Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu in mulieribus.
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women."
This festival is one of great dignity, and shows the eternal fervent love whereby the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, the Son of God had compassion on us poor sinful and accursed brands of hell. When He was in His Divine Glory, He "thought it not robbery," as St Paul says, "to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross."  None can speak enough of this love, nor praise God, nor thank Him enough for it; for it is beyond the understanding of men and of Angels that our Lord, our God and Supreme Judge, should become our Father, our Brother, and our Husband. He has taken our guilt and condemnation upon Himself, and has redeemed us by His bitter Death, and has made us the children of everlasting life, and has brought us back to our first glory. Yea, and beyond, for we have become like unto the Angels; and we now posses more righteousness and are nearer akin unto God than the Archangels.
O, the goodness of God! Who can so withstand this great love, that he does not love and praise Thee with all his powers? This work of our redemption makes Thee dear to us above all things. It is a work which has no like; humility unbounded, grace undeserved, a gift without return. This work claims our love, draws our wills gently, and unites our desires firmly and justly to Thee. But what can we give to Thee, dear Lord Jesus, in return for all the great goodness that Thou hast shown to us? In return for my destruction of the soul Thou gavest me by creation, Thou hast given it back to me by redemption; so that I am doubly indebted to Thee, to give it wholly again to Thee. But what can I return to Thee, dear Lord Jesus, for that Thou hast given Thy Soul for mine? For, if I could give my soul again to Thee a thousand times, how should I thereby be any the more like unto my Lord, Who gave Himself even unto death for me?
Dear children, this great love can never be repaid by us; but we must do our best, and give to Him again, on our own account, all that we are, all that we have, and all that we can do; like His dear Mother, the blessed Virgin, who did this most faithfully and most perfectly. I will tell you something about this in a figure, that ye also may become the mothers of our Lord in spirit, and that ye may commit yourselves unto God, that he may be conceived and born in your souls.
Now, learn, how the blessed Virgin was prepared when she should conceive the Son of God, though her holiness cannot be perfectly comprehended even by the understanding of Angels. According to the meaning of the letters of her name, Mary, she was raised up in the three highest powers of her soul unto God, she became one spirit with God, and she was taught by Him; for she resigned herself as a fitting instrument to His dear Will, in fervent love for His glory. She was poor in spirit, and always bore herself in God with deep humility and self-annihilation; for she had no desires, no will, and was as passive, as though she were uncreated. And thus an entrance was made for God into her spirit, soul and body. She was pure in spirit, for she never clung with delight to the gifts of God, and did not use them for her own pleasure. She was pure in soul, for she never delighted in any creature, but her soul was adorned with all virtues. She was pure in heart and body, for she was never moved to sin; and thus she was like unto the bright and shining Angels. Although she was the most beautiful of all women, yet none could look upon her with evil desires, because of her angelic purity. She was fervent in spirit, for her sweet ecstasy and longing so moved the Divine Godhead that the fervent love of the Holy Trinity welled forth and was poured out upon her. She was fervent in soul, for all the powers of her soul were always lifted up in the praise of God. She was fervent in heart, for her heart was opened unto the Lord, and it penetrated with fervent longings the incomprehensible depths of the Godhead; for she found there that which she most loved; and, by her inner sweetness, she was well-pleasing unto the Almighty, clinging to the Eternal Goodness by her love to fill her with all things and to give her power over all that he had; for she lived not to herself but to Him alone, Who is the Life of all living. From first to last all that she did was done in God, and was full of a pure and godlike intention; for she was at all times united with God, and never turned away for an instant from His Presence. Therefore the likeness of no creature was ever found in her or had access to her; for, with the Angels, she looked on all things simply in God; and found God alone at all times in the depths and very being of her soul, in the innermost parts of her spirit. Therefore she did not go forth with all her powers to seek for greatness and variety, but at all times she abode simply outside herself in God and God in her. Most perfectly and with all her powers she meditated on the Source from Which she came. Poor, pure, fervent and divine, she was more like a heavenly creature than an earthly one; in spirit she was the Heaven of God; in her soul the Paradise of God; in her body the Palace of God; and she was filled with the Divine Brightness, so that she needed no mediator with God.
Now, ye shall know, further, that God desired to be conceived and born of this Holy Virgin in three ways; that is in her spirit, soul and body. She would not have been so blessed by the birth of the body only, as St Augustine says, and as our Lord also implies in the Gospel, when He answered: "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it."  Therefore she first conceived and bare God in her spirit; for by her purity she was well-pleasing unto God; by her lowliness she made a place for God; and by her love she constrained God, so that He took up His abode in the depths of her spirit, in calm and absolute freedom and silence. God united Himself with her spirit, and spake to her His secret Word, and bare His only Son in her spirit with unspeakable love and joy. This is the Eternal Birth in Mary; and the darkness of night in her spirit, where the understanding is darkened. Where the uncreated light arises, no created light can abide; for night is turned into day; that is, the created light of the soul is transformed into the Light of Eternity. Thus Mary yielded up her spirit to the uncreated Being of the Godhead, and her soul sank down in deep humility.
Thereby she drew down the sweet stream and light of Eternal Wisdom into her soul; and the Father begat His only Son in her soul, and fashioned her anew in Himself. The Father required of her that she should consent thereto that His only Son should take His Human Nature upon Himself in her, and should be born of her in body, by the working of the Holy Ghost. She was afraid in true humility, and answered Him in spirit with fear: "I am not worthy, for I would gladly be the handmaid of such a mother." But God willed that she herself should be the Mother; then she sank down in utter self-abasement, and it was made known unto her that she had been chosen thereto; God required this of her and not anything else. Then the Holy Trinity shone upon her with a supernatural light and transparent clearness, and with a ray or dart of Divine Love she was transfixed in the inmost parts, so that she humbly and lovingly consented to be the Mother of God.
At the same instant the angel Gabriel stood by her and found her exalted in spirit. He greeted her reverently, saying: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."  She was troubled by this lofty greeting, because of her deep humility, and also because she was entirely absorbed in God. Then, when she spake: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord,"  the Holy Ghost took of the purest blood of her virgin heart, that had been set alight by the powerful flame of love, and created therewith a pure and perfect little Body, with all its members, and a pure and holy Soul, and united them together. This, the Person of the Son of God, who is the Eternal Word, and the Brightness of the Glory of the Father, took unto Himself and united it with Himself in Unity of Persons, and out of true love and mercy for our salvation. Thus, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."
This is the third birth that took place in the virgin body of Mary, without hurt to her virginal purity; and thus she became the Daughter of the Father; the Mother of the Son; the Bride of the Holy Ghost; the Queen of Heaven; the Mistress of the world and of all creatures; the Mother of all men who desire her help; the Temple of God, wherein God has rested as a Bridegroom in His chamber in great bliss; for the Virgin's body was as a garden full of sweet-smelling herbs and of all kinds of virtues and graces. With these virtues she caused the Heaven of the Holy Trinity to flow with honey for us poor sinners. She has brought forth the Sun of Righteousness, she has chased away the curse of Eve, and bruised the head of the wicked serpent. This second Eve, with her Child, has restored all that the first Eve had lost and destroyed; she has, besides, brought much more grace and wealth. This is the noble Star which arose out of Jacob, which was prophesied in a Book of Moses, whose light shall lighten the whole world. "Therefore," says Bernard, "in all thy need, fix thine eyes on this Star, call on Mary, and then thou wilt not despair, follow Mary and thou canst not go astray. She will hold thee up, by the power of her Child, so that thou will not fall; she will protect thee, so that thou wilt not despond; she will lead thee to her Child, so that thou mayest overcome." She has the power, indeed; for the Almighty God is her Child; she is indeed willing to do this, for she is merciful. For who can doubt that a child would honour his mother, or that she overflows with love, in whom God Himself has dwelt.
He, therefore, who desires to commune more and more with himself; and to find himself in his Source, in God, and to be conscious of God in his heart (which is conformed to God and inclines to Him, and cleaves to God, as a ray to the sun) he must copy the likeness and the bright mirror of our Lady, and comport himself as she did, both outwardly and inwardly; then he will become conscious in himself of great help from her, both in spirit and in nature. First, he must turn away from all transitory things, and gather up the powers of his mind, and commune with himself, and pass over out of self into God, Who is present within him, in the innermost parts of his spirit, wherein are the three highest powers of the soul, that there he may be united with and become one spirit with God; and there God will work in him. His memory will be made fruitful, his understanding will be transfigured, his will inflamed and inebriated with Divine Love. God Himself becomes the Food of his spirit, the Life of his soul, and the Preserver and Guardian of his body. Therefore at all times we ought to commune with the image or the ground of our souls, where the three powers of our souls are one with God, that we may be united with God, poor in spirit, soul and body, fervent, and communing with God with all our powers, so that we may begin and end all our works with a pure intention to the glory of God; for thus it was written beforetimes of the blessed Mother of God. Thus we must remain empty, bare and dead to all around us, that all the powers of our souls may continue in the place appointed for them, and our wills, desires and intentions may be obedient to God in all things, that God may work with us according to His dear will. Then man will be lifted up in himself by God above all powers into the wilderness of the Godhead, his spirit will sink deep in the Divine Union, and his whole being will be saturated with the Divine Being, so that the Divine Birth will take place without let or hindrance in our spirits, in our souls, and also spiritually in our bodies, from the gifts which break forth and overflow from soul and spirit into the body.
That we may now and later, receive blessings through the intercession of the dear Mother of God, let us call on her with St Bernard, who says: "Through thee must we find an entrance to thy Son, O blessed finder of grace, bearer of life, mother of holiness, that He may receive us through thee, Who was given to us through thee. Thy purity must exonerate the guilt of our uncleanness in His sight, and thy humility, so pleasing unto God, must win pardon for our vanity, thy overflowing love must cover the multitude of our sins. Thy honourable fruitfulness gains for us the fruitfulness of they merits. O, elect Lady, our mediator and intercessor, commend us to thy Son, intercede for us with thy Son. Do thou see to it, O blessed one, by the grace that thou hast found, the election that thou hast earned, and the mercy that thou hast borne, that He Who condescended through thee to take our sicknesses and our misery upon Him, may also by His intercession enable us to participate in His glory and blessedness," Jesus Christ, Who with Father and the Holy Ghost is blessed for ever. Amen.