The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 18.

Chapter 6

Mary' an Orphan. Part 3.

The Blessed Virgin's heart was wounded by this first grief, which was the prelude to so many others; it was her apprenticeship to sorrow. Adversity reached her on the threshold of adolescence; the noble child did not shrink back on her way; she wept,—for her soul, like that of her divine Son, was never dry or insensible,—but she drained the bitter cup, saying to God, "O Jehovah, thy will be done!" The mother and daughter put on mourning after the manner of the Hebrews; they were clothed in a coarse camlet, tight, and without folds, which was called a hair shirt; the head and feet bare, the face hidden in a fold of their robes, keeping fast and abstinence, 1 they remained sitting on the ground for seven days, giving way to tears with their relations, and praying for the soul of the deceased. 2 When the seven days were passed, Ann had lamps lighted in the synagogue; where she requested prayers for her husband, and added alms in proportion to her fortune. Mary, on her part, fasted every week, on the day on which she had become an orphan, and prayed every night and morning for the repose of her father's soul. These fasts and prayers for the dead continued for the space of eleven months. 3

"Welcome, 0 misfortune, if thou comest alone," say the Greeks. This first affliction was followed by one still more poignant, and another mourning soon came to be mingled with the mourning for Joachim. Scarcely was the mortuary lamp extinguished in the sorrowful abode of St. Ann, when it became necessary to light it afresh; hardly were the tears dried up which the Virgin had shed for one of the authors of her days, when she had to deplore the loss of the other. 4 One evening, Mary, accompanied by some of her relatives, went down from the temple to the narrow and dark street where her mother dwelt. The red and feeble ray of a lamp gleamed across one of the narrow trellised windows of the humble dwelling. Before the threshold were grouped together in silence those women, who even to this day throughout the East bewail the dead as a means of earning their support; like birds of evil omen which forbode funerals, these unlucky creatures were on the look out for some family in tears, to come and hire their venal lamentations. 5

St. Ann exerted her failing strength to bless her daughter, recommended her pathetically to her kinsfolk, but above all to Him -who is the father of the orphan, and slept the sleep of the just. 6 Mary bent down in tears over the cold visage of her mother; her light hair mixed with the grey hairs of the departed: it seemed as if she would have brought her to life again with her tears; but the breath of God alone can reanimate the dead! After the first burst of this sorrow, which was so justifiable, she closed with her hands the eyelids of the saint, and gave her one long and sorrowful embrace,—the last adieu of her people. 7

The grief of the young orphan was silent, profound, and nobly endured. Having no longer any other reliance upon earth but Providence, she took refuge in the bosom of God; thence, as from the recess of a tranquil bay, she heard the distant roaring of the storms of the world, and understood all the vanity of the things of life; the vanity of rank, of grandeur, of fortune, of beauty—things which glitter and pass away like the bubble upon the course of the wintry torrent, which itself disappears at the end of a season.

It is to this period of mourning, insulation, and solitary meditations, that a certain historian has judiciously attached the vow of perpetual virginity made by Mary; 8 it nowhere-appears that this vow was known to Ann and Joachim, and without their consent it would not have been valid in the eyes of the law, either civil or religious. 9 It was after their death, then, that Mary chose the Lord for her portion, and consecrated herself by vow to his service, without any limitation of time, says Bernardin de Busto, and with the intention of never departing from the temple. Like the august head of her race, the Virgin found that "one day passed in the tabernacles of the God of Israel was better than a thousand other days," and she too would have preferred to be the last in the holy place, rather than the first in the tents of Cedar.

1 Fasting was very severe among the Jews; they were obliged to be contented with certain kinds of pulse—beans, for example, or lentils, which were mourning diet. Eggs were allowed, for the form of an egg, being round, and in the shape of a globe, is the image of a man in affliction. Wine was no less forbidden than meat.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 28.)

2 During the days of mourning they recited the forty-ninth psalm. —(L. de Mod., Cont. des Juifs, p. 182. Lightfoot, in John, p. 1072.)

3 Basnage, liv. vii. c. 11, p. 182.

4 According to the best authorities, St. Ann and St. Joachim died at a short interval one from the other.

5 In the Levant women are hired to bewail the dead, who have no other means of earning their living. They are paid so much per hour, and they exert themselves to earn their salary by uttering the* most piercing cries.—(Burckhardt, Voyage en Arabie, t. ii. p. 139.)

6 Grave historians affirm that the Virgin was present at the death of her mother, which is quite conformable to the manners of the Hebrews.

7 This custom is very ancient; for Philo, recording the lamentations of Jacob for the premature death of his son, makes him say that he shall not have the consolation " to close his eyes, and give him the parting kiss."

8 Descoutures, Vie de la Sainte Vierge, p. 27.

9 A young girl might make vows among the Jews, and she could -even make a vow of virginity; but this vow was annulled by the authority of the father, because, being under the father's power, she could not violate the power which nature gives. All vows made by a young girl or a married woman, unknown to or contrary to the will of a father or a husband, were null.—(Num. c. xxx.) Some rabbins, however, maintain that it was necessary that the father or husband should annul them twenty-four hours after they came to know of them, in default of which they held good.—(Basnage, liv. vii. o.