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Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward | Two excerpts from Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery Print-friendly version

First excerpt, from the Introduction:

Glorious above all the other Christmas companions of Christ is the Blessed Maiden who gave Him human birth. At the Matins of Christmas Day, the Church cries out: 'Blessed Mary, the Mother of God, whose womb abideth intact, hath this day given birth to the Saviour of the world." [38]

Each day of the octave, in the Canon of the Mass, the Latin Church venerates the 'inviolate virginity' that 'brought the Saviour into this world' and dedicates the whole of the eighth day to the divine motherhood--in the old rite in the content of the prayers and in the new rite in name as well as content. [39] Our Lady's conceiving and carrying of God the Son in her virginal womb are remembered throughout Advent, especially during the week of the O antiphons and, in the novus ordo Missae, on the fourth Sunday.

The Immaculate Conception is celebrated on the eighth of December as the first, preredemptive flowering of the grace for whose restoration Christ was born and crucified in the flesh. In the liturgical books of the Greek Church, the Mother of God is seemingly omnipresent on every day of the liturgical year, [40] but during the twelve days of Christmas, she receives special honours in canticles of outstanding praise, and on the second day she has a feast all of her own, the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, instituted after the Council of Ephesus in 431. On this second day of the Byzantine Christmas, the Mother of God appears before the Church as the Mystical Vine carrying in the branches of her arms 'the bunch of grapes that was never husbanded'. In the ecstasy of love she sings to her Child, 'Thou art my fruit, thou art my life; from thee have I learned that I remain what I was. Thou art my God: for seeing the seal of my virginity unbroken, I proclaim thee to be the unchangeable Word, now made incarnate.' [41]


[38] Fifth responsory.
[39] In the novus ordo of the West, the first of January is called the 'Solemnity of Mary; the Mother of God'. In the Missal of 1962 it is called, as it had been for many centuries, the 'Circumcision of Our Lord' because of the passage read as the Gospel. However, both the Collect and the Postcommunion place most emphasis on the divine motherhood of our Lady.
[40] See S. Eustratiadès, Theotokarion (Chennevières-sur-Marne, 1931), and J. Ledit, Marie dans la liturgie de Byzance (Paris, 1976).
[41] Menaion, p. 292.

Second excerpt, from Chapter 3, "Mother and Maiden":

As Mother of God, our Lady is without equal, surpassing by far all other created persons, whether angels or men. [37] After the human nature of the Son, no created entity is closer to the Trinity. According to St Thomas, Gabriel's words at the Annunciation, 'The Lord is with thee', express his recognition that the Jewish maiden is closer than he or any other angel is to the Three-Personed God:
She surpasses the angels in her familiarity with God. The angel indicated this when he said, 'The Lord is with thee', as if to say, 'I therefore show thee reverence, because thou art more familiar with God than I am, for the Lord is with thee. The Lord, the Father, is with thee, because thou and He have the same Son, something no angel or any other creature has. "And therefore the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Lk 1: 35). The Lord, the Son, is with thee, in thy womb. "Rejoice and praise 0 thou habitation of Zion, for great is He that is in the midst of thee, the Holy One of Israel" (Is 12:6).' The Lord is therefore with the Blessed Virgin in a different way than He is with the angel, for He is with her as Son, but with the angel as Lord. 'The Lord, the Holy Spirit, is with thee, as in a temple.' Hence she is called 'the temple of the Lord', 'the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit', because she conceived by the Holy Spirit. 'The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee' (Lk 1:35). In this way, therefore. the Blessed Virgin is more familiar with God than the angel is, for the Lord Father, the Lord Son, the Lord Holy Spirit are with her, in other words, the whole Trinity. That is why we sing of her: 'Noble resting-place of the whole Trinity'. [38]
Our Lady is without compare in her objective dignity, and so it is fitting that she should be unrivalled in her subjective sanctity. To prepare her for the task of being Mother to the Son, both physically and spiritually, God the Father bestows upon her an incomparable plenitude of sanctifying grace, the, infused virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

St Thomas argues as follows. The nearer something is to any kind of source, the more it shares in the effects of that source. The part of the lawn nearest to the sprinkler will be greener than the more remote parts. Now Christ is the source (grace, as author in His Divinity and as instrument in His humanity, and the Blessed Virgin is closer to Him than ant other creature is, because it was from her that He received His human nature. 'It was therefore necessary for her to receive from Christ a plenitude of grace greater than that anyone else.’ [39]

Even from her conception, she was full of grace. By the anticipated merits of her Son, she was preserved from all stain of Original Sin in the first moment of her conception. Now Original Sin is the privation of sanctifying grace. If, therefore, our Lady was preserved from that privation, if she lacked the lack of grace, she was–putting it positively–endowed in the first moment of her existence with the overflowing fulness of the redeeming grace of her Son. She never lacked grace nor did she ever lose it. By a special privilege she was free from all personal sin, mortal and venial, even from the inclination to sin. All men are sinners, says St Augustine, 'except the Holy Virgin Mary, whom, for the sake of the honour of the Lord, I want to exclude altogether from any talk of sin'. [40]

When, then, we contemplate all the actions that make up our Lady's motherhood, ('Welcome in womb and breast,/ Birth, milk, and all the rest'), [41] we should remember that these humble human realities are endowed, through Mary's supernatural perfections, with a spiritual beauty surpassing that of any other mother in human history. 'And she brought forth her first-born son and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn' (Lk 2:7).

St Luke's words, by their very simplicity and sobriety, convey something of the supernatural refinement of maternal affection in our Lady's heart. She shows her Son and God that precious virtue which the Middle Ages (including St Thomas) named as 'courtesy' (curialitas), the delicacy of a loving intelligence, the opposite of that crass lack of perception in the man without charity. [42]
These gestures, which other mothers do instinctively and which express their natural love in its.most natural aspects, are done by Mary under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For these gestures express a love that is not only motherly but virginal, a divine love for her God who is giving Himself to her in the weakness, the littleness of the Little One, handed over totally to His Mother. Under the movement of the Gifts of Fear, Piety, and Counsel, Mary carries out these actions in a divine way. It is with a chaste and loving fear, in perfect abandonment to the Father's will, that she clasps her Child to her heart, to warm the tiny and tender limbs of the only Son of the Father.... No mother has clasped her baby to her heart with more tenderness than Mary; no mother has had more delicacy and respect for the frailry of her baby. [43]


[37] 'It is impossible for a pure creature to be raised to a higher degree. By the grace of her motherhood, she exhausts, so to speak, the very possibility of a higher elevation' (Charles de Koninck, Ego sapientia: La sagesse qui est Marie [Montreal, 1943], p. 39).

[38] In salutationem angelicam, a. 1.

[39] Cf ST 3a q. 27, a. 5.

[40] De natura et gratia cap. 42, no. 36; PL 44:267.

[41] Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, 'The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe', The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. W H. Gardner & N. H. Mackenzie, new ed. (London, 1970), p. 94.

[42] The anonymous author of the fourteenth-century poem Pearl calls our Lady 'the Queen of Courtesy': see Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, trans. J. R. R. Tolkien, new ed. (New York, 1980), p. 111. 'Great is the courtesy', says St Thomas, 'when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords invites us to His nuptials' (Sermo 1, pt. 3).

[43] M.-D. Philippe OP, Mystére de Marie: Croissance de la vie chréitienne (Nice, 1958), p. 145. According to the Revelations of St Bridget of Sweden, when the Blessed Mother saw her newborn Son shivering with cold, she 'took Him in her arms and pressed Him to her breast, and with her face and breast warmed Him with great gladness and tender motherly compassion': Revelationes , lib. 7, cap. 21; new ed., vol. 2 (Rome, 1628), p. 231.

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The Medieval Mary | The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages | by Luigi Gambero
Misgivings About Mary | Dr. James Hitchcock
Mary in Feminist Theology: Mother of God or Domesticated Goddess? | Fr. Manfred Hauke
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Advent Series (2004)by Carl E. Olson:
• Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way
(November 28, 2004)
• The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin (December 5, 2004)
• Theotokos sums up all that Mary is (December 12, 2004)
• Holy Mary and the Death of Sin (December 19, 2004)

Fr. John Saward (b. 1947) is a fellow of Greyfriars and associate lecturer of Blackfriars at the University of Oxford. He previously held the posts of Professor of Dogmatic Theology in the International Theological Institute, Gaming, Austria and Visiting Professor in Systematic Theology and Christology in the same Institute. Ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1972, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church in 1979 at Campion Hall, Oxford. He is the author of several books, including The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery, Redeemer in the Womb, and The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity, and the Truth of Catholicism. He has also translated several works, including Hans Urs von Balthasar's Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies. Fr. Saward also contributed an essay to John Paul the Great: Maker of the Post-Conciliar Church.

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