As we bask in the grace of the Holy Spirit richly poured out upon us at Pentecost, let us look, as our final May reflection on Our Lady, at some aspects of her relationship with the Holy Spirit, as we find it in the Bible and in the writings of the saints.
Our Lady is traditionally referred to, in Western Christianity, as the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The usual reason for this is that Scripture says that in order for the Son of God to become man in Mary’s virginal womb, the Holy Spirit would come upon her (see Lk. 1:35). Thus through the overshadowing power of the Most High (here meaning the Father) working through the Holy Spirit, Mary would become the Mother of God Incarnate. Yet there is another way to understand this mystery of Mary’s “spousal” relationship to the Holy Spirit. She was entirely united to the Holy Spirit in her whole being as she was created, and this union was never diminished in the least, but rather became more profound throughout Mary’s life. It is this ineffably intimate and indissoluble union with God the Holy Spirit that merits Mary’s title of “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.”
St Maximilian Kolbe reflected deeply upon the mystery of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, for this was the name she gave to herself at Lourdes. In order to learn more about who Mary is, he reasoned, we ought to begin with the way she spoke of herself. The words, “Immaculate Conception,” writes the saint, “must tell us in the most precise and essential manner who she really is.”
It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that sanctified Mary from the first moment of her existence. “United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature. What sort of union is this? It is above all an interior union, a union of her essence with the ‘essence’ of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her. This was true from the first instant of her existence. It was always true; it will always be true… Among creatures made in God’s image, the union brought about by married love is the most intimate of all (cf. Mt. 19:6). In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being… the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for him; there he conceives…the human life of the Man-God… In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in one there is all the love of the Blessed Trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love. So it is that in this union heaven and earth are joined; all of heaven with all of the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love. It is truly the summit of love.”
Since May 31 is the feast of the Visitation of the Mother of God, I’ll share something here on this mystery (from my book A Place Prepared by God), which has much to do with the relation of the Holy Spirit and Mary (see Luke 1:39-56).
This visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is extraordinary, and so has been immortalized in the pages of the word of God. The first extraordinary thing we encounter is the voice of Mary. Now the voice of a teenage girl is not something that one would expect to merit special mention in the Holy Scriptures. Carrying the Son of God within her, however, Mary could mediate the grace of the Holy Spirit simply with the sound of her voice. When Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, “the babe leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41, 44).
Let us not pass this by without reflection: Mary simply greeted Elizabeth, and the result was that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, as was the child in her womb (see Lk. 1:15). This was just the beginning of twenty centuries (and counting) of wonders associated with Our Lady that proceed from the fact that the Incarnation of God happened within her…
At Mary’s voice the grace of the Holy Spirit is given… [What happened] at the sound of Mary’s voice was the filling of Elizabeth herself with the Holy Spirit. Before we reflect at some length on the result of that little Pentecost of Elizabeth, there’s something else we ought to realize, since we do not explore these mysteries for mere historical value or academic interest. Since this event is part of the word of God, it is living and active; it has enduring meaning for our own time as well as practical application to our own lives. So if Elizabeth received joy and the grace of the Holy Spirit at the sound of Mary’s voice, we should realize that this is much more than a historical narrative. For example, if Jesus healed people and cast out demons when He walked the earth, we have to be aware that what the Gospels offer is not a mere account of what happened then. It is a testimony to who Jesus is, and hence his power to heal and to cast out demons continues to the end of time, for He is the Lord. Similarly, Our Lady’s “voice” (that is, her presence, though in extraordinary circumstances chosen souls do hear her actual voice) continues to bring the grace of the Holy Spirit and joy to those to whom it is granted that she come to them, for she is the Mother of the Lord.
The first thing that Elizabeth said to Mary, once she was filled with the Holy Spirit, was: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Henceforth no one can have any valid reason for not praying the Hail Mary. The first line—“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”—came directly from Heaven, through the mouth of an archangel. The next one—“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”—came directly from the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of a righteous woman He had just filled with Himself. As for the rest of the prayer, the fact that Mary is holy is obvious from God’s choice of her for her mission, and we’ll see in greater detail… what it means that she is the Mother of God and prays for us sinners. If angels and the Holy Spirit Himself can address her as they have, we have the highest of precedents for lovingly doing so ourselves.
Even if St. Luke hadn’t told us that Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit when she blessed Mary and the Fruit of her womb, we would have been compelled to come to the same conclusion ourselves. How else would Elizabeth have known the extraordinary blessing Mary had just received? How would she even have known that Mary was pregnant? Obviously the communication wasn’t very swift in those days. Mary didn’t hear the astonishing news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy until six months after the fact, and that news didn’t even come from Elizabeth, but from the angel. So Elizabeth couldn’t have known what had happened to Mary in the past few days except by divine revelation.
The revelation is even more extraordinary than the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy. Elizabeth called Mary “the mother of my Lord”! Mary herself was probably still coming to terms with the incredible significance of just Who it was that was now living in her womb, and when she goes to visit her cousin she is greeted with: “You are the mother of my Lord!” Elizabeth’s humility is also evident, since she speaks to someone much younger than herself with such respect and deference. “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy.” The very presence of Mary is a gift from God that brings joy and grace, of which Mary’s elder considers herself unworthy.
Let us, then, welcome any “visitation” of the Blessed Virgin Mary that God might deign to grant us in his mercy and love for us. For she will bring with her the grace of the Holy Spirit, being his precious spouse in the ineffably profound manner we will understand fully only in Heaven. But let us open our hearts to receive a little bit of Heaven even now…