Discourse of the Visitation of Mary
by St. Alphonsus De Liguori
Mary is the Treasurer of all Divine Graces; therefore, whoever desires Graces must have recourse to Mary; and he who has recourse to Mary may be certain of obtaining the Graces he desires.
Fortunate does that family consider itself which is visited by a royal personage, both on account of the honour that redounds from such a visit, and the advantages that may be hoped to accrue from it. But still more fortunate should that soul consider itself which is visited by the Queen of the world, the most holy Virgin Mary, who cannot but fill with riches and graces those blessed souls whom she deigns to visit by her favours. The house of Obededom was blessed when visited by the ark of God: “And the Lord blessed his house.” But with how much greater blessings are those persons enriched who receive a loving visit from this living ark of God, for such was the Divine Mother! ‘Happy is that house which the Mother of God visits,’ says Engelgrave. This was abundantly experienced by the house of Saint John the Baptist; for Mary had scarcely entered it when she heaped graces and heavenly benedictions on the whole family; and for this reason the present feast of the visitation is commonly called that of ‘our Blessed Lady of Graces.’ Hence we shall see in the present discourse that the Divine Mother is the treasurer of all graces. We shall divide it into two parts. In the first we shall see that whoever desires graces must have recourse to Mary. In the second, that he who has recourse to Mary should be confident of receiving the graces he desires.
After the Blessed Virgin had heard from the archangel Gabriel that her cousin Saint Elizabeth had been six months pregnant, she was internally enlightened by the Holy Ghost to know that the Incarnate Word, Who had become her Son, was pleased then to manifest to the world the riches of His mercy in the first graces that He desired to impart to all that family. Therefore, without interposing any delay, according to Saint Luke, “Mary, rising up,. . . went into the hill-country with haste (Luc. i. 39).” Rising from the quiet of contemplation to which she was always devoted, and quitting her beloved solitude, she immediately set out for the dwelling of Saint Elizabeth; and because “charity beareth all things (1 Cor. xiii. 7),” and cannot support delay, as Saint Ambrose remarks on this Gospel, ‘the Holy Ghost knows not slow undertakings;’ without even reflecting on the arduousness of the journey, this tender Virgin, I say, immediately undertook it. On reaching the house, she salutes her cousin: “And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth (Luc. i. 40).” Saint Ambrose here remarks that Mary was ‘the first to salute’ Elizabeth. The visit of Mary, however, had no resemblance with those of worldlings, which, for the greater part, consist in ceremony and outward demonstrations, devoid of all sincerity; for it brought with it an accumulation of graces. The moment she entered that dwelling, on her first salutation, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost; and Saint John was cleansed from original sin, and sanctified; and therefore gave that mark of joy by leaping in his mother’s womb, wishing thereby to manifest the grace that he had received by the means of the Blessed Virgin, as Saint Elizabeth herself declared: “As soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy (Luc. i. 44).” Thus, as Bernardine de Bustis remarks, in virtue of Mary’s salutation Saint John received the grace of the Divine Spirit which sanctified him: ‘When the Blessed Virgin saluted Elizabeth, the voice of the salutation, entering her ears, descended to the child, and by its virtue he received the Holy Ghost.’
And now, if all these first-fruits of Redemption passed by Mary as the channel through which grace was communicated to the Baptist, the Holy Ghost to Elizabeth, the gift of prophecy to Zachary and so many other blessings to the whole house, the first graces which to our knowledge the Eternal Word had granted on earth after His Incarnation, it is quite correct to believe that from thenceforward God made Mary the universal channel, as she is called by Saint Bernard, through which all the other graces which our Lord is pleased to dispense to us should pass, as we have already declared in the fifth chapter of the first part of this work.
With reason, then, is this Divine Mother called the treasure, the treasurer, and the dispenser of Divine graces. She is thus called by the venerable Abbot of Celles, ‘the Treasure of God, and the Treasurer of graces; by Saint Peter Damian, ‘the Treasure of Divine graces;’ by Blessed Albert the Great, ‘the Treasurer of Jesus Christ;’ by Saint Bernardine, ‘the Dispenser of graces’ by a learned Greek, quoted by Petavius, ‘the Storehouse of all good things.’ So also by Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, who observes that ‘Mary is said to be thus full of grace, for in her all the treasures of graces were hidden.’ Richard of St. Lawrence also says that ‘Mary is a treasure, because God has placed all gifts of graces in her as in a treasury; and from thence He bestows great stipends on His soldiers and labourers.’ She is a treasury of mercies, whence our Lord enriches His servants.
Saint Bonaventure, speaking of the field in the gospel, in which a treasure is hidden, and which should be purchased at however great a price, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field, which a man having found hid it, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field (Matt. xiii. 44),” says that ‘our Queen Mary is this field, in which Jesus Christ, the treasure of God the Father, is hid,’ and with Jesus Christ the source and flowing fountain of all graces. Saint Bernard affirms that our Lord ‘has deposited the plenitude of every grace in Mary, that we may thus know that if we possess hope, grace, or anything salutary, that it is from her that it came’ Of this we are also assured by Mary herself, saying, “In me is all grace of the way and of the truth;” in me are all the graces of real blessings that you men can desire in life. Yes, sweet Mother and our Hope, we know full well, says Saint Peter Damian, ‘that all the treasures of Divine mercies are in thy hands. Before Saint Peter Damian, Saint Ildephonsus asserted the same thing in even stronger terms, when, speaking to the Blessed Virgin, he said, ‘O Lady, all the graces that God has decreed for men He has determined to grant through thy hands; and therefore to thee has He committed all the treasures and ornaments of grace; so that, O Mary, concludes Saint Germanus, no grace is dispensed to any one otherwise than through thy hands; ‘there is no one saved but by thee; no one who receives a gift of God but through thee.” Blessed Albert the Great makes a beautiful paraphrase of the words of the angel addressed to the most Blessed Virgin, “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God (Luc. i. 30).” ‘Fear not, O Mary, for thou hast found, not taken grace, as Lucifer tried to take it; thou hast not lost it as Adam lost it; thou hast not bought it as Simon Magus would have bought it; but thou hast found it because thou hast desired and sought it.’ Thou hast found increated grace; that is, God Himself become thy Son; and with that grace thou hast found and obtained every created good. Saint Peter Chrysologus confirms this thought, saying, ‘This great Virgin and Mother found grace to restore thereby salvation to all men.’ And elsewhere he says that Mary found a grace so full that it sufficed to save all: ‘Thou hast found grace, but how great a grace! It was such that it filled thee; and so great was its plenitude, that it could be poured down as a torrent on every creature’ So much so indeed, says Richard of Saint Lawrence, that as God made the sun, that by its means light might be diffused on the whole earth, so as He made Mary, that by her all Divine mercies may be dispensed to the world.’ Saint Bernardino adds, that ‘from the time that the Virgin Mother conceived the Divine Word in her womb, she obtained a kind of jurisdiction, so to say, over all the temporal manifestations of the Holy Ghost; so that no creature can obtain any grace from God that is not dispensed by this tender and compassionate mother.’
Hence let us conclude this point in the words of Richard of Saint Lawrence, who says, ‘that if we wish to obtain any grace, we must have recourse to Mary, the finder of grace, who cannot but obtain all that she asks for her servants; for she has recovered the Divine grace which was lost, and always finds it.’ This thought he borrowed from Saint Bernard, who says, ‘Let us seek for grace, and seek it by Mary; for that which she seeks she finds, and cannot be frustrated.’ If we, then, desire graces, we must go to this treasurer and dispenser of graces; for it is the sovereign will of the Giver of every good thing; and we are assured of it by the same Saint Bernard, that all graces should be dispensed by the hands of Mary: ‘for such is His will, Who is pleased that we should have all by Mary.’ All, all; and he who says all excludes nothing. But because confidence is necessary to obtain graces, we will now consider how certain we ought to feel of obtaining them when we have recourse to Mary.
Why did Jesus Christ deposit all the riches of mercy which He intends for us in the hands of His Mother, unless it was that she might therewith enrich all her clients who love her, who honour her, and who have recourse to her with confidence?” With me are riches . . . that I may enrich them that love me (Prov. viii. 18, 21).” Thus the Blessed Virgin herself assures us that it is so in this passage, which the Holy Church applies to her on so many of her festivals. Therefore for no other purpose than to serve us, says the Abbot Adam, are those riches of eternal life kept by Mary, in whose breast our Lord has deposited the treasure of the miserable, and that the poor being supplied from it may become rich: ‘The riches of salvation are in custody of the Blessed Virgin for our use. Christ has made Mary’s womb the treasury of the poor; thence the poor are enriched.’ And Saint Bernard says, ‘that she is a full aqueduct, that others may receive of her plenitude.’ Mary was therefore given to the world that her graces might continually descend from heaven upon men.
Hence the same holy father goes on to ask, ‘But why did Saint Gabriel, having found the Divine Mother already full of grace, according to his salutation, ” Hail, full of grace!” afterwards say, that the Holy Ghost would come upon her to fill her still more with grace? If she was already full of grace, what more could the coming of the Divine Spirit effect? The Saint answers, ‘Mary was already full of grace; but the Holy Ghost filled her to overflowing, for our good, that from her superabundance we miserable creatures might be provided.’ For this same reason Mary was called the moon of which it is said, ‘She is full for herself and others.’
“He that shall find me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord (Prov. viii. 35).” Blessed is he who finds me by having recourse to me, says our Mother. He will find life, and will find it easily; for as it is easy to find and draw as much water as we please from a great fountain, so it is easy to find graces and eternal salvation by having recourse to Mary. A holy soul once said, ‘We have only to seek graces from our Blessed Lady to receive them.’ Saint Bernard also says, ‘That it was because the Blessed Virgin was not yet born that in ancient times the great abundance of grace which we now see flow on the world was wanting; for Mary, this desirable channel, did not exist.’ But now that we have this Mother of mercy, what graces are there that we need fear not to obtain when we cast ourselves at her feet? ‘I am the city of refuge’ (thus Saint John Damascen makes her speak) ‘for all those who have recourse to me.’ ‘Come, then, to me, my children; for from me you will obtain graces, and these in greater abundance than you can possibly imagine.’ It is true that that which the Venerable Sister Mary Villani saw in a celestial vision is experienced by many. This servant of God once saw the Divine Mother as a great fountain, to which many went, and from it they carried off the waters of grace in great abundance. But what then happened? Those who had sound jars preserved the graces they received; but those who brought broken vessels, that is to say, those whose souls were burdened with sin, received graces, but did not long preserve them. It is, however, certain that men, even those who are ungrateful sinners and the most miserable, daily obtain innumerable graces from Mary. Saint Augustine, addressing the Blessed Virgin, says, ‘Through thee do the miserable obtain mercy, the ungracious grace, sinners pardon, the weak strength, the worldly heavenly things, mortals life, and pilgrims their country.’
Let us, then, O devout clients of Mary, rouse ourselves to greater and greater confidence each time that we have recourse to her for graces. That we may do so, let us always remember two great prerogatives of this good Mother; her great desire to do us good, and the power she has with her Son to obtain whatever she asks. To be convinced of the desire that Mary has to be of service to all, we need only consider the mystery of the present festival, that is, Mary’s visit to Saint Elizabeth. The journey from Nazareth, where the most Blessed Virgin lived, to the city of Judea, in which Saint Elizabeth resided, was one of at least sixty-nine miles, as we learn from Brother Joseph of Jesus Mary, the author of a life of the Blessed Virgin, Bede, and Brocardus; but, notwithstanding the arduousness of the undertaking, the Blessed Virgin, tender and delicate as she then was, and unaccustomed to such fatigue, did not delay her departure. And what was it that impelled her? It was that great charity with which her most tender heart was ever filled that drove her, so to say, to go and at once commence her great office of dispenser of graces. Precisely thus does Saint Ambrose speak of her journey: ‘She did not go in incredulity of the prophecy, but glad to do what she had undertaken; it was joy that hastened her steps, in the fulfillment of a religious office the Saint thereby meaning, that she did not undertake the journey to inquire into the truth of what the angel had pronounced to her of the pregnancy of St. Elizabeth, but exulting in the greatness of her desire to be of service to that family, and hastening for the joy she felt in doing good to others, and wholly intent on that work of charity: “Rising, she went with haste.” Here, let it he observed, the Evangelist, in speaking of Mary’s departure for the house of Elizabeth, says, that she went with haste, but when he speaks of her return, he no longer says anything of haste, but simply that “Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house.” What other object, then, asks Saint Bonaventure, could the Mother of God have had in view, when she hastened to visit the house of Saint John the Baptist, if it was not the desire to render service to that family? ‘What caused her to hasten in the performance of that act of charity but the charity which burnt in her heart? This charity of Mary towards men certainly did not cease when she went to heaven; nay more, it greatly increased there, for there she better knows our wants, and has still greater compassion for our miseries. Bernardino de Bustis writes, ‘that Mary desires more earnestly to do us good and grant us graces than we desire to receive them.’ So much so, that Saint Bonaventure says, that she considers herself offended by those who do not ask her for graces: ‘Not only those, O Lady, offend thee who outrage thee, but thou art also offended by those who neglect to ask thy favours.’ For Mary’s desire to enrich all with graces is, so to say, a part of her nature, and she superabundantly enriches her servants, as blessed Raymond Jordano affirms: ‘Mary is God’s treasure, and the treasurer of His graces: she plentifully endows her servants with choice gifts.”
Hence the same author says, that ‘he who finds Mary finds every good.’ And he adds, that everyone can find her, even the most miserable sinner in the world; for she is so benign that she rejects none who have recourse to her: ‘Her benignity is such, that no one need fear to approach her. And her mercy is so great, that no one meets with a repulse.’ Thomas a Kempis makes her say: ‘I invite all to have recourse to me; I expect all, I desire all, and I never despise any sinner, however unworthy he may be, who comes to seek my aid.’ Richard of St. Lawrence says, that whoever goes to ask graces from Mary ‘finds her always prepared to help; that is, she is always ready and inclined to help us, and to obtain us every grace of eternal salvation by her powerful prayers.
I say, by her powerful prayers; for another reflection, which should increase our confidence, is, that we know and are certain that she obtains of God all that she asks for her clients. Observe especially, says Saint Bonaventure, in this visit of Mary to Saint Elizabeth, the great power of her words. According to the Evangelist, at the sound of her voice the grace of the Holy Ghost was conferred on Saint Elizabeth, as well as on her son Saint John the Baptist: ” And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Ghost (Luc. i. 41).” On this text Saint Bonaventure says, ‘See how great is the power of the words of our Lady; for no sooner has she pronounced them, than the Holy Ghost is given.’ Theophilus of Alexandria says, that Jesus is greatly pleased when Mary intercedes with Him for us; for all the graces which He is, so to say, forced to grant through her prayers, He considers as granted not so much to us as to herself.’ And remark the words, ‘forced by the prayers of His Mother.’ Yes, for, as Saint Germanus attests, Jesus cannot do otherwise than graciously accede to all that Mary asks; wishing, as it were, in this to obey her as His true Mother. Hence the Saint says, that ‘the prayers of this Mother have a certain maternal authority with Jesus Christ; so that she obtains the grace of pardon even for those who have been guilty of grievous crimes, and commend themselves to her;’ and then he concludes: ‘for it is not possible that thou shouldst not be graciously heard; for God in all things acts towards thee as His true and spotless Mother.’ This is fully confirmed, as Saint John Chrysostom observes, by what took place at the marriage-feast of Cana, when Mary asked her Son for wine, which had failed: “They have no wine.” Jesus answered “Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come.” But though the time for miracles was not yet come, as Saint Chrysostom and Theophylact explain it; yet, says Saint Chrysostom, ‘the Saviour, notwithstanding His answer, and to obey His Mother, worked the miracle she asked for,’ and converted the water into wine.
“Let us go, therefore, with confidence to the throne of grace,” says the Apostle, exhorting us, “that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid.”‘ The throne of grace is the Blessed Virgin Mary,’ says blessed Albert the Great. If, then, we wish for graces, let us go to the Throne of Grace, which is Mary; and let us go with the certain hope of being heard; for we have Mary’s intercession, and she obtains from her Son all whatever she asks. ‘Let us seek for grace,’ I repeat with Saint Bernard, ‘and let us seek it through Mary, trusting to what the Blessed Virgin Mother herself said to Saint Matilda, that the Holy Ghost, filling her with all His sweetness, has rendered her so dear to God, that whoever seeks graces through her intercession is certain to obtain them.’
And if we credit that celebrated saying of Saint Anselm,’that salvation is occasionally more easily obtained by calling on the name of Mary than by invoking that of Jesus;’ we shall sometimes sooner obtain graces by having recourse to Mary than by having directly recourse to our Saviour Jesus Himself; not that He is not the source and Lord of all graces, but because, when we have recourse to the Mother, and she prays for us, her prayers have greater efficacy than ours, as being those of a mother. Let us then never leave the feet of this treasurer of graces; but ever address her in the words of Saint John Damascen: ‘O Blessed Mother of God, open to us the gate of Mercy; for thou art the salvation of the human race.’ O Mother of God, open to us the door of thy compassion, by always praying for us; for thy prayers are the salvation of all men. When we have recourse to Mary, it would be advisable to entreat her to ask and obtain us the graces which she knows to be the most expedient for our salvation; this is precisely what the Dominican Brother Reginald did, as it is related in the chronicles of the order. This servant of Mary was ill, and he asked her to obtain him the recovery of his health. His sovereign Lady appeared to him, accompanied by Saint Cecily and Saint Catherine, and said with the greatest sweetness, ‘ My son, what dost thou desire of me? The religious was confused at so gracious an offer on the part of Mary, and knew not what to answer. Then one of the saints gave him this advice: Reginald, I will tell thee what to do; ask for nothing, but place thyself entirely in her hands, for Mary will know how to grant thee a greater grace than thou canst possibly ask. The sick man followed this advice, and the Divine Mother obtained the reestablishment of his health.
But if we also desire the happiness of receiving the visits of this Queen of Heaven, we should often visit her by going before her image, or praying to her in churches dedicated in her honour. Read the following example, in which you will see with what special favours she rewards the devout visits of her clients.
In the Franciscan chronicles it is related, that two religious of that order, who were going to visit a sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin, were overtaken by night in a great forest, where they became so bewildered and troubled, that they knew not what to do. But, advancing a little further, dark as it was, they thought they discovered a house. They went towards it, and felt the wall with their hands; they sought the door, knocked, and immediately heard someone within asking who they were. They replied that they were two poor religious, who had lost their way in the forest, and that they begged at least for shelter, that they might not be devoured by the wolves. In an instant the doors were thrown open, and two pages richly dressed stood before them, and received them with the greatest courtesy. The religious asked them who resided in that place. The pages replied that it was a most compassionate Lady. We should be glad to present her our respects, and thank her for her charity. She also, the pages answered, ‘wishes to see you; and we are now going to conduct you into her presence.’ They ascended the staircase, and found all the apartments Illuminated, richly furnished, and scented with an odour of Paradise. Finally, they entered the apartment of the Lady, who was majestic and most beautiful in her appearance. She received them with the greatest affability, and then asked them where they were going. They answered, that they were going to visit a certain church of the Blessed Virgin. O, since that is the case,’ she replied, ‘I will give you before you go a letter, which will be of great service to you.’ Whilst the Lady Was addressing them, they felt their hearts inflamed With the love of God, and an internal joy which they had never before experienced. They then retired to sleep, if, indeed, they could do so, overcome as they were by the happiness they experienced; and in the morning they again went to take leave of the Lady and thank her, and also to receive the letter, which she gave them, and they then departed. But when they got a short distance from the house, they perceived that the letter had no direction; they turned about, and sought first on one side, then on the other, but in vain; they could no longer find the house. Finally, they opened the letter to see for whom it was meant, and what it contained; and they found that it was from the most Blessed Virgin Mary, and addressed to themselves. In it she told them that she was the Lady whom they had seen the night before, and that on account of their devotion for her she had provided a lodging and refreshment for them in that wood. She exhorted them to continue to serve and love her, for she always would amply reward their devotion, and would succor them in life and at death. At the foot of the page they read her signature: ‘I, Mary the Virgin.’ Let each one here imagine the gratitude of these good religious, and how they thanked the Divine Mother, and how greatly they were inflamed with the desire to love and serve her for their whole lives.
Immaculate and Blessed Virgin, since thou art the universal dispenser of all divine graces, thou art the hope of all, and my hope. I will ever thank my Lord for having granted me the grace to know thee, and for having shown me the means by which I may obtain graces and be saved. Thou art this means, O great Mother of God; for I now understand that it is principally through the merits of Jesus Christ, and then through thy intercession, that my soul must be saved. Ah! my Queen, thou didst hasten so greatly to visit, and by that means didst sanctify the dwelling of Saint Elizabeth; deign, then, to visit, and visit quickly, the poor house of my soul. Ah! hasten, then; for thou well knowest, and far better than I do, how poor it is, and with how many maladies it is afflicted; with disordered affections, evil habits, and sins committed, all of which are pestiferous diseases, which would lead it to eternal death. Thou canst enrich it, O Treasurer of God; and thou canst heal all its infirmities. Visit me, then, in life, and visit me especially at the moment of death, for then I shall more than ever require thy aid. I do not indeed expect, neither am I worthy, that thou shouldst visit me on this earth with thy visible presence, as thou hast visited so many of thy servants; but they were not unworthy and ungrateful as I am. I am satisfied to see thee in thy kingdom of heaven, there to be able to love thee more, and thank thee for all that thou hast done for me. At present I am satisfied that thou shouldst visit me with thy mercy; thy prayers are all that I desire.
Pray, then, O Mary, for me, and commend me to thy Son. Thou, far better than I do, knowest my miseries and my wants. What more can I say? Pity me; I am so miserable and ignorant, that I neither know nor can I seek for, the graces that I stand the most in need of. My most sweet Queen and Mother, do thou seek and obtain for me from thy Son those graces which thou knowest to be the most expedient and necessary for my soul. I abandon myself entirely into thy hands, and only beg the Divine Majesty, that by the merits of my Saviour Jesus He will grant me the graces which thou askest Him for me. Ask, ask, then, O most Holy Virgin, that which thou seest best for me; thy prayers are never rejected; they are the prayers of a Mother addressed to a Son, Who loves thee, His Mother; so much, and rejoices in doing all that thou desirest, that He may honour thee more, and at the same time show thee the great love He bears thee. Let us make an agreement, O Lady, that while I live confiding in thee, thou on thy part wilt charge thyself with my salvation. Amen