Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women." — St. Luke i. 28.
We have now made acquaintance with this poor house of Nazareth, which Mary's prayer and Joseph's holiness had turned into the most wonderful sanctuary in which God was worshipped on earth. Here it is that the oracles of the prophets are about to be fulfilled, and that the thrice holy majesty of God is about to humble Itself. Here it is that the expected Saviour, after whose coming all mankind has so long been sighing, was about to come down from heaven, to take a body and soul like ours, in the womb of the most pure of all creatures. Is there one of us who does not feel annihilated at the grandeur of such a mystery? The intellect is stupified; faith alone enlightens us, and were it not for the text of the Gospel, so beautiful and so simple, no tongue of man could enter upon this august narrative. Let us humble ourselves, and instead of attempting to grasp with our intellect a blessing so inconceivable, let us be content to pour forth our hearts in grateful love towards our Incarnate Lord. O that our souls may be set on fire by this wonderful mystery of the love of God. O Jesus, Eternal Word, who hast come down from heaven to clothe Thyself with the weakness of a child in the pure womb of Mary, source of our hope, teach us the immensity of Thy self-sacrifice; teach us to love Thee as much as our hearts are table. Alas I how weak and miserable still will be our gratitude when compared with Thy sacrifice.
When we are awake before daylight, and, after our morning prayers, have gone out into the country in the first light of the dawn, have we not noticed the deep silence of all nature, the calm expectation with which every living thing awaits in silence the appearance of the sun? The mists roll away and rise up in the valleys, the sky reddens more and more, at length a point of light arises, sets the whole horizon on fire, bathes the fields and mountains in light, and shews us our homes, and the surrounding country as if through a golden haze. Then what a concert, what a hymn of joy breaks forth ! How all things sing and bless God, and if only our conscience is at peace, how do we ourselves break our silence and burst forth in blessings to God! Such ought to be the feeling of each one of us when we open the Gospel to read the history of the Annunciation. Let silence reign in our inmost souls, while we think of the birth and holy childhood of Mary, which we have already described, when all was still wrapped in shade* Now the eternal dawn begins to kindle the horizon; the Sun of Righteousness is about to appear. Let us then recollect ourselves, that we may be ready to rejoice when we have greeted the first glow of light which announces to the earth the Desire of all nations.
One morning, says a devout historian of the Blessed Virgin, at this same hour of recollection and silence, Mary was alone in the part of the house which was her sanctuary: her prayer was rising towards heaven with a fervour ever new. She was beseeching God " to permit her to see with her eyes, and to receive into her arms, the Infant Saviour promised to the world. Grant, O Lord, she repeated, that I may hold this little Infant in my arms, and load Him with caresses. (St Bonaventure, Meditations on the Life of Jesus Christ) Suddenly a shining light dazzled the eyes of the praying Virgin, and in the midst of this light stood a heavenly figure, bending low before Mary, in an attitude of reverence.
"The Angel Gabriel," says the Evangelist St. Luke, " was sent from God into a city of Galilee called Nazareth, to a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David: and the Virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women. And when she heard it she was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man ? And the angel, answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren; because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."
Who can express how much these simple words of Mary contain! That humble acceptance of the Divine Will, that faith which believes in such a mystery, that obedience which consents to become its instrument, as soon as the angel promises her that her spotless virginity shall be preserved? Mary's humble modesty is troubled at the salutation of the angel. When he bows down before her, as before a superior being, and calls her full of grace, she is at a loss to conceive what manner of salutation this may be. He announces to her her high destiny, but she only abases herself the more in the presence of God, the higher she is exalted above all creatures by the promise brought to her by the angel. Then, when the magnificent hope is given her of becoming the woman blessed amongst all others, so long promised to the earth, the liberator of the human race, the mother of the Redeemer, she bows her pure face to the earth, and says, " Behold the handmaid of the Lord." The time is come for us to learn all that we owe to Mary, to feel how far she has shared with God Himself the great work of our redemption, how much she deserves the wonderful names of Mother of Mercy and Second Eve, which the Church has given her. The first woman, through her sin, had caused the ruin of the whole human race; but it was, after her fall, when our first parents, leaving happiness behind them, were just entering a land of exile, that Adam, casting a look of grief and hope upon his sorrowful companion, called her Eve, which signifies, the holy Scripture tells us, that she was to be the mother of all the living. What a mystery is this I How could she, who was to be the mother of so many miserable beings, condemned beforehand and through her own fault, to suffering and death, how could she deserve the name of mother of all the living ? This name was given to her by the promise of God, which supported our first father in this terrible hour, and shewed him, in the unhappy woman at his side, bowed down with the weight of humiliation and repentance, the mother of a race hostile to the serpent, from which would one day spring the victorious woman who would bruise under her heel the head of this cursed one, and bring back salvation to the earth. "What does this mean?" says St. Epiphanius, one of the most illustrious doctors of the Church; " she had not this beautiful name while she was still in paradise; she is first called the mother of the living after she has been condemned to be for the future the mother of the dead. Hence this great bishop says that she is called thus as a type and figure of the Blessed Virgin, who is the true Mother of all the living, to whom she has given life by the birth of her child." (Bossuet, Elevations sur les Mysteries.)
Yes, Mary is the true mother of all the living, the second Eve, who has brought salvation and life into the world, to which the first Eve had brought only sorrow and death. "By a woman came death," says St. Augustine, " by a woman came life: by Eve ruin, by Mary salvation."
And do not doubt that Mary acted freely in this great work of our ( salvation. Just as Eve had brought ruin on us all by a free act of her will, when she listened to the words of the serpent, when she suffered that sacrilegious promise of pride, "you shall be as gods," to enter into her heart, when she stretched forth her hand, gathered the fatal apple, ate of it herself, and gave of it to Adam; so did Mary accept the command of God by a free act of her will when she replied to the angel, " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy Word." Eve, through pride, had believed in the' deceiving words of the devil, and this faith in the promises of the tempter had brought ruin on us. Mary in humility believes in the words of the angel, and this faith in the promises of God has saved us. A sin of rash credulity, says a doctor of the Church, is effaced by a holy faith ["Quod ilia credendo deliquit, hcec credendo delevit." (Tertullian, quoted by Bossuet.)]
How can our hearts remain cold at contemplating this wonderful mystery ? How can we fail to feel in the depths of out souls, gratitude and love for the God Who lowers Himself to us, "Who takes the humble form of a servant," Who clothes Himself in our misery and poverty in order to enrich us with His graces, and, together with this, deep devotion and tender gratitude towards that august creature whose purity made her meet to be the Mother of our Saviour, and whose humility, faith, and obedience, were the sources of our salvation ? This is the time to feel that inexpressible happiness and peace of which we spoke just now, and the joy of all nature at her awakening, the hymn of gratitude and of lore which she sends up to her Creator at the first rays of daylight, is only a feeble type of what our feelings should be when we hear the words of the angel: " Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," and then that humble acceptance of God's will with which the gentle Virgin answers: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word." Let us all rejoice, for the words on which our salvation depends are pronounced. A pure and brilliant dawn breaks, and the east is lighted up by the first rays of the Eternal Sun. Break out, then, into singing ye who for so many centuries have sat in darkness. The long night is at last come to an end, and the day is breaking. Its gladsome light shines at length over the horizon of our life, hitherto so sorrowful and every scene and labour of our pilgrimage is lighted up and transfigured by hope.
For our prayer, let us say to-night, with more fixed attention, deeper reverence, and more tender love, that most beautiful prayer of the Angelic Salutation. For a resolution, let -us promise Mary never to pass a day without saying to her, while pondering on the mystery of the Incarnation, the source of all our hopes: " Hail Mary, full of grace for, according to the great Bishop Bossuet, Mary's graces include, not only those which God gave her when He raised so humble a creature to the wonderful dignity of Mother of God, but every grace which we receive through her belongs to her, is part of her glory, and was included in the angel's words. "With him let us hail this pure creature of God, at once virgin and mother; and let Us also bless her in the words of the pious woman in the Gospel, who, seeing Jesus, cried out from the midst of the crowd: " Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts that gave Thee suck.!" Ave Maria!