In the Douay Rheims version of the Gospel Our Lord’s sixth Beatitude is given as-
‘Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God‘
We are perhaps more familiar with the translations which render it as ‘pure in heart.’ You may think that contrasting ‘clean of‘ with ‘pure in‘ is making a distinction without a difference; and maybe you would be right.
For me, however, it serves as a reminder that the word ‘pure‘ has come to have more than one meaning. When applied to people we usually understand it as a synonym for virtuous. In relation to other things though- pure gold, purebred- it means without admixture of elements which do not properly belong to it. ‘Clean‘ has something of the same implication, things which are alien to a body have been washed away so that it is uncontaminated by what should not be attached to it. In that sense, then, the heart which can see God is the heart which is all light having no darkness in it, the heart, that is, which resembles the pre-lapsarian human condition.
The saints while still on earth can, to a degree, see the Lord because the action of grace together with their willing cooperation has washed away much of the dust of sin which attached to their pre-conversion heart. And the more that this is so the more perfectly can they see God. Yet it can never be a completely perfect vision because the wounds inflicted by Original Sin still leave their mark on even the most exalted of the saints. And this is a wound that none of the children of humankind have ever escaped. Except one.
Immaculately conceived in the womb of St Anne the blessed Virgin Mary was free from the stain of Original Sin and, through her cooperation with the Holy Spirit of God, all the days of her life she committed no actual sin. If any heart could be said to be pure or clean it would be hers. And it was precisely this that enabled her to see the Son, the Logos of the Father, within her breast during her dialogue with St Gabriel. The Word became flesh within Our Lady because the Immaculate Heart of Mary saw Him as He was in the bosom of the Father. He took His flesh from her because she, as it were, took her heart from Him.
The Beatitude is both a description of the present and a pledge for the future. What the clean of heart see through a glass darkly now they will know in full hereafter. The vision of God enjoyed by the Theotokos in her mortal life was the fullest that could possibly be. ‘He who sees me has seen the Father’ Jesus said. Who saw Our Lord more fully or for longer than His Blessed Mother? ‘Hail, full of grace’ said the Archangel, who was more united to the Holy Spirit than the Lady who was filled to overflowing with His grace? ‘You have found favour with God’ Gabriel added, who was closer to the Father than His favoured daughter Mary?
It is an article of the Catholic faith that the fullest possible happiness we can (and hopefully will) enjoy is to be in the presence of God while we are possessed of body, soul and spirit. That is, the resurrection to eternal life is the essential condition to our total fulfillment. The joy of the saints in heaven now is but a prelude to that which will come later. Then we will see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. It is wholly fitting then that Mary, who because of her cleanness of heart saw God with the greatest possible clarity in this life, should become the first of us to see Him with the greatest possible clarity in the life to come.
To that end therefore ‘ the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory‘ (Munificentissimus Deus) We rejoice with Our Lady because we have joy that one whom we love so much and whom God loves infinitely is experiencing that total blessing which her Immaculate Heart leads her to. We are glad too because we have hope that Mary is now what we shall become later. And we have faith that it will the more likely be so because the Blessed Virgin intercedes on our behalf to make it so the more ardently we unite ourselves to her in prayer and petition. And so we have these three, faith hope and love and of the three love is the greatest. Rejoice and be glad Immaculate Mother, we your children love you now and forever!
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The painting is The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin by Fra Angelico