Most Catholics, if asked how many virtues there are, would reply by saying “seven.” They would come to this number by adding the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) to the three supernatural virtues (faith, hope and charity). Then again, they might add the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to the three evangelical virtues to get ten.
But there is another way of enumerating virtues, one concerning which Catholics should be more familiar: the Ten Virtues of Mary. They correspond to the decade one recites when praying the “Chaplet of the Ten Evangelical Virtues of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.”
These virtues are recorded in various passages in the New Testament where Mary personifies them. Her life, in fact, is a continuous expression of virtues that are offered for us to imitate.
First, Most Pure: While Mary was betrothed to Joseph, an angel appeared to her announcing that she had “found favor with God” and that, with her consent, she would give birth to Jesus. “How can this be,” she asked, “since I do not know a man?” (Luke: 1:27-34). Joseph was troubled by Mary’s pregnancy, but was reassured of Mary’s purity when an angel said to him: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18-20).
Second, Most Prudent: When Jesus was 12, he stayed behind in Jerusalem for three days listening to teachers and asking them questions. When his parents found him, Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents. “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:49, 51). Mary did not admonish her son, despite the anxiety he caused her, but prudently and silently accepted what she did not fully understand.
Third, Most Humble: Mary visited Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, her child leapt in her womb. “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth proclaimed. In response, Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:40-48). Mary did not boast of the great role she was given to play. She deferred everything to God and remained His humble servant.
Fourth, Most Faithful: At the marriage at Cana, when the supply of wine had run out, Mary, with full confidence in her son, said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John: 2:5). Her faith in Jesus is all the more striking because Jesus said to her a moment earlier, “My hour has not yet come.” She did not believe that her son would let the wedding guests down. But she also believed that Jesus’ first public miracle would be a response to his mother’s faith. These were Mary’s last words that Scripture has recorded.
Fifth, Most Devout: Mary was a woman of prayer. After the death of her son, she and the apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). Her Magnificat, together with the rosary, and the chaplet provide outstanding examples of her prayerfulness, a virtue that she strongly advises us to imitate. She continues to pray for all of us: “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Sixth, Most Obedient: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” is Mary’s response God’s invitation that she conceive Jesus (Luke 1:38). Her freedom to say “yes” was coupled with her understanding of her servitude and therefore her willingness to be obedient. It has been said that Mary’s fiat was, in a certain sense, a greater event than God’s fiat when he said, “Let there be light,” for the latter brought about the sun whereas the former brought the Son of God into the world. God the Father created the cosmos; Mary’s obedience christened it.
Seventh, Most Poor: Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger, among animals, and wrapped her child in swaddling clothes. There was “no room” for the Holy Family at the inn (Luke 2:7). The circumstances of the Nativity invite the poorest of the poor to identify with Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. Among the guests at the birth of Christ were poor shepherds: “This is the sign by which you are to know him; you will find a Child still in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
Eighth, Most Patient: “Near the Cross of Jesus stood His mother” (John 19:25). Mary observed the crucifixion of her son with the most demanding form of patience, one that must endure unimaginable heartbreak. Her patience, a virtue that belongs to the category of fortitude, strengthened her so that she would not yield to anger or despair. It held firm, aided by her faith that greater things would follow.
Ninth, Most Merciful: The “Hail Mary” ends with the words, “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” The Salve Regina begins with the words, “Hail, Holy Queen Mother of Mercy.” It includes a petition for her to “turn…your eyes of mercy toward us.” Mary sees what we need and is mercifully disposed to come to our aid. It is perfectly in keeping with Mary’s motherhood that she would radiate mercy toward all her children.
Tenth, Most Sorrowful: At the Presentation in the Temple, Simeon prophesied that the baby Jesus would be a contradiction. After saying this, he turned to his mother and said, “As for thy own soul, it shall have a sword to pierce it” (Luke 2:35). Mary’s sorrows would be conjoined with those of her son. She would be known as Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows, and Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated liturgically on Sept. 15.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow with Human Life International.