Mary, the Mother of God, at the top of Jacob's ladder.
Queen of Patriarchs, pray for us! Most people repeat this prayer without giving much thought to it. They feel so far removed from Patriarchal days that the title has little significance to them. But it is full of meaning as applied to Our Lady and must be one of the most pleasing to Her of all the titles of Her Litany. For it glorifies Her as Queen of Her own chosen people, the culmination of that long line of believing men and women who through joy and tribulation, prosperity and failure, held fast to the promise of God. If we have Mary, it is, humanly speaking, because of the Patriarchs.
Patriarch, a Greek word meaning the Head or Prince of a tribe, may be commonly applied to those noted characters whose lives are recorded in the Bible before Moses; so that the great Patriarchs are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The twelve sons of Jacob also are called patriarchs (Acts 7: 8,9) and even King David is called a patriarch (Acts 2: 29). The patriarchal system was but a development of the family. It was the family grown into a tribe, so common to the history of every people. In a word, it was one big family based on the sacredness of family ties, with the father as the head. We have a great example of it in the strong tribal bond of the Irish. The old saying—"Blood is thicker than water"—is a tribal slogan, a tribute to the fundamental importance of the family. The Patriarchs constituted God’s special family, His chosen family, and as such were a type of the Holy Family which could trace its lineage back to Patriarchal days.
The great ancestor was Abraham. Mary was proud of him. She was Jewish, glorying in the loyalty of Her people to God, and knowing that the Incarnation was come because the blood that coursed through Her veins had come in a clear, unpolluted stream from the father Abraham.
Abraham throws a strong light on Mary, and Mary throws a strong light on Abraham. She was a true descendant of his, and She was glad to acknowledge it. In the Magnificat She associates Herself with Abraham as recipient of the Divine promises—"He that is mighty had done great things to Me—as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever."
Abraham was a great hero to the Jews. No wonder he was one of God's noblemen. God had chosen him from among all men to be the founder of His chosen people, and had brought him into the land of Chanaan where he erected altars to the Lord. Abraham is the starting point of the religion of the Old Testament. From that time on God is spoken of as "the God of Abraham." We are not going to detail the history of Abraham. One could spend much time in finding in it many types of Our Lady, such as his flight into Egypt; his meeting with Melchisedec, the King of Salem, to whom he gives tithes of all he has; the promise of God to Abraham that his seed would be as the stars of Heaven—"Look up to Heaven and number the stars if thou canst. And He said to him: So shall thy seed be" (Gen. 15: 5). Number the stars! Our Lady, too, numbered them—"All generations shall call me blessed." And the inspired writer says—"Abram believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice" (Gen. 15: 6). So the similarity continues. Abraham entertains God and two angels; a son is sent miraculously to Abraham and the child is circumcised on the eighth day. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac. He was willing to obey God. He had the sword in his hand ready to strike, when an angel of the Lord stayed his hand, saying—"now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for My sake" (Gen. 22: 12). Only, with Mary, the only-begotten Son was not spared.
Many a time during the Passion, Mary who knew the Scriptures well, must have thought of Abraham's trust in God and his willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command. She was the true daughter of Abraham. Abraham believed God; so did Mary: Abraham trusted God; so did Mary: Abraham obeyed God; so did Mary.
As God said to him after his willingness to sacrifice his son: "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only-begotten son for My sake, I will bless, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of Heaven, and as the sand that is by the seashore: thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice" (Gen. 22: 16-18).
In these, and other words oft repeated, Abraham is singled out as the head of a chosen generation, a new people of God, just as his descendant Mary is later singled out as the head of a new generation, the Woman to crush the head of the serpent—not only the Mother of a chosen people, but the very Mother of God.
So the Evangelists are careful to trace back the line of this Mother of God to Abraham and the promises given him for the blessing of Israel, as Mary said in the Magnificat, and as Zachary said in the Benedictus—"The oath which He swore to Abraham our father."
All through the New Testament tremendous importance is attached to the promises God made to Abraham. All the Jews gloried in being the seed of Abraham. St. Paul thrills at the thought that he is a child of Abraham, not by seed alone, but more, in the faith to which, by the grace of God, descent from Abraham has brought him.
The whole lesson of Abraham to the Jews, to the Apostles and Evangelists and to the Church, was that he believed God, and so began to clear the way for the New Dispensation. The Church has always loved Abraham. There are innumerable references to him in the prayers of the Liturgy. The "Bosom of Abraham," which means Heaven and eternal bliss, is one of the loveliest expressions we have. It is one of the dearest hopes we have who though not of the carnal seed of Abraham have been admitted to the new chosen people by faith. "Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel. And I say to you that many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven."
Isaac, though inferior in character to his father Abraham, was a friend of God, a simple gentleman, worthy to hand on the promises made to the chosen people. The blessing he gave to his son Jacob can be fittingly applied to his descendant Mary. "God give thee the dew of Heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, abundance of corn and wine. And let people serve thee, and tribes worship thee: be thou lord of thy brethren, and let thy Mother's children bow down before thee. Cursed be he that curseth thee: and let him that blesseth thee be filled with blessings" (Gen. 27: 28-29).
Mary must have loved the gentle, peaceful Isaac, willing to be sacrificed at the will of God. Was he not a figure of her own Son, the Prince of Peace, Who purchased peace for the world by His Sacrifice on Mount Calvary? She was proud to be a daughter of Isaac.
We have made reference elsewhere to the vision granted to Jacob, the "Jacob's ladder" which has given to Mary the title "Ladder of Heaven," with the angels ascending and descending. Fittingly applied to Her are the words of God's promise to Jacob—"And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and thy seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 28, 14).
So runs along through the ages the line of Patriarchs, which may be called the River of God's promise. Down through the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes, down through David's line till it comes to Mary, who is the fulfillment of God's original promise, to crush the head of the serpent.
To us who have seen the fulfillment of the prophecies, who no longer rest in figures but in facts, these venerable characters of the Old Testament promises are apt to be a bit vague. But they were vital to the Jews. They were their national heroes. They were the clear proof of the claim that the Jews were the chosen people. There were many souls in Israel who were proud to be the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, souls like St. Joseph, St. Zachary, St. Elizabeth and many others, who recognized the Messias when He came. But most of all Mary. Her mind was saturated with the memories of these ancient blessings to Her people. The faith of the Patriarchs, trusting in the plain word of God, was a joy to Her heart. She knew all that was meant by their loyalty, by their preservation of the Faith. The outstanding quality in any saint is faith. What of the faith of Mary who had a supremacy of sanctity? It is Her faith that connects Her with the line of Patriarchs, not merely Her descent in the flesh. Surely on Assumption Day, when She entered Heaven, after adoring the Triune God, and then greeting Her Son and Ss. Joseph, Joachim and Anne, the first ones She sought out in that “Bosom of Abraham” were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Heaven’s happiness was increased for them as they beheld their loveliest Daughter, now the Queen of Patriarchs.
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