BETWEEN the Nativity of our Lord and the Purification of His Blessed Mother, when also He was presented in the Temple, an interval of forty days took place, in obedience to the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. This must have been a time of deep quiet and silence on the part of the Holy Family, broken only, as to any striking events, by the ceremony of the Circumcision, when our Lord submitted to the painful rite which derived all its efficacy from Him, when His Precious Blood was shed for the first time, and when His Mother and St. Joseph gave Him the holy name of Jesus. We may speak first of the time itself of the forty days, and then pass on to the consideration of our Blessed Lady's part in the mystery of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.
It must be uncertain whether this happy time of the forty days was spent in the cave which had witnessed the Birth of our Lord, or whether our Lady and St. Joseph found some small dwelling where they might be more withdrawn from the public gaze, or at least from the possibility of interruption. Perhaps this cave had a tenement in front, like the Holy House at Nazareth. Mary and Joseph would not refuse to let our Lord be seen and vene rated by any devout worshippers who might come to them in consequence of the reports spread abroad by the Shepherds. But except for that service of charity, they would naturally keep themselves in great retirement. The forty days were days of seclusion for her. She observed the prescriptions of the Law, although her childbearing had been so different from all others, especially in its freedom from all those circumstances which would naturally make her state one of legal impurity. On this account she could not have entered the Temple, or the Tabernacle, and perhaps the same reason would disqualify her from attendance in the synagogue at Bethlehem. But the greatest reason, perhaps, for her indulging at this time her love of seclusion and privacy, would be her desire to be alone with God and to spend the days, not too long for her, in quiet contemplation and prayer by the side of her new born Son. We know how great a charm the devotion to the Infant Jesus has for contemplative souls, and we naturally place our Blessed Lady at the head of the large multitude who have spent days and nights in contemplating our Lord in the crib.
It would require a volume, or many volumes, merely to enumerate the heads of contemplation over which the mind and heart of our Lady may have been occupied during these six weeks of quiet. We consider her to have been stored with all her wonderful knowledge and intelligence, which had been increased so rapidly as she grew in years and cooperated most faithfully to her grace, for this chief purpose among others, that she might keep in her heart and mind a faithful record of the great bounties of God as they came before her eyes one after another, reflecting as in a most faithful mirror the wonders of His Providence, and returning each to Him with intense gratitude and love. That this was the occupation of Mary is suggested by the words of the Gospel concerning her which have often been quoted. We suppose her to have been accustomed to the contemplation of the surpassing condescension of God in becoming her Son from the moment, at least, of the accomplishment of the mystery in her womb. But the Nativity had not only brought about a further most important step in the unfolding of God's plans, it had also shown the depths of His counsels in the manner of their execution. The circumstances of suffering, poverty, humiliation, were all new lines in the picture. The more God hum bled Himself for us, the more need was there for gratitude and homage on the part of His creatures. The Angels had come to honour Him in His humiliations, the Shepherds had come and had gone as the representatives of the chosen people. But Mary remained ever by His side, not merely to discharge her loving duties as His Mother, but also to be His worshipper, His adorer, the soul that was to give Him, on the part of all mankind, the tenderest, most reverent, and most unceasing thanks and praise for His great condescension, and to reap in her own soul ineffable blessings, as His grace was shed forth on her in return for her faithfulness.
Thus the weeks of this holy time passed on, each day showing, perhaps, something more of the compassionate condescension of our Lord in the humiliations and sufferings of His Sacred Humanity, and furnishing to His Mother fresh subjects for study, fresh instruction, fresh matter for praise. It was now that it became manifest that He was to submit Himself to the requirements of the Law, though He could not by any right be the subject of the Law, and yet this very subjection of His was necessary, in order that it might have the salutary power which it possessed for those who faithfully obeyed it. Thus the decision about the Circumcision of our Lord, which took effect by the action of St. Joseph as the head of the family, brought out to the thoughtful mind of our Lady a beautiful revelation of the counsel of God which was to rule the whole dispensation of the Incarnation. It would, no doubt, cost her much, as it would cost much to our Lord Himself, but it was the will of God and the design of His Infinite Wisdom and condescension.
Mary would thus see in the Circumcision of our Lord, in the first place, His humiliation and self-abasement before the decree of His Father. For to be subject to the rite of circumcision was to take upon Himself the condition of one born in original sin. It was for the removal of some of the effects of original sin, especially the alienation from God and the incapacity to enter Heaven, that this holy rite had been given to Abraham. It is true that before it was so given, and from the beginning of the world, there had been ways of reconciliation with God through faith in the promised Redeemer, which was expressed in some simple form of sacrifice and prayer. But it was a great advance in God's merciful provisions for man when circumcision was endowed with the power of bringing the children of Abraham into covenant with God, because the rite was enjoined on all, a certain time for it was fixed, it was administered to infants, and so to all males, while its effects were not confined to one sex, the female children sharing in the benefit, though they could not be submitted to the rite, for which, as is probable, some other ceremony or some prayer was substituted. Again, Mary might see in the Circumcision of our Lord the meritorious furnishing on His part, as the Redeemer of all, of the grace which had been granted to all who had received it, and of all other graces which had been founded on it and granted to the children of the Covenant. This would fill her heart with thank fullness. Again, she might see in it the beginning of that shedding of the Precious Blood which was to be poured out on the Cross for the redemption of the world. Further, she might dwell on the symbolical meaning of the rite, as the initiation of those who were to be the heirs of the covenant in the holy and saving practice of mortification, mortification not of the flesh only, but much more of the soul and spirit, which was necessary for a thousand ends of interior purity and holiness. Moses had laid down the doctrine that they were to circumcise the fore skin of their hearts, 1 if they wished to be the true people of God, and the same doctrine is found in the prophets. And, again, she might look forward to the time when this external rite was to be taken away, as no longer needed in the Kingdom of the Gospel, and as having been accomplished and laid aside by virtue of our Lord's obedience thereto.
Our Lady would not miss, moreover, the significance of the Holy Name which she then gave her Child, nor the further significance of the fact that it was given to Him at the time of this first shedding of His Blood. The doctrine of the salvation of the world to be wrought by Him was contained in the Holy Name, which had been made the subject of special injunction to herself before the Incarnation, and to St. Joseph afterwards. " His name was called Jesus, which was so named of the Angel before He was conceived in the womb." The words seem to imply that she herself gave the name, as St. Elisabeth gave the name to St. John, which was then confirmed by St. Zachary. It is not likely that our Blessed Lady could have failed to understand the prophecies concerning the Passion as the redemption of the world. Much less could she have been ignorant of the real significance of the many sheddings of blood in the expiatory and other sacrifices of the Law. "Without shedding of blood there was no remission," and yet, as the same Apostle says, it is impossible that with the blood of oxen and goats sin should be taken away. 2 Thus the ceremonial of the Temple contained an ever recurring witness to the necessity of a true atonement, of which all those sacrifices were figures. This principle at least our Lady must have known, though we are not told how far it had as yet been revealed to her that her Child was to suffer at the Passion in the manner which afterwards came about. She had not yet heard the words of holy Simeon, which contained the formal declaration to her on this point, as far as it was then to be declared. But amid all her intense joy at the giving and using of the Holy Name, there must have been the recognition of this element of suffering for the sake of expiation, without which the connection of the Name with the Circumcision could not have been fully understood.
Thus this particular mystery must have furnished her with fresh matter for meditation and consideration, and she must have been the first in the Church to turn her mind and heart to their contemplations. It is on the devout and affectionate consideration of these great truths of the Incarnation and Life of our Lord that the souls of Christians of all classes and conditions have been fed day after day in the Church. It is this that has been the great means of their enlightenment, their strength, their progress in the ways of God, their mortification. It is for this that we are told what we are told of the history of our Lord's Life. Thus immense stores of grace are wrapped up in the blessing by which we are allowed to know the facts which are the external part of these mysteries. According to the rule of which we have already spoken, the use of these means of grace, so profitable to all who use them faithfully, is more and more profitable in proportion to the enlightenment and fervour and purity and love which the souls who consider them have already gained. Thus these mysteries were more to Mary than they can be to any other, though to all their consideration is most healthful, and may be, in a certain sense, even necessary to salvation. We may well, therefore, imagine how large were the outpourings of grace and light which were shed on this most faithful and intelligent soul of the Mother of God, and how great must have been her advance as she dwelt on them in thankful contemplation.
This does not exhaust the sources of her increase of grace at this time. For in all these mysteries of our Lord, especially in the Sacred Infancy, Mary was not simply a spectator and a contemplative of the wonders which God was working. She had a part in them all, they were mysteries of her life, as well as of His. She was an agent in them, her affections and heart were sacrificed and had to suffer in submission to the decrees of God, as her most perfect will was bent in the most loving and humble submission thereto. On this account it is natural to think that all such times, as has been said, were occasions on which the immense bountifulness of God shed forth on His chosen handmaiden larger gifts and more magnificent graces.

1 Deut. x. 16.
2 Heb. ix. 22; x. 4.