St. Lawrence of Brindisi has written about the Most Holy Mother of God as profoundly as any of the great doctors and saints of the Church. Most of these reflections were written as sermons, among which are a series on the Marian visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation. St. Lawrence preached these sermons on the Saturdays of Lent in Naples in the year 1605. The initial sermon in this series takes up what one could call the first Marian apparitions. After her assumption into heaven, our Blessed Lady appeared frequently to her beloved adopted son, and St. John chose to recount one of the most magnificent of these apparitions in his description of the “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1).
In His divine plan for the salvation of the human race, our Lord wished for St. John to remain on this earth longer than any of the other Apostles for the good of the Church. The Blessed Savior did not, however, leave his beloved disciple without consolation, and one of the most precious of these favors were the visitations of His Holy Mother. St. Lawrence develops this idea in the following excerpt:
Since St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, beloved disciple of Christ and sole son of the Most Blessed Mother of God after the crucifixion of Christ, suffered much for the faith after his banishment to the island of Patmos, he was consoled by God with many heavenly and divine revelations. Thus it was with him as St. Paul says, “As we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor 1:5) Therefore just as God the Father of mercies consoles all of us in our tribulations and just as he had consoled St. Paul, the patriarch Jacob, and Moses, so he consoled St. John in many ways. St. John loved Christ above all else from his very soul and with his whole heart. But who does not know that he also worshiped the Virgin, the Most Holy Mother of Christ with the greatest piety? He accompanied her with the greatest love as if she were his own most sweet and loving mother and he was loved by her, after Christ, as her own most dear son. So Christ said to His mother concerning John: “Woman, behold your son.” And He spoke to his disciple concerning His mother: “Behold your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn 19:26-27).
Not many years after the ascension of Christ, Mary was also assumed into the kingdom of heaven to stand as queen at the right hand of the Supreme Ruler, but St. John lived on this earth up to the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). Knowing that the Virgin had been assumed and was exalted above all the choirs of angels at the right hand of Christ, St. John could not but rejoice, but deprived of the company of so great a one as the Virgin Mary, he could also not but be sad and pained by his lot. The Virgin Mary knew this well. How could she then forget him whom she had tenderly accompanied in the place of Christ with the feelings of a mother? It is right to believe that the Most Holy Virgin often visited St. John from the heights of heaven and consoled him as a most dear mother consoles her only most beloved and most loving son.
With this argument, St. Lawrence establishes the piety of the belief that St. John often enjoyed in his visions the presence of the Most Holy Mother of God. In the woman clothed with the sun, St. Lawrence especially believed that the Holy Spirit was revealing to the Church through St. John a most extraordinary and important image of the heavenly glory of the Mother of God. Thus the sermon continues:
St. John seems to me to have wished to mark with an eternal monument a certain single apparition of the Virgin when he said, “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). In this verse St. John is speaking about the Virgin Mother of God as Epiphanius, Bernard, Rupert and other Fathers of the Church have understood it. There is no doubt that the Virgin Mother of God, the Mother of Christ, the Spouse of God, the Queen of saints, the Lady of angels, robed in heavenly glory, brilliant with divine splendor appeared to St. John in her marvelous majesty.
Through this heavenly apparition the Lord wished to show to St. John the nature and greatness of the treasure whom he entrusted to his care on earth. He wished to show the whole Catholic Church, to all those who have faith in Christ, what kind and how great is the stature and glory of the most Holy Virgin in Paradise in the presence of the Angels and the Saints of God.
Holy Scripture speaks moderately and sparingly of the Virgin, just as it does of the nature of the angels and of the glory of the heavenly Paradise. Epiphanius has said that “Scripture was silent about the Blessed Virgin because of the excellence of the miracle and in order not to stun the human mind.” For this reason Divine Scripture says nothing about the parents of the Virgin, nothing about her conception and birth, nothing about her age, life, habits, customs, nor about her death. Thus the Holy Spirit desired to honor the Blessed Mother by this sacred silence, wishing only to set forth that she was worthy to be betrothed to God and that she conceived and gave birth to the only begotten Son of God. Thus by means of St. John’s divine vision God wished to demonstrate to the Church the things of Mary, divine and great, and to reveal to the faithful what remains hidden about the Virgin. He chose to reveal these things so that all might know the nature and greatness of her glory.
St. Lawrence is telling us, therefore, that God chose to continue the public revelation of his divine plan through the appearance of His Holy Mother to St. John. God wished to break the holy silence of Scripture to reveal something about the place in heaven of his Most Holy Spouse and the Most Blessed Mother of his beloved Son, Christ the Lord. In the continuing installments of this feature, we shall be presenting many more of the saint’s reflections on the nature and greatness of the Blessed Mother. At the heart of these reflections is St. Lawrence’s conviction that the Blessed Mother’s first apparitions on earth were to the Apostle to whom Christ entrusted her. It is a fitting harbinger of things to come, then, to conclude with an exuberant flourish on this first apparition of Mary, which is characteristic of this Capuchin saint’s homiletic style:
Thus indeed in this vision two things were presented to the human mind. First, Mary was the spouse of God, the Queen of heaven, the spouse of the Most High King. Second, Mary was conceived without sin and gave birth to Christ the only begotten of God, himself true God. What great glory attends these two things? The throne and the crown which enrobe her show it. “A women clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” O marvelous vision!
Dr. Joseph Almeida is Professor of Classics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The above article is the seventh in a series on the sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi on the Angelic Salutation. The series first appeared in the publication, Catholics United for the Faith.