Already you knew my soul;
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw all my actions;
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.
Psalm 139, 14-16
“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
Luke 1, 45
Since apostolic time, Christians have believed that, as an essential part of His plan of redemption, God preordained from all eternity to create the Blessed Virgin Mary and work with her for the salvation of mankind. The Judeo-Christians of the nascent Church in Palestine were aware of the vital significance of Mary’s role in the economy of salvation, and so the faithful felt devoted to the mother of their Lord in a lively spirit of gratitude and praise reminiscent of the dedication lavished upon Judith by Uzziah and God’s chosen people for having faithfully helped deliver the Israelites in the besieged city of Bethulia from oppression and the prospect of enslavement at the hands of their Assyrian enemy.
Elizabeth’s praise of her kinswoman Mary echoes the admiration the Israelite’s had for their heroine who slew the Assyrian general Holofernes: “Blessed (eulogomene) are you daughter, by the Highest God, above all women of earth; and blessed (eulogemenos) be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies. Your deeds of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God” (Jdt. 13, 18-19; Lk 1:42). All Hebrew generations have called Judith blessed together with the Lord (eulogeo) for her heroic exploits, just as all Christian generations have called the Virgin Mary blessed for her valiant deed of faith in God’s grace in the economy of salvation (Lk 1:48).
Thus, St. Luke acknowledges a Marian tradition that naturally sprouted as an offshoot of the Judaic heritage in the infant Christian Ecclesia. In the voice of Elizabeth, Mary is praised for having believed in the words of the angel and consenting to be the mother of the divine Messiah. Now all the nations on earth have found blessing because of Mary’s meritorious act of faith working through love in a spirit worthy of Abraham, the father of faith (Gen 22:16-18).
God predestined Mary to be the mother of the Redeemer, knowing that she would freely observe His will and please Him by consenting to conceive and bear His Only-begotten Son (Lk 1:38). Only by the faith of a humble and charitable young maiden should the divine Word become incarnate in mutual consent and loving communion to free the world from the slavery of sin and impending death through his sacrifice on the Cross. Having pronounced her Fiat, Mary crushed the head of the serpent with her heel, as fatally as Judith had valiantly cut off the head of Holofernes with her sword in collaboration with God, for the salvation of the world (Gen 3:15).
Indeed, God saw all that Mary would do in life even before He fashioned her soul and sanctified it with His grace. Foreseeing all her actions, every one of them written in the Book of Life, culminating on Calvary at the foot of the Cross, God decreed that Mary should come into being to collaborate with Him in redeeming fallen man. It was by His grace that God worked through Mary “both to will and to work” together with Him “for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13), for “God desires that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
Since Mary’s body held no secret from God while she was being molded in the depths of her mother’s womb, God could appear to Abraham and tell him to sacrifice his only son upon the altar in the land of Moriah. God saw His handmaid offering up her own body – the fruit of her womb – as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him (this being her true spiritual worship) in the Temple and on Golgotha, while He was even speaking to Abraham (Rom 12:1-2). Abraham’s offering up of Isaac in faithful obedience to the will of God prefigures Christ’s offering of himself on Calvary, but not without his mother’s maternal sacrifice as an essential component. Our Lord’s Cross stood atop the same mountain on which Abraham had built his altar. Yet God would send no angel to Our Lady of Sorrows to deliver her only beloved Son from the altar of holocaust.
Unless Mary freely declared, “Be it done to me according to your word” in faith and charity, she would have had no fruit to provide from her maternal womb as a burnt sin offering for mankind most pleasing and acceptable to God. But every one of Mary’s days was decreed before even one of them came into being. God saw how valiant a woman she would be just by having created her. If Abraham were willing to consecrate his only beloved Son to God and offer him back as a pleasing sacrificial offering in faith, it was only because Mary would give her assent to the will of God in faith, despite all the obscurity. Jesus would take the place of Isaac and offer himself to atone for the sins of the world, since his mother was first willing to die to her maternal self and offer the fruit of her womb back to God for mankind’s redemption.
Everything that began in salvation history with Abraham and Isaac and reached its completion with Mary and Jesus rested on that climatic moment when the angel Gabriel appeared to the young maiden in the month of Nisan (March). How all creation must have held its breath in anxious suspense at that pivotal moment. Since Mary believed what was spoken to her by the Lord through His messenger and obeyed God, the promise made to Abraham could be fulfilled: that he become the father of many nations which should include the Gentiles. This blessing Abraham received from God for having believed and obeyed Him was validated by the Divine oath God swore in view of Mary’s obedient act of faith in charity and grace.
Because of her salutary consent to be the mother of the Messiah, even Isaiah could infallibly prophesy the virgin birth (7:14), since every one of Mary’s days was decreed by God, meaning all that He infallibly knew of Mary, His handiwork, shall be. What God infallibly knows will be cannot be otherwise. Indeed, even the creation of Adam and Eve rested on Mary’s Fiat in view of their fall from grace to the detriment of humanity. An even greater good than the original paradise that was lost was the purpose of the creation of mankind. This could only come about by the incarnation of Christ and his death and resurrection. But there could be no incarnation without Mary, the promised free woman, whom God put at enmity with the serpent as His collaborator.
Hence, God knew that Mary would freely and meritoriously give her consent in a spirit of joy before she would even declare her Fiat. That is why He sent the angel Gabriel to her, having first prepared His faithful handmaid with a fullness of grace (Lk 1:28). Mary’s Son was to be the Father’s ‘suffering servant’ who would restore the lost house of Israel (Jacob) and bring back the faithful remnant to Himself (Isa. 53). And her Son was to be made “a light for the Gentiles” that God’s “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6), but by being conceived and born of the faithful and humble Virgin.
If Elizabeth had understood all this by the sanctifying light of faith, it’s no wonder that she joyfully praised Mary for having believed what was spoken to her by the Lord. Not even her husband Zechariah could have celebrated God’s oath to Abraham or echoed the Messianic prophet’s words unless Mary had first become the mother of their Lord by her free salutary consent in the purity of her “faith working through love” (Lk 1:68-79; Gal: 5-5-6). How deeply reverential and grateful Elizabeth was towards her kinswoman when she asked: “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43).
“Hail, Mary, you are the most precious creature in the whole world;
hail, Mary, uncorrupted dove; hail, “Mary, inextinguishable lamp;
for from you was born the Sun of justice…
through you, every faithful soul achieves salvation.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Homily 11, Council of Ephesus
Enlarge the place of thy tent,
and stretch out the skins of thy tabernacles,
spare not: lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes,
for thou shalt pass on to the right land, and to the left:
and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and shall inhabit
the desolate cities.
Isaiah 54, 2-3
The primary signification of Isaiah’s prophecy concerns Israel in the metaphor of Mother Zion. The secondary fulfilment is reached in Mary, the mother of our Lord and Saviour and the anti-type of Mother Zion (the virgin bride of YHWH) whose children are liberated from captivity and regenerated unto God. It is from the Cross that Jesus redefines Mary’s motherhood in the biblical sense as she stands beneath it in great sorrow because of man’s slavery to sin: ‘Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.’ (Jn 19, 26-27). Jesus’ words to his mother Mary and the Disciple entrust her with a new and larger family which should include the Gentiles. Because of Mary’s faith in charity and grace beneath the cross, her sorrow shall be replaced with boundless joy; she must now make room “in her tent” after her ‘cords have been lengthened’ and her ‘stakes strengthened’ for the entire body of believers, who the beloved Disciple corporately represents as the Church.
The Divine Maternity is the result of the Incarnation, but this gift God has granted Mary carries with it further blessings for her because of her faith. The Divine Maternity itself is not the highest expression of her being blessed (makaria/ μακαρία) or “happy,” in the words of Elizabeth. When Jesus says, “Blessed (makaria) are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8), the highest expression of their being blessed isn’t being pure of heart, but rather seeing God which results from being pure of heart. They are not simply blessed for being pure of heart. So, to see how it is that Mary is blessed, rather than by only being the mother of Jesus, because of her faith, we must look to the prophet Isaiah.
In the figure of Daughter Zion, Mary is further blessed for becoming the mother of all nations rather than for simply being the natural mother of Jesus, and all because of her persevering faith in the face of darkness that brought her to the foot of the Cross. Just as Abraham becomes the father of many nations because of his persevering faith, so too Mary becomes the mother of all nations because of her faith. Abraham isn’t blessed simply because God has given him a son by Sarah as promised. Being the father of Isaac isn’t the fullest expression of Abraham’s blessed state; nor is Mary’s divine motherhood. It is on Mount Moriah where God redefines Abraham’s fatherhood, and it is on that same mount also known as Golgotha where God incarnate redefines Mary’s motherhood from the Cross.
We read in the Gospel of Luke (11:27-28) that a woman in the crowd which was following Jesus raised her voice and said to him: “Blessed (makaria) is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” This woman obviously thought Mary was blessed for being the mother of such a great prophet and teacher. She had no idea that Jesus was God incarnate. Because of her ignorance, she failed to see how Mary was truly blessed and the higher expression of her blessedness. Thus, Jesus corrected her in allusion to his mother by saying: “Blessed (makaria) rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” The Greek word for “rather” is menoun (mενοῦν) which means “more” or “further”.
What our Lord implicitly told the woman, then, was that his mother wasn’t simply blessed for having borne and nursed him, but more so for having borne him because of her faith; she was more blessed for her faith in the word of God than she was for being his biological mother, since he came into the world to redeem it by her obedient act of faith in charity and grace. And for being a woman of faith, Mary was not only the natural mother of Jesus, but more importantly, the spiritual mother of all the living. It was in allusion to Mary’s redefined motherhood that Jesus called her “Woman” from the wood of the Cross, just as Adam had called his wife before they both fell from grace (Gen 3:12-13). If only the woman in the crowd knew what kind of fruit Mary had brought to mankind from her blessed womb, she whom the serpent couldn’t beguile.
Thus, Jesus must have alluded to the Annunciation when he spoke his words. The woman in the crowd couldn’t have imagined that Mary’s motherhood involved the appearance of an angel and her salutary consent to be the mother of someone greater than a prophet or any rabbi, one who was in fact the Son of God foretold by the prophets and who came into the world to save mankind from sin and death by suffering and dying on the cross. This woman should know that our Lord’s mother was not simply blessed for being the mother of Jesus, but more importantly because she had crushed the head of the serpent with her heel by her act of faith in collaboration with God to undo Eve’s transgression and become her advocate or vindicator. And this meant that she, too, would have to suffer much sorrow and die to her maternal self in union with her Son for the redemption of humanity.
“But the Lord Christ, the fruit of the Virgin, did not pronounce the breasts of women blessed, nor selected them to give nourishment; but when the kind and loving Father had rained down the Word, Himself became spiritual nourishment to the good. O mystic marvel! The universal Father is one, and one the universal Word; and the Holy Spirit is one and the same everywhere, and one is the only virgin mother. I love to call her the Church. This mother, when alone, had not milk, because alone she was not a woman. But she is once virgin and mother–pure as a virgin, loving as a mother. And calling her children to her, she nurses them with holy milk, viz., with the Word for childhood.”
St. Clement of Alexandria
The early Church Father, St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 216 A.D.) perceived the glorious splendour of the Church reflected in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. We see in the Paedagogos (Instructor), he writes that “it is his joy to call her by her name of the Church.” Mary’s spiritual motherhood of all the members of Christ’s body is the proto-type of the motherhood of the Church. The Church is a mother in that she nourishes all the reborn with God’s grace through the sacraments and the word of God belonging to the deposit of faith. As Mother of the Church, our Blessed Lady is the caretaker of her children’s souls; she nourishes her offspring with her Son’s grace that efficaciously sanctifies or justifies them before God, having carried the One living Word in her womb and bringing him forth into the world to “to preach to the meek, to heal the contrite of heart, and to preach a release to the captives, and deliverance to them that are shut up” (Isa 61:1; Lk 4:18). The sacraments of the Church are physical instruments of divine grace, whereas the Virgin Mary is the moral channel of her divine Son’s grace by her prayerful intercession, which initially includes her Fiat. All saving grace, including the grace that is conferred through the sacraments, proceeds first and foremost from the Son through our Blessed Mother and unblemished spouse of the Holy Spirit in and through Christ.
This prerogative has been bestowed on her by God in honour of her Divine Maternity and perseverance in faith for the redemption of humanity. She who merited to bring the Font of all grace into the world should rightly be the divinely constituted chief-steward of her Son’s grace. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4:10; cf. Jn 2:2-11). The Divine Maternity is the greatest gift any person may ever receive from God in the order of grace. Being the greatest gift, any woman or person could ever possibly receive from God in this life, the divine motherhood carries with it the greatest prerogatives for any servant of the Lord. She who is God’s handmaid and spouse of the Holy Spirit is more than a servant by being the Queen Mother and Advocatrix of our Lord and King in his Davidic heavenly kingdom and mystical body. Blessed indeed is the Virgin Mary for having believed!
Further, the Bishop of Alexandria says that “this mother, when alone, had not milk, because alone she was not woman.” In other words, Mary could not provide us with spiritual nourishment unless she were the mother of our Lord and brother (Rom 8:29). The woman in St. Luke’s gospel who pronounced the breasts of Mary to be blessed was mildly rebuked by Jesus for having said that. Jesus did not merely regard his mother to be blessed for having nursed him when he was an infant. Rather, she was more blessed for being called to provide milk that ordinary mothers do not have for their children: “the word for childhood” who in the flesh is the Son of the Virgin Mary, “pure as a virgin and loving as a mother” because of the purity of her faith working through love (Gal 5:5-6).
Our Blessed Lady tangibly represents in her person the “unblemished bride of Christ,” which is the Church, sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit who ensures the purity of her faith as the guarantor of the divine truth (Eph 5:25-27; 1 Tim 3:15). The woman in the crowd pronounced Mary’s breasts to be blessed, but Jesus implicitly went further by presenting his holy mother to himself as “glorious” because there was no “stain or wrinkle” in her soul. The Holy Spirit was ever-present in Mary’s life preserving her from being tainted by any personal sin and ensuring her perfect sanctity.
Hence, because of her meritorious act of faith at the Annunciation, Mary was further blessed by being more of a mother in her likeness to the Church whose holy milk would be something of a nourishing spiritual substance: “the Word for childhood.” From Mary’s womb comes the Divine Word incarnate, from the Church’s womb comes forth the written and unwritten word of God: sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. Our Blessed Lady is no ordinary mother who by physical nature has milk to give to her offspring, for she is a mother of a spiritual kind. In and through Mary, the Church has been conceived and begotten by her participation in the hypostatic order of Christ’s incarnation and his redemptive work. In turn, Christ is conceived in the womb of the Church and brought forth into the world by the faithful preaching of the Gospel in the sacred liturgy and administration of the sacraments (Mt 28:19).
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
Revelation 12, 2-5
Mary “is once virgin and mother” who nourishes her offspring with spiritual milk in the form of God’s Word and His grace, so that they can grow in conformity to the image of her divine Son. The Church is a virgin in the purity of her faith no less than she is, and so the Bride of Christ can nourish humanity with the truth of God’s word and His redeeming grace. Only Mary can provide what Eve had lost for her children: communion with God and the life of grace. And because of Mary, the Church can, too. In this sense, then, our Blessed Mother is a living symbol of the Church and the ideal model for all her members who serve Christ and bear witness to him in their lives, so that others may enter into communion with God through the womb of the Church as his adopted children, regenerated unto Him in the Holy Spirit through the merits of our Blessed Lady’s divine Son.
God has ordained that Jesus should redeem the world and regenerate mankind in association with his mother and our spiritual mother. Alone Mary is not “woman” who has milk to provide for our spiritual sustenance. Her universal maternal role depends on her divine Son being the new Adam and Head of humanity – “our life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). The Virgin Mary isn’t only the mother of Christ’s mystical Body, but also Mother of the redeemed world, being the new Eve and helpmate of her Son, the new Adam. Jesus declared: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me” (Jn 12:32). Our Lord kept his promise by rising from the dead after his crucifixion and death, which his sorrowful mother was drawn into to help restore mankind to God’s grace. Thus, he draws all people to himself through the maternal patronage of his Blessed Mother whom he has given to the world from the Cross as her reborn offspring in the life of grace by her sorrowful anguish beneath the Cross (Jn 19:26-27; Rev 12: 2-5).
The early Church Father, St. Irenaeus (180-190 A.D.) bears witness to this divine truth which the Church has grasped by the sanctifying light of faith: “The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man—the Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God” (Against Heresies, 4, 33, 12). St. Ambrose of Milan concurs two centuries later, only in different terms, while preserving the substance of the content passed on by way of Apostolic Tradition: “It was through a man and a woman that flesh was cast from Paradise; it was through a virgin that flesh was linked to God…. Eve is called mother of humanity, but Mary Mother of salvation” (Epistle. 63, 33). St. Augustine elaborates more by identifying the mystery of the Church with the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Mary’s Son, spouse of the Church! He has made his Church like to His mother, He has given her to us as a mother, He has kept her to Himself as a virgin (pure in faith). The Church, like Mary, is a virgin ever spotless and a mother ever fruitful (bearing sons and daughters of God). What He bestowed on Mary in the flesh, He has bestowed on the Church in the spirit: Mary gave birth to the One, and the Church gives birth to the many, who through the One become one” (Sermo 195, 2).
Mary’s Fiat is evocative of Judith’s prayer to God (Ch.9), that He should intervene and save the Israelite’s from impending death and enslavement at the hands of the Assyrian forces which are besieging the city of Bethulia. YHWH hears and answers her prayer, because she has placed her faith in His providence. God’s response, however, requires that Judith collaborates with Him to save the Israelites from imminent destruction and captivity in a foreign land. The name Judith means “Jewish lady” or “woman”, which is fitting given our theme, since she is one of the several matriarchs of the Hebrew people who prefigures Mary in anticipation of the coming Messiah and her intimate association with him in the work of deliverance from evil and eternal death.
Jesus calls his mother Mary “Woman” at the wedding feast in Cana, where he begins his public ministry in the shadow of the Cross (Jn 2:1-11), and on Calvary from the Cross, beneath which her dual maternity is forever established (Jn 19:26-27). On both pivotal occasions, his blessed mother acts as his collaborator in the redemption (co-Redemptrix), just as Judith acted centuries before to save the Israelites from imminent destruction and death. Judith culminates in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is more importantly the maternal guardian of our souls in our spiritual battle against Satan and the dark principalities and powers that rule in this world (Rev 12:17). St. Paul warns us that our battle isn’t against “flesh and blood” or our fellow man (Eph 6:12).
Our very own Judith or “Great Lady” and Queen Mother (Gebirah) appeals on behalf of all exiled and enslaved humanity “born in guilt and conceived in sin” (Ps 51:7). By having first consented to be the mother of the Divine’ Messiah, who shall “preach the good news to the poor and set captives free” (Isa 61:1; Lk 4:18), Mary has become our spiritual mother in the order of grace in our spiritual battle against Satan and his dark legions which besiege our souls. She is our Lady of Perpetual Help who mediates her Son’s graces to us with which we can armor ourselves against the enemy. Since Mary was a woman of faith, and thus had found favour with God (Lk 1:30), He validated her consent by overshadowing her through the creative power of the Holy Spirit. Our Blessed Lady’s prayer, which was expressed by her simple Fiat, in that it contained all that she had prayerfully desired up to the Annunciation on our behalf, was answered. And so, blessed are we, who are besieged by the dragon and its offspring, because she believed and has come to us as our patroness. We, too, can leap for joy in the womb of holy Mother Church because of the sweet sound of our heavenly Mother’s prayers which never escapes from the ears of her divine Son.
The Blessed Virgin Mary – Daughter of Zion – has been raised as a spiritual fortress and a place of refuge for sinners in their spiritual combat with Satan and his legions of fallen angels. She especially protects those who implore her help and prayerful intercession, so that they may abide with her Son in his love and goodness by his saving grace. Our Blessed Mother is a spiritual and moral haven for all who wander in the spiritual wilderness of this world and wish to stay on the right path while having to face the ferocious onslaught of the dark “principalities and powers” that rule in this desolate world, seeking to “devour” human souls like a “prowling lion” (1 Pet 5:8-9). Let us hope and pray that our Blessed Mother Mary will come to our aid, as we implore her maternal intercession, so that we won’t wander off the straight path that leads us back to Eden or promised land during our exodus from captivity, worked in and through the liberating merits of Christ her Son and our Lord.
“And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained
to be assumed of the lump of Adam,
what need was there of the Holy Virgin?”
To the Sozopolitans, Epistle 261
Shall not Zion say:
This man and that man is born in her,
and the Highest himself hath founded her?
Psalm 87, 5