Q: Tell me about Mary's title, "Ladder of Heaven."


A: Our Lady has frequently been called "ladder of heaven."  The expression has various meanings.  The first one describes a descending movement: Mary is called ladder because she brought Jesus Christ into this world.  He descended on this ladder from heaven to earth, a symbol, of course, of Mary's maternity.  A number of well known authors have used this image: Augustine, John Damascene, Ambrose Autpert, but also the famous Hortus Delicarum by Herrad of Landsberg.

The expression has a second meaning: Mary is called "ladder" because she is herself a model of spiritual ascent by degrees.  The idea of Mary's spiritual ascent is expressed in the Presentation in the Temple (cf. woodcut at right by Robert F. McGovern).  Mary, the girl, ascends the stairs, mostly fifteen, but also sometimes seven or eight, to reach the portal or entrance to the Temple, a symbol of her union with God.  This image has its origin in the apocryphal gospels, especially in the Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity.

A third meaning identifies Our Lady as the ladder of heaven for us.  She is the white ladder in the Fioretti of Saint Francis: her mercy contrasts with the red ladder of justice applicable to Jesus Christ.  A similar reference can be found in Benivieni, The Ladder of the Spiritual Life Is Based on the Name of Mary (1495).


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