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Tota pulchra es: What does it mean?

Mary, You Are All Beautiful.   Tota pulchra es, Maria.

A 4th Century Prayer that celebrates the incomparable beauty, both morally and spiritually, of the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It memorializes her life, excellence and sacrifice, and calls on her position in Heaven as our intercessor and advocate.


A masterful contemplative prayer that connects each of us to the hearts of early christians in their veneration of Our Blessed Monet.  This 4th-century prayer draws from Scriptural foreshadowings in Song of Songs and the Book of Judith to ascribe to the Blessed Virgin Mary an honor and reverence we can each share.


In this article, we’ll explore what each line of this prayer has to teach us about Our Lady and how she helps guide us along our walk of faith.


Tota pulchra es, Maria.

The Prayer begins with a recognition of Mary’s excellence in both her morality and spirituality, declaring her to be “all beautiful”.  This encourages us to call to mind her life and example as the woman chosen by God to be the Mother of our Saviour Jesus Christ.


 Et macula originalis non est in Te.

The prayer continues by ascribing to Mary King Solomon’s beautiful words from the Song of Songs, ‘there is no original stain [of sin] in you”.  This speaks of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, long before Pope Pius IX defined this Marian Dogma in 1854.


Mary’s apparition in Lourdes and message to a young Saint Bernadette admonished all of us to recognize the purity and grace that was on Mary’s life from her conception.  An ‘Immaculate Conception’ in preparation for her life as the Mother of Jesus and by extension the Mother of all Christians once they are baptized and join the family of God.


Mary’s unique place in the Holy Family is further venerated in Sacred Tradition with the annual celebrations of her Assumption (August 15) and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven (August 22).


 Tu gloria Ierusalem.  Tu laetitia Israel.  Tu honorificentia populi nostri.

Mary’s extraordinary position in the contemplations of the early believers and into our lives today is memorialized as the Prayer continues by declaring Mary to be “the glory of Jerusalem and the joy of Israel giving honor to our people”.  


The prayer’s author is drawing from passages in the Book of Judith, ascribing to Mary the triumphant words once declared to Judith, a hero of Israel who defeated Holofernes, an enemy of the people.


It was no small thing to accept the life the young virgin was being offered by Heaven’s Angel in Luke 1, a life that was to begin quite dramatically with a Divine pregnancy before her marriage to Joseph, but would include being pursued by the murderous King Herod, fleeing to Egypt for years in exile, being a witness to the persecution of her Son’s ministry, and then having to endure the sufferings of Jesus through His passion and crucifixion.  


We can each join in the early Church’s veneration of the Blessed Virgin as she remained steadfast to her Divine calling throughout her life.


Mary’s devotion to God and His calling on her life is an example to each of us as we face the challenges of life and our individual commitments to pursue a life of humility and purity.  Mary’s joy and devotion is immortalized in the Magnificat of Luke 1 as she declares to her cousin Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; because He has looked upon the humiliation of His servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. 


Holy is His name,and His faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.”  These words offer us a glimpse into the heart of the young virgin as she celebrates God, with humility and grace, in spite of the persecution she would have been facing from those who did not understand what He had asked of her.


Tu advocata peccatorum.


“You are the advocate of sinners.” – Early Christians recognized the unique place the Mother of God had as advocate and intercessor to her Son, Jesus, on behalf of all sinners.  This prayer calls to mind Jesus’ interaction with His Mother at the Marriage of Cana (John 2).  


In the face of Jesus’ admonition that ‘it was not yet His time (to do miracles)’, Mary’s compassion for the plight of the Bride and Groom compelled her to call upon her position in Jesus’ life to plead for His Divine intervention on their behalf.  


Remarkably, Jesus acquiesced to Mary’s intercession and performed His first recorded miracle by turning water into wine and rescuing the marriage celebrations.  Jesus clearly respected Our Lady’s position in His life and her compassionate appreciation for the challenges each of us faces.


These stanzas beautifully affirm the unique connection between Mary and her Son, Jesus, in their joint destiny prophesied in Genesis 3:15.  “I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; it will bruise your head and you will strike its heel.’  Their conjoined purpose to defeat the enemy of all mankind, declared by God only moments after Adam and Eve’s calamitous rebellion.


By reverencing Mary’s position in Heaven’s Holy Family, and appreciating her compassion for the plight of humankind, we accept her invitation to bring our petitions to her with the assurance that Jesus hears her pleadings on our behalf and responds.



O Maria, O Maria.

Virgo prudentissima.

Mater clementissima.

Ora pro nobis.

Intercede pro nobis.

Ad Dominum Iesum Christum.


The Prayer closes with our contemplative celebration of Our Mother Mary’s prudence, wisdom and intelligence; combined with the highest of mercies her heart extends to us all; as we humbly, but purposefully, ask her to pray for us, yes even plead on our behalf, to the Lord Jesus Christ.


This sentiment, echoed in the Rosary’s  Hail Mary, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” offers us a perspective into the hearts of those who have gone before us as they embrace the ministry of our Beloved Holy Mother.  


Their recognition of her compassionate heart as it longs for each of us to pursue a life of purity and purpose as we serve each other as part of God’s family.  

As we join in reverence to our Blessed Virgin Mary, she responds as she did to the distraught and humiliated Bride and Groom of Cana, advocating to Jesus on our behalf.  We can each rest assured that our lives, our challenges, our prayers reach the ears of Jesus because of the compassionate love of our Holy Mother.  


Mary, you are truly beautiful, 

“beauty that is joy in the eyes of all saints.”  Dante


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