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In the second year of our Lord's ministry, as He was teaching the people in a certain place, A woman of the company lifted up her voice and said, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked. But He said, Yea, rather blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it'." Many ancient writers remark that the Lord would thus teach us, not that His Mother merited no especial honour, nor the name of Blessed in all coming ages, because she had been chosen by the Eternal Word to give birth to Him in time; but that she was still more blessed in having heard, and loved, and observed the Divine Word.
A similar lesson is taught us by the last event in the history of the Blessed Maiden, before the close of the Redeemer's life of trial. It is recorded by three of the Evangelists. "While He talked to the people, behold His Mother and His brethren stood without, desiring to speak with Him. Then one said unto Him, Behold Thy Mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee. But He answered and said unto him that told Him, Who is My Mother, and who are My brethren? And He
stretched forth His hand towards His disciples, and said, Behold My Mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and Mother?." He was then engaged in a Divine employment, and therefore He declared that He knew neither His Mother nor His brethren, while He was fulfilling the work which He had come on earth
1 S. Luke xi. 27.
2 S. Matth. xii. 46-50.
to do. But He did no wrong to His Blessed Mother, for who was ever so devoted as she to the will of His heavenly Father? And His words are our comfort, as S. Chrysostom writes, for "many women have blessed the holy Virgin, and her womb, and have longed to become such mothers as she. But what hinders them? Behold, He hath appointed you a broad path; and not women only, but men also, may become the Mother of God'."
S. Mary was at Jerusalem during the last scenes of the Saviour's earthly course. We know nothing of her history till the hour of noon on the sixth day of that Greater Week, as it is called by the Church, when "there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother and His Mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene'." The rude soldiers and the crowds of furious Jews could not separate these devoted souls from Him Whom they loved. But it was the hour and the power of darkness, and the soul of the Blessed Virgin was pierced with the sword of grief and of woe unutterable, as Simeon had foretold. What strains are those in which the Latin Church commemorates her sorrows in that hour! "Stabat Mater dolorosa." It is the plaint of the Blessed Maiden; the Sequence in the Mass of the sixth day in Passion-week. Jacoponus de Tuderto, who wrote it, had spent a joyous youth in his native city of Todi, in Umbria, in the society of his wife, a lady of surpassing beauty, and whose heart, amidst the gay scenes of her husband's choice, dwelt in heaven with her Redeemer. She was suddenly taken to His
1 Catena Aurea, in S. Matt. xii.
2 S. John xix. 25.
eternal mercy, and Jacoponus devoted himself, at her tomb, to the religious life; and after years of penance for the remedy of his soul, he ended his days in peace in a convent of the Friars Minor, in the year 1306, on the feast of the Lord's Nativity.
And now the hour was come of which the Saviour had spoken, when He should prove the love and tenderness which bound Him to His Virgin Mother. "When Jesus therefore saw His Mother and the disciple standing by whom He loved, He saith unto His Mother, Woman, behold thy Son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy Mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home'.” This was the third of those seven last words of our blessed Lord, which He uttered on the Cross, and which have ever been regarded by the Church as containing deep and awful mysteries. While some of them are thought to shadow forth His mediatorial office and His kingly power, and while others express His suffering and His willing sacrifice, these words to His Mother declare Him especially to be the Son of Man. He has also taught us the honour and care which we owe to our parents; for when He was about to leave His Mother desolate, He gave S. John, His beloved and virgin disciple, to be a son to her, and inspired him with filial love towards her. Thus too, in dying, He attested the perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mary. For what need of entrusting her to the care of a stranger, if she had a husband and other children, as some are not afraid to say? And ecclesiastical history bears witness to the tender
1 S. John xix. 26, 27.
ness with which he cherished her, "into whose keeping, from the Cross, the mighty charge was given."
In the interval between the death and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the faith of His disciples seems to have failed. Even after He was risen, and had appeared to some of them, the others remained doubtful; but there is a universal belief in the Church that the faith of His Blessed Mother, in His Divinity, alone remained unshaken. As the author of the Mirrour of the Life of Christ writes, when describing the desolation of His followers on the Sabbath after His death :- "Nevertheless our Ladye stode all day sadly in a restful and peaceful heart, for she had ever active hope of the resurrection of her Son. And therefore holy Church makes especially mind of her [on] Saturday, because in that day stood only in her the faith of our Lord Jesus, that He was God. Nevertheless she might not have full joy, because of the mind of His hard death and His bitter Passion'."
After the Lord's Resurrection and admirable Ascension, we hear only once more of the Blessed Virgin in Holy Scripture. S. Luke mentions her name
among the little company who were waiting at Jeru
salem for the Promised of the Father, the Holy Paraclete, and who were present at the election of S. Matthias, in the room of Judas. From that time the history of S. Mary is hidden from view. The Lord gave her no active part in the work of founding His Church, no authority upon earth. As her life began, so it closed, in calm and silence. The unseen might
1 Chap. 43.
of her prayers, and the example of her humble and holy demeanour, were the only assistance which she could give to the Church. Though we may well believe, as Tillemont says, that it is to her we owe the knowledge of the Conception, and the Birth and Infancy of our Lord. S. Chrysostom indeed thought that these mysteries were made known to the Evangelists directly by the Holy Spirit; but He often makes use of human means, and while S. Mary remained on earth, they were not wanting.
We learn from the early histories of the Church, that the Blessed Virgin went to Ephesus with S. John, and probably with S. Mary Magdalene, and that she died there in extreme old age. She is generally believed to have been buried there; and in a letter written by the third Catholic council at Ephesus, in 431, mention is made of her tomb. An opinion has for many ages prevailed, in the eastern and western Churches, that within a few days after her death her body was miraculously revived, and caught up to heaven; thus only anticipating the blissful consummation for which all saints are waiting. The event is commemorated by every branch of the Church, except the Anglican and her daughters, on the 15th of August. It was once celebrated in Britain with remarkable devotion. It is called by the Greek Church her Sleep, and her Assumption, by the Latin. Without examining at length the evidence on which it rests, we may remark, that the universal belief which it has received for more than a thousand years, in the east and west, may be set against the silence which prevails regarding it among all the Christian fathers. before S. Gregory of Tours, in the sixth century.