On this vigil of the Our Lord’s Nativity, my thoughts are on two perfect women. The promise of another installment on Father Arnold Damen is not forgotten. It is being kept, but the piece I began to write grew to feature article length, so I would rather not dump it in your in-box as an Ad Rem. Instead, I will write about these two perfect women I keep thinking of — and yes, they really are perfect.
Who are my perfect women? Our Lady and the Church.
It is conventional in Catholic theological and devotional literature to compare the Church to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Ambrose, in his exposition on the Gospel of Saint Luke, appears to be the first Christian writer to call Mary a type and image of the Church. Saint Francis of Assisi, in his “Greetings to Mary,” even spoke of Our Lady as the Virgo facta ecclesia (virgin made Church). Dom Guéranger boldly states that, for a time (Holy Saturday), the Virgin was the Church, exclusively.
Although familiar with the Church-Mary parallel, I was recently most impressed by a passage in the writings of Venerable Emmanuel D’Alzon. I read it in the book The Weight of God, the Spiritual Doctrine of Emmanuel D’Alzon, by Father Georges Tavard, A.A., and I would like to share it with my readers. Speaking on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Father D’Alzon says:
It is admirable that the same words of Holy Scripture can be applied to the Church and to Mary. In the office of this day, these words are sung in honor of Mary: “You are beautiful, O my Beloved, and there is no spot in you.” But Saint Paul applies them already to the Church, in which there is neither wrinkle nor stain [Eph. 5:27]. To the Church and to Mary the vision of the Apocalypse, where a woman appears, clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet and twelve stars as a crown on her head, is also applied [Apoc. 12]. And, to sharpen the similitude, as it were, we have seen in our days the same Pontiff give Mary and the Church the greatest glory that Christ’s Mother and His Bride could receive; for Mary, the definition of her Immaculate Conception, and for the Church, the definition of the infallibility of her head. What does that mean? and what relation is there between the two doctrines? A closer one than seems at first sight: Mary’s purity gives us the eternal Light; truth alone gives a soul real purity.
Blessed Pius IX would probably be very pleased to know that someone had so deeply meditated on the connection between his two infallible definitions, the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility.
As we await the liturgical observance of Christ’s birth, this passage from the venerable founder of the Assumptionists directed my thoughts to Our Lord’s Mother and His Bride, the “two perfect women.” What follows are some points I jotted down on this parallel. Unrefined and undeveloped, I offer them as a complement to the thoughts of Father D’Alzon:
- Mary and the Church are both virgins. The Gospels and all tradition attests to Mary’s virginity; Saint Paul speaks of the Church of God as a virgin (2 Cor. 11:2).
- Mary and the Church are both espoused to God. Mary is called the “Spouse of the Holy Ghost” in the Litany of Loreto, and Saint Luke clearly uses spousal imagery in describing the Annunciation. The Church is the Bride of Christ (cf. Apoc 21: 9-10), drawn, as was Eve, from the side of her spouse.
- Mary and the Church are both women. This is true even though the Church is a “mystical person” (composed of individuals who do not lose their identity) while Mary is a “physical person” (a human person in the ordinary use of the word). The femininity of the Church is pointed to by numerous facts, including the feminine gender of the word for Church in Greek, Latin, and many other languages.
- Mary and the Church, while virgins, are also both fruitful mothers. Each bears children to her Divine Spouse by a spiritual generation. Mysteriously, this spiritual generation is concomitant and overlapping: Mary and the Holy Ghost give birth to offspring who form the Church. Yet the Church herself is called “Holy Mother Church,” and the faithful are begotten of her by Christ, her Head and her Lord.
- Mary and the Church are both Immaculate in their very essence. (This is the truth gotten at by Father D’Alzon). “Imaculateness” is both a “negative” and a “positive” reality. As negative immaculate means “without spot”; as positive, it indicates “all-holy,” that is, full of grace.
- Mary and the Church both draw their spotless perfection, their all-holiness, their fullness of truth, their incomparable beauty, in short, all their supernal spiritual perfections, from their respective Spouses. Christ, the “Perfect Man,” sanctifies his Bride. The Holy Ghost — called by Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the “Uncreated Immaculate Conception” — was present when Mary was begotten in Saint Ann’s womb, making Our Lady the “Created Immaculate Conception.” Therefore, all the perfections of the brides come to them from their bridegrooms in a relationship of total dependency (see “A Brief Metaphysical Excursus on the Words ‘First’ and ‘Second’”).
- Mary and the Church are both necessary for salvation. Dear reader, you know that outside the Church there is no salvation. Regarding Mary, in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin (No. 40), Saint Louis de Montfort says this: “The pious and learned Jesuit, Suarez, Justus Lipsius, a devout and erudite theologian of Louvain, and many others have proved incontestably that devotion to our Blessed Lady is necessary to attain salvation. This they show from the teaching of the Fathers, notably St. Augustine, St. Ephrem, deacon of Edessa, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. John Demascene, St. Anselm, St. Bernard, St. Bernardine, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure. Even according to Oecolampadius and other heretics, lack of esteem and love for the Virgin Mary is an infallible sign of God’s disapproval. On the other hand, to be entirely and genuinely devoted to her is a sure sign of God’s approval.”
If you have not read it yet, my Christmas Letter is posted online. Please accept my prayerful best wishes for a holy, happy, and merry Christmas!