Chapter 3 of The Seven Words of Mary Derived from St. Bernardine of Siena



“AND the Angel answering said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore also the Holy that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold Elisabeth thy cousin, she hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God.” It is needless to point out how great is the advance in the revelation of the counsel of God which is made in these words. Nothing had been said before this moment as to the Divine Person by Whose agency the Incarnation was to be brought about, and on the other hand there had been a remarkable silence as to any human person but Mary herself having any part in it. It was not so in former announcements, somewhat the like in kind, in Sacred Scripture, as, for instance, it had been said by st. Gabriel to Zachary, “Thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” The omission of all reference to a father was significant, and fell in altogether with the desire of our Blessed Lady. And now that she had asked her question, so full of the love of God of which St. Bernardine speaks, a supplementary revelation of the highest and most ineffable importance is made by the mention of the Holy Ghost. The crown is thus put to the revelation as it before stood, and the article of the Christian Creed is proclaimed for all time, that the Son of God made Man was to be conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.

But we are not now to draw out the full meaning of these most sublime words, for we are dwelling upon the effect which they produced upon her who was the first to hear, from the messenger of Heaven, this truth which it was beyond the highest imaginations of the Cherubim to conceive. The change which these words wrought in Mary herself cannot be described. It is certain that they overwhelmed her soul with the most intense joy and gratitude, that she no longer hesitated or was uncertain, as before, as to the course which the great mystery of the Incarnation was to take, and as to her own immediate part and duty. Thus it drew from her the words which she uttered at once, words of the most perfect obedience, humility, charity, and joy, ” Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.”

Mary, the humblest as well as purest of women, understood, then, that she was to be the Mother of God, as the former words of Gabriel had shown, and that further, she was to become the Mother of God without any impairing of that virginal purity of which her own First Word showed her to be afraid. And further still, she understood that this marvel was to be brought about in her by no created agency at all, even of the highest angel, but by the direct action of God Himself, the Third Person in the Adorable Trinity, and that, in consequence of that “supervention” of the Holy Ghost and of the overshadowing of the power of the Most High, by which the action of the Eternal Father is signified, her Child was to be the true Son of God made Man.

St. Bernardine calls this utterance of our Blessed Lady, in answer to the final revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation, a flame of “transforming” love. For it is the property of love to transform the one of the two who love into the other, uniting them most closely and inseparably. All true love, indeed, he says, must consist in this perfect union of those who love one the other, and so it might seem that this was the first flame which should have been mentioned in order, instead of the second. He explains that he has put the love which he calls of separation before this, because the flight and avoidance of everything whatsoever that is inconsistent with and opposed to the interests of the object of love must precede any perfect union with him, and thus it was right to put the perfect abandonment of any love but that of God in its perfect purity, before this second flame which manifests itself in the Second Word of Mary.

He sees the qualities of this perfect love in the words themselves of the Blessed Virgin. Her great humility, and readiness to serve God with all kinds and degrees of service, are shown in the words, Behold the handmaid or the servant of the Lord. Her confidence and intense love and great hope, are shown in the other words, Be it done to me according to thy word, as if to say, he says, that she would not dare of herself to ask or pray for this that had been announced to her, and at the same time that she neither dares nor wishes to lessen the promise of God, and thus she desires and wishes neither more nor less than that which the words spoken by the messenger of God have declared to her. “Be it done to me according to thy word!” This, too, was spoken by the one person in the world who understood most perfectly all that was contained in the message of the Angel, and in the prophecies and promises of God which that message embodied and set forth. The word, “behold,” implies the complete and irrevocable manner of her surrender of herself to God, the word, “the handmaid,” signifies the entire humility of the offering, the words, “be it done unto me,” show the breadth and extent of the subjection she professes, and the words” according to thy word,” signify the depth of her faith in what had been promised.

St. Bernardine has in another place (Sermon viii., De Consensu Virginali (in the same volume)) some more to say about the consent of the Blessed Mother which was given in her Second Word, and, although some of his expressions are obscure on account of the brevity which characterizes the records which we have of his sermons-unless, indeed, we have little more than the notes from which what he actually said was expanded by him when he came to preach–it is well worth our while to draw out his meaning as far as we can. St. Bernardine uses scholastic words which may now and then frighten us, but they have often very simple meanings. His great sermon De Cousensu Virginali is the source from which our commentary on this Second Word will be chiefly derived.

The Saint begins by speaking of what he calls the object of the consent which our Lady declared in the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” Under this head there are four points to be considered. Mary consented to conceive the Son of God, in visible, passible, and mortal flesh. She understood and consented to the proposal that He should take human and visible flesh, and all that belongs to our nature in soul and body, that He should be a mortal man like others; and should be capable of suffering in all its forms, that He might be like unto us in all things, except sin. Moreover, He was to suffer and die for our sins, the sins of the whole world, and make satisfaction to the infinite justice of God for all men. All this was contained in the prophecies which she knew so well, and was actually expressed, though not in greater detail than was necessary to put her in mind of the truths that were so familiar to her, by the saying of the Angel, “Thou shalt call His Name Jesus”–words which were afterwards repeated by the Angel to St. Joseph, “Thou shalt call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” This was the proposal, the acceptance of which was now Mary’s part, and depending on her use of her own free will.

When we consider the immense range of the predictions concerning our Lord, and especially concerning the redemption of the world by Him, and the way in which that redemption was to be carried out, we see what a wonderful depth and power of resolution was required of Mary in order that she should close with the offer now made to her. One thing must be quite clear, namely, that unless she could throw her whole heart and affections at the feet of God with the utmost abandonment of herself, and her whole life and will, she could never have given a worthy and due acceptance to so momentous a work. She must have seen that the work was absolutely unique, and could have no parallel in the self-surrender it required, her faith must have been most immovable and robust, her humility must have been utter in its submission, her emptying of herself and self-annihilation altogether unrivaled, and, as far as such a result could be obtained by the power of love, she must have desired and been ready to make herself as far as could be one and the same thing with the Saviour of the world Who was to become Man in her.

It is also needless to try to think how lofty must have been her conceptions of the Divine Person, One with His Father and the Holy Ghost in the ineffable Unity of the Godhead, Whom it was proposed to her to receive for a Son, and, again, her conceptions of the infinite and most marvellously loveable humility with which He was to enter her womb, to be a little Child, and then to suffer the most bitter pangs for our sins, dying for them on the Cross. This was to accept Him as Crucified and to be Crucified, as the ransom to be paid to the justice of God in superabundant satisfaction for the sins of all, and moreover in impetration for all boons, as the reparation of all that had been lost, and as the mediation required by all the elect and the children of God. Such were the conditions under which she was asked to receive in her womb the Son of God, for thus it was that His mortal Body was to be formed out of her most pure blood.

In the second place St. Bernardine bids us consider that it was proposed to our Blessed Lady that the Holy Ghost was to come upon her for the purpose of sanctifying her, and producing in her the marvellous change which was necessary, in order that the Body of our Lord might be formed in her in a most spiritual and supernatural manner, according to the decree of God. We know that there are changes made in us from time to time, as when persons pass from a secular state to the state of religion, or when they are raised to a higher state, or higher stages in any state in which they live, or even when they pass to new scenes and new duties and new habits. Some of these changes are like passing from death to life, from the utmost pain and infirmity to the most robust health, from utter poverty and destitution to great riches, from the greatest danger or despair to the happiest and most secure condition in the world. Such changes are sometimes most surprising and alarming on account of their novelty, and even produce astounding bodily effects by the suddenness of the horror and fright which they engender, making the hairs to stand on end, or the body to become rigid, so that the shock is sometimes like the shock of death.

But we can well imagine that the shock must have been great indeed when our Blessed Lady was asked to give her consent for this overshadowing of the power of God, and this coming upon her of the Holy Ghost, nor could it have been without fear and dread, notwithstanding the ineffable clearness of her faith, and the wondrous strength of her hope and confidence, that she gave herself up, trembling and astonished, to receive that incomprehensible and most Divine advent of the Holy Ghost upon her which was to make her the Mother of God. No wonder if she was filled with calm and reverential confusion, with anxiety in order that she might receive so great a dignity in no unworthy manner, as far as that was possible. With all her eager love for the coming of the salvation of mankind by means of the promised Incarnation, when the moment came for its accomplishment in her own person, what immense courage must she have required, who can imagine?

Again, St. Bernardine tells us that as the Eternal Father proposed to bestow His Son upon her to be her Son, and asked her consent to this, we are to consider how she must have felt the immensity of the obligation laid upon her, of love, of gratitude, of acknowledgment, for so great a gift. It was no other than God Who was to become her Son, the Father was to give Him to enter her heart, her womb. He was to form in her and of her the Body for His Son, Who was to be at the same time His Son and hers. To correspond to the dignity of the Father Who offered this, and of the Son Who was thus offered, must have required an act of love and gratitude and self-oblation higher than the merits of all the saints. She was bound to “bring into captivity,” as St. Paul speaks, all her intelligence and all her affections to assent and consent to the truth of the mystery now proposed to her in so sublime a manner, all that was now declared to her mind, and all the consequent truths which it involved. She knew that it involved nothing less than this, that in her, in one moment, the foundations of the whole fabric of our restoration and the redemption of the whole world were to be firmly and solidly laid. Her faith and her hope were the means by which she was made strong enough for this, together with the loving and humble obedience and subjection with which her assent and consent were given at the words of the Angel.

St. Bernardino adds, that Mary was moved to this by her great desire that that which the whole world was in need and in expectation of should come about, the redemption and restoration of the whole universe, including her own salvation and the salvation of all men, and the immense glory to God which would follow therefrom. Who can imagine how much she desired and longed for this? And he quotes St. Augustine, in his sermon on her Nativity, who says to her that the whole world beseeches her consent, and bids her answer for the faith, “Delay not, O Blessed Maiden, speak the word of answer, receive the Son of God, and begin to feel His power!” Her consent was as beautiful and royal as that which was asked of her was great. God had predestined that the salvation of all the elect should depend on the consent of Mary, and it is reasonable to suppose that He gave to her consent a corresponding merit and power.

St. Bernardine goes on with some considerations in the great virtues which our Lady exercised at this moment of her consent to the Conception of the Son of God. He first speaks of the kind of martyrdom to which she offered herself in this. With her enlightenment as to the manner in which the kingdom of the Incarnation was arranged in the decrees of God, she must have foreseen the cross which awaited her, and she must have welcomed it with an incomparably greater love than that which would have moved her before to undergo anything whatever for the glory of God.

At the time of His Conception, our Lord Himself made a most intense interior act, by which He satisfied for the sins of all the world, and offered Himself freely to undergo every pain and death, fully and completely, with the utmost promptitude. We know also that God, by means of His Angel, proposed to Mary that His Son should be conceived in her womb as the future Redeemer and Saviour of all the world. She knew the gravity of the reason for which the Incarnation took place. She must have known all the shame and pain and suffering of all kinds ill which she might be herself exposed, and certainly we hear from her no word of inquiry from the Angel how all this might be avoided or be met. She knew she was to conceive Him, Who was to be crucified, and the part that she might herself have to bear in the Crucifixion. “And the wisdom of God ordained,” says St. Bernardine, “to show that she was conscious of this, that on the same day on which our Lord was conceived, He was also crucified.”

The Saint speaks next of the virtue of pity and mercy as exercised in a wonderful manner by our Blessed Lady in consenting to the Conception of our Lord in her womb. She had always desired and prayed for the salvation of the elect, and at this moment she dedicated herself to the carrying out of the counsel of God which was ordained for that salvation. From that moment she bore in her womb the Saviour of all, and she bore, all in her heart as tenderly as her own children. And in the same way he speaks of her wonderful purity of mind and heart. She showed, as we have seen, her intense love for purity in the vow which she had made of old, to which she had referred in her First Word to the Angel. This love of purity, St. Bernardine says, was increased in her at the time of our Lord’s Conception, and he gathers this from the words of St. Gabriel, that the Holy Ghost was to come upon her and the power of the Most High was to overshadow her, and that therefore the Holy which was to be born in her was to be called the Son of God. The action of the Holy Ghost and of the power of the Most High, which is here spoken of, could not be without producing in her a still greater sanctification than it found in her.

We may therefore consider these words as showing that Mary’s intelligence that at this time she was to be so entirely purified, pure as she already was, as that the fruit of her womb was to be purity itself, and the Son of God. Her consent, therefore, given to His Conception, involved her consent to and her desire for this further advance in purity. Indeed, St. Bernardine adds, she now tasted and partook of the purity of God Himself. For the nearer that a creature draws to God, the more does it become like to Him, and share His character. It is a very little thing to think of Divine purity that it is free from all that is contrary to cleanness in thought. But Divine purity consists in the freedom from any thought or image that is short of the highest sanctity, It is into this heavenly region and atmosphere that the pure in soul ascend, and it was this atmosphere that our Blessed Lady habitually breathed. So it was at this time of the Conception of our Lord that she became the Virgin of Virgins, and attained a purity than which no higher can be found except in God Himself.

St. Bernardine adds some beautiful considerations as to the immense helps by which our Blessed Lady was aided to make this wonderful act of consent, on which the happiness of the universe depended, He speaks of four heads under which these helps may be ranged. The first is her election by God, the second the perfection of virtues she already possessed, the third the suffrages of the whole angelic host, and the fourth the “paternal affection” of all the ancient saints. By this he means all the prayers and merits and desires of the servants of God before her time, which all were directed to the obtaining from Him the one great object, the gift of the Saviour and His introduction to the world to which He had been promised.

It is so important that we should endeavour to raise ourselves, as far as possible, to the full height of the conceptions of the saints concerning the ineffable and unique importance of the mystery of the Incarnation, and of Mary’s part therein, that we must dwell for a few moments on this part also of the words of St. Bernardine. The Saint reasons thus. It is certain that the” elective grace” and charity of God, now shed upon Mary, cannot be compared to that which has been given to any of the saints, but must have been far greater. For this grace or charity is borne down upon the saints in a greater and higher measure of love in some cases than in others, and produces greater effects on their souls in proportion to that measure. For if God chooses, efficaciously and meetly, to raise anyone to a lofty and difficult state, His charity must move that soul in a degree proportionate to the difficulty of that state, and especially if there be no resistance and want of disposition on the part of the person moved. But the state of the Divine Maternity, for which God chose the Blessed Virgin, was the highest possible state that could be conferred on a pure creature. Therefore the elective charity and grace of God came to our Lady and moved her heart so as to help her to rise to this state, and the consent, now given by her, shared in the highest degree the perfection of the charity of God that moved her to it, the charity of God, full of love to her, and raising the act of her will to something resembling, as far as could be, His own love and choice of her.

In the second place our Lady was helped and strengthened to this act of consent by her own formal possession of all virtues. How great these were is shown: by the words of Gabriel, who calls her “full of grace,” “blessed among women,” and declares that the Lord is “with her” in a way which has no peer. It may be supposed as certain, therefore, that she was “full of grace” beyond all others, the habits of charity and of the other virtues being in her in a far higher degree than in any other saint. This seems to be contained in the words of the Angel.

Here, again, St. Bernardine reasons thus. Every holy and discreet mind girds itself up with intense vigour, collects its forces, and strives to rise to the performance of any work in a due, and devout, and perfect manner, the more it feels that that work is divine and sublime, and calling for the greatest possible virtue, and effort, and carefulness, and perfection, that it may be performed worthily and meetly, and in a way most pleasing to God the Father. But any believing mind will see that to conceive God, and to be the Mother of God, is the highest of all works, and that therefore the act by which it is brought about must be a most perfect act above all. This act was the consent of our Lady. When therefore she perceived that God had chosen her for this, and prevented her by His grace for this, and that her consent was required for this, then it behoved her with her whole heart, and the utmost efforts she could make, to dispose herself and lay herself open to receive so wonderful a grace in a worthy manner and without the slightest flaw of sin or imperfection. This was done by consenting to it worthily and fitly. But a means to such a consent was the whole array and armament of her wonderful virtues, which were all, as it were, strained to their utmost force in forming that consent.

A third aid to this magnificent consent of Mary is said by St. Bernardine to be the “infusion” of the angels. The whole body of the angelic hierarchies desired and laboured for nothing so much as the salvation of all the elect. When Gabriel was sent to salute our Lady, all the angels became aware that the beginning and foundation of our salvation, that is Christ, God made Man, to be brought into being by the consent of our Lady. Therefore the whole company of the angels bent all their desires and efforts to the helping of Mary, that she might undertake and bring to perfection this great work, and for this they all prayed to God, and used the “influence” which they all have, in proportion to their rank, in aiding and assisting her, the highest of all receiving their “influence” from God, and all working with one another in due order, until the grace reached Mary. So that St. Gabriel spoke in the name and in the power of all, as the ambassador and delegate of the whole angelic body. In this way they all cooperated, and the power of all with God was exercised in her favour.

In the fourth place St. Bernardine tells us that our Blessed Lady was assisted to the great act of her consent by the “paternal affection” of all the ancient saints. For all of them, either explicitly or implicitly, had longed above all things for the obtaining from God the Saviour Who had been promised, and His bringing into the world. Their holy intentions and desires and prayers and merits, all concurred to this effect. It follows that we must conclude that God had regard to their prayers and merits in bringing about the Incarnation, and in this sense they had a share in helping on its coming, and in aiding her on whose consent it depended, when the time duly came, to make that most wonderful act. The whole company of the ancient saints, therefore, as well as all the hierarchies of the angels, had a part in this great second Word of Mary, which involved a magnitude of perfection almost inconceivable to man, and of which we can only say that it hears some correspondence and proportion to the ineffable dignity to which she who was to he the Mother of God was elevated by Him.

These thoughts of St. Bernardine represent the consent of Mary, expressed in her second Word, as a choice, indeed, of the exercise of her own free will, and yet as an act brought about by the immense love of predilection with which God regarded her, as the fruit of immense graces received with immense fidelity, and assisted by all the power of the good angels, and all the prayers and merits of the ancient saints.

Chapter 2 of The Seven Words of Mary Derived from St. Bernardine of Siena


THE First Word of our Blessed Lady was spoken at the time of her Annunciation, when the Angel entered the room in which she was engaged in prayer, probably about that very mystery which was soon to be accomplished in her own person. We are all familiar with the story. The words of Gabriel and of Mary are on our lips several times a day: “And the Angel being come in, said unto her, Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, Blessed art thou among women.”

But we are to remember that, before our Lady made any answer, she remained silent, and her first use of speech, if we may so say, was not to use it. For the virtue of prudence in speech, as we all know, consists as much in not speaking as in speaking at the right time. Before the word of speech comes the word of silence, as we shall see. “And when she had heard she was troubled at his saying, and thought within herself what manner of salutation this should be.” The words of St. Luke do not so much signify that she pondered in herself what the meaning of the salutation was, as how great it was, and whence it came.

We know that the message sent by God to our Blessed Lady was not sent till the fulness of time had come, that is, till the long preparation which was to precede the Incarnation in the counsels of God in the providential government of the world was accomplished. It is not likely that there was no analogous preparation made in the chosen Virgin who was to be the conscious and intelligent instrument of God in the execution of the great mystery. As a matter of fact, Catholics believe that the process of the Divine preparation of Mary for her position in the Kingdom of her Son began at the very instant of the dawn of her intelligent life, and continued from that moment without interruption till the time came for the message of the Annunciation to be delivered to
her. The intelligent life of Mary began with her use of the spiritual gifts with which she was so largely endowed at the time of her Immaculate Conception, the graces and virtues, the knowledge of God and His works, which she then received, and this was met on her part by so perfect and faithful a correspondence as to win her an ever continuing increase from His bounty of the gifts with which she began.

Although the few words which conveyed to Mary the first part of the message of God did not fully unfold the whole of that Divine message, as it was afterwards drawn out by St. Gabriel, still they conveyed to her enlightened mind, so fully versed in the knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures and of the ways of God. the whole truth at least in germ and in essence. There was only one point in the whole Divine counsel of the Incarnation which was kept back for later revelation, namely, the manner in which the mystery was to be brought about by the agency of the Holy Ghost Himself. The words she now heard conveyed to her mind the intimation that she was the chosen Woman by whose means God was to be born into the world, in order to redeem it. This would be a natural conclusion to form concerning the thoughts of Mary at any ordinary time. We mean that, if she had known that the very same salutation had been made to another Virgin, she would have thought that it meant to announce to that Virgin that she was to be the Mother of God according to the promises made to mankind from the very first. But, more than this, it is certainly most natural to suppose that according to the usual ways in which God deals with His chosen instruments, she would have had an extraordinary internal illumination as to the meaning of the message. delivered to her, corresponding to the extraordinary external grace of the visit and words of the Archangel. We may therefore fairly conclude that she understood the message, and that her trouble was not so much as to what it meant, as on account of the greatness of the dignity to which, as it implied, she was about to be raised. We must take this into account in considering what we are
told of her trouble.

Mary was full of grace, and her humility was the choicest of all her virtues, and that in which she was most like our Lord Himself. Moreover, it is believed that she had been guided by a special instinct of the Holy Ghost to desire, and even to pray that, if her wish was granted that she might live in the times of the advent of the Messias, she might be the handmaid of the peerless Virgin who was to be chosen to be His Mother. It is not therefore wonderful that she should be troubled at the words of the Angel. It was not trouble of that sort with which we are ourselves familiar, an emotion interfering with the calm rule of reason in the soul or turning away its gaze from the presence of God. There are theologians who think that she may have shared in degree the privilege of our Lord in His Sacred Humanity, according to which He was never troubled, except when He deliberately took the trouble to Himself for His own reasons, as the Scripture says of Him that He “troubled Himself” or “began to grow sorrowful.” (St. John 11, 33; St. Matthew 26, 37) Mary’s trouble, even if involuntary, did not disturb the perfect dominion of reason in her soul.

It may be that the Blessed Virgin felt troubled at the appearance of an angel, though she was probably not unaccustomed to such visitations. At all events her humility must have been alarmed at the greatness of the Salutation, and perhaps also for the cause which St. Bernardine assigns, and which makes him call her Word in answer to the Angel, a “flame of separating love.” We shall speak of this presently. But the fear and awe of the Angel’s presence, added to her intense humility, is enough to account for her silence, on which we have already remarked. The saints of God are silent when they are praised, and are more inclined not to speak at all, than to be loquacious after commendation. Thus, as has been said, the first lesson which we learn from the words of Mary is that our words should be very few and not at all in our own praise. There is a tradition about the Holy Home of Nazareth that, of the three persons who lived therein, forming what has sometimes been called “the earthly Trinity,” the One who spoke the least was Jesus, next to Him Mary, and after her Joseph, who was the ruler and head of the house, and thus had more occasion to speak, while our Lord, as the Child, had the least.

St. Bernardine, when he speaks of the flame of “separating” love, as manifesting itself in our Lady on this occasion, does not of course refer to her silence, but to the answer which she gave to the further speech of St. Gabriel, which was itself a kind of answer to her silence. “And the Angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God, Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His Name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His Father, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” It is not a part of our business here to draw out the full meaning of these great words, which Mary must have understood in their full sense, and which, together with the appellation which Gabriel had first used when he saluted her as full of grace and blessed among women, called to her mind the whole magnificent range of the prophecies concerning the Incarnation, which had been the precious possession of the holy nation, ever increasing in fulness and clearness of detail as the ages rolled on. It is enough to say that our Lady must have perfectly understood the meaning of the language of the Angel, hardly any word of which was not taken from the prophecies preserved in Sacred Scripture, while at the same time, as has been said, the manner in which the mystery was to be carried out, had not been explicitly declared as yet, either in the predictions of the prophets, or in the words of the Archangel.

“But Mary said to the Angel, How shall this be done, because I know not man?” That is, as St. Bernardine explains, “since my state of life and condition require that I should not become a Mother in that usual manner?” She knew, he says, that God had many ways in which His will as to the Incarnation might be carried out, and she wished to declare that as to her own mind and desire, that way was to be excluded. Many writers are of opinion that she had made a vow to remain ever a perfect Virgin, singly and wholly God’s. St. Bernardine quotes St. Augustine to the effect that our Lady had determined in her heart to keep her vow of virginity, although he thinks that this vow had not been expressed in words, on account of her perfect submission to the will of God, and he adds that, after she had conceived her Divine Son, both she and her Spouse made the vow expressly, whereas before she had made it privately, with the stipulation that it should be kept unless God otherwise revealed such to be His will.

St. Bernardine then bids us observe the great devotion of our Blessed Lady to the pure and simple love of God alone, which she considered might be impaired in herself by the slightest departure from the virginity she had offered to Him, even though without any sin she had conceived in the usual manner. And it is in this that our Saint sees the “separating flame of love” of which he speaks. He bids us consider the intense purity and fervour of the love for God which is revealed to us by this Word. Even when the matter proposed to her was nothing less than the Incarnation of God in her chaste womb, she shrank back from this inestimable honour and blessing, until she knew the declared will of God in the matter, preferring, even to what was proposed to her by St. Gabriel, to remain entirely and singly and wholly His.

There are many other things said about this First Word of Mary by the writers of the Church which do not exclude the truth of St. Bernardine’s contemplation. For, as has been said above, the active part which was to be taken in the Incarnation by the Holy Ghost was a hidden secret, and no one, however deeply read in the prophecies and anticipations of the Old Testament, could have done more than guess at the truth–even if such a guess could have been formed by mortal mind–without a special guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who was Himself to he the agent in the matter. And even, therefore, if our Lady had some anticipation of the truth, she could not have presumed that it was so to be without some positive declaration of the will of God. St. Bernardine says that he thinks that the reason why the manner of her proposed Maternity was not before this explicitly told to her, was that she might form in her heart this most perfect resolution with regard to virginity, and thereby show her immense and boundless love of purity and merit so much the more thereby.

It was fitting that the revelation of the manner decreed by God for the execution of His great counsel should have been made to no one before it was made to Mary herself at this time, and thus we see how her silence and her trouble brought down upon her the inconceivable blessedness of this most glorious revelation, filling her mind with heavenly light and her heart with the most intense and overwhelming ingratitude. It is natural to compare her treatment of the message of God and His consequent dealing with her, with the corresponding reception in the message of God by the same Archangel to the father of St. John the Baptist, related just before this by St. Luke. The inquiry of Zachary, “How shall I know this, for I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years?” is punished, on account of the incredulity which it manifests, while our Lady’s question, “How shall this be done?” which assumes the truth of the message, and only seeks information as to the manner in which it is to be executed, is rewarded by the astounding revelation of the action of the Holy Ghost. But here we pass to the second utterance of our Blessed Lady on which we have to comment.

The Seven Words of Mary Derived From St. Bernardine of Siena

I will be putting here a work derived from the work of St. Bernardine of Siena on the seven words of Mary. This is not an exact translation, but a work that preaches the same message, often quoting the original author, but taking some liberties. The original is used as a “store of thought.” The book was written by Henry James Coleridge, S.J. and published by Burns and Oates in London in 1889. The original texts in Latin can be found in Book 6 of St. Bernardine’s Opera Omnia.

Here is Chapter 1: THE WORDS OF MARY

“How sweet are thy words unto my palate, more than honey unto my mouth!” Thus the tender-hearted St. Bernardine of Siena begins his discourse on the Words of Mary. (De Visitatione et Septem Verbis B.M.V. Serm. ix. (Op. tom. iv.)) which will furnish us with so large a portion of the thoughts which we hope to set forth in the pages which are to follow. And then he breaks out into the prayer of the Church, Dignare me laudare te, Virgo Sacrata, and he begs her not despise the slight service which he offers her, considering that the devotion with which it is offered to her is not slight. He begs her in her pity to assist him with some heavenly breeze, as he is about to set sail on a great deep. He desires to endeavour to explain, with faltering tongue, the sublime meaning of her words, he relies on her assistance and favour, and implores her to help him. “For what mortal is there
who would venture, unless he could feel safe under some divine instruction, to say anything, either small or great, with uncircumcised and polluted lips, about her whom God the Father predestined before all ages to be that chosen and most worthy Virgin, whom the Son chose for His Mother, and whom the Holy Spirit chose to be the home of all grace? With what words shall a poor child of Adam like himself speak of the sublime thoughts of the Heart of the Blessed Virgin, which her most holy mouth uttered, words for which the tongues of men and angels would not suffice?”

He goes on to remind us that our Lord has said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things,” (St. Matthew xii. 35) and who among men could be better than she, who found grace to become the Mother of God, who received for nine months, in her heart and her womb, God Himself? What heart can have a treasure like that divine love, with which the Heart of the Blessed Virgin burnt as a furnace? It was out of that Heart, the furnace of divine love, that the good words of the Blessed Virgin came forth, all glowing with the love of God. Nothing but the best of wine can proceed from a vessel full of what is best, and from a furnace of intense heat nothing can come forth but the hottest fire. So from the Blessed Mother of our Lord there can come forth no word but of the highest and most divine love.

Any most wise and prudent lady is sparing of her words, but they are full of solidity and meaning. There are Seven Words recorded of the most Blessed Mother of Christ, but they are words of wonderful depth and virtue, and they show how full she was of sevenfold grace. She spoke twice to the Angel, saying the first time, ” How shall this be done, because I know not man?” and the second time, ” Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” She spoke twice also to St. Elisabeth, the first time to salute her, and again when she sang her Magnificat. She spoke twice also to her Son, once in the Temple when she said, ” Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing,” and again at the Marriage Feast at Cana, when she said. “They have no wine.” Once also she spoke to the servants in the feast, when she said, ‘Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.” In all these words she spoke very little, but once, when God was to be praised and thanked, then she allowed herself greater latitude, ” My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,” and her Canticle then tells us much more about her Heart than all her other words besides.

These words, says St.Bernardine, were uttered in wonderful order, following seven acts or processes of love, as if they were so many flames proceeding from the furnace of her Heart, and the most devout student of them may well say, “How sweet are thy words to my lips,” to all my affections and feelings. And he then distinguishes them in order, according to what he calls the seven flames of love of the Heart of the most Blessed Virgin. The first comes of the love that separates, the second of the love that transforms, the third of the love that communicates, the fourth of the love that rejoices, the fifth of the love that savours, the sixth of the love that pities, and the seventh of the love that consummates. These are the titles which the Saint of Siena gives to these seven flames of love, and we shall see how it is that they are to be explained. We may add that these Seven Words are not distributed throughout the life of our Blessed Lady according to any plan that lies on the surface, although we cannot doubt that their places in the Gospel records are divinely ordered for our instruction. The Gospel records do not relate for us the life of our Blessed Lady, except so far as it is important that what she said or did should be told us, that we may understand the Life of our Lord and her position towards Him on particular occasions. Four of these words of Mary belong to the period before our Lord’s Birth. The two first belong to the mystery of the Annunciation, the two next to that of the Visitation. The fifth Word was spoken during what we term the Hidden Life, and the two last belong to the very beginning of His public preaching, having been uttered at the Marriage Feast in Cana of Galilee.

All the seven Words of Mary are connected, therefore, with most marvellous mysteries, for the first four throw an immense light on the Annunciation and the Visitation, the accomplishment of the Incarnation itself in her chaste womb, and the first spiritual miracle of our Lord of which we have any knowledge, the sanctification of the Blessed Baptist while yet unborn, in the womb of St. Elisabeth. The two last words are necessary for the intelligence of His first external miracle, the change of the water into wine. The fifth word of Mary stands by itself, in the history of the mystery which contains the first recorded Word
spoken by our Blessed Lord Himself, on the first occasion on which, at the age of twelve, He took upon Himself, in a certain sense, the great office of the Teacher of mankind, as the work which His Father had given Him to do. The lesson which He taught, so to speak, to the doctors in the Temple is not recorded for us, but the lesson contained in the short conversation with His Blessed Mother is fruitful in instruction, and we owe that lesson, after Him, to Mary, while at the same time it reveals to us in a wonderful manner her position in regard to Him. The same may be said also of the power which she exerted in the Marriage Feast of Cana, the beginning of signs, which, as we shall see, St. Bernardine considers as representing to us our Lord’s design as to what we may expect from her intercession at all times.

We shall have occasion as we proceed to notice, especially, the marvellous consequences which followed on each of these words of our Blessed Mother. Isaias sings of the word of God “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall My word be which shall go forth from My mouth, it shall not return to Me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55, 10,11). No words but the words of God have in them this Divine power. Yet it seems as if our Lord had ordained that the words of His saints and servants, speaking in His name, have in them often a marvellous force and fecundity, and we may notice this power in these seven recorded Words of His Blessed Mother.

The first Word spoken by Mary brought down upon her the revelation, which seems to have been given then for the first time, of the operation of the Divine Person of the Holy Ghost in the Conception of our Lord. The second Word was her Fiat, which brought about the Incarnation itself. The third was fraught with the sanctification of St. John in the womb of St. Elisabeth, and the filling of St. Elisabeth herself with the Holy Ghost and the spirit of prophecy. The fourth Word of Mary summed up the thanksgivings of angels and men for the gift of the Incarnation. The fifth Word was followed by the eighteen years of our Lord’s subjection to His parents, and prepared our Lady for her part in the sufferings of her Son. Her sixth Word brought about the beginning of signs, and made her take her place as our great intercessor with Him. And the seventh laid down the law according to which we are to reap the full benefits of her intercession–the condition of fulfilling His commandments.