had never admitted into it anything worthy of penance ? Therefore, her pure heart was not the haunt of the devil, nor the sepulcher of vice. Rather, it was a garden and a paradise of the Holy Ghost, according to that word of the Canticle of Canticles: “A garden enclosed is my Sister, my Spouse.”–“A garden,” says Saint Jerome, “a garden of delights, in which were planted the seeds of all virtues, and the perfume of virtue.” Because Mary was far from this woe of guilt, therefore it is rightly said to her: Ave.
Again, woe to sinners because of the guilt of the lips, as it is said in Isaias: “Woe to you who call evil good, and good evil.” Woe to these, woe to all who sin by the lips, as is said in the Psalms: “The poison of asps is under their lips.” Oh, how far from this woe was the most innocent mouth of Mary! Therefore Blessed Ambrose says: “There was nothing evil in the eyes of Mary; nothing prolix in her words, nothing forward in her deeds.” On the lips of Mary there was nothing of the gall and poison of the devil, but the honey and milk of the Holy Ghost, according to the word of the Canticles: “Thy lips are as the dropping honeycomb, my Spouse; honey and milk are under thy tongue.” Had not Mary on her lips this most pure milk when she uttered that most chaste word: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”? Because the woe of the guilt of the lips was so entirely absent from Mary, therefore is she rightly saluted with Ave.
Again, there is woe to sinners because of the guilt of their deeds, as it is said in Ecclesiasticus (II, 14): “Woe to the double heart and the wicked lips, and to the hands that do evil.” Woe to the double heart, for the guilt of the heart; woe to the wicked lips, for the guilt of the lips; woe to the hands that do evil, for the guilt of their deeds. Oh, how far removed from such a woe was every deed of Mary and the whole of her life! Therefore Saint Bernard saith: “It behoved the Queen of Virgins, by a singular privilege of sanctity, to lead a life entirely free from sin, that while she ministered to the Destroyer of death and sin, she should obtain the gift of life and justice for all.”
Note that never did she contract the least stain either in thought, word, or deed, so that the Lord could truly say to her: “Thou art all fair, O my beloved, and there is no spot in thee.” So, therefore, the most innocent and holy Mary was without woe in thought, word, and deed, and therefore is it said to her, Ave.
Secondly, we must consider that Mary was not only free from the threefold woe of actual guilt, but also from the threefold woe of original misery, i.e., from the misery of them that are born, from the misery of them that bring forth, and from the misery of them that die.
The woe of the misery of being born is the woe of the weakness of concupiscence; the woe of them that bring forth is the woe of the pains of travail; the woe of the dying is the misery of being reduced to dust and ashes. Because of these three woes is it said to the inhabitants of the earth: “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” The woe of those who are born is the woe of the fuel of sin which is born in us, by which, according to our original corruption, we are so weak unto good and so prone to evil; so that each one is born with the “fomes peccati,” and by this is weak and wounded, and can truly say with Jeremias: “Woe is me for my destruction, my wound is very grievous. But I said, truly this is my own evil, and I will bear it” (Jer. X, 19.) But alas! not only is there in those that are born weakness and misery, inclining them, when adults, to actual sin; but also the woe of stain and of guilt, bringing them even as little infants under the wrath of God. Therefore the Apostle saith: “All are born children of wrath” (Eph. II, 3.) Oh, how far from this woe of them that are born was the most holy Nativity of Mary, who was not only free from original sin, but also from the fuel of misery, in so far as it leads to sin, for she was conceived without stain. Because the Nativity of Mary was so far removed from this woe, she is saluted by Ave.
Again, the misery of them that bring forth is that original curse pronounced against Eve, “Thou shalt bring forth children in sorrow” (Gen. III, 16.) On account of this woe it may be said to all who bring forth what the Lord said to some amongst them: “Woe to them that are with child and bring forth in those days” (Matt. XXIV, 19.) Oh, how far from this woe was Mary when she conceived and brought forth, as Saint Augustine testifies, saying: “Oh, how blessed is that Mother who without stain conceived Purity, and without pain brought forth Healing.” Because she was so far from this woe of them that bring forth, therefore is Mary saluted with Ave.
Again, the misery of them that die is the woe of dissolution into dust, which was imposed upon man when it was said to the sinner: “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” (Gen. III, 19.) Hence of those that are born and those that die, can be said that word of Ecclesiasticus: “Woe to you, ungodly men, who have forsaken the law of the most high Lord, and if you be born, you shall be born in malediction: and if you die, in malediction shall be your portion” (Eccli. XLI, 11 f.)
Certainly both just and unjust are born under the curse of concupiscence, and in danger of being reduced to dust; yet to the impious alone is this curse particularly addressed, for their concupiscence is more deadly and their dissolution into dust more odious; and to the wicked their evil inclinations are more hurtful, and the remembrance of their future dissolution is more bitter, than to the just. Oh, how far from this dissolution was the body of Mary, as we universally believe. For this body was the most holy Ark of God, to which corruption was unbecoming, but which, according to the likeness of her Son, should rise again, before any taint of corruption could infect it. Whence it is both of the Son and the Mother that the Prophet saith: “Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest, Thou and the Ark of Thy sanctification” (Ps. CXXXI, 8.) This Ark was made of incorruptible wood, because the flesh of Mary never became corrupted. Therefore Saint Augustine well says: “The heavens were more worthy to preserve so glorious a treasure than the earth, and rightly incorruptibility followed on integrity, and not any dissolution or corruption.” As Mary was entirely free from the misery of them that are born, so also was she from the woe of the dying, and rightly is she saluted by Ave.
Thirdly, we have to consider that Mary was not only immune from the threefold woe of actual guilt, and from the threefold woe of original sin; but also from the threefold pain of hell. This threefold woe consists in the greatness, the multitude, and the duration of the punishments.
Woe, therefore, to the damned and to those who will be damned, because of the greatness, the multitude, and the duration of their torments! “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” First, there is the greatness of the torments, as Ezechiel saith: “Woe to the bloody city, of which I will make a great bonfire” (Ezech. XXIV, 9.) The bloody city is the multitude of the impious, of whom there will be an immense bonfire made in the great conflagration of the damned. Oh, how far removed from this woe of greatness of torment was the greatness of the grace and glory of Mary, for whom, instead of the grievous torments of hell, was prepared by God so great a glory in Heaven, and as she was great and garbed in merit, so is she great in her reward. She herself is that great throne of which it is said: “King Solomon also made a great throne of ivory” (3 Kings X, 8.) Mary is the Throne of Solomon, great in grace and glory. Saint Bernard well says: “As much more grace than others as Mary obtained on earth, so great a degree of singular glory did she gain in Heaven.” Rightly, therefore, is it said to her, Ave. There is also the multitude of the pains of hell. Isaias says: “Woe to their souls, for evil things are rendered to them” (Is. III, 9.) He says, evil things, in the plural, because there are many, yea, infinite evils rendered to evil-doers in hell. But to Mary, in contradistinction to the many evils prepared for the damned in hell, God hath prepared many good things in Heaven. No angel, no saint, can equal her in the multitude and accumulation of heavenly good things, as the Book of Proverbs says: “Many daughters have gathered together riches, thou hast surpassed them all.” If we understand these daughters to be human souls or angelic intelligences, has she not surpassed the riches of the virgins, of the confessors, of the martyrs, of the Apostles, of the prophets, of the patriarchs, and of the angels, when she herself is the first-fruit of the virgins, the mirror of confessors, the rose of martyrs, the ruler of Apostles, the oracle of prophets, the daughter of patriarchs, the queen of angels? What is wanting to her of the riches of all these? Saint Jerome says: “If you look diligently at Mary, there is nothing of virtue, nothing of beauty, nothing of splendor or glory which does not shine in her.”
Now the pains of hell consist also in their perpetuity. In the Epistle of Saint Jude it is said: “Woe to them, for they have gone in the way of Cain and after the error of Balaam, and have perished in the contradiction of Core.” And a little further on: “to whom the storm of darkness is preserved forever” (Jude XI, 12.) Note that he says, forever, and think how great is the duration of these pains and of the darkness which will have no end. But against this eternal darkness in hell the Lord has prepared for Mary eternal light in Heaven, so that, as the sinful soul, the throne of the devil, will be miraculously dark forever, Mary, the Mediatrix, the throne of Christ, will be marvelously luminous forever according to the Psalm: “Her throne is as the sun in my sight, and as the moon perfect for ever” (Ps. LXXXVIII, 38.)
Thus, therefore, as the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was free from the. threefold woe of hell, yea, from all the nine woes, rightly is it said to her, Ave. Let every one of us salute her with Ave, and let us petition her that, through her own sweet Ave, she will pray that we may all be delivered from every woe by our Lord Jesus Christ, her Son.
III – The Meanings of the Name Mary
Ave Maria. As we have said above, this name was inserted here not by the Angel, but by the devotion of the faithful. The Blessed Evangelist Luke says significantly: “And the name of the Virgin was Mary” (Luke I, 27.) This most holy, sweet, and worthy name was eminently fitting to so holy, sweet, and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea, star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix. Mary is interpreted lady. Mary is a bitter sea to the demons; to men she is the star of the sea; to the angels she is illuminatrix, and to all creatures she is lady.
Mary is interpreted: “a bitter sea”; this is excellently suited to her power against the demons. Note in what way Mary is a sea, and in what way she is bitter, and how she is at once a sea and bitter. Mary is a sea by the abundant overflow of her graces; and Mary is a bitter sea by submerging the devil. Mary is indeed a sea by the superabounding Passion of her Son; Mary is a bitter sea by her power over the devil, in which he is, as it were, submerged and drowned.
Consider, first, that Mary is called a sea because of the abundance of her graces. It is written in Ecclesiasticus: “All rivers flow into the sea” (I, 7.) The rivers are the graces of the Holy Ghost, wherefore Jesus saith: “He who believeth in Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” This He said of the Spirit, which they were about to receive (John VII, 38.) All the rivers flow into the sea because the graces of all the saints flow into Mary. For the river of the grace of the angels enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the patriarchs enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the Apostles enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the martyrs enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the confessors enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the virgins enters into Mary. All rivers enter into the sea, that is, all graces enter into Mary. Therefore, she above all can say that word of Ecclesiasticus: “In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, and in me is all hope of life and of virtue” (XXIV, 25.) What wonder if all grace flowed into Mary, through whom such grace flowed forth upon all ! For Saint Augustine says: “Mary, thou art full of grace, which thou hast found with the Lord and hast merited to pour forth upon the whole world.”
Consider, secondly, that Mary in the Passion of her Son was filled with bitterness when the sword of sorrow passed through her soul. Well could she say with Ruth: “Call me not Noemi, that is fair, but call me Mara, that is bitter, for the Most High hath filled me exceedingly with bitterness” (Ruth I, 20.) Noemi, who was at once beautiful and bitter, signified Mary, beautiful indeed by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, but bitter by the Passion of her Son.
The two sons of Mary are the God-Man, in His Divinity, and man, in his humanity. Mary is the Mother of one in the body, of the other in the spirit. Wherefore Saint Bernard saith: “Thou art the Mother of the King, thou art the Mother of the exile; thou art the Mother of God, the Judge, and thou art the Mother of God and of man; as thou art the Mother of both, thou canst not bear discord between thy two sons.” Saint Anselm exclaims: “O blessed confidence, O safe refuge, Mother of God and our Mother!” The two sons of Mary were both slain in the Passion; the one in body, the other in mind; the one by the bitter death of the cross, the other by infidelity of mind. And, therefore, Mary’s soul was filled with exceeding bitterness, as Saint Augustine testifies, saying: “That loving Mother crying out with intensity of pain, beating her enfeebled breast, had so fatigued her body and all its members, that, tottering in her walk, she could scarcely drag herself to the obsequies of Christ.” Thou seest now how Mary was a sea of the Holy Spirit; thou seest in what manner she was a bitter sea in the death of her Son.
Thirdly, consider that Mary is a bitter sea to the devil and to his angels, oppressed by him, as the Red Sea was bitter to the Egyptians submerged in it, of whom we read in Exodus: “The Lord drew back upon them the waters of the sea” (Ex. XV, 19.) Oh, how bitter and full of fear is this sea to the Egyptians! Oh, how bitter and full of fear is this Mary to the demons! Therefore, Saint Bernard saith: “Visible enemies fear not so greatly an immense multitude of hosts in battle array, as the powers of the air fear the name, the patronage, and the example of Mary; they flow and melt like wax before the fire, wherever they find frequent recollection of this holy name, devout invocation of Mary, and diligent imitation of her. Thou seest now in what manner Mary is a sea by the abundance of her overflowing graces, how she is bitter by the vehemence of the Lord’s Passion, and how to the devils Mary is a bitter sea by the power she has of quelling them.
Now we must consider how Mary is interpreted “Star of the sea.” This name is most suitable to Mary, for she fulfills the office that a star does to mariners at sea. We read, and it is true, that sailors, when they propose to sail to some distant land, choose a star by whose guiding light they may, without going astray, make their way to the land of their desire. Such is certainly the office of Mary, our Star, who directs those who sail through the sea of the world in the ship of innocence or penance, to the shore of the heavenly country. Well, therefore, doth Innocent say: “By what aids can ships pass among so many dangers to the shore of the fatherland? Certainly,” he replies, “chiefly by two. By the wood and by the star; that is, by faith in the Cross, and by virtue of the light which Mary, the Star of the sea, hath brought forth for us.” Very properly is Mary compared to a star of the sea, because of her purity, her radiance, and her utility. For Mary is a most pure star, a most radiant star, and a most useful star. She is a most pure star by living most purely; a most radiant star by bringing forth eternal light; a most useful star by directing us to the shores of our true home country.
First consider that Mary is a most pure star by living purely and without sin. Therefore doth Wisdom say of her: “She is more beautiful than light, than the sun, and above all the arrangement of the stars, and being compared to light, she is found more pure.” Some read here, “before” instead of “more pure,” but either phrase is fitted to our Star. For Mary is indeed prior, or before, that is, she is most worthy, most great; Mary is purer than the sun, and the stars, and the light. For both in dignity and purity she surpasses the sun, the stars, and the light, yea, even every spiritual and angelic creature, of whom it is said: “God divides light from darkness,” that is, the angels who stood firm from those who fell. Mary is prior to and purer than this angelic light. Hence Saint Anselm exclaims: “O Blessed among women, who surpassest the angels in purity, and the saints in piety!” Behold how Mary is a most pure Star by the purity of her life.
Secondly, consider that Mary is a most radiant star by emitting eternal light and bringing forth the Son of God. For she is that star of whom it is said in Numbers: “A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a rod shall arise in Israel.” The rod is the Son of God, who is the ray of Mary, our star; this is that ray of whom it is sung: “As the ray of a star.” Saint Bernard says: “A ray from a star does not diminish its brightness, neither does the Son of the Virgin lessen the virginity of His Mother.” O most truly blessed, O most truly radiant Star, Mary, whose ray has penetrated not only the world, but also Heaven, and even hell, as Saint Bernard says: “She is that glorious and beautiful Star arisen out of Jacob, whose ray illuminateth the whole world, whose splendor shines forth in the highest, and penetrates even into hell.” As Mary was a most pure star, by living most purely, so is she a most radiant one, by bringing forth the Son of God.
Thirdly, consider that Mary is a most useful star, by guiding us to our heavenly country, by leading us through the sea of this world to the grave of her Son, as to the gates of Paradise. She is as that radiant star which led the Magi most surely to Christ. Mary is that star which in the waves of the present life is most necessary to us. Saint Bernard says: “Turn not away thine eyes from the splendor of this star, if thou wilt not be overwhelmed by storms. If the winds of temptation arise, if thou strikest on the rocks of temptation, tribulation, look upon the star, call on Mary.” Therefore, lest thou shouldst be submerged in the sea of this world, follow the star, imitate Mary. It is the safest of paths to follow her, as Saint Bernard says; “Following her, thou strayest not, praying to her, thou shalt never despair; thinking of her, thou shalt never err; if she upholdeth thee, thou shalt not fall; under her protection thou shalt not fear; if she is thy guide, thou shalt not grow weary; with her favor thou shalt attain thy end; and so in thyself thou shalt experience how truly it is said: And the name of the virgin was Mary.”
Mary is also interpreted illuminatrix or lightgiver. For this virgin was wonderfully illuminated by the presence of the Lord, according to that word of the Apocalypse: “I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great power, and the earth was enlightened by the glory of him…. The Son of God is the Angel of Great Counsel; the earth illuminated by the glory of Him is Mary, who, as she was illuminated by His grace in the world, is now illuminated by His glory in Heaven, that, being thus illuminated, she may become a light-giver in the world and in Heaven. Therefore, we must consider that Mary, the illuminated, is a light-giver by her example, her benefits, and her rewards. She giveth light by the example of her life, by the benefits of her mercy, and by the rewards of her glory.
Mary is the light-giver by the example of her most luminous life. For it is she who by her glorious life giveth light to the world. She it is whose glorious life enlightens all the churches. She is the lamp of the Church, enkindled by God for this very purpose that by her the Church might be enlightened against the darkness of the world. Let the Church, therefore, pray, let the faithful soul pray: “For Thou lightest my lamp, O Lord, my God, enlighten my darkness.” The Lord hath lit this lamp most radiantly, and by this light he puts to flight the darkness of our souls. Saint Bernard felt this when he said: “O Mary, by the magnificent example of thy virtues thou stirrest us up to the imitation of thee, and thus dost enlighten our night. For he who walketh in thy ways, walketh not in darkness, but has the light of life.”
Secondly, consider how Mary is light-giver by the benefits of her gracious mercy, by which so many in the night of this world are spiritually illuminated, as the Israelites in olden days were by a pillar of fire, according to the Psalm: “Thou didst lead them forth in a pillar of cloud.” Mary is to us a pillar of cloud, for she protects us like a cloud from the fiery heat of the divine indignation. She also protects us from the heat of diabolical temptation, as it is also said in the Psalm, “He spread a cloud.”
Mary is a pillar of fire. What would become of us wretched beings, so full of darkness, in the light of this world, if we had not so lucid a lamp, so luminous a pillar? What would become of the world without the sun? Saint Bernard says: “Take away this lightsome body, the sun, what will give light to the world, and where is day? Take away Mary, this Star of the Sea, and what remains save an enveloping cloud, the shadow of death, and the densest darkness?” Thou hast seen how Mary is a lightgiver by her most transcendently luminous life, thou shalt now see how Mary is an illuminatrix by her most resplendent mercy.
Thirdly, consider that Mary is also illuminatrix by her most resplendent glory, which illuminates the whole of Heaven, as the sun doth the world, according to Ecclesiasticus: “The sun giving light hath looked upon all things, and full of the glory of the Lord is his work” (XLII, 16.) The work of the Lord is full of His glory; the most excellent work of the Lord is Mary. This work, as it was full of the grace of the Lord in this world, is full of the glory of the Lord in Heaven. Thus, therefore, Mary, giving light by her glory, hath looked upon all things, because through all the angels and all the saints she spreadeth the illumination of her glory. What wonder if the presence of Mary illuminates the whole of Heaven, who also doth illuminate the whole earth? For Saint Bernard saith . “The presence of Mary lights up the whole world, and the very heavenly country itself glows more brightly from being irradiated by the splendor of that virginal lamp.” So thou seest how Mary is illuminatrix by her light-giving life and also by her resplendent glory.
Now we have to consider how Mary is interpreted “lady.” Such a title well becometh so great an empress, who is in very deed the sovereign lady of the inhabitants of Heaven, of the dwellers upon earth and in hell. She is, I say, the Lady of angels, the Lady of men, the Lady Sovereign in Heaven, on earth, and in hell.
First, consider that Mary is the Lady of angels; for it was she who was foreshadowed by the Lady Esther, of whom we read that she leaned delicately on one of her handmaids, and another maid followed her mistress, bearing up the train of her garment. By Esther the Queen we understand Mary our Queen; the two servants, the lady of whom is Mary our Queen, are all creatures, men and angels. Oh, what a joy to us miserable men that the angels have their Lord and their Lady from among us men. Truly is Mary Queen of the Angels. Saint Augustine, addressing her, says: “If I call thee heaven, thou art higher. If I call thee the mother of nations, thou art above this praise. If I style thee Lady of angels, thou art truly proved to be so; if I call thee the type or form of God, thou art worthy of this name.” Now the soul of man is the handmaid who in this world follows its Lady, Mary. It follows her, bearing up the train of the garment of its Lady, that is, gathering up the virtues and the example of Mary. But the angelic intelligences are the handmaids on whom Mary, their Lady, as it were, leans in Heaven. She leans upon them by familiarly associating with them; she leans upon them most delicately by taking her delight in them; she leans upon them most fully and entirely by communicating herself in her plenitude to the angels; she leans upon them as one most powerful by commanding them. Mary leans upon all the angels by her power. Saint Augustine says: “Michael, the prince and leader of the heavenly militia, with all his ministering spirits obeyeth, O Virgin, thy commands; by defending in the body and by receiving the souls of the faithful, especially by presenting to thee, O Lady, those who day and night commend themselves to thee.”
Now consider how Mary is the Lady of men in this world. Of this Lady it is said in the Psalm: “As the eyes of the handmaid ,are on the hands of her mistress,” etc. The handmaid of the Lady Mary is every human soul, yea, the universal Church. The eyes of this handmaid should be ever on the hands of her mistress, for the eyes of the Church, the eyes of every one of us, should always look upon the hands of Mary, so that by her hands we may receive some good, and that we may offer to the Lord, by those same hands, whatever good we do.” For it is by the hands of this Lady we have whatever good we possess, as Saint Bernard testifies, saying: “God would have us obtain nothing which did not pass through the hands of Mary.” By the hands of this Lady we should also offer to God whatever good we do, as Saint Bernard exhorts, saying: “What little thou offerest, take care to commend it to those hands most pleasing and worthy of all acceptance, the hands of Mary, if thou wouldst not be repulsed. Well for us, beloved, it is indeed well for us, that we have such a Lady, who hath towards us such liberal hands, and is so powerful for us with her Son, that every one of us may have secure access to her.” The devout Anselm saith: “O great Lady, to whom the joyful multitude of the just giveth thanks, to whom fleeth the terrified crowd of evil-doers, to thee, O all-powerful and merciful Lady, I, an anxious sinner, have recourse.”
Thirdly, consider how Mary is the Lady of the demons in hell, so powerfully subjugating them that of her we may understand that saying of Psalm 100: “The rod of his power the Lord shall send forth.” The rod of power is the Virgin Mary. She is the rod of Aaron, flowering by her virginity and fruitful by her fecundity. She is that rod of which it is said in Isaias: “There shall spring forth a rod from the root of Jesse.” This rod is the Virgin Mary, a rod of power against the infernal enemies, whom she dominates by her great power. So great a Lady, of such great power, deserves to be loved by us, to be praised by us, to be prayed to by us, that she may protect us against our enemies. Saint Anselm gives us the example, when, speaking to this Lady, he says: “Thee, O Lady so very great, my heart desireth to love, my mouth to praise, my mind longeth to venerate, my soul desireth to beseech, because the whole of my being commends itself to thy protection.”
Now thou seest how Mary is the Lady of angels in Heaven, of men in this world, and of the demons in hell. Also how Mary is a bitter sea, the Star of the Sea, the Light-giver, the Lady. Mary is the Star of the sea to converted men; she is the Light-giver to the faithful angels; she dominates all creatures.
Let us pray, let us pray most devoutly to Mary and say: “O Mary, Bitter Sea, help us, that we may be plunged into the bitter sea of penance! O Mary, Star of the Sea, help us, that we may be guided rightly through the sea of this world ! O Mary, Lightgiver, help us, that we may be eternally illumined in glory ! O Lady Mary, help us that by thy government and empire we may be filially governed. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”
IV – The Name of the Blessed Mary is Free from All Vice and Resplendent with Every Virtue
Hail Mary. This most sweet and affectionate name, so full of grace and so noble, so glorious and so worthy, excellently befits Our Lady. For most fittingly is so loving a virgin named Mary. For she is Mary, in whom there is no vice, and who is glorious with every virtue. She is Mary, who was entirely immune from the seven capital sins. She was most humble in opposition to pride; most loving by charity in opposition to envy; most meek against anger by her gentleness; indefatigable by her diligence against sloth; Mary by her poverty was detached against avarice; against gluttony she was most sober by her temperance; against lust she was most chaste by her virginity. We can gather all these things from the Scriptures, in which we find the name of Mary written.
First, Mary was most humble. She is that Mary of whom Saint Luke says: “And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’ ” (I, 38.) O wonderful and profound humility of Mary! Behold the archangel speaks to Mary; Mary is called full of grace; the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit is announced; Mary is made Mother of God; Mary is set before all creatures; Mary is made the Lady of Heaven and earth; and for all that she is not the least elated, but in all she is deeply grounded in humility, saying: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Well, therefore, doth Bede say: “Mary never exalted herself by reason of heavenly gifts; as she became more and more acquainted with heavenly mysteries, she fixed her mind more firmly in humility, answering the Angel, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord.’ This is an example to many, who in honors and prosperity, in graces and virtues, do not humble themselves with Mary and with Christ, but grow elated with pride like Eve and Lucifer. But the humility of Mary was most certainly not in word only, but also manifested itself in deeds; not alone in the word of her official reply, but in the fact of her submitting to the legal purification; not alone in the word by which she humbled herself as a submissive handmaid, but also in the deed by which she humbled herself as guilty and a sinner. For she is that Mary of whom it is said in Saint Luke: ‘After the days of her purification . . . were accomplished.’ O hard, unhappy pride! O proud and unhappy hardness of the sinner! Behold Mary, who is without all sin, submitted herself to the law of purification, and thou, a wretch full of sins, submittest not to the law of satisfaction.”
See how Mary was most loving by her charity. For she is that Mary of whom Saint Luke saith: “Mary rising up with haste, went into the hill country.” She went that she might visit, and salute, and minister to Elizabeth. See how this visitation of Mary was full of charity. In the description of that visit Mary is four times named and her charity towards God and towards her neighbor is most fully declared. Charity to our neighbor should be kept and cherished in the heart, in word and in deed. Mary had charity to her neighbor in her heart, and therefore, arising, Mary went with haste into the hill country. What was it that urged her on to haste in this office of charity but the love that burned in her heart? We read that the shepherds came with haste to the crib; that Mary went with haste to render a service; and that Zacheus made haste to come down and receive the Lord into his house. Woe, therefore, to those who are tardy in works of charity! Mary, again, cherished charity to her neighbor in her words; she is that Mary of whom it is said: “When Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary.” Charity in greeting our neighbor and on all other occasions of charitable speech is, I say, to be cultivated. The Angel salutes Mary; Mary saluted Elizabeth; the Son of Mary saluted those whom He met coming forth from the sepulcher, saying to them: “Avete, All hail!” Woe to those who, out of hatred or dislike, deny to their neighbor greetings of politeness. Woe to those who deceitfully salute their neighbor like Judas, when he said: “Hail, Rabbi!” Oh, how sweetly did Mary know how to salute! O Mary, deign to greet us by thy grace! And most certainly she willingly salutes us by her benefits and her consolation, if we willingly greet her with Ave Maria. Mary not only had charity in her heart and in her words, but she also exercised herself in charitable deeds. For she is that same Mary of whom it is said: “Mary remained with her about three months.” She remained for the service and the consolation of Elizabeth. Therefore Saint Ambrose saith: “She who came out of charity, remained at her post.” As Mary in all things had charity for her neighbor, so above all things she had charity towards God. For she is that same Mary who said: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” The soul magnifies that which it loves and rejoices in. Therefore, the soul of Mary most befittingly magnified God and most securely rejoiced in God, because she so ardently loved God. Of this love Master Hugh of Saint Victor saith a good word: “Because the love of the Holy Spirit burned in a singular manner in her heart, therefore the power of the Holy Ghost did wonderful things in her flesh.”
Thirdly, see how Mary was most meek by gentleness, most patient in all adversity. For she is that same Mary to whom it is said, according to Saint Luke: “And he (Simeon) said to Mary His Mother: Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted, and thine own soul a sword shall pierce.” This sword signifies the bitter Passion and death of her Son. The material sword cannot kill or wound the soul, so the sharp Passion of Christ, although by compassion it pierced the soul of Mary, never dealt it a mortal wound. For Mary never killed the executioners of her Son by hatred nor wounded them by impatience. Now, if other martyrs were most patient in their bodily martyrdom, how much more so was our martyr, Mary, in her spiritual martyrdom? Of her noble martyrdom Saint Jerome saith: “O marvelous patience and meekness of Mary, who was not only most patient while her Son was crucified in her presence, but also before the crucifixion, when her Son was reviled, as it is said in the Gospel of Saint Mark, ‘Is not this the Son of the carpenter and of Mary?’ and a little further on: ‘And they were scandalized in Him.’ ” Truly is Christ a carpenter, but the works of His hands are the sun and the aurora. Alas, how far from the grace of Mary most meek are they who are so peevish, so impatient, so irritable as to torment their neighbors, companions, and fellowworkers.
Fourthly, see how untiring and diligent Mary was by her assiduity in good works. For she is that Mary of whom it is said: “They were all persevering in prayer in one mind, with the women, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus” (Acts I, 14.) Mary, by persevering indefatigably in prayer, gave an example, which it behooves us to follow, and not to faint. And if Mary prayed so sedulously on earth, why should she not pray most earnestly for us in Heaven?
Therefore Saint Augustine well doth admonish us, saying: “Let us with all earnestness implore the patronage of Mary: that while we serve her on earth with suppliant ardor, she by her fervent prayer may deign to help us from Heaven.” But see, our Mary was not only untiring and most diligent in the prayer of the lips, but also most earnest in holy meditations of the heart. For she is that same Mary of whom it is said in the Gospel of Saint Luke: “Mary kept all these words, pondering in her heart” (Luke II, 19.) Mary was never idle or slothful, and therefore she not only occupied her mind in holy meditations, and her tongue in devout prayers, but also her hands in good works.
It was thus that Mary remained three months with Elizabeth. To what purpose? Bede answers: “That the virgin might render diligent service to her aged relative.” Alas, how unlike Mary is the wretched sluggard whose mind, hands, and tongue are so often devoid of merit!
Fifthly, see how detached Mary was by her poverty. For she is that same Mary of whom it is said: “They found Mary, and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” (Luke II, 16.) The poor shepherds found the poor Mother, Mary, and the poor Infant in the poor spot, not in splendid pomp, but in a poor manger. But if the Mother had not been poor, she would indeed have found fitting hospitality. While you diligently consider these things, you may realize how great was the poverty of Mary, of which Saint John Chrysostom says: “See the greatness of the poverty of Mary, and whoever is poor, may receive thence great consolation.”
Most certainly, whoever is poor willingly and freely for God’s sake, or who is poor of necessity, yet patiently, can be much consoled by the poverty of Mary, and of Jesus Christ. Far from this consolation are those rich men who seek things so very different. Therefore Our Savior saith: “Woe to you rich who have here your consolation” (Luke VI, 24.)
But the rich must not despair, because not only the poor shepherds, but also the rich kings, found the poor Mary and her poor Son, as it is said in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: “Entering into the house, they found the child . . .” (Matt. II, 11.) So also these rich ones found them who had brought gifts. The poor find this consolation by poverty; the rich by liberality. While the poor are conformed to Christ by poverty, the rich are reformed to the likeness of Christ by liberality.
Sixthly, see how temperate Mary was by sobriety. For she is that Mary to whom it is said: “Fear not Mary, for thou hast found grace” (Luke II, 30.) Note that it is said: “thou hast found grace.” Never would Mary have found grace, unless grace had found Mary temperate in food and drink. For grace and gluttony do not go together. And it is impossible that a man should at the same time be pleasing to God by grace, and displeasing by gluttony. It is good, therefore, to seek grace and to fly gluttony. For Saint Paul says: “It is best that the heart be established with grace, not with meats; which have not profited those that walk in them” (Heb. XIII, 9. ) Note that it is said: “Thou shalt conceive in the womb” (Luke I, 31.) Never would Mary have conceived God in her womb if she had given way to gluttony. How far from the grace of Mary are they who so often exceed due moderation in food and drink!
Seventhly, see that Mary was most chaste by virginity. For she is that Mary of whom it is said: “The name of the virgin was Mary” (Luke I, 27.) We have as witnesses of the resplendent chastity of Mary: the Evangelist, Mary herself, and the Angel. For she was chaste in her virginal body, as the Evangelist testifies, saying: “And the name of the virgin was Mary” (Luke I, 27.) In her virginal mind Mary was even more chaste, as she herself testifies. For she said to the Angel: “How shall this be done, because I know not man” (Luke I, 34.) That is to say, I do not intend to know a man. But Mary was most chaste of all in her virginal offspring, as the Angel testifies, who spoke of her thus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: “Joseph, Son of David, fear not . . .” (Matt. I. 29.) For from the time the Virgin Mary was divinely overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, her virginity was never dimmed, but was glorified in a divine and truly marvelous manner. By her Child she was approved, by her Child she was ennobled, by her Child she was enriched. By thy Child, O Mary, thy virginity was gifted, endowed, and consecrated. Therefore Saint Augustine well saith: “Truly do we proclaim Mary to be both Virgin and Mother, for true fecundity glorified her virginity and undefiled virginity glorified her true fecundity. Her virginity was rendered more glorious by her fecundity, and her fecundity by her virginity.” Alas, how far from the grace of Mary are they who are not chaste, who are enemies of chastity!
Now, since the sweet name of Mary is of such favor as we have set forth, rightly do we call upon her, according to that word of Saint Bernard: “O clement Queen, may Jesus Christ, thy Son, bestow the gifts of His grace on thy servants, who invoke the sweet name of Mary–Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth God for ever and ever. Amen.”
V – The Grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary is True, Immense, Manifold, and Exceedingly Useful
Hail Mary, full of grace. It has been shown above, how Mary, because of the pure innocence of her life, is rightly saluted by the Ave. We have now to show how, by the abundance of her grace, she deserves the salutation “full of grace.” Consider, dearly beloved, this grace, the grace of Mary, this admirable grace. Consider the truth, the immensity, the multiplicity, the utility of the grace of Mary. For the grace of Mary is a most true grace, a most immense grace, a most manifold grace, and a most useful grace.
First, consider the truth of the grace of Mary. Of this Gabriel saith: “Thou hast found grace,” etc. (Luke I, 31.) That grace is true which is found with God who is the Truth. He says “with God” and not with the devil. For the devil offers the grace of an evil prosperity, that one may sin more freely. Holofernes, who signifies the devil, says: “Drink now, and sit down and be merry: for thou hast found favor before me” (Judith XII, 17.) He says, “with God,” not with the world, because with the world, that is, with worldly men, false grace and false contrition are often found. Therefore it is said in Ecclesiasticus: “Open not thy heart to every man, lest he repay thee with an evil turn; and speak reproachfully to thee” (VIII, 22. ) “With God,” he says, not with men; therefore Blessed Bernard saith: “Let us seek grace, but grace with God, for with men favor is deceitful.” Again he says, “with God,” not with the flesh; for the grace or favor of the flesh is false, as beauty of body and such like. Solomon saith: “Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain” (Prov. XXXI, 31.) For the Virgin Mary, so full of grace, condemned the false grace of the world, of the flesh and of the devil. Therefore did she find grace with God, true and pure, defiled by no base mixture, so that she could truly say with Ecclesiasticus: “My odor is as unmixed balm” (Eccli. XXIV, 21.) The balm of Mary is the unction of grace, which was most copiously poured forth on her. Therefore Saint Bernard, speaking of the text, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,” says: “That precious balm flowed upon thee with such fullness and abundance that it overflowed abundantly all around thee.” Balm is usually mixed, and thereby adulterated, with honey or oil. But the balm of the Holy Spirit in Mary was not mixed, for it was adulterated neither by the honey of carnality and worldly consolation, nor by the oil of praise and flattery. But because the grace of, Mary was so true and pure, therefore Saint Jerome well says of her: “Whatever was done in Mary, was all purity and simplicity, all grace and truth, all mercy and justice, which looked forth from Heaven.” Whoever, therefore, desires with Mary to find true grace, let him approach with Mary to Him with whom it is found, with every desire, in all earnestness, with all the ardor of longing, as the Apostle exhorts the Hebrews saying: “Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid” (Heb. IV, 16.) And note that whoever wishes to find, must seek, and whoever wishes to seek, must bow down. Let him bow down with Mary in true humility, whoever wishes to find true grace with Mary. For it is said in Ecclesiasticus: “The greater thou art, the more humble thyself in all things, and thou shalt find grace before God” (III, 20.) Mary, because she truly humbled herself, found true grace, as it is said: “He hath regarded my humility.”
Secondly, consider the immensity of the grace because of which Mary is called “full of grace.” The grace of which she was full was certainly immense. An immense vessel cannot be full, unless that is also immense wherewith it is filled. Mary was an immense vessel, since she could contain Him who is greater than the Heavens. Who is greater than the Heavens? Without doubt He of whom Solomon says: “If heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this house which I have built?” (3 Kings VIII, 27.) It was not indeed the house which Solomon built, but she of whom that house was the type, which could contain God. Thou, therefore, O most immense Mary, art more capacious than the Heavens, because He whom the Heavens cannot contain was borne in thy womb. Thou art more capacious than the world, because He whom the whole world cannot contain, being made man, was enclosed within thee. If Mary’s womb then had such immensity, how much more had her mind? And if so immense a capacity was full of grace, it was fitting that that grace which could fill so great a capacity, should also be immense. Who can measure the immensity of Mary? Behold what is said in Ecclesiasticus: “Who hath measured the height of heaven, and the breadth of the earth, and the depth of the abyss?” (I, 2.) Mary is a heaven, as much because she abounded in heavenly purity, heavenly light, and other heavenly virtues, as because she was the most high throne of God, as the Prophet saith: “The Lord hath prepared His throne in heaven” (Ps. CII, 19.) Mary was also the earth which brought forth for us that fruit of which the same Prophet saith: “The earth hath given its fruits” (Ps. LXVI, 7.) Mary is also an abyss in goodness and deepest mercy. Therefore she obtaineth for us the mercy of her Son, as it were an abyss calling upon an abyss. Therefore Mary is a heaven, Mary is the earth, Mary is the abyss. Who hath ever measured the height of that heaven, the breadth of that earth, the depth of that abyss, except He who hath made her, not only in grace and glory, but in mercy so high, so wide, so deep? Therefore it is especially of her mercy that Bernard saith: “Who can search into the length and breadth and depth and sublimity of thy mercy, O blessed one? For the length of it will help all who call upon her till the last day; the breadth of it fills the whole world, so that the earth is full of her mercy; and the sublimity of it will bring about the restoration of the heavenly city, and its depth hath obtained redemption for them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.(“Serm. de Assumpt.,” 4.)
Third, consider the manifoldness of the grace of Mary, of whom Ecclesiasticus says: “I, like the turpentine tree, have stretched forth my branches, and my branches are of honor and grace” (XXIV, 22.) According to Pliny and the Gloss, the turpentine tree is a large tree of Syria, and it has many and wide-spreading branches. The male tree bears no fruit, but only the female; this fruit is double, ruddy and white and of a pleasant smell. This beautiful tree, growing in Syria, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. For “Syria” means watered, and truly the whole life of Mary was watered by grace, for she grew in the healthful moisture of grace from the womb of her mother. What wonder if Mary grows in the moisture of grace, when without it every seed will wither? Whence it is said of the seed in Saint Luke’s Gospel: “And being sprung up, it withered, because it had no moisture” (Luke VIII, 6.) The branches of this tree, branches of honor and grace, are the virtues, and the examples, and the- benefits of Mary. Many are the branches, branches of honor and grace, the merits of her abundant grace, her many virtues and good example, her many benefits and her mercy. In these branches the birds of heaven joyfully dwell, that is, holy souls, so that it can be said of them what we find in the Book of Daniel: “In the branches thereof the fowls of the air had their abode” (IV, 9.) Oh, how wide-spreading, how high are the branches of that blessed tree, the Virgin Mary! How wide-spreading to men, how long to the angels, how high towards God! In what way she extends to all the branches of her graces and her mercies Saint Bernard sets forth, saying: “Mary has opened to all the bosom of her mercy, that all may receive of her fullness: the captive redemption, the sick healing, the sad consolation, the sinner pardon, the just grace, the angels joy, the Blessed Trinity glory, the Person of the Son the substance of human flesh! The fruit of that tree is that of which it is said: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” That fruit was ruddy in blood, white in death. Therefore the spouse of God, that is, the holy soul, saith as in the Canticle: “My beloved is white and ruddy” (Cant. V, 10.) This fruit is-also of a pleasant odor to devout souls. John the Apostle had this odor in mind when he said to the Lord: “Thy odor hath roused in me eternal concupiscences.” O soul, O soul, dost thou not experience the odor of mercy of this fruit? Oh, if thou didst inhale it, wouldst thou not run after it, as is said in the Canticle: “We run in the odor of thy ointments”? It is to be noted that it is not the male turpentine tree, but the female, that brings forth fruit. So that fruit of life, Jesus Christ, was brought forth, not by a man, but by a woman, a virgin. Well, therefore, doth Saint Augustine say: “A virgin mother was chosen, who would conceive without concupiscence, and bring forth a man without a man.”
Fourthly, consider the utility of the grace of Mary. It is said: “A gracious woman will find glory” (Prov. XI, 16.) Behold the utility of the grace of the gracious Mary; it is the finding of perpetual glory. Most useful was the grace of Mary both to herself and to us. Most useful, I say, was the grace of Mary to herself. For grace made Mary delightful, miraculous, and glorious. Delightful in her soul, miraculous in her Son, glorious in her kingdom. Mary was certainly delightful in her spiritual mind, miraculous in her virginal offspring, glorious in her eternal diadem. Grace, therefore, made the mind and the soul of Mary delightful with spiritual delights, as a spiritual paradise of the living God, like that word of Ecclesiasticus: “Grace is like a paradise in blessings” (XL, 17.) Truly she was a paradise of God in blessings of manifold spiritual delights. Of which Saint Bernard saith: “What shall I say of the delights of the beauty of virginity, with the gift of fecundity, the mark of humility, the dropping honeycomb of charity, the bowels of mercy, the fullness of grace, the prerogative of singular glory?” Likewise grace made Mary miraculous in her offspring, miraculous in her conception and bringing forth, while miraculously the virgin brought forth, and more miraculously conceived and brought forth God.
Therefore is it well said of her: “Thou hast found grace with God” (Luke I, 30.) Of this name, Saint Bernard, speaking to Mary, said: “Understand, prudent Virgin, how great and what special grace thou shalt find with God, from the name of thy promised Son.” Grace likewise made Mary glorious, wherefore it has well been said: “A gracious woman shall find glory” (Prov. XI, 16. ) O truly happy finder, Mary, who is so great in this world, so great in Heaven! No pure creature found such grace in this world, such glory in Heaven. And certainly she found both grace and glory with the Lord, for as it is said in the Psalm: “The Lord will give grace and glory” ( Ps. LXXXIII. )
But the grace of Mary was not only most useful to herself, but also to us, to the entire human race. For the grace of Mary gathers in the evil, nourishes and fattens the good, delivers all. It gathers in sinners from guilt, fattens them by grace, delivers them from eternal death. I say, therefore, that the grace of Mary gathers in souls to mercy, gathers evil- doers into the Church. This is well signified in the favor which Ruth found when she collected the ears of corn left by the reapers, when she said to Booz: “I have found grace in the eyes of my lord” (Ruth II, 12.) “Ruth” is interpreted “seeing” or “hastening,” and she typifies the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was truly a seer in contemplation and was swift in work. For she seeth our misery and swiftly bestows on us her mercy. Booz is interpreted as “strength,” and signifies him of whom it is said in the Psalm: “Great is the Lord and great is His strength” (Ps. CXLVI.) Ruth, therefore, in the eyes of Booz, Mary in the sight of the Lord, found this grace, that she gathered up the ears of corn left by the reapers, that is, souls are gathered to pardon by her. Who are the reapers but the teachers and pastors? O truly great grace of Mary, by which many are saved and find mercy, who were given up as hopeless by their priests and pastors! Therefore Saint Bernard saith: “Mary, thou embracest with maternal affection the sinner despised by the whole world, thou cherishest him, thou never forsakest him, until he is reconciled to the tremendous Judge.” Likewise Mary nourishes the good with the fatness of grace. Therefore is it said in Ecclesiasticus: “The grace of a diligent woman shall delight her husband, and shall fat his bones” (XXVI, 16.) Mary was indeed the diligent woman of whom Bede saith: “Mary was silent about the secret of God, but she diligently considered it in her heart.” Who was the husband of this diligent woman, but He whom she had encompassed in her womb? Of whom Jeremias says: “The Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth, a woman shall encompass a man” (Jer. XXXI, 32.) The bones of this man are all they who are strong in the Church, that is, in His body. These bones, by the help of the grace of Mary, are fattened by the unction of grace. They are fattened, I say, by the fatness of the Holy Ghost, by which he longed to be enriched who said: “Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness.” Oh, who can reckon how many souls by the help of Mary are nourished and fattened by grace? And who indeed can calculate how great in Mary herself was this fatness of grace, by which so many millions of souls are nourished? What was lacking to her who was the dwelling of all virtue and grace? Saint John Damascene says: “Mary, planted in the house of the Lord, and fattened in spirit like a fruitful olive tree, was made the dwelling of every virtue.” Likewise Mary delivers all men from everlasting death. This was well typified in Esther, of whom we read: “The king loved her more than all women, and placed the diadem of his kingdom on her head” (Est. II, 17.) We read, therefore, that there was a twofold utility in the grace of Esther which she had with the king: one was that she obtained the royal crown; the other, that she delivered her nation, which had been condemned to death. So Mary, our Esther, obtained such grace with the eternal King that by it she not only attained to the crown herself, but delivered the human race, which was condemned to death. Therefore Saint Anselm says: “How shall I worthily praise the Mother of my Lord and God, by whose fecundity I, a captive, was redeemed, by whose Son I was rescued from eternal death, by whose Child, I, being lost, was recovered and led back from the exile of misery to the homeland of eternal beatitude.” O Mother of grace, make us sons of grace. Grant that by thy most true grace we may be gathered for the pardon of sin, nourished by the spirit of devotion, and delivered from the death of damnation! Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
VI – The Fourfold Grace in Mary – Of Gifts, Of Speech, Of Privileges, and of Rewards
Ave Maria, gratia plena. We have still some things to say of the grace of the most sweet Mary. We will now consider the fourfold grace of her gifts, her speech, her privileges, and her rewards.
First, consider in Mary the grace of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. To this grace Mary, giving thanks, could apply the word of Ecclesiasticus: “In me is all grace of the way and the truth.” What wonder if she herself is the grace full of life and truth, who is the Mother of Him who was “full of grace and truth”? And what wonder if in that rod is so great an affluence of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, in whose flower the Holy Spirit rested with such an abundance of His gifts? Mary is that rod, and the Son of Mary is that flower, of whom it is said in Isaias: “There shall come forth a rod from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall ascend from that root, and there shall rest upon Him the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of piety, and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.” On this flower was a great abundance of the Holy Spirit, which has overflowed into the whole Church, so that the Evangelist John says: “Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” Now that such an abundance of grace has overflowed from this flower into the whole garden, how much more will it abound in the rod or stem of the flower, in Mary herself? Let Mary, therefore, say in all security, “In me is all grace of the way and the truth.” Certainly the grace of the way and the truth consists in the aforesaid seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; it was by the aforesaid seven gifts that the grace of the way and the truth was in Mary. The grace of the truth set Mary in order in the truth above herself, below herself, in herself, and without herself. The grace, I say, of the truth set Mary in order above herself by the gift of Wisdom; below herself, by the gift of counsel; in herself, by the gift of understanding; without herself, by the gift of knowledge. The grace of the truth set in order the soul of Mary in truth above herself, in the most wise contemplation of things to be enjoyed; below herself, in fleeing foresight of things that were to be shunned; in herself, in her sure knowledge of what to believe; without herself, in a most reasonable discretion concerning all she had to do. The grace of her life set Mary in order in a good life with regard to the devil, with regard to her neighbor, and with regard to God. The grace, I say, of life set Mary in order in a good life; towards the devil, by fortitude; towards her neighbor, by the gift of piety; towards God, by the gift of fear. The grace of life set Mary in order in a most strong resistance to the devil; in a most loving kindness to her neighbor; in a most devout reverence towards God. This was signified by the Holy Ghost in a most fitting manner by the house which Wisdom built for Himself, having seven columns, which were the seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. Whoever, therefore, feels within himself the beginning of a desire for the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, can find the shape of these pillars in this house, and he ought to desire these seven pillars with great ardor and much prayer. Likewise, he who desires the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit must look for the flower of the Holy Spirit in the rod. By the rod or stem we attain to the flower, and so to the Spirit that rests upon the flower. By Mary we approach to Christ, and by the grace of Christ we find the Holy Spirit. Therefore Saint Bernard well says, addressing Mary: “By thee we have access to thy Son, O blessed finder of grace, mother of life, mother of salvation, that by thee He may receive us, who by thee was given to us.”
Secondly, consider in Mary the grace of the lips, or of speech, of which it is said in the Psalm: “Grace is shed abroad on thy lips.” Such was the grace of the lips in Mary that she could excellently be prefigured by Judith, of whom it is said: “There is not such another woman upon earth in look, in beauty, and in sense of words” (Judith XI, 19.) Truly there is not, nor ever was, nor ever will be, such another woman upon earth, as Mary was, in her glorious life, in the beauty of a pure conscience, and in the sense of words of a most skilled tongue. We shall clearly see the grace of the lips in Mary if we diligently gather and meditate the words of her lips as recorded in the Gospel. We find in the Gospel seven sentences, sweeter than honey, dropping from the lips of Mary, and indicating excellently the honeyflowing grace of her lips, as it is said in the Canticle: “Thy lips are as a dropping honeycomb” (IV, 11.) The seven words of Mary, spoken to the Angel, to God, and to men, are as seven wells of honey. To the Angel, Mary spoke the word of chastity and the word of humility. Mary had on her lips the word of chastity when she said in answer to the Angel: “How shall this be done, for I know not man?” This is a lesson to the unchaste, who have on their lips not chaste, but base and carnal words. Mary spoke to the Angel the words of humility when she said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” This is a lesson to the proud and arrogant, who neither think nor speak humbly of themselves, but have words of boasting and elation on their lips. Again Mary spoke to men the word of charity and the word of truth: the word of charity in greeting, the word of truth in instruction. Mary spoke the word of charity when she so affectionately saluted the mother of the Precursor that even the infant in that mother’s womb exulted. This is a lesson to the rancorous, who will not only not speak charitably to their neighbors, but disdain to speak to them at all. Mary spoke the word of truth when, the wine failing, she said to the servants at the marriage feast: “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.” This is a lesson to those who will not only not speak good words to their neighbors, but urge them to evil deeds. Again, Mary spoke three times to the Lord. She spoke more to God than to angels or to men, for she spoke twice to the angels and twice to men, but three times to God. To God she spoke a word of praise, of loving complaint, and of compassion. Of praise for the benefits bestowed on herself; of loving complaint for the loss of her Son; of compassion for the failing of the wine. Mary had the word of praise to God on her lips, when in thanksgiving for that God had looked upon her lowliness, she said: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” This is a lesson to the ungrateful, who, alas, give such scant thanks to God for His benefits, and at times grow puffed up against God by these very benefits. Mary had the word of loving complaint to God upon her lips, when she said to her Son, after the three days’ loss: “Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy Father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.” Here is a lesson for the indevout, who do not seek Jesus sorrowing, when by the withdrawal of devotion they have lost him for many days. Mary spoke the word of compassion to God when at the marriage feast she said to her Son: “They have no wine.” Here is a lesson to the unmerciful, who are not moved to compassion by the needs of others, and who neither help their neighbors, nor draw them to God. Behold now, O Mary, our advocate, it is still needful to us that thou shouldst speak to thy Son for us, that many of us have no wine; we lack the wine of the Holy Spirit, the wine of compunction, the wine of devotion and spiritual consolation. Of which Saint Bernard thus speaks: “How often is it necessary for me, O my brethren, after your tearful complaints to beseech the Mother of Mercy to say to her Son that you have no wine! And she, I say, beloved, if she is piously besought by you, will not be lacking to your need, for she is merciful, she is the Mother of Mercy. For if she had compassion for the shame of those whose guest she was, much more will she have compassion on you if you call upon her earnestly.” Consider well, from what we have said, what power Mary hath with the King of kings, because of the grace of her lips, for it is written in the Book of Proverbs: “He who loveth cleanness of heart, for the grace of his lips shall have the king for a friend” (Prov. XXII, 11.)
Thirdly, consider in Mary the grace of privileges. Of this grace it is said: “Thou hast found grace with the Lord, behold thou shalt conceive in the womb, and shalt bear a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High.” See how Gabriel, asserting that Mary had found grace, immediately specifies what that grace is, saying: “Behold thou shalt conceive in the womb.” Oh, how great and how unheard-of in all the world that a virgin should conceive and bring forth the Son of the Most High. We can perceive in Mary seven privileges, privileges full of immense graces, granted to Mary alone by God.
The first privilege of Mary was that she was, above all men, free from sin and most pure. For she was so abundantly sanctified by grace in her mother’s womb that it is believed she was never in the least degree inclined to the slightest venial sin. Therefore Saint Bernard saith: “It behoved the Queen of Virgins, by a singular privilege of sanctity, to lead a life free from every sin, so that, while she brought forth the slayer of sin and death, she should obtain for all the gift of life and justice.”
The second privilege of Mary is that, above all men, she was full of grace. Saint Jerome saith: “On others grace was bestowed in measure; but the whole fullness of grace was poured into Mary.” And, therefore, well doth this same Blessed Doctor, comparing the grace of Mary with that of the angels and preferring it, say: “It is to be believed that the glorious Virgin Mary merited greater privileges of virtue, and received grace praised by the angels.”
The third privilege of Mary was that she alone was a mother and at the same time an inviolate virgin. Saint Bernard, praising this privilege, says: “Mary chose for herself the better part. Clearly the better, because conjugal fecundity is good, but virginal chastity is better, but the best is virginal fecundity, or fecund virginity. The privilege of Mary will not be given to another, because it will not be taken away from her.”
The fourth privilege of Mary is that she alone is the ineffable Mother of the Son, the Mother of that Son of whom alone God is the Father; wonderful above measure that so great a privilege should be granted to a creature. Of this privilege Saint Bernard saith: “This is the singular glory of our Virgin, and the excellent prerogative of Mary, that she merited to have her Son in common with God the Father.”
The fifth privilege of Mary is that she alone above all creatures was in the body most familiar with God. For, what was never granted to any other creature, nor will ever be granted again in eternity –she bore God for nine months in her womb, she nourished God from her breasts full of heaven, for many years she sweetly brought up our Lord, she had God subject to her, she handled and embraced her God in pure embraces and kisses with tender familiarity, as Saint Augustine says: “No wonder, Mary, that God reigning in Heaven deigns to rejoice with thee, whom, when He was a little child born of thee, thou didst so often kiss on earth.” (Serm. de Sanct., XXV, CCVIII, n. II, appendix.)
The sixth privilege of Mary was that she alone, above all creatures, is most powerful with God. Saint Augustine says: “She merited to be the mother of the Redeemer.” He also says: “Beg for what we ask, excuse what we fear, because we shall never find one more powerful in merit than thee, who hast merited to be the Mother of the Redeemer and of the Judge. It is a great privilege that she is more powerful with God than all the Saints, as St. Augustine declares: “There is no doubt that she who brought forth the price by which all were freed, can above all others pay the suffrage of holy liberty.” But what would it avail us for Mary to have such great power if she cared nothing for us? Therefore, brethren, we must hold it for certain, and incessantly give thanks for this, that, as she has more power with God than all the Saints, so is she also more solicitous for us before God than all the Saints. It is the same Augustine who teaches us this, saying: “We know, O Mary, that thou above all the saints art solicitous for the holy Church–thou who obtainest for sinners time to repent, that they may renounce their errors.”
The seventh privilege of Mary is that she, above all the Saints, is most excellent in glory. Saint Jerome says: “Everywhere the holy Church of God sings, what it is unlawful to believe of any other of the saints, that the merits (of Mary) transcend those of all angels and archangels. This privilege not, as it were, of nature, but of grace–belongs to the Virgin Mary.” Behold how glorious is the privilege of Mary’s glory that she, after God, is most exalted in glory. The glorious privilege of the glory of Mary is, that whatever after God is most beautiful, whatever is sweetest, whatever is pleasanter in glory, that is Mary’s, that is in Mary, that is by Mary. It is entirely the glorious privilege of Mary, that, after God, our greatest glory and our greatest joy is because of her. Saint Bernard says: “After God, it is our greatest glory, O Mary, to behold thee, to adhere to thee, to abide in the defense of thy protection.”
These, therefore, are the seven privileges of Mary by which we obtain the life of grace. And therefore, we may implore Mary, as Abraham implored Sara: “Say, I beseech thee, that thou art my sister, that it may be well with me because of thee, and that my soul may live by thy grace” (Gen. XII, 13.) 0 Mary, our Sara, say that thou art our sister, that because of thee it may be well for us with God, and that our souls may live in God because of thy grace. Say, O our most beloved Sara, that thou art our sister, that, for the sake of such a sister, the Egyptians, that is, the evil spirits, may reverence us, that, because of such a sister, the angels may fight for us, and that above all, for the sake of such a sister, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost may have mercy on us.
Fourthly, consider in Mary the grace of rewards, on which we have already touched in speaking of her seventh privilege. To this grace can be applied that word of Ecclesiasticus: “Grace upon grace hath a chaste and holy woman” (XXVI, 19.) The woman chaste above all women is Mary, the woman holy above all women, in whom is grace above grace, the grace of glory above the grace of the way, the grace of rewards in Heaven above the grace of merits in this world. This grace of the beatitude of Mary consists in seven gifts of body and of soul. Every glorified body has four glorious gifts: the gift of wonderful clarity, the gift of wonderful subtility, the gift of wonderful agility, and the gift of wonderful impassability; and if every glorified body has these gifts, how much more so will the body which brought forth Him who is the Glorifier of all bodies? What wonder if her gift of clarity is the brightest in Heaven, who by the gift of holiness was so resplendent in this world that Saint Bernard says of her: “While yet thou didst live among sinners, thou didst shine before God with such sanctity, that thou alone didst merit to approximate to the glory of the eternal King.” Again, what wonder if by the gift of subtility she is most subtile, who by the gift of humility was most subtile in this world? Speaking to her, Blessed Bernard says: “Thou wouldst never have ascended far above all the choirs of angels, if on earth thou hadst not lowered thyself by humility below all men.” Again, what wonder if by the gift of agility she is swiftest in Heaven, who by her gift of loving kindness was so swift upon earth? For in the offices of charity she went with haste into the hill country, of the swiftness of whose haste Saint Ambrose says: “Whither would she, who was now full of God, hasten, unless into the hill country with haste? For the grace of the Holy Spirit knoweth no tardy delays.” Again, what wonder if by the gift of impassability she is impassable in Heaven, who by the gift of patience and equanimity was so impassable in this world that she never felt the slightest impatience or hatred when the sword passed through her own soul? For we neither read nor believe that the least sign of impatience ever appeared in Mary. Saint Bernard says: “Diligently revolve in thy mind the whole of the Gospel story, and if thou discoverest in Mary the least sign of rebuke, of hardness, or of indignation, then thou mayest hesitate to believe in her virtue in other things, and fear to approach her.”
If such is the glory of the body of Mary, what, thinkest thou, is the glory of her soul? This blessed soul has three beatific gifts–the gift of wonderful love, the gift of wonderful knowledge, and the gift of wonderful fruition, or, to put it in a more modern way, the gifts of vision, fruition, and experience. But in whatever manner the gifts of Mary are expressed, it is certain that these gifts surpass those of all other souls. For if all blessed souls are endowed with these gifts in Heaven, how much more the soul of her who brought forth in this world the soul of the Beatifier of all souls? Saint Bernard says: “She penetrated the most profound abyss of divine Wisdom beyond what could be believed, and as far as the condition of a creature is capable, she was united to that inaccessible Light.” Again, what wonder if the soul of Mary is immersed in fecund love, what wonder if she is loving above all, who is above all beloved? Truly, before and above all; for Saint Augustine thus addresses her: “The King of kings, loving thee above all as His true Mother and Spouse, is joined to thee in the embrace of love.” Again, what wonder if in most delightful fruition is immersed the soul of Mary who was fed by the most blessed Fruit of her womb? Saint Augustine says: “Mary in brightness of soul enjoys Christ, and His glorious embraces, always present, always beholding Him, always thirsting to see Him, she is ineffably nourished by Him.” Therefore, as the most glorious Mary exceeds all Saints in the grace of the way and in the grace of merits, so she exceeds all Saints in the grace of glory and in the grace of rewards. Therefore, she is well symbolized by Queen Esther, of whom we read that, being led to the nuptial chamber of King Assuerus, she found grace and mercy before him above all women, and he placed the diadem of the kingdom upon her head. This is eminently suited to Mary, of whom St. Jerome says: “She is raised above the choirs of angels, that she may behold the beauty and the countenance of the Savior, whom she had loved and desired with all the desire of her heart.” This Queen Esther, the blessed Virgin Mary, at her Assumption was led into the bridal chamber of the King Assuerus, the Eternal King, of which incident Saint Augustine, addressing Mary, says: “The Queen Mary, being led into the bridal chamber of everlasting rest, possesses the favor and grace of the King Assuerus, that is, the grace of the True King above all women, that is, above all angelical intelligences, and above all beatified souls, so that in Mary there should be grace above that of all the blessed. And in very truth the King of kings placed on her head the diadem of the kingdom, a truly priceless diadem, so delightful, so wonderful, that no tongue can fitly speak of it and it is incomprehensible to every intellect.
Now, therefore, beloved, you have seen with how great grace of gifts Mary is enriched, with how great grace of the lips, with how great privileges, with how abundant a dower of rewards. Let us, therefore, beseech this finder of graces that she may let us find grace with God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
VII – The Nine Plenitudes in Mary, Which Represent the Nine Choirs of the Angels in Glory
Ave, gratia plena. It was not enough for the Arch angel simply to commend the grace of Mary; he wished also to insist emphatically on its fullness, when he said: “Gratia plena.” O truly full, and fully full! Gabriel had not yet said: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb.” He had not yet said: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.” If, therefore, before the coming upon her of the Holy Ghost, before the conception of the Son of God, Mary was full (of grace), how much more so afterwards? Therefore Anselm aptly says of her fullness and of the fullness of her gratitude: “She, being already a thousand times full (of grace), was saluted by the Angel, filled with the Holy Ghost, breathed upon by the divine plenitude.” Well, therefore, is Mary said to be full of the illumination of wisdom, of the outpouring of grace, of the riches of a good life, of the unction of mercy, of the fecundity of a pious offspring, of the perfection of the Church, of the redolence of fair fame, of the resplendence of divine glory, of the joy of eternal gladness. Let us consider these nine plenitudes in Mary, which represent the nine plenitudes of the angelic orders in glory.
First let us consider that Mary is full of the illumination of wisdom and understanding. She may aptly be symbolized by that which is said in the Book of Proverbs: “My husband is not at home, he is gone on a very long journey. He took with him a bag of money: he will return home the day of the full moon” (VII, 19 f.) This is that Man of whom Jeremias saith: “The Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth, a woman shall encompass a man” (XXXI, 32.) The woman is Mary–a woman indeed in sex, not in corruption; a mother of virtue, who encompassed Our Lord in her womb, clothed Him with our nature. This Man–if indeed, as Josephus saith, it be lawful to call Him a man– has three houses. It belongs to imperial majesty to have three mansions in the palace, namely, a reception-room, a supper- room, and a bedchamber. The reception-room is the place for conversation and discussions; the supper-room, for food; the bedchamber, for rest. So our Emperor, who rules the winds and the sea, has His reception-room, which is the world; He has His refreshment-room, which now is the Church, and was of old, the Synagogue; He has His place of rest, namely, the rational soul of man. But alas! this Man, the Lord of hosts, had been very far distant from His house of the world, His house of the synagogue, His house of the soul, for “far from sinners is salvation” (Ps. CXVIII, 155.) This Man was not in His house when Jeremias complained: “I have forsaken my house, I have left my inheritance” (Jer. XII, 7.) He took the bag of money with him when He hid the treasure of His mercies and His grace from the world. But lo! this Man came back on the day of the full moon–of that moon, I say, of which it is said in the Canticle of Canticles: “Fair as the moon.” This moon, therefore, is Mary. The full moon is Mary full of grace. Well is Mary compared to the moon, because by the Eternal Sun she is fully illuminated with the light of wisdom and truth. Therefore, the name Mary is well interpreted illuminatrix or illuminated. For she, who is our moon and our lamp, was illuminated by the Lord, and she was the illuminatrix of the world, according to that prophetic word: “For thou lightest my lamp” (Ps. XVII.) In the fullness of this moon, the Man came back to his house, when Christ came into this world in the flesh. O truly wonderful fullness of this moon! Behold, if Mary was full of the light of wisdom, which she received from the Eternal Sun, before she conceived Him; how much more full was she, when she so wonderfully conceived this Sun, and so entirely received Him within herself! Well, therefore, saith Saint Bernard, when commending the fullness of the wisdom of Mary: “Heavenly wisdom built for Himself a house in Mary: for He so filled her mind that from the very fullness of her mind her flesh became fecund, and the Virgin by a singular grace brought forth that same Wisdom, covered with a garb of flesh, whom she had first conceived in her pure mind.”
Secondly, let us consider that Mary is full of the outpouring of grace in her affections. For such was the inundation of grace, so great was its depth and magnitude in Mary, that she could well be called a full sea according to that word: “Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof” (I Par. XVI, 32.) As in the sea there is a gathering together of waters, so in Mary is a gathering together of graces. Therefore it is written: “The gathering together of the waters was called (Vulg. “he called”) seas” (Gen. I, 10.) It is also said in Ecclesiastes: “All the rivers run into the sea” (I, 7.) All the rivers are the gifts of the graces, which entered into Mary, according to that word of Wisdom: “In me is all grace of the way and of the truth” (Ecclus. XXIV, 25.) How full is this sea, how full of grace is Mary, Saint Jerome declares, saying: “Truly full, because on others it is only bestowed in part, but on Mary the whole plenitude of grace was outpoured at once.” This sea, therefore, being full, let us hear it roar against vices. Let the sea roar, therefore, and the fullness thereof, let the full sea, let the full Mary, roar. Let it roar against luxury, preach chastity, and say: “How shall this be done, for I know not man?” Let it also roar against pride, by humility, saying: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Let it roar against ingratitude, giving thanks and saying: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord…. My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Of the fullness of this sea it is likewise said in the Psalm: “Let the sea be moved, and the fullness thereof.” Let the sea be moved, let Mary be moved, let her be moved by our sighs and mortifications, let her be moved by our tears and prayers, let her be moved by our alms and our other acts of veneration. Let her be moved fully, I say, that she may pour out on us of her fullness. Let us note what Saint Bernard says in speaking of her: “If a vessel full of liquid is moved, it is easily spilt, and lets drop its contents. So the Blessed Virgin Mary, if she is moved by our prayers, pours forth graces upon us.”
Thirdly, let us consider that Mary is in very truth full of the riches of a good life. Of this plenitude we can truly say: “The earth is the Lord’s.” By the earth is signified Mary, of whom we read in Isaias: “Let the earth be opened, and bud forth a savior!” What more lowly than the earth? What more useful? We all tread the earth under our feet, and draw from it the nourishment of our life. Whence have we food and clothing, bread and wine, wool and thread, flax. and all the necessaries of life except from the earth, and from the fullness of the earth? What, therefore, is more lowly, what more useful than the earth? In like manner, what is more humble, what more useful than Mary? She by her humility is the very least of all; by her fullness of grace, the most useful of all. For we have all that is needful for our spiritual life through Mary. Well therefore doth Saint Bernard say: “Let us look more deeply and see with how great a depth of devotion He wishes Mary to be honored by us who hath placed the fullness of all good in Mary, so that if we have any ground for hope, or for salvation, we should know that it is from her it springs.” (“Serm. de Aquaeductu.”) Hear now the Psalmist: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The fullness of the earth consists in fruits and divers riches, according to the Psalmist: “The earth is filled with Thy riches.” The fruits and the riches of this most full earth, Mary, are the works, the examples, and the divers merits of the most holy life of Mary. The Lord filled her with such riches and with so great gifts that it is said: “The Lord looked upon the earth, and filled it with his goods” (Ecclus. XVI, 30. ) Saint Jerome, speaking of this fullness, says: “It was fitting that the Virgin should be pledged with such gifts, that she should be full of grace, she who gave glory to the heavens, God to the earth, who restored peace, who gave faith to the nations, put an end to vices, brought back order to life, and discipline to manners.”
Fourthly, let us consider that Mary is full of the unction of mercy and of the oil of piety. Therefore she may be signified by that woman who, having closed the door of her house and gathered together within all her vessels, they were miraculously filled with oil, according to what Eliseus had prophesied to her, saying: “Thou shalt take them away, when they are full” (Kings IV, 4. ) This woman is Mary, who was called “woman” by her Son in the Gospel of Saint John, where we read: “Woman, behold thy Son.” The vessels of this woman are her affections and her deeds, her desires and her benefits, which in Mary are all full of the oil of mercy. Well, therefore, doth Saint Bernard say of this oil: “No wonder, Lady, if the sanctuary is so copiously anointed with the oil of the mercy of thy heart, when that inestimable work of mercy, which God had predestined from all eternity in our redemption, was first of all effected in thee by the Maker of the world. Let us, therefore, say to Mary: ‘Give us of your oil.’ Let us beg for the oil of her mercy in this world, lest we should ask in vain at the judgment.” That the house in which the vessels were filled should also have been closed, is admirably suited to Mary, of whose spiritual enclosure Ezechiel says: “This gate shall be closed, and it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it; for the Lord God of Israel has entered through it” (XLIV, 2.) The gate of Mary was closed by the lock of virginity; no man had passed through it by way of conjugal embrace; the Lord God came forth through her by a singular manner of birth. But certainly, because for the multiplication of the oil, vessels not a few were collected from the neighbors; therefore by these vessels may be signified all those who have been partakers of the mercies of Mary. Who these are, Saint Bernard declares when he says: “Mary has opened the bosom of her mercy to all, that all may receive of her fullness: the captive, redemption; the sick, healing; the sad, consolation; the sinner, pardon; the just, grace; the angel, joy; in fine, the whole Trinity, glory; the person of the Son, the substance of human flesh.”
Fifthly, let us consider that Mary is full of the fecundity of the divine offspring. Of this plenitude we may understand that word of Isaias: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and elevated, and the earth was full of His majesty” (Is. VI, 1.) That house on the throne of which God sits is the Blessed Virgin, on the throne of whose mind the Lord rested. O truly blessed and stable throne, as it is said in the third Book of Kings: “Thy most firm throne for ever” (VIII, 13.) This most high throne is in the intellect, raised up on the affections. It is also most high above men, raised up over men. On this throne, therefore, of Mary, on the throne, I say, of her mind, the Lord was seated, and the house of her body was full of the majesty of the Incarnate Word. Of this ineffable fullness St. Ambrose says: “Well is she alone said to be full of grace, who alone obtained the grace which none other ever had, of being filled with the author of grace.” O truly happy house, full of so happy a fecundity! For St. Bernard saith: “Well was she full of grace, who both kept the grace of virginity and acquired the glory of fecundity.” The Lord, therefore, sat on the throne of the mind of Mary by grace, and filled the house of her body with His majesty by His assumed nature. Therefore, it is said in the third Book of Kings: “The glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord” (VIII, II.) Then saith Solomon: “The Lord hath said that He would dwell in the cloud” (ibid., 12.) Mary, therefore, the house of the Lord, was filled with the glory of the Divine Majesty by the cloud of the humanity assumed by God–that cloud, I say, of which we read in Ecclesiasticus: “The healing of all is in the hastening of the cloud” (XLIII, 24.) And again: “Like the morning star in the midst of a cloud.” For like the star in a cloud is the Word in the flesh assumed by Him.
Sixthly, let us consider in what way Mary was full of the perfection of the universal Church. The Church had and has diverse and marvelous perfections and graces in her various saints, in whose fullness it would seem that Mary abode, that she might truly utter that word of Ecclesiasticus: “My abode is in the full assembly of saints.” Truly was the abode of Mary in the plenitude of the saints, while in her own wonderful perfection the fullness of the perfection of the saints was not wanting to her. As Saint Bernard declares, when he says: “Rightly in the fullness of the saints was her abode, to whom was not wanting the faith of the patriarchs, the spirit of the prophets, the zeal of the Apostles, the constancy of the martyrs, the sobriety of the confessors, the chastity of the virgins, the fecundity of the married, yea, nor the purity of the angels.” For it is written in the book of Ecclesiasticus: “And shall be admired in the holy assembly” (XXIV, 3.) On account of this, the abode of Mary is in the fullness of the Saints, not in the fullness of the impious; because Mary remains willingly with those who are full of sanctity, not with those who are full of iniquity. She not only abides in the fullness of the Saints, but abides in fullness with the Saints, lest their fullness should grow less. She takes hold of virtues, lest they fly; she takes hold of merits, lest they perish; she takes hold of demons and keeps them in check, lest they do harm; she takes hold of her Son, lest He strike sinners. Before Mary there never was one who could dare thus to take hold of the Lord, as Isaias bears witness, saying: “There is none that calleth upon thy name, that riseth up and taketh hold of thee” (Is. LXIV, 7.)
Seventhly, let us consider how Mary is full of the redolence of fair fame. As a field is full of the scents of various flowers, so is Mary full of the fair fame of fragrant sprinkling. Of her fullness we may understand what we read in Genesis: “Behold the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field, which God hath blessed” (Gen. XXVII, 27.) This field is Mary, in whom the treasure of the angels, yea verily, the whole treasure of God the Father is hidden. Happy is he “who sells all that he has, and buys that field.” The full odor of this full field is the full fair fame of Mary, her full honor. Of this Saint Jerome saith: “Because she was filled with the many odors of the virtues, there came forth from her a most sweet odor, rejoicing the angelic spirits.” Of this odor she herself, glorying, could use the words of Ecclesiasticus (XXIV, 20): “I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aromatical balm.” The good odor of Mary was like cinnamon externally, in the rind of her conversation; like aromatical balm interiorly, by the unction of her devotion; like myrrh, in the bitterness of her suffering. The good odor of Mary was also like cinnamon in her deeds; like balm in her contemplation; like myrrh in her sufferings. O truly rich, and exceedingly rich she who, besides other aromas, was so full of the odoriferous balm of the Holy Spirit that Saint Bernard, speaking of that word, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,” says: “That precious balm flowed in on thee with such copiousness and plenitude that it overflows most abundantly on all around thee.” Well, therefore, could God the Father say: “Behold the odor of my Son is as the smell of a full field,” as though He said: “Behold the smell of my Son, the honor of my Son, is from the honor and the good fame of His mother.” Saint Jerome saith: “The maternal honor is His, who was born from her.”
Eighthly, let us consider how Mary was full of the reflection or resplendence, as it were, the expression of the divine glory, according to Ecclesiasticus: “The work of the Lord is full of His glory” (XXIV, 20.) Above all, the most wonderful work of the Lord is Mary, of whom it is said in Ecclesiasticus: “An admirable instrument the work of the Most High” (XLIII, 2.) Truly a wonderful work, for a similar one can never be found. Whence it is said of it: “There was no such work made in any kingdom” (3 Kings X, 20.) None indeed in the kingdom of Heaven, none in the kingdom of earth, nor in that of hell; for there never was such a work in Heaven, on earth, or in the nether regions. For this work is full of the glory of the Lord, because this glory shines most fully in Mary, above all pure creatures. For after the humanity assumed by the Word, there is no work, no creature, in whom there is such scope for the divine glory as in Mary. For the Lord has through Mary glory because of the restoration brought about in Heaven, glory in the Redemption accomplished in the world, glory for the deliverance wrought in hell –this glory He has in the fullness of grace in Mary. Therefore, well does Saint Anselm say: “I speak to thee alone, Lady; the world is full of thy benefits; they have penetrated hell, and surpassed the Heavens. For by the fullness of thy grace those who were in limbo rejoice in their deliverance, and those who were above the world have joy in their restoration.” Therefore, full of the glory of the Lord is His work, Mary, because, as it is said in Isaias, “The earth is full of His glory” (Is. VI, 3.) Full indeed is the whole earth, full is Mary of the divine glory, which shines in her most fully. Rightly above all the aforesaid is she said to be full of grace, who is most pleasing to all who are not ungrateful, as Saint Bernard shows when, speaking of the words, Ave gratia plena, he says: “Well is she fully pleasing because she is pleasing to God, to the angels, and to men; to men by her fecundity, to the angels by her virginity, to God by her humility.”
Ninthly, consider how Mary is full of the joy of eternal happiness. Who is ignorant that she is of those of whom her Son said: “Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full”? If, therefore, the joy of the Apostles, of all those who are reigning with God, is full, how much more is the joy of the Mother of God full and complete? Of this plenitude Saint Jerome says: “Full indeed of grace, full of God, full of virtues, she could not but possess most fully the glory of eternal splendor.” What wonder, then, that she has full and overfull joy and glory in the kingdom, who had grace full and overflowing in her exile upon earth? What wonder if both in Heaven and on earth her fullness was above that of every creature, from whose fullness every creature has life? Therefore Saint Anselm saith: “O Woman full and overfull of grace, of the overflowing of whose plenitude every creature gains new life!”
Thus you see in Mary the fullness of illuminative wisdom, the fullness of overflowing grace, the fullness of a fruitful life, the fullness of helping mercy, of the perfection of the Church, of good fame, of divine glory, of eternal joy. Now, therefore, O Virgin full of grace, deign to make us, who are so empty, partakers of thy fullness, that we may at last attain to eternal fullness. By Our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.
VIII – Mary Shares All Gifts with the Lord
“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.” It has been shown above how Mary, because of the purity of her life, is rightly saluted by the Ave. It has also been shown how, because of the abundance of her graces, she is rightly called “full of grace.” We have now to show how, because of a most special presence of God within her, it is rightly said to her: “The Lord is with thee.” But tell us, in what measure, O great Gabriel, thou bringest tidings of a great thing to the great Mary from the great God! But tell us, in what measure, or how He is with her? Behold Saint Augustine answering this question, as it were in the person of Gabriel: “The Lord is with thee, but more than with me. The Lord is with thee, but not as He is with me. For although the Lord is in me, the Lord hath created me; but by thee the Lord is to be born.” The Lord, therefore, O Mary, but who, how great? The Lord of the earth and of all things in general, the Lord who is especially the Lord of mankind, the Lord who is thine in a singular manner, O Mary. The Lord, I say, of all creatures in general, the Lord in a special manner of rational creatures, the Lord especially of thy virginal court, O Mary. We must consider, therefore, that this Lord, who is with thee, is in general the Lord of all creatures. Judith says: “The Lord of the heavens, the Creator of the waters, and the Lord of all creatures” (IX, 17.) And the Wise Man: “The Lord of all things loved her” (Wisd. VIII, 3.) Therefore, the Lord of all things universally, of all things visible and invisible. This universal Lord of all things was in Mary in such a manner that He made her the universal Lady of all things–the Lady, I say, of Heaven, and the Lady of the world. Saint Anselm saith: “The Queen of heaven, and the Lady of the World, to the Mother of Him, who cleanseth the world, I confess that my body is exceedingly impure.” But lo! this universal Lord of all things is a most powerful Lord, a most wise Lord, a most rich Lord, a most unfailing Lord. A lord without power, without wisdom, without wealth, without permanence, would be a most imperfect lord. A feeble lord, one needy and insipid, or unable to keep his position, would be little esteemed. But Our Lord is universal, most powerful, most wise, most wealthy; His eternity is unfailing.
First note that the universal Lord, who is with Mary, is a Lord most powerful in will, and it is well said of Him: “All whatsoever the Lord hath willed, the Lord has done, . . . even in all abysses” (Ps. CXXXIV, 6.) Therefore, neither in Heaven, nor on earth, nor in all the infernal abysses, can anyone resist the will of so powerful a Lord, as Mardochai testifies, saying: “Lord King Almighty, in thy dominion are all things, and there is none who can resist thy will” (Esth. XIII, 9.) Behold, Mary, how great, how powerful is the Lord who is with thee! And because He is a most powerful Lord, He is most powerfully with thee: therefore, art thou most powerful with Him, by Him, through Him, so that thou canst truly say, “My power is in Jerusalem” (Ecclus. XXIV, 15 . ) Jerusalem signifies the Church triumphant in Heaven; it signifies also the Church militant upon earth. For truly both in Heaven and on earth the Mother of the Creator has power. How very powerful she is, Anselm recognizes when he says: “Hear us, loving one; be with us, be favorable to us; help us, most powerful one, that our minds may be cleansed from stains and our darkness illuminated.” The Lord, therefore, is with thee, O most powerful Mary.
Secondly, note that the universal Lord, who is with Mary, is a Lord most wise in truth. For He is the Lord, of whom it is said in the Psalm, “Great is our Lord, and great is His strength, and of His wisdom there is no number” ( Ps. CXLVI, 5. ) Oh, how wise is the Lord, whose wisdom nothing can deceive, nothing can be concealed from, because He knows all things. All our works, both good and bad, all our words, good and bad, all our thoughts and all our desires, good and bad, the Lord knows. Whence Saint Peter says: “Lord, Thou knowest all things.” Behold, Mary, what kind of a Lord, what a most wise Lord, is He who is with thee. And because the most wise Lord is most wisely with thee, therefore, thou too art most wise with Him and through Him. Thou art typified by that Abigail, of whom it was said: “She was a woman most prudent and most beautiful.” Mary was so prudent and so beautiful that Saint Anselm does not hesitate to say of her: “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Mary.” The Lord, therefore, is with thee, O most wise Mary.
Thirdly, consider that the universal Lord, who is with Mary, is most wealthy in His possessions, as the Prophet testifies, saying: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that dwell in it.” Not only is the earth and its fullness the Lord’s, but also the Heavens and their fullness. For Thine, O Lord, are the Heavens, and thine is the earth, because “the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s.” Everything is the property of this Lord, Heaven and earth, bodies and spirits, all nature, all grace, all heavenly glory, all is the Lord’s own. Therefore, the Lord is most rich, as the Apostle says: “He is the Lord of all, rich unto all that call upon Him” (Romans 10:12.) Behold, Mary, how rich, how great is He who is with thee! And because the most rich lord is with thee so richly, therefore art thou most rich together with Him and because of Him, so that it can be truly said of thee: “Many daughters have gathered together riches, thou hast surpassed them all” (Proverbs 31:29.) The daughter Agnes, the daughter Lucy, the daughters Catherine, Cecilia, Agatha, and many other holy virgins and just souls, have gathered together riches of virtue and grace, of merits and rewards, but thou, O Mary, by thy universal riches hast surpassed them all. Oh, how rich is Mary in glory, who was so rich in misery! Oh, how rich is she in Heaven, who was so rich in this world! Oh, how rich is she in her soul, who was so rich in her body, that even Saint Bernard exclaims: “O Mary, rich in all and above all, of whose substance a small part being taken, was enough to pay the debt of the whole world!” The Lord is with thee, therefore, O Mary most rich.
Fourthly, consider that the universal Lord, who is with Mary, is the unfailing Lord of eternity. Whence we read in Exodus: “The Lord will reign in eternity and beyond.” And in the Psalm it is said: “But thou, O Lord, remainest for ever.” Behold, O Mary, how great a Lord, how unfailing a Lord is He who is with thee! And because He is unfailingly with thee, therefore, thou also art unfailing with Him in eternity. For thou art that unfailing, that everlasting throne, the throne of the Son of God, of whom the Father saith by the Prophet: “His throne is like the sun in my sight, and like the moon perfect for ever and truly in eternity.” Hence, we cannot only say with truth: “Thou, O Lord, endurest for ever,” but we can also truly say: “Thou, O Lady, endurest for ever.” What wonder if Mary, in her Son, remains forever, when even the benefits of Mary in her servants remain forever? For Saint Bernard says: “In thee, O Mary, angels find joy, the just grace, sinners pardon forever.” The Lord, therefore, is with thee, O neverfailing Mary! Rejoice, O Mary, rejoice! Behold the most powerful Lord is with thee in such a manner that thou art most powerful with Him. The most wise Lord is with thee in such a way that thou art most wise with Him. The most rich Lord is with thee in such wise that thou art most rich with Him. The never-failing Lord is with thee in such wise that thou, together with Him, shalt never fail or be deficient.
Now, therefore, most powerful Lady, be a helper to us who are so impotent! Now, most wise Lady, be to us who are foolish a helper and a counselor! O most wealthy Lady, be to us who are poor a benefactress! O most unfailing Lady, be to us feeble, failing creatures a perpetual support in every good deed!