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Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy
The daily office for the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary declares: “Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, proclaims joy to the whole world, for from you arose the glorious Sun of Justice, Christ our God; he freed us from the age-old curse and filled us with holiness; he destroyed death and gave us eternal life.” Those seem like strong words, to declare that Our Lady’s birth “proclaims joy to the whole world,” or to hold that the Virgin Mary is the cause of our joy. Indeed, our world hardly even knows what true joy is anymore. Joy is neither mere worldly happiness, nor optimism, feeling, or emotion. Rather, true joy is connected to things eternal and to the love of God, and hence the title of Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy.
It is one of the Marian titles in the Litany of Loreto, a Marian litany developed in the Middle Ages and approved by Pope Sixtus V in the year 1587. Among many beautiful Marian titles in the Litany, Causa nostrae laetitia stands out. If perhaps less known today, the title, Causa nostrae laetitiae, has been a popular one in the past. Artwork has frequently celebrated Our Lady Cause of Out Joy, In one 18th century image, the Virgni Mary serenely wears her queenly crown, holding musical instruments and surrounded by heavenly and earthly choirs playing music.
An Early Modern engraving by Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756) of the same title has the same image: the heavenly and earthly choir united with the Cause of Our Joy (see below). Another such image includes similar themes, but includes a scene of Our Lady’s visit to Saint Elizabeth.
Our modern world’s desperate search for carnal pleasure gives proof to our desperate need for real joy. Thomas Aquinas held that “No man can live without joy.” That is why someone deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures. There is no need to recite endless examples from modern politics and society that make that all too obvious. But even placing aside the current state of politics, one cannot ignore the continuing opioid crisis, the rise of drug abuse, increasing calls to legalize more drugs, gambling, and even prostitution. Yet, these ersatz joys fail to satisfy and indeed, do violence to our human natures.
Furthermore, Aquinas held that true joy, supernatural joy, as opposed to merely worldly happiness, is caused in us by charity, given us by the Holy Spirit. God’s love and presence is the source of our joy. Aquinas cites 1 John 4:16: He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him. “Therefore,” he says, “spiritual joy, which is about God, is caused by charity.” God, then, is cause of our joy, which proceeds from charity.
To call the Virgin Mary, then, the cause of our joy might seem overly bold, to give to a creature glory due to the Creator. But this is not so. Our Lord spoke of his disciples sharing in His joy, so that theirs might be complete (John 15:11). Our Lord may share his joy with his followers, but it was the Virgin Mary’s Fiat that let him do so. It was because her cooperation with the Holy Spirit made the Incarnation possible. God’s presence brought joy and the temple was the place where God dwells.
As tabernacle and temple, the Virgin Mary carried Our Lord in her womb, giving him a human nature, and bringing his presence to men. Hence, when she visited Saint Elizabeth, she had only to greet her and the infant Saint John the Baptist leapt for joy: When the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy (Luke 1:44). John leapt for joy because he recognized the presence of Our Lord, to whom Our Lady gave a human nature. Then as Tabernacle of the Most High, she brought Him to John and his mother, causing John’s joy. In her turn, Mary declared that her spirit “rejoiced in God my savior.”
The Virgin Mary made God present to man; she made the Incarnation possible; and as Co-Redemptrix, is properly called the cause of our joy, for if we will go to her, she will make Christ present to us.