Monthly Archives: April 2013

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 12)

Chapter Five: The Heavenly Mission of the Immaculate Heart

            There’s actually one more element to Our Lady’s earthly mission, but it serves as a bridge to her heavenly mission, so let’s begin with that.  It is her consecration as Queen and Mother of the Church by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Her manifestly glorious, heavenly coronation would have to wait until she was bodily assumed into the Eternal Kingdom, but even while on earth she undoubtedly held a place of special honor among those who formed the first communities of the newly-born Church.

            Mary was the closest link to Jesus once He ascended to Heaven.  She knew Him more intimately than anyone else, and she enjoyed a more profound mystical communion with Him after He had ascended to his Father.  Mary had been filled with the Holy Spirit, intimately united to Him and wholly possessed by Him from the moment of her conception.  But at Pentecost the Holy Spirit placed a new and special anointing upon the Immaculate Heart of his beloved Spouse.   Jesus told St John at the foot of the Cross to behold in Mary his own Mother, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost opened the eyes of all the disciples to behold the same.

            So the Heart of the Blessed Virgin was opened to receive everyone as her own children.  Thus she became the universal Mother, who would eventually be recognized as the heavenly Queen, when she would be exalted at the right hand of her divine Son.  While she was still in this world, it was not Mary’s mission to evangelize the nations like the Apostles, but rather to be the contemplative Heart of the Church, the Seat of Wisdom, the honored Lady to whom all could have recourse when they needed counsel or prayer.

           Virgin-Mary-Miraculous-Medal Mary’s mission as Mother and Queen continues in Heaven.  God has made the Immaculate Heart of Mary the Mediatrix of all Grace so as to fulfill this heavenly mission.  Mediatrix of all Grace is the highest honor God could possibly bestow upon a creature, for it gives Mary an authority and an exalted mission held by no other save God Himself.  The element of power and authority that is Mary’s as Mediatrix belongs to her role as Queen; the actual distribution of graces that is Mary’s mission as Mediatrix belongs to her role as Mother.

            An article by Dwight P. Campbell entitled “The Holy Spirit and Mary,” gives us a concise expression of the mystery of Mary’s maternal mediation, according to the insights of St Maximilian Kolbe: “All grace, says the Polish saint [i.e., St Maximilian], ultimately comes to us from God the Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ, his Son, and is distributed by the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, in distributing all grace, works in and through Mary—not because he has to do so, but precisely because in his plan of salvation, God wills to do so.  And God wills to do so for a reason: Jesus, the Source of all grace, came through Mary via the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore it is fitting that all grace continue to come through Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.”

            St Maximilian himself says: “Just as the Son, to show us how great his love is, became a man, so too the third Person, God-who-is-Love, willed to show his mediation as regards the Father and the Son by means of a concrete sign. This sign is the Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, according to what the saints tell us, especially those who love to consider Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit. This was the conclusion drawn by St Louis de Montfort, in accordance with the teaching of the Fathers… Since the death of Christ, the Holy Spirit acts within us too, by means of Mary.”

            Let us remember the divine logic and beauty of this mystery: “Jesus, the Source of all grace, came through Mary via the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore it is fitting that all grace continue to come through Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.”  Why should any grace not come to us through Mary once the divine Source of grace came to us through her?  If the Blessed Mother of God really is to be the Mother of God’s children, then God must give to her everything she needs to take care of us.  What we need most, because nothing is more important than eternal salvation, is divine grace, so God has seen fit, in his infinite wisdom and everlasting love, to entrust Mary with all his graces.

            Thus, in union with the Holy Spirit—a union which characterized her entire life—the Immaculate Heart and heavenly hands of Mary are the means by which all graces are granted to us.  While it is not necessary to explicitly invoke Mary for every grace we seek, if we choose to do so we will discover such a wealth of love, beauty, sweetness and goodness that we will always desire to be as personally and consciously united to our heavenly Mother as possible.

            Our Lady’s mission is accomplished in us through the events and experiences of our daily lives.  As Mother, she is also teacher, and our union with her Heart is the means by which she communicates divine truths to us and helps us live according to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of his Church.  If we make Mary’s Heart our home and refuge, as she has asked us, we will be able to see the events of our lives and of our world through the “lens” of her Heart.  She will help us see things as she does and will help us understand and interpret them in the light of the Holy Spirit.

            Mary will also help us understand the Scriptures if we consciously unite ourselves to her Heart and seek her assistance whenever we read the Bible.  A good mother will take her child on her lap, and from the earliest years of the child will teach him or her about God and the Faith.  Our heavenly Mother does the same for us.  She has witnessed the events through which our salvation was won for us, and she herself was an integral part of them.  She has been filled with the Holy Spirit from the first moment of her conception, so she is rightly called the Seat of Wisdom.

            If we ask our Mother, we will be able to interpret the Scriptures from the perspective of her own Heart, and she will show us things we’ve never recognized or understood before, and at times she herself will speak to us through the inspired words.  We can hear her voice, for example, in passages like this: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you making my prayer with joy… And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to feel thus about you, because I hold you in my heart… For God is my witness, how I yearn for you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3-8).  All this is just a part of what it means to live in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

To be continued…

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 11)

Two Pierced Hearts

            Mary’s Heart was definitively pierced in the mystery of the piercing of another Heart, that of her divine Son on the Cross.  The sorrows of two pierced heartsher life and the anxious anticipation of this inescapable moment all came to their climax and full realization as Jesus offered his life in sacrifice for us.  The Lamb of God was taking away the sins of the world as his human life was being taken away from Him.  Yet we know that this could happen only by his own will and choice, for He said, “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn. 10:17-18).

            The Mother shared in the sufferings of the Son in a unique and incomparable manner, not only feeling his pain but also sharing in the sacrifice, the offering of his life to the Father.  A prayer to Mary, which is part of a devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds of Jesus, speaks of “the offering you made to the Eternal Father of His and your Only-Begotten, for a holocaust and victim to appease His wrath for my sins.  I compassionate you for the bitter pain which you suffered.  I thank You for that immeasurable love through which you bereaved yourself of the fruit of your womb, true God and true Man, to save me, a sinner…”

            As the Mother was about to be bereaved of her only Son, He gave her countless children through his precious words, proclaiming to the whole world, to you and to me, through the holy Gospels: “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27).  Having offered his sufferings for our sins, and then entrusting us to Mary—as an assurance that we would be cared for in this land of exile—Jesus was ready to return to the Father.

            I believe that the piercing of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was consummated at the moment Jesus’ own Heart was pierced by the soldier’s lance.  Jesus had already died by this time, so He could not feel the lance piercing his Heart.  But Mary felt it in her own Heart, and this was her way (we each have our own) of “completing in [her] flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24).  Thus the Two Hearts, which were inseparably united in love, were now even more profoundly united in the suffering that is the highest expression of love.  And this suffering, this love, were at the heart of the mystery of the redemption of the world.

            In an article entitled “The Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary,” Mother Adela, foundress of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, writes this, beginning with a quote from Blessed John Paul II:

“‘At the foot of the Cross, a sword pierces Mary’s soul, fulfilling the words of Simeon… united to the redemptive Sacrifice of her Son is the maternal sacrifice of her heart’ (Homily, September 15, 1988).  John Paul II spoke of this singular participation of the Virgin Mary in the redemptive suffering as a ‘spiritual crucifixion.’  It is a ‘spiritual piercing’ whose purpose is to actively cooperate in giving birth, communicating life through the openness of Her maternal Heart. The spiritual maternity of Mary over mankind reaches its full realization on Calvary when, in an explicit way, Jesus exclaims from the cross, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’  Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’

“John Paul II, in his visit to the Sanctuary of Fatima in 1982, explained to us that these words of Jesus opened the Heart of Mary for Her spiritual maternity over the Church: ‘Woman Behold Your Son’ opened in a new way Mary’s Immaculate Heart. Then the Roman soldier opened the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a lance shortly after He expired.  Thus, ‘Mary’s Heart was opened by the same love for man and for the world with which Christ loved man and the world.’  Just as the Heart of Jesus in the moment it was pierced gave birth to the Church and remained eternally opened to pour graces of salvation over humanity, the Heart of Mary, united spiritually to the piercing of Her Son, remained opened to always embrace with maternal love all those who accept the redemption of Her Son and to exercise Her maternal mediation over all men and in every historical moment…

“The love of the Heart of Jesus was capable of transforming death into life, pain into redemption, and the wound from His side into an open door and fountain of salvation.  The love of the Heart of Mary was capable, through Her perfect and unconditional communion with the redemptive work, of bearing the same destiny of Her Son, unto the foot of the Cross.  From the pierced Heart of Christ we have received salvation, liberation, and redemption.  How many graces flow through the wound of His Heart!  From the pierced Heart of Mary is born Her spiritual maternity which she exercises with generous diligence, powerful intercession and maternal mediation over the Church and the world.”

            This passage suggests that as the earthly mission of the Heart of Mary would come to a close, her heavenly mission would begin.  To this we now turn.

To be continued…

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 10)

Chapter Four: The Piercing of the Immaculate Heart

            The mystery of the piercing of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart to some extent coincides with her mission on earth, the subject of the previous chapter.  The climax of the piercing comes, of course, on Calvary, but Mary’s Heart was not free from sorrow and pain during the years that preceded the saving sacrifice of her Son.

            Only forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary learned something of her Child’s destiny and her personal participation in it.  As she and St Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, she heard from the aged Simeon that her precious Son would be set for the rise andPierced-Heart-of-Mary fall of many in Israel, a “sign of contradiction” that would meet with opposition.  Mary also learned something of her own share in Jesus’ Passion: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk. 2:34-35).

            Mary’s Immaculate Heart is often depicted with a sword piercing it, precisely because of this prophecy.  It is a wound she has shared in a mystical way with the Pierced Heart of Jesus.  But since she learned of their intimately-united destinies while Jesus was merely an infant, Mary had to carry this “cross” for three decades before the decisive moment of the consummation of our redemption.  As the Child grew and lived in his innocent joys, the Mother would feel something of that sword and walk under its shadow, offering in advance her participation in her Son’s future sufferings.

            As I wrote in my book A Place Prepared by God:

“We gain here an enhanced awareness of the way the Mother suffered even before her Son’s Passion.  For He was just an infant at the time, but already his redemptive sufferings were known by Mary through prophecy, and so her own suffering began in Jesus’ infancy and continued in secret as the Child grew into manhood.  Through her contemplation and her ceaseless ‘yes’ to all God asked of her, Mary would guard his mission in advance in her heart.  It is worth noting that the word in the original Greek New Testament translated ‘soul’ (which was to be pierced by a sword) is psyche, which can also be translated ‘life,’ as it is in other places in the Bible.  This supports the interpretation that it is not only at one moment that a sword would pierce the Mother’s Heart and soul (even if the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion is the climax point of Simeon’s prophecy).  Rather, her whole life would be thus mystically pierced, marked as a sharer in her Son’s sufferings.  Mary’s ‘passion’ began when she became aware of the destiny of her Son, and it remained integral to her existence, though perhaps muted at times, during the whole life of Jesus.”

            Mary had more things to ponder (and suffer) in her motherly Heart as Jesus grew.  When the boy Jesus did not tell Mary and Joseph that He would remain in Jerusalem after the Passover, they searched anxiously for Him.  Having found Jesus after three days, they were surprised to hear Him say: “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?”  This was the first indication that Jesus was already interiorly preparing for his public mission, even though it was nearly two decades away.  Again, as at the birth of Jesus, St Luke directs us to the Heart of Mary: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).

            I have at times begged my heavenly Mother to allow me to be one of those “things” she keeps in her Immaculate Heart, and to be as solicitous for my welfare as she was for that of her only Son. I pray that she would also lovingly attend to the mysteries of God to which my life is directed, seeking me out if I stray and making sure that I return home with her and remain obedient to her, as Jesus did.  To be kept in the Heart of Mary is to be assured of remaining on the path to Heaven.  If you ever look for me and can’t find me, you now have no excuse.  Did you not know I would be in my Mother’s Heart?

Three Moments of the Heart

            There are three “moments” in the Gospel, before we arrive at the Passion, which would have affected the Heart of Mary.  Each contained both blessing and suffering, and each served to take the Mother deeper into the mystery of her divine Son.

            The first moment is the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11).  The suffering here is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when Mary would have to give up spending most of her time with Him.  She surely was glad for others to have the opportunity to know and love Him.  Yet she knew that He would also be exposed to the bitter opposition that St Simeon had foretold, which would result in his condemnation and execution.  The blessing is, of course, the working of Jesus’ first miracle at Mary’s request.

            When Mary pointed out to Jesus the need of the wedding guests, He at first seemed to distance Himself from this problem, evidently not wishing at that hour to set in motion the chain of events that would play out once his divine powers were manifest.  But Jesus had been obedient to his beloved Mother all his life, and perhaps this act of filial obedience and deference to her wishes would be the point at which He would assume his role as Master of the disciples who had very recently come to follow Him.  It was as if He were saying to Mary: “I will do this for you, dearest Mother, but know that this manifestation of my glory and power will mark the end of our quiet life together, for I will now have to give all my time and energy to preaching the Kingdom of God throughout Israel, gathering souls for the harvest.”

            After the miracle, the evangelist adds a rather tender detail: Jesus decided to spend a few days with his Mother and relatives and friends, before launching out on his public ministry.  We can be sure that Mary kept all these things in her Heart as well.

            We should learn a lesson from what happened at Cana: Jesus still works miracles at Mary’s request.  Therefore we should always seek her intercession with her Son and Lord when we discover that we “have no wine,” that is, whenever we are in some particular or urgent need.

            The second moment occurred when Mary and some relatives came to see Jesus in a place where He was preaching.  He used the opportunity as a “teaching moment,” because his audience needed to learn something.  If they thought that Jesus placed family ties above seeking the Kingdom of God—by leaving off preaching to meet with his Mother and relatives—then how could they take Him seriously when He said things like, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37)?  So when He was told his Mother and “brethren” were there to see Him, He said: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:21).

            Did Mary understand right away why Jesus said what He did?  We can’t be sure.  We do know that from the beginning Mary was the one par excellence who heard the word of God and did it, so it was actually a sort of veiled blessing for Mary.  Her whole life, and everything we see in the Gospels—ever since she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word”—testifies to her faithfulness.  Yet in the eyes of the people, it would have seemed like Jesus was putting distance between Himself and the one He loved most in this world.  So this initial apparent refusal of Jesus to meet with her could have been another wound in her Heart.  Yet the Gospel doesn’t say that He didn’t meet with her after He finished preaching!

            The third moment is not unlike the second.  A woman in the crowd blessed Mary by saying to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”  Jesus’ response was similar to that which He gave previously: “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27-28).  It is incontestable that there is no womb more blessed than the one that held the Lord, and there are no breasts more blessed than those that fed the Divine Infant and kept Him alive.  Yet Mary is blessed on both counts, for she also was called blessed for her faith in God (Lk. 1:45), which is a blessing open to all, unlike the other blessing which no one but Mary could receive.

            Since Jesus came to this world to bring divine blessing to all (and not only to his Mother!), He had to show how all could share in his blessing.  The word “rather” in Jesus response seems to discount the blessing of Mary’s motherhood (which Jesus, of course, would never do), but this isn’t the best or only possible translation of the word.  The Greek word menoun, usually translated “rather” in this passage, can also mean, “yes indeed,” for the term is meant either to add something to or subtract something from what immediately precedes it.  So Jesus, instead of apparently contradicting the woman, could have been agreeing with her and simply adding something important to what she said.   So the best way to understand Jesus’ words is this: “Indeed, and those are also blessed who hear the word of God and keep it.”

            Again, we don’t know quite how Mary felt about all the things being said, both the blessings and what may have seemed a redirection of them, but we can be sure that she pondered them all within her Heart.

To be continued…

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 9)

The Heart of the Mother

Mary was created to be the Mother of God.  This is her reason of being and her mission in this world.  St Maximilian Kolbe says that her mission was not something in addition to her being, for she was created, destined from the very beginning, to fulfill God’s will by giving birth to the Son for our salvation.  This is why Mary was immaculately conceived.  She was uniquely chosen, and hence uniquely graced, for this most sublime mission, one that has no equal in the lives of the holiest of saints.

So the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a motherly Heart.  A mother’s love is the strongest, most loyal and tender love there is, and Mary’s Heart heldmadonna_and_child within it the fullness of maternal love, for her Heart was created to love God as her own Son.  Thus the Immaculate Heart of Mary has a limitless capacity for love—and also for suffering, for whoever loves much will inevitably suffer much.

The Bible tells us the story of the birth of Jesus: the census, the difficult journey to Bethlehem, the rejection of the innkeepers, the birth-giving in poor and harsh surroundings, the apparition of angels, and the testimony of the shepherds who came to worship the newborn Lord and Savior.  St Luke ends this account with a very precious detail: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19).  This is the first mention of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, which, as we see, is not only a loving, motherly Heart, but also a contemplative Heart, one that reflects upon the mysteries of God.

Mary silently, prayerfully meditated upon all that God had done in and through her.  She was probably amazed to find herself at the very center of God’s plan of salvation for mankind.  But as Handmaid of the Lord, she willingly consented to be his Mother as well, exercising a maternal care and even authority over the One who humbled Himself to become an infant, dependent in all things upon his Mother.

We can’t possibly imagine the joy and wonder Mary must have experienced as she held her newborn Son and nursed Him at her breast.  This was not Joseph’s son; this was God’s Son!  He was Mary’s Son, too.  This Son is the Word through whom all things were made.  That means that He who created Mary humbled Himself so much—and loved Mary so much—that He accepted to become so helpless as to need the milk of Mary’s breast just to live!  This is the beginning of the boundless, sacrificial love for us that the Son of God manifested.  Throughout his life, and for all eternity, He would love Mary most of all.

It shouldn’t be difficult to understand why God would always love Our Lady far more than any other creature.  She alone was chosen to give humanity to his Only-begotten Son.  Therefore every gift of which the eternal, infinite Divine Mind could conceive was lavished upon Mary.  Because she was created precisely to be the Mother of the Son of God, nothing would be spared in making Mary the absolute summit of created beauty, perfection, and holiness.  How could it be otherwise?  If God withheld any perfection whatever from the Blessed Virgin, for what nobler creature could it be reserved?  There is none, of course, so God chose to give everything to Mary.


Like Little Children

Perhaps here we can reflect a bit on what the relationship of Mother and Son says about our relationship to the Blessed Mother.  I’ll have more to say about this later, for it is through our relationship with Mary that we find Heaven in her Heart.  For now, let us reflect on the fact that we are like little children before her, and it is only as little children that we become fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus often said.

A nursing child lives in complete and constant dependence upon his mother.  She is the source of life, love, warmth, security, and simply everything for the child.  So the child rests in her, opens completely to her, finds full contentment in her, needs her at every moment and cannot endure being separated from her.

Our relation to our heavenly Mother is similar, even if it cannot be precisely the same.  Mary provides us with spiritual warmth, nourishment, and the security that only a profound and constant maternal love can offer.  In return we offer her our trust, surrender, and dependence upon her love and her mediation of divine grace to us.

St Louis de Montfort (1673 – 1716) develops this in his writings. He reminds us that if the Son of God Himself chose to be dependent upon Mary and obedient to her as his Mother—and if we must become like children to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven—then we have every reason in the world to submit ourselves with love and trust to the motherly care and protection of Our Lady, who will nurture us as her own dear children.  “Like newborn infants,” St Peter urges us, “long for the pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2).  This is what our Mother provides for us as Mediatrix of Grace.  Through her constant nurturing presence, we will, as the Apostle continues, “grow up to salvation.” Of course, we are adults, not infants, yet there is still something precious we can derive from this sort of biblical imagery and the intimate relationship with our heavenly Mother that it suggests.

The most intimate adult relationship is that of marriage.  Even though this type of union or bonding is profound and precious, by the very fact that we are adults it is always possible for us to be independent, calculating, even dishonest and unfaithful, or to withhold affection or respect.  A little child can do none of that.  A child can only love, give, receive, draw life from her who gives it, and embrace her with his whole being in return.  This is what we ought to learn in our relationship with Mary, our heavenly Mother.  There should be no place for calculation, the sense of self-sufficiency that comes from pride, or anything that humans tend to do to create distance from each other.  Spiritually seen, we ought to be like innocent, trusting children, secure in our Mother’s arms, allowing her to press us lovingly to her Heart.

            Since we are considering Mary’s motherhood and the mystery of Jesus’ birth, I would like to present a little Christmas scenario, something that speaks of our intimacy with both Mother and Child, something that speaks of hearts.  This came to my mind’s eye in prayer, and since it moved my heart I thought I would share it with you.

            I approached the little cave where Christ was born.  Only He and his Mother were there at the time.  He was still lying in the manger.  I entered on my knees, and approached them that way.  The Divine Infant was lying quietly, and Mary was close by, looking at Him lovingly.  She also looked at me, her eyes seeming to question me as to what I was seeking.  I told her I wanted to bring a gift to the Child, but I was grieved that I had nothing to offer.  Mary said to me, “You still have a heart.”  I asked, “Will He accept that?”  She looked toward Him and then to me, nodding slightly.

            So in spirit I removed my heart from within me and placed it in his little hands.  He took it and placed it against his Heart, and it disappeared inside.  Then Mary took the Child Jesus into her arms, and pressed his Divine Heart lovingly to her Immaculate Heart, with mine somewhere in between.  She then looked at me, smiled beautifully, and said, with sweetness and satisfaction: “There.  Now your heart is ours, forever.”  And I knew that this is what Heaven would be like.

            This precious intimacy will be our Paradise.  It will begin now, if we so desire, if we do whatever it takes to render our hearts pure and open to grace.  To belong to God, to belong to Mary: this will be our joy in time and in eternity.

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 8)

The Heart of the Handmaid

Having been set apart for God, Mary lived her youth in profound contemplation and devotion to God, while at the same time attending diligently to whatever work or studies her parents required of her.  She set her Heart on things of Heaven, as the Apostle Paul would later urge us all, because even though the fullness of the mysteries of her own life were not clearly revealed to her, she knew her deepest identity: the Handmaid of the Lord.  Mary did not realize, in placing herself wholly at his service, that she would therefore eventually be glorified as the Queen of Heaven—her profound humility would never have permitted her to have such a thought!  But her life is the most dramatic example of what her Son would later say: “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Mary’s life of prayer and loving service to God helped prepare her for her life’s mission, which hadn’t yet been revealed to her.  But she still Annunciationcouldn’t help being taken aback by the appearance of the glorious Archangel Gabriel from Heaven.  The first word out of his mouth was: “Rejoice!” (Lk. 1:28).  This greeting is usually translated “hail.”  But that is not only an inadequate translation from the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), it also fails to capture the spirit and power of the moment.  I believe that St Luke wanted his original readers to share the joy of that astonishing encounter.  Our hearts, too, ought to be filled with joy as we hear the annunciation of our salvation.

I wonder if even this great Angelic Announcer didn’t need a few moments to compose himself before he could speak at all!  Even though Mary is the Handmaid of the Lord, all the angels are still her servants, because the holiness of the Blessed Virgin far surpasses even theirs.  This is given dramatic expression in another liturgical text from the Byzantine Christian tradition: “Before the incomparable grace of your virginity, before the beauty of divine brightness radiating from your holiness, Gabriel was struck with fear, O Mother of God, and cried out: ‘What praise worthy of your holiness can I offer you?  What sublime name can I call you?  But in accordance with the command given me, I sing: Rejoice, O Full of Grace!’”

Full of Grace.  This brief expression speaks volumes on the mystery of the Mother of God.  The translation “full of grace” best expresses the term in the Christian context of the Gospel, while the other possible translation, “highly favored,” reflects only the secular usage.  This would not be of interest to the evangelist St Luke, who was only interested in the things of God.

What is still more important is the form of the word, which implies something done in the past that still stands today, as when we say, “it is written,” which means it once was written and remains so now.  So by calling Mary “full of grace” using that form of the word, St Luke is telling us that the Archangel from Heaven was beginning the revelation of the mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and personal sinlessness.  She had been filled with grace from the moment of her conception, she remained so at the Annunciation, and she remains so forever.

The Archangel Gabriel went on to say, “The Lord is with you!”  This is a biblical way of expressing God’s choice of someone for a special mission or honor.  Humbly unaware of her great privileges, and the great things the Almighty intended to do in her, Mary was troubled that the angel would say these marvelous things to her, full of such high praise.  But the holy angel assured her that all of this was straight from God, who had claimed her as his own, choosing her to be the Mother of his eternal Son. The power of the Holy Spirit would make her pregnant with God, thus allowing her to remain a virgin for the rest of her life.  This is crucially important: what God solemnly consecrates for his own use can never be returned to ordinary usage again.

As Mary pondered these astounding, unprecedented words from Heaven, her Immaculate Heart beat with love for God, and perhaps also with a little fear.  God Himself was seeking Mary’s permission to become man inside her own body!  Nothing even remotely like this had ever happened or will ever happen again in the history of the universe.  The angel waited for the response that would determine the course of human history and the salvation of countless immortal souls.  “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38).  Now the Word would become flesh in Mary and dwell among us, and henceforth Mary would be in truth the Mother of God.

There are some who do not accept this beautiful title of Mary, “Mother of God,” at least in part because they do not understand it.  But the theological basis is clear.  Jesus is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Son incarnate, having assumed our human nature in Mary’s womb. Mary is therefore the Mother of God the Son, precisely insofar as He is incarnate.  A woman can only be the mother of a person, not a nature.  So as Mother of the Divine Person who is the Son of God made flesh, Mary is rightly called the Mother of God.

One can also simply appeal to the Bible for evidence that Mary is the Mother of God.  It is explicitly stated in the Gospel of Matthew that Mary is the mother of Him who is called Emmanuel (1:22-23), which means “God with us.”  Jesus is therefore God with us.  If, then, the Bible says that Mary is the Mother of “God with us,” how could any true Christian dare object to her being called the Mother of God?

Before Emmanuel made his appearance, another aspect of Mary’s mission had to be carried out.  When she heard from the angel that her aged kinswoman Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary went to visit her. Aside from demonstrating Mary’s selflessness and charity, this visitation also introduces us to Mary as Mediatrix of Grace.

Bearing Christ within her, Mary could bring Him to others.  Having been filled with the Holy Spirit since her conception, Mary could communicate his grace to others.  Scripture tells us that two things happened when Mary merely greeted Elizabeth: the child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Being thus filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth immediately began to praise Mary and her unborn Son with these immortal words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk. 1:39-45).

At the sound of Mary’s voice, the Holy Spirit was communicated to both the unborn John and the soul of Elizabeth.  The Archangel Gabriel had said to John’s father, Zachariah, that his son would “be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb” (Lk. 1:15).  This prophecy was fulfilled when Mary greeted Elizabeth.  So the Blessed Mother, because she both carried Christ in her womb and was filled all her life with the Holy Spirit, became the Mediatrix of Grace to Elizabeth and to John.

These, then, are the two bases for our understanding of Mary’s ongoing mission in Heaven as Mediatrix: she is the Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.  Hence the Holy Spirit works through Mary to bring grace to us today, just as it happened when the Holy Spirit came to Elizabeth and John through the God-bearing Mother.

Mary responded to these wonderful manifestations of divine activity with her immortal Magnificat (Lk. 1:46-55).  For she was not only aware that the Almighty Holy One had done great things in and for her.  She also saw how God was already working through her for the sake of Elizabeth and John.  Mary, the young and humble handmaid, was praised by Elizabeth as the Mother of her Lord. Mary also witnessed the power that God had given her when the Holy Spirit filled both Elizabeth and John merely at the sweet sound of her voice.  So the Mother of the Lord had to say—in all truth and in the power of the same Spirit of God—that henceforth all ages would call her blessed.  And so we do.

To be continued…