There is a Marian feast called “Mother of the Good Shepherd,” which is celebrated on September 8 in certain locations. St. Bernard’s sermon on the “Aqueduct” is a beautiful illustration of it. Using a very appropriate image, he explains how the Mother of God is the channel or aqueduct of all the graces the Good Shepherd has gained for us and of which He is the inexhaustible source.
Christ the Fountain of Life
Eternal life is an inexhaustible source which waters the entire surface of Paradise. Not only does it water it, but it inundates it—the fountain of gardens, the source from which living waters spring forth abundantly from Lebanon and flow spontaneously to make the City of God joyful. Who is this source? As St. Paul says, “When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory” (Col.3:3). But see, the fullness in person emptied himself to be to us justice and sanctity and remission, without yet appearing as life or glory or beatitude.
The source was channeled toward us and its waters flowed in our streets, and yet the stranger could not drink of these waters. This celestial stream descended through an aqueduct, without however presenting the fullness of the source, but pouring grace drop by drop upon our thirsty hearts, more to some, less to others. The aqueduct itself is always full, so that all may receive of its fullness, yet not the fullness itself.
The Aqueduct is Mary
You have already divined, unless I am mistaken, of what Aqueduct I wish to speak, who receiving the fullness of the Source from the Father’s heart, has delivered to us, if not as it is in itself, at least in the measure of our capacity; you know well to whom it was said: “Hail, full of grace.” But are we surprised that so great and wonderful an Aqueduct could be made that its head, like that of Jacob’s ladder, touched heaven, or even better, penetrated heaven and was able to reach this infinitely living source of “super-celestial” waters? Solomon himself was surprised and wrote, as if in despair, “Who shall find a valiant woman?” (Prov. 31:10).
In truth, if mankind was lacking the flood of grace for so long, it was for want of an aqueduct, of that so desirable Aqueduct of whom we speak. For that matter, you will no longer be surprised at such a long wait if you remember the many years that Noah, that just man, put into the building of the ark; and in which so few, exactly eight people, were saved and for a short time.
The Ascent Towards the Source
But how did this our Aqueduct attain a so highly placed source? How do you think other than thanks to the fervency of her desire, other that by the ardor of her devotion, other than through the purity of her prayer as witnessed in Scripture: “The prayer of him that humbleth himself, shall pierce the clouds”? (Eccl. 35:21). And who is this humble person if not Mary, she from whom arose the Sun of justice? How did Mary reach the inviolate majesty? Was it not by knocking, asking, and seeking? But yes, she found that for which she sought, she of whom it was said, “thou hast found grace with God” (Lk.1:30). But what? Mary is full of grace and yet she still finds grace? She is truly worthy to find what she seeks, the woman for whom her own plenitude is not enough, who cannot be content with her own good, but who, obedient to the word; “they that drink me, shall yet thirst,” (Eccl.24:29), asks for an excess of grace for the salvation of the world.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)