Mary . . . is interpreted to mean ‘Star of the Sea.’ This admirably befits the Virgin Mother. There is indeed a wonderful appropriateness in this comparison of her with a star, because as a star sends out its rays without harm to itself, so did the Virgin bring forth her Child without injury to her integrity. And as the ray does not diminish the rightness of the star, so neither did the Child born of her tarnish the beauty of Mary’s virginity. She is therefore that glorious star, which, as the prophet said, arose out of Jacob, whose ray enlightens the whole earth, whose splendour shines out for all to see in heaven and reaches even unto hell. . . She, I say, is that shining and brilliant star, so much needed, set in place above life’s great and spacious sea, glittering with merits, all aglow with examples for our imitation. Oh, whosoever thou art that perceivest thyself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on firm ground, turn not away thine eyes from the splendour of this guiding star, unless thou wishest to be submerged by the storm! (St Bernard, Hom. II on “Missus est” 17). 

There is no one who doubts that the canticle which it is given to virgins alone to sing in the kingdom of God, is sung also by her who is Queen of virgins, sung with the others and before the others.  Yet I believe that as well as singing that canticle which, although it is sung only by the virgins, is nonetheless, as I have said, common to all of them, she makes glad the city of God also with some other song that is still more sweet and gracious.  And that beautiful melody, none even of the other virgins is found worthy to utter and chant, for it is rightly sung by her alone who alone may glory also in a child-bearing, and in a child-bearing that is divine (St Bernard, 2nd Homily ‘In praise of the Virgin Mother’).


The first was of Saint Gabriel;

On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;

And as he went upon one knee

He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.

Today would be the feast of the archangel Gabriel, were it not Holy Week. As a matter of fact we perhaps still commemorate him today, though unnamed. For many people think it was he that was sent from heaven to comfort our Lord during the Agony. His name, according to the usual interpretation, means ‘strength of God’. So it would be fitting that he should be sent down to ‘strengthen’ Christ; confortans eum, as the Vulgate puts it. According to the oldest traditions, it was the anniversary, or the eve of the anniversary, of the day on which he had been sent to announce the Incarnation to the blessed Virgin.

St Gabriel has been called ‘the legate of the economy of Christ’. It was he also who was sent to Daniel as he lamented in exile over the state of the holy city, and fasted in sackcloth. “Flying swiftly, he touched me at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Dan. 9:21). He told the prophet that the Christ would appear when 69 weeks of years were past, and would be slain by His people in the midst of the 70th week. And now those words which must have been read and heard so often were coming true at last, and the true Daniel was kneeling in prayer at the time of a greater evening sacrifice. In what manner did the angel strengthen Him? Some say it was by speaking to Him of the great glory that He would render to the Father by His death, and of the innumerable souls that would enter heaven thereby. Or perhaps also it was by an imaginative vision; if Satan were permitted to show Him the kingdoms of the worlds and the glory of them, much more might Gabriel be charged to set before Him the glory of the only true Kingdom, where Christ, as man, had never yet gone.

“And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.” St Bernard says that our Lord wished, as it were, to weep not just with His eyes, but with all His members, so that His whole Body which is the Church might be more efficaciously purged. And others say that the angel represents all contemplative souls, the thought of whom also comforts Christ in His agony. Arise, then, let us go hence, and on into the Garden, where the greatest deeds are done.

There seems to be an idea around that St Bernard said that we needn’t seek to evangelise the Jews because they will only be converted at the end of the world. The pope emeritus, writing in his private capacity, seems to have give credence to this idea in the second volume of his trilogy Jesus of Nazareth. It’s worth looking at the relevant passage in De Consideratione, where he is writing to Pope Eugenius III about the duty of evangelisation:-

We perceive then that you must strive to the utmost that they who have not faith may be turned to faith, that they who have turned may not turn aside, that they who have thus turned may turn back; moreover, you must see that the perverse ones be set in the paths of uprightness, and the subverted recalled to truth ; that the subverters of men’s souls may be convinced by invincible reason, so that they themselves if possible, may either be cured of their errors, or, if that may not be, they may lose their authority, and the power of subverting other men. You must certainly not allow yourself to be imposed upon by the worst sort of foolish men, I mean heretics and schismatics ; for these are they who are subverted, and subvert ; they are dogs to tear, foxes to deceive. Men, I say, of this sort must be corrected with special care lest they perish, or must be restrained that they may not do damage. As regards the Jews, I grant time may be your excuse {esto, de Iudaeis excusat te tempus}; they have their fixed limit, which cannot be anticipated. The fullness of the Gentiles must first come in. But as regards the Gentiles themselves, what answer do you make ? Nay rather, what is the verdict of your consideration on this long delay? Why did the fathers resolve to set bounds to the Gospel, and to check the word of faith, while men’s hearts are hardening in unbelief? Why, do we suppose, the word running very swiftly suddenly stopped ? Who was the first to forbid its life-giving progress ? Some unknown cause perhaps hindered them; perhaps necessity compelled them.

Clearly, there is no suggestion here of a general policy of refusing to evangelise Jews, but simply a recognition that there can be an ‘excuse’ if evangelisation is not generally successful in their regard; namely that it has been divinely foretold that the ‘fullness’ of the Jews will only come in when the times of the Gentiles have been fulfilled.