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As Mother of God, our Lady is without equal, surpassing by far all other created persons, whether angels or men. [37] After the human nature of the Son, no created entity is closer to the Trinity. According to St Thomas, Gabriel's words at the Annunciation, 'The Lord is with thee', express his recognition that the Jewish maiden is closer than he or any other angel is to the Three-Personed God:

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

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

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

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

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

[This is excerpted from chapter 3, "Mother and Maiden," of Cradle of Redeeming Love.]


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

[38] In salutationem angelicam, a. 1.

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

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

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

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

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

John Saward is a Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. He is the author of several books, including The Way of the Lamb, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty, and Redeemer in the Womb.

Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery

John Saward

Following up on his acclaimed Redeemer in the Womb, John Saward returns to the mystery of Christ's Incarnation. He draws upon the rich traditions of the Church, as well as the writings of the great Christian mystics, to create a work that is both new and old, revolutionary and orthodox. This profoundly moving meditation will aid any contemplation on the life of Christ.

The subject of this book is the objective and divinely revealed truth of the Nativity of Christ, as proclaimed by His infallible and immaculate Bride. It is the splendor of this truth, of “Love’s noon in Nature’s night”, which for two millennia has captivated the Fathers and Schoolmen, and activated the genius of poets, painters, and musicians. Illustrated with eight color paintings.

“Combines Saward’s usual profundity and precision with a treasure-trove of texts from the tradition. A comphrehensive exposition of the Christmas mystery. Anyone wanting to know the true meaning of the Incarnation and Christmas need look no further.” —Aidan Nichols, O.P., Author, Looking at the Liturgy

“A profound theological meditation on the Incarnation as an anticipation of the joy in heaven.”
—Fr. Kenneth Baker, Editor, Homiletic and Pastoral Review

“John Saward is on my very short list of preeminently important twentieth-century Catholic writers. His writing is always profound, original, and clear.”
—Thomas Howard, Author, On Being Catholic

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