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 St. 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 St. 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 St. 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 St. 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 St. 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 St. 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. St. 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? St. 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 St. 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.