Archive for the ‘Mary’ Category


Love and Sorrow – Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

October 11, 2013
Henry Ossawa Tanner painted La Sainte-Marie in the same year as L’Annunciation, (1898) but here the Blessed Virgin has an expression of consternation and sorrow. One has to look closely to realize it is really a Madonna and Child. The Child is represented by a shrouded bundle at her feet, identifiable only by a halo over the Child’s unseen head. Also, the hem of Mary’s garment is stained with what appears to be blood. The general interpretation is this takes place after Simeon’s prophesy to Mary of the sorrow that would pierce her heart, because of her Son’s suffering. This also normally hangs in the Philadelphia area but at Olney’s hidden gem, the Museum of La Salle University.

Henry Ossawa Tanner painted La Sainte-Marie in the same year as L’Annunciation, (1898) but here the Blessed Virgin has an expression of consternation and sorrow. One has to look closely to realize it is really a Madonna and Child. The Child is represented by a shrouded bundle at her feet, identifiable only by a halo over the Child’s unseen head. Also, the hem of Mary’s garment is stained with what appears to be blood. The general interpretation is this takes place after Simeon’s prophesy to Mary of the sorrow that would pierce her heart, because of her Son’s suffering. This also normally hangs in the Philadelphia area but at Olney’s hidden gem, the Museum of La Salle University.


A chapter from The World’s First Love by our beloved Fulton Sheen.


Pleasure is the bait God uses to make creatures recognize their destiny, whether it be that of eating for the sake of the individual health, or mating for the sake of society. God also puts a limit on pleasure; one of these is a “fed-up-ness,” which comes from nature, the other is that of the woman, who is most reasonable when man is most irrational. In this domain of the flesh, man is liberty, woman, the law.

If, then, a woman is not taught carnal pleasure by the man, two effects will follow: first, her restraining power will create continency and purity. Since pleasure is outgoing, she will become more inward and self-possessed, as if hugging a great secret to her heart. Desire is anticipation, pleasure is participation, but purity is emancipation.

The second effect is just the opposite, namely, sorrow. She who lives without pleasure not only gives up something, she receives something it may be the hatred of those who see in her the enemy of the flesh, whether they be man or woman. Such is the story of virgins like Agatha, Cecilia, Susanna and, in our day, Maria Goretti. As the sun hardens mud, so purity provokes those who are already sinners to hardness of heart, persecution, and violence.

The day Mary declared: “I know not man” she not only affirmed that she was untaught by pleasures, but she also brought her soul to such a focused inwardness for God’s sake that she became a Virgin not only through the absence of man, but also through the presence of God. The secret that she kept was no other than the Word! Bereft of the pleasures of the body but not of all joys, she could sing to her cousin, Elizabeth: “My soul doth rejoice in the Lord.”

On the other hand, Mary was also a Woman of Sorrow. To love God immediately and uniquely makes a woman hated. The day she brought her Babe, her Divine Love, to the Temple, the old priest Simeon told her that a sword her soul would pierce. The hour the Roman sergeant ran the spear into the Heart of Christ, he pierced two hearts with one blow the heart of the God-man for Whom Mary gave up the knowledge of pleasure, and the heart of Mary, who gave her beauty to God and not to man.

No one in the world can carry God in his heart without an inner joy, and an outer sorrow; without singing a Magnificat to those who share the secret, and without feeling the thrust of a sword from those who want freedom of the flesh without the law. Love and sorrow often go together. In carnal love, the body swallows the soul; in spiritual love, the soul envelopes the body. The sorrow of the first is never to be satisfied; one who wants to drink the ocean of love is unhappy if limited to a mere cup with which to drink. The sorrow of the second love is never being able to do enough for the beloved.

In the human love of marriage, the joys of love are a prepayment for its duties, responsibilities, and, sometimes, its sorrows. Because the crosses lie ahead in human love, there is the Transfiguration beforehand, when the face of love seems to shine as the sun, and the garments are as white as snow.

There are those who, like Peter, would wish to capitalize the joys and to make a permanent tabernacle of love on the mountaintops of ecstasy. But there is always the Lord, speaking through the conscience and saying that to capture love in a permanent form one must pass through a Calvary. The early transports of love are an advance, an anticipation, of the real transports that are to come when one has mounted to a higher degree of love through the bearing of a Cross.

What most human love forgets is that love implies responsibility; one may not fool with the levers of the heart in the vain hope of escaping duties, fidelity, and sacrifice for the beloved. So-called birth control, which assists in neither birth nor control, is based on the philosophy that love is without obligations. The real problem is how to make humans realize the sacredness of love how to induce mothers to see a Messiahship in the begetting of children.

The best way to achieve this would surely be to bring forward the example of a woman who would accept the responsibilities of love without the prepayment of pleasure one who would say: “I will do it all for nothing! I will accept the bearing of a child, the responsibility of his education, a share in His world mission,” without even asking for the ecstasies of the flesh.

Such is the role of the Blessed Mother. She undertook marriage, birth, a share in the Agony, all for the love of God, not asking the initial joys to prepare her for those trials. The best way to convince mankind that it must take the medicine which cures is to take it oneself and without the sugar coating, yet never wince because of its bitterness. The Sisters of Charity in the poor sections of our cities, the missionaries caring for the victims of leprosy these give inspiration to all social workers. The former do their work for nothing except the love of God, and thus they keep before the world the ideal of a disinterested affection for the hungry and the sick.

In the Annunciation, God told Mary, through an angel, that she would conceive without the benefit of human affection and its joys that is, with no payment of pleasure to herself. She thus dissociated carnal joys and social responsibilities. Her sacrifice was a rebuke to those who would snare the music by breaking the lute, pick up the violins of life and never produce a tune, lift a chisel to marble and yet never bring forth a statue.

But it also gave courage to those whose burdens are heavier than their pleasures to those who have children destined for death when they are hardly launched on the sea of life, to those who find their love’s surrender betrayed and even despised. If Our Lord allowed Mary to suffer the trials that even the most grieved mother could suffer such as to have her Son pursued by the totalitarian soldiers at two years of age, to be a refugee in a foreign country, to point to a Father’s business which would end in death, to be arrested falsely, to be condemned by His own people, and to suffer the taking-off in the prime of life it was in order to convince mothers with sorrows that trials without pleasures can be overcome, and that the final issues of life are not solved here below.

If the Father gave His Son a Cross and the Mother a sword, then somehow sorrow does fit into the Divine Plan of life. If Divine Innocence and His Mother, who was a sinless creature, both underwent agonies, it cannot be that life is a snare and a mockery, but rather it is made clear that love and sorrow often go together in this life, and that only in the next life is sorrow left behind.

Christians are the only people in history who know that the story of the Universe has a happy ending. The Apostles did not discover this until after the Resurrection, and then they went through the ancient world shouting and screaming the excitement of the good news. Mary knew it for a long time, and in the Magnificat sang about it, even before Our Lord was born.

Great is the sorrow of a woman when her husband abandons his responsibility to her, and seeks what he calls “freedom” from what is his own flesh and blood. What the woman feels in such abandonment is akin to what the Church feels in heresy. Whenever, through history, those who are the members of her Mystical Body isolate themselves from her flesh and blood, not only do they suffer in their isolation, but the Church suffers still more.

The irresponsibility of love is the source of life’s greatest tragedies, and as the Church suffers more than the heretic, so the woman probably suffers more than the erring man. She stands as the “other half of that man, a constant reminder to him and to society that what God joined together has, by a perverse will, been rent asunder. The husband may have left his spouse to teach another woman pleasure; but the wife remains as the unfinished symphony, clamoring for spiritual understanding.

A civilization which no longer stands before God in reverence and responsibility has also renounced and denounced the dignity of woman, and the woman who submits and shares in such a divorce of responsibility from love stands in such a civilization either as a mirage or a pillar of salt.

The world is not shocked at seeing love and sorrow linked arm in arm, when love is not perfect; but it is less prepared to see immaculate love and sorrow in the same company. The true Christians should not be scandalized at this, since Our Lord is described as the Man of Sorrows. He Who came to this earth to bear a Cross might conceivably drag it through His Mother’s heart.

Scripture suggests that He schooled and disciplined her in sorrow. There is an expression used today, always in a bad sense, but which, if used in the right sense, could apply to the relations between Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and that is “alienation of affections.” He begins detaching Himself from His Mother, seemingly alienating His affections with growing unconcern only to reveal at the very end that what He was doing was introducing her through sorrow to a new and deeper dimension of love.

There are two great periods in the relations of Jesus and Mary, the first extending from the Crib to Cana, and the second, from Cana to the Cross. In the first, she is the Mother of Jesus; in the second, she begins to be the Mother of all whom Jesus would redeem in other words to become the Mother of men.

From Bethlehem to Cana, Mary has Jesus as a mother has a son; she even calls Him familiarly, at the age of twelve, “Son,” as if that were her usual mode of address. He is with her during those thirty years, fleeing in her arms to Egypt, living at Nazareth, and being subject to her. He is hers, and she is His, and even at the very moment when they walk into the wedding feast, her name is mentioned first: “Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was there.”

But from Cana on, there is a growing detachment, which Mary helps to bring on herself. She induced her Son to work His first miracle, as He changed her name from Mother to Woman, the significance of which will not become clear until the Cross. Readers of Genesis will recall how God promised that Satan would be crushed through the power of a woman. When Our Lord tells Mary that they are both in[127 volved in the manifestation of His Divinity, she practically sends Him to the Cross by asking for the first of the miracles and, by implication, His Death. A year or more later, as a devoted Mother, she follows Him in His preaching.

It is announced to Our Lord that His Mother is seeking Him. Our Lord with seeming unconcern, turns to the crowd and asks: “Who is my Mother?” (Matthew 12:48) Then, revealing the great Christian mystery that relationship is not dependent on flesh and blood but on union with Divine Nature through grace, He adds: “If anyone does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

The ties that bind us to one another are less of race than of obedience to the Will of God. From that text originated the titles of “Father” “Mother,” “Brother,” and “Sister,” as used throughout the Church to imply that our relations are in Christ rather than in human generation. He Who called His Mother, “Woman,” is now telling us and her that we can enter a new family with her, as He has already taught us to enter into new bonds with His Own Heavenly Father. If we can call God “Our Father,” then we can call her “Our Mother,” if we do the Will of the Father.

The mystery comes to an end at Calvary when, from the Cross, Our Lord now hearkens back to Cana and again uses the word “Woman,” the title of universal motherhood. Speaking to her of all of us who will be redeemed by His Precious Blood, He says: “Behold thy Son.” Finally, to John who, unnamed, stood for us, He said: “Behold thy Mother.” She becomes our Mother the moment she loses Her Divine Son.

The mystery is now solved. What seemed an alienation of affection was in reality a deepening of affection. No love ever mounts to a higher level without death to a lower one. Mary dies to the love of Jesus at Cana, and recovers Jesus again at Calvary with His Mystical Body whom He redeemed. It was, for the moment, a poor exchange, giving up her Divine Son to win us; but in reality, she did not win us apart from Him. On that day when she came to Him preaching, He began to merge the Divine Maternity into the new motherhood of all men; at Calvary He caused her to love men as He loved them.

It was a new love, or perhaps the same love expanded over the wider area of humanity. But it was not without its sorrow. It cost Mary something to have us as sons. She could beget Jesus in joy in a stable, but she could beget us only on Calvary, only in labors great enough to make her Queen of Martyrs. The Fiat she pronounced when she became the Mother of God now becomes another Fiat, like unto Creation in the immensity of what she brought forth. It was also a Fiat which so enlarged her affections as to increase her pains.

The bitterness of Eve’s curse that she would bring forth her children in sorrow is now fulfilled, and not by the opening of a womb, but by the piercing of a heart, as Simeon had foretold. It was the greatest of all honors to be the Mother of Christ; but it was also a great honor to be the Mother of Christians. There was no room in the inn for that first birth; but Mary had the whole world for her second.

Here, at last, is the answer to the query, “Did Mary have other children besides Jesus ?” She certainly did. Millions and millions of them! But not according to the flesh. He alone was born of her flesh; the rest of us were born of her spirit. As the Annunciation tied her up with Divinity before the coming of Her Divine Son, so this word from the Cross tied her up with all humanity until His Second Coming. She was a child of that chosen section of humanity called “the seed of Abraham,” the scion of that long line of royalty and kings who hand on to her Divine Son the “throne of His Father David.”

But, as the new Eve, she hands on to her Son the heritage of the whole human race, from the day of Adam until now; and through her Son she breaks the boundaries of that limited blessing to the seed of Abraham, and pours it out upon every nation, race, and peoples. Her moment in history was the “fullness of time”; this phrase meant that the human race had at last produced a representative worthy of becoming the chosen vessel of the Son of God. “One who comes into his property while he is still a child has no more liberty than one of the servants, though all the estate is his.” (Galatians 4:1)

Our Lord is not immersed in history, but Mary is. He comes to earth from outside time; she is within time. He is the suprahistorical; she, the historical. He is the Eternal in time, she is the House of the Eternal in time. She is the final meeting place of all humanity and all history. Or, as Coventry Patmore says:

Knot of the cord Which binds together all and all unto their Lord.

At the end of the story of love and sorrow, we see that love needs a constant purification, and this happens only through sorrow. Love that is not nourished on sacrifice becomes trite, banal, and commonplace. It takes the other for granted, makes no more professions of love because it has sounded no new depths. Our Lord would not have His Mother’s love on one plane of ecstasy while on this earth; He would universalize it, expand it, make it Catholic. But to do this, He had to send Her Seven swords of sorrow which enlarged her love from the Son of Man to the sons of men.

Without this deepening, love falls into one of two dangers: contempt or pity contempt because the other no longer pleases the ego, pity because the other is worthy of some consideration without love. Had Our Divine Lord not called Mary into the fellowship of His suffering, had she been dispensed from Calvary because of her Majesty as His Mother, she would have had contempt for those who took the life of her only Son, and only pity for us who had no such blessing.

But because He first identified Himself with our human nature at Bethlehem, later with our daily tasks at Nazareth and with our misunderstandings at Galilee and Jerusalem, and finally with our tears and blood and agonies at Calvary, He gave to us His Mother and, to all of us, the lesson that love must embrace mankind or suffocate in the narrowness of its ego. Summoned by Him, to share His daily Cross, her love expanded with His own and reached such, a peak of universal identification that His Ascension was paralleled by her Assumption. He, Who inspired her to stand at the foot of the Cross as an active participant in its redemption, would not be remiss in crowning such love with union with Him where love would be without sorrow, or where sorrow would be swallowed up in joy.

Love never becomes a cult without a death. How often does even human love come into the full consciousness of the other’s devotedness, until the death of the partner? History becomes legend after death, and love becomes adoration. One no longer keeps any memory of the other’s faults, or what was left undone; all is surrounded in an aureole of praise. The ennui of life fades away; the quarrels that hurt evaporate, or else they are transformed into souvenirs of affection. The dead are always more beautiful than the living.

In the case of Mary, we have no memories of her imperfections fading away, for she was “blessed among women”; but we do have such a deepening of love as to produce a cult. He, Who sacrificed Himself for us, thought so much of His Death that He left a Memorial of it and ordered its re-enactment in what is today known as the Mass. His love, that died, became adoration in the Eucharist.

Why, then, should not she who gave Him that Body with which He could die, and that Blood which He could pour forth, be remembered, not in adoration, but in veneration, and as long as time endures? But if , along with the God Who is the Man of Sorrows and who entered into His Glory, there is a creature, a Woman of Sorrows who accompanied Him into that glory, then we all have an inspiration to love through a cross and with it, that we, too, may reign with Christ.


The Golden Virgin – Paul Fussell

January 18, 2012

Albert, France had been held by the Allies since September 1914 and had been an organizational focal point throughout the British Somme offensive of 1916. In a matter of weeks of the British departure artillery fire brought the famous, precariously leaning, 'Virgin and child' statue on the tower of the basilica of Notre Dame be Brebières, crashing to the ground.

Winner of the 1976 National Book Award for Arts & Letters, Paul Fussell’s accomplishment, The Great War and Modern Memory, was (in the words of Lionel Trilling) “an original and brilliant piece of cultural history and one of the most deeply moving books I have read in a long time.”  It was listed as #75 in the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century. A short vignette:

A memorable instance of the prevailing urge towards myth is the desire felt by everyone to make something significant of the famous leaning Virgin and Child atop the ruined Basilica at Albert. No one wanted it to remain what it literally was, merely an accidentally damaged third-rate gilded metal statue now so tenuously fixed to its tower that it might fall any moment. Myth busily attached portentous meaning to it.

Mystical prophecy was first. The war would end, the rumor went, when the statue finally fell to the street. Germans and British shared this belief, and both tried to knock the statue down with artillery. When this proved harder than it looked, the Germans promulgated the belief that the side that shot down the Virgin would lose the war. This is the prophecy recalled by Stephen Southwold, who associates the wonders attaching to the leaning Virgin with those ascribed to miraculously preserved front-line crucifixes:

There were dozens of miracle-rumors of crucifixes and Madonnas left standing amid chaos. In a few cases the image dripped blood or spoke words of prophecy concerning the duration of the war, .round the hanging Virgin of Albert Cathedral there gathered a host of these rumored prophecies, wonders and marvels, the chief one being that whichever side should bring her down was destined to lose the war.

The statue remained hanging until April, 1918, after the British had given up Albert to the Germans. Determined that the Germans not use the tower for an artillery observation post, the British turned heavy guns on it and brought it down, statue and all. Frank Richards was there:

The Germans were now in possession of Albert and were dug in some distance in front of it, and we were in trenches opposite them. The upside-down statue on the ruined church was still hanging. Every morning our bombing planes were going over and bombing the town and our artillery were constantly shelling it, but the statue seemed to be bearing a charmed existence. We were watching the statue one morning. Our heavy shells were bursting around the church tower, and when the stroke cleared away after the explosion of one big shell the statue was missing.

It was a great opportunity for the propagandists:

Some of our newspapers said that the Germans had wantonly destroyed it, which I expect was believed by the people that read them at the time.

But while the statue was still there, dangling below the horizontal, it was seen and interpreted by hundreds of thousands of men, who readily responded with significant moral metaphors and implicit allegorical myths. “The melodrama of it,” says Carrington “rose strongly in our hearts.”

The most obvious “meaning” of the phenomenon was clear: it was an emblem of pathos, of the effect of war on the innocent, on women and children especially. For some, the Virgin was throwing the Child down into the battle, offering Him as a sacrifice which might end the slaughter. This was the interpretation of Paul Maze, a French liaison NCO, who half-posited “a miracle” in the Virgin’s precarious maintenance of her position: “Still holding the infant Jesus in her outstretched arms,” he says, “the statue of the Virgin Mary, in spite of many hits, still held on top of the spire as if by a miracle. The precarious angle at which she now leaned forward gave her a despairing gesture, as though she were throwing the child into the battle.” Philip Gibbs interpreted the Virgin’s gesture similarly, as a “peace-offering to this world at war.”

Others saw her action not as a sacrifice but as an act of mercy: she was reaching out to save her child, who — like a soldier — was about to fall. Thus S. S. Horsley in July, 1916: “Marched through Albert where we saw the famous church with the statue of Madonna and Child hanging from the top of the steeple, at an angle of about 400 as if the Madonna was leaning down to catch the child which had fallen.” Still others took her posture to signify the utmost grief over the cruelties being played out on the Somme. “The figure once stood triumphant on the cathedral tower,” says Max Plowman; “now it is bowed as by the last extremity of grief.”  And to some, her attitude seemed suicidal: she was “diving,” apparently intent on destroying herself and her Child with her. But regardless of the way one interpreted the Virgin’s predicament, one’s rhetoric tended to turn archaic and poetic when one thought of her.

To Stephen Graham, what the Virgin is doing is “yearning”: “The leaning Virgin . . . hung out from the stricken tower of the mighty masonry of the Cathedral-church, and yearned o’er the city.” The poeticism o’er is appropriate to the Virgin’s high (if vague) portent. In the next sentence Graham lays aside that particular signal of the momentous and resumes with mere over, which marks the passage from metaphor back to mere cliche: “The miracle of her suspense in air over Albert was a never-ceasing wonder. . . .”

Whatever myth one contrived for the leaning Virgin, one never forgot her or her almost “literary” entreaty that she be mythified. As late as 1949 Blunden is still not just remembering her but writing a poem of almost too lines, “When the Statue Fell,” imagined as spoken to a child by her grandfather. The child has asked,

“What was the strangest sight you ever saw?”

and the ancient responds by telling the story of Albert, its Basilica, the statue, its curious suspension, and its final fall, which he makes coincide with the end of the war.

And in 1948, when Osbert Sitwell remembered Armistice Day, 1918, and its pitiful hopes for perpetual peace, he did so in imagery which bears the deep impress of the image of the golden Virgin, although she is not mentioned at all. His first image, remarkably, seems to fuse the leaning Virgin of one war with the inverted hanging Mussolini of another:

After the Second World War, Winged Victory dangles from the sky like a gigantic draggled starling that has been hanged as a warning to other marauders: but in 1918, though we who had fought were even more disillusioned than our successors of the next conflict about a struggle in which it was plain that no great military leaders had been found, we were yet illusioned about the peace.

Having begun with a recall of the leaning Virgin as an ironic and broken Winged Victory, he goes on to remember, if subliminally, her bright gilding: “During the passage of more than four years, the worse the present had shown itself, the more golden the future . . . had become to our eyes.” But now, remembering the joy on the first Armistice Day, his mind, he says, goes back to two scenes.

In both gold is ironically intrusive: “First to the landscape of an early September morning, where the pale golden grasses held just the color of a harvest moon”: but the field of golden grasses is covered with English and German dead. “It was a superb morning,” he goes on,

such a morning, I would have hazarded, as that on which men, crowned with the vast hemicycles of their gold helmets, clashed swords at Mycenae, or outside the towers of Troy, only to be carried from the field to lie entombed in air and silence for millenniums under their stiff masks of virgin gold.

Thirty years after Sitwell first looked up and wondered what to make of her, the golden Virgin persists, called up as a ghost in his phrase virgin gold. Perhaps he thought he had forgotten her. Her permanence is a measure of the significance which myth, with an urgency born of the most touching need, attached to her.


Blessed John Paul II on the Immaculate Conception of Mary

December 6, 2011

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) (Italian, Urbino 1483–1520 Rome)

Mary’s perfect holiness asserts “that Mary, free from original sin, was also preserved from all actual sin and that this initial holiness was granted to her in order to fill.


The special privilege by which Mary persevered in holiness throughout her earthly life invites us to contemplate her sublime growth in faith and love her entire life.”

  1. The definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception directly concerns only the first moment of Mary’s existence, from when she was “preserved free from every stain of original sin”. The papal Magisterium thus wished to define only the truth which had been the subject of controversy down the centuries: her preservation from original sin, and was not concerned with defining the lasting holiness of the Lord’s Virgin Mother.

    This truth already belongs to the common awareness of the Christian people. It testifies that Mary, free from original sin, was also preserved from all actual sin and that this initial holiness was granted to her in order to fill her entire life.

    No sin or imperfection can be attributed to Mary

  2. The Church has constantly regarded Mary as holy and free from all sin or moral imperfection. The Council of Trent expresses this conviction, affirming that no one “can avoid all sins, even venial sins, throughout his life, unless he is given a special privilege, as the Church holds with regard to the Blessed Virgin” (DS 1573). Even the Christian transformed and renewed by grace is not spared the possibility of sinning. Grace does not preserve him from all sin throughout his whole fife, unless, as the Council of Trent asserts, a special privilege guarantees this immunity from sin. And this is what happened with Mary.

    The Council of Trent did not wish to define this privilege but stated that the Church vigorously affirms it: “Tenet”, that is, she firmly holds it. This is a decision which, far from relegating this truth to pious belief or devotional opinion, confirms its nature as a solid doctrine, quite present in the faith of the People of God. Moreover, this conviction is based on the grace attributed to Mary by the angel at the time of the Annuncation. Calling her “full of grace”, kecharitoméne, the angel acknowledged her as the woman endowed with a lasting perfection and a fullness of sanctity, without shadow of sin or of moral or spiritual imperfection.

  3. Several early Fathers of the Church, who were not yet convinced of her perfect holiness, attributed imperfections or moral defects to Mary. Some recent authors have taken the same position. However, the Gospel texts cited to justify these opinions provide no basis at all for attributing a sin or even a moral imperfection to the Mother of the Redeemer.

    Jesus’s reply to his mother at the age of 12: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49), has sometimes been interpreted as a veiled rebuke. A careful reading of the episode, however, shows that Jesus did not rebuke his mother and Joseph for seeking him, since they were responsible for looking after him.

    Coming upon Jesus after an anxious search, Mary asked him only the “why” of his behaviour: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Luke 2:48). And Jesus answers with another “why”, refraining from any rebuke and referring to the mystery of his divine sonship.

    Nor can the words he spoke at Cana: “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2: 4), be interpreted as a rebuke. Seeing the likely inconvenience which the lack of wine would have caused the bride and groom, Mary speaks to Jesus with simplicity, entrusting the problem to him. Though aware of being the Messiah bound to obey the Father’s will alone, he answers the Mother’s implicit request. He responds above all to the Virgin’s faith and thus performs the first of his miracles, thereby manifesting his glory.

  4. Later some gave a negative interpretation to the statement Jesus made when, at the beginning of his public life, Mary and his relatives asked to see him. Relating to us Jesus’ reply to the one who said to him: “Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you”, the Evangelist Luke offers us the interpretive key to the account, which must be understood on the basis of Mary’s inner inclinations, which were quite different from those of his “brethren” (cf. John 7:5).

    Jesus replied: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). In the Annunciation account, Luke in fact showed how Mary was the model of listening to the word of God and of generous docility. Interpreted in this perspective, the episode offers great praise of Mary, who perfectly fulfilled the divine plan in her own life. Although Jesus’ words are opposed to the brethren’s attempt, they exalt Mary’s fidelity to the will of God and the greatness of her motherhood, which she lived not only physically but also spiritually.

    In expressing this indirect praise, Jesus uses a particular method: he stresses the nobility of Mary’s conduct in the light of more general statements, and shows more clearly the Virgin’s solidarity with and closeness to humanity on the difficult way of holiness.

    Lastly, the words: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28), spoken by Jesus in reply to the woman who had called his Mother blessed, far from putting into doubt Mary’s personal perfection, bring out her faithful fulfillment of the word of God: so has the Church understood them, putting this sentence into the liturgical celebrations in Mary’s honor. The Gospel text actually suggests that he made this statement to reveal that the highest reason for his Mother’s blessedness lies precisely in her intimate union with God and her perfect submission to the divine word.

    Mary belonged completely to the Lord

  5. The special privilege granted by God to her who is “all holy” leads us to admire the marvels accomplished by grace in her life. It also reminds us that Mary belonged always and completely to the Lord, and that no imperfection harmed her perfect harmony with God.

    Her earthly life was therefore marked by a constant, sublime growth in faith, hope and charity. For believers, Mary is thus the radiant sign of divine Mercy and the sure guide to the loftiest heights of holiness and Gospel perfection.


Mary, Free From All Vice And Resplendent With Every Virtue

December 5, 2011

The Virgin in Prayer, 1640-50 Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

This mature work is a version of a popular design known in at least two other paintings by Sassoferrato. This particular design showing the Virgin at prayer is one of at least four evolved by the artist. Sassoferrato places emphasis on the softly modelled draperies, the white veil and brilliant blue cloak, painted in ultramarine. The face remains largely in shadow, the eyes downcast, and this has the effect of highlighting the hands joined in prayer. The painting recalls works by such artists as Raphael, and anticipates certain Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the 19th century.


Adapted from The Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Bonaventure (Chapter IV)

HAIL MARY. This most sweet and affectionate name, so full of grace and so noble, so glorious and so worthy, excellently befits Our Lady. For most fittingly is so loving a virgin named Mary. For she is Mary, in whom there is no vice, and who is glorious with every virtue. She is Mary, who was entirely immune from the seven capital sins. She was most humble in opposition to pride; most loving by charity in opposition to envy; most meek against anger by her gentleness; indefatigable by her diligence against sloth; Mary by her poverty was detached against avarice; against gluttony she was most sober by her temperance; against lust she was most chaste by her virginity. We can gather all these things from the Scriptures, in which we find the name of Mary written.

First, Mary was most humble. She is that Mary of whom St. Luke says: “And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’ ” (1:38.) O wonderful and profound humility of Mary! Behold the archangel speaks to Mary; Mary is called full of grace; the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit is announced; Mary is made Mother of God; Mary is set before all creatures; Mary is made the Lady of Heaven and earth; and for all that she is not the least elated, but in all she is deeply grounded in humility, saying: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Well, therefore, doth Bede say: “Mary never exalted herself by reason of heavenly gifts; as she became more and more acquainted with heavenly mysteries, she fixed her mind more firmly in humility, answering the Angel, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord.’ This is an example to many, who in honors and prosperity, in graces and virtues, do not humble themselves with Mary and with Christ, but grow elated with pride like Eve and Lucifer.

But the humility of Mary was most certainly not in word only, but also manifested itself in deeds; not alone in the word of her official reply, but in the fact of her submitting to the legal purification; not alone in the word by which she humbled herself as a submissive handmaid, but also in the deed by which she humbled herself as guilty and a sinner. For she is that Mary of whom it is said in St. Luke: ‘After the days of her purification . . . were accomplished.’ O hard, unhappy pride! O proud and unhappy hardness of the sinner! Behold Mary, who is without all sin, submitted herself to the law of purification, and thou, a wretch full of sins, submittest not to the law of satisfaction.”

Secondly, see how Mary was most loving by her charity. For she is that Mary of whom St. Luke saith: “Mary rising up with haste, went into the hill country.” She went that she might visit, and salute, and minister to Elizabeth. See how this visitation of Mary was full of charity. In the description of that visit Mary is four times named and her charity towards God and towards her neighbor is most fully declared. Charity to our neighbor should be kept and cherished in the heart, in word and indeed. Mary had charity to her neighbor in her heart, and therefore, arising, Mary went with haste into the hill country.

What was it that urged her on to haste in this office of charity but the love that burned in her heart? We read that the shepherds came with haste to the crib; that Mary went with haste to render a service; and that Zacheus made haste to come down and receive the Lord into his house. Woe, therefore, to those who are tardy in works of charity! Mary, again, cherished charity to her neighbor in her words; she is that Mary of whom it is said: “When Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary.” Charity in greeting our neighbor and on all other occasions of charitable speech is, I say, to be cultivated.

The Angel salutes Mary; Mary saluted Elizabeth; the Son of Mary saluted those whom He met coming forth from the sepulcher, saying to them: “Avete, All hail!” Woe to those who, out of hatred or dislike, deny to their neighbor greetings of politeness. Woe to those who deceitfully salute their neighbor like Judas, when he said: “Hail, Rabbi!” Oh, how sweetly did Mary know how to salute! O Mary, deign to greet us by thy grace! And most certainly she willingly salutes us by her benefits and her consolation, if we willingly greet her with Ave Maria. Mary not only had charity in her heart and in her words, but she also exercised herself in charitable deeds.

For she is that same Mary of whom it is said: “Mary remained with her about three months.” She remained for the service and the consolation of Elizabeth. Therefore St. Ambrose saith: “She who came out of charity, remained at her post.”

As Mary in all things had charity for her neighbor, so above all things she had charity towards God. For she is that same Mary who said: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” The soul magnifies that which it loves and rejoices in. Therefore, the soul of Mary most befittingly magnified God and most securely rejoiced in God, because she so ardently loved God. Of this love Master Hugh of St. Victor saith a good word: “Because the love of the Holy Spirit burned in a singular manner in her heart, therefore the power of the Holy Ghost did wonderful things in her flesh.”

Thirdly, see how Mary was most meek by gentleness, most patient in all adversity. For she is that same Mary to whom it is said, according to St. Luke: “And he (Simeon) said to Mary His Mother: 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 thine own soul a sword shall pierce.” This sword signifies the bitter Passion and death of her Son. The material sword cannot kill or wound the soul, so the sharp Passion of Christ, although by compassion it pierced the soul of Mary, never dealt it a mortal wound. For Mary never killed the executioners of her Son by hatred nor wounded them by impatience. Now, if other martyrs were most patient in their bodily martyrdom, how much more so was our martyr, Mary, in her spiritual martyrdom?

Of her noble martyrdom St. Jerome saith: “O marvelous patience and meekness of Mary, who was not only most patient while her Son was crucified in her presence, but also before the crucifixion, when her Son was reviled, as it is said in the Gospel of St. Mark, ‘Is not this the Son of the carpenter and of Mary?’ and a little further on: ‘And they were scandalized in Him.’ “Truly is Christ a carpenter, but the works of His hands are the sun and the aurora. Alas, how far from the grace of Mary most meek are they who are so peevish, so impatient, so irritable as to torment their neighbors, companions, and fellow workers.

Fourthly, see how untiring and diligent Mary was by her assiduity in good works. For she is that Mary of whom it is said: “They were all persevering in prayer in one mind, with the women, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus” (Acts I, 14.) Mary, by persevering indefatigably in prayer, gave an example, which it behooves us to follow, and not to faint. And if Mary prayed so sedulously on earth, why should she not pray most earnestly for us in Heaven?

Therefore St. Augustine well doth admonish us, saying: “Let us with all earnestness implore the patronage of Mary: that while we serve her on earth with suppliant ardor, she by her fervent prayer may deign to help us from Heaven.” But see, our Mary was not only untiring and most diligent in the prayer of the lips, but also most earnest in holy meditations of the heart. For she is that same Mary of whom it is said in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Mary kept all these words, pondering in her heart” (Luke II, 19.) Mary was never idle or slothful, and therefore she not only occupied her mind in holy meditations, and her tongue in devout prayers, but also her hands in good works.

It was thus that Mary remained three months with Elizabeth. To what purpose? Bede answers: “That the virgin might render diligent service to her aged relative.” Alas, how unlike Mary is the wretched sluggard whose mind, hands, and tongue are so often devoid of merit!

Fifthly, see how detached Mary was by her poverty. For she is that same Mary of whom it is said: “They found Mary, and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” (Luke II, 16.) The poor shepherds found the poor Mother, Mary, and the poor Infant in the poor spot, not in splendid pomp, but in a poor manger. But if the Mother had not been poor, she would indeed have found fitting hospitality. While you diligently consider these things, you may realize how great was the poverty of Mary, of which St. John Chrysostom says: “See the greatness of the poverty of Mary, and whoever is poor, may receive thence great consolation.”

Most certainly, whoever is poor willingly and freely for God’s sake, or who is poor of necessity, yet patiently, can be much consoled by the poverty of Mary, and of Jesus Christ. Far from this consolation are those rich men who seek things so very different. Therefore Our Savior saith: “Woe to you rich who have here your consolation” (Luke VI, 24.)

But the rich must not despair, because not only the poor shepherds, but also the rich kings, found the poor Mary and her poor Son, as it is said in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Entering into the house, they found the child . . .” (Matt. II, 11.) So also these rich ones found them who had brought gifts. The poor find this consolation by poverty; the rich by liberality. While the poor are conformed to Christ by poverty, the rich are reformed to the likeness of Christ by liberality.

Sixthly, see how temperate Mary was by sobriety. For she is that Mary to whom it is said: “Fear not Mary, for thou hast found grace” (Luke II, 30.) Note that it is said: “thou hast found grace.” Never would Mary have found grace, unless grace had found Mary temperate in food and drink. For grace and gluttony do not go together. And it is impossible that a man should at the same time be pleasing to God by grace, and displeasing by gluttony. It is good, therefore, to seek grace and to fly gluttony. For St. Paul says: “It is best that the heart be established with grace, not with meats; which have not profited those that walk in them” (Hebews XIII, 9. ) Note that it is said: “Thou shalt conceive in the womb” (Luke I, 31.) Never would Mary have conceived God in her womb if she had given way to gluttony. How far from the grace of Mary are they who so often exceed due moderation in food and drink !

Seventhly, see that Mary was most chaste by virginity. For she is that Mary of whom it is said: “The name of the virgin was Mary” (Luke I, 27.) We have as witnesses of the resplendent chastity of Mary: the Evangelist, Mary herself, and the Angel. For she was chaste in her virginal body, as the Evangelist testifies, saying: “And the name of the virgin was Mary” (Luke I, 27.) In her virginal mind Mary was even more chaste, as she herself testifies. For she said to the Angel: “How shall this be done, because I know not man” (Luke I, 34.) That is to say, I do not intend to know a man. But Mary was most chaste of all in her virginal offspring, as the Angel testifies, who spoke of her thus in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Joseph, Son of David, fear not . . .” (Matthew I, 29.)

For from the time the Virgin Mary was divinely overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, her virginity was never dimmed, but was glorified in a divine and truly marvelous manner. By her Child she was approved, by her Child she was ennobled, by her Child she was enriched. By thy Child, O Mary, thy virginity was gifted, endowed, and consecrated.

Therefore St. Augustine well saith: “Truly do we proclaim Mary to be both Virgin and Mother, for true fecundity glorified her virginity and undefiled virginity glorified her true fecundity. Her virginity was rendered more glorious by her fecundity, and her fecundity by her virginity.” Alas, how far from the grace of Mary are they who are not chaste, who are enemies of chastity !

Now, since the sweet name of Mary is of such favor as we have set forth, rightly do we call upon her, according to that word of St. Bernard: “O clement Queen, may Jesus Christ, thy Son, bestow the gifts of His grace on thy servants, who invoke the sweet name of Mary–Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth God for ever and ever. Amen.”


The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe – Fr. Aidan Nichols on Gerard Manley Hopkins II

August 31, 2011


The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe
                Gerard Manley Hopkins

                Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

                 I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name. 
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air. 

                If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

                  Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.

                So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.

                Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Just the point at which to introduce the comparison with Mary: Hopkins characterizes this other mother by two features of her role as Catholic Christianity sees it. The first is her divine motherhood, by which she became the Theotokos or God-bearer, giving welcome in “womb and breast” to the “infinity” of the person of God the Word, now become what the medievals called Verbum abbreviatum, the “abbreviated Word”, inasmuch as his divine hypostasis, from the moment of the Annunciation onward, acts as the personalizing subject of an instance of human nature.

Thus is the Godhead of the Son “dwindled to infancy” in the Christ-child — without, for all that, suffering the loss of those divine attributes which make him the foundation of the universe and of the moral law. The role of our Lady at the Annunciation is so essential to Incarnation robustly conceived that it already justifies, in classical Christian vocabulary, the exalted language of channel of divine grace, which, in point of theological fact, Hopkins will use for her under a second distinct heading.

Drawing on a doctrinal tradition, which has never (yet) attained dogmatic status, he affirms that she “mothers each new grace / That now does reach our race”. The inclusion of the words “each new” here goes beyond what Mary’s divine motherhood by itself could lead us to say; it is a confession of Mary’s “sub-mediation” of the grace of Christ to individuals here and now. Were we in any doubt on the matter, Hopkins himself dispels it for us in a sermon:

Now holiness God promotes by giving grace; the grace he gives not direct but as if stooping and drawing it from her vessel, taking it down from her storehouse and cupboard. It is in some way laid up in her.
The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. C. Devlin, SJ (Oxford 1959)

So “Mary Immaculate” — a title which had surged in popularity through the ex cathedra definition of the all-holiness of the Mother of God in 1854, delighting those who followed the via Scoti, “Scotus’ way” — is “Merely a woman” and yet her “presence” and “power” is “great as no goddess’s / Was deemed, dreamed”.

This is a deliberately uncomfortable paradox, and Hopkins is positively willing us to ask whether he has not mired himself in contradiction. Can Mary of Nazareth, someone whose being is altogether finite (as the being of the Word incarnate is not), have so divine a role without calling into question her finitude or God’s infinitude or both? Hopkins resolves the issue by reimagining this role as that of a pane of glass which has no more — and no less — to do that letting the Light shine through it. She “This one work has to do —  / Let all God’s glory through”, and even this is feasible only by the divine antecedent will and covenant: “God’s glory which would go / Through her and from her flow / Off, and no way but so”. St Bernard, a major articulator of this tradition, remarks simply in his sermons: “It is God’s will that we should receive all graces through Mary”. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo VII de Aguaeductu.

The following lines (35 to 45) develop one of the loveliest titles for Mary in Latin devotion: Mater misericordiae, the “Mother of mercy”. Hopkins finds a functional identification between Mary and mercy: We are “wound / With mercy round and round” just as we are by air, and that is because we are also so wound by the “wild web, wondrous robe” of Mary as it “Mantles the guilty globe”.

There are two implications. First, the mercy which is first and foremost an attribute of God, both in Himself and in the saving economy whereby the Holy Trinity reaches out to us, is more palpably itself — that is, so far as human experience is concerned — when God wills that mercy to be mediated by Mary.

Human beings respond more fully to the mercy of God when they receive it from the hands of a mother. Hopkins as believer experiences the Mother of the Lord not merely as an occasional dispenser of divine mercy but as that very mercy: “more than almoner, / The sweet alms’ self is her”. (Of course that must be understood in terms of the interrelation of finite and infinite discussed above.) The second implication can be stated more shortly, as Hopkins himself states it: “men are meant to share / Her life”. It is an appeal to Christians who benefit from Mary’s attention to make some effort consciously to reciprocate.

In lines 46 to 72 Hopkins restates the problem of a confession of the Blessed Virgin’s universal mediation and develops, this time at more length, an explicitly Christological attempt to solve it. First, he reiterates the omnicompetence of Mary’s gracious sub-mediation: “She holds high motherhood / Towards all our ghostly good” (emphasis added). It is her “part” to “lay” — allay, or lay low — concupiscence, man’s potentially fatal trend, even after baptismal regeneration, toward evil, the “deathdance in his blood”. This is the heart of what the ascetic tradition calls holy warfare, and nothing could be more pertinent to our final salvation. So, once again, how can a mere creature receive this role? Hopkins proposes an answer in terms of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the one and only (non-subordinated) “Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Any “part” Mary has consists, in one or another way, in disposing us to be the “place” where Jesus Christ comes to be in us. She has no part that will not be “Christ our Savior still”. He continues to take on — mysterically — substantial life in the faithful, as once he did biologically in the womb of her who is, in the words of ancient litany, the “Faith of all the faithful”, the mother of all believers. Hopkins cries out with wonder — “O marvelous!” — at this truth of mystical theology, namely that Christ makes of his members “New Nazareths”, “New Bethlems”.

And he finds here the key to the puzzle of Mary’s universal task in our regard. Her role is precisely to “conceive / Him, morning, noon and eve” in us. And this explains how her mediation is both utterly comprehensive and yet altogether without derogation from the mediation of Christ. Hopkins emphasizes that this is no abstruse theory, since it concerns the ultimate issue in practical reason: my personal raising to nobility of stature. What is at stake is “New self and nobler me”. In his essay “On Personality, Grace and Freewill”, Hopkins called the divine action in sanctifying a person and bringing him to the condition of deification “a lifting him from one self to another self, which is a most marvelous display of divine power”.[The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. C. Devlin, SJ (Oxford 1959)] God appropriately does this through Christ by way of Mary, since the unique Mediator is “Both God’s and Mary’s Son”.

Hopkins would hardly be Hopkins if, thinking about air and its translucence, he did not look up at the sky. And so he bids the reader, “look overhead / How air is azured”. On a fine day, the air above us is shot through with blue, “sapphire-shot”, but that can hardly be said to “stain” light, to detract from its purity. Well, so it is with the grace of God when it comes to men through the hands of our blessed Lady. So far from distorting the real relations of God, man, and the redeemed creation, this Marian impregnation enables them to stand out with greater distinctness. “The glass-blue days are those / When every color glows”. And he adds that “this blue heaven / The seven or seven times seven / Hued sunbeam will transmit / Perfect, not alter it”. Hopkins had worked out this aspect of the controlling analogy of the poem in a sermon given at Leigh in 1879:

St Bernard’s saying, All grace given through Mary: this is a mystery. Like blue sky, which for all its richness of color does not stain the sunlight, though smoke and red clouds do, so God’s graces come to us unchanged but all through her. Moreover she gladdens the Catholic’s heaven and when she is brightest so is the sun her Son.
Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. C. Devlin, SJ (Oxford 1959)

As Hopkins declares in the poetic version of this claim, if some change in the light conditions on earth does have an effect in terms of “Bloom breathe” — encouraging the opening of buds into blossom, then that “one breath more / Earth is the fairer for”.

Without that translucent yet protecting atmosphere, by contrast, our earth would be unlivable, such as we can assume planets of thin atmosphere too close to their own suns to be. In an extraordinary disruption of tone, producing an infernal effect worthy of Milton (lines 94 to 102), Hopkins imagines how, if air did not “slake” the sun’s “fire”, the heavens would be transmogrified into a “grimy vasty vault”, the centre of the solar system a “blear and blinding ball / With blackness bound”.

And lest we miss the point he rubs it in. That is how men would look at deity were it not for the Incarnation: “So God was god of old”. The “limbs like ours”, which the humanized Word developed from the body of the Virgin, are what endear the dreadful God of the cosmic spaces to us. Were his glory — his majestic radiance — shown us “bare”, either it would “blind” our minds or at least “less would win” them. The interposing hand of Mary, through which the glory shown in Christ is showered down on us “leaves his light / Sifted to suit our sight”.

The poem ends with a personal appeal from the poet to the Mother of Christ to be with effect for him what he by his words has declared her to be in principle for everyone.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers