Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas
Which is the greatest sign of His love our Lord has given us?
It would seem that Christ gave us a greater sign of His love by giving us His body as our food than by suffering for us. For the love that will be in the life to come is a more perfect thing than the love that is in this life. And the benefit that Christ bestows on us by giving us His body as food is more like to the love of the life to come in which we shall fully enjoy God. The Passion that Christ underwent for us is, on the other hand, more like to the love that is of this life, in which we, too, are to suffer for Christ. Therefore it is a greater sign of Christ’s love for us that He delivered His body to us as our food, than that He suffered for us.
Nevertheless, it is an argument against this that in St. John’s gospel Our Lord himself says, Greater love than this no man hath that a man lay down His life for his friends (John xv. 13).
The strongest of human loves is the love with which a man loves himself. Therefore this love must be the measure, by comparison with which we estimate the love by which a man loves others than himself. Now the extent of a man’s love for another is shown by the extent of good desired for himself that he forgoes for his friend. As Holy Scripture says, He that neglecteth a loss for the sake of a friend is just (Prov. xii. 26). Now a man wishes well to himself as to three things, namely, his soul, his body, and things outside himself.
It is then already a sign of love that, for another, a man is willing to suffer loss of things outside himself.
It is a greater sign if he is also willing to suffer loss in his body for another, that is, by bearing the burden of work or undergoing punishment.
It is the greatest of all signs of love if a man is willing, by dying for his friend, to lay down his very life.
Therefore, that Christ, in suffering for us, laid down His life was the greatest of all signs that He loved us. That He has given us His body for our food in the sacrament does not entail for Him any loss. It follows then that the first is the greater sign. Also this sacrament is a kind of memorial and figure of the Passion of Christ. But the truth is always greater than that which figures it, the thing is always greater than the memorial that recalls it.
The showing forth of the body of Christ in the sacrament has about it, it is true, a certain figure of the love with which God loves us in the life to come. But Christ’s Passion is associated with that love itself, by which God calls us from perdition to the life to come. The love of God, however, is not greater in the life to come than it is in this present life.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee”
The Ave Maria is also called the Angelical Salutation, because it commences with the words of the archangel.
It has always been customary among Christians to imitate the example of the Archangel Gabriel, and salute our Blessed Lady in his words. The devotion to Mary was not introduced by the decree of a council, nor at the behest of any Pope; at all times the faithful have been wont to pay their devout homage to the Queen of heaven. She herself foresaw that this would be so; that all generations would call her blessed (Luke i. 48).
1. The Ave Maria consists of three parts: The salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, the greeting of Elizabeth, and the words of the Church.
The salutation of the archangel runs thus: “Hail, full of grace the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women” (Luke i. 28). The greeting of Elizabeth is this: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb ” (v. 42). The remaining words were added by the Church. The first and second parts are an ascription of praise, the third part is a supplication. The first and second parts were recited by the faithful in the earliest ages of Christianity in their present form, while the concluding words were varied. St. Athanasius used to add: ” Pray for us, Patron and Lady, Queen and Mother of God.” From the time of the Reformation, it was customary to end with the words: ” Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.” The final clause now in use dates from the reign of Pope St. Pius V, who directed it to be printed in all the authorized prayer-books. After the heretic Nestorius denied the right of the Blessed Virgin to the title of Mother of God, the Ave Maria was more frequently on the lips of Christians than it was in earlier times. And when, in the thirteenth century, other sects arose who refused to give the saints the veneration due to them, the devotion to Our Lady assumed a more and more prominent place, and from that time forth the Ave Maria became an invariable adjunct to the Pater Noster in all the public services of the Church.
2. The Ave Maria is a most potent prayer, and one which is full of meaning.
The Ave Maria is especially efficacious in time of temptation; many saints recommend the faithful to recite it, when evil thoughts assail them. By the words: “Hail Mary” we testify our reverence for the Mother of God.
It is the part of the inferior to salute the superior. Mary is the Mother of the King of kings, she is the Queen of angels and saints, and yet our Mother also. The highest veneration of angels and men is due to her, and therefore we ought reverently to salute her. The words Ave Maria indicate that Mary is a second, a happier Eve; she is the Mother of mankind. Ave is a play on the name Eva, the order of the letters being reversed. Thus the words of the archangel seem to signify: ” Eve was full of sin, thou art full of grace; the devil was with Eve, God is with thee; Eve was cursed among women, thou art blessed among women; Eve gave birth to the accursed Cain, whereas the fruit of thy womb is the blessed Jesus.”
The words: “full of grace” have this signification: “Thou hast received the graces of the Holy Ghost in a higher degree than all the saints together.”
As the moon gives more light than all the hosts of stars, so the Mother of God possesses the supernatural light of the Holy Ghost to a greater extent than all the saints. The full plenitude of grace was poured out on her, whereas it was bestowed but partially on all the other saints. So richly was Mary endowed with grace that she approaches more nearly than any other being to the Author of all grace. God might have created a greater heaven, a greater earth, but a greater Mother than Mary He could not create. The name Mary means sea; she is indeed an ocean of grace. The angel said to her: ” Thou hast found grace with God.” Only that which was lost can be found: Mary had not lost grace, therefore she found what man had lost. Let those then who have by their sins lost the grace of God, hasten to Mary, that they may recover it at her hands.
The words: ” The Lord is with thee,” have this signification: “Thou art united, body and soul with God in the closest union.”
In the Temple at Jerusalem, which was outwardly of a dazzling whiteness, and inwardly overlaid with gold. God was continually present in a luminous cloud. The Temple was a type of the Mother of God, for in her the Incarnate God dwelt, making her the temple of the Deity. In celebrating Holy Mass, the priest turns seven times to the people with the words: Dominus vobiscum; thus wishing them the closest union with the Godhead, through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Ghost. Of old such forms of greeting were customary; Saul made use of similar words when dismissing David before his contest with Goliath (1 Kings xvii. 37); David when dying, addressed Solomon in the same manner (1 Par. xxii. 11); and Tobias did the same when his son was starting on his journey (Tob. v. 21).
The words: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” have this signification: ” Thou art the most blessed among women because thy child Jesus waa supremely blessed.”
As a tree is considered good if it bears good fruit, so Mary is lauded for the sake of her Son. She is the tree of life in paradise, and Christ is the fruit of that tree. All the angels of God adore the Child that was born of her (Heb. i. 6). Mothers who have had good children have always been. called blessed; witness the woman, who after listening to Our Lord’s discourse, lifted up her voice to extol His Mother (Luke xi. 27). It is not because Mary was blessed that her Child was blessed, but the contrary. He, the Author and Source of all grace, filled her with benediction. Christ is not said to be blessed among men, as Mary is among women, because He is the Creator of all men, and cannot be placed in comparison with His creatures. When Judith appeared before King Ozias after slaying Holofernes, he declared her to be blessed above all women on the earth (Judith xiii. 23). How much more does Mary merit this praise, since she cooperated in the redemption of the whole human race. Both the Archangel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth addressed the same words to her to indicate that she was to receive homage alike from angels and men.
At the close of the Ave Maria we entreat the Mother of God to pray for us in the hour of death, for then above all other times we have most need of assistance.
At the hour of death, in addition to physical suffering, we shall perhaps have to sustain violent assaults of temptation. ” How vehemently,” exclaims St. Bonaventure, ” does the devil attack man in his last hour, and for this reason, because so short a time is left for him to accomplish his work.” The uncertainty of our salvation also causes us terrible anxiety at the hour of death. In all these tribulations, Mary is our surest helper, for she is ” the Health of the sick, the Comforter of the afflicted, the Refuge of sinners.” When she appears beside the dying, all evil enemies take to flight. Many a one who was devout to the Mother of God, owed it to her that he was reconciled with God on his deathbed, that he had the last sacraments, or received other supernatural aid. She even appeared in person to several saints. ” Mary,” says St. Jerome, ” assists her faithful servants in death; she goes to meet them on their way to heaven, she prevails upon the Judge of all men to give them a merciful sentence.” We speak of ourselves as sinners, to render the Mother of God more inclined to listen to us.
Mary is most ready to interest herself on behalf of sinners; she knows what it cost her divine Son to redeem mankind and restore to our fallen race the graces we had lost. It would seem as if Mary did not estimate at its true value the sacrifice of Christ, if she had no great love for sinners. There is no sinner fallen so low that the Mother of God would not willingly befriend him were he to invoke her aid with a real intention to amend. God has committed judgment to His Son, grace and mercy to His Mother’s hands
This great festival takes its name from the happy tidings brought by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, announcing the Incarnation of the Son of God. It commemorates the most important embassy that was ever known, an embassy sent by the King of kings, and performed by one of the chief princes of His heavenly court, and directed, not to the great ones of this earth, but to a poor, unknown virgin who, being endowed with angelic purity of soul and body, and perfect humility and submission to God, was greater in His eyes than the mightiest monarch in the world.
When the Son of God became man, He could have taken our nature without the cooperation of any creature; but He was pleased to be born of a woman, the One announced in the third chapter of Genesis. In choosing Her whom He raised to this most sublime of all dignities, He was turning to the one maiden who, by the riches of His grace and virtues, was of all others the most holy and the most perfect. The purpose of this embassy of the Archangel was to give a Saviour to the world, a victim of propitiation to the sinner, a model to the just, a son to this Virgin who would remain a virgin, and a new nature to the Son of God — the nature of man, capable of suffering pain and anguish in order to satisfy God’s justice for our transgressions.
When the Angel appeared to Mary and addressed Her, the Blessed Virgin was troubled; not at his coming, says Saint Ambrose, for heavenly visions and conversation with the blessed spirits had been familiar to Her, but what alarmed Her, he says, was the Angel’s appearing in human form, in the shape of a young man. What added to her alarm on this occasion was his words of praise. Mary, guarded by her modesty, was in confusion before expressions of this sort, and dreaded even the shadow of deluding flattery. Such high commendations made her cautious, until in silence She had more fully considered the matter: She deliberated in her mind, says Saint Luke, what manner of salutation this could be.
The Angel, to calm her, said: Fear not, Mary, for Thou hast found favor before God. He then informed Her that She was to conceive a Son whose name would be Jesus, who would be great and the Son of the Most High, and possessed of the throne of David, Her illustrious ancestor. Mary, out of a just concern to know how she may comply with the will of God without prejudice to Her vow of virginity, inquired, How shall this be? Nor did She give Her consent until the heavenly messenger informed Her that it was to be a work of the Holy Spirit, who, in making Her fruitful, would not alter in the slightest Her virginal purity. In submission to God’s will, without any further inquiries, She expressed Her assent in these humble but powerful words: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto Me according to thy word. What faith and confidence Her answer expressed! What profound humility and perfect obedience!
Reflection. Humility is the foundation of a spiritual life. By it Mary was prepared for the extraordinary graces and virtues which would ever enrich Her, and for the eminent dignity of Mother of God.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).
Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas
On Being Burried Spiritually
The sepulchre is a figure by which is signified the contemplation of heavenly things. So, St. Gregory, commenting on the words of Job (iii. 22), They rejoice exceedingly when they have found the grave, says, “As in the grave the body is hidden away when dead, so in divine contemplation there lies concealed the soul, dead to the world. There, at rest from the world’s clamour, it lies, in a three days burial through, as it were, its triple immersion in baptism. Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy face from the disturbance of men (Ps. xxx. 21). Those in great trouble, tormented with the hates of men, enter in spirit the presence of God and they are at rest.”
Three things are required for this spiritual burial in God, namely, that the mind be perfected by the virtues, that the mind be all bright and shining with purity, and that it be wholly dead to this world. All these things are shown figuratively in the burial of Christ.
The first is shown in St. Mark s Gospel where we read how Mary Magdalen anointed Our Lord for His burial by anticipation, as it were. She hath done what she could: she is come beforehand to anoint my body for the burial (Mark xiv. 8). The ointment of precious spikenard (ibid, iii) stands for the virtues, for it is a thing very precious, and in this life nothing is more precious than the virtues. The soul that wishes to be holy and to be buried in divine contemplation, must first, then, anoint itself by the exercise of the virtues. Job (v. 26) says, Thou shalt enter into the grave in abundance–and the Gloss explains the grave as meaning here, “divine contemplation”–as a heap of wheat is brought in its season, and the explanation given in the Gloss is that eternal contemplation is the prize of a life of action, and therefore it must be that the perfect, first of all, exercise their souls in the virtues and then, afterwards, bury them in the barn where all quiet is gathered.
The second of the three things required is also noted in St. Mark, where we read (xv. 46) that Joseph bought a winding sheet, that is, a sheet of fine linen, which is only brought to its dazzling whiteness with great labour. Hence it signifies that brightness of the soul, which also is not perfectly attained except with great labour. He that is just let him be justified still (Apoc. xxii. 11). Let us walk in newness of life (Rom. vi. 4), going from good to better, through the justice inaugurated by faith to the glory for which we hope. Therefore it is that men, bright with a spotless interior life, should be buried in the sepulchre of divine contemplation. St. Jerome, commenting on the words, Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God (Matt. v. 8), says, ” The clean Lord is seen by the clean of heart.”
The third point for consideration is given by St. John where, in his gospel (xix. 30), he writes, Nicodemus also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. This hundred pounds weight of myrrh and aloes, brought to preserve the dead body, symbolises that perfect mortification of the external senses, the means by which the spirit, dead to the world, is preserved from the vices that would corrupt it. Though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Cor. iv. 16), which is as much as to say the inward man is most thoroughly purified from vices by the fire of tribulation.
Therefore man’s soul must first, with Christ, become dead to this world, and then, afterwards, be buried with Him in the hiding place of divine contemplation. St. Paul says, You are dead with Christ, to the things that, are vain and fleeting, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col. iii. 3).
Sermon for St. Gabriel, the Archangel by St. Bernard.
I do not think that this Angel was one of inferior rank, who on one account or another are often sent on embassies to this earth. This may well be understood in view of his name, which being interpreted signifies: Strength of God; and because he was sent, not by some spirit perhaps more excellent than he (as is usual), but from God Himself. And so for this reason it is said: From God. Or, on this account it is said: From God; lest it should be thought that God had revealed his counsel to any of the blessed spirits before the Virgin, except only the Archangel Gabriel, who alone was found so eminent among his compeers as to be held worthy both of his name and his message.
Neither do his and his message disagree. For who should announce Christ, the power of God, more than he who is honored by a like name? For what else is power than strength? Neither does it appear to be unbecoming or unseemly that the Lord and his messenger should be known by a like title. Christ is called the power or strength of God in a very different sense to that, in which this title is given to the Angel; for in the Angel it is but a name; but in the case of Christ, it is also an essential attribute.
Christ is called, and truly is, the power of God. When the strong man armed was accustomed to keep his house in peace, a stronger came upon him, and overcame him by the strength of his arm; and forcibly deprived him of all his spoils. But the Angel is called the strength of God, either because this title was his right, as herald of the power of God; or because it was his duty to comfort the Virgin who was naturally timid, simple, and bashful, lest she should be frightened at the novelty of the miracle; this he certainly did by saying: Do not be afraid, Mary, thou has found grace with God. And so Gabriel was fitly chosen for this work; yes, because he was entrusted with so great a mission, properly was so great a name assigned to him.