“Blessed Among Women”

One of the remarkable things about the Marian sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi is that they are at once new and old. To be sure, the reflections of the Capuchin saint sometimes bear the marks of his own private mysticism, but these are always filtered through and tempered by the bona fide tradition of the living Church. In the eighth of his sermons upon the Hail Mary, St. Lawrence reflects upon the meaning of the words: “Blessed are you among women.” He shows Mary to be unique in her creation, in her nature as woman, and in her motherhood. In doing so he calls upon Old Testament typology, the Fathers of the Church, and even fifth century Christian poetry.

One aspect of Mary’s special blessedness flows from the supreme favor showed her by God himself. To exemplify this St. Lawrence looks to Queen Esther who has become for him a great prefigure of Mary herself:

Just as Sacred Scripture says of queen Esther that she found favor in the eyes of king Ahasuerus, that she was beloved of him beyond all women, that she was adorned with a diadem, crowned with a royal crown, and made Ahasuerus’s queen, and in this way far surpassing all women in the supreme honor, glory, and dignity of Ahasuerus’s kingdom and authority, so the angle said of the Virgin Mother of God: “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.” That is to say: you are blessed not only beyond all women but alone among women; you are the most illustrious and glorious of all, just like the sun among the stars, just like Christ among all men.

God indeed desired there to be always in every grouping a chief and most excellent member, like a general in his army, a king in his kingdom, like God himself among spiritual natures, like gold among metals, precious adamant among gems, like the lion among animals, and the eagle among birds. Thus from the beginning God created the sun among the stars, the tree of life among the trees of paradise, and men among the animals. In like manner he wished Abraham to be chief among the Patriarchs, Moses among the Prophets, Aaron among the priests, David among the kings, and Peter among the Apostles. So, in my view, he created Mary, the greatest among all women. “Blessed are you among women.”

Mary is also especially blessed because she has been excluded not only from fallen human nature in general, but from fallen womanhood in particular. St. Lawrence illuminates this by comparison to Eve and the ancient curse which she and all womanhood, save one, incurred as a consequence of the fall:

It is most especially manifest that the angel Gabriel removes the Virgin Mother of God from the scope of that curse which the divine power imposed, because of her sin, upon the first woman Eve, the mother of all living persons. “I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee” (Gn 3, 16, Douay-Rheims). There are three evils in this divine curse which unhappily afflicted Eve: the intensity of pain in childbirth, the heat of passion and libido in the act of conception, and subjection and servitude to her husband.

Mary was blessed among women because she gave birth to the Savior of the world without pain, while remaining a virgin, with the integrity of virginity untouched and undefiled. Because she did not feel the heat of passion, she was always a virgin most pure in mind and body, not ever stained even in thought, not in the slightest degree. For this reason she is called Virgin. “The angel Gabriel was sent from God … to a virgin” (Lk 1, 17); “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Is 7, 14, Douay-Rheims); “And Mary said to the angel: how shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Lk 1, 34, Douay-Rheims). Neither was she subject to the third evil of the curse, subjection to man. Although Mary was betrothed to a husband, to Joseph, a man of noble lineage from the line of David, the angel revealed to him that the Virgin had conceived the only son of God. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1, 21). Therefore Joseph knew Mary’s special blessedness and therefore treated his betrothed and wife with the highest honor, reverence, and veneration, treated her as the very spouse of God and therefore as his own queen.

St. Lawrence confirms his own exegesis by measuring it against the tradition of the Church as articulated by his holy and learned predecessors: