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Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward | Two excerpts from
Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the
First excerpt, from the Introduction:
Glorious above all the other Christmas companions of Christ
is the Blessed Maiden who gave Him human birth. At the Matins of Christmas Day,
the Church cries out: 'Blessed Mary, the Mother of God, whose womb abideth
intact, hath this day given birth to the Saviour of the world." 
Each day of the octave, in the Canon of the Mass, the Latin Church venerates
the 'inviolate virginity' that 'brought the Saviour into this world' and
dedicates the whole of the eighth day to the divine motherhood--in the old rite
in the content of the prayers and in the new rite in name as well as content.
 Our Lady's conceiving and carrying of God the Son in her virginal womb are
remembered throughout Advent, especially during the week of the O antiphons
and, in the novus ordo Missae, on the
The Immaculate Conception is celebrated on the eighth of December as the first,
preredemptive flowering of the grace for whose restoration Christ was born and
crucified in the flesh. In the liturgical books of the Greek Church, the Mother
of God is seemingly omnipresent on every day of the liturgical year,  but
during the twelve days of Christmas, she receives special honours in canticles
of outstanding praise, and on the second day she has a feast all of her own, the
Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, instituted after the Council of Ephesus in
431. On this second day of the Byzantine Christmas, the Mother of God appears
before the Church as the Mystical Vine carrying in the branches of her arms
'the bunch of grapes that was never husbanded'. In the ecstasy of love she
sings to her Child, 'Thou art my fruit, thou art my life; from thee have I
learned that I remain what I was. Thou art my God: for seeing the seal of my
virginity unbroken, I proclaim thee to be the unchangeable Word, now made
 Fifth responsory.
 In the novus ordo of the
West, the first of January is called the 'Solemnity of Mary; the Mother of
God'. In the Missal of 1962 it is called, as it had been for many centuries,
the 'Circumcision of Our Lord' because of the passage read as the Gospel.
However, both the Collect and the Postcommunion place most emphasis on the
divine motherhood of our Lady.
 See S. Eustratiadès, Theotokarion (Chennevières-sur-Marne, 1931), and J. Ledit, Marie dans la
liturgie de Byzance (Paris, 1976).
 Menaion, p. 292.
Second excerpt, from Chapter 3, "Mother and Maiden":
As Mother of God, our Lady is without equal, surpassing
by far all other created persons, whether angels or men.  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'. 
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. 
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 wasputting it positivelyendowed
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'. 
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'),  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
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.
 '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).
 In salutationem angelicam, a. 1.
 Cf ST 3a q. 27, a. 5.
 De natura et gratia cap. 42, no. 36; PL 44:267.
 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.
 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).
 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.
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Advent/Marian Series (2004) by Carl E. Olson:
Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way (November 28, 2004)
The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin (December 5, 2004)
Theotokos sums up all that Mary is (December 12, 2004)
Holy Mary and the Death of Sin (December 19, 2004)
Fr. John Saward (b. 1947) is a fellow of Greyfriars and associate lecturer of Blackfriars at
the University of Oxford. He previously held the posts of Professor of Dogmatic Theology in the International Theological
Institute, Gaming, Austria and Visiting Professor in Systematic Theology and Christology in the same Institute. Ordained as an
Anglican clergyman in 1972, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church in 1979 at Campion Hall, Oxford. He is the author of
several books, including
The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age,
Cradle of Redeeming Love: The
Theology of the Christmas Mystery, Redeemer in the Womb,
and The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art,
Sanctity, and the Truth of Catholicism. He has also translated several works, including Hans Urs von Balthasar's
Scandal of the Incarnation:
Irenaeus Against the Heresies. Fr. Saward also contributed an essay to
John Paul the Great: Maker of the
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