Friday, August 14
Joshua 10: This chapter, in which attention is directed to the southern campaign of Joshua’s invasion, begins with an alliance formed to resist that invasion. This alliance, alarmed at the capitulation of the Gibeonites, recorded in the previous chapter, determines to attack Gibeon itself rather than Joshua’s invading force (verse 4). This procedure made military sense. If the alliance could punish the Gibeonites for their treaty with Joshua, it was reasoned, other Canaanite cities would think twice about following suit. If the attack on Gibeon proved successful, other cities would be disposed, rather, to join the coalition against Joshua.
This alliance of five Canaanite city-states, under the leadership of Jerusalem, had another reason for conquering Gibeon as a way of resistance to Joshua’s advance. In fact, this second reason rendered the control of Gibeon imperative to the resistance—namely, Gibeon’s strategic position guarding the route through the Ajalon Valley, a route that would enable Joshua to divide and isolate the southern cities. In the event, of course, after Joshua’s defeat of the alliance, his campaign pursued its remnant forces southward through that valley (verses 10-13).
Understanding the political situation throughout Canaan, Joshua resolves to make an example of the five kings involved in the alliance (verses 16-27). His very ruthless tactics were extended to the citizens of Makkedah (verse 28), Libnah (verse 30), Lachish (verse 32), and elsewhere (verse 39). We may want to bear in mind that these descriptions are common in the language of battle, where they bear what we may call a “poetic sense.” That is to say, if ALL the citizens of all of these cities really did perish under Joshua’s sword, we readers of Holy Scripture will be hard pressed to explain why they continue to pose problems for Israel in the very near future.
Saturday, August 15
Psalm 45: “The kingdom of heaven,” we are told by a uniquely reliable source, “is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son” (Matt. 22:2), that marriage’s consummation being the definitive aim of our destiny, and all of history constituting the courtship that prepares and anticipates the yet undisclosed hour of its fulfillment. Thus, the end of time is announced by the solemn proclamation: “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” (Matt. 25:6).
This interpretation of history as the preparation for a royal wedding ceremony is so pervasive and obvious in Holy Scripture that we Christians, taking it so much for granted, may actually overlook it or give it little thought. Indeed, in this modern materialistic world there is a distinct danger that we too may forget that the present life is but the preparation for another, its many and manifold efforts only a provisioning for the greater future, its varied blessings but rehearsals for the greater joy.
The modern materialistic world seems to know nothing of all this, believing in no future outside of its immediate and perceived needs. Its gross but unduly modest aspirations are well summed up by Dr. Johnson’s bull: “Here is this cow, and here is this grass: what more could I ask?” Beyond these gratifications, the spokesman for the purely materialistic world nourishes no further hope.
To counter such forgetfulness of our future, therefore, God’s Holy Writ repeatedly reminds us of that coming wedding day of the King’s Son: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. . . . ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” (Rev. 19:7, 9).
Thus too we are warned against the grave danger courted by those who refuse their wedding invitations (Matt. 22:3–10; Luke 14:17–24), as well as the exclusion awaiting those improvident souls presumptuous of entrance without preparation (Matt. 22:11–14; 25:7–12).
Psalm 45 (Greek and Latin 44) is the psalm that anticipates and most descriptively foretells that future royal wedding. Its lines describe the “bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2): “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace.”
There is even more description of the King’s Son, however, that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: “You are fairer than the sons of men. Grace is poured out upon Your lips. Therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride victorious because of truth, humility and righteousness.” This Son’s riding forth in victory is similarly described in the Bible’s final book: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. . . . And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11, 12, 16).
We need not guess at the identity of this Bridegroom nor be in doubt of His divine dignity, for the New Testament quotes our psalm when it speaks of the Son’s anointing by His Father: “But to the Son He says: / ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; / A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. / You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; / Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You / With the oil of gladness more than Your companions’” (Heb. 1:8, 9). This ‘anointed one’ (for such is the meaning of the name Messiah, or Christ) is Jesus, of whom the Apostles preached: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38).
Inasmuch as “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31), then, a certain measure of detachment is necessary to prepare ourselves for the wedding feast of the King’s Son, a certain using of this world as though not using it, a refusal to take seriously its unwarranted claims on our final loyalty. So our psalm once again warns us: “Listen, O daughter. Consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house. So the King will greatly desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, worship Him.”
Sunday, August 16
Psalm 145: In traditional Christian usage, some lines of Psalm 145 (Greek and Latin 144) have made it a prayer popular and suitable for grace before meals: “The eyes of all men hope in You; in fitting season You give them food. Unfolding forth Your hands, You fill all living things with blessing.” This first line is translated very literally from the Greek text, for there is unusual force in portraying “hope” as an act of the eyes themselves.
This psalm of most exuberant praise is also the last one composed (in the original Hebrew) as an alphabetic acrostic, and perhaps it is the one that best illustrates the intent of that rhetorical medium. To begin each successive line of a psalm with the next letter of the alphabet is not simply a cute literary trick (as it is in, say, those two marvelous pages of Bleak House, where Charles Dickens rings the changes on the characters Boodle, Coodle, Doodle, Foodle, Goodle, and so forth, followed by Buffy, Cuffy, Duffy, etc.). In the Book of Psalms this device serves, rather, to state an aspiration to a truth—namely, that God is to be praised by every sort of sound, that every conceivable formulation of our throat and tongue and lips is to be directed to the divine glory, that no kind of intonation should be deprived of His presence.
And Psalm 145 conveys this verity in grand style. Indeed, this psalm so overflows with rich, resonating magnificence that it is nearly a crime simply to r
ecite it. The very luxury of the sounds needs to be tasted, the mouth and throat filled by its glory. I confess that for many years I have habitually sung this psalm in the shower (always in the eighth tone).
The dominating ideas appear repeatedly, variously combined and in endless replications: benediction, magnificence, glory, abundance, majesty. To speak of “restraints” imposed on this psalm by reason of its acrostic form (as one curiously benighted commentator does) is a judgment belied by every line. There are no discernible restraints in this most prodigal of psalms. Psalm 145 is sumptuous and extravagant. It is an earthly taste of the very joy of heaven.
The previous psalm, as we saw, was much taken up with the image of Christ as King, a theme that Psalm 144 is pleased to carry forward: “I will extol You, O my God and King; Your name will I bless forever, and from age to age! Every day will I bless You and praise Your name, always and for ever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; there is no measure to His majesty. . . . O let them bless You, Lord, all Your works, and let Your saints extol You! They shall tell the glory of Your kingdom, and Your sovereignty (literally “dynasty,” dynasteia) will they proclaim, that the sons of men may know Your might, and the glory of the magnificence of Your kingdom. An eternal kingdom is Your kingdom; Your authority holds sway, from age to age.”
Psalm 145 is the voice of the new life within us, that life of which Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Each mounting crescendo of this psalm abounds with the life of the victorious Christ: “Generation after generation will praise Your deeds, and make declaration of Your might. The magnificence of the glory of Your holiness they will tell, and Your wonders will they proclaim. They will speak the power of Your fearsome deeds, and expound on Your magnificence. They will herald the remembrance of Your goodness, and in Your righteousness will they exult.”
The God praised in this psalm is praised chiefly for His great and rich mercy: “Compassionate is the Lord and merciful, longsuffering and abounding in mercy. Gracious is the Lord to all alike; His compassions rest on all His works.”
The Kingdom of Christ is not of this world; it is truly eternal and transcendent and belongs to heaven. Accordingly, the words and sentiments of our psalm repeatedly raise the mind above earthly things to the realm of eternal life. Several expressions of eternity appear in its lines: “from age to age,” “for ever and ever,” and so forth. Its emphasis thus goes beyond specific and individual deeds. Accordingly, it is one of a short series of psalms, near the end, that forms a final doxology to the whole Psalter. It is used invariably toward the end of the week, at Saturday Matins in the East, at Vespers on Friday and Saturday in the Benedictine Rule.
Monday, August 17
Psalm 106: Whereas Psalm 105 uses historical narrative as an outline for the praise of God for His deeds of salvation, Psalm 106 (Greek and Latin 105) uses it as the structure of a sustained confession of sins and ongoing motive for repentance. The praise of God in this psalm, then, springs from the consideration of God’s fidelity to His people notwithstanding their own infidelities to Him: “Praise the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever!”
The examples of the people’s continued sin are drawn from the accounts of the Exodus and the Desert Wandering, a period of such egregious unfaithfulness that only a few of that entire generation were finally permitted to enter the Promised Land. The examples are detailed: the constant murmuring against the Lord both in Egypt and in the desert, the rebellion of Dathan and Abiron, the cult of the golden calf, the succumbing to temptation from the Moabites and other moral compromises with the surrounding nations, child-sacrifice to Moloch, and so forth. In all of these things God nonetheless proved His patience and fidelity to the people of His covenant: “Who will tell the mighty deeds of the Lord, or make all His praises heard?”
This poetic narrative, which summarizes much of the Books of Exodus and Numbers, deals with the period of the Desert Wandering as a source of negative moral example: “Don’t let this happen to you.” Such is the approach to that period through much of biblical literature, from Deuteronomy 33 to 1 Corinthians 10.
The value of this perspective is that it tends to discourage a false confidence that may otherwise deceive the believer. Never has there been missing from the experience of faith the sort of temptation that says: “Relax! God has saved you. You are home free. Once saved, always saved. Don’t worry about a thing. Above all, no effort.”
This temptation was recognized by certain discerning men in the Bible itself. Thus, the Prophet Jeremiah saw it working insidiously in the hearts and minds of his contemporaries near the end of the seventh century bc. They reasoned among themselves that God, because of His undying promise to David, would never permit the city of Jerusalem, to say nothing of His temple, to fall to their enemies. After all, had not the Lord, speaking through Isaiah a century earlier, promised King Hezekiah that such a thing was unthinkable? And had not the Lord, at that time, destroyed the Assyrian army as it besieged the Holy City? Even so, reasoned Jeremiah’s fellow citizens, there was no call now to fear the armies of Babylon. Thus, fully confident of divine deliverance, they permitted themselves every manner of vice and moral failing. After all, once saved, always saved. Much of the message of Jeremiah was devoted to demolishing that line of thought.
The identical sort of temptation seems likewise to have afflicted the first readers of Hebrews, whose author also took the period of the Desert Wandering as exemplifying their moral dilemma. Repeatedly, then, he cautioned those early Christians of the genuine danger of stark apostasy facing those who placed an unwarranted, quasi-magical confidence in their inevitable security. This entire book is devoted to warning believers that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).
The gravity of this temptation, of course, arises from its resting on a solid truth. God is faithful to His promises; He will never abandon those who place their confidence in Him. The danger here is not that of excessive trust in God’s fidelity, but of a failure to guard sufficiently against man’s infidelity. Just as the Galatians were warned against forsaking the Gospel of pure grace, they were also instructed that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Even the believers at Philippi, though manifesting no discernible disposition to false confidence, were admonished to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
And even as the Ephesians were reminded of being sealed and rendered secure “with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13, 14), they were earnestly exhorted not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed” (4:30).
The history of Israel in the desert of old, a sustained account of such grieving, is the theme of Psalm 106.
Tuesday, August 18
Joshua 14: This chapter begins the section in which the land of Canaan is divided by allotment, in accord with the command that Joshua received in the previous chapter (13:1,7).
We already know from Numbers 36:16-29 that Eleazar, Aaron’s son and heir in the priesthood (Numbers 3:32; Deuteronomy 10:6), is to assist Joshua in this allotment.
Prior to this allotment, however, the reader is again reminded that territory has already been set aside, east of the Jordan, for two and a half of these tribes (verse 3). The writer likewise mentions once again that special provision is to be
made for the tribe of Levi (verse 4).
In addition, before any allotment to the remaining tribes can be made, provision must be made for Caleb, the other of the only two spies who had remained loyal, decades earlier, when Moses had dispatched them for an initial inventory of the Promised Land (Numbers 13—14; Deuteronomy 1:35-36). Caleb officially belonged to the tribe of Judah (Numbers 13:6; 34:19), and his inheritance will fall within that tribe.
Forty-five years have elapsed since Caleb, a mere lad of forty at the time, had received Moses’ promise that he would inherit property in the land of Canaan (verses 6-10). Except for Joshua, he was the only surviving adult of the multitude that had marched out of Egypt, so it was entirely fitting he should be the first to inherit real estate in the land that he had inspected nearly half a century earlier. Caleb stands forever in the Bible as the model of such perseverance as leads to a great reward.
Wednesday, August 19
Mark 16:9-20: As an addition to Mark’s original composition, this last part of the Gospel may contain the final words written in any of the Gospels. They represent, thus, the New Testament’s “last word” about the Resurrection. We may consider the significance of this event today in two respects:
First, the Resurrection is the very essence of the Gospel. The “good news” is that Jesus is risen from the dead. The shortest version of the Creed simply says, “Jesus is Lord.” And how is Jesus Lord? St. Peter answers, ““Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
“Christ is risen” is just another way of saying, “Jesus is Lord.” His resurrection is the essence of the Gospel itself. This is the confession through which we are saved: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor 15:17). Because Jesus rose again for our justification, then it follows that if He did not rise, then we are not justified.
It is through the resurrection of Christ that we are begotten as children of God. St. Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3).
St. Paul, in his sermon at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, expressed this truth: “And we declare to you glad tidings (evangelion)—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus” (Acts 13:31-32).
Second, in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus is not portrayed as the resurrection of a god. Jesus is not some kind of Osiris. His resurrection is not the Christian version of the death and resurrection motif known to classical mythology.
On the contrary, the resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of a dead man. It is as a human being that Jesus rises from the dead. It is a human being that is transformed by the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact that involves a real man, a figure in history.
Third, there is a true sense in which the man Jesus Christ is established as God’s Son by the resurrection. This is not a denial of His eternal sonship in the bosom of the Father. That eternal sonship of God’s Son, however, involved the human perfection of that Son through the resurrection from the dead. Thus, St. Paul writes, at the beginning of Romans, of “Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and established [horisthentos] as the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” This is not a reference to the eternal generation of God’s Son, nor does it refer simply to the Incarnation. It is specifically a reference to the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.
In what sense does God make Jesus His Son by the Resurrection? St. Paul says, “in power.” By His resurrection Jesus is established as God’s Son “in power”—en dynamei. Through the resurrection from the dead, something new really happens to Jesus. He is different from before. His Sonship is established now “in power.”
It is the risen Jesus, the man Jesus, therefore, who declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” It is a human being, God’s incarnate Word, who claims all authority, both in heaven and on earth, by reason of His resurrection from the dead. Because God raised Him from the dead, Jesus became something that He was not before. He was given all authority in heaven and on earth. All authority. Nothing else, whether in heaven or on earth, is of significance except in Him. By His resurrection from the dead He is constituted God’s Son in power.
Through His resurrection He becomes the medium of humanity’s union with God. Let us come back to St. Paul: “And we declare to you the glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus” (Acts 13:31-32). This is the evangelion: the establishment of Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Son in power. This is the meaning of our expression of faith, “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus is Lord because Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Thursday, August 20
Luke 1:1-25: The Angel Gabriel, at the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke, is sent to make two announcements—the first to the priest Zacharias in Jerusalem, and the other to the virgin Mary in Nazareth, both of whom are told that they will soon become the parents of children miraculously conceived. Now among the several points of resemblance between these two stories is the detail that both Zacharias and Mary, upon receiving this message, requested some sort of explanation from Gabriel.
It is at this point that the two accounts go in quite different directions. To Mary’s request Gabriel gives an adequate and very reassuring response, whereas Zacharias’s request is not only denied, but he is punished for even making it!
The difference between the two cases is not hard to discern. Mary’s question—“How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (1:24)—is actually a request for further instruction. Since she is a virgin, and Gabriel is telling her she is about to become a mother, Mary really does need more information. Her question to Gabriel means something like “Tell me what I am supposed to do.” There is no arrogance here, nor doubt. On the contrary, Mary’s attitude is summed up in her final words to
Gabriel: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38).
Such is clearly not the case with Zacharias. His question is a request not for further instruction but for an explanation: “How shall I know
this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (1:18).
To ask “How shall I know?” does not convey a spirit of faith and obedience, but a spirit of skepticism. Indeed, “How shall I know?” is entirely an epistemological question. Even as he offers incense in God’s house, Zacharias is a cultivated doubter.
The gravity of Zacharias’s doubt is rendered more obvious if we consider it in contrast to Abraham’s response to an identical promise: Both married to women beyond childbearing years, Abraham and Zacharias were each told that his wife would bear him a son. These sons would be “children of promise,” conceived by God’s special intervention. Zacharias very well knew the story of Abraham, but still he insisted, “How shall I know this?”
In punishment for such arrogance, Zacharias is struck speechless for the next nine months and eight days, thus given an opportunity to ponder the serious nature of his offense. He must repent. If he is to become a fit father for John the Baptist, than whom there is no one greater among those born of women (7:28), Zacharias has much to learn about the ways of God.
Until he repents, the doubting Zacharias strikes one as the “thoroughly modern man,” far less concerned with what he knows than with how he can know it. Burdened with an excessive, even morbid, preoccupation with the psychology of knowledge, modern man no longer seems sure of knowing anything at all. In this respect Zacharias bears some resemblance to Descartes, the philosopher chiefly responsible for introducing the intentional, systematic cultivation of doubt as the basis of the philosophical pursuit. Doubting everything possible to doubt, Descartes concluded that he knew for certain only that he was thinking, and from his thinking he went on to demonstrate (but only to himself!) his existence. He arrived, that is, at the Self, the first single reality not subject to doubt.
In the nearly four centuries since Descartes began this reductionist path, we have been living in what is called the modern world, where the question “How shall I know?” receives answers progressively smaller, age after age. Once modern man accepted sustained, systematic doubt as the proper philosophical procedure, there could be no end to the business, because everything can be doubted. The very Self, which Descartes had thought to prove by his thinking, was soon put in doubt by the thinking of Hume, and eventually Nietzsche would suggest that the Self might be only a product of thought. And so it goes to this day. A snake that began by swallowing its tail is currently munching on its brain.
In this respect the silence imposed on Zacharias may serve as a parabolic warning to modern man, because the relentlessly doubting mind must finish by asserting nothing at all. Zacharias may start as a Cartesian, but Gabriel reduces him to a Deconstructionist. Indeed so, for the doubt that begins by destroying faith must end by destroying reason.
Friday, August 21
Luke 1:39-45: Three considerations of the Mother of the Lord seem especially appropriate with respect to this reading:
First, the Handmaid of the Lord. It is wise to begin our consideration of the Mother of Jesus by consulting her own words: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.”
What is God to Mary? She calls Him, “my Savior.” Indeed, she is the first person in the New Testament speak of “God my Savior.”
Mary, then, is one of the redeemed. Her soul that magnifies the Lord is a soul purchased by the blood of the Lamb. Her spirit that rejoices in God her Savior is sanctified as every other Christian spirit is sanctified—by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s fundamental identity is handmaiden of the Lord. She is that before she is anything else. Her entire being was consecrated to the service of God, and she was consecrated by that service. This consecration included her very flesh, from which God’s eternal word assumed our humanity in the mystery of the Incarnation.
This is why the Church, from the very beginning, has recognized the fact of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Her body was consecrated by the physical presence of God’s Son, whom for nine months she bore and nurtured in her womb. That body and that womb belonged entirely to God by that prolonged consecration.
For that reason her body could never belong to anyone else. Such is the mystery of the Incarnation. According to the constant, uninterrupted teaching of the Church, Mary remained a consecrated virgin her whole life long: “Ever Virgin.” She remained a virgin for the same reason that we do not take the Eucharistic chalice and turn it into a beer stein. We do not take the Ark of the Covenant and turn it into clothes hamper.
In the Bible holiness is a physical thing. A man could be struck dead merely for laying an unwarranted hand on the Ark of the Covenant.
As the handmaiden of the Lord, therefore, Mary was totally consecrated to the service of God.
Second, the Queen Mother. Here we have the testimony of her cousin Elizabeth: “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This expression, “mother of my Lord” is also an essential feature of Mary’s identity. She is not only the handmaiden of the Lord; she is also the mother of the king, the last of the kings of Judah.
And what shall we say of the mothers of the kings of Judah? Holy Scripture obviously thinks them very important, because each of them is named in the Bible, a distinction that is given to no other royal line.
How does the Bible regard the Queen Mother? We may compare two biblical texts, a comparison that throws great light on this question. The first is 1 Kings 1, where Bathsheba entered into the presence of King David, her husband. The text says, “Bathsheba prostrated herself and did homage to the king.” Now let us contrast that text with the very next chapter of 1 Kings, which describes the entrance of Bathsheba into the presence of Solomon her son. The text says, “Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and prostrated himself before her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand.”
This is where we find the Queen Mother in Psalm 45, enthroned at the right hand of the king. This is the position of Mary, to whom, St. Luke tells us, Jesus became subject. As in the kingdom of Judah, the Queen Mother is the second person in the Kingdom of heaven. If we assert less than this, we depart from the teaching of Holy Scripture. In the Bible the mother of the king of Judah is worthy of all respect and honor. In the case of Mary, in fact, all generations will call her blessed, and this is the blessing we hear already in the words of Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! . . . Blessed is she who believed.”
And what causes Elizabeth to call her blessed? Look closely at the Sacred Text: “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed art thou among women.’”
When we address Mary, then, and cry out, like Elizabeth, with a loud voice, “Blessed art thou among women,” these words are put on our lips by the Holy Spirit. We call Mary blessed for the same reason we call Jesus Lord — because this is what the Holy Spirit prompts us to say. Indeed, we can only do this by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who would not have us honor Mary one whit less than Solomon honored Bathsheba.
Third, Mary’s vocation is that of the Bible itself. This is a very ancient insight of the Church. We still sing a Byzantine hymn of the 4th century in which she is addressed as “the sacred page on which the Father wrote with His own hand.” God caused His Word to be written, not only on the skins of sheep, but in the very flesh of the woman w
ho in faith consented to become His mother. Luke twice tells us that she took all these things and pondered them in her heart. Mary so completely embodied God’s Holy Word as to give flesh to that Word.
Thus, all the mysteries of Holy Scripture come to a certain perfection in her own life and being. When she answered yes to God, she fulfilled the faith of Abraham, receiving in her very flesh the promise that was made to Abraham. She became the burning bush of God’s presence. She became the ladder of Jacob by which God descended to this earth. She became the Ark of the Covenant, before which the infant John danced like David. She so embodied the mysteries of Holy Scripture that Holy Scripture was fulfilled in her own flesh. She assumed into her own being all the law and all the prophets. The Father inscribed His word in her flesh.