- The Little Office
- 1 Mirror of Justice
- 2 The Saviour
- 3 The First Years
- 4 In The Temple
- 5 Nazareth
- 6 The Annunciation
- 7 The Visitation
- 8 The Magnificat
- 9 The Benedictus
- 10 Christmas
- 11 The Magi
- 12 At The Manger
- 13 Nunc Dimittis
- 14 The Presentation
- 15 Flight into Egypt
- 16 The Holy Innocents
- 17 Life at Nazareth
- 18 Jesus in the Temple
- 19 Jesus at labour
- 20 Death of St. Joseph
- 21 Baptism Of Jesus
- 22 Jesus In The Desert
- 23 Calling The Apostles
- 24 Marriage at Cana
- 25 Silence Of The Gospel
- 26 Start Of The Passion
- 27 Foot Of The Cross
- 28 Jesus Laid In The Tomb
- 29 Resurrection
- 30 Ascension, Pentecost
- 31 The Assumption
The Name Of "Mary " — Presentation In The Temple—The Psychology Of The Immaculate — Her First Years In The Temple (About 19-7 B.C.) part 2..
The childhood of Mary was, in fact, a model even for the most advanced. The Book of Wisdom speaks of a maturity of intelligence which usually accompanies grey hairs, and of a life without stain, which was like the years of old age. 1 Such was, from her earliest years, the maturity of Mary. Never did any actual fault—it is affirmed by the Church— 2 not even the least of venial failings, render her less pleasing in the sight of God.
This absolute exemption from all personal fault, like the exemption from hereditary stain, was exacted by the divine maternity; and the conception without sin had been a preparation for the whole of an immaculate life. One of the results of original innocence was absolute command of the faculties, the subordination of the passions and senses to the empire of reason. The mind of Mary was, without ceasing, centred upon God, her will was always steadfast in Him by a love, stronger than anything that could attract her among imagined blessings. Finally she was watched over by the ever vigilant Providence of God, and by His mercy always superabundant. So much help from without and within, bestowed upon her a confirmation in absolute grace much more perfect than the partial confirmation accorded to any great saints.
But that happy impossibility of sinning and even of having any inclination towards evil, did not subject her to any determinism, and made no obstacle, but far otherwise, to any of the conditions of merit. Even pain and sorrow were not to be escaped. The only unhappiness unknown to her was the struggle against inward temptation. There remained to her the painful effort of all the sufferings which she embraced or accepted ; privations imposed upon the senses by asceticism, or the fatigue of daily labour while awaiting the sorrows of the soul which God reserved for her. As for liberty, she possessed it as we do ; she possessed it in an even greater degree, for the danger of choosing evil is not of the essence of liberty, but is, on the contrary, an imperfection. 3 Her liberty was so much the more complete, because no error, no ignorance, no disturbance of the senses or passions obscured the judgment of the mind ; in a word, that perfect liberty, which, more like than ours to divine liberty, chose in full light and in full possession of itself whatever good it desired.
Nevertheless, though possessed of graces and incomparable gifts, she was a child, and remained one as long as other children. But as she is, among other things, the epitome of human life, her childishness was much less than that evangelical childishness so esteemed in the kingdom of heaven : the state of man morally adult who voluntarily humbles and abases himself, that he may, in all things, do the good pleasure of his heavenly Father. Subjection, the lower place in all things, continual dependence, the thousand acts of renunciation which almost unconsciously and without merit, others do, or are made to do, she, mistress of her judgment and of her will, accepted with free will.
If she was, joyously and of her free will, thus humbled, 4 it was because she was essentially meek. No one has ever had in the same degree as she, that " very real knowledge of himself, which makes man vile in his own eyes." 5 For, better than any of the greatest ascetics, better in certain respects than the angels of paradise, who in self-forgetfulness sing, " Holy, holy, holy," to Him who dwells alone, she saw the nothingness of every creature ; she felt between herself and God an infinite distance ; and bowing down before His supreme majesty, she ascribed to Him all the homage which she herself had received.
And her habit of looking up to God without ceasing, and of living as if lost in Him, explains her sentiments towards mankind. Not only her love for all, glowing, delicate, and attentive, flowed from her love towards Him, but also, from her humility towards God came her humility before His creatures. Those who, during her early years had authority over her, priests or pious women, represented in her eyes the only Master, and she was docile to their least desires, as signs of the will of heaven.
She was humble even towards her companions. Preferred by God before all His works, she did not esteem herself better than any of the children that surrounded her. How should she dream of exalting herself above them, whoever they might be, when she herself was so profoundly humble before God ? When a poor man feels his poverty so deeply that he has no thought save for his misery, how can it enter into his mind that he is richer than many others ? And because Mary had, more than other people, knowledge of her nothingness, she was of all people the most humble; and because she felt more intensely than others, the innate poverty of the creature, she esteemed herself also the least of all.
The more so that, if she chose to contemplate her own low estate, it pleased her to admire in others the gifts of God ; and, comparing that which in her herself was nothing, with that which was grace and virtue in her companions, she thought more highly of others, and humbled herself in spirit before them.
Assuredly, if she had fully considered in herself and in her neighbour, that which came from the creature and that which came from God, she could not, by an impartial judgment, have declared herself inferior: for in that case it would have been a false judgment, and the perfection of her mind preserved her from all error. But she could, in considering only a part of things, compare the nothingness of her created nature with the gifts which she saw in her companions, and we cannot doubt that she loved to do so. 6 Why should she thus consider, in an imperfect view, the nothingness and not the virtues in herself, and in others the virtues and not the nothingness or defects? There lies the secret itself, the lovely grace, the mysterious perfume of humility. In the words of the Canticles, Mary was the lily, and her companions were the thorns; and the lily had that supreme charm of not esteeming herself above the thorns, and of developing in ignorance of her beauty.
This good and lovely child, developed and grew up during those years, while God and men, but God especially, and almost entirely in everything, educated her in mind and heart.
When her soul, even at the moment of its creation turned towards God, her first thought was miraculously independent of her organism. Much was thus taught her, and it is probable that this marvellous method of intellectual operations was never withdrawn from her. Though this is but a fleeting gift among those contemplative people who receive the favour, with her it remained permanently. God had given her from the beginning a certain amount of knowledge, placed by Himself in her mind; and, during the course of her childhood and her life, He augmented, when He so willed, that treasure of enlightenment, which formed the "intuitive knowledge " of Mary. However, when her faculties began to act, and commenced to transmit to the brain the impressions from outside, a new mode of acquiring knowledge was added to the first, the mode used by us, following which the organic faculties presented to the mind the matter from which, by abstraction, they had drawn their ideas. After, and at the same time as the " intuitive knowledge," came the "acquired knowledge," which continued and harmoniously completed it.
In this class of acquired knowledge, Mary's childish intelligence had a normal and natural development. In many cases, it is true, she learned by the ordinary methods of human knowledge that which God had already otherwise shown her; and her progress consisted not in knowing other things, but in knowing them in a different way. But at other times she acquired in this way knowledge that was really new.
For God had not revealed all to His privileged one. She had never been really ignorant, with that ignorance of things that ought to be known, which is a humiliating imperfection; but she had to begin with the incomplete knowledge which is progressive, and which at the most suitable time gathers to itself fresh intellectual treasures. Further, God usually reveals things rather than words, and intelligible realities rather than material objects. Mary was therefore able to possess the spiritual doctrine of the Scriptures before knowing the details of the text, or the forms of the twenty-two graphic signs, or the differences between biblical Hebrew and the language as it was commonly spoken, or the melody used in chanting the psalms. And yet she could have abundant enlightenment upon the things of the created world, which enabled her to praise the Creator acceptably, even though she did not possess the art of mingling the threads of linen and gold in embroidery, or of executing other work after the manner of the women of her time and country.
She could therefore learn in the Temple, and in a certain degree, she could be taught. It is true, nevertheless, that she owed as little as possible to her teachers. Her intelligence was perfect; and that which she knew by Divine revelation gave her powerful aid in the acquisition of fresh knowledge. Under such conditions she must have learned, not only with an incredible rapidity, but, when scarcely placed upon the road, she must have outstripped those who had the duty of instructing her. Everything indicates, however, that she hid her progress as much as was possible, and made herself appear to advance at the same rate as her companions.
She progressed above all by personal study, reflection, the comparison of things that she already knew, and always by the unceasing aid of the Divine light. The wise men of the Old Testament were obliged to meditate without ceasing upon the Law and upon the Word of God ; and such was the constant occupation of Mary. She increased in the knowledge of God, of His works, of His providence, of His designs of love upon our hearts, upon Israel, and upon mankind; she penetrated into the meaning of the commandments, especially into the greatest of all, that of charity; she entered, even further than David himself, into the sentiments of the sacred songs; she followed, in the history of the Hebrew people and in the prophets, the progressive preparation for the kingdom of God. And, under the enigmas of the prophecies, and the veil of the symbols, it was always the Messiah that she saw; without knowing yet the details of His life and work, and quite ignorant of the part which she herself would take in it, but knowing the God incarnate who would bring light to men and save them by His humiliation, loving Him beforehand, and knowing that, in Scripture, in the world, and in history, everything related to Him.
Filled with these thoughts, the Virgin poured out her heart in songs of praise and fervent supplication. 7 She prayed for herself. For it is a universal law that if God of His goodness anticipates the prayer, it is His desire that prayer should obtain the graces which follow, and the increase of holiness. Inasmuch as He had called Mary to a pre-eminent holiness, He would make her pray to Him as human creature had never prayed before, and it would please Him to hear her beseech Him day and night that she might advance in His love. She prayed for all the world, asking God to hasten the hour of His salvation, and perhaps, in her humility, offering to be the humble servant of the Virgin who should one day give birth to the Messiah.
When Mary, before the altar of the old covenant, thus poured forth her praises and her prayers, she was not only one of the members of the human family, but the holiest of all and the most pleasing to God. She already represented the whole of that family. For it is her part to be at the same time maternal, royal, and sacerdotal, to carry within herself, and to symbolise, while surpassing it, all the faithful portion of humanity. Soon, in receiving the Christ, she would conceive with Him all the regenerated who are His members. Now, during the days of her childhood, she is the type of the first age of the human race, and of all the just under the ancient Law. She reunites in herself, she brings to perfection, and she presents to God all the worship, praises, and desires of that Church of waiting and preparation. Whilst, quite near her, the Levitical priest sacrifices and burns the flesh of victims which are worthless in themselves, she animates the ancient worship by the fervency of her spirit and her prayer; she offers to God the sacrifice which pleases Him, that of praise coming from pure lips and a spotless heart; and realising the insufficiency of the ceremonies of the law, and even of prayer itself, if it does not rise to Heaven through the only Mediator of man, she vivifies all the worship of the old world by faith in the Messiah, whose unique sacrifice will for ever bring peace to earth and heaven.
The transports of Mary's heart were more pleasing to God than the burnt sacrifices of the patriarchs and of the sons of Aaron ; they hastened the day of mercy, and of the new covenant. The ark of the old covenant was never placed in the sanctuary built on the return from the exile, and yet at that day, thanks to the humble child who prayed in its precincts, the new Temple was more glorious than the old; the symbol had already given place to the reality; it possessed the true Ark, upon which, more fully than in the days of Moses and Solomon, rested the majesty of God.
1 Book of Wisdom iv. 8, 9.
2 Council of Trent, session vi., canon 23.
3 As a created being her liberty was not intrinsically incapable of faltering; but the help to which reference has been made, rendered all failure a complete moral impossibility.
4 Saint Francis de Sales, Sermon for the feast of Saint Nicolas of Tolentino (10 September) ; ed. d'Annecy, vol. ix. 349. This sermon and the three sermons upon the Presentation of the Holy Virgin (in the same volume) abound in charming touches concerning the evangelical infancy and the psychology of the child Mary.
5 Saint Bernard : de gradibus hitinililatis, near the beginning (PL. clxxxii. 942).
6 Cf. St Thomas, 2ª 2ӕ, q. clxi., a 3. The whole of this article should be seen, for besides the theory of humility here set forth, it contains certain reservations which should also be taken into account.
7 The revelations of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, concerning the prayers which the Virgin made in the Temple, are well known. See Montalembert. M. Horn, the recent historian of the Saint, refers to Montalembert himself, and while adding scarcely anything quotes him in part. The revelation upon the prayers of Mary is referred to in the thirteenth century in the Meditations upon the life of Christ, chap. iii. Except for one or two details which might present some difficulty, it is an admirable work. There are many fine passages also, in particular those relating to the meditations of Mary upon the ancient priesthood and the expected Messiah, in the Vie intérieure de la Sainte Vierge, edited from the notes of M. Olier.
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY