Most Blessed Are You among Women
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Luke 1, 41-42
Most Bible versions in English have Elizabeth declaring “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The passage that is taken from the Catholic New American Bible has the superlative adjective “most” qualifying the feminine past participle eulogemene which gives meaningful substance to the statement “Blessed are you among women.” The expression “blessed among women” is a Hebraism which literally means “most blessed among women” or “blessed above (all) women.” There is also no superlative in the Greek lexicon of the original text which explains why most Bible translations in English don’t include the word “most”.
We have two related examples in the Old Testament with respect to the Jewish heroines Jael and Judith who, as collaborators with God in His saving work, prefigure Mary as the promised woman in the divine order of redemption: ‘Most blessed of women is Jael…blessed among tent-dwelling women…She hammered Sisera, crushed his head; she smashed, pierced his temple’ (Jdgs. 5:24-26). “Blessed are you daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth…who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Jdt. 13:18). What is striking in the passage from the Book of Judith is its close parallel with the Gospel of Luke in its verbal structure and theme.
Let us examine Judith 13:18 and Luke 1:42 to see how the two passages are connected. The verse in Judith is taken from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The evangelist wrote his gospel in Greek. What we have here is a sample of what St. Augustine has described: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount).
Then Uzziah said to
her, “Blessed are you daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women
on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at
the head of the leader of our enemies.”
καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ ᾿Οζίας· εὐλογητὴ σύ, θύγατερ, τῷ Θεῷ τῷ ῾Υψίστῳ παρὰ πάσας τὰς γυναῖκας τὰς
ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, καὶ εὐλογημένος Κύριος ὁ Θεός, ὃς ἔκτισε τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τὴν γῆν, ὃς κατεύθυνέ
σε εἰς τραῦμα κεφαλῆς ἄρχοντος ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν “
And blessed are you
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
καὶ ἀνεφώνησεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εἶπεν Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν
καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου
To understand what St. Luke means by Mary being blessed, we must examine the Greek word he uses to describe Mary’s state of grace. It isn’t the same word he uses in 1:45 which is makaria (μακαρία). Instead, the word he chooses to use here is the feminine perfect passive participle eulogemene (Εὐλογημένη), as we also have in the Deutero-canonical Book of Judith. This verb literally means “having been blessed” and is used as a benediction. The perfect action of the participle is taken to have been completed before the time Elizabeth praised Mary. How long before the action took place is unimportant, but the Greek verbal idea is that the action has already been completed, most likely at the first instant of Mary’s immaculate conception in virtue of her election to the Divine Maternity.
This word is employed on only one other occasion in the New Testament, and that being regarding the Kingdom of Heaven: “Blessed (Εὐλογημένη) be the kingdom of our father David that cometh: Hosanna in the highest” (Mk 11:10). The verb eulogemene is derived from the root eulogeo (εὐλογέω). The evangelist is evidently drawing a parallel between Mary and the Kingdom of God to explain how it is that the mother of our Lord is blessed together with her divine Son.
Mary’s blessed state is intended to mean much more than having been favored by God to be the mother of Jesus and having cause to be happy because of this divine privilege. Luke doesn’t use makaria, which literally means “happy”. Elizabeth isn’t merely praising Mary for having become the mother of her Lord. Rather, Mary’s blessedness must do with her personal affinity with her Son in a spiritual and mystical way. God rules in Mary’s soul as much as Christ’s divinity rules his humanity and takes charge of his human soul. God is the ruler of our Blessed Lady’s soul no less than He is the ruler of His heavenly kingdom.
This is most proper considering God has chosen Mary to collaborate with Him in vanquishing Satan and bringing his dominion in the world to ruin. In response to Elizabeth’s praise, Mary does declare: “My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord, and my spirit (pnuema/soul) rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47). Both the Mother and the Son share a single enmity with the serpent and his offspring. Neither of them is subject to him in his domain by being enslaved to sin and oppressed by the corruption of death, as all Adam’s descendants are in the state of original sin. Thus, by Mary having been “blessed”, Elizabeth must mean that her kinswoman has been “sanctified” and “consecrated” to God in virtue of the blessed fruit of her womb, who likewise is holy and consecrated to God the Father in his humanity for serving Him as the “God who is salvation” (Yeshua) in collaboration with his most blessed Mother.
St. Luke also writes: “The kingdom of God is within you” (17:21). The Greek word for “within” is entos (ἐντός) which can mean either “inside” (within) or “among”. This word originates from the preposition en (ἐν) which is “in”. Since the evangelist is comparing Mary with the kingdom of God in his description of her being personally blessed, the former meaning is applicable here, and it must do with her interior state which resembles that of her divine Son’s in his humanity. This becomes more apparent when we look at the following passages: ‘Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in (en) you?’ (1 Cor 3:16); ‘Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). By “temple,” Jesus means his body.
Elizabeth is pronouncing her kinswoman blessed for the quality of her soul which mirrors the justice and sanctity of her divine Son’s in his humanity. The Mother of our Lord is most blessed for having the Spirit of God dwell within her, whose sanctifying or justifying grace has made her pure as her divine Son is pure in his sacred humanity (1 Jn 3:3). She is revealed to be spiritually and bodily unblemished without any stain of sin in the likeness of her divine Son because of her collaboration with him in the redemption of mankind. God put Mary at enmity with the serpent and, by doing so, exempted her from being implicated in the sin of Adam along with the rest of humanity, as to be worthiest of being the mother of His Only-begotten Son and our Redeemer.
The original root verb eulogeo also occurs seven times in the Gospels with reference in the masculine perfect passive participle form only to Jesus. We find it in the second clause of Luke 1:42 (as in the Book of Judith referring to YHWH) and in Mark 11:9: ‘And they that went before and they that followed, cried, saying: Hosanna, blessed (eulogemenos / εὐλογημένος) is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ The blessed state of the kingdom of heaven where the Divine rules is in likeness the blessed state of the Lord in his divinized humanity: “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), and in the likeness of his blessed mother who has been most abundantly and supremely graced: ‘And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace (Ave gratia plena) the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women’ (Lk 1:28 DRB). The original Greek text reads kecharitomene, which means “completely and perfectly graced in the past with a permanent result.” The permanence of Mary’s Divine Maternity was established at the first instant of her conception, when God, therefore, sanctified her soul and preserved her free from the stain of original sin.
Hence, Jesus and Mary are described by Luke as being blessed in common by being divinely favored with the spiritual ability to accomplish the Divine objective: the redemption of mankind. Both are consecrated to God (set apart to serve Him) and sanctified by His grace (made holy) in their shared humanity to be fit to meet God’s purpose of satisfying His justice by undoing what the serpent has wrought from the beginning (Gen 3:14).
God’s heavenly kingdom is in Mary, for in her disposition and conduct she embodies and displays its concrete manifestation amid fallen humanity with the coming of the divine Messiah and the outpouring of his regenerating grace (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:24-27, etc.). In her personal relationship with God, she observes the law of the first covenant established on Sinai that is written in her heart: the natural law of love and freedom not written on stone, but declared to her by the Holy Spirit who dwells in her soul. She knows God as He should be known in His goodness and righteousness by being taught through the Holy Spirit, who enlightens her mind and transforms it by His generous gift of knowledge and understanding (Jn 14:26).
God has removed Mary from among sinful humanity and has given her a heart of flesh, putting His Spirit in her so that she should be careful to always follow His laws and decrees. In the sanctifying light of faith, our Blessed Lady perceives all God has taught His chosen people through Moses in its proper light. Indeed, she is a daughter of God after His heart worthy of receiving her promised inheritance, a true servant of Israel in the spirit. Mary’s covenant with God is the new and everlasting one established by the mediation of her divine Son through the outpouring of his precious blood (Lk 22:20). The blood of her Son hasn’t cleansed her of any sin but rather has preserved her from being tainted by it. This justifying blood of his which has mixed with his mother’s blood in her holy womb applies to her first and foremost in honor of her and for the establishment of her covenant with God.
Mary is the first human being to reap the fruits of redemption, and in a singular way, not only because she has been graced with the divine motherhood, but more importantly because her conscience has never condemned her up to the time of her Dormition (1 Jn 3:20). There is no need for our Blessed Lady ever having to repent, for she has never broken her covenant with God at any point in her life by having committed any personal sins.
As a partaker of the divine nature, Mary is free of all the corruption in the world caused by dark human desires (2 Pet. 1:4). By the light of the Spirit who dwells within her, divinity shines in her soul. Her divine Son is reflected in her divine image. Through Mary’s love of God and her charity towards humanity, the divine quality of her soul shines forth into the world. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth” (Ps 50:2), manifesting the coming of His new kingdom on earth to His glory (Mt 5:16). The inner core of Mary’s being is undefiled and resembles the inherent righteousness of her divine Son in his humanity. By cooperating with the graces and gifts she has received from the Holy Spirit, Mary keeps herself pure as her divine Son is pure (1 Jn 3:3).
In her blessed state, Mary sees the God whom she desires to see face to face within her as she gazes upon herself with the Holy Spirit bearing testimony to the sublime quality of her soul. In her fullness of grace, she finds that the Lord she longs to see face to face is inside her sanctifying the temple of her body and the sacred sanctuary of her womb. The glory of God radiates her soul with its light, as her soul proclaims His glory (Lk. 1:46). The kingdom of God “is neither here nor there” but within Mary. She is with the Lord as fittingly as she should be in His work of redemption – at complete enmity with Satan and the powers of darkness that wreak havoc in the world within God’s providence, as much as her divine Son is in his sacred humanity.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great
eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her
place, where she is nourished for a time, and times,
and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
Hence, by describing Mary as “most blessed” (eulogemene), Luke presents the mother of our Lord as the free promised woman in whom the peace of the Kingdom of God reigns. The quality of her soul preludes the life of Heaven itself since there is nothing spiritually wanting in our Blessed Lady’s state of being. Mary is unaffected by those disordered inclinations of the soul which even the faithful must strive to overcome in their daily life of unity with God because of original sin. She experiences within the depths of her interior state the joy and the peace of God’s complete dominion over her, free of all the dark passions which can disturb and blemish the soul with its vices.
Not unlike her divine Son in his humanity, by the plenitudes of endowed grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Mary is totally detached from all created things that could draw a soul away from God, these vain allurements of the world which the serpent or dragon has the liberty to exploit in its quest to destroy souls by extinguishing the light of God’s glory in them (Rom 3:23). Indeed, Mary’s soul magnified the glory of the Lord, and her spirit rejoiced in God her savior, who redeemed his most blessed mother in the most perfect way (Lk 1:46-49).
For Mary, there never has been any transition from the state of sin to the life of grace because of her total enmity with the serpent. Grace has preceded her birth, for she has been predestined to be the Mother of God. The blessed mother of our Lord is untouched by the propensity of human nature to sin against God. Her desire to please God by aligning her will with His has never faltered. Mary is plagued by no dark imaginations that can draw her sensitive appetites towards anything that displeases God. The prince of this world holds no dominion over her. The unruly desires of the will, such as pride, envy, ambition, greed, and lust do not lie dormant within Mary, but only the supernatural virtues which God desires she should possess in His love and goodness: faith, hope, charity, chastity, humility, kindness, patience, fortitude, wisdom, gentleness, and so on.
The kingdom of heaven on earth isn’t essentially a place or a terrestrial dominion, but the divine quality of the human soul sanctified by God’s grace existing in this world: a lamp set upon a hill to shed its light before others so that they will see her goodness and glorify God in return. Of all human creatures re-created by the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the light of the world par excellence who has this light to give to all those who wish to be kingdoms themselves like her by perfectly emulating her Divine Son in his humanity (Mt 5:14-16). Mary is the prototype of the Church by being our perfect model of faith and charity in God’s grace. Most blessed is she indeed.
And so, the Kingdom of God is within Mary, and God alone rules in her soul through the Holy Spirit, her Creator blessed. Her soul resembles an unspoiled wilderness with untilled soil untouched by the human settlement of worldly wisdom and unnatural desires that deviate from the original goodness of creation. Mary is carried aloft on the wings of divine grace over the lower region of sinful humanity. She is beyond the dragon’s reach and the raging waters of sin having escaped from landing in its clutches, for she hasn’t been born in sinful slavery within its dominion. Our Blessed Lady is the free Woman promised by God, whose holy offspring is the free Son of promise.
As the lily among thorns
so is my love among the daughters.
Song of Solomon 2, 2
St. Luke characterizes the Virgin Mary as a living symbol of the pneumatic Church or Kingdom of God, having no “spot or wrinkle” but is “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). She personifies the heavenly Church which is essentially the pilgrim Church on earth. He presents her as the perfect model for all the faithful who have been predestined to grace and are children of God by adoption, “chosen to be holy and without blemish before Him” (Eph 1:3-6). Our Blessed Lady embodies the highest stage of conversion that baptized Christians are called to attain, viz. the state of spiritual perfection and mystical union with God, albeit the many imperfections that remain in those who have advanced this far and are still at war with the dragon in their spiritual combat.
Mary’s blessedness is equal to the blessedness of her Son, though not by nature but by grace. And since she is preserved free from the stain of original sin by the grace of God, St. Paul’s exhortation to all the faithful, that they “put off the old nature for the new nature” does not apply to her (Eph 4:22-24). Mary is God’s re-creation of fallen humanity from the time she has been first created upon the infusion of her soul into the body.
The fullness of grace with which Mary is endowed is a singular gift from God in virtue of her Divine Maternity. She is certainly the model of spiritual perfection in her mystical communion with God since His heavenly kingdom has circumscribed her soul. The interior life that Mary leads is complete without any spiritual imperfections. Yet she is maturing as she increases in wisdom and knowledge through life’s experiences. Mary’s soul searches for the deep things of God for a greater understanding of Him, but without the slightest regression or a fall from grace (1 Cor 2:10). Her soul is completely detached from the created world and united with the non-created God. She lives her life in spirit and in truth. The motto of her soul is faithfulness and abandonment. She who follows her Son walks not in darkness but possesses the light of life (Jn 8:12) by walking in the light as her Son is in the light (1 Jn. 1:7), he who has claimed to be the “light of the world.” The Holy Spirit, who is love, enlightens her soul in the perfection of love. She is God’s perfect creation, ever-blossoming in perfection.
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3, 14-18
Our Most Blessed Lady loves God with pure and perfect love, and by loving Him, she can love her neighbor with a totally unfailing love that reflects God’s absolute love. Mary’s love of human souls derives its existence from the love God has for her (1 Jn 4:19). She understands and fully appreciates what true love really means. The love she has for others is that same eternal love she has received from God and cherishes above all temporal goods. Her love may be finite, but it is perfect; since Mary’s soul is free of all pride, ego, and selfishness. God is the supreme object of her soul before whom she humbly denies herself and thereby becomes the mother of God the Son. God raises up and exalts the humble or lowly, and so, all Christian generations shall declare the Virgin Mary blessed for all the “great things” He has done to her (Lk 1:48-49).
The Blessed Virgin Mary is God’s greatest creation, of all human creatures. God has fashioned her to be renewed unto the knowledge of Him to be charitable, which is the bond of perfection. Since she has been of age, Mary has sought only “the things that are above, where her Son is, seated at the right hand of God.” She has always “set her mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” for she has died to this world, and her life “is hidden with Christ in God.” Because Mary has been chosen and made to be the holy Mother of God, her divine Son has revealed himself within her soul which proclaims his glory. Thus, she shall be “revealed with him” in the glory of her Assumption body and soul into Heaven. All Mary has done throughout her life “in word or deed” she has done “in the name of the Lord” (Col 3:17). By the plenitudes of grace our Most-Blessed Lady has received, the kingdom of God is “neither here nor there” but “within” Mary in an exceptional way (Lk 17:21).
The Protestant theologian Karl Barth rightly stated: “Jesus himself is the kingdom, he was the kingdom, and will be the kingdom, and in him exists the entire establishment, all the salvation, all the joy of the kingdom.” “The identity between Church and kingdom,” Christoph Cardinal Schonborn says, “has its basis in Christ,” yet “there is no higher concretization of this identity for the Church than the Mother of God. It would not be possible to assert this identity if its only basis was Christ, the Head of the Church, and there was no real perfect correspondence on the side of the members of the Church (Mystical Body of Christ) … If Mary did not exist in the Church, then there would be a distance between the Church and the kingdom, because of the presence of sinners in the Church… In Mary, the most perfect member of the Church, we can contemplate the Church’s true nature… ‘As the Mother of Jesus… is the image and the beginning of the Church, which will be perfected in the world to come, so she also shines here on earth in the intermediary time until the day of the Lord comes… as a sign of sure hope and of consolation to the people of God on its pilgrim way’” (Lumen Gentium 58).
Beautiful for elevation,
the joy of the whole earth,
is mount Zion,
on the sides of the north,
the city of the great King.
Psalm 48, 2
Early Sacred Tradition
by the holy Virgin, and prepared a robe which He wove for Himself, like a bridegroom, in the
sufferings of the cross, in order that by uniting His own power with our moral body, and by mixing
the incorruptible with the corruptible, and the strong with the weak, He might save perishing man.”
Treatise on Christ and antiChrist, 4
for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother.
Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?”
St. Ephraem of Syria
Nisibene Hymns 27:8
so He proceeded from her contracting no stain.”
St. Proclus of Constantinople
(ante A.D. 446)