St. Lawrence’s reflections on the angelic salutation—”Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you”—extends over ten sermons. In the seventh of these he preaches in particular upon the angel’s claim that God is with Mary, a theme which he introduces as follows:
By the words of his greeting the angel signaled Mary’s greatness. If we should speak about a king or an emperor who deals with business in his own chamber with his own assistant, counselor, and chief general, we would not say that the king is with the assistant but that the assistant is with the king. The pope is not with the cardinal or the bishop, but the bishop with the pope. The master is not with the servant, but the servant with the master. However, we do say that the king is with the queen or with his mother or with his most beloved and only daughter.
Thus St. Lawrence notes that “the angel of the Lord … said, ‘the Lord is with you’ just as one would say that the king is with the queen, the husband with the most beloved bride, the son with his dear mother. O marvelous, O divine consortium! Who will be able to grasp the meaning of these words: the most high and almighty God with Mary!”
The subject thus set, St. Lawrence crafts his sermon in a manner reminiscent of a musical composition, playing out “variations on a theme” with the angel’s words—the Lord is with you—punctuating the transition from one variation to another until it reaches its final crescendo:
The Lord is with you! In Revelation, when St. John treats of the blessed, he teaches that they are with Christ: “Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (14:1)…In the case of Mary, however, her relation to God is expressed in terms of intimacy—the Lord is with you—just as in the Song of Solomon the bride never calls God by the name Lord, but always husband, beloved, or love. In Sacred Scripture this mode of expression is a figure of speech implying a great and special divine favor for someone. Thus Abimelech, king of the Palestinians, said to Abraham: “God is with you in all that you do” (Gn 21:22). He also said to Isaac: “We see plainly that the Lord is with you” (Gn. 21:28). We read also about the patriarch Joseph: “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Gn 39:2). The Lord said to Moses: “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12)… Therefore, this figure of speech “with him” designates God’s great favor. God praised Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Moses…highly and spoke of them as more brilliant than light. However, the words, “the Lord is with you,” is said of the Virgin in a special way because Almighty God honored her truly with an all but infinite favor so that, in fact, he chose her as his spouse, made her the mother of his only begotten son, and crowned her queen of the universe.
The Lord is with you! The Lord appeared to Moses in a bush, which burned but was not consumed. He said to him: “I am who am” (Ex 3:14); or in Hebrew the meaning is perhaps more like “I will be who will be,” foretelling that He will exist in the future in the Virgin. The bush figures Mary’s virginal fecundity and virginal purity for she was at once mother and virgin. She was a mother, but not defiled, not known by man…She was a virgin, but she was fruitful “having the joy of a mother with the honor of virginity” (Sedulius, Carm. Pasch., 2.67; PL 19, 203). “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Is 7:14, Douay-Rheims), Emmanuel, God-man, God-with-us. Therefore that divine promise—I will be who will be—was fulfilled at that very time when the angel said to the Virgin, “the Lord is with you.”
The Lord is with you! You are consort of and participant in the divinity of God beyond all creatures. Indeed sometimes in Sacred Scripture God is called light: “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps 27:1)…Sometimes he is also called fire: “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). The nature of each of these, light and fire, is endowed with an impulse, so to speak, toward extreme communicability. Light is highly communicable wherever it is: in the sun, in the moon, in the stars, in the heavens, and on earth. Similarly fire abundantly communicates its own heat, brilliance, and natural power…For this reason God comes to be called light and fire, to allow us to realize that he is the supreme giver of every good thing…For this reason he created the universe and, finally, gave his only begotten son to the world and his Holy Spirit to the Church…Mary, however, was the furnace of this divine fire, the forge and depository of this heavenly and eternal light.
Hail, full of grace the Lord is with you! Truly, for from the plenitude of her grace the Lord is with her. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Mary remains totally in love and God, who is total love, remains totally in her…
The Lord is with you! He is with her as if he were in his own sanctuary: “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). He is with her as he is in the temple of Solomon: “For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (2 Chron 7:16).
The Lord is with you! He is said to be and dwell in her in a special way. The creator of all things is where he acts in a specific way. Thus heaven is said to be the place of God: “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens” (Ps 102:19)…Yet how great, how marvelous a miracle, a mystery, a divine sacrament was produced in Mary! What holiness in her soul, what grace, the perfection of every virtue, what a fullness of the Holy Spirit! What faith was in her mind, what prudence, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the divine mysteries! What justice is in her will, what virtue and loftiness of soul, what piety and divine love! What holy thoughts are in her heart, what pure affections, what spotless desires, what ardent love and favor from the Holy Spirit! What mercy, kindness, and clemency is in her heart! O God!
The Lord is with you! The Lord is always with Mary, never Satan, because she is never in sin, but always in grace, always full of grace, as the sun is always full of light. “On the holy mount stands the city he founded…for the Most High himself will establish her” (Ps 87:1, 5). “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved” (Ps 46:5). The Lord was with Mary in the beginning, with her in the middle, with her in the end; He was with Mary in her conception: immaculate was she conceived, pure, holy, and full of grace, as if the only and unique daughter of God. He was with Mary in her life by endowing her with an immense treasury of heavenly riches and with the merits of virtue. The Lord was with Mary in death so that by freeing her from death and corruption, he might take her into heaven, crown her, who was exalted above all the choirs of angels, with eternal glory. Thus God was always with Mary. About no other woman, about no other man can this be said except Mary and Christ, her son. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Deservedly, therefore, does Scripture say: the Lord is with you!
St. Lawrence, like a composer, explores the fundamental theme, God is with Mary, in relation to divine intimacy, God’s own name, his creative power, and brings all to a resolution where it first began in the special, indeed, singular stature of Mary’s humanity.
Dr. Joseph Almeida is Professor of Classics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The above article is the third 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.