We have just heard in today’s Gospel the cry of Elizabeth: “Of all women, you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. St. Luke records these words of Elizabeth as the first and spontaneous effect of her being filled with the Holy Spirit. And so in the same Spirit, with the whole Catholic Church, we ponder these words with the closest attention, and we make them our own. We do so especially now, by way of preparing to celebrate Christmas in only two days’ time.
It seems obvious that no one in all of history has been as blessed as our Blessed Lady. She is uniquely endowed with the plenitude of grace; she is unrepeatably constituted as Mother of God; she remains forever Mother of the Church, and the privileged channel through whom all grace comes to us. Still, it’s striking that Elizabeth doesn’t say “blessed among everyone”, but specifically “blessed among women”. So we are invited to ponder Our Lady’s blessedness today particularly as a woman. She is declared blessed in a specifically feminine manner: as the pinnacle and glory of femininity. She is blessed as daughter, virgin, spouse, mother. Our Lady is most blessed among women, because she stands in that relation to God, to others, to herself, which all women would most desire. Mary is beautiful within and without. She is pure of heart and of body. She is supremely loved and honoured, and beyond all others she has the capacity herself to love and to honour. Endowed with every conceivable grace and virtue, she is weighed down by no hampering restriction caused by sin. This blessing that she receives from God cannot remain merely passive: it immediately becomes fruitful and active within her, so that she herself is made a source of blessing for others. Since her own blessing is in principle infinite, then her capacity to pass it on is also in principle limitless. So even now it pours out in all directions, and all of us are able to have some share in it.
As the most blessed woman who ever existed, Our Lady is obviously also the most significant or important woman who ever existed. The only other woman whose significance for others could possibly be compared to that is Eve, first of all women. It’s hard to imagine that St. Luke did not have Eve somehow in mind when he recorded the words of Elizabeth. But if Eve stood at the origin of all our race, as fruitful mother of all children there have ever been, she was also at the origin of all our woes. She was there at the source of original sin, and of everything that continually flows from it: inner disorder, alienation, conflict, pain, death. We see Eve in the Genesis story willfully breaking God’s law, grasping at power and control, taking refuge in lies or manipulated truth, then being humiliated, subjugated, cursed. Our Lady is the opposite of all that. Her will is perfectly aligned with God’s will. Because she has perfect humility, as befits her creaturely status, she walks perfectly in truth. So she is raised up, glorified, blessed. And her blessing is powerful enough to reverse the curse of Eve. From Mary comes Jesus, God with us. So from her comes life, healing, reconciliation, salvation, joy. From Mary’s blessedness comes the restoration of our broken or impaired relationship with God. From her blessedness comes the possibility for us also of authentic purity, goodness, holiness, love.
So blessed was Our Lady, that without any trace of self or of pride she was able joyfully to accept all she was given by God, and to respond by returning the blessing. So Mary blessed God with all her being, and above all she blessed the blessed fruit of her womb Jesus. With Elizabeth we in turn bless Mary, and with Mary we bless God, and bless Jesus Christ our Lord. Our familiar prayer the “Hail Mary” places Elizabeth’s blessing immediately after the greeting of the Angel. Every time we repeat this prayer we can enter into that blessing a little bit more, and receive a little more of its fruits. Today’s Gospel concludes with Elizabeth repeating: Blessed is she who believed. We who also believe find ourselves included in this blessing which comes from the Holy Spirit. So it is that we very frequently, even continuously bless our Lady, and with her bless Jesus. By doing that we are already blessed in our turn; already living an anticipation of heaven.
This line of thought connects rather well with the Collect of today’s Mass, which is the prayer we say three times each day with the Angelus. “Pour forth your grace into our hearts” we pray. Pour your grace, your favour, your heavenly blessing, your divine assistance, your good and holy inspiration, into our hearts, we beseech you O Lord. Pour your grace in a never ending torrent, like Niagra Falls, into our hearts. Pour your grace into us, as once your poured it in its fullness into Mary. Enable us, by your Holy Spirit, to bear Jesus within ourselves, as she did. Give us grace to purify our hearts after the measure of her own immaculate heart. Then, through this grace, enable us to enter into the whole mystery of Christ, as the Blessed Virgin supremely did. May we contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation with Mary, and participate in its fruits as she did. May we contemplate also the mystery of the passion and death of Jesus, entering somehow the loving union that united Jesus and Mary throughout it all. So may we come at last to share in the glory of the resurrection, as Mary already does, in heaven.