Mary, The Mother of Christ By Father Clement Beck S. V. D, Part 2.


The angel in his message had mentioned Elizabeth, and so the Gospel says:”Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda” (Luke i, 39). It was a journey of about thirty hours, and it might well have taken Mary some four days to reach Elizabeth’s house. It is quite possible, according to the custom of the Jews, that St. Joseph accompanied his bride until she reached the house of her relative safely. Joseph might have been surprised at his bride’s profound recollection and quiet meditation, but neither did he ask her nor did she tell him the mystery of the coming Redeemer. Mary entering the house saluted Elizabeth.”And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost and she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord” (Luke i, 41–45). St. Bernard, commenting on these happenings, said: “Wonder follows wonder.” The miracle of the Annunciation in Nazareth is followed by the miracle in the house of Elizabeth. Illumined by the Holy Ghost, she spoke as if she had witnessed the Annunciation. She was the first to call Mary by her most exalted title, “Mother of my Lord,” that is, Mother of God. Another wonder took place; the infant in her womb leaped for joy: this being the moment foretold by the angel about the child who was to be the forerunner of Jesus, that it should be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb (Luke i, 15). Thus mother and child were sanctified by the presence of Mary and the Word Incarnate in her. Already here Mary exercised her office of mediating graces through Jesus.
Mary ‘s reply to Elizabeth’s salutation is the canticle of praise to God, familiarly called the”Magnificat” from its first word. It runs thus: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me; and Holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him. He hath shewed might in His arm, He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham too, and his seed forever” (Luke i, 46–55).
This hymn of praise to God for the favours bestowed on Mary and all mankind has never ceased being sung throughout the ages after Mary’s example.
The Bible concludes the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth with the following words:”And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house” (Luke i, 56). From this we conclude that Mary remained with her cousin till the birth of John the Baptist. The lesson we learn from Mary’s visitation and stay, during which time she must have been of incalculable help to her cousin, is that we too should be charitable and always ready to help our neighbour in whatever way we can.


On her returning home Joseph saw in his bride the signs of motherhood. As he did not know the mystery of the Incarnation, the situation must have been very painful both to Mary and to him, especially as Mary must have told him previously of her vow of virginity. She did not explain things to him, but praying hard asked God to reveal the mystery to Joseph, as He had done to Elizabeth. And God, hearing her prayer, revealed her true condition to St. Joseph in His own good time. The Gospel tells us that”Joseph, her husband, being a just man and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary, thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child and bring forth a son and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matt. i, 19–23.) We can well imagine how glad St. Joseph was at this revelation and we easily understand what the Gospel adds: Joseph rising up from sleep did as the angel had commanded him and took unto him his wife. (Matt. 1, 24.) This was a true marriage, although Joseph, accepting God’s revelation, respected Mary’s vow of virginity.
The question may well be asked here, why Mary married St. Joseph, when she had consecrated her virginity to God. The Fathers of the Church offer many reasons. First of all we must not forget that divine Providence was at work here in a special way. St. Augustine says that Joseph was a just man and such a great Saint, that Mary was given to him to protect her virginity in holy wedlock, as the Jewish custom was not favourable to virginity. The good name of Mary had also to be protected against calumnies for the sake of Christ, her Son. The enemies of Jesus later on said in order to destroy His influence:”Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. xiii, 55). What would they not have said, had Jesus been born out of wedlock? Furthermore, who was to look after Mary and her Child and furnish them with the necessities of life? St. Joseph’s help was vitally necessary in Bethlehem, in their flight to Egypt, and during their long stay in Nazareth. We can only admire God’s Providence in making St. Joseph the foster father of Jesus and the true but virginal spouse of Mary.


The next scene in Mary’s life lies in Bethlehem. St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem, obeying the decree of the Emperor Augustus prescribing a general census. As they belonged to the house of David, they had to be enrolled in the city of David, which was Bethlehem. On account of the census many people had come to Bethlehem, and Mary and Joseph, unable to find suitable accommodation, were forced to seek shelter in a cattleshed, where Jesus, the Saviour of mankind, was born in the humblest circumstances. The Gospel recording the birth of Mary s divine Son says:”And it came to pass that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered; and she brought forth her first-born Son (Luke ii, 6).
The Church during Christmas, untiringly sings the praises of the mother of our newborn Saviour. “Behold Mary has brought forth unto us the Saviour. Giving birth to the eternal King, she has combined the joys of a mother with the honour of a virgin; no one was privileged thus before her nor shall anyone be after her. On this day the Creator of mankind and King of Heaven deigned to be born of the virgin. The root of Jesse has budded forth, the virgin has brought forth the Saviour. O blessed Mother of God, undefiled thou hast borne today the Saviour of the world. Oh holy and immaculate virginity high above all praise; He Whom heaven could not enclose, thou hast enclosed in thee. Mother of God, intercede for us.” Such are the praises of the Church for Mary on the festival of the Nativity of Jesus. And indeed it is because she bore Jesus, that Mary is honoured with the highest title, “Mother of God.” For He, who was born of her, remained what He was, true God, and He assumed from her, what He did not have, His human nature.
The Gospel tells us that Mary, after having brought forth her Son, wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes and laid Him in a manger. We conclude from this that Mary did not suffer the pains of childbirth; her delivery was miraculous and glorious. Soon afterwards the shepherds summoned by the angels arrived and adored with Mary their new-born Saviour. How did Mary’s heart rejoice over this homage of the poor shepherds, and how must not her heart have overflowed with joy, when the three holy kings came to adore the divine Child! Let us, too, kneel down at the manger and with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and kings, adore our divine Saviour.


Forty days after Christmas a festival is celebrated, which is called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to the religious law of the Jews a mother had to visit the Temple for legal purification and offer her first-born son to God; the child being redeemed by a customary symbolical offering. Mary, the mother of the supreme Lawgiver and virgin most pure, was exempted from such a law; but nevertheless she wished to fulfil it and thank God and show her readiness to surrender her divine Son as the victim of our redemption. The Gospel of St. Luke describes this presentation of Jesus in the arms of His mother, and the Church jubilantly sings on the feast of the Purification:”O daughter of Sion, welcome Christ the King; greet Mary with loving embrace; for she, who is the very gate of heaven, brings to thee the glorious King of the new light; though in her arms she bears a Son begotten before the day-star, yet ever she remaineth a pure virgin. Hers was the Child whom Simeon, taking up into his arms, declared unto all peoples to be the Lord of life and of death, the Saviour of the world.” Simeon, who was a just and holy man, had received the assurance from the Holy Ghost, that he would see the Saviour before he died. Led by the Holy Spirit, he came to the Temple, and recognising in the helpless Babe the promised Saviour, he took with joy the Child Jesus from His Mother’s arms, and praising God, thanked Him for the fulfilment of His promise to send the Saviour. Death no longer held any terrors for Simeon, now, that he held in his arms his Lord and God, his Saviour, the Light of revelation for all those in darkness and the Glory of his people. Mary and Joseph wondered at the things which were said about their child. And holy Simeon blessing them turned to Mary and, as if preparing her for her coming sorrows, said to her:”Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and. for a sign which shall be contradicted and. . . . thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Luke ii, 34). The evangelist concludes the record of the presentation of Jesus by His Mother with the words: “When they had fulfilled everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned home to their city Nazareth” (Luke if, 39). Remembering the example of the mother of Jesus, Christian mothers today visit the church with their new-born infant in order to thank God and make a small offering, usually a candle.


The prophecy made by Simeon was soon to be fulfilled. Herod, then king of the Jews, having heard of the birth of Jesus, Whom he was told was of kingly descent, decided secretly in fear and hatred to kill the Child. However, the angel of the Lord was sent with a message to St. Joseph telling him of Herod’s evil designs and directing him to take Mary and the Child Jesus and flee into Egypt. Joseph, acting immediately upon the instruction given by the angel, left Nazareth by night on this difficult and hazardous flight to a foreign country. It was a journey of at least ten days, not spent in a comfortable train, but in great anxiety and discomfort on the back of an ass. How must not Mary’s motherly heart have grieved, that the Saviour of the world had to go into exile at the very beginning of His life. How great her suffering during the journey across the trackless desert! Fatigue, hunger, thirst must have tortured them, apart from the dangers of being attacked on the way by wicked men or wild animals. Such was the sword of sorrow and anguish piercing Mary’s heart, that we commemorate the flight to Egypt as one of her seven dolours. Mary, who must have suffered so much on this occasion, will certainly understand all those who come to her in their hour of need; and there are such situations in every human life which may be compared with the flight into Egypt. Be assured that in all the troubles of this life on earth we have an understanding Mother in heaven.
We do not know for how long Mary lived in exile. Possibly it was for some years, during which time Egypt was privileged to be the centre of the world, as our Lord and Saviour lived there, cared for by His holy Mother. Of one thing we are certain, that Mary did not despair in her exile, nor did she question God’s will. Jesus was her all, and He being with her, even exile was tolerable. Mary did not complain, for she knew that God’s arrangements are always the best. She did not question the reason, why God did not stay the hand of the tyrant king, Herod, instead of sending innocent people into exile. Mary, who had promised at the time of the Annunciation that she would be the handmaid of the Lord, was ready to serve Him not only in joyful days, but also in times of trial. In the days spent in Egypt she fulfilled her pledge. Remembering the words her great ancestor, David, had sung in Psalm 22,”My road may run through the shadow of death, but I fear no harm, for Thou O God art at my side,” her resignation in God’s holy will was complete. What a lesson for us; if we be exiled or misunderstood, hated, persecuted or forced to live in surroundings and circumstances not to our liking, we should never despair, but, bearing in mind the sufferings of our heavenly Mother, we should resign ourselves like her. God is also with us in whatever circumstances we are.


In due course the angel of the Lord brought news of wicked King Herod ‘s death to Joseph and commanded him to return to the Holy Land with the Holy Family. Joseph therefore took the Child and His Mother, Mary, and went to Nazareth, where they settled down in an humble home. In Mary the people of Nazareth saw only a beautiful young mother and her lovely child. Little did they realise that they were privileged to have living among them the Saviour of mankind and His Mother. They saw her preoccupied in her home, performing the various household duties, filling water at the well, lighting the fire, and cooking their frugal meals, cleaning, sewing, caring for her Divine Child, holding Him to her heart, whilst waiting for Joseph, who earned the wherewithal to maintain the Holy Family by the work of his hands. So it was that Mary lived in Nazareth, humble of heart, kind towards all, unwaited upon and unattended, like any servantless mother. And yet this simple life of Mary in Nazareth was a life most pleasing to God, a life over which the angels rejoiced; it was the life most perfect and most holy ever lived on earth by a mere creature, a life in perfect compliance with the holy will of God and entirely consecrated to the service of Jesus. Mary’s fine and skilful hands worked only for Jesus; the fine garments she made, the fine meals she prepared were for Him; the home she kept so clean out of love for Him; with her kind voice she spoke to Him; with her loving eyes she looked upon Him, Who was her only delight. With what reverence, devotion, perfection and piety must not Mary have served Jesus during those years. And what an excellent example our heavenly Mother sets us. Like her we should dedicate our lives to Jesus and do everything out of love for Him.