V. O Lady, make speed to befriend me.
R. From the hands of the enemy, mightily defend me.
Glory be, etc.
Hail, City of Refuge!
In the Book of Numbers (xxxv, 9-11) we are told how God instructed Moses to appoint certain cities which should be for the refuge of fugitives who have unwillingly shed blood. Mary is more than this. She is even a refuge of sinners, provided that they seek repentance. This comes from her appointment as Mother to all those who (like St. John at the foot of the Cross) really love her Son.
Hail, David's high Tower!
With battlements crown'd
And girded with power!
David the king built a high tower for defense against foes. In the Canticle of Canticles (iv, 4) the beautiful neck of the beloved is likened to this tower of David. Christ was the Son of David, and His Mother has defended Him from the attacks of Nestorians, Eutychians, Protestants and Rationalists. We cannot do better than quote Cardinal Newman's words: 'She is called the Tower of David because she had so signally fulfilled the office of defending her Divine Son from the assaults of His foes. It is customary with those who are not Catholics to fancy that the honours we pay to her interfere with the supreme worship which we pay to Him; that in Catholic teaching she eclipses Him. But this is the very reverse of the truth.
'For if Mary's glory is so very great, how cannot His be greater still who is the Lord and God of Mary? He is infinitely above His Mother; and all that grace which filled her is but the overflowings and superfluities of His incomprehensible Sanctity. And history teaches us the same lesson. Look at the Protestant countries which threw off all devotion to her three centuries ago, under the notion that to put her from their thoughts would be exalting the praises of her Son. Has that consequence really followed from their profane conduct towards her? Just the reverse―the countries, Germany, Switzerland, England, which so acted, have in great measure ceased to worship Him, and have given up their belief in His Divinity; while the Catholic Church, wherever she is to be found, adores Christ as true God and true Man, as firmly as ever she did; and strange indeed would it be, if it ever happened otherwise. Thus Mary is the "Tower of David" (Meditations and Devotions―The Month of May, p. 68). Hardly necessary is it to add that the beloved Cardnal's words have still greater force to-day.
Fill'd at thy Conception
With love and with light,
The dragon by thee
Was shorn of his might.
This stanza is based on Genesis iii, 14-15 and Apocalypse xii. In the former passage it was revealed to our first parents that a woman would come, between whom and the Devil there would be undying enmity, and by whom, through being the mother of the Seed, Satan's power would be crushed underfoot. It is indeed remarkable that the very first line of the Messianic prophecies should immediately refer to the Woman. This is in the first book of the Bible. In the last book we have a reference to this same prophecy when we are told (Apoc. xii) of the Dragon lying in wait for the Woman 'clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars' who was with Child. The Great Dragon that was cast out is no other than 'that old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world.' Small wonder that, when shorn of his might, he 'was very angry against the woman, and went to make war against the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.' And as Satan is enraged especially against the Children of Mary, these good souls must not expect to escape scot-free from divers temptations.
O Woman most valiant!
This line may be taken with the next and thereby refer to Judith. But better is it to refer alone to the Valiant Woman who is so beautifully described in the poem which we read in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. This poem is an acrostic, that is, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order. The reason of this is probably that Jewish women might easily learn it by heart, for it gives the qualities that go to make a perfect wife. The Church reads it as the lesson for the Mass of a holy woman neither viegin nor martyr; and we may here translate it from the Hebrew text with a few footnotes:
Who shall find a valiant woman? - 1
Her price is far indeed above that of corals.
The heart of her husband trusteth in her,
And he shall have no need of spoils. - 2
She rendereth him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
She seeketh wool and flax,
And worketh at the business of her hands. - 3
She is like the merchant-ships;
She bringeth her bread from afar - 4
She riseth also while it is yet night,
And giveth food to her household - 5
And portions to her maids.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it;
With the fruit of her hand she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength,
And maketh strong her arms.
She tasteth that her traffic is good;
Her lamp is not put out at night. - 6
She puts her hands to the distaff - 7
And her fingers take hold of the spindle.
She openeth her hand to the needy, - 8
And extendeth her hand to the poor.
She is not afraid of the snow as far as her household is concerned,
For all her household is doubly-clothed. - 9
She maketh for herself coloured bed-spreads:
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is a notable figure in the gates - 10
When he sitteth among the senators of the land.
She maketh linen garments and selleth them; - 11
And delivereth girdles to the Canaanite (merchants).
Strength and beauty are her clothing;
And she laugheth at the future. - 12
She openeth her mouth with wisdom;
And the law of kindness is on her tongue. - 13
She keepeth watch on the ways of her household
And eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband (also), and he praiseth her (saying):
Many daughters have done valiantly,
But thou hast surpassed them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: - 14
The woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. - 15
Give her of the fruit of her hands;
And let her works praise her in the gates.
1. By 'valiant woman' is meant a woman of virtuous energy.
2. No need for her husband to go in search of booty or plunder; for the good wife has everything he wants at home.
3. She performs her manual duties with delight.
4. As merchant-ships go far across the waters to get the best goods the world can give, so she goes out to procure the best food obtainable.
5. Before dawn she is up and getting food ready for the household. There may be a figure of an animal seeking food by night, for the Hebrew word for 'food' is usually 'prey.'
6. She has the satisfaction of seeing profit from her labors. The second line may not so much mean that she works on through the night as that she can afford to keep a lamp burning all night.
7. distaff. Another rendering is 'mending' or 'darning.'
8. Lit. she spreadeth out her palm.
9. Here we leave the Hebrew (scarlet) for the better reading of the Vulgate (also Septuagint) doubly-clothed.
10. the gates―where the administration of the city is conducted.
11. linen garments: the sadin was a rectangular linen garment.
12. Lit. at the next day. Her prudence and foresight have provided for later life.
13. No uncharitable remarks fall from this good woman's tongue.
14. Favour here means mere graceful appearance.
15. that feareth the Lord is the Old Testament expression for 'religious.'
While thinking of our Lady at Bethlehem, at Cana of Galilee, at the foot of the Cross and as the Queen of Heaven, we must not forget that she was also the most perfect mother and wife at home at Nazareth; and as such she is the patron, example and model of every married woman. How could she be otherwise when God Himself chose her to manage the house at Nazareth where He was to reside for thirty years? All the fine qualities that are enumerated in the Poem of the Valiant Woman are applicable to her, except those of course, which by reason of poverty she was unable to exercise. She had no 'maids,' nor money so spend on buying fields and costly materials. Nor was St. Joseph a civic dignitary. But how 'his heart must have trusted in her, as she rendered him good, and not evil all the days of his life!' How he must have praised her and realized that his wife, blessed among women, surpassed all wives that the world should see! She must have been ever busy (her visit to St. Elizabeth is an indication), providing food and good clothing for Jesus and Joseph. And how could she ever forget the poor and needy. (Cana of Galilee shows her thoughtfulness for those in need). Her words were always words of wisdom; and her tongue knew no uncharitable talk. She had one Child. He certainly called her 'blessed,' and all her Catholic children through all generations have called her the same. They have realized that no one was 'religious' like her; and giving her the honour due to her they have unceasingly praised her in every public place.
O Judith thrice blest!
A valiant woman indeed was Judith! After the death of her husband she lived somewhat like an enclosed nun. For 'she made herself a private chamber in the upper part of her house, in which she abode shut up with her maids.' She also wore a haircloth and fasted on most days of the year. She was very beautiful, and was greatly renowned as a woman that 'feared the Lord,' that is, was religious. At that time the city of Bethulia was being besieged by Holofernes, a general of the Assyrian king Nabuchodonosor. The Israelites began to despair, and decided that if God did not come to their aid within five days they would surrender the city to the enemy. When Judith heard this she sent for the ancients of the city and upbraided them for 'tempting God.' 'You have set a time for the mercy of the Lord; and you have appointed Him a day, according to your pleasure!' She counseled penance and the begging of God's forgiveness, tears, and a humble spirit. Ozias and the ancients listened to her and asked her prayers: 'for thou art a holy woman, and one fearing God.' She told them that she would go out by the city gate with her maid that night, but requested that they should not enquire into her design, but only pray to God for her.
The beautiful prayer that Judith said in her oratory before she set out is given in the ninth chapter of the book that bears her name. After her prayer she took off her haircloth and her widow's garments, washed her body, anointed herself with the best perfumes, plaited her hair, put on her head a magnificent turban, clothed herself with attractive dresses, put on sandals (which showed that she was not a slave, but a lady of dignity), then bracelets, necklaces, ear-rings and finger-rings. We have thus a complete picture of a Hebrew lady in her best attire! But we are told that 'all this dressing-up did not proceed from sensuality, but from virtue.' 'And therefore the Lord increased her beauty, so that she appeared to all men's eyes incomparably lovely' (x, 4). Her maid was given to carry a bottle of wine, a vessel of oil, corn, figs, bread and cheese. When she passed out of the gate Ozias and the ancients were in admiration of her exceeding beauty; but they asked her no questions. Saying prayers all the way she came at daybreak to the place where the Assyrian sentries were on guard. They challenged her: 'Who goes there?' to which she replied that she was a deserter from the Hebrews and wished to give prince Holofernes information that would enable him to overcome the Hebrews without the loss of a single man. She was brought to Holoferness and her beauty at once captivated him and his officers. Seeing him seated under a canopy woven of purple and gold, with emeralds and precious stones, she looked into his face, then prostrated herself to the ground. By command of their master Holofernes' servants lifted her up.
It is not the place here to enquire how far Judith's words and conduct are reprehensible from the point of view of truth. Stratagem, camouflage and even words that deceive are, perhaps, more easily admitted in time of war. St. Thomas Aquias the great theologian remarks: 'Some persons are commended in Sacred Scripture not because they were perfect in virtue, but because of their brave character, that is to say because in them was apparent praiseworthy affection that led them to do extraordinary deeds. In this way Judith is praised; not because she lied to Holofernes, but because of her affection for the safety of her people, whereby she exposed herself to dangers. But it may be said that her words were truthful in a mystical sense' (II-IIae, cx, 3).
After her fine speech before Holofernes, Judith is given a tent of her own, she is allowed to eat her own food, and permission is granted for her to go out at night to pray. On the fourth day Holofernes gave a great supper and invited Judith, hoping that she would consent to live with him. At the end of the supper Holofernes was completely drunk. He was put to bed and fell fast asleep. Judith was left alone with him, and she stood before the bed praying with tears. She begged God to give her strength for what she proposed to do. Then taking Holofernes' sword that was suspended at the bed's head, she caught him by the hair and with two blows of the sword severed his head from his body. She wrapped it in part of the bed curtain, and going out gave it to her maid who was on watch outside the door. The maid put it in her wallet (bag), and in virtue of the permission to go out at night, both were able to pass the guards and reach Bethulia. Crowds ran to meet her as she entered the city; the place was illuminated, and from a high place Judith told the people how God had killed their enemy by her hand. When she had finished speaking 'all adored the Lord, and said to her: The Lord hath blessed thee by His power, because by thee He hath brought our enemies to naught. And Ozias, the prince of the people of Israel, said to her: Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.' Then Achior (an Ammonite general who had told Holofernes that he might not conquer the Hebrews and in punishment had been bound hand and foot to a tree near Bethulia, so that captured by the Hebrews he might die with them when Holofernes had gained the victory of which he was so confident) came up, and seeing the head of Holofernes swooned away at the sight. But after he had recovered his spirits, he fell down at the feet of Judith, and reverencing her, said: 'Blessed art thou by thy God in every tabernacle of Jacob; for in every nation which shall hear thy name, the God of Israel shall be magnified on occasion of thee.' We need not follow the tale in the discovery of the beheaded Holofernes and in the defeat of the Assyrians, nor recite the Canticle of Judith. This can be read in chapters xiv, xv and xvi of the sacred book. We notice, however, that when the victory was complete the high priest Joachim came from Jerusalem to Bethulia with all his ancients to see Judith. 'And when she was come out to him, they all blessed her with one voice, saying: Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honor of our people. For thou hast done manfully, and thy heart hath been strengthened, because thou hast loved chastity, and after thy husband hast not known any other. Therefore also the hand of the Lord hath strengthened thee, and therefore thou shalt be blessed for ever. And all the people said Amen, Amen.'
We have given the story of Judith at length because she was indeed a type of our Blessed Lady, and the Church uses many words of this book to extol the glories of Mary. But Judith was but a shadow in comparison with Mary. Judith's chief action was the beheading of Israel's enemy. Mary, however, crushed under foot the Enemy of the whole human race. Judith owed her valour to prayer and chastity. Mary, who pondered over in heart all that concerned the Christ Child was a woman of deeper prayer; and whereas Judith 'knew no man' after the death of her husband, Mary had taken a vow 'not to know man' even in her married life with Joseph. Judith is 'thrice blest,' yea more than thrice, as the passages we have italicized above show. The people said to her: 'The Lord hath blessed thee by His power, because by thee He hath brought our enemies to nought'; but all the people of the Catholic world say these words in honour of Mary who brings to nought diabolical foes. Ozias praised Judith: 'Blessed art thou above all women upon earth'; but the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Ghost, gave greater honour to Mary when they said of her, 'Blessed art thou among women', meaning of all time and of every place. Achior said to Judith: 'Blessed art thou . . . in every tabernacle of Jacob; for in every nation which shall hear thy name, the God of Israel shall be magnified on occasion of thee.' But God Himself magnified His humble servant Mary, and every generation shall call her Blessed. Therefore all the priests of the Church repeat of Mary what Joachim said of Judith: 'Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people; thou shalt be blessed for ever.' And all Catholic people answer: Amen, Amen.
As David was nursed
In fair Abisag's breast.
The third Book of Kings opens with the words:
Now king David was old, and advanced in years, . . . His servants therefore said to him: Let us seek for our lord the king a young virgin, and let her stand before the king, and cherish him. . . . So they sought a beautiful young woman in all the coasts of Israel: and they found Abisag a Sunamitess, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was exceeding beautiful.
David was the ancestor of Christ. Mary and her Divine Child, 'the Son of David,' were descended from him. Abisag, therefore, who ministered to David and nursed him, is a type of Her who was to nurse the Holy Chid. We are also told that Abisag kept her virginity, thereby she faintly foreshadowed the Blessed Virgin. Her beauty also foretold the resplendent beauty of soul that was to distinguish the handmaid of the Son of David.
As the Saviour of Egypt,
Upon Rachel's knee;
So the world's great Redeemer
Was cherish'd by thee.
The savior of Egypt was Joseph whom Rachel bore to Jacob. It is unnecessary to give the details of his life for these are well known. We may recall that he was a type of our Lord in many ways. He was hated by his brethren and handed over by them to strangers, just as Christ was hated by the Jews (His brethren according to the flesh) and handed over to the gentile, Pontius Pilate. Joseph was sold for money; Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. Joseph came to rule over the gentiles of Egypt and he saved both them and his own brethren at the time of the famine. Mary's Son saved the world by His sufferings.
V. Thou art all fair, my beloved.
R. And the original stain was never in thee.
This is an adaptation of verse 7 of the fourth chapter of the Canticle of Canticles:
Thou art all fair, O my love;
And there is not a spot in thee.
V. O Lady, recommend my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto thee.
―Again, the authentic text tells us to add the Prayer: 'Holy Mary, Queen of heaven,' etc.