By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
What was the color of that Blossom bright? / White to begin with, immaculate white. / But what a wild flush on the flakes of it stood, / When the Rose ran in crimsoning down the Cross wood. / In the Gardens of God, in the daylight divine / I shall worship the Wounds with thee, Mother of mine. (Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, 1898.)
We have in “Mystical Rose” one of the most beautiful titles of Mary. This title is also known in its Latin form as “Rosa Mystica,” and it seems that the Christian faithful from a very early time made the rose the predominant symbol of the Virgin Mary because the rose is the most beautiful of flowers and is most commonly offered as a symbol of our deep love for another person. It is not hard to imagine how the Christian tradition chose the rose as a symbol of our love for Mary’s person, her beauty, and the special place she occupies in the work of salvation. I offer this next thought with the greatest of respect for her dignity, but I truly imagine that in her physical features Mary must have been the most beautiful of all women on earth, given that she was the most pure and the most blessed woman to ever have been born. But it is not Mary’s physical beauty that we praise, it is the overwhelming “mystical” (i.e., spiritual) beauty that radiates from Mary that makes us venerate her as Mystical Rose.
Not surprisingly, the earliest writers of the Church found references to Mary in the many biblical images of the rose flower, and they “spiritualized” these references to show that Mary’s immense inner beauty was the spiritual equivalent of the fragrant rose and that she was deserving of all our love. In modern times that connection has not diminished either. If you have any familiarity with the history of Church-approved apparitions you will know that roses are connected very significantly to the Blessed Mother in virtually all of them. In the apparitions at La Salette, France (1846), for example, she appeared wearing a garland of roses around her neck and had roses on her feet, the latter being repeated in the more famous apparition of Lourdes in 1858. Those familiar with the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe more than three centuries earlier will remember that roses were the miraculous “sign” that the humble Indian had to bring to the bishop. Other approved apparitions such as Lourdes, Pontmain, Beauraing, and Banneaux all included roses in some way!
I believe that no one testified to the mystical beauty of Mary more eloquently than St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) who is reputed to be the author of the famous “Memorare” prayer to Mary. He wrote: “Eve was a thorn, wounding, bringing death to all; in Mary we see a rose, soothing everybody’s hurts, giving the destiny of salvation back to all. Mary was a rose, white for maidenhood, red for love…white in her love of God, red in compassion for her neighbor.”
Above all, Mary, the Mystical Rose, brings spiritual beauty and love into our lives in a way that no one other than God can do. Maybe you have experienced, as I have, tears welling up in your eyes when you read the touching story of a mother’s devotion to her suffering son or of a father’s sacrifice of his life to save a child or any account of someone’s inspirational or heroic action out of love for another. Those tears come from an experience of true spiritual beauty. That movement of the emotions, wrenching of the heart, raising of the spirit is literally the effect of Mary’s mystical love for you even if you may not identify it as such in the moment. Mary exudes that inspiration in the way a rose exudes its fragrance into its environment. She is God’s Mother, one so awesomely beautiful, fragrant in her virtues, and blessed in her union with Christ that she can communicate that love intuitively and actually to all the souls saved by her Son. St. Paul talks about Christians being “a sweet aroma” of Christ to others (2 Cor 2:15), and I believe he must have met Mary in this life to understand the power of that image for changing hearts through beauty.
Since roses on this earth are meant to be enjoyed in dozens upon dozens of fragrant arrangements, the Christian faithful have always called the gathering of our many prayer intentions for others “spiritual bouquets.” Let us not hesitate to take our overwhelming number of petitions, fervent prayers, concerns, sorrows, agonies, praises, love, and expressions of gratitude to Mary, our Mystical Rose, and ask her to present them to the Most High God in a fragrant spiritual bouquet as only she can. She who is the most beautiful of all God’s creatures will win for us the things we seek. I am convinced that when God beholds the beauty He has created in Mary, He must immediately break down and say “yes” to everything she asks!
Holy Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Mystical Rose” and font of eternal beauty, fill our lives with God’s loveliness. As you experienced the depths of His divine love here on earth, so give us a share of that love in the life to come. We ask this in the Name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]