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^ihU (JDhatst. 


Congr. Orat. ; Censor Deputatus. 

impritnatttr : 


Archiepiscopus Westmonast. 

Die 32 Januarii, 1899. 




is DcJ)icate&. 

'* Regina Angelorum, orafro nobis!" 


Bossuet's Sermons on the Feasts of our Blessed 
Lady number about twenty — there being in 
many cases two or three, and sometimes even 
four, for the same festival. Some of these are 
mere repetitions of each other as to matter, 
with slight changes in form to suit different 
audiences or occasions, whilst others, though 
not actually verbal repetitions, are so much 
alike in portions that, presented to readers in 
their integrity, they would be simply weari- 
some. The writer of this English version has 
not therefore attempted a literal or consecutive 
translation of the sermons as they stand, but 
has aimed at so selecting, combining, and con- 
densing them, as to produce a set of discourses 
on Mary's Feasts throughout the year that 
should contain the whole substance of Bossuet's 
teaching ; and in passages of a strictly theo 
logical nature the actual words of the preacher 

X Introduction. 

have been adhered to as closely as they could 
be in English. 

Repetitions have been, as a rule, avoided, and 
where this could not well be done, the translator 
has tried to account for the repeated matter by 
reference to what has gone before, so as to 
show its necessity. On the other hand, care 
has been taken not to omit anything of im- 
portance to the preacher's train of thought ; 
and it is hoped that this small volume fairly 
sets forth the substantial contents of Bossuet's 
twenty sermons on the Feasts of our Blessed 

It may seem to many that another book on 
Devotion to our Blessed Lady is not needed as 
so many already exist. But different books 
suit different minds, and I have long wished 
to be able to put into the hands of English 
readers Bossuet's learned, logical, and at the 
same time devout exposition of Catholic doc- 
trine on our Lady's dignity, and on the relations 
which Almighty God has willed to establish 
between her and the members of the Mystical 
Body of her Divine Son. Bossuet's great 
ability and profound learning must command 
respect, and his readers cannot fail to be im- 
pressed with the authority with which his 

Introduction. xi 

familiarity with the Holy Scriptures, and his 
wide knowledge of the writings of the eariy 
Fathers of the Church, enable him to speak. 

Catholics, as well as non-Catholics, may need 
to have brought home to them that devotion 
to Mary is not merely a beautiful addition to 
Christian piety, but that it is essential to the 
full comprehension of the mystery of the In- 
carnation, as is shown by the action of the 
Council of Ephesus which not only decreed 
that the title of " Mother of God " was rightly 
given to Mary but condemned as heretics those 
who denied it. 

Now the very foundation of Bossuet's teach- 
ing on the honour and love due to our Blessed 
Lady, is that her co-operation in the Incarna- 
tion formed an integral part of the merciful 
design of God for the redemption of man, and 
that " our love of our Divine Saviour is the 
unchangeable foundation of our devotion to the 
Blessed Virgin". In proof of these proposi- 
tions Bossuet brings out so wonderfully the 
hidden meaning of the sacred words of Scrip- 
ture, and supports his interpretation with so 
many quotations from the writings of the 
Fathers, that we are filled with admiration, 
and the hearts of simple Christians are de- 

xii Introduction. 

lighted to find how their instinctive love of 
Mary, and confidence in the power of her inter- 
cession, are in harmony with the dogmatic 
teaching of the Saints and Doctors of the 
Church in all ages. 

To non-Catholics Bossuet's explanation of 
the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception 
will be most useful — that doctrine has been so 
persistently misunderstood, and often so per- 
sistently misrepresented, that Bossuet's clear 
and logical defence of it will be invaluable, 
and will impress them the more from the fact 
that it was written so long before the Vatican 
Council defined it as an article of faith. 

From Bossuet's teaching we learn that, to 
quote Cardinal Manning's words, " the titles of 
honour given to Mary are not metaphors but 
truths — they express, not poetical or rhetorical 
ideas, but true and living relations between her 
and her Divine Son and between her and our- 
selves ". 

I will conclude by again quoting Cardinal 
Manning, who warns Catholics "never to shrink 
from calling her that which God has made 
her ; never to fear to seek her in those offices 
of grace with which God has invested her ". 
" May our Divine Lord," he continues, " pre- 

Introduction. xiii 

serve us from giving way a hair's breadth, 
before the face of anti-Catholic censors, in the 
filial piety of our faith, or the childlike con- 
fidence of our devotion towards His Blessed 
Mother and our own." 


Of the Oratory. 



I. On the Grounds of Devotion to the Blessed 
Virgin and the Saints (Preached on a Feast of 

Mary's Conception) i 

II. The Blessed Virgin's Conception .... 17 

III. Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ (Preached on a 

Feast of her Nativity) 39 

IV. The Blessed Virgin's Nativity 52 

V. The Feast of the Annunciation .... 69 

VI. The Feast of the Visitation 83 

VII. The Hiddenness and Poverty of Jesus and Mary 

(Preached on a Feast of the Purification) . . 99 

VIII. The Blessed Virgin's Compassion .... iii 

IX. The Assumption of Mary 132 



(From a Sermon preached on a Feast of Mary's Conception.) 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is a matter concerning 
which there are two important points to be specially 
considered : — first, the grounds on which this devotion 
is solidly founded ; secondly, the rules to be invariably 
followed in practising it. A clear understanding of 
these points will help us to honour her as true Christians 
ought, not on one of her feasts only, but on all those 
presented in succession by the Church to the observ- 
ance of the Faithful. 

With Advent, which opens the ecclesiastical year, 
comes the Feast of Our Lady's Conception. As on 
this day we really commemorate the first moment of 
her existence, and consequently that of our first 
relations with her as our most favoured fellow- 
creature, there could not be a more fitting day for 
treating the subject of why, and how, we are to pay 
her homage. 

^0 ' 

2 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 


First, then, on what basis is our devotion to Mary 
founded ? " No one," says the Apostle, " can lay any 
foundation but the one that has been laid — that is, 
Jesus Christ." Now, in a pre-eminent manner, Our 
Divine Saviour is the foundation of the honour we pay 
to the Blessed Virgin ; because we have received Him, 
in fact, through her. God predestined Mary, before all 
time, to be the means of giving Jesus Christ to the 
world. Having called her to so glorious a ministry. 
He did not choose that she should be a merely passive 
channel of His grace. He made her, farther, a volun- 
tary instrument who should contribute to the great 
work by the use of her own will. Is not this clear 
from the manner in which the Incarnation was 
announced to Mary ? When the moment for accom- 
plishing that Mystery — which has kept all nature 
expectant throughout the ages — has arrived, the 
Eternal Father sends an angel to make it known to 
her ; and the angel awaits the maiden's decision, so 
that the great act shall not be performed without her 
consent. The moment she has given this the heavens 
are opened, the Son of God is made man, and the 
world has a Saviour. 

Hence, the love and longing of Mary were in a 
measure necessary for our salvation. St. Thomas 
declares that "the fulness of grace she then received 
was so great that it brought her to a most intimate 
union with the Author of Grace ; that this fitted her to 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 3 

receive into her holy womb the One who contains all 
graces ; and that thus, in conceiving Him, she became 
in some sort the source of that grace which He was to 
pour forth over all mankind — and so concurred in giving 
the human race its Deliverer ". 

There is a necessary consequence of this fact which 
is not sufficiently borne in mind : namely, that God 
having once elected to give us Jesus Christ through 
the Blessed Virgin, this order of things can never 
change ; for the gifts of God are "without repentance". 
It is, and always will be, true, that having once 
received the Author of our salvation through her, we 
shall necessarily continue to receive help towards that 
salvation in the same manner. The Incarnate Word 
is the universal principle of grace ; but the Christian 
life in its various phases consists in the particular 
applications of the grace proceeding from this principle 
to the individual needs of each soul. Mary, having 
been once chosen as the means by which grace should 
come into the world, has, as a natural consequence, her 
share in its application to the souls of men for their 

Theology recognises three principal operations of 
Jesus Christ's grace : God calls us ; God justifies us ; 
God grants us perseverance. The calling is the first 
step ; justification constitutes our progress ; persever- 
ance brings the journey to an end, and gives us in our 
true country what can never be had together on earth 
— rest and glory. 

4 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

Now, every Christian knows that for all these three 
states the power of Christ is needed ; but perhaps few 
really believe how clearly Scripture indicates Mary's 
perpetual association with their work in the soul. A 
few words, however, will prove this. 

(i) The Divine Call is typified by the sudden 
enlightenment that St. John the Baptist received in 
his mother's womb. If we reflect on this miracle we 
see in it an image of sinners called by grace. John, 
hidden within his mother's flesh, is in utter blindness 
and deafness: but who so blind and deaf as the sinner? 
The thunder of God's judgments breaks over him 
unheard ; the very light of the Gospel fails to open his 
eyes. Yet, in the dark places where he has hidden 
himself, does not God find him out, and show him the 
truth as in a lightning-flash ? Again : Jesus comes to 
John unexpectedly : He prevents him : He suddenly 
rouses and attracts his hitherto insensible heart. 
And how does God come to the sinner ? He comes 
unasked, unsought, and calls him to repentance ; He 
inspires the sinful heart with a secret, unaccountable, 
disgust and bitterness that compel it to regret its 
lost peace and to long, almost unconsciously, for 
reconciliation. Even whilst the soul is in the act of 
fleeing from Him it suddenly finds itself arrested and 
compelled to turn. 

But once more : — when God gives us, in the leaping 
of the unborn St. John, an image of the sinner 
" prevented by grace," He shows us at the same time 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 5 

Mary's concurrence in the work. If John, thus called, 
as it were struggles to escape from the prison that 
confines him, at whose voice does he so act ? " For, 
behold, as soon as the voice of Thy salutation sounded 
in my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy ! " 
So St. Elizabeth declares ; and St. Ambrose says 
that Mary " raised John the Baptist above nature," 
and by her mere voice caused him to drink in the 
spirit of holiness, before he had breathed the breath 
of life : — " he obeyed before he was brought forth ". 
According to the same doctor, the grace given to 
Mary was so great that it not only kept her a virgin, 
but conferred the gift of innocence on those she visited. 
Hence we need not wonder if St. John, whom the 
mother of His Saviour anointed, so to speak, with the 
oil of her presence and the perfume of her purity for 
three months, was born and lived (as the Church's 
tradition holds) in perfect freedom from sin. 

(2) Justification, God's next great work in man's 
soul, is represented at the marriage of Cana in the 
persons of the Apostles. For what says the Evangelist? 
"Jesus turned water into wine" (His first miracle); 
"and He showed His glory, and His disciples believed 
in Him." The Apostles had already been called, but 
they had not hitherto had a lively enough faith to be 
justified : — ^justification being attributed to faith as the 
first principle, or root, of all grace, though not sufficient 
by itself for salvation. The sacred text could not 
express "justifying faith" in clearer terms than it 

6 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

does here ; but neither could it put before us more 
plainly the Blessed Virgin's share in this marvellous 
work. Was not that great miracle, confirming the 
Apostles' faith, the effect of Mary's charity and inter- 
cession ? True : — when she first asked for the grace, 
she seemed to be repelled. " Woman," said the 
Saviour, " what is there between thee and Me ? My 
hour has not yet come " (John ii. 4). But though 
these words sound rough, and appear like a curt 
refusal, Mary did not hold herself refused. She 
understood her Son ; and she took His rebuff as 
typical of that ingenious love by which He often tests 
the prayer of faithful souls, only to show that humility 
and persevering confidence may win what a first 
request has not obtained. Her expectation was not 
deceived : Jesus, who had seemed to deny her, did 
what she asked ; and even — St. Chrysostom says — 
forestalled the hour He had determined on for His 
first miracle, to please her. Again : this miracle 
wrought at Mary's prayer is unlike other miracles of 
Christ in being worked for a really unnecessary thing. 
There is no special need of more wine at their wedding 
feast ; but His mother wishes it, and that is enough. 
Are we to believe it an accidental coincidence that 
she should interpose only in this particular miracle, 
which is followed by a result embodying an express 
image of the justification of sinners ? No : there can 
be no doubt that the Holy Spirit intended us to 
understand just what St. Augustine understood by 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 7 

the mystery ; and what, therefore, has been accepted 
as its meaning from the first ages of Scriptural 
interpretation. " The glorious Virgin " — writes the 
great doctor — " being Mother of our Head according 
to the flesh, had to be Mother of all His members 
according to the Spirit, by co-operating through her 
divinity in the spiritual birth of the children of 

Lastly, we must go on to see how she contributes 
not only to the hirih of the soul but to its faithful 

(3) As the Baptist typifies the sinner called out of 
darkness, and the Apostles at Cana in Galilee the soul 
justified by faith, so does St. John the Beloved at the 
foot of the Cross stand for the children of grace and 
adoption who persevere with Jesus to the end. With 
Mary, he follows Christ even to the Cross while the 
other disciples take flight, clinging with constancy to 
the mystical tree, and generously ready to die with 
his Lord. Thus, he is naturally a figure of the 
persevering Faithful. Now — mark this — to John, 
particularly, as we know, Christ gives His Mother : 
those whom he here typifies are to be Mary's special 
children. Surely, then, she will make it her peculiar 
care to beg the grace of perseverance for every 
Christian soul ? 

Here, then, is the promised proof: — those who 
know what mysterious meanings are hidden beneath 
the words of the sacred text recognise, in these three 

8 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

examples, that Mary through her intercession is 
Mother alike of the called, the justified, and the 
persevering ; and that her untiring love is in fact 
instrumental in every operation of grace. The great 
point for us to remember, as the solid ground of our 
devotion, is that her power with Our Lord remains the 
same now that it was during His life on earth ; for 
natural feelings are raised and perfected, not ex- 
tinguished, in glory. Hence, the most Blessed Virgin 
need never fear a refusal : Christ's own love pleads 
on the side of Mary's prayers, because the very 
human nature that He assumed speaks to Him 
through her ; and thus we have, for ever pleading our 
cause with God, that most powerful of all human 
advocates — a Mother at the feet of her Son. 


Now, having seen the real basis on which the 
honour paid by the Church to Our Lady rests (and 
woe be to those who would fain deprive Christians of 
her help !) let us carefully consider in what way devo- 
tion to her should be practised ; for, even though 
furnished with a lasting foundation for our piety, we 
may show it by what are only vain and superstitious 
practices. There is a true devotion, and a false one ; 
and the next point to treat concerns the kind of wor- 
ship that we owe respectively to God, to the Blessed 
Virgin, and to all the Saints. 

The fundamental rule of the honour we pay to the 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 9 

Blessed Virgin and the Saints is this : that we must 
entirely refer it all to God and to our eternal salvation. 
If it were not referred to God it would be a purely 
human act, and we surely know that the Saints, 
being filled with God and His glory, will not accept 
purely human devotion. What does "religion " mean 
but a binding to God ? And how could any act that 
was not religious please His holy ones ? Hence, all 
devotion to Mary is useless and superstitious that 
does not lead us to the possession of God and the 
enjoyment of our heavenly inheritance. This is, 
indeed, the general rule of all true religious worship : 
that it jiows from, and returns to, God, and is in no 
wise diverted from Him by being extended to His 

To come to particulars in the matter : there are 
two special points, concerning prayer to Our Lady 
and the Saints, on which the Church is accused by 
her enemies of erroneous practice, the first of which 
is " idolatry ". In other words. Catholics are often 
charged with acting almost like the heathen in so 
using their canonised fellow-creatures as to be guilty 
of multiplying God, by turning them into so many 
minor deities to whom they pay divine homage. The 
folly and injustice of such an accusation is very 
simply proved by reference to the rule just given. 
The only honour recognised by the Church as due to 
her Saints is an honour strictly in accordance with 
that rule ; which rule is itself founded upon the central 

lo Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

principle of our Faith ; namely, on the unity and 
supremacy of God. 

We Christians adore but one God ; single, omni- 
potent, creator and dispenser of all things ; in whose 
name we were consecrated at baptism ; and in whom 
alone^ we recognise absolute sovereignty, unlimited 
goodness, and perfect fulness of Being. We honour 
the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, not by a worship 
of necessary service, or of subjection — for, in the order 
of religion, we are free as regards creatures, and 
subject only to God — but by an honour of brotherly 
love and fellowship. In them, we pay homage to 
wonders worked "by the right hand of the Most 
High " ; we revere the communication to them of His 
grace — the diffusion, through them, of His. glory. In 
short, what we honour in them is the very fact of their 
dependence on that Primary Being to Whom alone 
our true worship relates ; the sole principle of all 
good, and the end of all our desires, as of theirs. We 
must, then, entirely repudiate the fear, professed by 
our enemies, that the glory of God can be diminished 
by our conceiving high notions of Mary and the Saints. 
Would it not be attributing miserable weakness to 
the Creator to imagine Him jealous of His own gifts, 
and of the light He sheds on His creatures ? Just as 
well might we expect the sun, if he had life, to be 
jealous of the moon, who shines merely by reflection 
of his own rays ! No matter how highly we may 
honour Mary's perfections Jesus Christ could not 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 1 1 

possibly envy her, seeing that He is Himself the 
source of every grace she possesses. Let the critics 
who accuse us of idolatry in our worship of the Saints 
remember that they condemn, with us, the Ambroses, 
the Augustines, the Chrysostoms, on whose doctrine 
and example they know our practice to be founded, 
and whom they themselves acknowledge as authorities. 
The second accusation commonly made against us 
is that we make for ourselves many mediators, instead 
of relying on " the One Sole Mediator, Jesus Christ, 
Who saved us with His blood " ; and our motive for 
this error is often, further, said to be that — like certain 
ancient philosophers — we deem God Himself, even 
though made man for us, to be inaccessible immediately 
from His extreme purity. Now, if any Catholic ever 
allows such a notion as this to lay hold of him, and 
make him put the Saints, to the smallest extent, in 
the place of Christ, it can only be because of his most 
culpable ignorance or neglect of his own Church's 
teaching. No one is taught so plainly as we are that 
we were created by God for immediate intercourse 
with Him ; but that we lost our privilege, for time, by 
sin ; and that we should have lost it also for eternity if 
the Son had not reconciled us to the Father by taking 
our sins on Himself. Hence, we ask absolutely 
nothing except in the name of Our Saviour, as every 
child who has properly learnt its catechism is fully 
aware. All we do, in begging the Saints' prayers, is 
to beg the prayers of those among our own brethren 

12 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

who are specially dear to that Saviour Himself because 
of their supreme love for Him. We all — Protestant 
and Catholic alike — ask for the prayers of our living 
friends and fellow-Christians, and all believe that " the 
prayer of the just man availeth much ". The doctrine 
of " the Communion of Saints," as Catholics put it 
into practice, is merely the carrying out of this prin- 
ciple with regard to those who are already in the 
company of God, but whom we believe to be, through 
His power, still present in spirit among us, and to 
have our interests at heart though no longer with us 
in the flesh. 

There is yet another principle involved in the true 
doctrine of honour to the Saints, which must be 
touched upon before we leave the subject ; and that 
is the great advantage to ourselves contained in 
practising devotion towards them of a right sort. 
The Christian is bound to imitate what he honours, 
and the object of his worship must also be the model 
of his life. His God is a, perfect God ; and hence he 
must try to make himself perfect, and worship only 
those who have given honour to their Maker by 
imitating His perfections. When we venerate the 
Saints it is not to increase their glory : that is full ; 
they have their perfect measure of it with God in 
heaven. We pay them homage — over and above the 
motive of giving glory to God — that we may incite 
ourselves to follow them, and we ask their prayers for 
the same purpose. This is the sense of the Church 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 1 3 

in instituting the feasts she does in honour of the 
Saints ; and it is shown in the collect for St. Stephen's 
Day, which says : " O Lord 1 give us grace to imitate 
that which we honour ", It is the constant tradition 
of the Church that the most essential part of devotion 
to the blessed in heaven is to profit by their example. 
Without this, all homage is vain. Whatever indivi- 
dual saint we are devout to, we must try to acquire 
that one's special virtues, and most of all are we bound 
to do this where the Queen of all Saints — the Virgin 
of virgins — is concerned. If we deeply revere — as 
every true Catholic does — the virginal chastity which 
enabled her to conceive the Son of God in her womb, 
we can duly express our veneration only by doing our 
best, according to our states of life, to imitate it in 
our own souls. So far does St. Ambrose go in his 
conviction of the power which the reverent imitation 
of Mary's virtue may confer on her true clients, that 
he says : " every chaste soul that keeps its purity and 
innocence untarnished conceives the Eternal Wisdom in 
itself ; and is filled with God and His grace after the 
pattern of Mary ". 

To women in especial does this duty of following 
the Blessed Virgin's example apply. Many portraits 
have been painted of Mary, by many artists, each 
painting her according to his own idea. There can, 
however, be only one true likeness of her : namely, a 
copy of her character as shown forth in the Gospels, 
the account of which forms a portrait drawn, if we may 

14 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

venture to say so, by the Holy Spirit Himself, And 
what is the character thus set before us in Scripture ? 
This must be specially noted. It is neither Mary's high 
intercourse with God, nor her great and special graces, 
nor her power, that is dwelt upon in the Gospels. All 
these are kept in the background. What is brought 
before our notice is simply her ordinary every-day 
virtues, so to speak, that she may be a model for daily, 
familiar use. Now, the essence of Mary's character, as 
thus displayed, is her modesty and self-restraint. She 
never thinks of showing herself, though she was doubt- 
less beautiful ; nor of decking herself, though young ; 
nor of exalting herself, though noble ; nor of enriching 
herself, though poor. God alone is enough for her, 
and constitutes her whole happiness. Her delights 
are in retirement ; and so little is she accustomed to 
the sight of man that she is troubled even at the 
appearance of an angel. Nevertheless, even in her 
trouble she thinks : she " considers within herself what 
manner of salutation this can be ". Surprise and dis- 
turbance neither put her off her guard nor stifle 
reflection. Again, when her thought has taken form 
in resolution, she speaks — and speaks fearlessly. She 
has her chastity to guard ; and so great is a true 
virgin's love of this that it makes her not only deaf to 
the promises of man, but proof — in reverence be it 
spoken — even against the promises of God. Mary, 
therefore, answers Gabriel — with no superfluous words, 
no curious or excited question or argument — but with 

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Saints. 1 5 

the calm and modest inquiry : " How shall this be 
done, because I know not man ? " Blessed among 
women ! to have spoken only in defence of her purity 
and to show her obedience ! What a contrast and 
example, at this supreme moment of her life, to the 
kind of women who never control themselves or pause 
to reflect in disturbing circumstances or before grave 
decisions ; but who let feeling and excitement get the 
better of them, pour themselves forth in vain and 
curious talk, or rush headlong into undertakings with- 
out knowledge or reflection ! 

And after this great event of the angel's mission, 
what is Mary's conduct ? Is she either selfishly filled 
in thought with her own greatness, or anxious for the 
immediate display of her glory to the world ? Just 
the contrary : wrapped in her deep lowliness, she is 
only surprised that God should have conferred such a 
dignity on her ; and — mother of her Creator as she 
now is, whom all her fellow-creatures might well hasten 
to honour — she hurries off to her cousin Elizabeth, to 
rejoice with her over the grace that she and her 
husband have lately received. And even there, with 
her own relations, she speaks of the miracle that has 
been wrought within her only because she finds they 
have already been made aware of it by the Holy 
Ghost. Here is an example to people who no sooner 
receive a dignity or honour, or achieve a success of 
any description, than they must proclaim it to the 
world ; who can keep nothing to themselves, but must 

1 6 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

live in the glare of publicity ; and who are so inwardly 
self-absorbed that they have hardly a thought left for 
the concerns of others. 

Such, then — thoughtful and prudent, modest, self- 
restrained, humble, and unselfish — is this Virgin, of 
whom I repeat that we can never be her clients if we 
are not also her followers. St, Gregory Nazianzen 
has a beautiful saying : that " every man is the 
painter and sculptor of his own life ". May all those 
of Mary's sex raise to her honour an image formed 
of their own lives, chiselled by themselves in her like- 
ness ! They may do this by forming their characters 
after her great example ; by despising the vanities 
and frivolities of the world ; and by strictly abjuring 
all customs — no matter how well received or sanctioned 
by society — that may be in the slightest degree con- 
trary to charity or modesty. Mary will own that they 
truly honour her, and will unceasingly pray for them, 
when she sees them thus anxious to please her Son ; 
and they will please her Son when he sees them like 
to the Mother He chose. 



" Fecit mihi magna qui potens est." 

The subject of the Blessed Virgin's purity in her 
glorious Conception, which the Church celebrates and 
which will be treated of in all Catholic pulpits to-day, 
has for a long time exercised the greatest minds ; and, 
of the many subjects that have to be expounded to 
the Faithful, it is perhaps one of the most difficult. I 
do not say this in the spirit of some orators, who ex- 
aggerate the poverty of their matter merely to exalt 
the rhetoric by which they intend to adorn it, for such 
a course would be utterly unworthy of a sacred theme ; 
but because it is necessary, for clearly bringing out the 
real beauty and truth of Mary's Immaculate Concep- 
tion, to begin by meeting some difficulties connected 
with the belief 

The consideration of that terrible sentence pro- 
nounced by the Apostle against mankind in general '^ — 
" all are dead : all have sinned : by the offence of 
one, unto all men's condemnation " ^ — is alone enough 

^ See Note p. 148, which forms an introduction to this Sermon. 

2 2 Cor. V. 14. * Rom. v. 12, 16. 


1 8 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

to make us wonder how an exception can be found to 
words of such wide application. But the universality 
of the curse is made still more plain by three different 
expressions used in Holy Scripture to represent the 
misfortune of our birth. 

The Bible first announces a supreme law which it 
calls " the law of death " : a verdict of guilt pro- 
nounced indifferently against every man born into the 
world. Who can be exempt from this ? 

Secondly, it tells us of a hidden and imperceptible 
venom, whose source was in Adam, and which infects 
each of his descendants terribly and inevitably. This 
was what St. Augustine called " contagium mortis anti- 
quce," and which made him say that the whole mass of 
the human race is contaminated. What preservative 
can be found against so subtle and penetrating a 
poison ? 

In the third place, we learn from Sacred Writ that 
all who breathe this infected air contract a stain which 
dishonours them, and destroys the image of God in 
them ; and which thus makes them — as St. Paul says 
— " naturally children of wrath ".^ How hinder an evil 
that has actually become part of our nature for so long ? 

Such questions as these have disturbed the minds 
of some great thinkers — whose opinions, however, the 
Church does not condemn — by making it appear hard 
to prove Mary's perfect purity in her conception. It 
may be difficult, but I think we shall find it not im- 

' Ephes. ii. 3. 

On tJie Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 19 

possible, to clear up doubts as to this great privilege 
of the Blessed Virgin. 

It is quite true that a " law of death " exists, to 
which every person born is subject ; but extraordinary 
people may always be dispensed from the most uni- 
versal laws. There is undoubtedly an insidious and 
contagious poison that has infected our whole race ; 
but we can sometimes escape contagion from a general 
epidemic by separating ourselves. We freely grant 
that an hereditary stain makes us natural enemies of 
God ; but grace may anticipate nature. Hence, the 
line of thought to be followed, if we would prove an 
exception, is this : that we must find dispensation 
opposed to Law ; separation, to Contagion ; and pre- 
vention, to an expected natural evil. I propose to show 
that Mary was actually dispensed from the Law in 
question, by that supreme A uthority which was so often 
exerted in her favour ; that she was separated from 
universal contagion by the Wisdom which plainly dis- 
closed Its unsearchable designs upon her, from before 
all time, by thus setting her apart ; and that the 
Eternal Love of God so prevented her, where His 
anger was concerned, as to make her an object of 
mercy before she had time to become an object of 

If we can understand it aright, we shall find that in 
her own marvellous Canticle she herself announces 
all this.^ " He that is mighty hath done great things 

1 Luke i. 49. 

20 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

to me." She speaks first of power, to give honour to 
the absolute Authority by Whom she is dispensed : 
He thai is mighty. But what has this Almighty One 
done? "Ah!" she declares, "great things." It is 
clear that she here recognises her separation from 
others by the great and deep designs of the Wisdom 
that has called her apart. And what, we may ask, 
could possibly bring these great marvels to pass 
except the eternal Love of God, — ever active and 
ever fruitful, — without Whose intervention Omni- 
potence itself would not act, whilst Infinite Wisdom 
would keep Its thoughts unexpressed and bring forth 
nothing? It is this Love that does all things, and 
which consequently " has done great things to me " : 
this alone makes God to pour Himself forth upon 
His creatures : this is the cause of all existence, the 
principle of all bestowal : and hence it was this 
effectual love which, in working Mary's Conception, 
prevented the threatened evil by sanctifying her from 
the very beginning. 

By proving these three points, then, I shall both 
fully expound the text chosen, and explain and justify 
the high honour we pay to Mary in her most blessed 


It is decidedly a question whether, if it is the 
peculiar attribute of supreme authority to frame laws 
for whole nations, it is not even more perfectly char- 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 2 1 

acteristic of such authority to reserve for itself the 
right of dispensing from them where wisdom requires 
it ; because the latter course, being extraordinary, 
seems to imply a higher degree of power and more 
independence than the former. If the majesty of Law 
is unequalled, and if to establish laws of his own is 
the highest and most sacred right of an absolute 
sovereign — which it undoubtedly is — then, when he 
makes those decrees themselves give way to his 
authority in special cases, he may be said with reason 
to raise himself above his own supremacy. This is God's 
mode of action when He works miracles, which are 
simply dispensations of things from the ordinary laws 
that He Himself had established ; and which he 
performs to make his omnipotence more manifest. 
Hence, at first sight, it seems clear that the power of 
dispensation, or exception, is the most certain mark 
of authority. 

On the other hand, equally strong arguments are 
put forward in favour of a different view. It is 
contended that because exceptions must always apply 
to an immensely smaller number than laws — or they 
could not be so called — and because a power exercised 
over numbers is surely more important than that 
exercised over a few, the establishing of universal 
Law is much the more absolutely authoritative work 
of the two. Again, it is urged that the continuous 
enforcement of permanent decrees is a truer sign of 
supreme power than the putting forth of occasional 

22 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

ones to counteract them — even though the latter act 
be in itself of a higher nature than the former. 

The only way of reconciling these differences is to 
grant at once that the special characteristics of the 
highest authority appear equally in both forms of 
proceeding. This view is expressed by St. Thomas 
when he says that all Law comprises two things : — the 
general commandment and the particular application :. 
as, for example, when Ahasuerus made a decree 
condemning all the Jews to death, but excepted Esther 
in applying that decree. In this rule of St. Thomas's, 
then, we have just what we are seeking : — a statement 
of the equal greatness of the two acts ; for the 
authority of law-giving is displayed in the " general 
commandment," and that of dispensing in the " par- 
ticular application " ; and as it belongs to the maker 
of universal rules to judge of their suitability to special 
cases, it follows that the power of framing laws and 
that of dispensing from them are equally noble and 
inseparable attributes of a Supreme Ruler. 

These principles being granted, we may proceed 
with our subject. I am told that there is a Decree of 
Death pronounced against all men, and that to make 
an exception, even though in favour of the Blessed 
Virgin herself, would be to violate the authority of 
law. But according to the rule just laid down, I may 
reply to this that, the Legislator's power having two 
sides, you would impugn His authority no less by 
denying His power to dispense with the application in 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 23 

this particular case, than by disputing His right to 
promulgate the general law in the first instance. St. 
Paul certainly declares in formal terms that " all are 
condemned " ; but this need not disturb us ; for in 
fully acknowledging the universal extent of the law, he 
in nowise excludes such reservations as the Sovereign 
may choose to make. By the authority of the law, 
incontestably, Mary was condemned like the rest of 
mankind ; but by the grace of special reservations, 
made for her by the Sovereign's absolute power, she 
was dispensed from having the decree carried out in 
her case. 

It may be objected that the whole strength of Law 
is weakened when its sacred dignity is sacrificed to the 
granting of dispensations. This is true, unless each 
dispensation is accompanied with three things : — that 
it is granted only to an eminent person ; that it is 
founded on precedent ; and that the honour of the 
Lawgiver is concerned in it. The first condition is due 
to the law itself, the second to the public, and the 
third to the Ruler ; and without them an exception 
cannot justly be made. But where these conditions 
are combined, we may reasonably expect a special 
favour. Let us see if they were not so in the Holy 

Where exceptions are made, or dispensations granted, 
amongst equals — even though they be equals in great- 
ness — one may justly fear for the consequences of 
deviation from the common rule. It must, however. 

24 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

be at once apparent that there can be no question of 
equality with any one where Mary is concerned ; for in 
her case there is not only eminence, but ^r^-eminence. 
Is there a second Mother of God? Can there be another 
Virgin-mother to whom her prerogatives might possibly 
be extended ? There can surely be no doubt in any 
minds that that glorious privilege of maternity, through 
which she has contracted an eternal alliance with God, 
places her in a quite peculiar rank that can suffer no 
sort of comparison. 

From this very fact of her pre-eminence, it will of 
course be difficult to find a precedent for her exception 
from the law ; and, in fact, it would be useless to seek 
for such in any other Saint. An example for God's 
dealings in this matter can actually be found only in 
Mary herself; and the observation of a not uncommon 
fact in all history will here help us. 

It is very frequently the case that when Sovereigns 
have once begun bestowing favours in a certain direc- 
tion they continue to bestow them there with ever- 
increasing liberality : benefits seem to attract, and 
make precedents for, one another ; so that in a quarter 
where signal marks of favour have already been found, 
one may reasonably look for more. This principle is 
acknowledged by God Himself in the Gospels, when 
He says : " For to every one that hath shall be given" ;^ 
which means that, in the order of His favours, a grace 
never goes alone, but is the pledge of many others. 

^ Matt. XXV. 29. 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgm. ^5 

Now, apply this to the Blessed Virgin, Had she been 
subject throughout her life to ordinary rules we might 
easily believe her also " conceived in iniquity," in the 
same manner that others are. But when we find her 
enjoying a general dispensation from all common laws 
in every circumstance ; when, according to Catholic 
faith and the teaching of the most approved Doctors, 
we see her not suffering in Child-birth, free from con- 
cupiscence, living a spotless life, and dying a painless 
death ; when we learn that her reputed husband was 
but her guardian, her Son being the miraculous Child 
of Virginity, born through the power of the Holy Spirit 
instead of by the ordinary way of nature : — in short, 
when we find Mary singular in everything : — why should 
we expect her Conception to be the only part of her 
life that was not supernatural ? It is much more 
logical to judge this event in the light of the rest, and 
to believe that it was a miracle in keeping with her 
whole life. 

Thus, the two first conditions of a satisfactory 
dispensation — the superiority of the person con- 
cerned, and the existence of precedents in her favour 
— are clearly shown to be here fulfilled. I hope 
further to show that the third condition required is 
also present, and that the glory of the King — Jesus 
Christ Himself — is manifestly promoted by this dis- 

It has been finely remarked that in certain cir- 
cumstances " Princes themselves gain what they give, 

26 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

when their gifts are such as do them honour 'V 
Now, Our Lord certainly honours Himself when He 
honours His Mother ; and thus it may be truly said 
that He gains all He bestows upon her, because it is 
certainly grander for Him to give than for her to 
receive. However, a yet closer reason for our Divine 
Saviour's action in this matter lies in the fact that, 
having Himself /)m^ on this human flesh, for the express 
purpose of destroying that fatal decree which we have 
called " the law of death," it was — if we may so speak — 
only becoming to His own greatness to leave no possible 
place where it could claim to hold absolute sway. We 
must follow up this design, and see what victories it 
has won, in detail. 

This law of spiritual death reigns over all men, and 
over all periods of each man's life. When we incur 
its penalties at an advanced age, Jesus Christ defeats 
it by His grace ; the new-born infant groans under its 
tyranny, and He effaces it in baptism ; it condemns 
the unborn child in the womb of his mother, so Our 
Saviour has chosen to free certain illustrious souls 
from its dominion there, by sanctifying them before 
birth, as in the case of St. John the Baptist,^ But 
this terrible law goes yet farther back : it reigns over 
the very beginnings of man by seizing upon him the 
instant he is conceived [that is, animated]. Is Jesus 

^ Alaric, in Cassiodorus, Variar., lib. viii., Epist. xxiii. 
^ Also, according to the tradition of the Church, the Prophet 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 27 

Christ, the all-powerful conqueror, to be defeated in 
this one spot alone? Shall His sacred Blood — the 
divine remedy that delivers us from all evil — be in- 
effectual to prevent it? Surely not. Then, shall 
Its power remain for ever unused, and not be ex- 
erted on any of Christ's members ? No: — the Saviour 
of mankind cannot fail to choose at least one among 
His creatures, even for the sake of His own glory, in 
whom to show forth the full power of His Precious 
Blood : — and what specially chosen creature should 
this be but His mother ? 

There is another aspect of the question which must 
be most carefully considered, for it makes us feel even 
more strongly that to doubt Mary's Immaculate Con- 
ception would be almost to depreciate the value of the 
Blood of Christ. This most sacred stream, we must 
never forget, not only had to flow over Mary, as over 
the whole race, to redeem her ; but it was to have lU 
human source in her body. This is a wonderful and 
overpowering thought ; but it is absolutely true, or 
Christ would not be God and man ; and, being true, 
can we doubt that Our Lord's honour requires the very 
channel whence He was to receive His own Blood to 
be purified in its beginning ? But to bring this about 
Mary's Son must hinder the law of death from taking 
effect in her, at the first moment she becomes a living 
person : — that is, at the instant of her conception. 
Thus He pays due honour to the Life-giving Stream 
Itself, by honouring the spot whence it was to spring. 

28 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

We must not, then, look for Mary's name in the 
catalogue of those condemned by the fatal decree : it 
has been blotted out simply by that Divine Blood 
drawn from her own chaste veins, and applied by her 
Son — to His own true glory — with fullest efficacy 
for her benefit. 

The three conditions are thus shown to be complied 
with, and I have proved my first point : — that the 
Blessed Virgin was justly dispensed, by the rightful 
authority, from suffering under the general condem- 

Tertullian has said that, because of the Supreme 
Majesty of God, it is not only glorious for His creatures 
to consecrate their lives to His service, but that it is 
even right for them to offer Him " the submission of 
flattery " : Non tantum obsequi ei debeo, sed et adulari : ^ 
— in other words, that we must not only obey His 
direct commandments, but keep every movement of 
our being so completely dependent on His will that 
we are ready to comply with the smallest sign of His 
pleasure. What Tertullian says of God Himself, our 
common Father, I would say of His Church, Mother 
of all the Faithful : — that we should be ready, as good 
Christians, not only to follow her precepts, but to 
respond to the slightest expression of her desires. 
Now, she does not compel our obedience by placing 
belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary amongst 
her Articles of Faith which we must accept under pain 

^ Tertull., de yejun., n, 13. 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 29 

of sin ; but by the very Feast of to-day she invites 
us to acknowledge it. Let us, then, say with perfect 
and fearless confidence that the Blessed Virgin was 
conceived without spot ; and, in so doing, honour Jesus 
Christ in His Mother : — believing that He wrought a 
special work in her conception because she was chosen 
from among all others to conceive Him. 


It is the very fact of this peculiar relation of 
Mother and Son between Mary and Christ — the fact 
that He Himself was conceived in her womb — which is 
the great argument for our second point to be proved : 
the belief that His Wisdom separated her in a peculiar 
manner from the universal contagion that all other 
souls contract when united to " flesh of sin ". And I 
say advisedly " in a peculiar manner " : for, observe, 
all who are saved by Baptism, actual or of desire — 
before or after Christ's coming — are separated, by being 
freed from the effects of the taint they have contracted, 
through grace. In fact, God has carried out this 
principle of " separation " in many forms from the 
beginning of all things : Holy Writ speaks of His 
" separating " one part of the universe after another 
from the first-formed matter ; and, just as He first 
divided earth, sea, and sky from the shapeless mass, 
so He now parts the faithful from the mass of criminal 
humanity by that grace which is the work of the Holy 
Spirit, who has chosen them out from all eternity. 

30 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

What else but this does St. Paul mean, when he speaks 
of" Him, who separated me from my mother's womb 
and called me by His grace ? " ^ Hence, the/«d of the 
Blessed Virgin's separation is common to the whole 
body of the elect ; it is the nature of it that is peculiar 
to herself, on account of the cawic. 

We may take, as a help towards considering this 
mystery in detail, some beautiful words of Eusebius, 
in his second Homily on Our Lord's Nativity. He 
says, speaking of Mary's bliss in having conceived her 
Saviour : " Thou hast deserved to receive jirst Him 
whose coming was promised throughout all ages ; and 
thou alone dost possess hy a peculiar gift the joy that 
is common to all men".^ If Jesus Christ is a common 
possession — if the Mysteries of His Life were wrought 
for the whole world — in what way could the Blessed 
Virgin possess Him " alone " ? His death was a 
public sacrifice. His Blood the price of all sins, His 
preaching the doctrine for all nations : the fact that, 
directly the Divine Infant was born, the Jews were 
called to Him by angels and the Gentiles by a star, 
clearly shows that He belongs to the entire earth. 
The whole world has a right to the Son of God, 
because God's goodness bestowed Him on all. Never- 
theless — O wondrous dignity of Mary! — amid this 
universal ownership she has a peculiar right of 

1 Gal. i. 15. 

' Per tot ssecula promissum, prima suscipere mereris adventum ; 
et commune mundi gaudium, peculiari munere sola possides. 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, 31 

possessing Him alone, because she can claim Him as 
her Son : — a title which no other creature can share. 
God Himself and Mary, only, can call the Saviour 
" Son " ; and by this most sacred tie Jesus Christ gives 
Himself to her in such a manner that the general 
treasure of all men may be truly called her particular 
property : sola possides. 

But, it may be said, however glorious such a 
separation may be, what effect will it have in sancti- 
fying her conception ? To answer this question we 
must show that Our Saviour's own Conception exerts 
a secret influence over that of the Blessed Virgin, to 
which it imparts grace and sanctity ; and we shall do 
this best by first calling to mind a truth full of comfort 
to all Christians : — namely, that the life of the Saviour 
of souls has a particular relation to every part of our 
own lives, that it may sanctify them. The Apostle 
expresses this truth when he says : " Jesus Christ died 
and rose again, that He might be Lord both of the 
dead and the living "} Observe the relation : — the 
Saviour's life sanctifies ours ; our death is consecrated 
by His. And it is the same throughout : He clothed 
Himself with our weakness, which strengthens us in 
infirmity — He has felt our troubles, which consoles us 
in affliction and makes it holy and profitable to us : 
in short, Christ took upon Himself all that we are; 
and there is a secret relation between Him and us 
which causes our sanctification. And whence comes 

^ Rom. xiv. 9. 

32 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

this marvellous communication between His states 
and ours ? The Apostle would reply that it comes 
from the fact that the Saviour, dying and suffering, 
belongs to us : He gives us His death and His sufferings ; 
and in them we find graces that impart sanctity to 
our own, by making them like His. All Christians 
may say this ; but there is one relation to Him which 
the Blessed Virgin only can claim : — she alone has the 
right to say " The Redeemer, when He was conceived 
as man, gave Himself to me by a peculiar title, and 
in such a manner that His conception breathed 
sanctity into mine by its secret influence ". 

This, then, is the argument for Mary's being 
separated from the universal taint in her conception : — 
that she was chosen to be the parent of God made 
man ; that He was given to her by the Heavenly 
Father, to conceive, and to bear within her sacred 
womb ; and that whilst she thus bore Him — though 
for the rest of His life He was to belong equally to 
all men — she had a right of peculiar possession, as 
the Mother who had conceived Him: " peculiari 
munere sola possides ". Hence, it was surely just that 
Our Lord should do something singular for her who 
had been set apart by Divine wisdom to bear this 
singular relation to Him : — that the office for which 
she was destined should draw down a peculiar bless- 
ing of sanctification on her own conception ? We 
must, then, acknowledge Mary as separated by an 
extraordinary operation of the Son of God. Divine 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin^ 33 

Wisdom Itself ordained the separation, because of the 
peculiar tie between her and her Son which made it 
just for her to share His privileges. 

We see, further, that the Blessed Virgin in her sepa- 
rateness has something in common with all men and 
something peculiar to herself: for, as was said above, 
we are all separated from the mass by belonging to 
Christ. But Our Lord has a double tie with Mary : — 
one as Saviour, in common with the whole race ; 
the other as Son, by which He belongs only to her. 
By the first tie, she is bound to be parted from the 
mass like all other men ; by the second, she is bound 
to be set apart from it in an extraordinary manner. 
In this work, we behold the Divine Wisdom once 
more bringing order out of confusion as formerly in 
the case of the elements. Here is a mass of criminal 
humanity, from which a creature has to be separated 
in order to be made mother of her Creator. Jesus 
Christ is her Saviour : — hence she must be separated 
in the same way as others ; but Jesus Christ is also 
her Son, and therefore she must be separated from 
others : — if others are delivered from evil, she must be 
preserved from it, so that its very course may be hin- 
dered. How can this be, except by some more special 
communication of her Son's privileges ? He is exempt 
from sin : — Mary must be exempt also. Thus Wisdom 
has separated her from others ; but still she must not 
be confounded with her Son, since she is of necessity 
infinitely beneath Him. How, then, are we to distin- 


34 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

guish between them ? In this way : — Jesus Christ is 
exempt from sin by nature, Mary by grace ; Jesus 
Christ by right, Mary by privilege and indulgence. 

It is clear, then, that she may say of her separation 
" He that is mighty hath done great things to me " ; 
and we may now go on to see how grace iilled her so 
completely that the anger which threatens every child 
of Adam could not influence her conception, because 
it was forestalled by merciful love. 


If Holy Scripture tells us that the Son of God, 
in taking our flesh, also took upon Him all our in- 
firmities, sin alone excepted ; if the plan that He had 
formed of making Himself like unto us caused Him 
not to disdain hunger, or thirst, or fear, or sadness, or 
a thousand other weaknesses that seem unworthy of 
His dignity : — then still more must we believe that 
He was deeply imbued with that just and holy love, 
impressed upon us by nature itself, for those to whom 
we owe life. This truth is, indeed, evident ; but I 
wish to show here that it was that special love which 
prevented the Blessed Virgin in her happy conception — 
and I will explain my meaning fully. 

I shall consider the filial love that Our Saviour 
bore to Mary under two conditions : — namely, in the 
Incarnation, and before the Incarnation, of the Divine 
Word. No Christian can find it hard to believe that 
it existed in the Incarnation, for as it was by this 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 35 

fact that Mary became the Mother of God, it was 
also in the accomplishment of that august mystery 
that God acquired the feelings of a Son for Mary. 
But it is not so easy to understand how filial love for 
His holy Mother can have been found in God before 
He became incarnate, as the Son of God is her Child 
only on account of the humanity He took upon Him. 
Nevertheless, if we look farther back we shall discover 
that love which "prevented" Mary by the profusion 
of its gifts, already existing ; and the understanding 
of this truth will prove the love of God for our nature. 
There are three things that distinguish the Blessed 
Virgin from all mothers : — she gave birth to the 
Bestower of grace ; her Son — differing in this from all 
others — could put forth His full powers from the first 
moment of His life ; and, which is most wonderful of all, 
she was the mother of a Son Who existed before her. 
These three facts produce three magnificent effects in 
Mary. As her Son is the Bestower of grace He gives 
her a very large share of it ; as He is able to act from 
the moment of His birth. He need not delay His 
liberality towards her, but begins to shower His gifts 
the instant she has conceived Him ; lastly, having a 
Son Whose Being preceded hers, she is so miraculously 
placed that the love of that Son can go before her 
even in her own conception, and make that event 
innocent : it was indeed her right that such a Son 
should so benefit her. 

This truth is made still clearer through a doctrine 

36 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

held by some of the Fathers about the way in which 
the Son of God has loved the Blessed Virgin from 
eternity. They have drawn the doctrine from some- 
thing that we must have often wondered at ourselves : — 
from the way in which God, throughout Holy Scripture, 
appears to delight — if we may say so — in behaving as 
man : how He actually copies our actions, our manners 
and customs, our feelings and our passions. Now He 
will say, by the mouth of His prophets, that His Heart 
is seized with compassion ; then, again, that it is 
inflamed with anger : — that He is appeased, that He 
" repents Him," that He is glad or sorrowful. What 
means this mystery? Does it become a God to act 
thus ? For the Incarnate Word to speak in this fashion 
seems natural, for He was man ; but for God, before 
He was man, to act and speak as men do seems truly 
strange. It may be reasonably suggested that He 
does it to bring His Sovereign Majesty within our 
reach ; but the Fathers find a more mysterious reason 
for it. They tell us that God, having once resolved 
to unite Himself to our nature, judged it not beneath 
Him to adopt all its feelings beforehand : — nay, that 
He made them His own, and might even be said to 
have studied how to conform Himself to them. 

If it is not irreverent to illustrate so great a mystery 
by a familiar example, I would suggest a parallel in 
the ordinary conduct of a man who is expecting a civil 
or military appointment. He has not got it ; but he 
prepares for it by adopting in advance all the habits of 

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. 37 

mind that are proper to it ; and he tries in good time 
to acquire either the gravity of a judge or the generous 
courage of a soldier. God has determined to become 
man : He has not done so in the days of the Prophets, 
but it is certain that He will. Hence, we are not to 
wonder if He takes pleasure in appearing to the 
Patriarchs and Seers in human guise, by speaking and 
acting like a man before He has become one. And 
why ? Tertullian answers admirably : — to prepare for 
the Incarnation. He Who is to stoop so low as to 
assume our nature, is serving (with all reverence be 
it spoken) His apprenticeship, by conforming to our 
ways. " He accustoms Himself little by little to being 
man ; and learns from the beginning what He is to be 
in the end." ^ 

Let none, then, think that God awaited His coming 
on earth to have a filial love for the Blessed Virgin. 
That He had resolved to become man was enough to 
make him adopt a man's feelings ; and if He took 
those upon Him, would He be likely to forget the 
feelings of a Son — the most natural and human of 
them all ? Hence He has always loved Mary as His 
Mother, and looked upon her as such from the first 
moment she was conceived : could He, therefore, look 
upon her with anger? Would sin in her be consistent 
with so many graces, vengeance with love, enmity with 
union ? Sin, it is true, has raised a wall of separation 

* " Ediscens jam inde a primordio, jam inde hominem, quod erat 
fiituius in fine." — Lib. ii., adv. Marcion, n. 27, 

38 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

between God and man — has established a natural 
enmity ; but may not Mary say with the Psalmist : 
In Deo meo transgrediar murum ? ^ Yes : she will not 
be shut off by a barrier — she will pass over the wall — 
and how ? " In the name of my God : — of that God Who, 
being my Son, is mine by a peculiar right : that God 
Who has loved me as His mother from the first moment 
of my life : that God Whose all-powerful Sind prevenient 
Love has turned aside the wrath that threatens every 
child of Eve." 

Such is the work that has been wrought in the 
Blessed Virgin ; and we may, therefore, safely cry : 
" O Mary, miraculously dispensed, peculiarly separated, 
mercifully prevented, help our weakness by thy prayers, 
and obtain for us sinners this grace : — that we may so 
forestall by penance the punishment due to our sins, 
as to be at last received into the Kingdom of eternal 
peace, with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ". 

^ Ps. xvi. 32. 




{Preached on a Feast of Mary's Nativity.) 

" Nox praecessit, dies autem appropinquavit " (Rom. xiii. 12). 

Art and nature alike produce their works gradually, 
and God Himself does the same. The pencil precedes 
the brush ; the architect's design maps out the build- 
ing to come : — there is no chef d'ceuvre accomplished 
in the world but goes through its preliminary stages ; 
whilst nature, in the development of her designs, often 
tries her 'prentice hand in ways that seem almost like 

The work in which our Maker most remarkably 
follows the same plan is that of the Incarnation, for the 
sake of which He declared that He would " move the 
heaven and the earth " ^ : — this being His One Work 
above all others. Although its fulfilment was not to 
be till " the middle of years," ^ He nevertheless began 
it from the beginning of the world. The natural and 
the written Law — ceremonies and sacrifices — priest- 

^ Agg. ii. 7. ^ Habac. iii. 2. 

40 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

hood and prophets — were all, speaking reverently, 
merely sketches or outlines of the " perfect Man, Christ 
Jesus ". They are called by an ancient writer Christi 
rudimenta ; and the grand work itself was reached 
only through a succession of images and figures that 
served as preparatory designs. But when the time 
comes close for the Mystery, God plans something 
yet more excellent than these : — He forms the blessed 
Mary, that He may represent Jesus Christ to us more 
naturally than before. He is about to send Him on 
earth, and so combines all His most beautiful char- 
acteristics in the person of her who is to be His 

Tertullian,^ contemplating and discussing the mar- 
vellous interest that God displayed in the act of 
forming man from " the slime of the earth," seeks for 
some explanation of the immense pains that He 
bestowed on the work. He declares himself unable 
to believe that He put forth so much power, to mould 
so base a material, without some further great end in 
view : and this end, he finally concludes, is nothing 
less than Jesus Christ, Who is to be born of the race 
of man, and Whom God, therefore, chooses to typify 
to us by His manner of forming the first members of 
that race. Quodcunique limus exprimebatur, Christus 
cogitabatur homo futurus. 

If this idea is true : — if God, when He created the 
first Adam, meant to trace out the second ; if He 

^ De Resur. cam., n. 6, 

Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ. 41 

formed our first father so carefully with Jesus our 
Saviour in view, and because His Divine Son was to 
spring from him after many generations : — surely to- 
day, when we see Mary — who was to bear Christ 
within her womb — come into the world, we may 
conclude that in creating her God was thinking of 
our Lord and working for Him alone ? Hence there 
is no cause for surprise either in His having formed 
her so carefully or in His endowing her with so many 
graces as He did : for to make her worthy of His 
Son He models her upon that Son Himself Intend- 
ing soon to bestow on us His Word Incarnate, on the 
day of Mary's nativity He gives us an outline — I 
might almost say a beginning — of Jesus Christ, in one 
who, though a creature, is in some sort a living ex- 
pression of His own perfections. Thus we may truly 
apply to such a day the Apostle's beautiful words : 
" The night has passed and the day is at hand ". 

The Redeemer of mankind, besides being in Him- 
self an inexhaustible Fount of Love, must necessarily 
possess the two qualities of exemption from sin and 
fulness of grace. He must be innocent to purify us 
from our crimes, and full of grace to enrich our 
poverty ; for these qualities are inseparable from the 
character and office of the Saviour. When God formed 
the Blessed Virgin on the pattern of the Sun of 
Justice, some of the rays by which He was to dispel 
our darkness were permitted to shine forth in her, 
though only in a degree that faintly foreshadowed 

42 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

the brilliant light they were to shed over the world 
when they should stream in their fulness from Jesus 
Christ Himself; and hence it came that she was 
endowed with the very qualities that were to form 
an intrinsic part of Her Divine Son's human nature, 
especially with these two of innocence and fulness of 
grace. We are here to consider shortly both the 
cause and the manner of Mary's likeness to her Son 
in these particular points : — and, first, the special re- 
lation of her innocence to His. 

In the whole teaching of the Gospels there is 
nothing more touching than God's gentle and loving 
way of treating His reconciled enemies : that is, 
converted sinners. He is not satisfied with blotting 
out our stains and washing away our filth : to His 
infinite goodness it is but a little thing that our sins 
should do us no harm : — He would have them actually 
profit us. He draws out of them such benefits for 
our soul that we even feel constrained to bless our 
very transgressions, and to cry with the Church : O 
Felix culpa /^ His grace seems to struggle with our 
sins for the upper hand ; and St. Paul says that it 
even pleases Him to make grace abound more where 
sin has abounded.^ In fact, He receives penitent 
sinners back with so much love that innocence itself 
might almost be said to have cause for complaint — or 
at least for some jealousy — at the sight of it. The 

1 Blessing of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday. 
^ Rom, V, 20, 

Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ. 43 

extreme gentleness with which He treats them, if 
their regret for sin be but real, appears to do away 
with all further need for regret. Let but one sheep 
stray from His side, and it seems to become dearer 
to Him than all the others who remained constant ; 
like the father in the parable, His heart melts over 
His returned prodigal rather than over the elder, 
faithful brother. 

We seem, indeed, at first sight to have ground for 
saying that the penitent sinner has the advantage 
over the just who have not sinned : — that restored 
virtue may triumph over innocence preserved ; never- 
theless, it is not so. We may never doubt that 
innocence is a privileged state ; and if there were no 
other reason for maintaining this it would be enough 
to remember that Jesus Christ chose that state for 
Himself. Observe the terms in which the great 
Apostle declares His Divine Master's innocence : ^ 
Talh deccbat ut esset nobis pontifex : "It was fitting 
that we should have a high priest, holy, innocent, 
undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher 
than the heavens : Who needeth not to offer sacrifices 
for His own sins " — but, being holiness itself, expiates 
sin. Must not the Son of God, then, have dearly 
loved the innocence that He took for His own lot ? 
No : His tender feelings for converted sinners does 
not place them above holy souls that have never been 
stained by sin. Only, just as we feel the blessing of 

1 Hebr. vii. 26, 

44 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

health most keenly on recovering from a long illness, 
though we would far rather have been spared the 
illness and kept our strength unbroken ; or, again, 
as a lovely mild day in the midst of a hard winter is 
peculiarly enjoyed from its unexpectedness, yet is by 
no means so pleasureable as a long mild season would 
have been : — so, humanly speaking, we may under- 
stand how Our Lord lavishes tenderness on freshly 
converted sinners, who are His latest conquest ; yet 
nevertheless has a more ardent love for His early 
friends, the Just. We may, indeed — to go higher for 
an explanation — describe His whole attitude, as re- 
gards the "one sinner that repenteth" and the " ninety- 
nine just," very shortly and simply by keeping in 
mind His twofold nature, which causes Him to feel 
differently as Son of God and as Saviour of men. 

Though Jesus Christ, as Son of God, may take 
pleasure in seeing at His feet a sinner who has returned 
to the right path, yet, being Himself essential Sanctity 
He must love the innocence that has never strayed 
with a stronger love ; for as it is nearer to, and more 
perfectly imitates, His own infinite holiness. He can- 
not help honouring it by closer familiarity. What- 
ever favour the tears of a penitent may find in His 
eyes, they can never equal the pure charm of a holi- 
ness ever-faithful to Him. But when God becomes 
man to save us from our sins He, as our Saviour, 
comes to seek the guilty : for them He lives, because 
to them He was sent. 

Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ. 45 

How does He Himself describe the object of His 
mission? "/ came, not to seek the Just," ^ that is to 
say : "Though they may be the most noble and worthy 
of My friendship, My commission does not extend 
to them. As Saviour, I am to seek the lost ; 
as Physician, the sick ; as Redeemer, those who are 
captive." Hence it is that He loves only the society 
of such as these — because to them alone He was sent 
into the world. The angels, who never fell, may ap- 
proach Him as Son of God : — that is the prerogative 
of innocence ; but, in His quality of Saviour, He gives 
the preference to sinners ; just as a doctor who, as a 
man, will prefer to hold intercourse with the healthy, 
would nevertheless, as a physician, rather tend the 
sick. Here is an evangelical interpretation of the 
whole mystery which is full of comfort for sinners like 
us. At the same time, however, it tells strongly in 
favour of Mary's perpetual purity ; for if the Son of 
God loves innocence so intensely, could it be that He 
should find none on earth ? Of course He has it 
Himself in the highest degree of perfection ; but shall 
He not have the satisfaction of finding here below 
something like Himself, or at least slightly approach- 
ing His own spotlessness ? We cannot believe that 
He should have to live entirely among sinners without 
the consolation of intercourse with one spotless soul, 
and who should this be but His mother? If He 
must spend His life in seeking sinners throughout the 

^ Matt. ix. 13, 

46 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

whole range of Palestine, and find criminals wherever 
He turns outside His home, surely just within it He 
may find wherewith to feast His soul on the lasting 
beauty of unsullied holiness ? 

True : — Our Lord not only never shows contempt 
for sinners by banishing them from His presence, but 
actually calls them to the highest offices in His king- 
dom. He entrusts the charge of His flock to a Peter 
who has denied Him ; He puts the publican Matthew 
at the head of the Evangelists ; and makes Paul, the 
chief of persecutors, into the first of preachers : — not 
the just and innocent, but the converted sinners, have 
the first places. Nevertheless, He does not take His 
holy mother from among their ranks : between her and 
others there must be a difference of a special kind, 
and to which careful attention must be paid ; for it is 
an essential and fundamental part of the subject I am 

Christ chose the former — the penitent sinners whom 
He put in high places — for others ; and He chose Mary 
for Himself. For others : " All things are yours, 
whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas ".^ Mary 
for Himself: " Mjy beloved to me, and I to Him^ : 
He is my Only One and I am His only one ; He is 
my Son, and I am His mother". He drew those 
whom He chose for others from the ranks of sinners 
that they might the better announce His mercy and 
the remission of sins. His whole design was to restore 

* I Cor. iii. 22. 2 2 Cant. ii. 16. 

Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ. 47 

confidence in souls that were cast down by guilt ; and 
who could better preach divine mercy than those who 
themselves furnished striking examples of it ? Who 
could say with greater effect that it was " a faithful 
saying . . . that Jesus Christ came into this world to 
save sinners," than a St. Paul who could add " of whom 
I am the chief" ? ^ It was just as if he had said to the 
sinner whom he wanted to win : " Fear not ; I know 
the hand of the physician I would send you to. He 
Himself has sent me to tell you how He cured me : — 
how easily — how tenderly ; and to promise you the 
same happiness " : — as St. Augustine said in after 
years. ^ It was, then, a truly wise means of drawing 
sinners to God to have His mercy proclaimed to them 
by men who had so deeply experienced it. St. Paul 
teaches this plainly : " For this cause," he says, " I 
have obtained mercy ; that in me first Jesus Christ 
shall show forth all patience, for the information of 
them that shall believe unto life everlasting "? Thus 
we see why God honours reconciled sinners with the 
first offices in the Church : — for the instruction of the 

But if this was the course He pursued with those 
whom He appointed for the good of others, it was not 
His mode of proceeding where the extraordinary, 
privileged, and cherished being was concerned whom 
He created for Himself only : with her whom He 

^ I Tim. i. 15. 2 Serm. clxxvi., n, 4, torn, v., col. 841. 

^ I Tim. i. 16. 

48 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

chose for His Mother. In her case He did — not, as 
whea He chose His Apostles and Ministers, what was 
profitable to the salvation of all — but what was most 
sweet and satisfying to Him, and most for His own 
glory. She was to possess none but Him for her 
own, and He none but her, and therefore He would 
have her innocent from the beginning. The gift of 
perfect innocence, of course, may not be too freely 
lavished on our corrupt nature ; but for God to bestow 
it on His own Mother alone cannot be called lavish ; 
whilst to refuse it even to her would be restricting it 
too far. 

We may, then, I repeat, consider that with Mary's 
birth a preliminary ray of the full light of Christ is shed 
on the world : as St. Peter Damian beautifully puts it : 
Nata Virgine surrexit Aurora} But, perfectly as her 
innocence foreshadows His, we are not to suppose 
that it puts her on a par with Him ; for it belongs to 
Jesus by right, to Mary only by privilege ; to Jesus 
by nature, to Mary only by giace and indulgence ; in 
Jesus we honour the very source of all innocence, in 
Mary only a stream from that source. Mary's inno- 
cence, in short, is but the outflowing on to a specially 
chosen creature, of Christ's own freedom from sin : and 
her spotlessness possesses a quality in which it differs 
from the purity of other innocent creatures, which is 
peculiarly comforting and encouraging to us. Inno- 
cence of life in ordinary human beings is rather apt to 

^ Sermon xi. (in Assumpt. B. Mar. Virg.). 

Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ. 49 

be a reproach to those of bad life, and to have a 
repelling effect on the guilty by seeming to condemn 
them. In Mary, however, the Divine Innocence from 
which hers is derived shines forth with its own 
character : and that character does not consist in a 
purity that seems to judge or reproach criminals, but 
in one that exists only to be their life and salvation. 
Hence this holy and innocent creature never repels 
or discourages us by the sight of her faultlessness, as 
she uses it only to raise and win pardon for us ; whilst 
by the shining light of her purity we may see to 
cleanse away our own offences. 

Then, having done this, we may become spiritually 
rich by filling our emptiness at the fountain of those 
innumerable graces, the possession of which — as I 
said above — constitutes the second special likeness of 
Mary to her Son. To treat adequately of these graces 
is, however, more difficult than to discuss her inno- 
cence ; for the mere recollection of her dignity 
as Mother of God makes it easy to realise her 
exemption from sin. But when it comes to setting 
forth the fulness of her graces, the mere thought of 
their number is overpowering, and one knows not 
where to begin. What I propose, therefore, is to 
indicate what their extent must be by considering 
the principle whence they all sprang, rather than to 
attempt describing them individually. 

This principle, of course, is the same as that of every 
grace and virtue that has adorned the whole human 


50 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

race from the beginning : the fact of Jesus Christ's 
union with mankind. But His union with His Mother 
is so much closer than with any other creature that it 
must naturally result in her 'being much more richly 
endowed with grace than any one else : indeed, we 
can hardly place any limit to the endowments that 
such a bond as hers with her Son would entitle her 
to. Had this bond been only such a one as ordinary 
mothers have with their children it must have brought 
her innumerable gifts from God ; but we must re- 
member what is too often overlooked, that the tie 
between Mary and Christ was something beyond that 
of mere parent and child, in two ways. 

First, it was a spiritual tie ; for Mary — as we are 
specially told in Holy Scripture — conceived her Son 
by Faith. When she went to visit St. Elizabeth the 
latter cried : " Blessed art thou that hast believed 

! " ^ which was as much as to say, " thou art a 

mother, indeed, but it is thy faith that has made thee 
so ". From this the Fathers of the Church have unani- 
mously argued that the Blessed Virgin's union with 
her Son began in the exactly opposite way to that of 
ordinary mothers. They are united to their children 
corporally at first, conceiving them naturally, according 
to the flesh ; but she conceived hers purely by the 
Spirit, apart from nature, and had no corporal union 
with Him till after her act of faith and obedience had 
enabled her to receive Him within her : Prius concepit 
^ Luke i. 43. 

Mary a Foreshadowing of Christ. 51 

mente quam corpore, St. Augustine says.^ Thus, its 
spiritual nature is the first great distinction between 
Mary's motherhood and that of other women. 

The second difference between them is that Christ 
chose to be miraculously born without a human father, 
and thus to receive His sacred flesh and blood from 
her alone when He became man. Hence His tie with 
her was not merely that of an only Son, but of an only 
Son to Whom she stood — humanly speaking— in the 
place of both parents, and from Whom she therefore 
had the right to a double share of His holy affections. 

Here, then, we have plainly set before us the Blessed 
Virgin's title to the " fulness of grace," modelled on that 
of Christ Himself, that I have claimed for her ; and 
from the greatness of her claim we may judge of the 
liberality with which it would be granted. When we 
see so clearly what she is to be to Him, we find no 
room left for doubting that He will send her into the 
world not only free from sin, but actually endowed 
with every virtue, that she may thus truly shadow 
forth, as a faithful image, the Messias to Whom she 
is to give birth when the time is ripe. Christ, we must 
never forget, is the Author of His own Mother's exist- 
ence ; and if even ordinary man is formed on the 
model of the Sacred Humanity, how much nearer to 
it must not that Mother's likeness be? 

1 Sermon ccxv., n. 4, torn, v., col. 950 




(Being two of Bossuet's Sermons combined.) 

"Quis, putas, puer iste erit? " (St. Luke i. 66). 

Before the birth of Our Lord, all good men who lived 
in expectation of Israel's Redeemer incessantly longed 
for His coming. They ardently desired that the 
Eternal Father should hasten the hour of sending them 
their Deliverer ; and the transports of joy with which 
they would have greeted the smallest sign that that 
hour was approaching may be well imagined by us. 
Suppose them, then, to have known when the Blessed 
Virgin was born that she was to be the Saviour's 
Mother, what may we not conclude would have been 
their delight? Even as those races that worship the 
sun rejoice at the sight of his herald, the dawn, so 
would the men of faith in Israel have been enraptured 
at the thought of beholding the glorious birthday of 
her who was to usher in the coming of the " Desired of 
all Nations ". We who come after them can under- 
stand their feelings. Moved by reverence for Him 
Who chose her for His Mother, we come to-day to do 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 53 

honour to this newly-risen star : to deck her cradle — 
not, indeed, with actual lilies and roses — but with the 
holy desires and heartfelt praise that are the true 
flowers of the Spirit. 

I shall best express what I have to say of Mary's 
Nativity by arranging my subject under certain definite 
heads. I shall try to show that her first great advan- 
tage as the Mother of Jesus Christ will be her lasting 
blessedness in loving Him with a quite unequalled 
affection, and her second prerogative the corresponding 
love — incapable of comparison — that He will bear to 
her. I hope further to prove that she will possess a 
third wonderful privilege in the fact that her union 
with Jesus will unite her also in the closest manner 
with the Eternal Father ; and finally to explain how 
this union will confer on her the Motherhood of the 
Faithful, who are at once children of the Father and 
brethren of the Son. 

The subject is great and difficult ; but I enter upon 
it with confidence in the helping grace of the Blessed 
Trinity ; for is not Mary daughter of the Father, 
mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Ghost ? 


To begin with the two first-named privileges : — my 
first point is that this new-bom maiden is unspeakably 
blessed in being predestined to experience such ex- 
ceeding love for Him Who is alone really worthy of 
our hearts. 

54 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

We all acknowledge that the highest gift ever given 
by God to His saints is love for the Lord Jesus, From 
the beginning of all ages, before His coming, He was 
the delight of the Patriarchs. Abraham, Isaac, and 
Jacob could hardly contain their joy at only remem- 
bering that He was to be born of their race. How, then, 
can Mary, from whose very flesh He is to spring — who 
is to gaze on Him sleeping in her arms, or feeding 
from her virginal breast — do otherwise than feel her 
whole being dilate with love of Him? And after- 
wards, when with His first infant lisp He begins to 
call her " Mother " ; when, as His childish speech 
develops a little, she hears Him offer His earliest 
tribute of praise to God His Father ; and when, later, 
she sees Him in the privacy of home moving about, 
eagerly obedient to her lightest word : — how burning 
will not be the ardour of her love ? 

But, besides the grace of loving Our Lord, another 
great gift of God is to be able to think much of Him. 
We well know that His Name is honey to the lips, 
light to the eyes, and a flame to the heart : ^ God has 
conferred a nameless grace on every one of His words 
and actions, to think on which is Eternal life. Those 
who think of them often, undoubtedly find unspeak- 
able comfort in so doing. In this practice consisted 
the whole sweetness of Mary's life : we see from the 
Gospels that she incessantly went over and over again 
in her thoughts whatever her Son said to her and 
^ St. Bernard, Serm. xv, in Cant., n. 6, torn, i., col. 13 ii. 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 55 

whatever was said to her about Him : Maria aiUem 
conservabat omnia verba hcec in corde siw.^ Only by- 
depriving her of life itself could one have obliterated 
these thoughts from her heart, for they formed part of 
her very life-blood. If even ordinary mothers have 
their interests bound up in those of their sons how 
much more must Mary's have been so bound ? How 
intensely must she have admired His life, been 
charmed by His words, suffered in His passion, loved 
with His love, and rejoiced in His glor>' ! And when 
He returned to His Father, what must have been 
her impatience to go to Him ? 

St Thomas ^ says that the inequality amongst the 
Blessed in Heaven will consist in this : — that those 
who have most ardently desired the Divine presence 
in this world will enjoy it most abundantly in the 
next, because the sweetness of enjoyment is in pro- 
portion to the desire. By the burning impatience 
of St. Paul, who so craved for his Lord's embrace in 
eternity that he ardently wished to "be dissolved to be 
with Christ," ^ we may judge somewhat of what would 
be the feelings and longings of Christ's mother. Even 
Tobias's mother felt terribly one year's absence from 
her son : * and what an immeasurable distance between 
her love and that of Mary ! What, then, must be the 
place in Heaven to be attained by the Blessed Infant 
round whom our thoughts are centring to-day? If 

^ Luke ii. 19. * I. Part., Quaest. xii., art. v . 

^ Phil. i. 23. * Tob. V. 23 et seq. 

56 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

her greatness is to be according to the measure of 
her desires she must surpass all the hierarchies of 
angels ; for her only fitting place amongst the heavenly 
hosts will be-close to the throne of her much-loved Son 
Himself, there to share the most intimate secrets of 
His heart, and to exert her all-powerful influence 
with Him for ever : — there to offer those petitions for 
us which His filial love will make Him unable to 

This thought brings us naturally to consider the 
other side of our great subject : — that Love with which 
the Son of God honours the Blessed Virgin. If it is 
difficult to treat the first affection as it deserves, it 
seems well-nigh impossible to say anything adequate 
of the second ; for in as far as Our Lord necessarily 
surpasses Mary in all other things, so He must be 
far greater in His capacity of Son than she in that 
of Mother. The only suitable, as well as the most 
moving, way of treating such a subject is to see what 
can be found about it in the Gospels : — as, indeed, 
may be said of all subjects ; for one word of Holy 
Scripture has more power over the soul than all that 
human eloquence can produce. What, then, can we 
discover in the Sacred writings that will help towards 
some realisation of Christ's feelings for His Mother ? 
Nothing, I think, to equal the wonderful account of 
His deep love of human nature, itself. It is worth 
while to make a short digression for considering 
this. *■ 

071 the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 57 

The manner in which Our Saviour took upon Him- 
self everything belonging to man — sin alone excepted 
— even to our greatest infirmities, is an unanswerable 
argument against those unpardonable heretics who, 
having dared to deny the reality of His sacred flesh, 
necessarily denied the reality of His sufferings and 
human passions. By doing this they deprived them- 
selves of the greatest possible consolation ; for, what- 
ever sort of trouble we may be afflicted with, we 
may always remember that we have the honour of en- 
during it in our Divine Master's company, when we 
know that all His human weaknesses were actually real. 
If a man suffers from want, let Him think of His 
Saviour's hunger and thirst, and extreme indigence. 
Is he injured in reputation ? His Lord was " despised 
and rejected of men". Does some depressing in- 
firmity keep hold of him ? Christ " suffered unto 
death". Or, again, we may be overpowered by a 
crushing sense of weariness : — then we can go to 
the garden of olives, and there behold Our Lord 
in a state of such fear, sadness, and overwhelming 
oppression that He actually sweats blood and water 
at the mere thought of His trial. No one has ever 
heard of such a thing as this in the case of any other 
person ; therefore we may safely say that never did 
any human being possess feelings so tender, so deli- 
cate, and so strong, as Our Saviour's : though they 
were kept under extreme control because of being 
perfectly subject to the Will of His Father. 

5^ Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

Now, the relation that all this bears to the special 
point under consideration is twofold. First — (as we 
have already seen in connection with the subject of 
Mary's immaculate conception) — the thought that 
Christ took upon Himself, so wholly and sincerely, 
such infirmities of our race as might even seem un- 
worthy of Him, makes us certain that He cannot 
possibly have failed to adopt the universal and natural 
feeling of filial devotion towards her who had bestowed 
His human life upon Him. Next, if we remember 
how deeply the special acuteness of His feelings would 
make Him love His Mother on even ordinary grounds, 
we shall the better understand what must have been 
His affection for such a mother as Mary, in return for 
such gifts as He had received from her. It is not too 
bold to say that, as man, He owed to her — besides 
life itself — a portion of His glory, and the purity of 
His flesh. 

This statement, though perhaps a little startling at 
first sight, is none the less true ; neither does it in any 
way detract from the glory of the Master. It may 
be well proved from an argument set forth by St. 
Augustine in many fine passages of his writings, but 
especially in his books against Julian. This great 
man, from the lamentable fact that concupiscence has 
a share in all ordinary births, draws the conclusion 
that that accursed thing — corrupting whatever it comes 
near — so poisons the matter whence our bodies are 
formed that the flesh composed of it necessarily con- 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 59 

tracts corruption. Hence, the glorified bodies which 
we are to have at the Resurrection will not be bom 
anew " of the will of man, or of the will of the flesh " ; 
but the spirit of God wiU breathe life into them again, 
when they shall have left in the Earth all the impurities 
of their first birth. Now, if the concupiscence attached 
to the ordinary mode of generation has thus deeply 
contaminated our bodies, we may be sure that the 
fruit of virginal flesh will, contrariwise, draw marvellous 
purity from its incorrupt root ; and as Our Saviour's 
sacred flesh must of necessity exceed the very Sun 
itself in purity. He chose from eternity — as we have 
also seen in speaking of her conception — a Virgin 
Mother from whom He should take this flesh, so that 
she might bear her Son by faith alone, untouched by 

What, then, must we bfelieve this Child born to-day 
will become ? " Quis, putas, puer isle erit ? " To love 
God, and to be loved by Him, are two purely gratuitous, 
supernatural^ gifts to all ordinary beings. But she is 
to be the Mother of God : her Divine Saviour is to be 
her Son. Therefore, as a mother, she will naturally 
love her Son ; whilst she will have a right to His love, 
as her Child, which no other human being can possess. 

From this necessary mutual love spring two impor- 
tant consequences. First, the greatness of the gifts 
that Our Lord will undoubtedly bestow on His 
Mother ; secondly, the wonderful relation of Mary to 
the Eternal Father which this beautiful tie between 

6o Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

Mother and Child will produce : — for can the Father 
help loving what the Son loves ? Is it not in the very 
person of God the Son that heaven and earth are to 
be reconciled ; and are not • all our hopes actually 
founded on His being the eternal bond between God 
and man ? So that it must be taken as indisputably 
established that she, through whom this bond is formed, 
will be especially loved. 

But the union of Mary with God the Father, caused 
by her wonderful maternity, is not merely a tie on the 
human side, as may possibly be supposed. It includes 
a further and peculiar privilege, the nature of which I 
shall now go on to discuss separately. 


The line of reasoning that I shall take upon this 
point — an exceedingly delicate one, on account of the 
ease with which one may fall into error on the subject 
— has been to some extent suggested by what has 
been already said of the Blessed Virgin's love for her 
Son, The doctrine I would now set forth rests on the 
conclusion that this love of hers did not stop short at 
His humanity ; but, taking that humanity for a con- 
necting link, passed on to the Divine Nature, which is 
inseparable from it. If we would illustrate such a 
deep theological point by something familiar, we can 
only remember once more how the love of any really 
devoted mother extends to everything connected with 
her son : — to his friends — his general concerns — his 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 6i 

possessions, and so on : — but, most of all, to whatever 
has to do with hh own person, about which she is apt 
to be sensitive to the very highest degree. 

Now, let us ask, what was the Divine Nature to the 
Son of Mary? In what way, and how nearly, did it 
touch His Person ? We need only our Faith to give 
an answer. Every day, when we say our Creed, we 
profess belief in " Jesus Christ — the Son of God — born 
of the Virgin Mary ". Do we, then, understand that 
He whom we acknowledge as the Son of Almighty 
God, and He who was bom of the Virgin, are two 
persons ? Most certainly not. It is the same Person 
Who, being God and man, is Son of God according to 
the Divine Nature, and Son of Mary according to 
humanity. Hence it is that the Fathers declared the 
Blessed Virgin to be the Mother of God. It was faith 
in this truth that triumphed over the blasphemies of 
Nestorius, and that will make the devils tremble to 
the end of the world. Now, surely, if I say that Mary 
must love her Son entirely no one will venture to 
dispute it : and if it is true that both these natures 
belong to Him, then she must necessarily cherish Him 
as a God-man. The mystery of such a love, it is true, 
can be compared to nothing on earth ; and hence we 
are compelled to raise our thoughts even as high as 
the Eternal Father Himself to find a comparison. 

Ever since human nature was joined to the Person 
of the Word, it has necessarily been an object of 
complacency to the Father. These are lofty thoughts. 

62 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

I acknowledge ; but, as they are really fundamental 
principles of Christianity, it is of importance that they 
should be understood by the faithful ; and I shall put 
forward nothing that cannot be proved from the 
Scriptures. Of whom, then, are we to suppose that 
the Eternal Father was speaking when that miraculous 
voice from God broke forth on Mount Tabor : " This 
is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased " ? ^ 
Was it not of that Word made flesh who was then 
appearing transfigured before the eyes of His Apostles? 
By such an authentic declaration as this, therefore, 
God made it clear that His Fatherly Love reaches to 
the humanity of His Son ; and that, having joined the 
human nature so closely to the Divine, He will never 
more separate them in His affections. In this declara- 
tion, too, if we can but thoroughly grasp it, we shall 
find the whole foundation of our hope to consist ; for 
it puts before us the fact that Jesus, Who is man even 
as we arey is recognised and loved by God as His own 

Now, let none take scandal when I say that there 
is a certain likeness to this love of the Father in the 
Blessed Virgin's affection, inasmuch as her love em- 
braces at once the Divinity and humanity of her Son 
which God's almighty Hand has so closely joined : — 
for God, in His mysterious counsels, having judged 
it fitting to decree that the Virgin should beget, in 
Time, that One Whom He is continually begetting 
' Matt. xvii. 5. 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 63 

in Eternity, has thus in some sort associated her with 
His eternal act of generation. Consider this deep 
mystery well : understand that to make her mother 
of that self-same Son to Whom He is Father, is 
indeed to let her take part in His own begetting. 
Hence, having once given her, as it were, this share 
in His eternal act of generation, it was becoming, and 
worthy of His wisdom, that a spark of His Infinite 
Love for that Son should enkindle her breast. As 
the providence of God disposes of all things with 
wonderful justice, it seems even necessary that He 
should fill the Blessed Virgin's heart with an affection 
far beyond that of mere nature, and reaching even to 
the very highest degree of grace ; so that she might 
have for her Son feelings that should be at the same 
time fit for a mother of God, and worthy of a God- 
man. Not even the intellect of the sublimest of 
angels could enable one to comprehend this most 
perfect union of the Eternal Father with her. God 
" so loved the world," as Our Lord Himself says, " as 
to give His only-begotten Son " ; ^ and the Apostle 
further declares that He has " also, with Him, given 
us all things ".^ 

If, then, He did this out of the true affection He 
had for us because He had given us His Only-Begotten 
as Master and Saviour, what far greater designs must 
not His unspeakable love have made Him form for 
Mary, concerning whom He had decreed that Jesus 

1 John iii. i6. 2 RQm, viii. 32. 

64 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 

should belong to her in the same capacity in which 
He belongs to Him : — that she should be the Mother 
of His only Son, and that He would be the Father 
of hers ? 

O prodigious abyss of love ! The mind gets beyond 
its depth in trying to think of this mysterious union : 
in considering what an object of delight Mary must 
have been to the Father, from the moment when a 
Divine Son — common to a woman of flesh and to 
the Godhead Himself — became the bond between 
Him and her. 

Truly, then, whatever praises we may offer to a 
Child with this destiny are far below her deserts. 
The mere contemplation of her grandeur as pre- 
destined Mother of God dazzles our mental sight, 
and makes us unable to speak of her as we would. 
But, having treated of her to the best of my power 
in this great position, which seems to raise her so far 
above us, I would now bring her shortly before you 
in that relation to ourselves which I have referred 
to as a special consequence of her alliance with the 
Eternal Father. I may, as my final point, show how 
her greatness must necessarily be a beneficent great- 
ness, and how her wonderful dignity carries with it 
the office of Mother of the Faithful. 


It is the very nature of God, who possesses in Him- 
self every perfection and everything that can possibly 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 65 

have existence — every grace and gift, every beauty 
that we behold in creation — to give. One of the 
noblest and most worthy of many ideas that we may 
form of the Divine Essence is to look upon It as 
not only a treasure-house of unlimited perfections, 
but as one that must open and pour itself forth 
on creatures. And why ? Chiefly because one of its 
chief attributes is goodness. To begin with, creatures 
would never exist at all if God did not draw them 
forth from their nothingness by imparting to them, 
so to speak, a share of His own Being ; and we have 
already discussed the great extent to which His love 
for man makes Him go in bestowing favours upon 
Him. St. Augustine says that there are only three 
reasons for giving at all : first, necessity, or compulsion ; 
secondly, self-interest, or expectation of some advantage 
in return ; thirdly, beneficence, which proceeds from 
pure goodness. It is very clear that God cannot 
give from either of the two first motives ; hence He 
must give out of simple love, which is the quality 
proper to goodness. 

But if love is proper to goodness, fertility is proper 
to love. Indeed, one sort of fertility is love, as 
opposed to the fertility of nature. In the ordinary 
course of things we see people without children adopt 
them ; and hence St. Augustine often calls charity 
** a Mother " : Charitas Mater est} Now, this double 
kind of fertility that we see in creatures emanates 
^ In Ep. Joan., tract ii., n. 4, torn, iii., part ii., col. 838. 

66 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

from the same quality in God, whence all paternity 
proceeds. The Nature of God is fruitful, and pro- 
duces His Son by Nature Whom He begets in 
Eternity. The love of God is fruitful, giving Him 
adopted sons ; and all who are His " children by 
adoption " are born of this second fertility. Mary 
shares in the natural fertility of God by begetting 
His own son ; but as the sole cause of her dignity, 
and of Christ's Incarnation, is the love of God for 
man, she must necessarily also share in the fertility 
of His Love by begetting the Faithful, in whose birth 
she has " co-operated by her charity " : cooperata est 

Mary, then, is at the same time Mother of Christ 
and our Mother ; and this gives us double reason for 
keeping the anniversary of her birth with joy, since 
it gives her a twofold power of intercession. To be 
a perfectly efficacious intercessor before the throne of 
God, the one who pleads must possess equal nearness 
to God and to man ; and of what creature but Mary 
can this be said ? As Mother of Christ she is close to 
the Eternal Father, and as Mother of the Faithful she 
is close to us : hence her position as a pleader is quite 

But if she is, by virtue of her dignity and office, 
necessarily Mother of the Faithful, not all the Faithful 
are her worthy children whom she will acknowledge 
and help : — on certain conditions only may we rely on 

^ St. Aug. de Sancta Virginit., n, 6, torn, vi., col. 343. 

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. 67 

her powerful intercession. These conditions, however, 
may all be reduced to one : to the fulfilment of the 
Will of God after the pattern of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 
If Mary's existence is bound up, as we have seen that 
it is, in that of her Son, those only who love Him can 
be loved by her; and He Himself has placed the true 
test of love for all Christians in obedience. But our 
obedience is to be like His : — and what was that ? It 
was very simple : Christ pleased not Himself} He did 
only the Will of His Father without any choice as to 
what It should be ; and as the Father's Will was suffer- 
ing, He suffered "unto death". His Mother did the 
same : she had not even a sight of the glory on Mount 
Tabor, but had to bear her full share of the ignominy 
of the Cross. Nay, it was actually at the foot of the 
Cross that her Son specially proclaimed her our 
Mother ; and this for two reasons : — that she might 
have a true experience of the deepest sorrows of 
motherhood, so as to sympathise with us ; and that 
we might know how only through courageously and 
lovingly suffering what God wills, and taking up our 
cross as He has commanded, can we ever be her 
genuine children. And — to finish my subject with a 
suggestion far above ordinary human ideas — this is not 
all. We may do more than be worthy and trustful chil- 
dren of Mary, by doing the Will of God in all things 
and loving the Cross. We may even — O wonderful 
thought ! — share in some sort the glorious privilege 

^ Rom. XV. 3. 

68 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

of her Maternity. If this sounds impossible or pre- 
sumptuous, listen to Christ Himself; for does He not 
say : " He who doth the Will of My Father Who is in 
Heaven, the same is My brother, and My sister, omA 
My Mother'' ?^ 

^ Mark iii. 32, seq. 




" Creavit Dominus novum super terrain : fsemina circumdabit 
virum " (Jerem. xxxi. 22). 

Out of that great and terrible wreck, in which human 
reason lost its chief possessions, and especially the 
Truth for which God had formed it, the mind of man 
has retained a vague and uneasy desire to recover 
some vestiges of that truth ; and of this desire has 
been bom an almost incredible love of novelty, which 
appears in the world in various forms, and exercises 
minds of various kinds. Some, it merely impels to 
collect countless foreign curiosities ; more energetic 
spirits are driven by the feeling to exhaust themselves 
in attempts to discover fresh walks in art, or in the 
management of business ; whilst others, again, search 
nature for her hidden secrets from the same motive. 
In short, it may be asserted of this desire for " some- 
thing new" that throughout the universe no feeling 
has a stronger hold on human nature, or is a more 
common incentive to all forms of activity. To cure 
this disease, God Himself sets before us in Scripture 

70 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

what we may call, in all reverence, holy novelties and 
profitable curiosities ; and of this to-day's Mystery is 
a striking instance. The Prophet has drawn our 
attention to it as an extraordinary and astonishing 
" new thing," in the words of the text ; and we are 
now to consider it. We must not, however, fail first 
to beg the help of Our Lord through His Mother 
by greeting her, on this day when it was first uttered, 
with Gabriel's salutation of Ave ! 

To find true lowliness even amongst men, amid the 
universal eagerness to be great in all people and at all 
times, is exceedingly rare. But if it is a spectacle 
that always strikes us afresh to see men remaining 
content with a naturally low station, it is a far more 
wonderfully new thing to see a God, stripping Himself 
of His supreme greatness, come down from the height 
of His throne and voluntarily annihilate Himself. 
Yet this is the marvel that the Church presents to our 
notice in the Mystery of the Word made Flesh, and 
which made the prophet say that " God hath created 
a new thing upon the earth," when He sent His Son 
there, humiliated and brought to nought. 

Now, in this self-abasement of the God-man, there 
are two most extraordinary things to be noted. God 
is the Lord of lords, and cannot possibly behold 
anything above Him : God is alone in greatness, and 
can find none around to be His equals. Yet — O 
ever-new prodigy ! — He Who has nothing above Hini 

For the Feast of the Annunciation. 71 

becomes subject and gives Himself a Master ; He 
Who is without an equal becomes man and gives 
Himself fellows. That Son, equal in Eternity to the 
Father, undertakes to become His Father's servant : 
that Son, raised infinitely above man, puts Himself 
on an equality with all men. Well, indeed, may the 
Prophet declare that the Creator has done anew thing: 
for never before has God had such a subject, or man 
such a companion. But in reflecting on this new 
wonder the second part of the text must be kept in 
mind : fcemina circumdabit virum. These words bring 
out Mary's part in this marvellous work ; and we may 
truly express her share in it by saying that God the 
Son, in making Himself a subject, chose her as 
the Temple in which He would pay homage to the 
Father ; and, in uniting Himself to men, made her 
the channel of His intercourse with them. Thus, 
she is associated with both sides of our subject : 
for Christ has honoured her by annihilating and 
subjecting Himself in her, and by communicating 
with man through her. 


It is a surprising but indisputable truth that, 
amongst the infinite means that God possesses for 
establishing His glory, the most efficacious of all is 
necessarily joined to lowliness. He may reverse the 
whole order of nature, or display His power to man- 
kind by countless fresh miracles ; but, marvellous as 

72 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

it may appear, He can never show His greatness so 
plainly as when He stoops to humble Himself. Here 
is a thing which seems strange, indeed, and new ! 
The thought may be difficult to grasp ; but the 
mystery we are dealing with affords plain evidence of 
its truth. St. Thomas ^ has clearly proved that the 
greatest work of God was that of uniting Himself 
personally to the creature, as He did in the Incarna- 
tion ; and it is not nearly well enough understood that, 
in the whole range of unlimited possibilities, omni- 
potence could have found nothing more noble to do 
than to give the world a God-man. " O Lord, Thy 
work ! " the prophet says ^ : — fearing not to assert that 
God can do nothing more wonderful. 

But if it is His greatest work it is also, consequently, 
His greatest glory, for God is glorified only in His 
works : Icetabitur Dominus in operihus suis.^ Now, 
God could not work this stupendous miracle except 
by lowering Himself, according to St. Paul * : — " But 
debased Himself, taking the form of a servant ". We 
must, then, echo the Prophet's words, and acknow- 
ledge that God has wrought something fresh upon 
earth : — and what ? He chose to carry His greatness 
to its very highest pitch, and for this He stooped : 
He chose to exhibit His glory in its most brilliant 
light, and for this He put on our weakness. He 
" dwelt amongst us, and we saw His glory ".^ His 

^ Part, in., quaest. i., part. i. ^ Habac. iii. 2. 

* Ps. ciii. 31. * Phil. ii. 7. ® John i. 14. 

For the Feast of the Annunciation. 73 

glory then showed greatest when it corresponded to 
the depth of His abasement. 

It is not, however, merely as a "new thing," or an 
object of even holy curiosity, that I am dwelling on 
this subject. My great aim is to promote the love 
of that fundamental Christian virtue — humility ; and 
this, by showing God's own love for it. He cannot 
possibly find humility in Himself, the height of His 
supremacy not allowing of His abasement as long 
as He remains in His own nature : He must always 
act as God' and hence always be great. Therefore, 
what He cannot find in Himself he seeks in a nature 
that is foreign to Him. Why should this infinitely 
abounding Nature be willing to borrow ? That He 
may be enriched by humility^ which is what the Son of 
God came into this world to seek. He was made 
man in order that His Father might behold in His 
person a God subject to obedience. 

That this was indeed His purpose we can see for 
ourselves, in Holy Scripture's words about the first 
thing He did on entering the world at His sacred 
Incarnation. St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 
shows that the first act, the first thought, and the first 
movement in the will of the God-man, constituted an 
act of obedience. Here are the Apostle's words : — 
" Wherefore, when He cometh into the world " : — 
observe, "when He cometh": — ingrediens : — "He 
saith : sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldest not ; . . . 
Holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then said 

74 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

I, behold I come " : and why ? Because : " in the 
head of the book it is written of Me that I should 
do Thy will, O God".^ Here we are told in formal 
terms that the first act of the Son of God is one of 
submission and humility: Eccc venio, ut faciam, Deus, 
voluntatem tuant. 

Looking further into the matter we shall find a 
second instance of His love for humility in that choice 
of the Blessed Virgin, above referred to, as the Temple 
wherein to offer His first vows of obedience to His 
heavenly Father. We shall see that the Word Who 
had so deeply abased and humbled Himself chose, on 
taking flesh, to inhabit only a dwelling that was pre- 
pared for Him by humility. Here, again, Scripture 
declares the fact ; for what does it say of Mary's 
interview with the angel who announced the great 
miracle to her ? It records only two sayings of 
hers ; and, of these, one guards her chastity and the 
other expresses her deep humility. The beauty 
and significance of the first of these sayings has 
been dwelt upon in treating of Mary's Concep- 
tion ; ^ but her exquisite virginal purity did not 
suffice, alone, to prepare the Temple into which the 
Most High was to descend : something more was 

Gabriel replies to her doubt by declaring the marvel- 
lous privilege that is to be hers : " The Holy Ghost 

1 Hebr. x. 5, 6, 7. 

2 Vide Sermon i, on the " Grounds of Devotion ", 

For the Feast of the Annunciation. 75 

shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most 
High shall overshadow thee".^ And what follows? 
Certainly the most wonderful instance of humility and 
self-repression that the world has ever seen ; for Mary 
is not for one moment carried away by either joy or 
elation at the mysterious dignity conferred upon her. 
She utters not one word beyond a simple enunciation of 
her submission to the Will of God. " Behold the hand- 
maid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to 
Thy word." ^ Then, at once, the Heavens are opened : — 
the Son of the Most High, begotten by Him from 
all Eternity, is conceived in the Virgin's Womb : — 
and this great miracle is possible because that Virgin's 
humility has made her capable of receiving " Him 
whom the Heavens cannot contain" — Immensity 

With this truth before us, need we wonder if God 
seems far off from man, or slow to bestow His graces ? 
For lowly hearts are hard to find on earth ; and not 
even the sight of a God Who has taken on Him the 
form of a servant — who has actually made Himself 
nought for us — seems able to bring down our pride. 
Yet, if we would but learn to realise the extraordinary 
grandeur of God as shown in the utter abasement of 
the Incarnation, we should long to share in Mary's 
true glory by acknowledging the absolute nothingness 
whence we come, and bringing Him down into our 
hearts by our genuine humility. 

1 Luke i. 35. "" Ibid., 38. 

76 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 


But if Mary's deep lowliness, which makes her 
humble herself the more because of her great dignity, 
confers on her the glory of becoming the chosen habi- 
tation of her Maker in His own humiliation, it is still 
not her only greatness. God chooses her also as the 
means of giving Himself to man: a second "new 
thing" not less surprising than the first. Having con- 
sidered the wonder of the voluntary subjection of a 
Supreme Ruler, we must now behold the One Sole 
and Incomparable Being taking to Himself companions 
and associating with men, which is to-day's Mystery. 
To understand this new marvel we must try to con- 
ceive a vivid idea of that perfect unity of God which 
makes Him infinite, incommunicable, and singular, 
in His whole being. He is the only Wise One, the 
only Blessed One ; King of kings. Lord of lords ; alone 
in His Majesty, inaccessible on His throne, to be com- 
pared with none in power. Man has no language 
strong enough fitly to express this unity ; but some 
words of Tertullian's perhaps give as true an idea of it 
as is possible to human weakness. He calls God " the 
Supreme Great One " : Summum Magnum ; but says 
that " He is supreme only because He surpasses every- 
" thing else ; and thus, suffering naught that is His 
" equal, leaves so far behind all that might be com- 

For the Feast of the Annunciation. yy 

" pared to Him that He makes a solitude for Himself 
" out of His singular excellence "} 

If this seems a strange way of speaking, it is because 
Tertullian, used to strong language, seeks for new terms 
by which to describe a quite unexampled greatness. 
What can be more majestic or grand than the solitude 
of God ? We can only conceive of It as self-contained, 
hidden within Its own light, separated from all things 
by Its own immensity : unlike all human grandeur — 
in which there is always some weakness or a low side 
as well as a high one — being equally strong and in- 
accessible on all sides. What a marvellous sight, then, 
to see this solitary and Incomparable One come forth 
from His august loneliness to adopt companions ; and 
these companions, sinful mortals : — for " nowhere doth 
" He take hold of angels " : ^ non angelos apprehendit. 
He did not stop short at the angels, though they may 
be called the beings nearest to Him. He strode as 
a giant : " leaping upon the mountains," ^ says Holy 
Writ : that is, passing by the angelic choirs. He 
sought out human nature — relegated by the mere fact 
of its mortality to the lowest rank in the universe, and 
which had added the estrangement of sin to inequality 
of condition : — laid hold of it, and united it to Himself, 
soul and body. He made Himself a flesh like unto 

^ " Summum victoria sua constat. Atque ex defectione oemuli 
solitudinem quandam de singularitate praestantise suae possidens, uni- 
cum est." — Advers. Marcion, lib. i., n. 3. 

2 Hebr. ii. 16. » Cant. ii. 8. 

yS Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

ours. In short, God, who became man " that we also 
might have fellowship with Him," ^ treated with us 
as with His equals, on purpose that we might be able 
to treat with Him as with ouy equal : Kx cequo agebat 
Deus cum homine, ut homo agere ex cequo cum Deo posset? 
Well may we say : " For what other nation is there so 
great, or that hath Gods so nigh them, as our God is 
present to our petitions ? " ^ 

Much more time might be given to considering this 
wondrous act of condescension, if the Mystery of to- 
day did not make it fitting to turn our attention 
specially to Mary's share in it. If the Incarnation 
bestows an enormous benefit on our human nature, 
what is not the Blessed Virgin's glory in being made 
the means of Christ's union with that nature? He 
enters this world through her, and makes her the link 
of His blessed fellowship with us. Further, having 
chosen her for such a ministry. He sends one of His 
highest angels as His spokesman to her, as if to ask 
her consent. The secret of this great mystery may be 
found in the Order of God's Decrees, as He Himself 
has revealed them to us. 

Scripture, and the unanimous consent of all ages, 
teaches that in the adorable mystery of our redemption 
it had always been determined by Divine Providence 
to use for our salvation all that had been used for our 
ruin. The reasons for this are too long to be entered 

^ John i. 3, 6. ^ Tertull., advers. Marcion, lib. ii., n. 27. 

^ Deut. iv. 7. 

For the Feast of the Annunciation. 79 

upon here ; it must be enough for me to say, in a word, 
that God chose to destroy our enemy by turning his 
plots back on his own head, and letting his own 
weapons — so to speak — be the undoing of him. 

Hence, Faith teaches us that if we were lost through 
a man, we are also saved by one. Death reigns in 
Adam's race, and life is born of the same race ; God 
uses as the remedy for our sin that very Death which 
was its punishment ; the Tree both kills and cures 
us ; and we see in the Holy Eucharist that a saving 
act of eating repairs the evil wrought by a rash act of 
the same kind. According to this wonderful dispen- 
sation, so clearly traceable throughout the work of our 
salvation, it is necessary that as both sexes took part 
in the ruin of our nature, both should concur in its 
deliverance. Tertullian taught this in the earliest 
centuries, in the book on The Flesh of Jesus Christ 
Speaking of the Blessed Virgin, he says that " what 
had been lost by this sex must be restored by the 
same sex ".^ St. Irenaeus the Martyr ^ said the same 
before him, and St. Augustine ^ after him ; and all the 
holy Fathers have agreed in teaching the same doc- 
trine. Therefore the conclusion is clear that it was 
undoubtedly fitting for God to predestine a new Eve 
as well as a new Adam ; so as to bestow upon earth, 
in place of the old condemned race, a new posterity 
to be sanctified by grace. 

^ De Cam. Ckr., n. 17. ^ Contr. Hares., lib. v., cap. xix., p. 316. 
' De Symb. ad Catech., Serm. iii., cap. iv., torn, vi., col. 571. 

8o Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

And certainly, if we ponder in our heart the un- 
searchable decrees of Providence concerning the re- 
habilitation of our nature, and carefully compare Eve 
with Mary, this old and sacred doctrine will come out 
with convincing clearness. I will but shortly quote 
here the words used by the Fathers in showing the 
correspondence between them. 

The work of our corruption began in Eve, the work 
of our restoration in Mary ; the word of Death was 
carried to Eve, the word of Life to Mary; Eve was 
still a virgin, and Mary is a virgin ; Eve, whilst yet a 
virgin, had her spouse, and the " Virgin of virgins " 
has also hers. A curse was pronounced on Eve, a bless- 
ing on Mary : — Benedicta tu} An angel of darkness 
accosts Eve, an angel of light speaks to Mary. The 
angel of darkness offers to raise Eve to false greatness, 
by making her aim at divinity : — " You shall be," he 
declares, " as Gods "} The angel of light places Mary 
in a state of true greatness by a holy union with God: — 
"The Lord is with thee," Gabriel says to her.^ The 
angel of darkness, speaking to Eve, inspires her with 
a plan of rebellion: — "Why hath God commanded 
you that you should not eat of every tree of Para- 
dise ? " ^ The angel of light, speaking to Mary, per- 
suades her to obedience : — " Fear not, Mary " : and 
" no word shall be impossible with God ".^ Eve be- 
lieved the serpent, and Mary the angel. " Thus," says 

^ Luke i. 42. 2 Gen. iii. 5. * Luke i. 28. 

* Gen. iii. i. ' Luke i. 30, 37. 

For the Feast of the Annunciation. 8 1 

Tertullian/ " an act of devout faith blotted out a fault 
of rash credulity, and Mary repaired, by believing in 
God, what Eve had destroyed by believing in the devil." 

Then, to complete the mystery, Eve — seduced by 
the evil one — is compelled to flee before the face of 
God ; whilst Mary — taught by the angel — is made 
worthy to bear her God. Eve having presented us 
with the fruit of death, Mary presents us with the 
fruit of life, in order — says St. Irenaeus ^ — " that the 
Virgin Mary might be the advocate of the virgin Eve".^ 

So exact a correspondence is no mere invention of 
the human intellect. It makes one unable to doubt 
that Mary is the most blessed Eve of the new Cove- 
nant, having the same share in our salvation that Eve 
had in our destruction — that is, the share next to that 
of Jesus Christ : — Mother of all the living, as Eve was 
of all mortals. The wonderful order of God's own 
designs — the fittingness of things so clearly set forth 
— the necessary connection of all His mysteries with 
each other — alike convince us of its positive truth. 

And yet the brethren who have left us cannot bear 
us to believe that Mary is, after Jesus Christ, the prin- 

^ De Came Christi, n. 17. 
^ Cont. HcBres., lib. v., cap. xix., p. 316. 

^ These comparisons of Mary with Eve, and the language of the 
Fathers on the subject, is gone into very fully in chapter x. of Dr. 
Ullathorne's book, cited in Note on Conception Sermon. Perhaps 
the whole doctrine could hardly be more fully and tersely expresse4 
than by the rhyme of an old English mystery play : — 
"Man for Man, Tree for Tree, 
Maid for Maid — so shall it be | " 


82 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

cipal co-operator in our salvation ! What, then, will 
they do if they destroy this connection between the 
mysteries of God ? How will they account for His 
sending His angel to her ? Surely, He could have done 
His work in her without gaining her consent, if it had 
not clearly been in the Counsel of the Father that 
she should co-operate in our salvation and her Son's 
Incarnation, by her obedience and charity? Is it 
likely, either, that when her motherly love was so 
much concerned in our happiness through the Mystery 
of the Incarnation, that love should have now become 
barren, and ceased working for us ? 

If there are any here present who have broken with 
us, let me ask them whether they have left the Com- 
munion within which their fathers lived and died in 
the Love of Christ, because they hold us guilty of a 
crime for begging the help of Mary? If so, we can 
only reply that the whole Church Catholic will never 
cease to say : Ad te clamamus, exules filii Hevae ! for 
she who has been pronounced, by the earliest doctrine 
of the Fathers, to be the advocate of Eve herself, must 
certainly always remain the helper of Eve's posterity: — 
Advocata nostra; and from her who was appointed to 
counteract the poison of that deadly fruit given to us 
by our first Mother, we shall always continue to ask 
and to receive the fruit of life : — " The blessed fruit of 
her womb " : — Jesus, Who through her has become our 
brother and fellow-man as well as our God, that from 
Him we may learn to live divinely. 




" Intravit in domum Zacharise, et salutavit Elizabeth " 
(St. Luke i. 40). 

The events of to-day's mystery bring before the 
faithful in a peculiar manner the fact that our God 
is a hidden God, and that His power works in the soul 
in a secret and impenetrable manner. Four people are 
concerned in the occurrence we are celebrating : Jesus 
and Mary ; St. John, and his mother St. Elizabeth. 
Now, it is most remarkable that of all these sacred 
personages the only one who seems to perform no 
particular action is the Son of God Himself. Eliza- 
beth, enlightened from on high, acknowledges the 
Blessed Virgin's dignity and humbles herself deeply 
before her : " Whence is this to me ? " ^ John, even 
within Elizabeth's womb, feels his Divine Master's 
presence, and shows his joy in a wonderful way : he 
" leaped for joy "? Mary, marvelling at the great 
effects of Divine Omnipotence in herself, exalts the 
holy name of God and declares His munificence in her 

1 Luke i. 48. 2 Ibid., 44. 

84 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

behalf, with her whole heart. But all this time Jesus 
Himself, hidden beneath His Mother's breast, gives no 
sensible sign of His presence. He, who is the cause 
of the whole mystery, takes no active part in it. 

Strange as this may seem, it is not really surprising. 
Our Lord here hides His power intentionally, to show 
us how He is the invisible force that moves all things 
without moving Himself, and directs all things without 
showing His Hand. Hence, we shall find that though 
He may seem to be passive on this occasion His influ- 
ence is fully apparent in the actions of the rest, whose 
movements are really all inspired by Him alone. 

One of the greatest mysteries of Christianity is the 
holy union that the Son of God forms with us, and 
His secret way of visiting us. I am not speaking here 
of those special communications with which He now 
and then honours chosen souls : they must be left to 
the teaching of spiritual books and spiritual directors. 
Besides such mysterious intercourse as this, there are 
the visits paid by the Son of God every day to the 
faithful soul ; interiorly by His Holy Spirit and the 
inspirations of grace ; exteriorly by His Word, His 
sacraments, and above all by the Sacrament of the 
Most Holy Eucharist. It is of great consequence to 
all Christians to know what their feelings ought to 
be when Jesus Christ visits them ; and the Gospel of 
to-day appears to furnish a distinct instruction on the 
subject. If we would thoroughly enter into its mean- 
ing, however, we must notice that whenever the Son 

On the Feast of the Visitation. 85 

of God comes to man He causes these successive 
movements to take place within him. The first thing 
He does is to inspire the soul witli an overpowering 
sense of His Majesty, which fills it with awe and makes 
it fear and tremble at the thought of its own baseness 
— counting itself quite unworthy of His favours. But 
God cannot stop short here; for if this first feeling 
lasted the soul would never dare to approach Him ; 
and therefore He causes the second movement, which 
consists in an intensity of holy desires, producing a 
longing in the soul to rise up and come near to its 
Saviour. Then, by-and-by, comes the third and most 
perfect operation of grace : — namely, the full answer to 
these ardent wishes in the complete triumph of God's 
own peace within the heart, as the Apostle describes 
it : Pax Christi exuUet in cordibus vestris} All who 
are deeply experienced in spiritual things know that 
grace makes progress in their souls by these three 
degrees : — that it prepares them by humility, draws 
them on by ardour, and at last makes them perfect 
by possession of that Peace of Christ which passeth 
all understanding. 

If we study the incidents of Mary's visit to Elizabeth 
we shall find all these states of soul clearly represented 
by the characters that appear before us, and who all 
speak and act through the secret inspiration of Jesus. 

First, then, for the Christian soul to feel a humble 
movement of real abasement when her Creator visits 

^ Coloss. iii. 15. 

86 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

her — to offer Him the tribute of acknowledging her 
own littleness — is but just and right. This is why the 
first thing that God does when He comes to us by 
grace is to put into our hearts a feeling of religious fear 
that makes us, as it were, draw back from Him at the 
mere thought of how little we are worth. Thus, we 
read in St. Luke's Gospel that St. Peter had no sooner 
recognised the Divinity of Jesus Christ, by His mira- 
culous works, than he threw himself then and there 
at His feet and cried : " Depart from me, for I am 
a sinful man, O Lord ! " ^ So, again, that devout 
centurion whom Jesus wished to honour by a visit, 
being taken by surprise at such goodness could only 
express his feelings by acknowledging himself un- 
worthy : Domine non sum dignus? And what do we 
find corresponding to these feelings in the passage of 
Scripture that we have specially to study now ? We 
learn that at the very first sight of Mary, and the first 
sound of her voice, her cousin Elizabeth — having 
learnt the holy maiden's dignity, and seeing by faith 
the God Whom she bears within her — is filled with 
astonishment and confusion, and cries out "whence 
is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come 
to me ? " 

Now, we ought to engrave the example of humility 

and respect given by these words of Elizabeth deeply 

on our own hearts ; and we can only do this by trying 

to enter thoroughly into the motives that compelled 

1 Luke V, 8. 2 Matt. viii. 8. 

On the F^east of the Visitation. 87 

her to humble herself in this way. Examining the 
words carefully, and reflecting on them, we find two 
separate thoughts underlying them : one thought 
concerning what Elizabeth already knew, and one 
concerning something she did not know. She saw 
that the Mother of her Lord had come to visit her — 
she recognised in her the one " blessed among women," 
as she herself was shortly to proclaim — and keenly 
felt the great honour done to her, and the impossibility 
of sufficiently acknowledging such an act of courtesy 
and friendship from one so great as Mary ; and so 
the words Mater Domini mei explain her first motive for 
humbling herself profoundly before her young cousin. 
But if Elizabeth was fully alive to the honour bestowed 
on her by this visit, she was perfectly ignorant of its 
cause ; and herein lay the second ground of her self- 
abasement, for she could see absolutely nothing in 
herself worthy of such a favour. That the Blessed 
Virgin had hastened over the hill-country to see her 
was a fact ; but why she should have taken the journey 
at such a moment for the sake of one who could think 
of no claim on her condescension was an overpower- 
ing mystery to Zachary's holy wife, and she could 
only express the wonder it caused her by saying : 
unde hoc ? — whence could such an entirely gratuitous 
act of condescension proceed ? Not understanding it, 
all she could do was to make an offering to Christ, 
as He came to her with Mary, of a humbled heart 
with a confession of her inability to do more. 

88 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

In short, all St. Elizabeth's thought, on an occasion 
that might well have caused self-complacency in a 
heart that contained the least vanity or pride, was 
that first she possessed nothing by which she could 
make due return for the honour thus shown to her, 
and that secondly she in nowise deserved it. And 
what other motives than these can any of us have for 
serving our God in fear, and rejoicing with trembling 
in His presence? For who so poor and who so un- 
worthy as we, from both our natural condition and our 
own sins ? Therefore, when God deigns to look upon 
us, we can but learn from Elizabeth how to reverence 
His supreme greatness by fully recognising our own 
nothingness, and to acknowledge His benefits by con- 
fessing our unworthiness. 

There is another thought that will greatly help to 
make this feeling a reality and not a mere matter of 
words. When men receive favours from one another, 
no matter how great an inequality there may be 
between the one who confers and the one who re- 
ceives a benefit or honour, nevertheless both are but 
creatures ; and consequently the higher of the two, 
be he great as he may, must have some limit to his 
greatness which prevents his superiority from being 
absolute, because it is common to both : for what 
creature is without limitations ? Hence no human 
being, conferring honours on a fellow-man, can feel 
that the recipient of his favours is so utterly beneath 
him as to have no claim whatever on his condescen- 

On the Feast of the Visitation. 89 

sion. But not so with God. Between Him and His 
creatures there can be absolutely no equality. He is 
solitary and supreme in greatness : the only Being to 
whom we can say: "Lord, who is like to Thee?^ 
Glorious in holiness, terrible and praiseworthy, doing 
wonders " ; ^ the only One Who is singular and un- 
approachable in all things. If, then. He is so majes- 
tically great, woe be to those who vain-gloriously 
lift their proud heads before Him ; for He will put 
such mighty ones down from their seat. But blessed 
be the humble souls who cry with the prophet, when 
they feel the touch of grace, " What is man that Thou 
art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou 
visitest Him ? " ^ Because they hide themselves, His 
face shall enlighten them ; because they draw back 
through reverence. He will seek them out ; because 
they fall at His feet. His Spirit of Peace shall rest 
upon them. 

Once more : — the visit that so honoured and over- 
whelmed Elizabeth had not been sought by her : 
part of the very honour consisted in the fact that 
Mary had paid it of her own accord, and had thus fore- 
stalled her cousin in respect. Wonderful to relate, our 
God treats us. His poor creatures, in the same way. 
Whether the sinner who needs converting, or the just 
who is called to a higher life and the way of perfection, 
be concerned, He alike comes without waiting for us 
to ask Him. We are often not thinking of Him speci- 

^ Ps. xxxiv. 10. 2 Exod. xv. 2. ^ Ps. viii. 5. 

90 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

ally at all — we may have even actually forgotten Him ; 
but He seek^ us out — goes before us — or, as sacred 
language has it, "prevents" us : we feel and know His 
grace, suddenly present with us, as the Baptist knew 
it in his mother's womb, when we have done abso- 
lutely nothing to call it down. 

There is, then, but one thing to be done in face of 
the unspeakable graciousness of the Creator : — that 
same thing which won the primacy of the Church for 
Peter, the first place as preacher for Paul, and the 
oflfice of Precursor to Christ Himself for Elizabeth's 
son : — to humble ourselves as deeply as we know how, 
at sight of God's goodness and our utter unworthiness. 
When we have done this, and done it too with such 
genuine self-abasement that we feel actually afraid in 
God's presence, and inclined to draw back at His 
approach, there should gradually rise within us a 
quite other feeling. The faithful soul who has clearly 
seen her own lowliness goes on to experience a pure 
transport of longing which impels her to seek union 
with her God. This assertion may sound presump- 
tuous or unreasonable, as a sequel to such thoughts of 
God's immeasurable distance from man as I have been 
uttering ; but it is true ; and we are actually bound 
to believe that we poor creatures may raise our desires 
even so high as to union with our Maker. In a former 
sermon I used an expression of Tertullian's to set 
forth in strong terms the supreme solitude and aloof- 
ness of God. I have now to dwell on His attribute 

On the Feast of the Visitation. 9 1 

of Goodness, which is just as inconceivable as His 
Greatness, and which brings Him near to us ; and to 
express this I will use some words uttered by St. 
Gregory Nazianzen, surnamed " the Theologian " by 
the Greeks, on account of his lofty conceptions of the 
Divine Nature. 

This great man, after calling on the whole world to 
desire God because of His infinite Goodness which 
loves to pour itself forth, and after dwelling fully on 
the subject, concludes thus : — " This God longs to he 
longed for : He thirsts, if you will but believe it, in 
the midst of His abundance. But for what does the 
Supreme Being thirst? It is that men may thirst for 
Him : sitit sitiri. Infinite as He is in Himself, and 
filled with His own riches, we can nevertheless do Him 
a favour — and how ? By wishing Him to do us one ; 
because He is more ready to give than others are to 
receive." ^ 

Divine Goodness may indeed be likened to a clear- 
flowing stream which seems to beg of the passers-by 
one thing only : — to stop and drink, or cleanse and 
refresh themselves in its waters. In like manner the 
nature of God, which can never grow or lessen because 
of its fulness, may be said with all reverence to lack 
but one thing, which is that we should come and draw 
from It the waters of Eternal Life, whose inexhaustible 
source it is. Thus St. Gregory is justified in saying 
that our Creator thirsts for our desires, and receives 

^ Orat. xi., torn, i., p. 657. 

92 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

as a benefit the power we bestow on Him of doing 
good to us. 

This being so, it is insulting His bounty not to long 
to be the recipients of It. The transports of St. John 
within his mother's womb are caused by longing. He 
sees that his master has come to visit him, and he 
would fain go forth to receive Him. Holy love and 
ardent desires impel him to try to break his bonds by 
an impetuous movement. But he desires liberty for 
one thing only — that he may fly to his Saviour ; and 
feels the restraint of his prison merely because it keeps 
him from doing so. 

We have therefore good reason for invoking the 
holy Baptist as our helper in learning to long ardently 
for the Saviour of souls. He was appointed to prepare 
His ways, and his special ministry on earth was to 
make Jesus Christ be fervently desired by men. 
Another St. John has clearly explained this mission 
in his Gospel, and we should carefully attend to his 
words : " There was a man sent from God whose 
name was John : this man was not the light, but he 
came to bear witness of the light " : — that is, of Jesus 
Christ, " the Light that enlighteneth every man that 
Cometh into the world ".^ This seems a strange way 
of speaking : to say that St. John the Baptist, who is 
not the light, should discover to us Jesus Christ Who 
M the Light Itself. Still it is the truth — as the Gospel 
goes on to say in the case of Our Lord — that our 

1 John i. 8, 9. 

On the Feast of the Visitation. 93 

spiritual eyes often fail to see the light that is shining 
brightly in our midst, until some lesser light shows 
it to us. St. Augustine draws out an analogy between 
this kind of spiritual blindness and our physical sight, 
which he says " takes a torch to look for the daylight" •} 
that is, which is often so weak that it needs a feeble 
light, such as it can easily bear, to prepare it for the 
glare of noon : and this especially if the eye has been 
for a time altogether excluded from light. St. John 
was raised up to lead men, who had lost the light of 
truth, to the knowledge of Christ ; and he was to do 
this by acting as a torch, that should first attract them 
by its own lesser brightness, then make them wish for 
greater light, and so gradually guide them into the full 
blaze of day. 

This being the work of the Precursor, he is to begin 
it from the first moment that the Master, Whose way 
he is to prepare, comes near him. This is why Jesus 
gives no sensible sign of His presence on this visit, 
but leaves it to be proclaimed by the miraculous 
movement of the unborn child at His approach. As 
the rising sun shows his splendour on the clouds 
before he appears himself, so Our Lord first calls our 
attention to His coming by the light and warmth He 
sheds on St. John, whose instant turning to the Sun 
of Justice as He feels His rays is intended as a call 
to us to rise up and go to meet our God by holy 

^ In jfoan. Tract, ii,, n. 8, 

94 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

The special office of St. John, then, on the great 
occasion of Mary's visit to his mother, is to show, by 
his eager response to the hidden influence of his 
Saviour, how the humble soul that has seen and felt 
the light and touch of grace should trust absolutely to 
the Love that has come to seek it out, and should 
return It by confidently forming the most ardent long- 
ings for union with its Maker. We, who have the un- 
speakable happiness of possessing that wondrous mode 
of union with Christ, the Holy Eucharist, should blush 
indeed at our frequent backwardness to take advan- 
tage of such a gift. How poor and feeble our desires 
appear by those of David ! He knew his Redeemer 
only by expectation, but could yet cry out : " My soul 
hath thirsted after the strong living God — when shall 
I come and appear before the face of God ? " ^ Would 
we but realise our privilege, and hunger and thirst 
for this Divine Food as we ought — counting nothing 
of value compared to our union with Jesus — He would 
speedily satisfy our longings by that Peace which 
Mary herself typifies on the Feast we are celebrating. 
She, indeed, must be in perfect peace ; for, whilst all 
those who greet her arrival are but receiving the grace 
and call of Jesus Christ through her, she actually 
possesses Him. He lies beneath her heart ; and the 
intense peace and joy that this gives her she pours 
forth in her glorious hymn. "My soul," she cries, 
on hearing Elizabeth's greeting, "doth magnify the 
^ Psalm xli. 

On the Feast of the Visitation. 95 

Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my 
Saviour ! " ^ 

Now, if we study the Magnificat carefully, we shall 
find that its words throughout appear especially 
intended to fill our hearts with love for the Peace 
bestowed by God. For this marvellous Canticle first 
shows what is the only real principle of Divine Peace 
in the soul ; then it goes on to declare the destruction 
of all things that can oppose or destroy its reign ; and 
lastly — lest weak souls should grow discouraged or 
doubtful from finding the complete triumph of grace 
delayed till the next world — the hymn ends with the 
consoling reminder of God's fidelity to His promises 
which is to keep our hearts in peace by strengthening 
our trust. 

Mary sets forth the true Principle of Holy Peace 
— its only real cause in the soul — when she tells 
us why her spirit rejoiced : " because He hath re- 
garded the humility of His handmaid". It is because 
God has looked upon her, because He has deigned 
to cast His eyes upon His humble servant and 
to consider her, that she is in peace. This " look " 
cast upon His creature by the Creator, this show- 
ing of His Divine countenance, has indeed always 
been the cause of the just man's peace ; and in 
Holy Writ God is described as looking upon His 
people in two separate ways : with the Look of 
favour and benevolence,^ and the Look of help and 
^ Luke i. 46, 47. 2 Psalm xxxii. i8. 

96 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

protection.^ Now Mary, who has had greater grace 
than any other Creature bestowed on her, and who 
possesses Christ in a manner that no one else can 
possess Him, shows by the next words of her Hymn 
that God has regarded her in both these ways ; for 
she says that He Who is mighty has "done great 
things " in her — which is looking upon her with 
great favour ; and that He has " showed might in 
His arm" — which is bestowing on her the Look of 
help and protection : that is, protection from all 
spiritual evil by driving away from her (as we have 
seen that He did in her Conception) the curses 
consequent on sin. Such was the manner in which 
God had shown His Face to the Blessed Virgin 
and had caused her heart to exult ; and in like 
manner — with this doubly gracious Look — does He 
show It to all holy and innocent souls to whom He 
gives His own Peace. This is a hidden peace, as 
Jesus was hidden within Mary at Zachary's house : 
a peace that the world cannot understand, for it is 
driven away by its tumult to find a home in the calm 
and solitude of pure hearts. It is indeed impossible 
to describe, for it can be truly known only by experi- 
ence. But wherever it may take up its abode — 
whether in chosen souls living a secular life, or in 
those within the cloister — it always has the same 
enemies ; and those are the false peace and the false 
joys whose certain destruction by God Mary proclaims 

' Psalm xxxii., 19, 20. 

On the Feast of the Visitation. 97 

in the next part of her Canticle. She knows so well 
that the victory is to be with God in the end, that she 
declares — as the Just who look at God's side of things 
and not at the world's, always do — not that He will 
act by-and-by, but that He has, " scattered the proud," 
" put down the mighty," and " sent away the rich " ; 
whilst He has correspondingly favoured the humble 
and the poor. This strange opposition between God 
and the World will go on as long as time shall last, 
and will show itself with regard to every person and 
thing : — what wins the favour and love of God being 
always the exact reverse of what pleases and satisfies 
the spirit of the World. But the true Children of 
Christ will not lose their peace of soul, nevertheless. 
They will despise, and even mock at, the apparent 
triumph of mere human ideas and worldly pomp and 
greatness, and will ever sing in their hearts the Can- 
ticle of God's real triumph. They will not forget that 
earth is but a place of exile, and the speech of its 
inhabitants but a foreign language to those who 
know where is their true Country; and hence their 
natural mode of expression will be the Songs of 
Zion, and not those of Babylon ; and in the midst 
of tumult they will think thoughts of peace and not 
of affliction. 

But, if their hearts should ever seem to fail them — if 
the time should seem long, and the universal triumph 
of Christ discouragingly delayed, so that their souls feel 
faint within them — then they will again listen to Mary 


98 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

and learn of her, as she closes her grand Magnificat with 
the fervent act of Faith in the Promises of her Maker : 
" He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful 
of His mercy ; as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham 
and his seed for ever ". 




(Preached on a Feast of the Purification.) 

" Postquam impleti sunt dies purgationis ejus secundum legem 
Moysi, tulerunt ilium in Jerusalem, ut sisterent cum 
Domino, sicut scriptum est in lege Domini " (Luke ii. 
22, 23). 

The act which we call the " Purification of the Blessed 
Virgin " really includes under one common name 
three different ceremonies of the Old Law. These 
three ceremonies have all mysteries hidden beneath 
them ; and I propose to take the opportunity of the 
Feast for giving some explanation of these mysteries, 
which are very beautiful ones, and bring out certain 
aspects of the life of both Mary and her Divine Son 
in a very touching way. 

Two of these ceremonies, commanded by the law 
of Moses, depended on the fact that women after 
childbirth were counted by this law to be unclean, 
and hence were required by God to withdraw from 
the Temple and from intercourse with their fellows 
for a time ; and after that to present themselves at 

lOO Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

the door of the tabernacle and there to purge them- 
selves by offering a certain kind of sacrifice specially 
prescribed. These two ceremonies — first the retire- 
ment and then the offering — concerned the mother 
only, and had to be fulfilled whichever the sex of 
the child. The third ceremony concerned the infant. 
It was to be observed only in the case of men- 
children, and then only for the first-born. 

The two first named legal regulations, then, are 
those that specially concern the Blessed Virgin's 
share in to-day's Feast. But do they really concern 
her ? Was she in point of fact absolutely bound to 
fulfil them, as were other women ? Obviously not. 
This law of the woman's withdrawal and her sub- 
sequent purificatory sacrifice implies — as is expressly 
shown by the wording of the enactment in Leviticus 
— that she had brought forth her child in the ordinary 
way ; that is, in concupiscence. Mary, as we know, 
had not done this : her motherhood had sprung from 
Faith and Obedience alone, and she was wholly pure 
in it. Therefore such a law, actually, could not touch 
her at all. If she fulfilled it, she did so merely as it 
was a general rule of universal application to women 
after childbirth, to which there was no reason for her 
to be excepted, as far as appeared on the surface. 

Nevertheless, had Mary so chosen, she could have 
obtained the exception which was really her due, 
from a law made for the sinful, by proclaiming the 
truth about herself and her Divine Son. Had she 

Hiddenness and Poverty of Jesus and Mary, i o i 

done so she would have had every certainty of being 
believed, and of having her dignity as Mother of the 
Messias acknowledged before men. In the first place, 
she had the Truth to support her — always so power- 
ful in itself when undoubtedly present ; then the 
well-known beautiful innocence and purity of her 
own life, and the perfect sincerity with which every- 
body must have unhesitatingly credited her. Lastly, 
there would have been the unimpeachable testimony 
of such a man as Joseph to the fact that she who 
passed as his wife was a pure Virgin, and had borne 
her Child by the Power of the Holy Ghost ; whilst to 
his own assertion he could have added the miraculous 
assurance of the Angel. 

Yet, in spite of all, Mary made no explanation 
whatever. She kept absolute silence, and fulfilled 
the law simply, as if she were subject to sin like 
others ; thus confirming amongst her fellows the 
belief that she was a married woman and had only 
an ordinary child. Now, this silence of Mary's when, 
obeying the Law of her People, she presented herself 
at the Temple, is the mystery hidden under the 
ceremony of her Purification ; and if we consider her 
history as recorded in the Gospels we find that it is 
part of the practice she had followed ever since she 
had known of her own great dignity from the Angel 
Gabriel. She had always refrained from proclaiming 
her exception from ordinary rules ; and, with the 
most wonderful modesty and self-restraint, had kept 

I02 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

perfect silence on the subject, after just once break- 
ing forth in her Magnificat to Elizabeth : — and even 
this, not till her cousin had spoken so as to show 
her own knowledge of the marvel that had happened. 
Others, we find, speak of her Son as what He is : — we 
know that the shepherds had done so at Bethlehem, 
and that Mary had " kept these words and pondered 
them in her heart "^ — but none of hers are recorded. 
Now, again, Holy Simeon pours forth his feelings on 
beholding the longed-for Messias with fervour that 
might well have incited the mother who stood by 
to break her silence ; but she contents herself with 
listening, attending, meditating on what is said and 
cherishing it in her heart : she does not speak. 

What is the reason of this wonderful silence and 
self-suppression in the Redeemer's Mother ? It is 
simply that she is His Mother : — that is, the Mother of 
Him Who, after His glorious Transfiguration, said to 
His disciples : " Tell the vision to no man, till the 
Son of Man be risen from the dead " ; '^ and Who 
showed, by many other sayings recorded in the 
Gospel, that though He deigned to feel even some 
actual impatience for the humiliations of His cross {e.g., 
" I have a baptism wherewith I have to be baptised, 
and how am I straitened till it be accomplished ? "^) 
yet He never had the slightest desire for His Name 
to be manifested before the predestined time fixed 
by Divine Providence. Mary's feelings, then, were 
* St. Luke ii. 19. '^ Matt. xvii. 9. ^ Luke xii. 50. 

Hiddenness and Poverty of Jesus and Mary. 1 03 

inspired by Him that she might plainly show her- 
self to be animated by the same Spirit. Therefore 
she kept her great happiness for herself and God 
alone, sharing it with none but those to Whom it 
pleased the Holy Ghost to reveal it. She waited for 
her Maker to disclose the Wonder when it should be 
expedient for the glory of His own name. God, and 
Jesus her beloved Son, knew that she was a spotless 
Virgin : — that was enough for her. 

Surely — besides the mystery of its conformity to 
the conduct of Jesus — we have, in this unbroken 
silence and reserve of Mary's, a most beautiful picture 
of a soul perfectly satisfied with the testimony of God 
and its own conscience alone. Here is she, the fully 
enlightened Mother of Jesus, content to be merely 
one of the listeners when her Only Son is the subject 
of discourse — not speaking even when her own Vir- 
ginity seems to be in question — letting the world 
think exactly what it likes and what God chooses it 
to think — hiding her great glory and repressing all 
words concerning a joy that must be almost too great 
to bear ! Here is indeed a model for all men how to 
make Jesus, the Hidden God, Who inspired this deep 
humility in His Mother, satisfy all the desires of their 
souls, and to seek no human sympathy or approval in 
their sufferings or for their actions. 

The second ceremony — or, more truly, the second 
part of the whole ceremony — prescribed to the woman 
consisted in a particular kind of sacrifice that she was 

I04 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

to offer for her cleansing. Now, different victims 
were allowed here, according to the circumstances 
of the person who offered them : as we know from 
the book of Leviticus,^ The usual one was a year-old 
lamb, and either a pigeon or a turtle-dove ; but if the 
woman who came for her purification was too poor to 
bring a lamb, then she might substitute for it a second 
turtle-dove or pigeon, and so make her offering of two 
birds only. Hence the turtle-doves or pigeons were 
especially the holocaust and sin-offering of the poor. 
Which of these victims, then, was sacrificed by the 
Mother of the King of Heaven ? We find that St. 
Luke, in his account of Mary's purification, merely 
says that she came to the Temple to make a " sacrifice 
according as it is written in the Law of the Lord, a 
pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons";^ he 
does not say which, and he does not mention the 
lamb at all. Now, there may be a mystical reason 
for this last omission. The evangelist very likely 
means us to understand by his silence on that point 
that to offer a Lamb in the temple when " the Lamb 
of God Who taketh away the sins of the world " 
was brought there Himself would have been quite 
unsuitable. But, if this is so, there is also un- 
doubtedly another meaning attached to the absence 
of precision as to the sacrifice offered by Mary in St. 
Luke's account ; and that meaning is to call our 
attention most particularly to the poverty of Christ 

^ Lev. xii. 6, 8, ^ Luke ii. 24. 

Hiddenness and Poverty of Jesus and Mary. 1 05 

and His holy mother. We are to understand that, 
whichever was the precise offering brought after Our 
Saviour's birth, it was certainly the offering of the 
poor. And this, next to the hiddenness, is the aspect 
of Our Lord's life — and, in union with Him, of Mary's 
— that the Feast of the Purification brings out so 
strongly. It calls us to meditate on the fact that 
never was there a man poorer than was the Saviour 
of mankind on earth. His foster-father had to earn 
his living by the work of his hands ; and He Himself 
had not a place of His own whereon to lay His head. 
If, as has sometimes been the case in the world's 
history, both great and holy men have had the nature 
of their careers indicated at their birth by the appear- 
ance of certain marvellous signs, it may indeed be 
truly said that the beginning of Our Redeemer's life 
was an exact prognostication of His after years. The 
most wretched of mankind have usually at least some 
little miserable place they can call their own, in which 
their children may first see the light, whilst He was 
rather exposed than born in a stable, rejected even 
by His own People. The very sign by which the 
shepherds should know Him was His being laid in a 
manger for a cradle ; and this first indication was 
fully carried out to the very end : for was He not 
even buried in a tomb not belonging to His mother, 
and wrapped and embalmed with linen and spices 
given in alms by His friends ? Hence He chose that 
the sacrifice brought for His Mother's Purification 

io6 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

should be in keeping with the rest, and should serve 
as yet another reminder to us that the King of Glory 
" being rich became poor, for our sakes ; that through 
His poverty we might be rich ", 

We must now shortly consider the third ceremony 
included in the Law ; and in doing this shall see 
that there was a further reason for the poverty of 
Mary's offering, in the fact that the presentation 
of Jesus Himself was a symbol of that very Death 
which was to be so utterly destitute. This third 
ceremony consisted in bringing every jirst-boyn man- 
child to offer him to God at the Altar, and then 
redeeming him by a certain sum of money, as a 
testimony that the child belonged by right to God 
and that the parent kept him only by a kind of 
special agreement. 

Two reasons are given in the Book of Exodus for 
this regulation, but one only of these belongs strictly to 
the Mystery of to-day : and it is one worth consider- 
ing. Almighty God, in order to show His dominion 
over all things, was accustomed to exact the " first- 
fruits " of everything as a kind of tribute and acknow- 
ledgment, by which man should testify that he holds 
his possessions only by his Maker's munificence. For 
this reason He required that all the first-born, of men 
and of animals, should be offered to Him as the Master 
of all. Hence, immediately after the words by which 
the consecration of the first-born is ordered — "Sanctify 
unto Me all the first-bom ... as well of men as of 

Hiddenness and Poverty of Jesus and Mary. 107 

beasts " — He adds the reason : "For they are all Mine".^ 
And He exacted this tribute particularly in the case 
of men, that He might be recognised as the True Head 
of all the families in Israel ; and that in the persons of 
the eldest sons, who represent the stem of the family, 
all the other children might be devoted to His service. 
Thus, the first-born were separated by this offering 
from common and secular things, and passed into the 
ranks of holy and consecrated ones. This is why the 
law is promulgated in these words : " Thou shalt ^et 
apart all that openeth the womb for the Lord ".''' 

Tertullian has called Jesus our Saviour " the Illu- 
minator of the Old Law," which was only established 
to typify the mysteries of His life ; and the saying is 
especially applicable here, for who was ever more 
completely sanctified to the Lord than the Son of God 
Himself, Whose Mother was filled with the Power of 
the Holy Ghost? He was truly "the first-born of 
every creature,"^ as St. Paul calls Him, and He is 
moreover the " first-fruits " of the whole human race. 
To-day, therefore, they come and offer Him to God at 
His holy Altar, to testify that in Him alone we are all 
sanctified and renewed, and that through Him alone we 
belong to the Eternal Father and have access to the 
throne of His Mercy. It was this that made Him say, 
in His great prayer for His disciples, " And for them 
do I sanctify Myself," * that so the prophecy might be 

' Exod. xiii. 2. 2 Jbid. 

' Cploss. i. 15. * John xvii. 19. 

io8 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

fulfilled which promised our fathers that " in Him all 
nations should be blessed " : ^ that is, sanctified and 
consecrated to the Divine Majesty. Such are His 
prerogatives as Eldest Son of the Father, and such 
our obligations to that devoted "first-born," our Saviour 
Jesus Who sacrificed Himself for love of us. 

And here we may profitably call to mind the words 
of the thirty-ninth Psalm, which St. Paul puts into Our 
Lord's mouth in His Epistle to the Hebrews, which 
seem to apply exactly to the ceremony we are con- 
sidering. St. Paul says : " Wherefore when He cometh 
into the world, He saith : . . . Holocausts for sin did 
not please Thee: then said I, Behold I come!"^ 
meaning, the Apostle understands, that He came for 
the work of our salvation. Observe that Our Lord is 
described as saying these words when He first enters 
this world : ingredient in mundo. Now, the Child 
Jesus was but six weeks old when they brought Him 
to present to God in the Temple, so that one may 
truly look upon Him as only just entering the world. 
We may therefore represent Him to ourselves as 
offering Himself voluntarily to the Eternal Father, 
at the same moment that His Mother presents Him 
according to the Old Law as her first-born, in place of 
all the ancient victims, so as to perfect us for ever by 
the oneness of His Sacrifice. Hence this ceremony is 
truly, as I said above, a preparatory symbol of His 
Passion : and here is the deep mystery hidden in the 
^ Gen. xxii. j8. ^ Heb. x. 6, j. 

Hiddenness and Poverty of Jesus and Mary. 1 09 

special part borne by the Holy Infant in the great act 
of to-day. 

And what, we may naturally wonder, were Mary's 
own feelings and thoughts on this mysterious pre- 
sentation of her Divine Son ? Undoubtedly she 
entered fully into the spiritual meaning of the cere- 
mony, and united her will and intention to those of 
the infant Saviour Himself. Just as she had given 
her full and free consent on the day of the Annuncia- 
tion to the Incarnation of the Messias, so we cannot 
doubt that she now ratified with her whole heart the 
covenant He made, on being offered as victim for 
His people, about His Passion and Death. This 
conviction is strengthened by Simeon's words ; for 
the holy man, after uttering all his joy and gratitude 
at sight of the Messias in his Nunc Dimittis, turns to 
Mary and makes that strange and sad prophecy of 
the sword that is to pierce her Mother's heart. We 
cannot believe that he would have been inspired to 
do this, on an occasion that appeared outwardly to be 
full of nothing but joy, had it not been that, amongst 
the many things about her Son which Mary had to 
keep and ponder in her heart, was the knowledge of 
the bitter chalice He would have to drink as the 
consummation of the sacrifice begun on this day. 
This subject will be more fully treated in connection 
with another Feast ; what we have to learn now is 
that the three mysteries concealed beneath the cere- 
monies of the Purification should be to us so many 

no Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

reminders, when we reflect on them, that the life of 
Mary with Jesus on earth was to be not only a hidden 
and a poor one, but a life full of the inward and un- 
spoken sufferings of painful anticipation : all alike 
freely accepted by her with absolutely perfect confor- 
mity to the Spirit of her Son and the will of the 
Eternal Father. 




{Preached on the Friday in Passion Week.) ^ 

" Stabat autem juxta crucem Jesu, mater ejus" (St. John xix. 
25). " Dixit Jesus Matri suae : Mulier, ecce filius tuus, 
deinde dicit discipulo : Ecce Mater tua " (St. John xix, 

In sacred and profane history alike, last words — 
that is, the words addressed by the dying to those 
they leave behind — are held to be of extreme interest, 
wherever recorded ; and when such words are spoken 
to those whom the one departing has loved and been 
loved by most upon earth, then they come down to 
us invested with a double interest and importance. 

Now, the two beings whom the Evangelist St. John 
loved best in the whole world were, first His Divine 
Master and then that Master's holy Mother, whilst he, 
in his turn, was his dear Lord's chosen friend ; and 
hence he has taken special care to record for our 
benefit the last words spoken by Christ to Mary and 
himself. Well, indeed, were those words worth hand- 
* That is, the Friday before Palm-Sunday. 

112 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

ing down to posterity, and a most beautiful subject 
they form for meditation ; for they bring before us a 
touching picture of Jesus Our Saviour, dying in abso- 
lute want — having throughout all His public life had 
nowhere to lay His head — His last garment having 
gone to the soldiers who cast lots for it — stripped by 
His executioners of almost the very semblance of 
humanity — and yet bestowing something from the 
midst of His abject poverty : — leaving a precious 
pledge of His friendship to those He loves before He 
departs this life. This pledge, moreover, is a double 
one ; for He not only gives His beloved Mother to 
His friend, but makes over that friend to her. He 
gives them both away, and in so doing leaves them 
to each other, so that His legacy benefits both at once : 
" Behold thy son ! " " Behold thy mother ! " ^ 

Now, in Our Lord's last humiliation, all His dis- 
ciples had for the time being forsaken Him, but this 
one — his well-beloved John ; hence he alone was left 
to stand for all the faithful at the foot of the Cross. 
We therefore hold that this most precious legacy left 
by Christ to the Evangelist was left in his person to 
every one of us ; and that we in like manner were 
given, in him, to Christ's Mother. She, standing by 
the Cross and hearing the words : Ecce filius tuus ! 
received through her Son's chosen Apostle that special 
office of Motherhood to all the adopted children of 
God — that " fertility of love " — which I have referred 

* St. John xix. 26. 

On the Blessed Virgin's Compassion. 113 

to before as having been intentionally conferred upon 
her in the midst of sorrows. 

Mary at the foot of the Cross, then, heroically 
enduring the keenest anguish that a mother could 
endure, with the full meaning and consequence of her 
presence there, is the subject we must consider to-day. 

And, first, no one must suppose that Our Saviour's 
Mother was called to this post of anguish merely that 
she might have her heart torn by gazing on the horrible 
spectacle of her Only Son's torments. Providence had 
higher designs than this on her, when she was brought 
to the feet of Jesus abandoned. It was the Eternal 
Father's will that she should be not only offered in 
sacrifice with that innocent victim, and nailed*to the 
Cross by the very same nails that pierced His flesh, 
but that she should share in the accomplishment of 
the whole mystery wrought by His Death. This is 
an important truth ; and I would here lay before you 
as clearly as possible the foundations on which it rests. 

Observe, to begin with, that three things concurred to 
make Our Saviour's sacrifice perfect. First, there were 
the sufferings that crushed and broke His humanity ; 
then there was the humble resignation with which He 
submitted to His Father's Will ; and lastly there was 
His giving birth to us, in grace, by His own death. 
To suffer as a Victim — to submit as making a volun- 
tary offering — and to bring forth for God a new people, 
begotten of His wounds, in suffering : these were the 
three great acts to be consummated by the Son of God 


114 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

on the Cross. The sufferings concerned His humanity, 
which was to bear the burden and the punishment of 
our crimes ; the submission concerned His Father 
Who, having been angered by disobedience, was to 
be appeased by obedience ; whilst the begetting of 
children concerned us ; for, the pleasure of our first 
and criminal father having caused our death, the 
sorrow of our second and innocent one must restore 
us to life. 

In every one of these three divisions of Our Lord's 
great Sacrifice Mary is to have a share. For this she 
is called close to the Cross, to its very foot, that there 
the Holy Spirit may impress on her these three sacred 
marksj or characters, of her Son's passion, and so make 
of her a true and living image of Christ Crucified. 
Holy Simeon had prophesied that a sword should 
pierce her heart, and here she was to receive that 
sword's sharpest stroke : here also, by her very close- 
ness to the instrument of our Redemption, she was to 
gain her strongest likeness to her Son : Stabat juxta 

We will consider the Blessed Virgin's part in each 
of Christ's sacrificial acts separately, and in the order 
1 have named ; therefore we must first contemplate 
her sufferings. To depict the sufferings of even an 
ordinary mother, truly, is no easy task ; and the only 
possible way of bringing Mary's grief at her Son's 
passion before one's mind, vividly enough to realise it 
at all, is to recall the oft-repeated fact that the source 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 115 

of her martyrdom at the sight of His torments was 
the same as that of her joy in being His Mother — 
her peculiar and surpassing love for Him. All other 
martyrs have needed executioners and implements of 
bodily torture — the fire, the rack, the wheel, the pincers 
— to impress the mark of Christ on their quivering 
flesh. For her, none of this horrible apparatus is 
needed ; and whoso imagines that it is can but little 
understand the nature of her love. One cross is 
enough for her and her Beloved ; she endures the 
pangs of all His wounds by only gazing on them ; her 
heart makes her torments exquisite, and ranks her at 
the head of martyrs, without any need for her body 
to be touched. If any one inclines to doubt this, let 
him think for a moment of the many mothers, loving 
their children only in the order of nature, who would 
confess to feeling those children's pains as if they were 
their own. Look at that Canaanitish woman in the 
Gospels at the feet of her Saviour ! See her tears — 
hear her cries — and you will hardly be able to decide 
whether she herself, or her poor devil-tormented child, 
is suffering most. " Have mercy on me, O Son of 
David ! my daughter is grievously troubled by a 
devil." ^ She says not "have pity on my daughter" 
but " have pity on me ". Why ? Because the fact of 
her child's terrible sufferings, she takes for granted, is 
enough to make her an object of compassion. She 
seems to bear her afflicted offspring once more within 
1 Matt. XV. 22. 

ii6 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

her own body, and to be herself tormented with her : 
so says St. Basil of Seleucia,^ dwelling at length on 
this story ; and the woman here depicted is but a vivid 
example of what innumerable mothers are capable 
of feeling through mere love. If, then, the natural 
maternal tie alone can produce such wonderful sym- 
pathy in suffering, surely such a bond as that between 
Mary and her Divine Child must make her sorrows 
reach a depth far beyond description. In fact, it is 
no exaggeration to say that the intense feelings of the 
Canaanitish woman, and of all ordinary women typified 
by her, are but faint reflections of the Blessed Virgin's 
utterly unselfish anguish at the foot of the Cross. 

Again, if we would attempt a right estimate of her 
grief, we must not only remember that it has its source 
in her love : we must go farther back, and reflect on 
the source of that love itself. It is unnecessary to say 
much on this subject here, as it has been dwelt on in 
treating of Mary's Nativity and the glories to which 
she was born ; but it will help towards realising her 
sorrow to keep in mind that her love differs not only 
in degree, but in kind, from that of other women. We 
shall do this best by recalling shortly what has already 
been said of the origin of her motherhood : — namely, 
that it originated not at all in nature, but purely in 
grace ; and was brought about by her own acts of 
faith and obedience. Further, we have seen that she 
was allowed in a mysterious way to share in the 
1 Orat. XX. in Chanau. 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 1 1 7 

Paternity of God the Father by being made the human 
mother of His only-begotten Son. Since, then, Mary's 
maternity has a supernatural source, her maternal love 
must have the same ; and hence (whilst including all 
natural affection) is of a far higher kind than the love 
of mere nature. 

The Blessed Virgin, in short, loves the Son at 
Whose cruel death she is assisting in something the 
same way — though of course in an infinitely less 
degree — that the Eternal Father loves the Word Who 
is His own Image and Substance. Such a love as 
this, emanating as it does from the very principle of 
all unity, must necessarily produce a union and a 
power of inter-communication, between Jesus Christ 
and His holy Mother, corresponding in some sort to 
the perfect union subsisting between God the Son and 
His Divine Father. Now, considering what unspeak- 
ably keen sympathy a union of this kind must engender, 
we are surely justified in believing that Mary's sorrow 
as a mother was unlike any other that ever has been 
or ever will be, both in itself and in its effects. The 
Father and the Son share the same glory in Eternity, 
the Mother and the Son share the same sufferings in 
Time : — for the Father and Son one fount of joys, for 
the Mother and Son one torrent of griefs ; for the 
Father and Son a single throne, for the Mother and 
Son a single cross. If they pierce His head with 
thorns, Mary's brow is torn with every point of the 
sharp crown ; if they offer Him gall and vinegar to 

ii8 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

drink, Mary tastes the draught in all its bitterness ; 
if they stretch out His body on a cross, Mary's limbs 
are racked by the violence. What brings all this 
about but her love ? Surely, in such a sad case, she 
may cry with St. Augustine, though in another sense 
than his : Pondus meum amor meus ! ^ for how heavily 
does not her love oppress her mother's heart ! It is 
like a band of iron round her breast, tightening it so 
as to stifle her very sobs. It is as a leaden weight on 
her head, all the harder to bear that she cannot relieve 
her oppressive sadness by tears. It overwhelms her 
whole body with a crushing languor, till her limbs 
nearly fail her altogether. But the heaviest part of 
all her trouble is that she knows it is adding to Christ's 
trouble, and that she is constrained against her will 
to grieve Him by the sight of her own grief, to which 
she knows He is pitifully alive. Mother and Son see 
their respective sufferings reflected as in two mirrors, 
while they gaze each on the other, and have their 
pains indefinitely multiplied by this mutual reciprocity 
of feeling. The Blessed Virgin's love momentarily 
increases her anguish, because it is powerless either to 
console Jesus or to lessen His torments — but on the 
contrary is compelled to be the means of redoubling 
them ; for it is the intimate knowledge of His Mother's 
intense love that makes her Son so keenly realise the 
intensity of her grief, and thus suffer more from the 
reaction on Himself., 

^ Con/., lib. xiii., cap. ix., torn, i., col. 228. 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 119 

Still, however true and high reasons we may find 
for the depth of Mary's sorrows at the foot of the 
Cross, they must always remain really incompre- 
hensible to us. It is better, in face of them, rather to 
do our best to imitate and sympathise than to try to 
understand what we cannot. With the week that we 
are about to enter upon before us, the sight of Christ's 
mother racked with His torments, and absolutely dead 
to everything but Him, should move us at least to desire 
such compassion for our Redeemer's sufferings as will 
make us indifferent to worldly pleasures. Well for 
us if we can go further, and learn that there is no lot 
so really blessed as that of being allowed a share in 
the Cross of Jesus, and receiving the gift of inces- 
sant mourning for His sufferings and our sins. If we 
doubt our own courage for accepting such a lot we 
may get help by meditating on the next point we have 
to consider : namely, Mary's part in the perfect sub- 
mission and voluntariness of Christ's Sacrifice, which 
is shown by her manner of enduring her share in His 

Now, great afflictions may be nobly overcome in 
three different ways. First, by actually banishing all 
mourning or sadness about them, and losing even the 
sense of grief ; secondly, by bearing them with resolute 
patience, though the soul be troubled by them never 
so sorely ; thirdly, by feeling the sorrow itself with 
the greatest keenness, and yet not feeling any trouble 
or disturbance about it. In the first of these states. 

I20 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

all feeling of sorrow has passed, and we enjoy perfect 
repose : " I am filled with comfort. I exceedingly 
abound with joy in our tribulation," ^ says St. Paul : 
that is, a holy and even superabundant joy seems to 
have banished all sense of trouble. In the second 
state, we fight against our affliction with patience ; but 
the struggle is so severe that, though the soul be 
victorious, it cannot possibly be peaceful. " Indeed," 
Tertullian declares, " the very opposite is the case : — 
the soul troubles and disturbs itself by its very effort 
to be calm ; and, though not crushed down by weak- 
ness, is shaken by its own resistance and upset by 
force of its own firmness." ^ But in the third state — 
which can be reached only by a great miracle — God 
bestows such great strength against suffering that its 
full violence can be borne without the disturbance of 
our peace. Thus, in the first of these three states 
tranquillity banishes suffering ; in the second, suffering 
prevents tranquillity ; whilst the third unites the two, 
and joins extreme suffering to supreme tranquillity of 

Holy Scripture frequently compares grief to a 
troubled sea : — " The waters are come in even to my 
soul " ; ^ " my calamities . . . have overwhelmed me 
with their paths as with waves ; " ^ for instance : — and 
Almighty God's three ways of overcoming our grief 
may be actually illustrated from three different means 

^ 2 Cor. vii. 4. 2 Tertull., de Anitna, n. 10. 

^ Ps. Ixviii. I. * Job xxx. 12. 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 121 

used by Our Lord to subdue the waters. At one 
time we see Him simply command the winds and 
waves, and then there comes, says the EvangeHst, 
" a great calm "} Even so God, when He chooses, 
calms a soul tossed about with troubles by simply 
sending forth His Holy Spirit upon that soul and 
bidding its tempests to cease : " our flesh had no rest 
. . . but God, Who comforts the humble, comforted 
us "!^ Here is God calming the waves of the soul 
and restoring her lost serenity. 

On another occasion Christ gives the waters their 
will, and lets the waves rise with furious vehemence, 
so that the vessel — driven violently before them — is 
threatened with instant shipwreck ; while Peter, 
struggling through the waters, expects to be buried 
in their depths. Nevertheless, Our Lord guides the 
ship and bears up the trembling Apostle with His 
own hands.^ Thus a soul, struggling with very 
violent grief, feels as if she must be overwhelmed and 
swallowed up by it : " we were pressed out of measure 
above our strength " : ^ but Christ gives the poor soul 
such firm support that the tempest of sorrow, while 
shaking her to her very foundations, cannot lay her 
low. This is the second state above referred to. 
Now we come to the last, noblest, and most glorious 
way whereby Jesus mastered the waters. Again He 
gives full rein to the storm, and allows the winds to 

^ Matt. viii. 26. 2 2 Cor. vii. 5, 6. 

^ Matt. xiv. 24-32. * 2 Cor. i. 8. 

122 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

lash the waves into fury and make them rise to a 
fearful height. Then, treading the angry billows 
under foot, He walks firmly and confidently over 
them as if glorying in His power to brave the un- 
governable element even in its fiercest rage.^ In like 
manner does God let suffering loose upon us that it 
may act with its fullest force, so that we " should not 
trust in ourselves but in God Who raiseth the dead ".^ 
Then the faithful soul, strong and confident amidst 
this spiritual tumult, lets the waves of trouble surge 
harmless around her, and walks over them with so 
calm and even a step that they are compelled, against 
their very nature, to serve for her support. Here 
we have the third and highest supernatural way of 
overcoming afflictions, and the one in which Jesus 
Christ Himself overcomes His. 

The Blessed Virgin, watching Our Saviour die, is 
in this third state of soul. The flood of grief rises 
high above her head — the storm-driven waves of 
sorrow dash against her heart — a very gulf of misery 
seems to open in the waters beneath her feet and 
threaten her destruction — but her constancy remains 
unshaken. Not for a moment does she wish for any 
abatement of the sufferings that make her like unto 
her Son, or for any comfort to help her in bearing 
them. She dreams not of asking the Eternal Father 
to lessen her anguish by one single throb, when she 
beholds Him pouring out the full vials of His wrath 

1 John vi. 17-21. ^ 2 Cor. i. 9. 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 123 

on the head of His Only-begotten till Jesus Himself 
must perforce call aloud that His Father has forsaken 
Him. However terrible her griefs, nothing could 
grieve her so much as to receive treatment less severe 
than His, and not to feel all the pangs of Her Beloved. 
She wills that her sorrows should reach their very 
utmost possible limit in union with His, and that she 
should be able to say with Him, " all thy heights and 
thy billows have passed over me " } Let the storm 
of grief rage as it will, the Holy Spirit will never allow 
His own temple to be shaken, for He has laid "the 
foundations thereof in the holy mountains," ^ and will 
keep it firm under every shock. The higher region 
of Mary's soul, in which her Heavenly Spouse has 
made His dwelling-place, will keep its serenity un- 
disturbed amid the tempest. 

St. John Chrysostom, commenting on to-day's 
Gospel, calls our attention to one particular aspect 
of Christ about to yield up His soul on the Cross, 
which will clearly show the reason of His holy 
Mother's attitude at the foot of that Cross if we 
meditate on it here. It is the marvellous calmness 
and self-possession of Jesus in His agony that fills 
this great Saint with admiring awe. On the eve of 
His death, the preacher bids us observe, Our Lord 
sweats, trembles and shudders at the terrible vision 
of His torture that rises before Him ; but when His 
heavy troubles have actually come upon Him He 

^ Ps. xli. 8. "^ Ps. Ixxxvi. i. 

124 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

seems to be another man, to whom torments are 
indifferent. He talks quietly to the happy thief ; 
He looks upon and recognises all those of His own 
people who are at the foot of the Cross, speaks to 
them, and comforts them ; and at last — seeing that 
He has accomplished all He had to do, and carried 
out the Will of His Father in every particular — He 
gives up His Soul to Him in such a peaceful, free 
and deliberate manner that there can be no doubt of 
its being His own act. It is just as He had said : — 
" No man taketh it away from Me, but I lay it down 
of Myself".! 

The holy doctor then goes on to ask the meaning of 
this : how it was that the fear of suffering oppressed 
Him so terribly, when the suffering itself hardly seems 
to touch Him ? And he answers that the reason pro- 
bably is that the scheme of our redemption was neces- 
sarily a work of strength and weakness combined. 
Christ wished to show by His fears that, like unto us, 
He felt trouble keenly ; whilst by His firmness He had 
to prove that He could perfectly master His feelings 
and make them yield to His Fathers Will. Such is 
the reason of our Redeemer's attitude at this supreme 
moment given by St. John Chrysostom ; and doubtless 
it is a solid one. Yet other reasons too may be found ; 
and I venture to suggest one in connection with 
the present subject which seems of even a higher 
kind, and to go nearer to the heart of the mystery. 
1 St. John X. i8. 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 125 

I think we may believe that one most probable cause 
of Our Lord's peace on Calvary, when the Mount of 
Olives had witnessed His agony, was the fact that the 
Cross on Mount Calvary found Him in the very act 
of His Sacrifice, and there is no action in the world 
that should be performed in so calm a spirit as this 
one. Those who let their thoughts wander here and 
there without restraint, according as curiosity or inclina- 
tion suggest, while present at the Holy Sacrifice of the 
Mass, cannot have the least idea of what Sacrifice 

Sacrifice is an act by which we offer our homage to 
God ; and who does not know that any act of respect 
demands a quiet and collected demeanour ? It is the 
very nature of respect to require this. God sees into 
the depth of all hearts, and holds us to be wanting 
in due respect for His majesty when our souls are 
uncontrolled and distracted in His presence. How 
important, then, that the High priest who actually 
offers the sacrifice should do so with a perfectly calm 
mind ! The oil with which Aaron is anointed — 
that symbol of peace poured so abundantly over his 
head — is in fact intended to warn him of the peace 
that he should attain to in his own mind and heart 
by banishing every* distracting thought and feeling. 
Hence it was, we cannot doubt, that Our Divine Pontiff 
Jesus Christ showed Himself so perfectly calm in His 
death-agony. If He had appeared troubled on Mount 
Olivet, it was, says St. Augustine, a voluntary anguish 

126 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

that He suffered ; for only by his own will could it 
affect Him ; and for this reason: — He was then, in His 
own eyes, simply the victim, and as a victim He willed 
to behave. Therefore He adopted — if we may be 
allowed to say so — the very actions and posture of a 
victim which was being dragged, terrified and shudder- 
ing, to the altar. But on the Cross it is quite other- 
wise. He it now at the altar, as priest ; and from the 
moment that His innocent hands have been raised to 
present Himself as our victim to the Wrath of Heaven, 
He is exercising His priestly function ; and He will 
allow no more fear to be seen lest it should imply 
any repugnance for the sacrifice. His Divine Will, to 
which all His emotions are subject, prevents the peace 
of His Soul from being troubled and represses all 
outward sign of anguish ; and thus we are made to 
understand that our most merciful High-Priest offers 
Himself for us quite freely and from pure love of our 
salvation. According to St. Augustine, again, " He 
dies as gently as we might go to sleep "} 

Now, Mary is appointed to share in this great sacri- 
fice, and to offer up her own Son ; and this is why she, 
as well as He, gathers up her full strength and stands 
composed and upright beneath the Cross. This is 
why, despite all her sufferings, she gives Him with 
her whole heart to the Eternal Father to be the victim 
of His vengeance. We must remember, too, that 
Christ's Mother did not offer up her Son on this one 
^ Tract, cxix,, n. 6, 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 127 

occasion only : she had been offering Him unceasingly 
from the moment when Holy Simeon had, by God's 
command, foretold to her the strange contradictions 
of which he was to be the object, and which were to 
" pierce her heart with a sword ". ^ She had not known 
what the contradictions were to be, nor to what special 
manner of persecution her beloved Son was to be sub- 
ject ; but she had always had to endure the double 
torment of knowing that He mu^t suffer, and of being 
in uncertainty as to how : so that she herself, as Jesus 
grew up under her eyes, suffered His passion over and 
over again, in anticipation that was all the more 
terrible from being vague. But through it all she 
never slackened in her perfect submission to the Will 
of God ; and she showed this resignation by the double 
act of accepting the uncertainty and of being ready 
to offer the Child in whatever way it should please 
His Father when the time and manner should be dis- 
closed. Ever since He had lain a little infant in her 
arms she had looked upon Him as a Victim ; and now 
that she sees the death-blow inflicted on the Cross she 
is but completing the sacrifice that she had begun to 
take part in long ago. Just as Our Saviour Himself 
takes care to show that He makes His Sacrifice volun- 
tarily, so she would rather have her very heart torn 
out than withhold for a moment her full consent to 
His passion and death. 

But she is to receive more than she has offered 

1 Luke ii. 34, 35. 

128 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

up ; for God will restore that well-beloved Son to her 
arms, and meantime He gives her for children all 
His Christian people. He does this, as we have seen, 
through the faithful Apostle who has himself described 
the wondrous mystery in the Apocalypse : — " And a 
great sign appeared in heaven : a woman clothed 
with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on 
her head a crown of twelve stars : and being with 
child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain 
to be delivered "} St. Augustine declares that this 
woman is the Blessed Virgin, ^ and there are many 
convincing proofs to be given for the statement. But 
how can the painful child-birth here named be ex- 
plained, when it is the belief of the Church that Mary 
was exempt from the common curse of mothers, and 
brought forth her Son without suffering just as she 
conceived Him without concupiscence ? These as- 
sertions seem contradictory, but are in fact not so ; 
for the . bringing forth of Jesus Christ and of the 
Faithful are two separate births, and this passage of 
Scripture is interpreted of the latter. Mary brought 
forth the Innocent One painlessly ; but she is to 
become the Mother of sinners amidst grief and tears, 
the natural effect of the high price she has to pay for 
her universal maternity. This price is no less than 
her only Son, whom she must see die before she can 
bring forth God's adopted children, and of whom it is 

' Apoc. xii. I. 

^ Serm. iv., de Simp, ad Catec, cap. i., torn, \'u, col, 575, 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion, 129 

therefore truly said that she bore them in pain and 
sorrow. And in this painfully-acquired second mother- 
hood she is again mysteriously sharing the character- 
istics of the Eternal Father's own Paternity ; for has 
He not given up His Son by nature, and delivered 
Him to death, that He might make man into His Son 
by adoption and co-heir of His Only Begotten ? By 
the same love with which He delivers up, forsakes, 
and sacrifices His Divine Son He adopts, quickens, 
and regenerates us : almost as though He wished to 
justify His adoption of us by in some sense losing 
His rightful Heir to make room for us. We can 
never sufficiently wonder at, or be grateful enough 
for, love such as this. 

If Mary, then, is to take her part in fulfilling the 
third condition of Christ's perfect sacrifice, whereby 
He begets a new and regenerate family of children 
for His Divine Father hy the Cross, the reason is clear 
for her being appointed Mother of the Faithful at the 
foot of that Cross and nowhere else. She is the Eve 
of the New Covenant, as we have seen ; and in that 
capacity must make satisfaction for the sin of our 
first mother just as the Second Adam makes it for 
that of our first father. She is destined to do this 
by uniting her will to the Eternal Father's Will, and 
making with Him the sacrifice of the Son common to 
both. And how is the sacrifice carried out ? By 
means of a few words spoken by Jesus from His bed 
of death that must have pierced her heart with a stab 


130 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

sharper than any she had felt in her whole life before. 
What does she hear Him say as He hangs dying before 
her eyes ? What is His last farewell ? " Woman, 
behold thy son" He says. We have but to think for 
a moment over these words to realise that all the 
pangs Mary ever suffered must have been concen- 
trated in them — for what an exchange do they imply ! 
John, in whom she was to behold all of us, could 
become her child only at the cost of Christ ; a mere 
man must henceforth take the place, for the rest of 
her earthly life, of God Himself; and, whatever com- 
fort St. John may be to her afterwards, the very 
thought of the contrast at the moment brings her 
terrible loss more vividly before her than anything 
else could have done. In short, the death-warrant 
of Mary's divine maternity seems to be conveyed in 
the very same words that bring to pass her human 
motherhood ; and thus her heart is opened wide to 
admit us by a piercing sword indeed. 

Holy Scripture as well as natural affection tells us 
" not to forget the groanings of our Mother "} Let 
no Christian who sees His mother Mary, when Jesus 
has given up the Ghost, standing desolate beneath 
the Cross for His sake, forget that she helped to bring 
Him forth to grace in pain and anguish ; and let him 
further remember that the sharpest sting of all her 
sorrows lay in the fear that so many of the dearly- 
bought race would make her Son's death of no avail 

^ Ecclesiasticus vii. 29. 

On the Blessed Virgins Compassion. 131 

by rejecting, of their own free will, the grace it won 
for them. Keeping this thought in mind, it will 
surely not be difficult, for any of us who may be 
crucifying Christ over again by mortal sin, to use this 
solemn time of His passion for " bringing forth fruits 
worthy of penance," and so consoling and rejoicing 
that torn and wounded Mother's Heart by our own 
loving tears of sorrow. 




" Quae est ista quae ascendit de deserto, deliciis affluens, innixa 
super dilectum suum ? " (Cant. viii. 5). 

The succession of the Blessed Virgin's Feasts that 
we have followed has shown how wonderfully the 
Mysteries of Christianity are linked one with another ; 
and this one, which celebrates the final event of her 
earthly life, has a special connection with the Incar- 
nation of the Eternal Word. For if Mary once 
received Jesus her Saviour, it is fitting that the Saviour 
should in His turn receive Mary. He disdained not 
to come down to her ; and now He will take her up 
to Himself and make her share His glory. It is but 
natural, therefore, to find the Holy Maiden rising in 
triumph from her tomb amid pomp and splendour. 
She gave her Son His human life ; and He, being 
God, and hence bound to repay munificently, gives 
her in return the glorious Life of immortality. Thus 
are these two mysteries — of the Incarnation and the 
Assumption — linked ; and, that there may be still 
closer relation between them, we may well believe 

The Assumption of Mary. 133 

that the Angels take part in both : — that they rejoice 
to-day with Mary, and are dehghted to behold so 
beautiful a completion of the mystery whose begin- 
nings they first announced. 

Heaven, as well as earth, has its gala days and 
triumphs, its functions and solemn entries ; or, rather, 
earth borrows these names for its own vain pomps. 
Magnificence can in fact only be realised to its fullest 
extent in the splendid festivals of the heavenly Jeru- 
salem ; and of all the glorious solemnities that have 
rejoiced the holy angels and the spirits of the Blessed, 
we may be sure that the one we are keeping to-day 
is among the most illustrious. The raising of the 
Blessed Virgin to the throne prepared for her by her 
Son must indeed be the occasion of a most joyful day 
in Eternity : — if we may speak of days in the Everlast- 
ing City. To describe Mary's entry into Heaven I 
might try to bring before you the great concourse of 
its inhabitants, with the acclamations and glad canticles 
of the nine orders of Angels and the whole heavenly 
Court. I might even go higher, and show you the 
Mother of God presented by her Divine Son before 
the Father's throne, there to receive from His Hand 
her crown of immortal glory. But my object here is 
not so much to dwell on the ejfects of her Assumption, 
in her attainment of glory, as to consider what were 
its causes ; and for this purpose it will be better for 
us to think most, not of the heavenly court that re- 
ceives her above but of the virtues that accompany 

134 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

her from below. These virtues, in fact, form her 
chief glory, since they both prepared her for the bliss 
she has attained and will themselves cause its fullest 
perfection throughout eternity. 

That Mary might enter into her glory she had, first, 
to be stripped of this wretched mortality, as of a 
garment foreign to her ; then, her body and soul had 
to be "clothed upon" with immortality, as with a 
royal mantle or triumphal robe ; and lastly, clad in 
this superb apparel, she had to be placed on her throne, 
above the cherubim and seraphim and all other 
creatures. Now, it may be truly said that the whole 
of this great work was wrought by three special virtues 
which shone forth above all others in the Mother of 
Christ : namely, those of Divine Love, Holy Chastity, 
and Perfect Humility. I shall try to set forth the 
special relation of each of these virtues to the three 
steps of the Blessed Virgin's entry into Eternal Bliss. 


Nature and grace concur in establishing the un- 
changeable necessity of dying. It is a law of nature 
that everything mortal owes tribute to death ; and 
grace has not exempted man from the hard necessity 
because the Son of God determined to destroy death 
by means of death itself. He has therefore laid down 
the law that we must pass through its very hands to 
escape from it, and go down into the tomb to rise 
again. In short, to strip mortality of its power we 

The Assumption of Mary. 135 

must all die. Therefore the sacred pageant of to-day- 
had to be preceded by Mary's decease : she could not 
attain to her triumph without first submitting to the 
law of Death, and leaving behind in his clutches — so 
to speak — everything belonging to her that was mortal. 
But, though the Blessed Virgin was subjected to 
this common law, it does not necessarily follow that 
she had to undergo it in the ordinary way. Death 
itself is, indeed, the lot of all ; but its principle may 
vary in different cases. Now, everything in Mary's 
career was supernatural : she received Jesus Christ in 
the beginning miraculously, and it is but to be ex- 
pected that she should have back her well-beloved 
Son, at the end, also by a miracle. Further, it seems 
a fitting completion to a life so full of marvels as was 
hers that the principle of her death should be not a 
human, but a divine, one. Hence, granting that some 
supernatural cause is to be looked for here, we have 
only to seek for the special one ; and I hold it to be 
certain that Mary's human life came to an end simply 
through the working of Divine Love. The strength 
of this, hourly increasing in her throughout her mortal 
life, at last burst asunder the bonds of flesh and bore 
away her soul to be reunited with the Son from Whom 
she had been parted only by a violent wrench. Such 
a death is a sacred mystery ; but we may to some 
extent realise how it might come to pass by yet once 
more calling to mind what has been so often dwelt 
upon in following the whole chain of events in the 

136 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

Blessed Virgin's life : — namely, the source, and nature of 
her love for Jesus. To draw this matter out again in 
full detail would be superfluous ; but I may here 
quote, as specially applicable to our present subject, 
the words of a very holy man which beautifully sum- 
marise all that has gone before, and bring out with 
striking force the peculiar characteristics of Mary's 
maternal affection. Amadeus of Lausanne — a Bishop 
of the twelfth century — in a homily on the Blessed 
Virgin's praises, has the following passage: "To form 
Mary's love, two loves were united ; for she gave to 
her Son the love due to a God, and to her God the 
love due to a Son ".^ This is a sublime way of saying 
that Nature and Grace concurred in making the deepest 
possible impression on Mary's heart, as there is nothing 
stronger or more efficacious than the love given by 
nature for a son, and that given by grace for God. 
These two loves are two abysses, whose depths we 
cannot sound and whose extent we cannot take in. 
But in face of them we may truly say, with the 
Psalmist: Abyssus abyssum invocat:^ "deep calleth 
unto deep " — since, to form the Blessed Virgin's love, 
the tenderest feelings of nature and the most power- 
ful forces of grace met together. Nature had to be 
present because the Love was for a son, and grace 
because it related to a God. Ordinary nature and 
ordinary grace would, of course, not have sufficed to 
create such an affection ; but we know, from our 
1 De Laudib. B. Virg., Homil. v. 2 pg. xli. 8. 

The Assumption of Mary. 137 

previous searchings into the origin of Mary's maternity, 
that both nature and grace in her were extraordinary. 
Hence a little reflection on the workings of this double 
love within her, after she had been left on earth 
without Him Who was its object, may give us some 
faint idea of how it might pierce and wound her heart 
with its longings till the frail body could bear it no 
longer : — and thus become, as I have said above, truly 
the cause of her death. It is held by Catholic tradition 
that the Mother of God remained some time on earth 
after Our Lord's ascension, it being His pleasure that 
she should stay to comfort and help the infant Church 
during the early days of His departure. If we would 
understand, in ever so faint a degree, what must have 
been her impatience to rejoin Him during all those 
years, we must try to measure it by her love. There 
can, I think, be no exaggeration in believing that, had 
God not willed her to live in this world for a certain 
time, any one of the sighs of longing that her heart 
breathed forth would have been strong enough to bear 
her soul away to its desired goal. Indeed, it would be 
almost truer to say that the Blessed Virgin's death, 
caused by Divine Love, was the cessation of a miracle 
than that it was itself miraculous ; for the real miracle 
lay rather in her being able to live on earth for so long 
parted from her Beloved. 

Believing, then, that excess of love alone brought 
about the ending of this wondrous life, we may go on 
to ask in what particular way the death-blow was 

138 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

given ? Did some more strongly-inflamed desire — 
some more violent transport — than any before, come 
to carry off Mary's soul ? I venture to hold that it 
was not so ; but that when the appointed time for 
her release had come it was wrought simply by the 
gradual perfecting of her love, which — having always 
reigned in her heart without the slightest obstacle — 
at last reached such perfection that an earthly body 
could no longer contain it. Then the holy Mother 
gave up her happy soul into the hands of her Son : 
not by any sudden or extraordinary special move- 
ment, but gently and sweetly. Even as the lightest 
touch will make a ripe fruit drop from its stem, so 
was this perfect spirit gathered in one moment to 
its heavenly home, without effort or shock — needing 
nought to carry it upwards save its own holy desires. 
Thus did Mary's Love reunite her soul to Jesus 
through a happy death, which consigned her body to 
the tomb. But the mortal part of Christ's mother 
was not to stay long within the shadow of the grave ; 
and we must now go on to see the effects of Holy 
Chastity in helping to bring it forth. 


Mary's sacred body — the throne of Chastity, the 
temple of Incarnate Wisdom, the instrument of the 
Holy Ghost, the seat of the Power of the Most High 
— could not remain in the tomb. Her triumph would 
be incomplete if it took place apart from her holy 

The Assumption of Mary. 139 

flesh ; for this, expressly sanctified to form the body 
of Christ, had been as it were the source of all her 
glory. The Blessed Virgin's flesh, we know, was 
virginal flesh ; and the power of holy virginity had 
worked three special wonders therein. It had saved 
it from corruption, drawn down heavenly influence 
upon it, and surrounded it with divine light. These 
three marvellous effects of virginity in her flesh had 
in their turn produced three conditions which, together, 
resulted in the assumption of her body from the tomb. 
First, the fact that Mary's flesh was saved by the 
virtue of holy chastity from corruption prevented 
it from being dissolved, like that of mankind in 
general, at death. We have seen how, at the first 
moment of her existence, Mary's body and soul alike 
were preserved from the stain of concupiscence, so 
that they possessed perfect integrity. Now, to grasp 
fully the necessary effect of this miracle — which we 
call the " Immaculate Conception " — on her whole 
nature, it is absolutely necessary to understand clearly 
what this freedom from concupiscence, in her, meant, 
St. Thomas tells us we are not to suppose that the 
extraordinary grace bestowed upon Mary merely 
tempered — as in others among the elect — the fire of 
concupiscence. He says that not only were evil 
works, evil desires, and even wrong inclinations, de- 
stroyed in her ; but that the very origin of the fire 
itself — the first spark, so to speak, whence the flame 
of concupiscence might spring — what theology calls 

140 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

fomes peccati — was utterly extinguished. Further, 
entirely to elucidate the point that I wish to make 
clear, I must ask you to remember what is Christian 
teaching as to the ordinary cause of death in our 
sinful race. We may not hold, with mere men of 
science, that it is simply a necessary consequence of 
the composite nature of our bodies. We are bound 
to raise our thoughts higher, and to believe that what 
subjects our flesh to the law of corruption is the fact 
that it attracts what is evil and is a source of bad 
desires : in short, as St. Paul says, that it is caro 
peccati} Flesh such as this has to be destroyed, even 
in the elect ; because whilst it remains " a flesh of 
sin," it is unworthy to be united to a glorious soul, 
or to enter into the Kingdom of God, which " flesh 
and blood cannot possess".^ It must, then, change 
its original form that it may be renewed, and lose its 
first life to receive a second from the hand of its 
Maker. For God allows this flesh of ours, all dis- 
ordered as it is by concupiscence, to fall into ruins, 
that He may rebuild it Himself according to His 
first plan at its creation. This is what we must 
hold as to bodily corruption if we would follow the 
teaching of the Gospels, from which we learn that our 
flesh has to be turned to dust because it has been the 
servant of sin ; whence we cannot fail to see that 
Mary's flesh, being absolutely pure, must in conse- 
quence be incorruptible. 

* Rom. viii. 3, ^ Cor, xv, 50, 

The Assumption of Mary. 141 

And it was for the same reason — i.e.^ through the 
action of its virginal purity — that her flesh was destined 
to be endowed prematurely with the gift of immortality. 
Though God has fixed upon some particular moment 
for the general resurrection of the dead, He may yet 
be compelled for special reasons to anticipate that time 
in favour of the Blessed Virgin. An apt illustration of 
such forestalling may be found in a common earthly 
phenomenon. The sun naturally brings forth fruit only 
in its due season ; but there are certain modes of culti- 
vation which cause plants to experience his influence 
more quickly, and to spring up and bear fruit long 
before that season arrives. Even so there are "forced" 
plants in the garden of our Heavenly Spouse ; and 
Mary's holy flesh was a substance prepared for pro- 
ducing the fruits of immortality before the commonly 
appointed time, by the peculiar heavenly influence 
drawn down upon it through its perfect chastity. In 
fact, its conformity with the Flesh of Christ fitted it to 
receive a specially prompt effect from His quickening 
power. Our Lord had taken upon Him that virginal 
flesh — had dwelt enclosed within it for nine months — 
had loved it so much as actually to incorporate Himself 
with it. It is not, therefore, to be supposed that He 
would leave a body so well beloved as this in the 
tomb. He would naturally bear it away immediately 
to Heaven, clothed in immortal glory. 

And this glory, again — this robe of Immortality — 
will be the effect of Mary's Immaculate Conception : 

142 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

and for this reason ; — Jesus Christ, in His Gospel, repre- 
sents the glory of risen bodies to us by saying that we 
shall be in heaven " as the angels of God "} Hence 
Tertullian, speaking of risen flesh, calls it " angelicised 
flesh " — angelificata caro. Now, of all the Christian 
virtues, the one that chiefly forms angels on earth is 
Holy Chastity. St Augustine has said of it that 
" whilst dwelling in the flesh it has a quality not of the 
flesh," ^ and which partakes rather of the angel than of 
the man. A virtue that has power to produce angels 
even in this life may well produce them in the future 
one ; and we have therefore good reason to believe that 
chastity plays a most special part in clothing our risen 
bodies with their glorious garments of immortality at 
the Last Day. If Mary's body, then, because of its 
conformity with the body of Our Saviour, surpasses 
the very Spirits of Heaven in purity, what may we not 
imagine its glory to be ! To give us some slight notion 
of it. Holy Scripture has placed the moon under her 
feet and the stars above her head ; whilst it has repre- 
sented the sun as piercing her through and surrounding 
her with his rays : — Mulier amicta Sole : ^ this being the 
only image that earth could aff"ord brilliant enough to 
symbolise the beauty and splendour that must clothe 
the Mother of God in her risen state. 

^ Matt. xxii. 30. 

"^ " Habet aliquid jam non carnis in carne." — De Sancta Virginit.' 
n. 12, torn. vi. 
^ Apoc. xii. 2. 

The Assumption of Mary. 143 


Such, then, was the work of Virginal Purity in 
Mary's flesh. The only point now left to consider 
is what particular relation her perfert Humility of 
heart has to her final triumph. We shall understand 
this best by a further comparison of her with her 
Divine Son, for the triumph of Christ — His victory 
over sin and death — was brought about solely by 
Humility : by the humbleness of perfect obedience to 
His Father's Will. Now, Mary could not really 
rejoice in her triumph if she were to reach it by any 
other way than the one that her Son Himself had 
chosen ; and hence we may be sure that by Humility 
only she was raised to her throne, and in the follow- 
ing manner : — 

The property of true humility is to strip and im- 
poverish itself, but at the same time to clothe and 
enrich itself in a marvellous way by its own very act, 
because whatever it gives up it assuredly gets back. 
It cannot be better described than by St. Paul's ex- 
pression : " having nothing, yet possessing all things "^ ; 
and by shortly recalling the chief sacrifices of Mary's 
life we shall see how perfectly this description may be 
applied to her mode of practising the virtue. 

The Blessed Virgin had three most perfect posses- 
sions. She had her high dignity ; her wondrous purity 
of body and soul ; and her motherhood of Jesus 

^ Coloss. i. 19. 

144 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

Christ : — she had for her own Son Him in Whom 
St Paul says " it hath well pleased the Father that all 
fulness should dwell ". In her, then, we have a creature 
greatly distinguished beyond her kind ; but we find 
that her deep humility strips her in a sense of all these 
wonderful privileges. Though raised far above others 
by her dignity as Mother of God, she lives a life of 
obscure service as one of the common herd ; though 
separated from all by her immaculate purity she mixes 
in the society of sinners, and purifies herself as they 
do. But she does more than this : from Calvary she 
even loses her well-beloved Son. And she does not 
merely lose Him by seeing Him die a cruel death, but 
by His ceasing, in a certain sense, to be her Son at 
all and by His substituting another for Himself: 
" Woman," He says to her, " behold thy son ! " 
Be sure that Our Saviour did not speak in this 
way to His Mother without reason. He would 
not appear not to know her — would not call her 
Woman instead of Mother — if there were no deep 
mystery hidden beneath His action ; and the reason 
of it may be found in the state of abject humiliation 
in which Our Lord then was, and which He willed 
that His holy Mother should share with Him by the 
closest possible imitation. We must remember, here, 
that Jesus had a God for His Father, and Mary a God 
for her Son. At the moment we are speaking of, the 
Saviour had lost His Father, as a father, and called 
upon Him only as His God. Mary, then, must lose 

The Assumption of Mary. 145 

her Son, to correspond with this supreme sacrifice ; and 
hence He addresses her now as " woman," and not as 
" mother ". Further, which is the deepest humiliation 
of all, He gives her another son ; as though henceforth 
He would cease to be hers, and meant to break the 
bond of their sacred union. St Paulinus gives as 
Christ's reason for this act that whereas, so long as 
He lived His mortal life on earth, He had paid every 
possible honour and service that a son could pay to 
His Mother, and had been her constant consolation 
and support, now that He was on the eve of entering 
into His glory He assumed an attitude more suited 
to the dignity of God ; and therefore gave up the 
natural duties of filial love to another. Thus was Mary 
left with St. John for her son in the place of Jesus, Who 
had Himself instituted the exchange. She humbly 
accepted the humiliating decree, and took the disciple 
instead of the Master — the son of Zebedee instead 
of the Son of God (as St. Bernard says) — to her 
maternal heart ; and so she lived for many years on 
earth, only thinking in her humility that she deserved 
not to be the Mother of God. 

But if Mary was thus perfectly stripped of every- 
thing, that her humiliation in this world might bear 
a close likeness to her Divine Son's, she was to have 
all back in full, and more than full, measure ; her 
humility was not only to " have nothing," but to 
" possess all things". Because she made herself the 

servant of others she is to be raised to a throne ; 


146 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

because she purified herself — being all pure — as 
though a sinner, she is to be the advocate of sinners, 
and their refuge next after Christ : Rcfugium pecca- 
torum ; and because she gave up her Son, and patiently 
and humbly bore His apparent desertion of her, that 
beloved Son will now enter once more into His filial 
rights — which He had ceded to John but for a time 
— and will present her before the whole heavenly 
court as His Mother. 

Thus, then, are the words of my text fully verified 
in Mary's glorious Assumption. Truly, indeed, may 
we say that she " cometh up from the desert, flowing 
with delights, leaning on her Beloved " ; for the arm 
of her Divine Son supports her, His well-known voice 
makes music in her ear, and her heart overflows with 
heavenly joy at the thought that it is to His merits 
and love alone that she owes every gift that she has 
received, and all the songs of praise wherewith the 
Angelic Hosts greet the entrance of their Queen. 
Surely we may without presumption imagine the 
Patriarchs and Prophets of the old Law echoing, as 
it were, the last words of her own magnificent canticle, 
when they see the mother of the Messias Whom they 
had prophesied appear, by uttering some of their own 
inspired sayings. Moses would surely cry as he 
beheld Mary assume her throne, " A star shall rise 
out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from 
Israel " ; ^ Isaias, seized with the spirit of God, would 
^ Num. xxiv. 17. 

The Assumption of Mary. 147 

sing in a rapture of delight : " Here is that Virgin 
who was to conceive and bear a Son " ; ^ Ezekiel 
would recognise in the Virgin Mother that " shut 
gate " '^ that was never again to be opened because 
" the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it " ; 
whilst Royal David, standing in the midst, would 
intone, to a heavenly lyre, his grand song : " On Thy 
right hand stood the Queen in golden raiment, 
wrought about with variety. All the glory of the 
King's daughter is from within, in fringes of gold, 
wrought with divers colours. After her shall virgins 
be brought unto the King — her neighbours shall be 
brought unto Thee. With joy and gladness shall 
they be brought unto the King." ^ 

Mary, meantime, will once more pour forth her 
Magnificat and sing the praises of God, Who by all 
this honour bestowed upon her has indeed gloriously 
rewarded the humility of His Handmaid. 

^ Isaiah vii. 14. ^ Ezek. xliv. 2. 

3 Ps, xliv., 10, 14, 15, 16, 


Note to Sermon II., 

It may be a help to the full understanding and enjoyment 
of this sermon to remind readers of three things : — ix. 

(i) That it was preached whilst the Truth of the Blessed 
Virgin's Immaculate Conception, though almost universally 
held by the Faithful, was still in the stage of being under 
consideration as a matter for definition : hence Bossuet's care 
to speak of it undogmatically. 

(2) That the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard 
to original sin is as follows, according to the decrees of the 
Council of Trent : — that ' Adam, when in Paradise he disobeyed 
'the command of God, at once lost the sanctity and justice in 
' which he had been instituted, and incurred by this transgres- 
' sion the anger and wrath of God ; and also the punishment of 

* death with which God had threatened him ; and, with death, 
' captivity under the power of him who " had the empire of 
' death, that is to say, the devil " ; and that by that transgression 

• Adam, both in his soul and body, was changed for the worse. 

' Nor let any one say that Adam injured himself alone and 
' not his progeny, and that he lost the sanctity and justice he 
' had received from God for himself alone, and not for us also. 
' Nor that he, thus stained by the sin of disobedience, trans- 
' fused into the whole human race death and bodily suffering, 
' but not sin ; for then he would contradict the words of the 
' Apostle " by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin 
' death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have 
'sinned " (Rom. v. 12). 

Note on Marys Conception. 149 

' Nor can any one say that this sin of Adam which is one 
' in origin and by propagation, not by imitation, transferred to 
' all, can be taken away by any other remedy than by the merit 
' of this one Mediator our Lord Jesus Christ, who has reconciled 
• us to God by His blood — and that merit of Jesus Christ is 
' applied both to infants and adults by the sacrament of 
' baptism.' 

(3) That what the Church means by the " Immaculate 
Conception " of the mother of God is that at the moment of 
\\&x passive,'^ conception — that is, at the very first instant when 
her soul was infused into her body — she was sanctified by God's 
grace ; so that her soul was never deprived of that sanctifica- 
tion which the rest of mankind had forfeited by the sin of Adam. 
It never from its first creation was displeasing to God. It was 
never stained by original sin. 

It cannot be better expressed than by the definition given 
in the Encyclical of Pope Pius IX. on the 8th of December, 
1854 :- 

" Being full of confidence in God, and persuaded that the 
fitting moment was come for defining the Immaculate Con- 
ception of the most holy Virgin Mother of God, which is 
attested and wonderfully illustrated by the Divine Oracles, 
venerable tradition, the permanent feeling of the Church, the 
admirable agreement of Catholic pastors and their flocks, and 
the solemn acts of our predecessors ; after having examined 
everything with the greatest care, and offered assiduous and 
fervent prayers to God, it has seemed to us that we ought no 
longer to delay to sanction and define by our supreme judg- 
ment the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, and thus to 
satisfy the pious desires of the Catholic world and our own 
devotion towards the most holy Virgin, in order to honour 

^ For the distinction between " active " and " passive " Conception, 
see The Immaculate Conception by Bishop Ullathorne, chap. vi. ; also 
Father Harper's Peace through the Truth. 

150 Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. 

more and more, in her, her only Son our Lord Jesus Christ, 
since all the praise and honour which we give to the Mother 
redounds to the glory of the Son. Therefore ... we declare, 
pronounce, and define that the doctrine according to which the 
Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her Con- 
ception, by a singular grace and special privilege of Almighty 
God, for the sake of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of 
Mankind, preserved and exempted from all stain of original 
sin, is revealed by God, and consequently should be firmly 
and constantly believed by all the faithful. If, then, any one 
— which God forbid — has the presumption to think in his heart 
otherwise than we have defined, let him learn and know that 
being condemned by his own judgment, he has made shipwreck 
of the faith and forsaken the Church.' 









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Contents of Vol. I. : — Holiness necessary for Future Blessedness — The Immortality 
of the Soul — Knowledge of God's Will without Obedience — Secret Faults — Self-Denial the 
Test of Religious Earnestness — The Spiritual Mind — Sins of Ignorance and Weakness — 
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Remembrance of Past Mercies — The Mystery of Godliness — The State of Innocence — 
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Works of the Gospel — 'The State of Salvation — Transgressions and Infirmities — Sins of 
Infirmity — Sincerity and Hypocrisy — The Testimony of Conscience — Many called. Few 
chosen — Present Blessings — Endurance, the Christian's Portion — Affliction, a School of 
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tians — Christ the Son of God made Man — The Incarnate Son, a Sufferer and Sacrifice — 
The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World— Difficulty of realising Sacred Privileges— 
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Man— The World our Enemy — The Praise of Men— Temporal Advantages— The Season of 
Epiphany— The Duty of Self-Denial— The Yoke of Christ— Moses the Type of Christ— The 
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Nature— Religion Pleasant to the Religious— Mental Prayer— Infant Baptism— The Unity 
of the Church — Steadfastness in the Old Paths. 

Contents of Vol. VIII. : — Reverence in Worship— Divine Calls — The Trial of Saul — 
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Josiah, a Pattern for the Ignorant— Inward Witness to the Truth of the Gospel— Jeremiah, 
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