Eight days after the birth of the Immaculate Virgin, her father and mother gathered their family and relatives into their humble dwelling. According to Jewish custom, they were to name the child that Heaven had granted them. Although God chose to perform no external prodigies to mark the Blessed Virgin’s entrance into the world, He had chosen, from all eternity, the noble name the Mother of the Saviour was to bear. Thus, while Joachim and Anne awaited the fulfilment of their hopes with joyful impatience, the Archangel Gabriel, the great messenger of infinite mercy, visited them, revealing the blessed name the Most High Himself had reserved for their daughter.
Therefore, family deliberations around the crib where the Queen of Heaven lay smiling were not prolonged. Without hesitation, the parents of the Blessed Virgin confirmed they would name their child “Mary.” We shall now meditate upon the profound meanings God veiled under so sweet a name.
The most renowned commentators teach that the name Mary means, first of all, “sovereign one.” Indeed, the Immaculate Virgin reigns gloriously over the earth by the homage we render her and in Heaven by the splendour of her power and beauty. Her divine Son willed that all creation be entirely subject to her sceptre of love.
Consider, however, what a strange contrast there is between her role as incomparable Queen and that of her life on earth. Does she not seem to unite two diametrically opposed tendencies? To the most obscure humility, God joined the most incomprehensible greatness.
Do not expect to find this sovereign in a magnificent palace, where innumerable servants wait to fulfil her slightest desire. Instead, she dwells in Nazareth in a small white house so lacking in amenities that today’s poorest would disdain it. This narrow hovel, divided into two rooms of unequal dimensions, covered at the most a hundred and fifty square feet. There the Blessed Virgin dwelt with Joseph and Jesus—the eternal Son of God, and her son, the blessed fruit of her womb.
While the Saviour planes heavy boards with His foster father, how does she who is blessed among all women spend her time? She occupies herself with the care of her meagre household, cooking, washing, and mending clothes. This is truly an unusual sovereign—more like a humble servant girl than a great queen. Yet, in this modest work she displays so much love that the perfume of her tremendous virtue inebriates the heart of God. From on high, the angels incline in admiration to contemplate better the incomparable splendour before which their own glory pales.
There is more. We have seen with what treasures God filled the soul of Mary at the moment of her Immaculate Conception. Thereafter, the virgin grew so greatly and ceaselessly in grace and virtue from the very first moment of the use of her reason that our limited minds are awestruck. Moreover, Our Lord, who placed the crown of thorns upon the heads of so many of His saints, undoubtedly granted His Mother the gift of miracles to the highest degree. Nevertheless, during Our Lord’s lifetime until His triumphant ascension into Heaven, the Blessed Virgin performed none of the prodigies that delight crowds. Jesus travelled throughout Palestine healing the sick and raising the dead. The Apostles, including Judas, expelled demons in the name of their Master. Yet Mary remained quietly in her simple house, save when she occasionally joined the crowds to hear her Son’s preaching, where she was scarcely noticed among the attentive throngs. Thus we are witness to how profoundly hidden the Queen of Angels was from the eyes of men.
At the same time, Mary possesses the greatest authority ever over all the earth. During the days of Rome’s empire, the Emperor commanded millions of men from the splendour of his palace. He scarcely knew the awesome number of his subjects: Europe obeyed his laws, and parts of Asia and Africa were subject to his sceptre. On earth, Mary commanded but a single man, but a man greater than all kings, more glorious than all angels. This man is the God Who created the universe by the singular power of His infinite word. Because He is veritably her Son in the flesh, Jesus owes Mary—in strict justice—His respect, love, and obedience.
We have already recognized the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin as the foundation of her nearly infinite goodness. We now salute her divine Motherhood as the foundation of her scarcely limited power.
We know that God grants immense consideration to certain favoured souls in heaven. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, for example, announced on her deathbed that she would cause a shower of roses to fall upon the earth. Her gracious prediction is marvellously fulfilled every day in astonishing favours granted. If Our Lord accords such power to a simple nun, who died in the flower of her youth, what then would He not do for the highest, the most virtuous, the most beautiful of all His creatures, for the one who formed His divine body in her virginal womb?
We must profoundly engrave in our hearts this teaching, supported by the great voice of our Tradition: Jesus fulfils the least desire of His mother in Heaven as promptly as He fulfilled her requests upon earth. Our Lady wished to be represented on the miraculous medal with open hands, pouring out over the world, not a shower of roses, but torrents of grace, of light, of holy joy. If you want your prayers granted surely and rapidly, turn to the Immaculate Virgin.
The Name of Mary also means “bitter.” Announcing the future Messias to the world, the prophet Isaias called Him a “man of sorrows,” virum dolorum. Our Lady, the most perfect imitator of Our Lord, was the sorrowful Virgin, Mater dolorosa. Suffering is the great element of redemption. By suffering, Mary united herself to the work of our deliverance at the foot of the cross. It is by accepting trials in a Christ-like manner that we find salvation. Finally, it is by suffering that we are able to obtain the grace of salvation for souls dear to us. Although this truth seems severe, it is less terrible than it first appears. While the infinitely merciful and good God sends us suffering, He always sends strength along with it and often includes consolation and great sweetness as well. In our lives, suffering is the mysterious messenger of true joy. The life of the Blessed Virgin strikingly illustrates this principle.
During the childhood of Jesus, Mary suffered unspeakable anguish. She saw Him born in a wretched stable and gave heed to the ominous prediction of the elderly Simeon. She was forced to flee to Egypt to guard her precious treasure from the murderous rage of Herod. She lost her child in Jerusalem, finding Him only after three long days of tears and agony. The horrible prophecy of Isaias about the Messiah’s tortures was continually present to her mind. Yet, what inexpressible consolations were hers! Her Son grew up sheltered by her motherly embrace. Sharing a profound intimacy, He illuminated her virginal soul with His divine smile and covered her with the most tender caresses of His divine love. Mary suffered still more when Jesus had to leave the small house they shared for so many years to begin His public ministry. She was consoled to see Him often, however, and at times to witness His triumphs. The Master’s voice, captivating the multitudes, also inspired the heart of the Virgin to blessed ecstasy.
On Calvary, Mary endured an unspeakable martyrdom. She witnessed the same Son she had cared for with such devotion now crowned with thorns, bathed in blood, and nailed to a cross. She saw Him agonize and die, yet she was consoled by the conviction that His final victory would soon resound when He resurrected on the third day in His glorious body. After her Son’s Ascension, the Blessed Virgin felt a terrible longing for the daily affection she had shared with Him. She was consoled when Our Lord revealed and gave Himself to her in the Eucharist.
Then came the time of her sweet death. The Immaculate Virgin was triumphantly taken into Heaven, like her Son, in her glorified body. The dreadful winter had run its course, and for her the springtime of eternity began.
What attitude should the Christian soul take when faced with suffering? We must accept it with faith and humility. Faith lets us see that suffering is a gift from God that allows us to reap great benefits when we make holy use of it. Humility lets us see how weak we are and that we would succumb, were it not for grace, under the weight of the trial. When God sends us suffering, let us ask Him for both the strength to withstand it and the profound consolations promised for all providential suffering. Should we go still further? Should we desire trials? Should we seek them as for a special favour? Let us speak candidly.
Nowadays, there are certain pious works that lend themselves to a perilous exaggeration. These praise the advantages of suffering while forgetting that only the love of God is meritorious. They call upon souls to offer themselves as victims to the Most High. I recognize with the Church that there are times when God chooses particular souls to be victims for His Justice, but this is very rarely the case even among the saints. Actually, as long as Our Lord has not clearly manifested His will for a considerable time, none should think himself called to such exceptional trials. To act otherwise, spontaneously asking God for suffering would be insane pride and foolish imprudence. Saint Frances de Sales, certainly an inspired director of souls, did not profess any other teaching than this. Therefore, let us sanctify ourselves in the fulfilment of our daily duties and let the Good Master send what best suits us.
Let us often invoke the name of Mary. God imparted such power to this blessed name that it works miracles, causing even demons to flee since they cannot hear it without being seized with alarm. The name of Mary dispels the most violent temptations and restores confidence and serenity to souls. In her revelation to Saint Bridget, Our Lady assured us that she herself would assist the faithful who frequently invoked her name during their lifetime.
When Saint John of God, who founded a religious order while yet in the flower of his youth, approached his end, he lay in his deathbed waiting to appear before the Sovereign Judge. After receiving the last sacraments, he hoped to be blessed with a visit of the Immaculate Virgin. When she failed to appear, the saint seemed discouraged. Agony had taken its toll when, suddenly, the face of the dying man was transformed. The Queen of Heaven appeared to him: “John,” she said with a maternal smile, “do you think me capable of abandoning my devoted servants at such an hour?” Thus, in the embrace of the Virgin, he breathed his last.