A Guided Encounter

with Picturing Mary


Take a moment to reflect upon the deep delight that radiates on the Child Jesus’ face.  In a way, this Child reminds us of the playful delight and cheer that so many children at this age bring, especially to their mothers.  Reflect on the moments shared by all women, of every background and origin, who look with grateful affection on their child.  It is in this exchange of glances, between mother and child, that the human person first learns what it is to belong to another and what it means to be loved.

Return to the expression on Jesus’ face and observe how He is raising a floral crown for His Mother, as if to honor her in this child-like way.  We are reminded that Mary has been chosen by God from all eternity to benefit from the grace Christ gained for us on the Cross.  By Mary’s free consent to motherhood at the Annunciation, she became an unparalleled recipient of God’s grace.  In a mysterious way, God foreknew that Mary would choose to say “yes” to God’s plan for her and therefore, preserve her from original sin, so that she would be entirely pure and holy, without the damage of sin, as she served Christ on earth.  Thus, Mary was immaculately conceived or, in other words, conceived without sin. The crown the Infant Jesus offers to Mary in this picture can remind us of how God chose to honor Mary by giving her the grace of being entirely without sin.  This is why we can greet her as “full of grace”.

Jesus delights in seeing His Mother honored, because when Mary is honored, the Father is glorified.  God is glorified when Mary is honored because Mary is always and only honored for the way she accepted and lived the Father’s will.  Mary opened her heart and life to Jesus and loved Him more deeply and fully more than any other human being in history.  Mary always points to Jesus in her life and in her words.  She counsels us to do whatever He tells us as she witnesses to Christ’s first miracle at Cana.  As in this picture by Sirani, she shows us how to love Jesus with single-hearted devotion and a gentle reverence for who He Is. 

We can see in Jesus’ crowning a sign of grateful love for His mother.  We can see in Mary an extraordinary reason for gratitude, because of the great gift God gave her by preserving her from sin.  Mary is an example of the virtue of gratitude for each of us when she encounters her cousin Elizabeth and offers a hymn of praise for the great things the Lord has done for her.  We too can enter into this prayer of gratitude because of the gift Mary is to each of us.   Seeing Jesus crowning His Mother in this picture is an invitation to each of us to search our hearts and ask ourselves where we can open our lives to the help of a heavenly mother. Are we willing to recognize her as a queen in our hearts? It is God’s will that we know her love as He did.

Let us ask God for the grace to live, in imitation of Mary, the virtue of gratitude, so that we may offer our own hymn of praise to the Lord, recognizing that the Almighty has done great things for each of us, especially in giving us the grace to be freed from sin and freed for the loving embrace of God.

Living the Encounter

You have encountered genuine beauty today in Elisabetta Sirani’s masterpiece, Virgin and Child.  Chose to live your encounter with beauty and share it with others.  Living beautifully is living virtuously.  Reflect upon the virtue of gratitude expressed in Mary’s life.  Ask yourself:

How can I grow in recognizing that everything I have, I have received as a gift from God and from others?  Each day we receive the gift of being alive and being known and loved by God. Each day we are gifted with the freedom to choose to live our vocation to genuine greatness.  We can choose to embrace all that is good, true and beautiful and to live this encounter with goodness, truth and beauty with others.  Let us live our gratitude with joy.  Take a moment to offer both a prayer of gratitude to God and a word of gratitude to someone who has been good to you.

Deepen Your Encounter

After you leave the exhibit, return to your encounter with beauty and remember what you learned about the virtue of gratitude.  Take a moment to read the Scripture passage from Luke 17:11-19 and reflect upon how you can continue to live your encounter by practicing the virtue of gratitude in your life.

You've encountered beauty in Mary and her virtues.  Continue to live your encounter and live beautifully for others.

Inform Your Encounter

Read more about this Reflection from the Catechism:  CCC, nos.  411, 490, 491, 492, 493, 407 

Scripture related to this masterpiece:  “You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD…you shall be called “My Delight is in her”…for the LORD delights in you.”  Isaiah 62.3-4

Learn more about practicing the virtue of gratitude

Scripture passages related to the virtue of gratitude:  Luke 17:11-19Luke 22:14-20Luke 1:46-55Colossians 2:6-7

Read about saints who practiced the virtue of gratitude:

St. AugustineSt. Josephine BakhitaSt. Mary MagdaleneVen. Solanus Casey

How is devotion to Mary different from worshiping Mary?
Learn about True Devotion to Mary

Mary’s Unique Role as Intercessor
Scripture Directs Prayer to Mary

Standards/USCCB Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for Young People related to this reflection

Mary as an unparalleled recipient of God’s grace: Immaculate Conception; Assumption (CCC, nos. 490-494, 966); Universal call to holiness (CCC, nos.826, 2012-2014, 2028, 2045, 2013);  Accepting and living the grace of redemption by practicing the virtues (CCC 1803);   Types of virtue, (CCC, nos. 1804-1832); Prayer in the life of a believer: lectio divina (CCC, nos. 1177, 2708); Jesus Christ reveals the Father to us, who we are, and our call to holiness;  By becoming man, and by his Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ unites us to God (CCC, nos. 461-464);  We become the free adopted children of the Father through Baptism (Gal 4; CCC, nos. 1265-1270);  The Word became flesh (the Incarnation) (CCC, nos. 525-528, 456-478) to save us by reconciling us with God, who loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (CCC, no.457); that we might come to know the depth of God’s love for us (CCC, 458); to be our model of holiness (CCC, no 459); to make us partakers of the divine nature (CCC, nos.457-460);


Elisabetta Sirani

Virgin and Child (detail), 1663

Oil on canvas

34 x 27 ½ in

National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.

View online at the National Museum for Women in the Arts exhibit Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea

Share your Encounter

What did your encounter bring?   Share your experience and inspirations with others.  #MeetMary

PicturingMary.com is funded by private individuals who support the NMWA exhibit and offer the website materials for visitors to deepen their encounter with Mary as a woman, mother and idea. The reflections were written by a woman religious, Sr. John Paul Maher, O.P., who is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts