Ave Maria. As we have said above, this name was inserted here not by the Angel, but by the devotion of the faithful. The Blessed Evangelist Luke says significantly: "And the name of the Virgin was Mary" (Luke I, 27.) This most holy, sweet, and worthy name was eminently fitting to so holy, sweet, and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea, star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix. Mary is interpreted lady. Mary is a bitter sea to the demons; to men she is the star of the sea; to the angels she is illuminatrix, and to all creatures she is lady.
Mary is interpreted: "a bitter sea"; this is excellently suited to her power against the demons. Note in what way Mary is a sea, and in what way she is bitter, and how she is at once a sea and bitter. Mary is a sea by the abundant overflow of her graces; and Mary is a bitter sea by submerging the devil. Mary is indeed a sea by the super-abounding Passion of her Son; Mary is a bitter sea by her power over the devil, in which he is, as it were, submerged and drowned.
Consider, first, that Mary is called a sea because of the abundance of her graces. It is written in Ecclesiasticus: "All rivers flow into the sea" (I, 7.) The rivers are the graces of the Holy Ghost, wherefore Jesus saith: "He who believeth in Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." This He said of the Spirit, which they were about to receive (John VII, 38.) All the rivers flow into the sea because the graces of all the saints flow into Mary. For the river of the grace of the angels enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the patriarchs enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the Apostles enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the martyrs enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the confessors enters into Mary; and the river of the grace of the virgins enters into Mary. All rivers enter into the sea, that is, all graces enter into Mary. Therefore, she above all can say that word of Ecclesiasticus: "In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, and in me is all hope of life and of virtue" (XXIV, 25.) What wonder if all grace flowed into Mary, through whom such grace flowed forth upon all ! For St. Augustine says: "Mary, thou art full of grace, which thou hast found with the Lord and hast merited to pour forth upon the whole world."
Consider, secondly, that Mary in the Passion of her Son was filled with bitterness when the sword of sorrow passed through her soul. Well could she say with Ruth: "Call me not Noemi, that is fair, but call me Mara, that is bitter, for the Most High hath filled me exceedingly with bitterness" (Ruth I, 20.) Noemi, who was at once beautiful and bitter, signified Mary, beautiful indeed by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, but bitter by the Passion of her Son.
The two sons of Mary are the God-Man, in His Divinity, and man, in his humanity. Mary is the Mother of one in the body, of the other in the spirit. Wherefore St. Bernard saith: "Thou art the Mother of the King, thou art the Mother of the exile; thou art the Mother of God, the Judge, and thou art the Mother of God and of man; as thou art the Mother of both, thou canst not bear discord between thy two sons." St. Anselm exclaims: "O blessed confidence, O safe refuge, Mother of God and our Mother!" The two sons of Mary were both slain in the Passion; the one in body, the other in mind; the one by the bitter death of the cross, the other by infidelity of mind. And, therefore, Mary's soul was filled with exceeding bitterness, as St. Augustine testifies, saying: "That loving Mother crying out with intensity of pain, beating her enfeebled breast, had so fatigued her body and all its members, that, tottering in her walk, she could scarcely drag herself to the obsequies of Christ." Thou seest now how Mary was a sea of the Holy Spirit; thou seest in what manner she was a bitter sea in the death of her Son.
Thirdly, consider that Mary is a bitter sea to the devil and to his angels, oppressed by him, as the Red Sea was bitter to the Egyptians submerged in it, of whom we read in Exodus: "The Lord drew back upon them the waters of the sea" (Ex. XV, 19.) Oh, how bitter and full of fear is this sea to the Egyptians! Oh, how bitter and full of fear is this Mary to the demons ! Therefore, St. Bernard saith: "Visible enemies fear not so greatly an immense multitude of hosts in battle array, as the powers of the air fear the name, the patronage, and the example of Mary; they flow and melt like wax before the fire, wherever they find frequent recollection of this holy name, devout invocation of Mary, and diligent imitation of her. Thou seest now in what manner Mary is a sea by the abundance of her overflowing graces, how she is bitter by the vehemence of the Lord's Passion, and how to the devils Mary is a bitter sea by the power she has of quelling them.
Now we must consider how Mary is interpreted "Star of the sea." This name is most suitable to Mary, for she fulfills the office that a star does to mariners at sea. We read, and it is true, that sailors, when they propose to sail to some distant land, choose a star by whose guiding light they may, without going astray, make their way to the land of their desire. Such is certainly the office of Mary, our Star, who directs those who sail through the sea of the world in the ship of innocence or penance, to the shore of the heavenly country. Well, therefore, doth Innocent say: "By what aids can ships pass among so many dangers to the shore of the fatherland ? Certainly," he replies, "chiefly by two. By the wood and by the star; that is, by faith in the Cross, and by virtue of the light which Mary, the Star of the sea, hath brought forth for us." Very properly is Mary compared to a star of the sea, because of her purity, her radiance, and her utility. For Mary is a most pure star, a most radiant star, and a most useful star. She is a most pure star by living most purely; a most radiant star by bringing forth eternal light; a most useful star by directing us to the shores of our true home country.
First consider that Mary is a most pure star by living purely and without sin. Therefore doth Wisdom say of her: "She is more beautiful than light, than the sun, and above all the arrangement of the stars, and being compared to light, she is found more pure." Some read here, "before" instead of "more pure," but either phrase is fitted to our Star. For Mary is indeed prior, or before, that is, she is most worthy, most great; Mary is purer than the sun, and the stars, and the light. For both in dignity and purity she surpasses the sun, the stars, and the light, yea, even every spiritual and angelic creature, of whom it is said: "God divides light from darkness," that is, the angels who stood firm from those who fell. Mary is prior to and purer than this angelic light. Hence Saint Anselm exclaims: "O Blessed among women, who surpassest the angels in purity, and the saints in piety!" Behold how Mary is a most pure Star by the purity of her life.
Secondly, consider that Mary is a most radiant star by emitting eternal light and bringing forth the Son of God. For she is that star of whom it is said in Numbers: "A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a rod shall arise in Israel." The rod is the Son of God, who is the ray of Mary, our star; this is that ray of whom it is sung: "As the ray of a star." St. Bernard says: "A ray from a star does not diminish its brightness, neither does the Son of the Virgin lessen the virginity of His Mother." O most truly blessed, O most truly radiant Star, Mary, whose ray has penetrated not only the world, but also Heaven, and even hell, as St. Bernard says: "She is that glorious and beautiful Star arisen out of Jacob, whose ray illuminateth the whole world, whose splendor shines forth in the highest, and penetrates even into hell." As Mary was a most pure star, by living most purely, so is she a most radiant one, by bringing forth the Son of God.
Thirdly, consider that Mary is a most useful star, by guiding us to our heavenly country, by leading us through the sea of this world to the grave of her Son, as to the gates of Paradise. She is as that radiant star which led the Magi most surely to Christ. Mary is that star which in the waves of the present life is most necessary to us. St. Bernard says: "Turn not away thine eyes from the splendor of this star, if thou wilt not be overwhelmed by storms. If the winds of temptation arise, if thou strikest on the rocks of temptation, tribulation, look upon the star, call on Mary." Therefore, lest thou shouldst be submerged in the sea of this world, follow the star, imitate Mary. It is the safest of paths to follow her, as St. Bernard says: "Following her, thou strayest not, praying to her, thou shalt never despair; thinking of her, thou shalt never err; if she upholdeth thee, thou shalt not fall; under her protection thou shalt not fear; if she is thy guide, thou shalt not grow weary; with her favor thou shalt attain thy end; and so in thyself thou shalt experience how truly it is said: And the name of the virgin was Mary."
Mary is also interpreted illuminatrix or lightgiver. For this virgin was wonderfully illuminated by the presence of the Lord, according to that word of the Apocalypse: "I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great power, and the earth was enlightened by the glory of him.... The Son of God is the Angel of Great Counsel; the earth illuminated by the glory of Him is Mary, who, as she was illuminated by His grace in the world, is now illuminated by His glory in Heaven, that, being thus illuminated, she may become a light-giver in the world and in Heaven. Therefore, we must consider that Mary, the illuminated, is a light-giver by her example, her benefits, and her rewards. She giveth light by the example of her life, by the benefits of her mercy, and by the rewards of her glory.
Mary is the light-giver by the example of her most luminous life. For it is she who by her glorious life giveth light to the world. She it is whose glorious life enlightens all the churches. She is the lamp of the Church, enkindled by God for this very purpose that by her the Church might be enlightened against the darkness of the world. Let the Church, therefore, pray, let the faithful soul pray: "For Thou lightest my lamp, O Lord, my God, enlighten my darkness." The Lord hath lit this lamp most radiantly, and by this light he puts to flight the darkness of our souls. St. Bernard felt this when he said: "O Mary, by the magnificent example of thy virtues thou stirrest us up to the imitation of thee, and thus dost enlighten our night. For he who walketh in thy ways, walketh not in darkness, but has the light of life."
Secondly, consider how Mary is light-giver by the benefits of her gracious mercy, by which so many in the night of this world are spiritually illuminated, as the Israelites in olden days were by a pillar of fire, according to the Psalm: "Thou didst lead them forth in a pillar of cloud." Mary is to us a pillar of cloud, for she protects us like a cloud from the fiery heat of the divine indignation. She also protects us from the heat of diabolical temptation, as it is also said in the Psalm, "He spread a cloud."
Mary is a pillar of fire. What would become of us wretched beings, so full of darkness, in the light of this world, if we had not so lucid a lamp, so luminous a pillar ? What would become of the world without the sun ? St. Bernard says: "Take away this lightsome body, the sun, what will give light to the world, and where is day? Take away Mary, this Star of the Sea, and what remains save an enveloping cloud, the shadow of death, and the densest darkness?" Thou hast seen how Mary is a lightgiver by her most transcendently luminous life, thou shalt now see how Mary is an illuminatrix by her most resplendent mercy.
Thirdly, consider that Mary is also illuminatrix by her most resplendent glory, which illuminates the whole of Heaven, as the sun doth the world, according to Ecclesiasticus: "The sun giving light hath looked upon all things, and full of the glory of the Lord is his work" (XLII, 16.) The work of the Lord is full of His glory; the most excellent work of the Lord is Mary. This work, as it was full of the grace of the Lord in this world, is full of the glory of the Lord in Heaven. Thus, therefore, Mary, giving light by her glory, hath looked upon all things, because through all the angels and all the saints she spreadeth the illumination of her glory. What wonder if the presence of Mary illuminates the whole of Heaven, who also doth illuminate the whole earth? For St. Bernard saith . "The presence of Mary lights up the whole world, and the very heavenly country itself glows more brightly from being irradiated by the splendor of that virginal lamp." So thou seest how Mary is illuminatrix by her light-giving life and also by her resplendent glory.
Now we have to consider how Mary is interpreted "lady." Such a title well becometh so great an empress, who is in very deed the sovereign lady of the inhabitants of Heaven, of the dwellers upon earth and in hell. She is, I say, the Lady of angels, the Lady of men, the Lady Sovereign in Heaven, on earth, and in hell.
First, consider that Mary is the Lady of angels; for it was she who was foreshadowed by the Lady Esther, of whom we read that she leaned delicately on one of her handmaids, and another maid followed her mistress, bearing up the train of her garment. By Esther the Queen we understand Mary our Queen; the two servants, the lady of whom is Mary our Queen, are all creatures, men and angels. Oh, what a joy to us miserable men that the angels have their Lord and their Lady from among us men. Truly is Mary Queen of the Angels. St. Augustine, addressing her, says: "If I call thee heaven, thou art higher. If I call thee the mother of nations, thou art above this praise. If I style thee Lady of angels, thou art truly proved to be so; if I call thee the type or form of God, thou art worthy of this name." Now the soul of man is the handmaid who in this world follows its Lady, Mary. It follows her, bearing up the train of the garment of its Lady, that is, gathering up the virtues and the example of Mary. But the angelic intelligences are the handmaids on whom Mary, their Lady, as it were, leans in Heaven. She leans upon them by familiarly associating with them; she leans upon them most delicately by taking her delight in them; she leans upon them most fully and entirely by communicating herself in her plenitude to the angels; she leans upon them as one most powerful by commanding them. Mary leans upon all the angels by her power. St. Augustine says: "Michael, the prince and leader of the heavenly militia, with all his ministering spirits obeyeth, O Virgin, thy commands; by defending in the body and by receiving the souls of the faithful, especially by presenting to thee, O Lady, those who day and night commend themselves to thee."
Now consider how Mary is the Lady of men in this world. Of this Lady it is said in the Psalm: "As the eyes of the handmaid ,are on the hands of her mistress," etc. The handmaid of the Lady Mary is every human soul, yea, the universal Church. The eyes of this handmaid should be ever on the hands of her mistress, for the eyes of the Church, the eyes of every one of us, should always look upon the hands of Mary, so that by her hands we may receive some good, and that we may offer to the Lord, by those same hands, whatever good we do." For it is by the hands of this Lady we have whatever good we possess, as St. Bernard testifies, saying: "God would have us obtain nothing which did not pass through the hands of Mary." By the hands of this Lady we should also offer to God whatever good we do, as St. Bernard exhorts, saying: "What little thou offerest, take care to commend it to those hands most pleasing and worthy of all acceptance, the hands of Mary, if thou wouldst not be repulsed. Well for us, beloved, it is indeed well for us, that we have such a Lady, who hath towards us such liberal hands, and is so powerful for us with her Son, that every one of us may have secure access to her." The devout Anselm saith: "O great Lady, to whom the joyful multitude of the just giveth thanks, to whom fleeth the terrified crowd of evil-doers, to thee, O all-powerful and merciful Lady, I, an anxious sinner, have recourse."
Thirdly, consider how Mary is the Lady of the demons in hell, so powerfully subjugating them that of her we may understand that saying of Psalm 100: "The rod of his power the Lord shall send forth." The rod of power is the Virgin Mary. She is the rod of Aaron, flowering by her virginity and fruitful by her fecundity. She is that rod of which it is said in Isaias: "There shall spring forth a rod from the root of Jesse." This rod is the Virgin Mary, a rod of power against the infernal enemies, whom she dominates by her great power. So great a Lady, of such great power, deserves to be loved by us, to be praised by us, to be prayed to by us, that she may protect us against our enemies. St. Anselm gives us the example, when, speaking to this Lady, he says: "Thee, O Lady so very great, my heart desireth to love, my mouth to praise, my mind longeth to venerate, my soul desireth to beseech, because the whole of my being commends itself to thy protection."
Now thou seest how Mary is the Lady of angels in Heaven, of men in this world, and of the demons in hell. Also how Mary is a bitter sea, the Star of the Sea, the Light-giver, the Lady. Mary is the Star of the sea to converted men; she is the Light-giver to the faithful angels; she dominates all creatures.
Let us pray, let us pray most devoutly to Mary and say: "O Mary, Bitter Sea, help us, that we may be plunged into the bitter sea of penance! O Mary, Star of the Sea, help us, that we may be guided rightly through the sea of this world ! O Mary, Lightgiver, help us, that we may be eternally illumined in glory ! O Lady Mary, help us that by thy government and empire we may be filially governed. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen."