Mary is the Janua Cœli," the Gate of
by Cardinal Newman
is called the Gate of Heaven, because it was through her that our Lord passed from heaven to
earth. The Prophet Ezechiel, prophesying of Mary, says, "the gate shall be closed, it shall not
be opened, and no man shall pass through it, since the Lord God of Israel has entered through it—and
it shall be closed for the Prince, the Prince Himself shall sit in it."
Now this is fulfilled, not only in our Lord having taken
flesh from her, and being her Son, but, moreover, in that she had a place in the economy of
Redemption; it is fulfilled in her spirit and will, as well as in her body. Eve had a part in the fall
of man, though it was Adam who was our representative, and whose sin made us sinners. It was Eve who
began, and who tempted Adam.
Scripture says: "The woman saw that the tree was
good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold; and she took of the fruit thereof, and
did eat, and gave to her husband, and he did eat." It was fitting then in God's mercy that, as
the woman began the destruction of the world, so woman should also begin its recovery,
and that, as Eve opened the way for the fatal deed of the first Adam, so Mary should open the way for
the great achievement of the second Adam, even our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to save the world by
dying on the cross for it. Hence Mary is called by the holy Fathers a second and a better Eve, as
having taken that first step in the salvation of mankind which Eve took in its ruin.
How, and when, did Mary take part, and the initial part,
in the world's restoration? It was when the Angel Gabriel came to her to announce to her the great
dignity which was to be her portion. St. Paul bids us "present our bodies to God as a reasonable
service." We must not only pray with our lips, and fast, and do outward penance, and be chaste in
our bodies; but we must be obedient, and pure in our minds.
And so, as regards the Blessed Virgin, it was God's will
that she should undertake willingly and with full understanding to be the Mother of our
Lord, and not to be a mere passive instrument whose maternity would have no merit and no reward. The
higher our gifts, the heavier our duties. It was no light lot to be so intimately near to the Redeemer
of men, as she experienced afterwards when she suffered with him. Therefore, weighing well the Angel's
words before giving her answer to them—first she asked whether so great an office would be a
forfeiture of that Virginity which she had vowed. When the Angel told her no, then, with the full
consent of a full heart, full of God's love to her and her own lowliness, she said, "Behold the
handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word." It was by this consent that she
became the Gate of Heaven.
Gate of Heaven
elaborately baroque gate serves as Mary's throne. Her effigy is surrounded by stars and
clouds. Her outstretched arms suggest openness, receptiveness. The open gate leads
into an enclosed garden, symbol of her virginity. The angel with shield and flaming sword
protects the open gate, which can be assimilated with the gates of paradise. The angel
proclaims these words, "He has opened the gates of heaven" (Psalm 78:23). On the
other side of the gate we discover the presence of the ladder of Jacob, with Jacob sleeping at
its foot and angels moving up and down (Genesis 28).
origin of this Marian allegory can be found in the Acts of the Council of Eplesus 431 (Homily
for the Annunciation, 428, by Proclus of Constantinople or Cyzikus). The homily is
based on Ezekiel 44:1-3, and thus alludes at the gate which shall remain closed, since the Lord
has entered by it. The expression can be found in the "Ave Maria Stella" ("felix
porta caeli"), 8/9th century, but also in the "Alma Redemptoris" and
the "Ave Regina Coelorum," 12th century.
Lemma is taken from Psalm 24, "Lift up your heads, o gates."