Anthony_Sermons - III. THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
(As the flower of roses in the days of the spring.)
12. As the flower of roses in the days of the spring, and as the lilies that are on the brink of the water. Ecclesiasticus says:
Bud forth as the rose planted by the brooks of waters. Give ye a sweet odour as Libanus.
Send forth flowers as the lily and yield a smell, and bring forth leaves in grace. (Si 39,17-19)
There are three things noted in this text: the abundance of tears, incessant prayer, and cleanness of life. The ‘roses’ are the souls of the faithful, made red with the blood of Christ. They should be planted by the brooks of waters (abundant tears), so as to be able to bring forth fruits worthy of penitence. They should also, as Libanus, have the incense of devout prayer for a sweet fragrance. And like the lily, in the cleanness of a spotless life, they should give out the fragrance of good repute, and bring forth leaves in thanksgiving. If the souls of the faithful have all these, they will be able to present themselves worthily at today’s Festival, the Nativity of the Lord, the child-bearing of the blessed Virgin, to whom the words apply: As the flower of roses in the days of the spring, etc.
13. "The childbearing of the glorious Virgin is compared to the rose and the lily, because just as these, when they send out their sweetest scent, do not destroy their flower, so blessed Mary remained a virgin in bringing forth the Son of God."9 And so when the blessed Virgin bore him, his Father could say what Isaac said of Jacob:
Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of a plentiful field, which the Lord hath blessed. (Gn 27,27)
The Nativity of Jesus Christ was like the scent of a meadow full of flowers, because he kept intact the flower of his mother’s virginity when he came forth from her. The blessed Virgin was a meadow full of roses and lilies, which the Lord blessed: hence the words, Blessed art thou among women. Blessed Mary was troubled when she heard that she was blessed among women, for she had always wished to be blessed among virgins. Therefore she wondered what manner of salutation this should be, which seemed at first to be questionable. To make it clear that the promise of a son did not hide a danger to her virginity, she asked, How shall this be done, because I know not man; meaning, I have the firm intention not to know. Or it may be that she was troubled by hearing herself addressed in terms that, as it seemed to her, she little deserved. "Virtue is rare. Manifest though your holiness be, it should be hidden from you alone."10 On the other hand, blessed Bernard also says, "Inwardly you set a small value upon yourself, as weighed in the scales of truth; yet outwardly you are mistaken about others’ worth- you set a higher price on us than you take for yourself."11
It is of this Virgin’s virginal childbearing that we say: As the flowers of roses in the days of spring. Spring is the time of growth, when the earth is clad in green, when it is made colourful with all kinds of flowers, when the air grows balmy, the birds sing, and the whole world seems to smile. We give you thanks, holy Father, that in the midst of winter and the cold, you have made us a spring-time full of delight. Today the Virgin, the blessed earth which the Lord has blessed, has brought forth the green grass which is the grazing of penitents: that is, the Son of God. Today she is made colourful with flowers of
roses and lilies. Today the angels sing: Glory to God in the highest. Today peace and tranquillity are restored to the earth. What more? The whole world smiles and rejoices, and so today the angel says to the shepherds:
Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people; for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. (Lc 2,244)
(On the same text, against the prelates of the Church: You will find the child.)
14. Beloved: pay attention to the fact that it was to shepherds of animals that the angel appeared; for (as Solomon says) His communication is with the simple (Pr 3,32).
Those who keep watch over simple and innocent thoughts will hear the angel saying:
This shall be a sign unto you (to sign yourself with);
you will find the infant (humility)
laid in a manger (not at its mother’s breast: abstinence)
and wrapped in swaddling cloths (poverty).
This is the sign with which the Father marked his Son and sent him into the world, and you too should mark yourself with this sign. You will find the ‘infant’, he says, one not yet capable of speech. He was indeed one who did not speak: He was silent, and opened not his mouth (Is 53,7), not only in the presence of his shearer, but in that of those who stripped and killed him.
You will find the infant: truly an infant, remaining silent and not exposing the sins of men. Because he does not speak out, sinners think he does not see. So the Lord complains in Isaiah:
Thou hast lied and not been mindful of me, nor thought on me in thy heart.
For I am silent and as one that seeth not: and thou hast forgotten me.
I will declare thy justice
(that is, I will render to thee according to thy work (Ps 24,29)) and thy works shall not profit thee. (Is 57,11-12)
You will find the infant: alas and alas! Wherever I look, I find not an infant but one who shouts and criticizes, who grumbles or flatters. Find an infant? I find a speaker, one who sets his mouth against heaven and his tongue has passed through the earth ((Ps 72,9), one who spares neither just nor sinner from his criticism. I find a speaker who
calls evil good, and good evil;
that puts darkness for light and light for darkness;
bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Is 5,20)
There follows: Laid in a manger. Almost all of them resemble the young of asses, who suck from behind at the breasts of gluttony and lust. The Lord was laid in a manger, but they hang upon the breasts of the great harlot, who has made drunk the inhabitants of the world with the wine of her prostitution (cf. Ap 17,1-2), at the cost of their souls. Hereafter they will hang upon the gallows of hell.
You will find him wrapped in swaddling cloths. Cloths, not the furs with which our first parents were wrapped when they were cast out of paradise. Those who wear fur coats dwell with demons. They are slanderers and seducers. Indeed, the whore entraps men by using the beauty of her own hide, enticing and flattering. Seducers and harlots ‘wear fur coats’ in that they glory in outward appearance. What shall I say of our effeminate modern prelates, who dress up like a woman going to her wedding, wearing all kinds of furs, luxuriating in painted carriages, ornaments and trappings for their horses, which they redden with Christ’s blood? Look whom the Bride of Christ is entrusted to today- of Christ, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger! These men loll on ivory couches and wrap themselves in fur coats! Elias and John had a leather belt about their loins. You who have ‘grown old in evil days’, if you want leather, wear a belt round your loins, not a fur coat, and mortify the skin of your own body. A man will give skin for skin, says Job (Jb 2,4); mortify the skin of your mortal body, so as to receive it back glorified in the general Resurrection. O you shepherds of the Church, let this be a sign to you: You shall find the infant, etc. Sign yourselves with the sign of this child’s humility and abstinence, the gold seal of his poverty, you who live off his patrimony.
(On the same; you will find why three Masses are sung on the Lord’s Nativity, and on the property of the lily, and its meaning.)
15. Let us say, then: As flowers of roses in the days of spring. God made the world in springtime, in the month of March. In his Son’s Nativity he as it were made a new world, renewing all things. On the first day, God said: Be light made; and light was made (Gn 1,3). Today, the Word of the Father, through whom all things were made, was made flesh. The Light who said: Be light made, was made today. And so we sing today at the Dawn Mass: A light shall shine.
Note that three Masses are sung today: the Midnight Mass, in which we sing: The Lord
said to me (Ps 2,7), representing the hidden generation of the Divinity, of which none can tell; the second is the Dawn Mass, referring to his birth today of his mother; the third Mass, at Terce, tells of his generation from both his mother and his Father. The Introit is: Unto us a child is born, and this refers to his mother; the Gospel is: In the beginning was the Word, and this refers to his generation from his Father. The first Mass is celebrated during the night, because the generation from the Father is hidden from us, who believe in it. The second Mass is celebrated very early in the morning, because his birth from his mother was visible, yet as it were covered by a cloud. Who may loose the thong of his sandals (cf. Mc 1,7), that is, investigate the secret of his Incarnation? The third Mass is celebrated in the full light of day, because in the daylight of eternity, when all darkness shall be dispelled, we shall perceive clearly how Jesus Christ was begotten of his Father and born of his mother. Then we shall know the One who knows all things, for we shall see him face to face and be like him (cf. 1Jn 3,2). It is well said, then: As dew in the days of spring.
16. There follows: As the lilies that are on the brink of the water. The lily grows on untilled ground, springing up in the valleys and giving off a sweet scent. It is white, and when it is closed it retains its scent, when open it sends it forth. It has six petals, with golden rods and a stem in the midst. It heals limbs that are burned. The milk-white lily represents the blessed Virgin, white in the splendour of virginity. She was born of chaste and humble parents: Joachim (‘rising up’) and Anna (‘grace’). Today she bore the Son of God, as a lily sends forth its perfume. Her six petals are explained in the second clause of the Gospel: When the crowds pressed upon Jesus (Pentecost V), referring to the six steps of Solomon’s throne. The golden rods are Mary’s poverty and humility, which adorned her virginity. She is the medicine for sinners who have been burnt by the fire of sin.
Joel says of these: All their faces shall be made like a pot (Jl 2,6). A pot is a cooking vessel in which water is boiled under the action of fire, and steam is emitted, together with bubbles which are maintained in the water by the pressure of air within. The pot represents the mind of a sinner, seething with bubbles of wicked thoughts, when the fire of the devil's temptation is applied to it. From this pot comes the vapour of evil consent, by which the soul's eye is blinded and the sinner's mind darkened. A face manifests the dispositions of the soul, and so it represents the works by which a man is known. So,
‘the face of a sinner becomes like a pot’ when his works are begrimed by the darkness of his mind. Blessed Mary takes this grime and scorching away, by the healing whiteness of her holiness, and she bestows health in every way on those who hope in her.
Let us say, then: As lilies at the brink of the waters; as though to say that just as lilies rooted by the waters retain their freshness, beauty and perfume, so blessed Mary retained the freshness and beauty of virginity when she bore her Son.
We ask you, then, our Lady and dear Mother of God, that in this, the Nativity of your Son (whom as virgin you bore, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger), you would beg for us his pardon, and with the soothing ointment of your mercy heal the burns of our soul, which we have contracted from the fire of sin. Thus may we become fit
to attain the joy of the eternal festival. May he grant this, who today deigned to be born of you, O glorious Virgin. To him be honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
(As the sweet-smelling frankincense in the time of summer.)
1. As the sweet-smelling frankincense in the time of summer; as a bright fire, and frankincense burning in the fire. (Si 50,8-9)
Christ says in Ecclesiasticus:
I, like the river Dorix, and like an aqueduct, came out of paradise. (Si 24,41)
Dorix means ‘medicine of generation’, and represents Jesus Christ, a medicine for the human race fallen in Adam. Jesus Christ came out of ‘paradise’, the virgin womb, like the river Dorix and like an aqueduct, because from the moment he took flesh of the Virgin, he became like a river for us as regards faith, by the water of Baptism. He became ‘Dorix’ in his Passion, wherein he shed his blood to heal our wounds; and an ‘aqueduct’ by the infusion of graces. By him, then, as by an aqueduct, the Father infuses grace into us. That is why at the end of our prayer we say: Through our Lord, etc.
It says in Genesis:
The Lord had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning,
wherein he placed man... to dress it and to keep it. (Gn 2,8)
But man worked badly, and kept it badly; and so it was necessary for the Lord to plant another, far better, paradise (namely, blessed Mary) to which its exiles might return. In this paradise was set the second Adam, who worked in it and kept it. He worked great things, as she herself said:
He that is mighty hath done great things for me; and holy is his name. (Lc 1,49)
What we call ‘holy’, the Greeks call ‘agios’, suggesting ‘un-earthly’, because those consecrated to his name should have their conversation in heaven and not on earth. He kept her, kept her unstained. He worked in her, by making her fruitful, and he kept her undeflowered. At first the earth which was cursed in Adam's labour brought forth thorns and thistles, with hard work. Our earth, the blessed Virgin, brought forth a blessed fruit
without human labour, which she offered to God in the temple today, as it is said: As the sweet-smelling frankincense in the time of summer, etc.
2. The word for incense, ‘thus’, comes from the same root as ‘tonsure’; though others connect it with ‘theos’, God, to whom it is offered in worship. The blessed Virgin says in Ecclesiasticus:
I perfumed my dwelling... as Libanus not cut. (Si 24,21)
‘Libanus’ is a tree found in Arabia, large, and secreting an aromatic sap, and it is named after the Arabian mountain where incense is gathered, mount Libanus. It is gathered twice a year, in autumn and in spring. The ‘Libanus not cut’ is blessed Mary, who was never cut by the knife of concupiscence. She perfumed her dwelling (her soul) with love, and filled it with the fragrance of virtue. Because of this perfume, her dwelling gave forth the scent of humility and chastity. Blessed Mary, who because of the purity of her life may be called ‘Libanus’ (‘whiteness’), sent forth from herself a sweet-smelling incense, the humanity of Jesus Christ, with whose fragrance the whole world is filled.
The double gathering of incense pre-figures the double offering of Christ. His mother first offered him in the temple, according to the Law of Moses. Secondly, he offered himself in sacrifice to God the Father for the reconciliation of the human race. In the first offering he was ‘thus, from theos’, incense offered to God; in the second he was ‘thus, tonsure’, shorn for our sins. He was ‘sweet-smelling incense in the days of summer’, that is, in the heat of persecution by the Jews. It is the first offering that concerns us at the moment, and we shall speak something in praise of the glorious Virgin.
(On the same text, a sermon in praise of the same Virgin: Blessed among women.)
3. We read in the book of Judges that Debora said:
Blessed among women be Jahel the wife of Heber the Cinite: and blessed be she in her tent.
He asked for water: and she gave him milk, and offered him butter in a dish fit for princes.
She put her left hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman’s hammer: and she struck Sisara, seeking in his head a place for the wound, and strongly piercing through his temples. (Jg 5,24-26)
Falling into the sleep of death, he fainted and he died. Jahel means ‘a female deer’, and she represents blessed Mary. See the sermon: A certain woman lifting up her voice (Lent III). She is called ‘wife of Heber the Cinite’, Heber meaning ‘sharing’ and Cinite ‘possession’; standing for Jesus Christ who shared our nature, and says in the Proverbs of Solomon:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways. (Pr 8,22)
The ways of God are his works, in the beginning of which he possesses Wisdom, because as creation began to come into being he had the Son, who with him disposed all things. Another translation is:
The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways into his works.
This is to be understood as the Incarnation of the Lord. God ‘created me’ according to the flesh. The flesh acknowledges God; glory signifies the Father; the creature confesses the Lord; charity knows the Father as the beginning (or in the beginning) of his ways. As he himself says: I am the Way (Jn 14,6) that leads the Church to life. It was for the redemption of his works that he was made from the Virgin. His flesh, then, was for the sake of his works; his divinity was before his works. Blessed Mary is called his ‘wife’ in that he rested in her bride-chamber and took flesh from her. Blessed be she, then, in her tent. All generations will call me blessed, she says. She is blessed in her tent, because he who created her rested within her. To her praise, who surpasses all praise, and in whose praise every material thing falls short and every tongue stammers (yet matter does offer itself, and devotion does desire to say something of her, however little), we are setting forth something about this tent, as though with a shaking hand.
(On the same text, on the construction of the tabernacle and on Moses’ bulrush, and their meaning.)
4. Blessed be Jahel in her tent.
The Lord spoke to Moses in Exodus, saying:
Thou shalt make the tabernacle in this manner:
Thou shalt make ten curtains of fine twisted linen,
and violet and purple and scarlet twice dyed, diversified with embroidery.
Thou shalt make also eleven curtains of goats' hair, to cover the top of the tabernacle.
Thou shalt make also another cover to the roof, of rams' skins dyed red:
and over that again another cover of violet coloured skins.
Thou shalt make also the boards of the tabernacle standing upright of setim wood. (Ex 2,
Note that the Scholastic History12 comments on this text: "The tabernacle was the house dedicated to God, rectangular in shape and enclosed within three walls, to the north, south and west. On the east side was open access, so that it might be lit by the rays of the rising sun. It was thirty cubits long, ten wide and ten high. The south side was made up of twenty boards of setim wood, each ten cubits long, four fingers thick, and one and a half cubits wide. These were joined together by mortices, so that there should be no rims or unevenness in the wall. They were gilded on each side, and each stood on two silver sockets at the corners, the holes of which were fitted with gold hinges. The north wall was made according to the same pattern, and on the west there were seven boards, just like the others and standing in the same way upon their bases." When the boards were set up in this manner, the roof was made from the four coverings we have mentioned, with the curtains, the goats’ skins, the rams’ skins dyed red, and the blue ones.
The tabernacle represents blessed Mary, in whom Christ armed himself with the breastplate of justice and the helmet of salvation, to do battle against the powers of the air. Regarding these arms, see the Gospel: When a strong man armed (Lent III). She is the house dedicated to God, anointed with the consecration of the Holy Spirit, four-square with the principal virtues, lengthened to final perseverance, enclosed with three walls of virtue to north, south and west. The north represents the devil’s temptation, the south the deceits of the world, and the west falling into sin. She was closed to the north, as in Genesis:
She will crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. (Gn 3,15)
Blessed Mary crushed the ‘head’, the beginning, of the devil’s temptation, when she made her vow of virginity; he ‘lay in wait for her heel’ when at the last he made her Son to be caught and crucified by the Jews.
She was closed to the south; whence Luke says:
And the angel being come in said unto her: Hail, full of grace. (Lc 1,28)
Mary was ‘within’, enclosed, when the angel entered. It was because she was ‘within’ that she merited a blessing. Those who are always abroad do not deserve the angel’s greeting. ‘Hail’ is not said to them, but rather (as Amos says):
In all places that are without they shall say, Alas, alas! (Am 5,16)
It is not from God that those outside get a greeting. In Matthew, the Lord rebukes those who looked for greetings in the market-place (cf. Mt 23,7). He who goes out in public places does not deserve to be greeted by God or by his angel, who love what is secret. So in Matthew, as he sends his Apostles, he says:
Salute no man by the way; but into whatever house you enter, first say:
Peace be to this house. (Lc 10,4-5)
He bids them give a greeting, not to those on the road or working in the fields, but to those in the house. Those who are outside are deprived of the divine greeting.
5. Again, she was enclosed to the west. In Exodus it says that Moses was hidden for three months. When he could be hidden no longer, his mother took a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the little babe inside, and laid him in the reed-bed by the river-bank (cf. Ex 2,2-3). Let us see what is meant by Moses, the three months, the basket of rushes, the bitumen and the pitch, and the river. Moses is Jesus Christ, who was hidden for ‘three months’, that is, for three ages: before the foundation of the world, from that foundation until Moses, and from Moses to the Annunciation to blessed Mary, who was the ‘rush basket’ closed on each side with ‘bitumen and pitch’.
A basket is a simple wicker container, and the three elements from which it is made stand for the three chief virtues of blessed Mary- the ‘rush’ of humility, the ‘bitumen’ of virginity and the ‘pitch’ of poverty. The bulrush is a strong, tough plant, of such a nature that even if it is dried up, it grows green again when it is watered. If it is cut and then fixed in the ground, it puts down roots again. Humility is just like that; it is so strong that even if it is held in contempt and rejected as ‘dried up’, yet if it is set in the ground (towards which the humble person always looks) it puts forth even deeper roots of humility. In this way, Jesus Christ reposed in the blessed Virgin as in a basket, and was exposed to the flowing river of this world; he whom the ‘king’s daughter’ (Holy Church) adopted as her own child.
A ‘reed-bed’ is simply a place full of reeds and rushes and thorns. Blessed Mary was enclosed within these three, lest she be stained by the devil’s temptation, the world’s deceit or the pleasure of sin. Canticles says of this triple enclosure:
A garden enclosed is my sister, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. (Ct 4,12)
Blessed Mary is called the ‘sister’ of Christ, from their common dwelling in the flesh. She was a garden enclosed with the wall of humility to the north, a garden enclosed with the wall of poverty to the south, and a fountain sealed up with the seal of virginity to the west. These are the ‘boards gilded within and without’, inseparably joined and equally disposed, set upon the silver bases of pure intention and the confession of divine praise.
6. Regarding this triple enclosure, and the east from which the tabernacle was lit, there is a concordance in Ezekiel:
And I turned to the way of the outward sanctuary, which looked towards the east; and it was shut. And the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut.
It shall not be opened and no man shall pass through it:
because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it; and it shall be shut for the prince.
The prince himself shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord. (Ez 44,1-3)
The gate, through which goods are carried in and out, stands for blessed Mary, through whom we receive the rewards of grace. She is the ‘gate of the outward sanctuary’, not the inner. The inner sanctuary is the divinity, the outer is the humanity. "The Father gave majesty, the mother weakness."13 The ‘way of this gate’ was humility, towards which everyone should turn with the prophet. The humility of the Virgin ‘looked towards the east’, that she might be illumined by its radiance. Three times this gate is said to be ‘shut’, since blessed Mary was enclosed to north, south and west, as has been said. She was humbly open to the east, that is, to Jesus Christ who came from heaven. So there is added: No man shall pass through it, referring to Joseph, who was to have no knowledge of her. It shall be shut for the prince refers to the devil, the prince of this world. It was closed to his suggestions, because her mind was open to no temptation, just as her body knew no contact with a man. The prince alone means Jesus Christ, who sits in her by the humility of the flesh he took, to eat bread before the Lord: that is, to do the will of the Father who sent him (cf. Jn 4,34). With the boards of virtue thus disposed, the roof is put on, the curtains, the goat-skins, and the skins of red and blue. In the Virgin alone, the life of all the saints redounds; she is capable of all the virtues.
Note that the Church of Christ is divided into Militant and Triumphant. The Church Militant possesses the curtains and the goats’ hair; the Church Triumphant has the red and blue skins. The curtains diversified with embroidery, that is, with fine and varied needle-work, represent all the just of the Church Militant. The twisted linen represents good religious, constrained to the pureness of chastity and bodily abstinence. The violet are those who put aside all earthly things and give themselves only to the sweetness of contemplation. The purple are those who crucify themselves with the memory of the Lord’s Passion, and as it were in the mind’s eye contemplate him hanging on the Cross, with water and blood flowing from his side, his head inclined as he gave up his spirit; and they drench themselves with tears that will not be stemmed. The scarlet twice-dyed are those who burn with love for God and neighbour. The goats’ hair represents penitents who make satisfaction for what they have done, in sack-cloth and ashes (see the Gospel for Easter, towards the end).
The red skins stand for all the martyrs, who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and who having triumphed from the world have attained, crowned, to the Church Triumphant. The blue are all confessors whose conversation was in heaven, and so have passed from hope to reality. Blessed Mary, even while in the Church Militant, possessed the virtues of all the just, saying with Ecclesiasticus:
In me is all grace of the way and of the truth;
in me is all hope of life and of virtue. (Si 24,25)
She had, too, exceeding compassion for penitents, so as to say: They have no wine; which was as if to say: "O my Son, pour the grace of your love upon penitents, because they lack the wine of compunction." Now she reigns in glory, enjoying the reward of all the saints, because she is lifted up above the choirs of angels. Behold the tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation (cf. He 9,11), but built and dedicated by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Well may we say: Blessed be Jahel in her tent.
(A sermon on the same subject, in praise of the same Virgin: He asked for water and she gave him milk; and on the nature of the dove and the turtle-dove, and on the three parts of a candle, and on the four verses of the Nunc Dimittis, and what all these things mean.)
7. There follows: He asked her water; and she gave him milk, and offered him butter in a dish fit for princes.
Sisara means ‘exclusion of glory’, and he stands for the devil, who being himself excluded from glory, strives to shut the faithful out from it too. When he sought the water of concupiscence, our Jahel gave him milk. It was the divine plan to hide the secret of the Lord's Incarnation from the devil. When he saw blessed Mary espoused to a man, pregnant, bearing a child and suckling it, he thought her fallen. He asked the water of concupiscence as a fee, reckoning her corrupt. But even as the Virgin suckled her Son, she deceived the devil, and so killed him with tent-peg and mallet. The tent-peg, with which the tent was shut, is blessed Mary’s virginity; the mallet, T-shaped, represents the Cross of Christ. Thus Jahel, blessed Mary, slew the devil with the tent-peg of her bodily virginity, and the mallet of her Son’s Passion. It is as the book of Judith says:
One Hebrew woman hath made confusion in the house of king Nabuchodonosor:
for behold, Holofernes lieth upon the ground; and his head is not on him. (Jdt 14,16)
Adonai, Lord, great and wonderful God! To you be praise and glory, because you have given us salvation by the hand of your daughter and mother, the glorious Virgin Mary.
Yet we should note that the text also contains these words: She offered him butter in a
dish fit for princes. It is on this verse that we base what we are going to say, so let us see what the dish, the princes and the butter mean. The dish is the humility of poverty, the princes are the Apostles, and the butter is the humanity of Jesus Christ. It was in the humility of her poverty (which those princes were to have, who, rich in faith, were poor in this world) that she offered in the temple today the ‘butter’, the Son whom she had borne and of whom Isaiah says: He shall eat butter and honey (Is 7,15). The ‘honey’ is his divinity, the ‘butter’ is his humanity, and he ‘ate butter and honey’ when he united the divine to human nature; thereby knowing, and making us to know, ‘how to refuse the evil and choose the good’. In her poverty, she offered her Son; and with him the sacrifice of the poor, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (Lv 2,24), as was written in the Law of the Lord, namely Leviticus, where it says that if a woman having received seed shall bear a man-child, she shall be unclean seven days (cf. Lv 12,2). In contradistinction, she who gave birth was a Virgin, so that neither Son nor mother needed to be purified by sacrifices: it was to free us from the fear of the Law, the observance of a Law kept out of fear. So the text adds that when the forty days of her purification are over, she should offer a lamb at the door of the tabernacle; but if her hand find not sufficiency, and she is not able to find a lamb, then she should take two turtle-doves or two young pigeons. This was the offering of poor folk who could not afford a lamb; so by all this the humility and poverty of the Lord was made evident. Those who are truly poor make this offering to the Lord.
8. Note that if a turtle-dove loses its mate, it will go without a mate ever after, and wander alone. It will not drink clear water, nor rest on a green branch. Again, a dove is simple: its nest is rougher and poorer than any other, it hurts none with beak or claw, it does not live by hunting. It feeds its young with its beak, with its own food. It does not feed on carrion, or attack other birds- not even the smallest. It eats pure grain, and fosters the young of others as its own. It dwells near flowing water, to avoid the hawk. It makes its nest in the rocks, and in tempestuous weather it flees to its nest. It defends itself with its wings, it flies in flocks, and its song is a sigh. It is fertile, and rears twin young. Note also that when the dove has young, and the chicks are growing, the male goes and sucks salty ground, and puts what he has sucked into the mouths of the chicks, to accustom them to food. And if the female is tardy in returning to her young, due to the pain of birth, the male strikes her and puts her back in the nest by force.14
Similarly the poor in spirit, the truly penitent who by sinning mortally have lost their companion Jesus Christ, live alone, in loneliness of mind and even of body, far from the tumult of the world. They do not drink the still water of worldly joy, but the troubled water of sorrow and tears. The Lord said, My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? (Jn 12,27). They do not settle on the green branch of temporal glory, of which Ezekiel says: They have put the branch to their noses (Ez 8,17). Carnal folk put the branch of worldly glory to their noses, so as not to smell the stench of sin or hell.
Again, they are as simple as doves. The nest of their conversation, and even the bed where they sleep bodily, is rough and poor. They injure no-one, indeed they forgive those who injure them. They do not live by robbery, rather they share what they have. They feed those in their care with the word of preaching, and the grace they have
received they share freely with others. They do not feed on the carrion of mortal sin; as the verse says:
"Dead things fall by iron; dead things by death."15
They scandalize neither great nor small; they feed on the pure grain of the Church's preaching, not that of heretics, which is unclean. Being ‘all things to all men’, they are as full of zeal for the salvation of others as for their own. They love everyone in the Heart of Jesus Christ. They dwell by the flowing waters of sacred Scripture, so as to see from afar and avoid the temptation of the devil who is scheming to catch them. They build their nest in the clefts of the rock, the wounded side of Jesus Christ. If some storm of fleshly temptation blows up, they flee to the side of Christ and hide themselves there, saying with the Psalmist:
Be to me, O Lord, a strong tower in the face of the enemy; (Ps 60,4) and again:
Be to me a God who protects. (Ps 70,3)
They defend themselves with the wings of humility and patience, not with the talons of revenge. "Patience is the best kind of retaliation," says a philosopher;16 and also "Patience is a harbour in our miseries."17 They fly to heaven together, in the unity of the Church, the congregation of the faithful. Fecund with the offspring of good will, they carefully nourish the twin offspring, love of God and of neighbour.
Note also that every penitent should possess these two: mercy and justice. Mercy is as the female guarding her young, justice is the male. The ‘salt earth’ is Jesus Christ, man of sorrows, from whom the penitent should suck bitterness and saltness, to place in the mouth of his ‘young’ (his works) to accustom them to such food, and live always in sorrow and bitterness, crucifying their members, with their vices and concupiscences.
But because discretion is the mother of all the virtues, without which no sacrifice should be offered, then if the dove of mercy be tardy in coming to her young, because of the birth-pangs of compunction and groaning, then justice, as the male, should correct her and as it were force her back in to nourish her young and take care of them. The penitent should sorrow for sin, yet nevertheless he should not deprive himself of what is necessary for him to live.
Whoever offers doves and pigeons of this kind, the High Priest Jesus Christ will cleanse from every issue of blood, the uncleanness of sin. So let us get back to the matter from which we have somewhat digressed, the text: As sweet-smelling frankincense in the time of summer.
9. There follows: As a bright fire, and frankincense burning in the fire.
Note that today the Church’s faithful carry a bright fire, in candles made of wax and tow. The fire is the divinity, the wax the humanity, and the tow the harshness of Christ’s Passion. Today the blessed Virgin carried and offered God’s Son and hers in the temple. It is in imitation of this that today the faithful carry and offer fire in a candle. In these three elements, true penitence is represented: fire is the ardour of contrition, eradicating the whole brood of vices; the wax is the confession of sin. As wax melts before the fire (Ps 67,3), so in the presence of ardent contrition confession flows from the mouth of the penitent, with flowing tears. The tow is the roughness of satisfaction. In these three is Jesus, the salvation of men, and whoever offers these things to God can say with the just man:
Lord, now you may let your servant depart in peace, etc. Lk 2.29)
Note that in these four verses, four blessings upon the penitent man are expressed. The first is the full remission of sins, and peace of conscience: Now you may dismiss. The second is at the separation of soul and body, when he sees the one whom he has believed in and desired: For mine eyes have seen. The third is at the ordeal of the last Judgement, at which is said:
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and they will praise him in the gates for her works: (Pr 31,31)
Which thou hast prepared, etc. The fourth is in the light of eternal glory, wherein he shall see face to face, and know as he is known (cf 1Co 13 1Co 2): A light to lighten, etc. Well may we say, then: As a bright fire, and frankincense burning in the fire.
Jesus Christ shone like a fire on the shepherds at his Nativity, on the three Magi at his Manifestation, on Simeon and Anna as the prophesied at his mother’s Purification. In his true Passion, he burned like incense in the fire, and heaven and earth and hell are filled with his fragrance; angels in heaven rejoice over the redemption of the human race, the dead are raised to life, and those captive in hell are set free.18
We ask you, then, our Lady and chosen mother of God, to purify us from the blood of sin, to make us bear the burning fire of contrition in the wax of confession and the tow of satisfaction: so that we may be made fit to attain the light and glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. May he grant this, whom you offered today in the temple, and to whom be glory and honour for evermore. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - III. THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY