Gáudens gaudébo in Dómino, et exsultábit ánima méa in Déo méo: quia índuit me vestiméntis salútis, et induménto justítiae circúmdedit me, quasi spónsam ornátam monílibus súis. (Is 61: 10)
I will joyfully rejoice in the Lord, and my soul will exult in my God, for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, and He robed me with a dress of justice, as a bride ornamented with her jewels…
So begins the introit for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Let us here consider, from the writings of various saints and blesseds, this grace accorded to our Mother, she who was chosen, from the foundation of the world, to be the Mother of our Saviour, the Reparatrix and Mediatrix of all graces.
St Vincent Ferrer, writing in the 14th century, speaks thus: “Mary did not wait until the time of her birth in order to be sanctified, nor the last week or the last day. From the first instant, when her body was formed and her soul created, she was sanctified, for she was already rational and capable of sanctification.”
Another Dominican, Justin of Miéchow (17th Century), comments: “From her conception, the Blessed Virgin had an abundance and a plenitude of graces such as neither man nor angel has ever possessed or even could have possessed.”
“Fundamenta ejus in montibus sanctis” – the foundations thereof are in the holy mountains. The start of Mary’s graces lies at the summit of the other saints. And they only arrive there at the term of consummate grace, while in the case of the Virgin it is part of her first sanctification. Fr Edouard Hugon, O.P., discussing the first sanctification of Our Lady, expounds upon verses of Holy Scripture which furnishes us ample proof that Our Lady was endowed with more grace at the beginning of her existence, than even all the sum of the graces of all the saints at the end of their life.
As Isaias says (2:2): “praeparatus mons domus Domini in vertice montium” – the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of mountains. St Gregory the Great enlightens us as to what this “mountain of the house of the Lord” is – it is Our Lady, the domus aurea, domus Domini: “That mountain naturally stands upon the summit of the other mountains, for Mary’s height is resplendent above all the other saints.”
Divine love is creation: for God, to love is to make good; love in the supernatural order is to give grace. If He loves Mary more than the great saints, then He wills to her more of the good, He accords to her more grace. St Thomas explains (ST 1. q.20. a. 4): God’s will is the cause of goodness in things. Hence Mary was already loved as the Mother of God, and the degree of grace is proportioned to the love which God has towards a certain creature – so she has received from the beginning a greater degree of grace than all pure creatures have received taken all at once. The initial grace, being the basis and preparation for the divine maternity, must be proportioned to that dignity, since it is an axiom that every disposition is measured to the ultimate character for which it initiates and prepares.
The Church puts the words of Ecclesiasticus on the lips of Our Lady: “Come to me, all you who desire me; I will tell you what the Lord has done for my soul.” For truly “He that is mighty has done great things” for Mary, as we sing every evening in the Magnificat of Vespers.
We read in Matins the homily of St Jerome (5th Century):
It was altogether becoming that the Virgin should be endowed with so many and so great gifts, that she would, in fact, be truly full of grace: she, who gave glory to the heavens, and the Lord to this earth: she, who re-established peace, gave faith to all peoples, made an end of evil-doing, brought order into life and discipline into behaviour.
She was indeed radiant with the merits of many virtues, more radiant than the driven snow, displaying in everything the dove’s simplicity, because of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. For everything in her was purity and simplicity, all truth and grace; all of that mercy and justice which has looked down from heaven.
May the Holy Virgin, the Immaculata, pray for us, while we exult in the honours given to her by Him Who has loved her than any other creature.