We recently examined the accounts of Elisabeth of Schonau, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Gertude of Helfta, and Bridget of Sweden, all who recorded revelations and/or visions of the Blessed Mother. Each of their visions, however, seems to depict the Blessed Mother in a somewhat different fashion. What could be the reason for these differences and what can we take from them? We must first recall some Theology: as human beings, we are all children of God created in His image (Genesis 1:26). When God came to Earth, incarnate in the human flesh through the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ chose the Church as his Bride. Thus, all members of the Church are the servant sons, daughters, and brides of Christ. Therefore Mary, the Mother of the Groom (Jesus) and a member of his Church, is also the Servant-Daughter and Bride of Christ as well. This difficult concept is summarized in Song of Songs 2:16: "My love is mine and I am his." Each of these responsibilities belonging to Mary can be seen in the revelations recorded by Elisabeth, Mechthild, Gertude, and Bridget, giving us an image of the various emotions and thoughts Mary exhibits in order to fulfill her role.
Elisabeth of Schonau's visions focus heavily on Mary's place as the Servant-Daughter. Throughout the text, Elisabeth accounts her visions as occurring on multiple feast days with a specific attention to the Mass and the Liturgical Services. The Blessed Mother is most often depicted in a reverent fashion, preparing for or basking in the presence of Jesus: "I again saw her in celestial brightness worshiping in the presence of the great Majesty" (pg. 50). Similarly, Gertude of Helfta focuses on the Mass. For Gertude, the Liturgy has become the narrative and she is experiencing it as a conversation. Gertude, however, seems to be more focused on her relationship with Christ in her revelations. In fact, she even appeals to Christ in hopes of understanding how to improve her own devotion to Mary. Her revelations are overall very personal, as she recognizes herself as being called to supplant Mary in her devotions:
"Come, elect one, and stand in my place, with all the perfection in virtue which caused the Blessed Trinity to incline toward me, that you may please the Blessed Trinity as far as possible in like manner." (Chapter 49).
Gertude is thus personally invited by Mary to be a Bride of the Holy Trinity. It is Mechthild of Magdeburg, however, who delves deeper into the "Bride and Bridegroom" concept concerning the Blessed Mother.
"The sweet dew of the eternal Trinity gushed forth from the fountain of the everlasting Godhead into the flower of the chosen maid; and fruit of this flower is an immortal God and a mortal man and a living hope of eternal life. And our Redeemer became a Bridegroom." (pg.49)
Mechthild describes Mary's conception of Jesus through the Holy Trinity, and then refers to Christ as a "Bridegroom". She continues on to define Mary's role as mother after being chosen as the Bride of the Holy Trinity. Most interestingly, she describes Mary's nourishment to Christ as beginning before Christ was even born:
"The Father chose me as his bride- that he might have something to love; for his darling bride, the noble soul, was dead. The Son chose me to be his mother and the Holy Spirit received me as his beloved. Then I alone was the bride of the Holy Trinity and mother of orphans, and I brought them before God's eyes so that they might not all sink down, though some did. When I was thus the mother of many a banished child, my breasts became so full of the pure, spotless milk of true generous mercy that I suckled the prophets and sages even before I was born. Afterward, in my childhood, I suckled Jesus." (pg. 50)
Mechthild then proceeds in confirming the definition of "God's Bride" (Christ's Church - Christianity) that I presented earlier. The most interesting part, however, is that Mechthild suggests that at the crucifixion, through the wounds of Christ, the Church was born and Mary, most rightful and resembling God in all parts, became its mother and nurse:
"later, in my youth, I suckled God's bride, Holy Christianity, under the cross when I was so desolate and wretched, as the sword of the physical suffering of Jesus cut spiritually into my soul.
Both his wounds and her breasts were open.
The wounds poured forth.
The breasts flowed.
The should was invigorated and completely restored
As he poured the sparkling red wine
Into her red mouth.
As she was thus born and made healthy out of the open wounds, she was like a child, and very young. If she was going to recover completely after death and birth, God's mother was going to have to be her mother and her nurse. This was and is as it should be, since God is her rightful father and she is his rightful bride. She resembles him in all parts." (pg. 51)
Mecthild then continues in describing Mary's role as mother of the church and how she "suckled the holy apostles with [her] motherly instruction." According to Mecthild, Mary was therefore chosen as the Bridge of the Holy Trinity, nourished Jesus as his mother before he was born, and then became the mother of the Church during his death. If Mary nurtured Christ before his birth on Earth, and the Holy Trinity has existed infinitely before becoming incarnate in the flesh, is Mecthild suggesting that Mary existed before she was conceived on Earth as well? In St. Bridget's Revelations, she quotes Mary saying "Know, too that there is no human body in Heaven but the glorious body of my Son and mine" (pg. 69). Does this support Mecthild's idea? As this whole concept is difficult enough to conceive (no pun intended), Mechtild continues to praise the perfection of Mary, and refers to her as a "goddess" (pg. 103), possibly leading to some confusion among readers. We must not, however, take this out of context, as Mecthild did not intend to regard Mary as a separate divinity from the Godhead, but rather that she is the perfect reflection of the Holy Trinity. Mecthild gives Mary this adjective because she is so full of the grace of God that "no one can be compared to her" (pg. 103) as she "resembles him in all parts."
Even though Mary's level of grace is unmatchable, she still suffered tremendously when Christ accepted his role in the Passion, as depicted in St. Bridget's revelations. The Passion brought great agony to her: "Oh, how readily would I have laid myself there alive beside my Son, had it been His will!" (pg. 48). Echoing Song of Songs 2:16, St. Bridget also clearly makes known Mary's belonging to Christ, yet Christ's human connection to Mary.
"His pains were mine, because His heart was mine. For as Adam and Eve sold the world for an apple, so my Son and I redeemed the world, as it were, with one heart." (pg 63).
St. Bridget even implies that Mary suffered even more after Jesus' Ascension as she felt disconnected from him like a widow, and was "much afflicted with a longing to rejoin [her] Son." Nonetheless, Mary lived for a long time after Christ's Ascension, and "God so willed it that many souls, seeing [her] patience and life, might be converted to Him." Thus in The Revelations of St. Bridget we see Mary's complete role as the "Mater Sponsi" as she is the Mother of the Groom in her suffering during the Passion, the Bride of the Groom in her longing to rejoin Christ after his Ascension, and her role as a Servant-Daughter for God before she leaves the Earth in her Glorious Assumption.
Mary's relationship to Christ is overall considered to be very difficult to grasp because of her roles as a Mother, Daughter, Servant, and Bride all at the same time. While they still raise some questions, the revelations of Elisabeth of Schonau, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Gertude of Helfta, and Bridget of Sweden in the overall scheme of things most definitely help in gaining a deeper insight into understanding the meanings and mysteries of faith behind the Most Blessed Mother.