IN PRAISE OF THE VIRGIN MOTHER
by St. Bernard of Clairvaux
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word."
This excerpt is from a homily by St. Bernard of Clairvaux entitled "In Praise of the Virgin Mother" (Homily 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 , 53-54). It is recorded in the Roman Office of Readings on December 20, in the fourth week of Advent, but it is also an appropriate reading for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25. Bernard focus dramatically on the Virgin's fiat, or statement of consent in response to the startling announcement by the archangel Gabriel. Her response is not a passive statement but is instead a declaration of her faith and obedience, "Let it me done to me according to your word," she response to the arch angel's announcement. So should we all response when God calls us to His service.
St. Bernard was born in 1091 to a noble and lively family in the French Duchy of Burgundy. In addition to his parents Bernard had five brothers and a sister of whom he was extremely fond but upon the death of his mother he resolved to enter the Cistercian Monastery at Citeaux. He so enthusiastically embraced the Monastic life that four of his brothers, his uncle and many friends followed him to Citeaux. Three years after his arrival at Citeaux he was appointed the first abbot of a new monastery in a desolate valley which, under his hands flourished and came to be called "clara vallis", the "valley of light" or Clairvaux.
Bernard's piety and spiritual leadership turned Clairvaux into one of the most important of the Cistercian houses. In less than 40 years, seventy other monastic houses across Europe sprang up from Clairvaux like a fruitful tree yields more of it kind. St. Bernard became famous as a healer of the physically and spiritually ill. As a peacemaker, he stands unrivaled in the history of the Church. His healing peace worked miracles within the Church and in the secular world as well.
Bernard died at Clairvaux on August 20th, 1153. Twenty-one years later he was canonized by Pope Alexander III and in 1830 Pope Pius VII honored St. Bernard with the title "Doctor of the Church." But the titles he probably most cherished would have been the ones his brother monks and the faithful bestowed upon him: "Doctor Mellifluus" and the "Last of the Fathers of the Church."
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.