The Contemplation of Mary’s Beauty in the Spirituality of Saint Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi
This article is an adaptation from: Charlo Camilleri, O.Carm., Carmel: A Spirituality of Beauty, Dissertation presented in part fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Licentiate in Sacred Theology, University of Malta, Malta 2002, 88-91.
In the beauty of your eyes all paradise has been pleased
Carmelite mystics and authors continually speak of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the one who through her beauty and virginal purity, in some sense, merited to be filled with God in the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. In many Carmelite texts Mary is compared metaphorically to a fertile land upon which God manifests his glory. Eloquent mystical texts are given to us by St Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi (1556-1607), a fascinating personality with a love for refined and beautiful things.
This Carmelite nun, well known among the Italian mystics, give importance to the correlation between Mary and purity which in turn is understood as beauty and spiritual transparency. The spiritual experience and writing of Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi are filled abundantly with references, both direct and indirect, to the beauty and glory of God, or the Virgin Mary, and of the soul in the state of grace. It is impossible here to give all references to her texts, which are full of symbolism. A selection of texts have been chosen to illustrate the line of thought and the mystical experience of this saint who, because of her many ecstasies, live a substantial part of her earthly pilgrimage in a sphere of consciousness beyond that of earth. The nuns who observed her during her ecstasies declared that she would have a very beautiful face with rosy cheeks, her face resplendent with such great majesty and grace, that she would not seem to be the same person.
For Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, those who embark on the spiritual journey in Carmel are under the maternal protection and care of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The nuns of her monastery recorded that it was on “the 5 January, the vigil of the Epiphany while that beloved soul was hearing Mass in choir and thus while she was before the altar of the chapel of the Virgin, she was rapt as usual and she saw that the Virgin places us with great love under her mantle.” Our Lady puts us under her white mantle because she “desires to sanctify our body and soul, so that one can say of us what is said of her holy and immaculate virginity! The glory of a mother is the grandeur, the wealth, and the beauty of her daughter.” Living in a monastery dedicated to the mystery of the Assumption under the title of Santa Maria degli Angeli, St Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi in her ecstasies frequently contemplates this mystery at the end of the life of Our Lady. For our saint, the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven because of her purity. It is also the purity of Mary which made possible the Incarnation of the Word: “The Eternal Father, fixing his eyes upon Mary, was pleased with her very great purity, because she had been the one who had drawn the Word from the Father and enclosed Him in her small womb.”
To receive the gifts of God from Mary, a pure heart is needed: “To make the heart suited to receive gifts, it is necessary for it to be pure, resplendent and strong. Into such a heart, so pure, resplendent and strong, Mary can infuse her gifts and graces.” For this reason, the vow of chastity in religious life binds and joins the soul with the Eternal Father “Who is Purity Itself.” Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi says that “this purity is one of the closest bonds and unions that the soul could have with God, through that conformity which the soul has with God by being pure.” After her profession on 27 May 1584, Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi said that Jesus gave her “purity of the Virgin Mary.” Those who enter Carmel seem to be given birth spiritually by the Virgin Mary. These are given a mantle as white as that of the Virgin Mary, taking care of it diligently so as not to ruin the purity of the most sweet Mother. It is during the religious profession that Our Lady makes the souls of the religious resplendent with this virtue. Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi sees Mary as the model of mystical purity with which the soul has to be open to receive God. Mary purifies the Carmelite soul with the blood of Christ and also by feeding them her own milk, to transform these souls into white doves who fly into the five wounds of Jesus.
Even the Marian texts of St Mary Magdalene’s writings are highly Christological and deep in their theological content. In a Marian text found in The Probation, she contemplates the beauty and glory of the Word Incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She puts forward a parallelism between the womb of Mary and Mount Calvary. In the virginal womb of Mary, Jesus Christ has a beautiful face resplendent more than the sun, whilst on Calvary this beauty is hidden. In the womb of Mary, Christ is clothed with humanity, but in his passion he is clothed with a white cloak by those who scourged him and laughed at his innocence. Perhaps unconsciously, St Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi had in mind the Gospel text of the Transfiguration of our Lord. All through the text there is a continuous reference to the mystery of the kenois of the Word Incarnate:
“He descended into you, and the Holy Spirit formed and ordered the beautiful body of the Word, so small as it was. Nevertheless, that Word was and is so great the heaven cannot contain Him; yet he wished to be contained in the small womb of the little Virgin! But what creature has ever been able to understand Your grandeur, O Word? Those beautiful little eyes, which constantly saw that union which exists between the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Word Himself existing in the union, what creature could ever comprehend their beauty? I see You at the same time so little, little in the womb of Mary, and on the cross. Please tell me, O Word, where did You stay more willingly, on the cross or in the womb of Mary? The cross was planted on a dreadful mountain, in earth that was arid, dry and sterile; and the womb of Mary was that so joyous, pleasing, blessed and fruitful earth which was to produce You, the fruit of life. You were naked in the womb of Mary, and naked on the cross. In the womb of Mary Your face was more resplendent than the sun; on the cross You no longer had beauty or comeliness. Remaining in the bosom of the Father, You aspired to the womb of Mary; and remaining in the womb of Mary, you aspired to the cross! Mary clothed You in the garment of humanity; they (those who mocked Jesus) clothed You in a white robe, in mockery, making Your innocence manifest in spite of themselves. Mary veiled Your divinity; and they veiled your resplendent face! Mary melted in looking at Your beautiful face; and they deformed it with their fetid spitting.”
The Blessed Virgin Mary is almost always contemplated by St Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi as a companion in our spiritual journey towards Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. Mary’s presence in the spiritual and mystical life of the saint is outstanding. The saint teaches us that we have to follow the Virgin Mary in her lifestyle so that we can participate with her in glory.
“O glorious Mary, and glorious the one who follows you! But then, to want to preserve our gifts and graces as Mary did, it is necessary to have what Mary had, whom after she was assumed into heaven, live a life lasting and eternal. The soul must have a perfect sight, in seeing God alone, it must have an unbelievable hearing, so that the soul through it may be doing whatever work you wish, great or small, or the most distracted that can be found, always takes its place before God and never leave aside what God seeks of it. Then it must have an agreeable and savour taste by which the soul, no matter what is placed before it whether sweet or bitter, goes on to taste everything in Christ crucified; for in this way one savours God, but crucified ….. I would wish to that such a soul, which has done what Mary does with the Word, that soul will crown Mary which will offer up all the merits of Mary, together with all the praise that has ever been given to her soul and with the merits of all the saints, with the desire of increasing her glory, however glorious that glory may be.”
Living the same life as Mary, is to become beautiful and glorious as Mary is. This entails letting oneself to be mystically purified by God through suffering. Participation in the sufferings of Jesus grants the disciples participation in the glory of their Lord. St. Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi contemplates this in the life of the Virgin Mary, Queen of martyrs. It is Mary also who clothed us in the path of suffering following the footsteps of Christ on her example:
“The other mantle of her sacred martyrdom we must adorn by following her good example, her persevering faith, and living faith, because faith without works is dead. We must load it with the jewels of our anxious desires, when we have need of suffering all that she suffered – and much more, if it were possible (which it is not). For there is no creature that loves God as much as she loves Him. Who shares in Mary, let him become like Mary! Who shares in glory, let him become like in glory! Who shares in God, let him become like God!”
 The Probation, II in The Complete Works of Saint Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi, Carmelite and Mystic (1566-1607), II, translated by the Very Rev Gabriel N. Pausback, O.Carm., (England 1973, 26-27). Hereafter CWMP
 The Colloquies, I: CWMP, II, 26-27.
 The Colloquies, I: CWMP, V, 243.
 The Colloquies, I: CWMP, V, 20.
 Ibid., 241-242.
 The Forty Days: CWMP, I, 17.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 18.
 Probation, I: CWMP., 296-298.
 Probation, II: CWMP, V, 248-249.
 Ibid., 246.