Of all creatures, the most Christlike is Mary. None better than she has ever practiced effective and affective adoration simultaneously. Since her example far surpasses that of any of the saints, we must dwell a while upon it.
Filled to overflowing with the love of God, the silent Virgin — for the Gospel relates but few of her words — one day gives expression to the praise that is in her heart. From that day forth, anyone who wishes to find a song that best exalts the glory of God on earth will find it in the triumphant Magnificat the Virgin recited at the age of sixteen when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. She seems to say: “My soul would like, if it could, to make God even greater than he is. I thirst for an ever-more-radiant glory for Him whom I love, who is the Almighty, Magnificat anima mea Dominum . . . qui potens est.”
But still more moving than this ecstasy of affective adoration is the proof that our Blessed Lady gave to the Most High of her effective adoration.
God decreed the Incarnation. As Faber says in his poetic way:
Innumerable decrees of God, decrees without number, like the waves of the sea, decrees that included or gave forth all other decrees, came up to the midnight room at Nazareth, as it were to the feet of that most wonderful of God’s creatures, with the resistless momentum which had been given them from eternity, all glistening with the manifold splendors of the divine perfection, like huge billows just curling to break upon the shore; and they stayed themselves there, halted in full course, and hung their accomplishment upon the Maiden’s word.
God, who needs not to have recourse to man’s freewill, deigns to subordinate the accomplishment of His divine decrees to the will of a daughter of men, to the consent of this tender virgin of the race of David, who lived during the reign of Augustus in the obscure village of Nazareth.
In the beginning, it was a woman who, by abusing her freewill, lost supernatural grace for the whole of mankind. It was a woman who — at what price we shall now tell — submitted her will to God by a moving act of heroism, and thus paved the way for the restoration of grace. The Word of God, the Wisdom of the Father, that He may come into the world to save the world, deigns to ask the consent of His creature. On Mary’s consent all will depend. If she consents, we are saved. If she refuses, how shall the redemption be accomplished?
It was an awful moment. It was fully in Mary’s power to have refused. Impossible as the consequences seem to make it, the matter was with her, and never did free creature exercise its freedom more freely than she did that night. How the angels must have hung over that moment! With what adorable delight and unspeakable complacency did not the Holy Trinity await the opening of her lips, the fiat of her whom God had evoked out of nothingness, and whose own fiat was now to be music in His ears, creation’s echo to that fiat of His at whose irresistible sweetness creation itself sprang into being! Earth only, poor, stupid, unconscious earth slept in its cold moonshine.
We may foresee what Mary’s answer will be. Who is it that speaks to her? Who is it that, while He might demand, yet stoops to beg her consent through the Angel Gabriel? It is God. As soon as she is certain that this is no lying voice, that the messenger is no phantom of her imagination, that the proposal made to her is no illusion; when she has seen behind the form of the Angel who speaks to her the invisible image of the Most High, then, since her chief desire is to serve, to serve to the utmost of her power, she bows her head — for to receive the Angel, she, the Queen of Angels, had remained standing while her messenger and servant knelt at her feet — and then herself falling upon her knees accepts the will of God: Fiat … ecce ancilla. “Be it done unto me according to thy word. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” The handmaid is one who serves. The Most High may count upon me; I am His.
There had not been yet on earth, nor in the angels’ world, an act of adoration so nearly worthy of God as that consent of hers, that conformity of her deep lowliness to the magnificent and transforming will of God.
Nor is it to be thought that this acceptance of the divine decree on Mary’s part was to cost her nothing. To become Mother of the Redeemer meant to accept the conditions of the Redemption. It would be her task to prepare her divine Son for the hard wood of the Cross. Our Lord said that he who loves is ready to give his life for his beloved. Mary, that she might “serve” in the fullest sense of the word, would give her life. She would give up the life of her Son, she would give up her own. Calvary would be the scene of a twofold martyrdom: that of the mother and that of the Son.
An even more perfect model of effective adoration than Mary is our blessed Lord Himself.
As the Word dwelling eternally in the brightness of heaven, the Son of God could not adore. To adore, one must be an inferior. But the three persons of the Blessed Trinity are equal; none is superior, none is inferior. The Son equal in all things to the Father may love the Father; He cannot adore Him.
Desiring to give to his Father a divinely conceived form of love, the Word decreed to become man. Equal to the Father, He will become inferior to Him, not as God, but as man; and thus, He will be able to adore Him. In heaven He cannot adore; on earth He can.
Some theologians hold the attractive view that even had Adam not sinned, the Word would still have become man. Of the two ends of the Incarnation — the glorification of the Father and the salvation of mankind — the former would have been sufficient, and according to some, was sufficient, to induce the Word to become a son of men. Christ is the one object of the divine complaisance, and the motive for which the Word came upon earth was the adoration that he wished to give to His Father. The expiation of sin was but secondary in the divine plan.
However this may be, even if we admit with the majority of theologians that both ends were the cause of the Incarnation, it remains true that the desire to procure the glory of His Father by an act of adoration of infinite value loomed large in the plans of the Savior.
By coming upon earth, the Word loses none of His sovereign majesty. He becomes less than the Father, but He remains the Infinite. Less than the Father, He can adore Him; infinite, He can adore Him infinitely. Since the Word became man, there is on this little earth of ours one who is capable of giving to the infinite God an infinite adoration: the Word of God made flesh.
In words of extreme delicacy and yet of rare power Fr. Faber, whom we have already quoted in connection with Mary — his favorite subject — clearly emphasizes the adoring power that was in Jesus from the first moment of His conception. After recalling the glory given to God by Mary’s consent, Fr. Faber adds:
But another moment and there will be an act of adoration greater far than that. Now God is free. Mary has made Him free. The creature has added fresh liberty to the Creator. She has unchained the decrees, and made the sign, and in their procession, like mountainous waves of light, they broke over her in floods of golden splendor. The eternal Sea laved the queenly creature all around, and the divine complacency rolled above her in majestic peals of soft mysterious thunder, and a God-like Shadow falls upon her for a moment, and Gabriel had disappeared, and without shock, or sound, or so much as a tingling stillness, God in a created nature sate in His immensity within her bosom, and the eternal will was done, and creation was complete. Far off a storm of jubilee swept far-flashing through the angelic world. But the Mother heard not, heeded not. Her head sank upon her bosom, and her soul lay down in a silence which was like the peace of God. The word was made Flesh.
And later, dealing more fully with this unprecedented act of adoration, he writes:
It was a finite act, and yet of value infinite. Then first was the blessed majesty of God worshiped as it deserved to be … with a worship equal to Himself. . . That first act of love is not ended yet. It has stretched from that old midnight at Nazareth to this hour, and is not weakened by the stretch.
The existence which began that night in Mary’s bosom. . . was first of all, a life of oblation. Worship was its predominant idea. Adoration was the mold in which it was cast.