the perfect guide for living in the Spirit

El Greco, Saint John Contemplates the Immaculate Conception, Church of Saint Leocadia and Saint Roman; Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo.

In honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I’m reprinting something from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. At the beginning of Part Three, Section One (“Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit”), the Compendium displays a painting by El Greco, and then provides this gloss:

Mary, the Panhagia (all holy), is the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit (Panhagion). Her existence, from her immaculate conception to her glorious assumption into heaven, is completely sustained by the love of God. The Spirit of the Love of the Father and the Son makes of Mary a new creature, the new Eve. Her heart and mind are intent upon the adoration of and obedience to the heavenly Father. She is his beloved daughter and she is also dedicated to the acceptance and service of the Son, whose mother and disciple she is. Her soul is likewise intent upon her surrender to and cooperation with the Holy Spirit for whom she is a treasured sanctuary.

In this image Mary is surrounded by angels playing musical instruments and making merry, her head crowned with the divine love of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the dove. Mary is the mother and protector of the Church (at her feet there is a faint glimpse of a sacred edifice). Through her efficacious, motherly intercession with Jesus, she pours out upon the Church the abundance of heavenly graces (symbolized by the tuft of blooming roses).

Below at the left, the apostle John in contemplation of Immaculate Mary represents every one of the faithful who sees in the Blessed Virgin the perfect model and likewise the teacher and guide for living in the Spirit.

The Cistercian abbot Christian (12th century) reflected upon how the apostles shared with Mary their spiritual experiences. Comparing them to the twelve stars which crown the Blessed Virgin, he wrote:

“Frequently they gathered around the most prudent Virgin like disciples around their teacher to learn more fully the truth about what she had done, the truth that they would preach to others at the right moment. Since she was divinely set apart and taught, she showed herself to be a true storehouse of heavenly wisdom since in her daily life she had been close as a singular companion to wisdom itself, namely her Son, and had taken to heart and faithfully kept the things she had seen and heard.” (Sermon I on the Assumption of the Blessed Mary)

I once used this text as the starting point of an RCIA session on the moral life, available here.

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