“Hail Mary … blessed are you among women” we say when reciting the “Hail Mary” prayer. That Mary of Nazareth is a blessed woman, we have no doubt about. The real question is how is Mary blessed? In what does Mary’s beatitude (blessedness) primarily consist in?
Some might say that Mary is blessed because she is the mother of Jesus: like the woman in the crowd who, filled with emotion upon seeing Jesus, cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you!” (cfr Lk 11:27). It’s possible that this woman – perhaps herself a mother – was filled with admiration and holy envy of the Woman who gave birth to the Messiah, who gave God the Son His human nature. But lest we remain with the understanding that Mary is blessed principally for being the biological mother of Jesus, Jesus Himself specifies an altogether different criterion for beatitude: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:28) St. Augustine claims that Mary is more blessed for being a disciple than for being the mother of Christ. That is, it is more meaningful and an altogether greater blessing for Mary to have been a disciple of Christ than to have been His mother. For, before Mary ever conceived Jesus in the womb physically, she had conceived Him in her heart through the assent of faith. Thus, while being the mother of Jesus is a blessing, it cannot be considered Mary’s greatest blessing from God.
Some might say that Mary is blessed because she is “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) or “kecharitomene” in Greek. In other words, that Mary’s blessedness consists in… the very fact that she has received unparalleled spiritual gifts from God: the preeminent grace of being conceived without the consequences of Original Sin, as well as the fullness of sanctifying grace and the natural dispositions of every virtue in her soul. Indeed, Mary has been blessed abundantly by God beyond compare. But does Mary’s beatitude, that is, her happiness, primarily consist in having received blessings from God? If this were the case, one could argue that a person’s happiness would be in proportion to the blessings that person has received in life. Little reflection is necessary to realize that this cannot be so. Furthermore, Jesus does not say, “Happy are those who have received many gifts from God!” but, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:28)
Thus, Jesus indicates that Mary is primarily blessed not because she is His biological mother or because she is the Immaculate Conception who has received unparalleled spiritual gifts from God. Rather the principal reason why “all generations shall call [Mary] blessed” (Lk 1:48b) is because she is completely loyal to the will of God for she “hears the word of God and keeps it.” Since complete faithfulness to God’s will is the defining characteristic of personal sanctity, it can be said that Mary’s blessedness primarily consists in her personal holiness: her capacity to do the will of God. Mary’s blessedness, beatitude, and happiness coincide with her being “Mary, Most Holy” (a familiar Marian title). In this sense, Mary’s beatitude is a model for us all and reason for great rejoicing because we realize, “Hey, I can do that too!” For while only Mary is uniquely blessed in being the mother of Jesus and uniquely blessed in being conceived without sin, everyone of us can be blessed by imitating Mary’s personal holiness in doing the will of God, and thus, become happy like her! In Mary, we can understand how blessedness consists in holiness which will result in our greatest happiness. This month, let us ponder the different aspects of Mary’s blessedness – being the mother of Jesus, receiving unprecedented spiritual graces, her capacity to “hear the word of God and keep it” – and give gratitude to God for that one in which we are capable of imitating.
I want to gaze upon Mary and search for a virtue of hers that I would like to imitate and ask her help to work on it.