1st Distinction: Her Physical Beauty
Mary had, after our Lord, the most beautiful physical appearance in all the human race.
She had to be of exquisite beauty, for the beauty of the soul is reflected in the beauty of one's physical appearance. God is the creator of the human body and He endowed it with beauty. He intended the body to be the servant of the soul, and not the soul's master. He wanted us to do many good and noble things through our bodies. God wanted to reward the body, as well as the soul which directs it, for the good it does.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they wounded both their spiritual and physical natures. Even their bodies would share in the punishment; their bodies would weaken and age and eventually die.
The weakening of our soul is shown in the rebelliousness of our bodies. Since the Fall, our body's appetite for sensual pleasure grew more demanding, seeking pleasure for its own sake and not for the purposes God intended. We can call this carnality or sensuality.
Mary did not share in that sin of Adam and Eve. Her body reflects the beauty of her immaculate soul.
Her physical beauty is not of a carnal nature. Her physical beauty lifts us up, fills our heart with awe and wonder. We catch a glimpse of divine beauty, since her soul is full of divine grace.
Mary had to be beautiful because the things of God must reflect His beauty. We adorn our churches. We use the best we have. The best linen, the best fabric, the best flowers, the best metals. These are the things men fashion from the elements of earth. Imagine the work of the Master Artist, God Himself, who fashioned Mary in the womb of Saint Ann.
God Himself showed us the pattern as He commanded Moses to cover the entire Ark of the Covenant with gold. Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, not housing the Ten Commandments but housing God Himself in her virginal womb.
Her appearance and movements speak of modesty, peace and purity. She had tremendous dominion over herself; all was in balance, nothing was out of place. Her name, Mary, meaning "Lady," matched her dignified stateliness. She is truly "Lady," meaning Mistress of the house; the house of her own soul and body. She rectifies the imbalance in human nature - the carnal over the spiritual - which resulted from the Fall of Adam and Eve.
A Beauty that Cures Sensuality
Saint Ignatius Loyola had just begun to repent of his sinful past. He had a strong resolve, prompted by grace, to lead a new life of penance and dedication to the pursuit of holiness. But memories of past sins of the flesh came back, and he begged Our Lady for help. Then, she appeared, holding the infant Jesus. She allowed Ignatius time to contemplate this vision, which filled him with new feelings he had never experienced before, as if to make him a new man.
When the vision was over, he would never be the same. Not even the slightest, involuntary carnal thought ever disturbed him again. Our Lady had granted him the grace of perpetual chastity.
Saint Ignatius receives the Grace of Perpetual Chastity
The Testimony of Approved Visionaries
When Saint Bernadette first saw the Blessed Mother in the grotto, she was not sure who she was. So she simply called her "the beautiful lady."
Lucia, in Fatima, describes Our Lady as radiating an intense, clear light, more than the rays of the sun when going through water.
In Paris, Saint Catherine Laboure saw Our Lady, who instructed her to have the Miraculous Medal struck, and said she could hardly describe Our Lady's "ravishing beauty."
A Beauty that is Meant for Us Also
People remarked that when Saint Bernadette was able to see Our Lady, Bernadette's own face took on a look of gentle radiance. Since the people could see nothing in the Grotto, it was Bernadette's own countenance that convinced many that something real was happening which they could not see.
No painting or statue can ever come close to the real, physical beauty of Our Lady. But if we contemplate her beauty, her physical splendor reflecting the beauty of her immaculate soul, some of her beauty will be impressed on our own souls and then on our faces, just as skin takes on the effects of the sun (heat and color) when exposed to it.