If the hurricanes of temptation rise against you, or you are running upon the rocks of trouble, look to the star — call on Mary!
— St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Among the Doctors of the Church he is known as the Marian Doctor; not that he wrote lengthy pages dedicated to Our Lady, or revealed new theological dogmas on the Virgin of Nazareth, as Bernard’s writings on Mary aren’t even that many. However, all his writings and his own life were impregnated with her. Even when Bernard does not speak of her, Mary is always present. We can see this in his writings in which he exhorts his brothers to silence, humility, purity of heart, and ?lial obedience: these are all virtues which, according to the saint, not only shine in Mary but are dispensed by her. He thus merited the title of Marian Doctor because of his great love and ?lial devotion for the Mother of the Savior. His writings were so appreciated that the Church inserted them in the Sacred Liturgy. Ending the day with a Salve Regina or some other Marian antiphony was his idea. St. Bernard had so much trust in her powerful intercession that he said: “God has wanted that we obtain nothing if not through the hands of Mary.” For St. Bernard “Mary is our mediatrix;” and we receive the Holy Spirit that “over?ows from her.”
His Praises of the Virgin Mother are amongst his better-known works, not because they say something new about Mary, but because they in?ame the heart (of he who reads) for love of her, bringing her to life, making her present for those who read his homilies. He admires the faith of the Virgin; he enthuses over her humility; he is fascinated by her radiant purity – with the sole scope of bringing hearts to drink from this “fountain which waters gardens.”
His style, which is lively, rich, and easy ?owing, attracts, delights and recalls the mind of the reader to heavenly things and raises it up into the heart of the Mother. It is so gentle that it nourishes and directs one’s devotion towards her, inducing the soul to follow her. This is because the Mother is the star that leads to Jesus, the aqueduct that communicates the graces that gush forth from the Source. Mary is the one who distributes God’s bene?ts which restore the Universe. In one of his homilies Bernard said of her: “In te et per te ed de te benigna manus omnipotentis quidquid creaverat recreavit” (In you and for you and from you the kindly hand of the Almighty recreates everything that He has created). In a famous sermon on Mary’s Fiat (“Be it done”), he writes;
“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.”
In his words, he tells us that “The Whole World Awaits Mary’s Reply”.
St. Bernard sees a continuum from the life of Jesus to the gifts of the Rosary. He teaches that He lay in a manger and rested on a virgin’s breast, preached on a mountain, and spent the night in prayer. He hung on a cross, grew pale in death, and roamed free among the dead and ruled over those in hell. He rose again on the third day, and showed the apostles the wounds of the nails, the signs of victory; and finally in their presence he ascended to the sanctuary of heaven.
How can we not contemplate this story in truth, piety, and holiness? Whatever of all this I consider, it is God I am considering; in all this he is my God. I have said it is wise to meditate on these truths, and I have thought it right to recall the abundant sweetness, given by the fruits of this priestly root; and Mary, drawing abundantly from heaven, has caused this sweetness to overflow for us.
(Sermo de Aquaeductu: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5)
We will continue our look at St. Bernard next time.