Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness,
Leaning upon'her beloved? 3
The victorious group, foreseen from the beginning of the world, its work accomplished, enters into its eternal rest. Above the desert of this world, into the midst of the joy and feast of the angels, Mary is exalted in her living and risen body; she is exalted, leaning upon her Well-beloved, for from Him alone she has received her grace, her merit, all her greatness ; inseparable from Him in the divine thought she is exalted with Him, gently drawn by Him. And, when Jesus elevated her to where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, He crowned her in the presence of His saints and angels. He crowned her as her God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit; He rewarded with an over-flowing measure of glory and beatitude, the over-flowing measure of grace which she had received, and with full participation in all the gifts of heaven. He crowned her with a Son's heart; as she had formerly received Him in her earthly dwelling at Nazareth or at Bethlehem, so He now received her in His dwelling, in the eternal glory of His Father in heaven. He crowned her in all His majesty as King, not with one of those crowns which He has reserved for His most faithful servants, but with the diadem of royalty. For her claim of mother elevates her above all subjects, and associates her with the almighty power of her Son; since foreordained with Him to accomplish that marvellous Incarnation, which is the crown of all created work, she must have dominion with Him over all creation ; for co-operating with the Word in the acquisition of grace, she must have part in His reign over the spiritual world, to which the natural world is entirely subordinate.
The human souls which already peopled paradise, the faithful through long ages of waiting, and the first elect of the Christian Church, saluted in Mary the honour and the redemptress of our race. Her earthly relatives, Anne, Joachim, and Joseph, felt
their beatitude increase with all the brilliance of her triumph. The angels reverence the supreme dignity of the mother of their God; and since they also have probably received grace and glory through Christ, they too honour as their mother her who has given Christ to them. All, both saints and angels, who, in each of the inhabitants of heaven, saw and praised God, contemplated in Mary a more brilliant radiance of majesty, a new splendour of beauty, a hitherto unknown pouring forth of sovereign goodness, and in her, more than in themselves and more than in all the multitude of them, they loved the supreme love. And, in the midst of these splendours, Mary, always grateful and humble, glorified the Lord, thrilled with gladness in Jesus, and uniting the whole worship of heaven and ascribing it to Him who is all in all, she sang with the countless multitude of the blessed: " Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost! "
Fifty years after Mary's departure, John, her well-beloved and the well-beloved of Jesus, was still upon earth. Of all the apostolic band he alone had survived, had preached the Gospel in Asia, and had grown old in the labour and struggle of spreading the Gospel. Domitian, the persecutor who succeeded Nero, had banished him to Patmos, an island of barren rocks. While there he received divine consolation ; the revelation, by mysterious symbols, of the warfare and victories of the Church, up to the final triumph of the Second Coming. And suddenly, in one of the visions which were vouchsafed to him, he saw again the mother whom Jesus had given to him :
" And there appeared a great wonder in heaven ; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." 4
Soon however, to characteristics which appear to belong to Mary herself, are added others which could not be applied to her. The mysterious woman is in the sorrows of child-birth ; before her is a dragon, who is the old serpent, eager to devour the child which she is about to bring into the world. And when the monster had been frustrated in his design and cast out of heaven, the struggle continued upon earth; the woman fled into the wilderness, and the dragon pursued her and fought against her race.
It was, therefore, the Church, often symbolised among the early Christians under the metaphor of a woman, which was the direct object of Saint John's vision. But Mary is no more absent from the vision than she is from the Church; everything speaks of her, and consequently recalls her. The mother of Jesus is, in various aspects, the chief member, the queen, the mother, the ideal type of the Church. The Church, mother and virgin also, " imitates the mother of Christ." 5 If she bring forth Christians who follow the pattern of Jesus, she is following the example of the mother of God; if the dragon is there, full of rage against her and against her offspring, it is because Satan includes her in the hate that he has vowed, perhaps since the day of his downfall, against the incarnate Word and His mother; if she struggle against the old serpent, it is because she continues throughout the history of the world, that struggk of which the victory of Christ and Mary marked the central point. In a word, the symbolic person which Saint John saw descend from heaven to earth, reminds us in everything of another, who henceforth abides in the highest heaven in unassailable peace ; she represents to us Mary, clothed with the sun by her incomparable union with the Divinity, having the moon under her feet as a symbol of the lower and changing world which she has despised and vanquished, and crowned, as with radiant stars, by the multitude of the saints. 6
As it was in the vision of Patmos, so it is in the reality. The Church which labours and struggles on earth, remains in dependence upon Mary and under her sweet influence, the queen and heavenly mediatrix at the side of Jesus. Jesus is the sun, the source of life and light; and the woman clothed with the sun, while she is bathed in its splendour, reflects upon the earth its heat and radiance. Living in the glory of Jesus, she presides, after Him and with Him, in a rank superior to that of the whole Church triumphant, and in a higher order than the life of faith, love, and holy works, which is that of the Church here below.
The Church lives by faith, by unceasing meditation upon the teaching received by divine revelation, by sounding its depths, by contemplating its various aspects, and by developing and separating one by one the truths which from the beginning have been implicitly preserved in it. And during the course of this prolonged labour, one of the first and principal objects of Christian thought has been the mission, the greatness, and the privileges of Mary. We could not have had such a knowledge of Jesus unless we had known His mother well. The heresies concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation have been summarily condemned, and the truth upon these fundamental points briefly enunciated by the formula of Ephesus: " The Holy Virgin is the mother of God, since she has bodily brought forth the Word, born of God, which is made flesh." 7 Besides this, other prerogatives revealed by God and connected with the divine motherhood have been solemnly recognised and demonstrated: her perpetual virginity, her power of intercession, her immunity from all, even the slightest sin. Some have doubted whether this preservation from transgression extended as far as original sin ; but the main body of pastors and of the faithful have always believed it; the more we reflect on it, the more we see in this a singularly glorious privilege for Mary, necessarily comprised in the idea of her which God has given us, and important to be affirmed; it has now been confirmed by infallible authority, and we rejoice in the pronouncement as a signal victory.
In addition to those solemn decisions which are declared from time to time, the Church is daily occupied, through the ordinary teaching of its pastors, in making Mary known. It shows in her the woman blessed above all others, by whom came Jesus and with Him all blessings; and this last idea is clearly brought out. We see better day by day that Mary's co-operation in the divine work has a universal influence upon the whole spiritual order of things, and upon each of the graces that God has given us. She has helped, by her concurrence in the redeeming mysteries, to acquire all those graces for us; and consequently she must still help in bestowing them upon us. For God, from whom are gifts without repentance, 8 has not changed the law which He Himself has established. The three wills which it pleased Him to unite on the day of the Annunciation and at Calvary must still be united in heaven. The Father bestows and confers all grace; the Son, " able also to save them to the utter-most that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them," 9 is by His prayers and infinite merits the universal and necessary Mediator; and, dwelling near Him, Mary also exercises her mediation; a mediation which is not, absolutely and in strict justice, necessary as is that of Jesus, but which the divine goodness, mercy, and wisdom have for ever established and whose object is universal. Mary offers her merits acquired for us; above all, she offers those of Jesus and presents them acceptably by her all powerful prayer. And no grace descends upon the earth which is not dependent on her love and intercession.
This truth appears to be implicitly contained, not only in the dogma, but also in the worship of the Church. Worship, and especially public worship, is the outward expression of belief; in the manifestation of our respect and confidence, in our acts of reverence and invocation, we conform to the various means which connect us with God, with the Holy Virgin, and with the saints. And the special manner in which the Church honours and prays to the mother of God, exactly expresses her pre-eminent dignity, and corresponds to the rank which she occupies above saints and angels. To God alone belongs " latria," or adoration properly so-called, for He is the only Creator and the only Almighty. To angels and saints belongs the inferior worship or " dulia," for they are princes of the heavenly court, and we recognise ourselves as their servants and dependants. To Mary, and to her alone, belongs the worship " hyperdulia," that is to say, a superior worship to that of the other saints and of the angels, and this because of the divine motherhood which has given her a particular affinity with God. To her then must be paid the greatest honour; upon her must we place the most entire and absolute dependence ; to her must ascend the most frequent prayers, most sure of being granted. And one of the characteristics of this worship of Mary is that we honour and invoke her, at least by some memory or some mention, not only on certain days or on special occasions, but always, and in every part of the divine office. The eyes of the Church are always raised towards her, recognising by this her limitless power and universal mediation.
From the doctrine and preaching of the pastors, from the teaching of Christian leaders, from the communities filled with the spirit of the faith, the faithful draw the true idea of Mary and the sentiments which they must entertain towards her. She is the mother of God, the queen of the world, the all holy, and by these titles she is worthy of all respect and of all honour. She is the pattern of all the virtues, and 'her example encourages more especially purity without stain, humility, and love towards God and man. She is the mother, the mother of Jesus whom the child learns to know by seeing Him represented in her arms; the mother of Christ's brethren by that more than earthly motherhood before which all Christian mothers bow themselves and teach their children to bow. Mother of Jesus and our mother, she is worthy of the most filial love. Compassionate to the sorrows of her children on earth, and influencing the heart of her Son in heaven, she deserves and inspires a confidence which, as witnessed through all ages, has never been deceived. Was that beautiful phrase, "the all-powerful suppliant," first applied to Mary or to prayer ? It is never verified concerning the one except in relation to the other, and in Christian language it may be applied equally to both.
For nearly nineteen centuries the queen of heaven has never ceased to respond to the prayers and worship from earth by her protection and benefits. Taught by a long experience, the Church has named her its defence and succour. For Mary has protected it from its outside foes. We can call to remembrance those great days in which she gave victory to the Christian armies, or, after a severe storm, restored peace and the pontiff-king to Rome. Mary has defended the Church against the enemies of the faith; she triumphs over heresies, and she does this because the true doctrine concerning her person and her position establishes the true doctrine of Jesus Christ and His mission, and because she places spiritual weapons in the hands of the faithful, by which error is vanquished. But beyond all else she aids the Church in doing its own special work, which is the saving and sanctifying of souls. Her beneficent intervention has many times been shown in raising up scholars to teach the truth, preachers who declare it to the multitude, and apostles who carry it to yet other nations. The shepherds of souls, whether in Christian lands or in distant missions, have seen their work blessed when they have implored her aid to revive the faith in their people or to bring those who were still in heathen darkness to the knowledge of Jesus. There is no religious order which does not celebrate the part which she has taken in its foundation, and the care with which she has always surrounded it. And who can tell what devotion and godliness she has inspired by visions of herself, and with what encouragement and constant favour she has sustained the fervour of the faithful ?
The mother of all men, she is ever ready to help them and never refuses to assist them in their earthly troubles, thus winning their hearts by her goodness so that she may bring them to God. She delights in being called " the mother of mercy " ; she is the advocate of " poor sinners," that is to say, of those who feel their misery and desire to rise from it; to these, she, the all holy, never refuses to hold forth a helping hand. To Christians who faithfully honour and pray to her, she assists to innocent life, perseverance in good works, and finally, heaven. Upon those who turn in filial devotion towards her every day, who more fully give themselves to her, who surrender their souls to her influence, she bestows her choicest gifts; a purity more like her own, an inclination to holiness, and a familiar knowledge and intimate love of Jesus.
Here below, we lead a life of faith, believing in mysteries which, without contradicting it, pass beyond our reason, hoping for a happiness of which we have had no experience, loving a God whom we have never seen. We live in spirit in all these great realities of the spiritual world, of which nothing material reveals to us its existence or brings us into contact with it. This is the natural law. Yet, nevertheless, from time to time, and in exceptional circumstances, the veil becomes transparent. It may be a miracle, which points out as by the touch of a finger, an intervention from on high ; it may be a joy of the soul which makes us conscious of the work of a superior agent; it is sometimes by the vision of a celestial being. Our Lady loves to make these exceptions. Our own day has, less than any other, a right to deny her visions and her miracles. Happy are those privileged ones who in themselves have experienced her presence and her benefits! But does not Mary desire to make it known to each one that she is the mother of all, that she lives in heaven, and that she thinks of her children ?
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY
1 I Corinthians xv. 26.
2 Ibid. xv. 23.
3 Solomon's Song viii. 5.
4 Revelation xii., see the whole chapter, and also the commentary upon it by J. B. Terrien in La mere de Dieu et la mere des hommes, book VIII. chap. iii. t. IV. p. 59-85. We must be content here with a very rapid sketch.
5 St Augustine : de sancta virginitate, ii. (PL. xl. 397). See also chapter vi. of the same treatise.
6 It may be questioned whether Mary is not directly referred to in the verse which precedes the vision of the woman (xi. 19): " The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament. ..." If this interpretation, which has sometimes been suggested but without being thoroughly examined, were permissible, Mary would be the ark of the testament dwelling in the sanctuary of heaven, and from thence she would, so to say, illuminate her likeness, the Church, which is seen in the heavens below.
7 Denzinger : Enchiridion symbolorum ac definitionum, 73.
8 Romans xi. 29. "God having once desired to give us Jesus Christ by the Holy Virgin, the gifts of God are without repentance, and this never changes. . ." Bossuet: Sermon on the Immaculate Conception (1669), ed. Lebarq, t. v., p. 609; see the whole context. Bossuet returns to the same idea on other occasions.
9 Hebrews vii. 25.
9 Hebrews vii. 25.