The Joyful Heart of Mary
A Meditation on the Joy of the Blessed Virgin
The Mother of God is truly the "Virgin most sorrowful." But she is fittingly called in song and prose the "happy Virgin," the "joyful Virgin," and the "blessed Virgin" - "blessed," beata in Latin, means "happy, prosperous, fortunate": concepts closely allied with joy.
When we are asked about the sword - as we often are - it is a wonderful opportunity to explain the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, and how Her Heart was wounded on Calvary when Jesus' Heart was pierced by the lance of Longinus. Our Lord already having given up the ghost, He could not feel the pain. This was in fulfillment of holy Simeon's prophecy: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35).
The Mother of God is truly the "Virgin most sorrowful." Her many sorrows culminated in the most bitter of them all, beholding the passion and death of Her Son. Excepting only the Man of Sorrows Himself, never has anyone been plunged into the torrent of sorrow as was the Holy Virgin.
Strengthened by the virtue (and the gift) of fortitude, however, Mary was not morose or gloomy. She remained strong. Moreover, she is fittingly called in song and prose the "happy Virgin," the "joyful Virgin," and the "blessed Virgin" - "blessed," beata in Latin, means "happy, prosperous, fortunate": concepts closely allied with joy.
Being immaculately conceived, and further possessed of a super-plenitude of spiritual gifts truly rendering Her "All Holy" (Panagia, as our Eastern brethren call Her), Mary has a more just claim on the emotion of joy than any other sheer creature.
What is joy? It is an act of the will delighting in the possession of a loved good. It is a rational version of the sensible appetite called "delight." Whereas diverse bodily goods and pleasures give us delight, just as they do for brute animals, joy is a delight unique to rational creatures. Its opposite is sorrow, a passion undergone in the presence of an evil we hate.
We sinners delight in all sorts of base things, even when we try to be good. St. Thomas notes that our lower natures can take delight in things that our reason rejects. This is indeliberate, and is part of that war St. Paul speaks of in such graphic terms: "For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would" (Gal. 5:17). But so many times, we take delight - and even joy - in foolish things, things that ought, rather, to make us weep. Mary's joys, by contrast, were all righteous.
Having no concupiscence, Mary lacked the disorder we all experience. And if joy is "delighting in the possession of a loved good," consider for a moment what might occasion Our Lady's joy, even before Her glorious Assumption: Sanctifying Grace in an eminent degree; the Gifts of the Holy Ghost operating at their apex; the infused and acquired virtues exercised in an heroic degree; the visible presence of the Incarnate Word, whom She conceived in Her mind before conceiving in Her womb (says St. Augustine); the affection of her Virgin Spouse, St. Joseph; and other manifold favors bestowed upon her by the Trinity - each Person of whom She stood in special intimate relation, as Daughter, Mother, Spouse.
Truly could She tell Saint Elizabeth, "My spirit hath rejoiced in God by savior" (Luke 1:47)!
In this, as in so many things, Our Lady stands as our exemplar. We may not be cognizant of the fact, but what we are considering here actually entails a sacred obligation of our Faith, for Holy Scripture admonishes us in manifold ways to rejoice. Often this is stated as a direct command:
"For the rest, brethren, rejoice, be perfect, take exhortation, be of one mind, have peace; and the God of peace and of love shall be with you" (2 Cor. 13:11).
"As to the rest, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord" (Phil. 3:1).
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice." (Phil. 4:4).
"Always rejoice." (I Thess. 6:16)
"But if you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice that when his glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Pet. 4:13).
"And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice, and your joy may be full." (1 John 1:4).
How perfectly Mary fulfilled these evangelical admonitions! According to St. Thomas, joy is an act, not a virtue, so we are not talking about something that perdures constantly. Each joy of Mary, then, was a discreet event, a distinct act. How many joys did She have? "Originally, there were five joys of the Virgin. Later, that number increased to seven, nine, and even fifteen in medieval literature, although seven remained the commonest number, and others are rarely found in art.
The five joys of Mary are mentioned in the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as a source of Gawain's strength. The devotion was especially popular in pre-Reformation England" (Wikipedia article on the Joys of Mary). But our attempt at numbering Mary's joys are for our benefit; only God Himself could give these joys a number.
Here are the Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin, as honored in the Franciscan Crown (or "Seraphic Rosary"):
Adoration of the Magi
Finding Jesus in the Temple
Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin
What is the source of Mary's joy? I said above that it is not a virtue or habit, but an act. But if this is so, what is the virtue of which joy is an act? According to St. Thomas, joy is an act of charity:
"Now it is evident from what we have said about the passions (I-II, 25, 2,4) that love is the first affection of the appetitive power, and that desire and joy follow from it. Hence the same virtuous habit inclines us to love and desire the beloved good, and to rejoice in it. But in as much as love is the first of these acts, that virtue takes its name, not from joy, nor from desire, but from love, and is called charity. Hence joy is not a virtue distinct from charity, but an act, or effect, of charity: for which reason it is numbered among the Fruits [of the Holy Ghost] (Galatians 5:22)." (ST IIa IIae Q. 28 A. 4.)
It is the burning charity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that fructifies in the act of joy. But in this veil of tears, joy is not a perpetual state, as I have said. St. Thomas notes that only in heavenly beatitude is our joy full; here, it is unavoidably interrupted by sorrow, for evils both physical and moral befall us and our loved ones in the world. The sublime thing about Mary's sorrows is that they, too, come from Her charity. Again, St. Thomas:
"As stated above (I-II, 25, 1,2,3), when we were treating of the passions, joy and sorrow proceed from love, but in contrary ways. For joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved exists and endures in it; and the latter is the case chiefly in the love of benevolence, whereby a man rejoices in the well-being of his friend, though he be absent. On the other hand sorrow arises from love, either through the absence of the thing loved, or because the loved object to which we wish well, is deprived of its good or afflicted with some evil." (IIa IIae Q. 28 A. 1.)
Acts of joy and sorrow both proceed from love. Mary's joys and sorrows were perfect, because they came from the unalloyed supernatural charity of the Immaculate Heart. And this brings us back to the blazon on our habit. I focused on the sword of sorrow that wounds the Heart, only mentioning the other emblems. The five white roses are Our Lady's joys, and the flame atop is Her burning charity - that holy love that fructifies both in joy and in sorrow.
At the foot of the Cross the charity of the Co-Redemptrix brought forth many acts of sorrow from the Immaculate Heart. But charity "rejoiceth with the truth" (I Cor. 13:6); therefore, knowing that the salvation of the world was being accomplished, the holy Virgin rejoiced there as well - yes, even there. Her joy, like her love and her sorrow, was not sentimental; it was grounded in truth and virtue. So she could say, far more than St. Paul, "[I] rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24).
"And of his fulness we all have received, and grace for grace," said St. John (1:16). The sacred humanity of Christ is the abundant fountainhead from which the waters of grace flow down to us, His mystical members. In an applied sense, we can say these words of the Virgin, too, for She is the Mediatrix of that deluge of grace. And how sweet it is to drink of the torrent of Her joys. For this reason, She is rightly called by Holy Mother Church, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, the "Cause of All Our Joys."
O Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia!
An online journal edited by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Benedict Center, New Hampshire.
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