Because October is dedicated in a special way to the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the month I, as a dedicated patristiblogger, will work my way through the Mysteries of the Rosary offering some comments from the Fathers of the Church. Let’s jump right in!
1st Joyful Mystery: The Annuniciation
Commenting on Luke 1:26-38, the announcment of Jesus’ birth, St. Ambrose of Milan (+397) makes a connection between Mary and the Church. :
And, therefore, the Evangelist, who had undertaken to prove the incorrupt mystery of the incarnation, thought it fruitless to pursue evidence of Mary’s virginity, lest he be seen as a defender of the Virgin rather than an advocate of the mystery. Surely, when he taught that Joseph was righteous, he adequately declared that he could not violate the temple of the Holy Spirit, the mother of the Lord, the womb of the mystery. We have learned the lineage of the Truth. We have learned its counsel. Let us learn its mystery. Fittingly is she epsoused, but virgin, because she prefigues the Church which is undefiled (cf. Eph 5:27) yet wed. A virgin conceived us of the Spirit, a Virgin brings us forth without travail. And thus perhaps Mary, wed to one, was filled by Another, because also the separate Churches are indeed filled by the Spirit and by grace and yet are joined to the appearance of a temporal Priest. [Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 2.6-7]
The Marian thought of Ambrose has an ecclesiological dimension. The Second Vatican Council cited this important passage in Lumen gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church:
63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.
Because of Mary’s “Fiat mihi“, we can be members of the Church with Mary as our Mother. Our baptism intergrates us into this wondrous bond. St. Leo the Great (+461) in one of his glorious sermons says:
Each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration. To every one, when he is reborn, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb, for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing. [s. 24.3]
This is not merely a Western insight. While it is a little late for our patristic interests, here is a snip from fascinating Kontakion of the Annunciation by the 9th century Theophanes the Branded:
The Theotokos said: Thou bringest me good tidings of divine joy: that Immaterial Light, in His abundant compassion, will be united to a material body.and now thou criest out to me: all-pure one, blessed is the fruit of thy womb!
The Archangel said: Rejoice, lady; rejoice, most pure virgin! Rejoice, God-containing vessel! Rejoice, candlestick of the light, the restoration of Adam, and the deliverance of Eve! Rejoice, holy mountain, shining sanctuary! Rejoice, bridal chamber of immortality!
The Theotokos said: The descent of the Holy Spirit has purified my soul; it has sanctified my body: it has made me a temple containing God, a divinely adorned tabernacle, a living sanctuary, and the pure Mother of Life.
The Archangel said: I see thee as a lamp with many lights; a bridal chamber made by God! Spotless maiden, as an ark of gold, receive now the Giver of the Law, who through thee has been pleased to deliver mankind’s corrupted nature!
Here the Blessed Virgin represents the Temple, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, images of the Church.