The Blessed Virgin Mary receives the Holy Ghost
by Monseigneur Gentilucci, 1859
Who would not envy the happy lot of the Apostles, disciples, and all those who asembled in the upper room to receive the Holy Ghost? As we stated in the preceding book, they numbered about one hundred and twenty, or it maybe even more, as we may believe from one of St. Paul's epistles. (1)
They had constantly with them the Blessed Virgin, the Immaculate Mother of our Divine Redeemer. Nor was her presence there a dream of the pious imagination; they saw her really near them, and they admired her singular fervor. Her example powerfully stimulated them to persevere in prayer. (2) Oh what tongue can ever tell with what respect they treated each other, with what love their hearts were inflamed for each other, and how efficacious and powerful over all was the word of our august Queen! Although they spent the greater part of the time in addressing to heaven the most fervent prayers that the Holy Ghost might descend upon them, (3) they must also have met for the other acts of life, while awaiting so ineffable a gift. What sobriety then in words, what frugality in meat, what solicitude to anticipate the day in singing the praises of the Lord! How all in them must have exhaled the sweet odor of the sublimest sanctity, since they had to guide and instruct them the holiest of all women, the pillar and light of the rising Church! Hence we readily believe with the pious Ludolph, (4) that to all their devotions they added the mortification of fasting, since it was the custom among the Christians of the primitive Church to fast rigorously from Ascension day to Whitsun day.
One of the first and principal acts which took place in that holy assembly, was doubtless that by which the apostle Saint Peter began to exercise that supreme and sovereign power which he was to transmit to the end of time, to his successors in the episcopacy; this was to call another to the seat of the son of perdition, of that faithless apostle who sold his divine Master, and then hung himself in despair. We shall not stop to describe how the unanimous voice proposed Joseph, surnamed the Just, and Matthias, nor how the lot favored Matthias, (5) who thereupon assumed the ministry and apostleship; we shall only say with some doctors of the Church, (6) that in all probability the Blessed Virgin, as mistress and directress of this new society of the faithful, convinced the prince of the apostles, (7) that the time had come for him to display that primacy of honor and jurisdiction which Christ had given him over all the rest. There can be no doubt that the Blessed Virgin was the first to acknowledge and revere the pre-eminence of the Apostle and rejoice at it.
But it is time to relate how the Divine Spirit which quickeneth, descended visibly on the Church of Christ. Ten days had rapidly gone by in this fervent preparation, and the feast of Pentecost had already begun, a feast which among the Jews was celebrated the fiftieth day after that of the Azymes. The disciples were all together in the Upper Room, praying with the liveliest faith the Holy Ghost to descend upon the earth, when, about the close of the third hour, (8 ) the gates of heaven suddenly opened, the empyreum shone writh dazzling light; a noise like a violent wind approaching, filled and shook the whole house where they were assembled. This noise was heard through the whole city; and as it seemed to come from that house, the people, surprised at the prodigy, hastened to the spot to learn the cause of it. (9) All were beside themselves, not with fear, but with joy. Nor had they recovered from their astonishment, when they beheld tongues of fire divide and rest on them, (10) and first of all on that Blessed Virgin, who in that holy assembly occupied the most honorable seat. It seems probable that the Blessed Virgin, always privileged in all things, not only solicited that moment by her prayers as she had solicited that of the incarnation, as we have said after the Fathers, but also that in ecstatic contemplation she beheld the Incarnate Word imploring the Father to send down the Divine Paraclete, and that in spirit she joined in the prayer of her most holy Son. Whatever may be thought of this opinion, we hold for certain that Mary was filled with the Holy Ghost far more than the apostles. (11) The Holy Ghost did not then merely begin to abide in her, but He inflamed her more ardently, inasmuch as He did not begin in her a new work, but only continued the work long since begun.
Tears of consolation and love bedewed every eye: the rooftrees of that happy house resounded with canticles of joy; and all, already filled with faith and love, had no ambition but to preach the God whom they had seen some weeks before crucified and then rise again. Already they were inflamed with a holy desire to publish these truths and divine mysteries which had formerly seemed so obscure to their weak intelligence. Now not danger, not suffering, not prison or chains, not death itself in its most cruel form alarms them.
They look upon it as glorious to suffer the most horrible torments for the holy name of Jesus. We cannot doubt but that one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost which they received was the gift of tongues, so necessary for propagating the gospel, whether the Apostles spoke one single language understood by all, or had acquired the faculty of speaking all languages as Saint Paul says of himself, for we read in his first epistle to the Corinthians: "I thank my God I speak with all your tongues." (12) Both opinions find advocates: the former, however, seems the more probable, since Saint Peter's sermon was understood by all who had come from various countries to Jerusalem. (13) Did Mary receive the gift of tongues? Many doctors doubt it; the gift, they say, was necessary mainly for the diffusion of the gospel; now as Mary had received no such mission, the gift would have been as useless to her as to the other women, more especially as Saint Paul (14) formally teaches that women should not speak in the church. Yet the Angelic Doctor says that Mary received certain sublime gifts not for her use so much as for her glory; and Saint Antoninus adds, that it is a pious belief that the Blessed Virgin received the gift of tongues: for although Mary was not, like the Apostles, deputed to travel seas and oceans, or preach, nevertheless, that no spiritual good or grace should be withheld from her, it became her not to be deprived of this: "So Christ, according to the Angelic Doctor in his summa," continues the learned archbishop of Florence, "although he needed not the gift of tongues, because he preached only to the Jews, nevertheless possessed it. Nor did he possess it in vain, although he used it not, but had it for its excellence." Could this gift, then, have been refused to his holy mother, who of the purest creatures most resembles God? Besides, although the Blessed Virgin did not preach, yet it is a probable belief, not indeed written, that after the coming of the Holy Ghost, many of different converted nations and tongues hearing of the mother of Jesus God, came to visit, venerate, and listen to her words; and that she, full of charity, and incapable erring in words, spoke, consoled, answered, instructed in the various tongues in which they were born," (15) It seems to us, too, that this gift became the sublimity of the Blessed Virgin, of her who was the spouse of Him who dispenses His gifts in wisdom; our Queen, encompassed by all graces and adorned with the most precious ornaments. "Let us accord to Mary," exclaimed the pious Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, on Whitsunday in the Council of Constance, "let us accord to Mary this gift as mistress of the Church; and as to the prohibition of St. Paul, a common law does not affect a privileged person, and Mary was the apostle of apostles." (16) Let us with Rupert, the abbot, (17) admire the graces showered on our Queen, and amid these graces manifested in her by God, such as wisdom, science, prophecy, the gift of miracles, let us also behold the gift of tongues.
But why dwell so long in proving the propriety of this gift in Mary? Was she not rich enough with all the rest, even supposing the gift of tongues withheld? The human mind is confused when it considers, even superficially, how abundantly the Holy Ghost poured forth His gifts into that privileged soul. (18) Our mind is situated as our eyes are when they have before them a horizon exceeding the reach of sight, or a light so bright as to dazzle them. Mary was filled with grace on the day of the annunciation, and from that moment, as Saint Bernard teaches, (19) she had, so to speak, a certain jurisdiction over all the temporal graces of the Holy Ghost. That same grace increased greatly when, as we have said, she brought forth the Son of God; finally, on that happy day, she attained a summit which it is not given the human mind to imagine.
Although the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, after torturing their minds and wearying their imagination to find new praises, new images, new comparisons, endeavor to say something worthy of Mary, yet all confess with one voice, that they are ravished and overcome by the force and fulness of that immense river of graces. And in fact, what more sublime can be said of Mary, than to exclaim, with the same holy Doctor, (20) that she was worthy of the regard of God, from the beauty of her virtues, and worthy of the Eternal King, who, drawn by her sweet odor, chose to repose in her virginal womb? This is not all, when we consider the extraordinary manner in which she received the Holy Ghost: if the Holy Ghost every day descends invisibly into the souls of the just with greater abundance as they are better disposed and prepared, who can deny that, of all those who were in the upper room, none was so well prepared as she to receive so rich and so august a guest? To cite a single comparison used by the holy Fathers, comparisons that seem bold, but are after all only feeble images, we will say that, to express how the Holy Ghost descended on that beloved spouse, they take as a similitude the universal deluge. "The waters of heaven, they say, were so abundant, that the rivers and the sea left their beds, and the whole earth was inundated; so Mary pours forth on the earth the superabundance of the graces of the Holy Ghost, to produce the fruit of faith. (21)
We must not then be astonished that the Seraphic Doctor (22) ventures to say, that God might well create a world more perfect than that which we inhabit, a heaven more vast, and adorn it with other and more splendid planets and stars almost to infinity; but that He could not make a creature greater than Mary.
She herself well knew this truth, when, notwithstanding her profound humility, at the sight of the signal gift and extraordinary graces lavished upon her, she cried out in the presence of Elizabeth: "He that is mighty hath done great things to me." (23) She does not say what these great things were, because, as Saint Thomas of Villanova remarks, they are unspeakable. (24)
1. The apostle says (1. ad. Corinth, xv. 6.) that Christ, in His eighth apparition, appeared to five hundred brethren assembled: "Of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep," and we read (Acts ii. 1.) "that they were all together in one place," hence some have thought that they were more.
2. "All these were persevering with one mind in prayer, with the women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts i. 14), and as Saint Luke says: "And they were always in the temple praising and blessing God." (xxiv. 53.) Some have supposed that this upper room was in the temple, and others, that assembling at the upper room, they spent a great part of the day in the temple, thus explaining their perseverance in the temple.
3. Our Lord ascended to heaven after having shown Himself to His apostles for forty days, speaking to them of the kingdom of God. (Acts i. 3.) And He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to await the coming of the Holy Ghost; now the Holy Ghost descended "when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished." (Acts ii. 1.) They accordingly prepared during ten days to receive Him. It is a constant tradition of the Church that it was on a Sunday. We will remark, as some learned writers conclude from this, that the feast of the Azymes or unleavened bread, was celebrated that year by the greatest part of the Jews, on the Sabbath, and that the Paschal Lamb was eaten on Friday. (See Du HAMEL, Note on Acts ii. 1. BEXEDUT XIV. de Festis c. xi. 2.)
4. Vita Christi II. c. lxxxii.
5. Commentators give various explanations to the words of the sacred text: "And the lot fell upon Matthias. (Acts i. 25.) Saint Antoninus (pt. I. ti:. VI. c. xii.) followed by many others, says that he was pointed out by a ray of light ; Salmeron (tom. xii. tr. 10) likewise, followed by many others, maintains that the lot spoken of must be understood of the ballots given in favor of Matthias. Silveira, on the authority of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Augustine, and other Fathers, thinks that the name of Matthias came forth of itself, and thus this miraculous election took place according to the prayer which they addressed to God: "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen to take the place of this ministry, and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place." (Acts i. 24-25 )
6. NICOLAS ALBETTI, Comment on the Life, Doctrine, and Miracles of Christ, Pt. III. c. xxxv.
7. Alberti (ch. xxxv.), whose authority is surely of some weight from his erudition and science.
8. See BENEDICT XIV. de Festit, where he speaks of Pentecost.
9. It is evident that it was the third hour after sunrise, for we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that at that hour Saint Peter preached; hence the Church says:
Dum lucis hora tertia
Repente mundus intonat,
Deum veniri nuntiat.
When, as the Apostles knelt
At the third hour in prayer,
A sudden rushing sound proclaimed
The God of glory near.
and she chants at Tierce: "Nunc Sancte nobis Spiritus; and on Whitsunday at the same hour she intones the Veni Creator Spiritis.
10. Here too interpreters disagree : some say that a great globe of fire appeared, which divided into as many tongues as there were persons present ; others think that at first this flame was divided as it were into tongues of fire; and others finally, that many tongues rested on each, the better to symbolize the diversity of tongues which the apostles and other preachers of the Gospel were to speak; for the same gift has been accorded to many Saints, who first bore to heathen nations the name of Jesus Christ, and His holy law. Calmet (Acts ii. 3) says, that it was not a material fire, but a splendor like fire, as a symbol of the ardor and light which the Holy Ghost communicated to those happy apostles. Ursinus says (in his Life of Saint Francis of Rome, Book IV. c. xiv.) that it was revealed to that illustrious saint, that on that day, not only those assembled there, but all the just in the world were filled with the Holy Ghost, and that each received it more or less fully according to his capacity.
11. Hom. III. in die Pentecostes. The commentators on the Acts of the Apostles, on the books of the New Testament, and Ecclesiastical historians, remark the great change effected in the disciples of Christ, before so ignorant and timid, to whom their divine Master's words seemed so obscure; and they note also the firmness of all those who succeeded in the apostleship or mission of preaching the word of God to the heathen.
12. Acts xiv. 18.
13. As we read in Acts ii. 9-11. "Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, and in habitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphilias, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also and Proselytes, Cretes and Arabians; we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." Did the Apostles speak one single language understood by all, or did they, as occasion required, speak any tongue? We cannot decide this question by the sacred text, for we may understand it in either way. "And they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak." (ii. 4.) "And every man heard them speak in his own tongue, and when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because every man heard them speak in his own tongue." (ii. 6.) And truly it was an extraordinary prodigy for the Apostles, speaking their own language, to be understood by men of all lands. Commentators explain this gift by saying, that as the confusion of tongues was a punishment at the dispersion of the human family (Gen. xi. 9); so, for the unity of the faith, the gift of tongues was granted in order that the faithful might be reunited in a single body.
14. "Let women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted them to speak." (1 Cor. xiv. 34.) "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection, but I suffer not a woman to teach, &c." (1 Tim. ii. 12.)
15. (Part IV. tit. xv.cxix. 8 )
16. (Serm. de Spiritu Sancto habitus in concilio Constantinensi in die Pentecostes 7 June, 1416.)
17. (Lib. VIII. in Cant. Cantic.)
18. The Blessed Virgin, besides the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, received also the fruits of those gifts, which are, as the Apostle says : charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, temperance, chastity. (See ST. THOMAS, III. p. q. 70.)
19. Beata Virgo, a tempore quo concepit in utero suo habuit quamdam jurisdictionem, ut ita dicam in omnes temporales gratias Spiritus Sancti, ita ut nulla creatura gratiam accipiat nisi secundurn dispositionem ipsius.
20. Digna plane quam respiceret Dominus, cujus decorem concupisceret Rex, cujus ardore suavissimo ab aeterno illius parentis sinu attraheretur accubitus. (Hom. iv. sup. Missus est. )
21. She sent with might the shower of the Holy Ghost upon the whole earth to produce the fruit of faith." (ST. EPIPHAXIUS, Serm. de Laud Virg) Saint Jerome and other Fathers echo this.
22. "To be the mother of God is the greatest grace that can be conferred on a creature. It is one, than which God can make no greater. The Almighty may make a greater world, a greater heaven, but not a greater creature than the Mother of God." (Spec. D. Virg. lec. x.)
23. Luke i. 49.
24. (Concio III. de Nativ. Virg.)
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