A Great Sign Appeared In Heaven

Updated: May 30, 2020

All of his life St. Lawrence’s preaching exhibited a penetrating use of Scripture, a point which comes to light notably in his sermons on Mary. In this excerpt he expounds the implications of calling the Blessed Virgin a heavenly portent.

Amazed by the glory of the image of the Blessed Virgin as a woman clothed with the sun, St. Lawrence notes the preeminence of the manifestation of her glory in the book of Revelation:

Often we read that God himself appeared to the Saints and to worthy Patriarchs and Prophets in order to manifest his glory, but he never appeared in such great majesty and glory as in the image of the Blessed Virgin in Revelation. He appeared to Abraham in heaven in the middle of the stars. He appeared to Jacob on the top of the heavenly ladder where angels were ascending and descending. (Gen 28:12-13). He appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Ex 3:2). He appeared to Isaiah upon an exalted and elevated seat with seraphim singing the divine “Sanctus” (Is 6:1-3). Nowhere, however, do we read of Him clothed with the sun.

Christ reveals his own glory to his chosen Apostles on the sacred mountain when “he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun: and his garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2). But the entire image of the sun did not shine, nor did He appear crowned with stars or lifted up upon the moon. At other times, as for example in Revelation 1: 13-16, Christ often appeared to John in glory, with his face shining like an image of the sun—one time in the midst of seven golden lampstands and amidst the stars, another time crowned with a rainbow and surrounded by many stars—but never did He appear with such glory as this image of the Blessed Virgin.

St. Lawrence does not wish to be misunderstood. Scripture is not exalting the Blessed Mother above the Father or the Son. It is rather teaching the proper relationship between her glory and the glory of God. He continues:

What is this? Is the glory of the Virgin in heaven greater than the glory of Christ? Is it greater than the glory of God? Never! However, just as it is customary among the courts of the princes and kings of this world for a queen to appear for public celebrations and solemnities, with clothes splendid and fine, with accouterment of gold and precious gems, in accordance with her status and gender, adorned more ornately and more gloriously, so to speak, than the king or the king’s first son, so also did Mary appear adorned in heaven with a greater glory than God or Christ ever appeared.

Thus, for St. Lawrence, the manifestation of the glory of the Blessed Mother is like the majestic raiment of a queen. Her adornment fittingly exceeds the king’s, but not her power or authority. The glorious manifestation of the Blessed Mother in Revelation is proper precisely insofar as she is a “portent,” a sign, indeed, a miracle in the sense which St. Lawrence develops below:

Since Christ became manifest in the world by the great glory of his signs and miracles, he wished his own Apostles and especially Peter, his own representative and the leader of the Apostles, to become manifest not by a lesser but by a greater glory in their own miracles. Thus Christ said that those who believe in him and in his works will do greater works than his. (cf. Jn 14:12) Thus he wished his mother to appear in a more wondrous glory and one particularly her own. Hence St. John says: “A great portent appeared in heaven.” A portent is a sign, i.e. a miracle (because it causes one to ad-mir-e, from the Latin mirus, which means ad-mir-able).

That she is such a portent or sign is the primary reason to praise the Virgin Mother of God because she brought forth into the world a great miracle. St. Ignatius called the Mother of God “a heavenly prodigy and most sacred sight.” Blessed Ephraem of Syria called her “the most excellent miracle in the world and the crown of saints.” St. John Chrysostom said that she truly was a great miracle. Epiphanius spoke similarly saying: “The woman clothed with the sun is an astonishing miracle.”