12/27/10

Maria lactans: Mary nursing

Maria Lactans by Leonardo da Vinci

This fine essay speaks to an image of Mary we seldom see in contemporary art:
Maria lactans (Mary nursing). Earlier artists were less reluctant to paint and sculpt the Madonna and Child in this way. Here's a link to a gallery of paintings on the same theme.

As we contemplate Mary and her newborn son, the image of him nursing at her breasts offers us an intimate epiphany of Mary as the Mother of God.

These words from St. Ephrem's hymn on the Nativity delight in this natural and maternal nourishment:

Mary bore a mute Babe
though in him were hidden all our tongues.
Joseph carried him,
yet hidden in him was a silent nature older than everything.
The Lofty One became like a little child,
yet hidden in him was a treasure of Wisdom that suffices for all.
He was lofty
but he sucked Mary's milk,
and from his blessings all creation sucks.
He is the Living Breast of living breath;
by his life the dead were suckled, and they revived.
Without the breath of air no one can live;
without the power of the Son no one can rise.
Upon the living breath of the One who vivifies all
depend the living beings above and below.
As indeed he sucked Mary's milk,
he has given suck -- life to the universe.
As again he dwelt in his mother's womb,
in his womb dwells all creation.
Mute he was as a babe,
yet he gave to all creation all his commands.
For without the First-Born no one is able to approach Being,
for he alone is capable of it.

-St. Ephrem



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