DEVOTION TO AND LOVE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Mulier ecce filius tuus – ecce mater tua
These words: Woman behold your Son – Behold your Mother, are very familiar to all members of the legion for it forms part of the standard of the Army of Souls who stand under that Heavenly Queen’s authority and protection. In this 2nd talk I’d like to speak somewhat about Our Blessed Lady as our Mother. And that not as some vaguely spiritual notion but really and truly our mother at the level of grace as much as our own mothers have given life to us in the flesh. And it is that spiritual motherhood which she exercises over us that far outweighs anything that our physical mothers have done or ever will do for us.
St. Therese has famously said: “She is for me both Mother and Queen, but more Mother than Queen”. It is important that we remember that although we have been enlisted in that Heavenly Army to fight the good fight, as St. Paul puts it, and although we are indeed foot-soldiers of our Heavenly Queen, we are first and foremost her children and she is our Mother. Christ is uniquely her Son by way of the human nature he took from her and, in him, we are her children by way of the grace he gave to us. He is her Son by way of the flesh – we by way of the Spirit, by the waters of Baptism when we became members of his Mystical Body.
Mary is our Mother, the most wonderful of Mothers – for if she was good enough for the Divine Son of the Almighty Father – then how much more is she good enough for us, who are not Divine but who are his children in Christ Jesus. We are sons and daughters of God in the Only Son of God. We are, as I have said, by grace what Christ is by nature. In other words he is naturally and eternally the Only Begotten Son of God, while we are supernaturally the adopted children of God. And Mary, being the Mother of the Son of God, is also the Mother of all God’s children.
Now what would your Mother think if you said to her – I love you as if you were my Mother. It would seem strange and yet that is how many people think when they try to express their devotion to Our Blessed Lady. But she, our Heavenly Mother, loves us immensely more than our earthly mother ever could and while our earthly mother gave birth to us at the natural level and saw to our upbringing and nurturing – our Heavenly Mother has brought us forth to supernatural life and sees that we grow to the full maturity of Christ as sons and daughter of the Heavenly Father. Just as Christ was formed in his humanity in her womb and grew under her authority at Nazareth – so we are placed under her maternal authority. Because our Head, Jesus Christ is formed in her and through her cooperation with God’s plans; so we, his members – whether we accept it our not - are formed in her and through her cooperation. What kind of unnatural birth would it be for a child to have two mothers, one for its head and another for its members. So we, if we are real members of Christ, if we are really his brothers and sisters, must come forth from the same mother – Mary our Queen.
God entrusted Mary with his most precious Son, there was nothing greater that he could have given her. Jesus Christ chose to be utterly dependent upon her – and he prepared her for that mission himself. If she was found worthy of having the Son of God placed under her authority then we can be sure that if we place ourselves under her – entrusting and consecrating our lives as sons and daughters of God to her Maternal Heart then we will surely arrive at that fullness of grace and holiness, that state of perfection that will allow us to enter heaven.
Sanctifying Grace which unites and keeps us united to Christ as God’s children comes to us through the humanity of Jesus Christ – true God and true man – he is the channel of grace. But that Divine Humanity was taken from Mary, was formed with her consent and cooperation – and so we can say that Mary is really the giver of graces – Mediatrix of all graces, because it was through her that every grace has come to us, since Jesus Christ the source of all grace has come to us through her. The Giver of all graces comes through Mary, and so no grace, no gift, is ever given except through Mary including the grace of Baptism and the gift of Eternal Life. It is not her grace, not her eternal life, but it is hers to give. In giving the world a Saviour through Mary, God gave the World Salvation through Mary. In giving birth to Christ she has become the Mother who gives birth to all of God’s children. Is it any wonder then that the great St. Augustine should write: “About Mary, never enough can be said.”
We cannot doubt that the love, honour, devotion and dedication we show to Our Lady is very pleasing to Christ and is a most perfect imitation of his dispositions towards her. As Bl. Columba Marmion puts it: “If we wish to love Christ, if we wish him to be all in all to us, we ought to have a really special love for his Mother.” And this very special love for Mary our Mother is more fully and perfectly demanded of her legion; as the handbook states: “One of the dearest duties of the Legion shall be to show whole-hearted devotion to the Mother of God.” Whole hearted – is a far cry from half-hearted. Whole-hearted devotion is what Christ showed her and we would do well to imitate him in this to the best of our abilities – always remembering that Jesus spent 33 years on this earth. 30 of those years he gave to Mary and only 3 to the rest of the world.
Mary is truly our mother to whom we should submit ourselves, our plans and our salvation – for she has been divinely commissioned to form Christ in all his brothers and sisters. St. Augustine made the point that since God, Jesus Christ, came to us through the womb of Mary, so every Christian must go to God by being formed in that same womb. One day, St. Gertrude, while singing the Divine Office of the Church came across a reference to Christ as the ‘first-born Son of the Virgin Mary’ and she thought to herself – that can’t be right – surely it should be only-Son. Our Lady then appeared to her and said: “No – it is not at all ‘only Son’ that best describes him but first-born Son, for after Jesus, my very dear Son – or more exactly, in him and through him – I have become mother of all of you in the womb of my charity, and you have become my children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus. “
On Calvary, on that great day of our Redemption, Jesus Christ put in place the last piece of the plan of Redemption, when just before he expired on the Cross he gave something wonderful to the beloved disciple; who is not named precisely so that he stands for every disciple who is beloved of the Lord and who loves him in return. And what is that something – the Cure of Ars explains: “Jesus Christ, after having given us all he could give, that is to say, the merits of his toils, his sufferings, and his bitter death; after having given us his Adorable Body and Blood to be the food of our souls, willed also to give us the most precious thing he had left – his Holy Mother.” The disciple took her to himself, the Gospel tells us, and so Scripture clearly tells us two things about the Blessed Virgin: firstly that she is one of the great gifts the Saviour has made to us – part of his plan of salvation for us - and, secondly, that we would do well to receive that gift.
Some, in their eagerness to exalt and worship Christ, fear that paying too much attention to Our Lady might in some way take away something that is due to Jesus Christ. That she might stand in the way as an obstacle to him, or else obscure his glory. And indeed so great a figure is the Blessed Virgin and so great is the honour which the entire Church lavishes upon her, that it is no wonder that many uninformed brothers and sisters in Christ of the Protestant persuasion accuse us, wrongly of course, of worshipping Mary. As the great young Carmelite Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity put it: “Our Lady is so transparent, so luminous that one would mistake her for the light, yet she is but the mirror of the Sun of Justice.”
Mary’s greatness is completely subordinate to and dependant upon her Son – Jesus Christ, and any attention we give to her is also subordinate to the worship which Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit alone should receive. She will not obstruct or obscure Christ’s glory – rather she reflects it and glorifies him more perfectly than any other creature. To those who are timid or reserved in their devotion to the Blessed Virgin I offer the encouraging words of St. Therese: "Do not be afraid to love the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her enough. And Jesus will be very happy, because the Blessed Virgin is His Mother." How could you ever outdo the Lord Jesus in his honouring of his Mother – all the honours ever given or ever to be given her by men and women on earth or the saints and angels in heaven could not even begin to approach those bestowed on her by her Divine Son.
And what are those honours?
Out of love for Her Jesus has heaped privilege after privilege, grace upon grace, honour upon honour – greater privileges, graces and honours than upon any other creature. He exempted her from the laws that the rest of humanity must be subject to. He made her, and her alone, Immaculate in her conception and free from the least stain or tendency to sin – more full of grace than any saint or angel ever could be. Blessed Columba Marmion puts it well when he says: “If God, for her, overturned so many laws that he himself has established, it is because she was to be the Mother of his Son. Christ loved his Mother. Never has God so loved one who is simply a creature; never son loved his Mother as Christ Jesus does. He has loved men so much… that he died for them and could not have given them more proof of his love than that… But never forget this truth: that Christ died above all for his Mother, to pay for her privileges. The unique graces that Mary has received are the first fruits of the Passion of Jesus… (Mary), says Marmion, is the greatest glory of Christ, because it is she who has received the most from him.”
For any of you who have seen the film – the Passion of the Christ – you will know the scene I want to draw your attention to. Christ is being mercilessly scourged and he is at the end of his human strength it seems. At that moment he looks across the courtyard and sees his Mother standing there mournfully supporting him and as they exchange that gaze he seems to be filled with new strength and rises to his feet to ready himself for more scourges, more cruel blows. And every time I see that scene I think of the strength that the thought of the holiness, purity, dedication and love of the Blessed Mother must have brought to Christ, as he was suffering for her great privileges, suffering to redeem her by an altogether unique means as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception states – she being redeemed by being preserved from sin, while we are redeemed by being rescued from out of it. And as he gazes on her Immaculate soul how he must have burned with a desire to accomplish his sacrifice on the cross so that other souls might in some small way approach the greatness of soul which he had formed in his own Mother. There is a great mystery in the relationship between Jesus and Mary and it shows the centrality of the person of Mary in God’s eternal plan – for it is for her above all that Christ shed his precious blood, but it is from her that he received the blood which he would shed for her and for the redemption of the whole human race. As Pope Leo XIII puts it: “One must remember, too, that Christ's blood shed for our sake, and those members in which He offers to His Father the wounds He received as the price of our freedom, are no other than the flesh and blood of the Virgin. The flesh of Jesus is the Flesh of Mary.”
The Church is the mystical Body of Christ – his members who are animated by the one and same Holy Spirit – and we need only look at how the Church has and continues to venerate Mary her Mother and Queen to know that Jesus desires to continue to love, honour, cherish and reverence the Immaculate Virgin Mary through his members – collectively in the Church and indeed in each and every individual member. What the Church does is really done by Christ, and so what the Church does for Mary is really done for her by Christ. But the Church, because she is made up of weak and sinful members like you and me, can only do imperfectly for Mary what Christ has done perfectly.
St. Paul famously wrote: “With Christ I hang upon the Cross and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me”. And so it is Christ who urges the Christian, urges you and I to love Mary our Mother, in imitation of his loving relationship with her, and indeed, following St. Paul’s logic, it is Christ in me that loves her – and the more perfectly I love her then the more perfectly I am imitating the Lord Jesus and being formed in his image and likeness. And that is the road to heaven; for only in so far as the Heavenly Father sees Christ Jesus formed in us are we found worthy of eternal life – and how much progress we will make in that undertaking if we have in our hearts the ardent love Christ had and has in his most Sacred Heart for his beautiful Mother.
Speak often and tenderly of your great love for Our Lady – make no apologies for it. Other more high minded people who fancy that they know a thing or two about the things of God will see your simple childlike devotion to Mary as something childish and beneath them – but they will live to regret not paying homage to our Heavenly Mother, for they will never allow into their hearts that ardent surge of love which rises in the heart of Jesus when he thinks of his Mother. And their souls will be sorely impoverished by their coldness towards her. Speak freely of Our Blessed Lady to others – promote devotion to her, especially in the hearts of children – speak often the praises of Mary and when you pass from this life may you experience what Archbishop Fulton Sheen always wished for himself after death: as you meet your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may his first words to you be: “I have heard my Mother speak of you.”