By IHE Graduate Scholar Meghan Duke
On October 7 we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. St. John Paul II described the rosary as the “school of Mary,” in which we learn from Mary as we contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s life “to discover his secrets and to understand his message.” Mary is the perfect model and teacher for contemplation of Christ, John Paul II says, because “No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary.”
One faithful student of Mary was the thirteenth century Dominican, Saint Albert the Great. Albert is perhaps better known as a great student of Aristotle and the natural sciences. At the behest of his students, Albert composed works on all the essential parts of philosophy “following the order and opinion of Aristotle.” In 1941, Pius XII named him patron saint of students of the natural sciences.
But Albert also devoted careful attention to the wisdom and example of Mary in many of his theological works and especially in his commentaries on the gospels. I’d like to reflect on Albert’s meditation on three of the mysteries of Christ’s life that the rosary proposes for our contemplation: The Annunciation, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, and the Miracle at Cana. For, these are three of the four moments in the life of Christ, where Scripture records Our Lady’s own words. By studying these mysteries of Christ’s life with Albert, we can learn from Mary’s example and begin to know her Son as she does.
In the story of the Annunciation recorded by Luke, Mary responds to the extraordinary announcement of the angel Gabriel that she would conceive in her womb and bear a Son who will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:31-32) with a simple question: “How shall this be done?” (Luke 1:34).
Commenting on this passage, Albert first observes the general character of Mary’s speech which provides a model for us. First, she shows a “most patient wisdom” in hearing the angel out. This may seem like a small thing. But her silent attentiveness is the root of Mary’s wisdom. Albert shows the connection between patient silence and wisdom by citing Proverbs 18:13: “He who responds first than listens, shows himself to be a fool.” Because she is silently attentive to all that is said to her and to all that she sees, Mary comes to know her Son so well.
When Mary does respond to the angel, Albert says, we “should marvel at the modesty and wisdom of this Virgin.” Albert takes it as evident that Mary believed with certainty what the angel told her would come to be. “For she had read Isa. 7:14: ‘Behold, the virgin will conceive and bare a son.’ But how it would occur, she wisely doubted.” Mary is asking about the way in which this extraordinary event will be realized; she does not doubt that it will be realized.
Mary’s question, as Albert understands it, reflects her profound wonder at the Incarnation itself. First, she knew that the immutable eternity of God cannot be born because to be born is to change. Second, she recognized the sheer oddity of the Incarnation. In the natural order, newborns realize their potential overtime. It is unusual that someone who is already perfect should then be born. Third, Mary appreciated the honor of what the angel has promised. It is, Albert says, as if Mary is asking, “How can it be believed that he who is ‘the radiance of eternal light and the mirror without blemish of God’s majesty’ (Sap. 7:26) does not shudder at the womb of a woman.” Finally, Mary asks her question because she realizes how extraordinary it would for mortal man to share with the immortal God one and the same Son. When Mary asks, “How shall this be,” she is asking, “How will I be the principle of the principle through which I and all things were made?”
By contemplating the Annunciation with Mary, Albert sees with fresh eyes—with Mary’s eyes—the wonder of what God has done in the Incarnation.
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
In the story of Mary and Joseph finding the Child Jesus in the temple, Albert finds a model for us, for we should also be seeking the Lord. More specifically, their search shows us where we won’t and where we will find the Lord. Mary and Joseph do not find Jesus among their relatives, Albert says, because “the Kingdom of God is not in the closeness of flesh and blood.” Instead, the find him in the temple.
The lesson is straight forward enough: Because Jesus is God, it is natural that he should be sought and found in divine places. But Albert draws a further lesson from Mary and Joseph’s search. It is because “they are lovers of contemplation and worship of God,” that Mary and Joseph “find Jesus in the temple.” By contrast, at the Nativity, the shepherds, “having care of sheep, found the Shepherd in the sheep’s manger. Kings, who are good men engaged in the active life, find him with their household in the home.” Albert thus indicates that the Lord can be found in different vocations precisely by faithfully living that vocation. The words of the Psalmist are true, Albert concludes, that “‘they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good,’ (Psalm 33:11) which they seek in him.” For the Lord appears to “the contemplatives . . . as the truth; to the prelate as abundance; and to the active man as virtue.”
Albert pays close attention to Mary’s question to her Son when Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple, “Why have you done this to us?” Mary is not being argumentative or rebuking Jesus, Albert says. Rather, “she asked so that she might move him to uncover the mystery” of his action. She is asking her Son to “make clear the cause of such an action and thereby to show your wisdom.” Mary’s question provides a model for wrestling with “why” questions in the face of suffering. As at the Annunciation, Mary has no doubt that God is wisdom itself. It is because of this certainty that she can confidently ask for greater understanding of how God’s wisdom and goodness are at work at this moment. What is more, Albert sees in Christ’s prompt reply to his mother, assurance that the Lord “never denies illumination to the devout.”
Christ’s Self-Manifestation at the Wedding of Cana
The wedding feast at Cana, Albert says, marks the beginning of Christ’s manifestation of his divinity through acts of power. But even before Christ turned the water into wine, Albert observes, the circumstances of the miracle at Cana tell us something about Christ. That their wedding feast ran out of wine, Albert observes, indicates the poverty of the bride and groom. And so, the first thing we learn of Christ from contemplating the miracle at Cana is that “Christ loved the company of the poor, whose wedding he did not think it was beneath him to attend.”
When Albert considers Mary’s words on this occasion, he observes that she does not command or even request anything of Jesus. She simply states, “They have no wine.” To show reverence for her Son, “she mentions only the lack, placing her hope in the liberality and mercy of her Son.” Mary thus offers us a model for petitionary prayer: to simply place our need before her Son with confidence in his mercy.
Again, when Mary instructs the waiters at the wedding to “do whatever he tells you,” Albert says, she shows that “she knew her Son to be of such mercy that he must suffer for the shame of the bride and groom.” What is more, Albert says, Mary acts according to her name, the Illuminatrix: For “she illuminates for them what they should do,” which is, “whatever he tells you.”
Having meditated with Albert on the mysteries of Christ’s life with particular attention to the role and wisdom of Mary, we have seen that Mary teaches us by her example how to contemplate and seek her Son, instructs us in what we ought to do, and illuminates for us the mysteries of the faith. It is easy to see why Albert considered her the Illuminatrix, the one who “illuminates in matters of doubt” and why Albert advises us, “If, therefore, you are surrounded by darkness, and your way is hidden from you, look on the Illuminatrix; invoke the Generatrix; and call Mary.”
Meghan Duke is a doctoral student in historical theology in the School of Theology and Religious Studies. She received her BA from Thomas Aquinas College (California) and her MTS from the University of Notre Dame (Indiana). Her current interests include the theology of Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Bonaventure and the topics of faith, vision of God, and beatitude.
 Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 14.
 Albert the Great, Physica, l. 1, trac.1, c.1 (Cologne, t.IV), p. 1.
 Pius XII, Ad Deum (December 16, 1941).
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 89.
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 91.
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 91.
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 252.
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 252-253.
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 255.
 Albert, Super Ionnem (Paris, t. 24), p. 91-92.
 Albert, Super Lucam (Paris, t. 22), p. 55.