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Our Lady, the Rosary and the Litte Office

1 May 2024

Our Lady, the Rosary, and the Little Office

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

In our previous instalment, we considered the recitation of the psalms in the daily celebration of the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours. As we enter the month of May—the month of Our Lady—it is now an opportune time to consider the relationship between the Divine Office and the Church’s devotion to the Mother of God.

The New Testament, specifically the Gospel of Luke, records only one “prayer” by the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Magnificat, or the great hymn of praise which she sung upon her Visitation to Elizabeth, her cousin and mother of John the Baptist. This perfect expression of humility and praise from the greatest woman in history has been of such importance to the Church that its recitation or singing occurs every day at the end of Vespers. In its literary form, it is very similar to many of the psalms of praise, and its various statements follow the typical parallelisms of Hebrew rhetoric, wherein two phrases which move in “opposite directions” actually convey the same meaning. For example, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly,” or “He has filled the hungry with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” express God’s power and mercy through the punishment of evil, on the one hand, and the concurrent exaltation of the poor, on the other. Such constructions are also seen in the Song of Hannah, which is itself a hymn of thanksgiving to God for the miraculous pregnancy which yielded the prophet Samuel. Like the psalms and the Song of Hannah, Mary’s Magnificat is a clear link to the heritage of the Old Testament, and the fact that we sing it daily in the Christian liturgy testifies to our enduring link to the faith of Israel. 

While from the early Middle Ages the recitation of the full Psalter according to the one-week cycle was often restricted to priests and religious (who were literate), the ordinary illiterate lay faithful often found ways to participate in daily prayer in their own ways. Repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary substituted for the long recitation of each Psalm, and the recitation of 150 Hail Marys (divided into the three sets of mysteries) in place of the 150 Psalms—what we now know as the Rosary—became the laity’s favoured counterpart to the full Divine Office sung by priests and religious. A further development of this practice led to the association of a smaller set of Psalms as mystically signifying some aspect of the Blessed Virgin’s role in salvation history. This became the so-called “Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” a practice so beloved that by the tenth century, clergy were required to pray the hours of the Little Office in addition to the hours of the full Divine Office. In some religious communities, their members were taught to pray “Our Lady’s Matins” in private upon waking up and while making one’s bed, in order to prepare for the communal recitation of Matins according to the Divine Office. 

In this Year of Prayer, perhaps we might delve into the mysteries of Mary’s life, not only by meditating upon the mysteries of the Rosary, but by exploring those Psalms which the Little Office has set aside for Our Lady. The Little Office might indeed be a way for us to get into the habit of praying the Psalms, so that eventually we might learn to pray the full Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours with greater ease. In this way, the Psalms which point to the Blessed Virgin might lead us to the recitation of the full Psalter, which is itself a prefiguration of the life of Christ—and thus we might pass, as Saint John Paul II loved to say, ad Iesum per Mariam: to Jesus through Mary.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

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Beginning Advent With Gabriel, Zechariah, and Mary

23 November 2023

Beginning Advent With Gabriel, Zechariah, & Mary

By Joey Belleza

The Gospel of Luke is notable for, among other things, its rather attentive narratives concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary during the infancy and youth of our Lord. The stories of the Annunciation, the Visitation to Elizabeth, the finding of Christ in the Temple, and the Nativity itself all manifest such detail that, as many scholars (including Pope Benedict XVI) have theorized, these accounts were likely given directly from the Blessed Mother to Saint Luke. The phrase “Mary pondered all these things and kept them in her heart,” repeated twice in Chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel, suggests not only Luke’s voice interpolated into Mary’s recounting of her memories; it more importantly points to the same silent, faithful humility of the Lord’s handmaiden who believed the words of the archangel Gabriel.

Luke presents two parallel stories– two annunciations, in fact– in Chapter 1: the first is the annunciation of the coming of John the Baptist to Zechariah in the Temple, and the second is the Annunciation properly speaking, that is, the message of the angel to Mary. In both stories, Gabriel surprises the two respective interlocutors with surprising news: to Zechariah he announces the pregnancy of his elderly wife Elizabeth; to Mary he announces her role in the coming of the Messiah. In each case, the truth of the message is so strange that both must ask, “how can this be?” Elizabeth is elderly and Mary is a virgin; how can either be pregnant? This leads to another problem. Zechariah is struck dumb for his unbelief, but Mary’s question is met with a further explanation from the angel. Why is Gabriel more patient with Mary than with Zechariah?

One reason, we might suggest, turns on the fact that Zechariah is a priest, but Mary is a young girl. The former has given his life to the service of God in the Temple, a service which required profound study of the Law and Prophets. Certainly the appearance of the angel within the temple would be a terrifying sight, enough to fluster any man, but in comparison to a young girl from Nazareth, we can still say that Zechariah simply should have known better. Already faced with the extraordinary apparition of a divine messenger, he nevertheless protests the content of the message by appealing to its improbability. Note that Zechariah says, “my wife is advanced in years,” not “my wife has passed her childbearing years.” His own words are not an indication of impossibility, and the story of Abraham and Sarah, who conceived in old age, should have been proof enough for this educated priest that the angel’s message could and would be fulfilled. Mary, on the other hand, is faced with a situation of true natural impossibility. A virgin cannot conceive except by some divine power exceeding the power of natural generation, a power now explained to her by the angel. Her question is therefore one of mere natural reason, not true doubt. And when the divine reason is pronounced to her, she conforms her will to God’s and consents to participate in the Incarnation of Christ.

Notice also that the angel says that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before Zechariah’s objection, while the power of the Holy Spirit is explained to Mary only after her naturally reasonable question. It is perhaps this momentary doubt of the power of the Spirit–who is, in fact, truly God–that condemns Zechariah to temporary muteness. In this light, we might be able to understand Christ’s own words in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, where he mentions that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is the only unforgiveable sin. Zechariah certainly does not blaspheme, but his questioning of the Spirit who, as the Creed says, is “Lord and giver of life”, certainly did the priest no credit. Mary, on the other hand, is really given little information–far less than the poetic prophecy initially given to Zechariah in the Temple. But her trust in God and conformity to his will supplies for the limits of her human understanding.

As the season of Advent begins, the parallels and contrasts between the “two annunciations” might teach us something about trusting in God. With the benefit of 2000 years since the Incarnation, we are in many ways like Zechariah. We should know better. We already know that Christ came to us as a child, died as a man, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now continues his work on earth through the Church and her Sacraments. But despite this enduring presence, we still have moments when we let our doubt and our merely natural ways of thinking overcome our confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit. And when we allow ourselves to fall into this doubt, we too fall “dumb” like Zechariah, closed off from the divine wisdom, struggling in vain to bring God down to our ways of thinking. Christ rebuked Peter for this very sin– “thinking as men think, not as God thinks”– when he prophesised his Passion and death. But the Blessed Virgin Mary excels all human creatures, for when she is pushed to the limits of her own understanding, she utters not a word of protest but a word of faith in the God who had already brought forth life in the wombs of Sarah and Elizabeth. And with her word of faith, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Let us look forward to the coming of Christ the Lord, Son of God and Son of Mary, with her same expectant faith.

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Our Lady, the Rosary and Europe

11th October 2021

Our Lady, the Rosary and Europe

Stefan Kaminski

Since the end of the 19th century, October has been dedicated to the Holy Rosary. Of all the devotions to Our Lady, the rosary is the most notable, of course. Indeed, the place of the Rosary at the forefront of Marian devotion particularly, and Catholic prayer generally, is reinforced by the fact of the Church having established a universal Feast of the Holy Rosary, which is celebrated on the seventh of October, and from which grew the dedication of the entire month to this prayer.

In this month of October then, it’s worth calling to mind both the origins of the Rosary as well as its historical role in the fortunes of Christian Europe. Although the challenges facing Christians and Catholics today have a different aspect and character, the nature of those challenges to the Faith remains the same.

Tradition tells us that it was St Dominic who received the Rosary from Our Lady in response to his plea for help in the face of the Albigensian heresy. Surfacing near Toulouse in the eleventh century, this corruption of the Christian faith took a particular hold in the southern French territories in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Albigensian heresy, though formally speaking long extinct, is not entirely irrelevant to today’s dialogue with a secular world.

The Albigenses held a belief in two opposing principles of existence: a good principle and an evil principle. They held the good principle to be the creator of the spiritual world, and the evil principle to be the creator of the material world. Thus, a fundamental rupture with the Christian faith takes place: the good principle is not all-powerful, being co-equal to the evil principle; and material creation is not good, being the work of the evil principle, and therefore not redeemable. Morally speaking, this resulted in a dualistic view of the human person, where the body – and all activity related to it – seen as something to be supressed and denied.

On the face of it, this does not seem to bear much similarity to today’s attitudes to the body, which simultaneously exalt bodily desire, justifying all forms of its expression, and degrade the body by objectifying it. Underneath however, lies the same problem: an inability to grasp and to accept the intrinsic goodness of the body’s natural ordering. If for the Albigenses the material world was evil, today’s secular world sees the material world as meaningless. Thus, where the Albigenses repressed, we manipulate according to our desires. And we forget that these desires remain profoundly marked by sin.

In the midst of the division and conflict caused by this heresy, St Dominic presented the Rosary to the Catholic faithful as an antidote. This might strike some as slightly strange, if we consider St Dominic as a great preacher and founder of an order that has a particular charism for teaching. Why not combat an error of thinking with an irrefutable piece of writing or speaking? And here lies a two-fold lesson.

Firstly, our rational knowledge or understanding of the faith can never be separated from the life of prayer. At both a corporate (i.e. the Church) and individual level, that which we pray informs that which we believe. This is summed up in the ancient axiom, lex orandi, lex credendi (the law prayed is the law believed). The rosary is a particularly powerful instrument in this respect, as it directs us to meditate on the key moments of the story of God’s Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection amongst us.

Pope Pius V Credits Our Lady of the Rosary with the Victory at the Battle of Lepanto, Grazio Cossali , 1563-1629

Secondly, Our Lady has a particular and active part to play in nurturing and defending the Church, of whom she is the Mother. An appeal to Mary was not just successful in the case of the Albigensians, where the Rosary was seen as securing their final defeat at the Battle of Muret in 1213, but has a strong track record since. Most notably is the Battle of Lepanto, where the threat of the Turkish empire overrunning and extinguishing Christian Europe was, and has ever since, been attributed to the plethora of rosaries offered publicly and privately in response to Pope Pius V’s call for prayer.

Less-known, but equally important, was the previous Turkish attempt to gain a foothold in Europe in 1565, with the Great Siege of Malta. Again, after much Marian invocation, the Turkish fleet – the largest recorded in history to that date – sailed away from Malta with its army and weaponry, never to return, on the Feast of Our Lady’s birthday. Similarly, the victories of Christendom at the Battles of Vienna in 1683 and of Peterwardein (Hungary) in 1716 against the same Turkish aggressors were attributed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Numerous other histories of victory or protection, not just physical but also spiritual, exist, which this article will have to leave to the reader to discover for themselves!

Although the Faith and its practice may be on something of a decline in modern-day Western Europe, a powerful reminder of our historical devotion to Our Lady and her concern for us remains emblazoned on the very flag of the European Union. Aside from the devout Catholics who were behind the original EU project – such as Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi – the designer of the flag, Arsene Heitz, told Lourdes magazine how his inspiration had come from the Book of Revelation: “a woman clothed with the sun… and a crown of twelve stars on her head”. Coincidentally (or perhaps God-incidentally!), the flag was adopted on 8th December 1955: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our Lady of Europe, pray for us!

Christian soldiers in the Three Cities of Birgu, Senglea and Bormla are surrounded by the Turkish army on Malta
The EU flag designed by Heitz draws from the Book of Revelation
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Devotion to Mary

29th May 2021

Devotion to Mary

Adam Coates

As May comes to a close, we come to the final post in this series dedicated to Mary. We’ve taken the opportunity of using this month, which the Church has set aside as a time of devotion to Mary, to get to know her better. In this final post, we want to conclude with a few thoughts on Marian devotion.

Virgin and Child in Majesty, Duccio, 1308-1311
We have already established the essential nature of Mary’s role in salvation history over the course of the previous posts. It is her ‘yes’ which opens the door of Salvation; it is the singular grace of the Immaculate Conception that enables this ‘yes’ and the perfect discipleship that followed. We have seen how this enabled her to take on a new mission as Mother of the Church, and how Our Lady was assumed into Heaven and crowned as its Queen. This alone should be enough to understand that she is a model worth emulating. However, what of the topic of devotion to Our Lady?
 
The answer is found within Sacred Scripture. Mary announces that ‘all generations will call me blessed’ (Luke 1:48). And indeed we should. St. Paul VI explains that the devotion of the Church to the Virgin Mary “is intrinsic to Christian worship” and that it has consistently been a feature of Christian worship, “from the blessing with which Elizabeth greeted Mary (cf. Lk. 1:42-45) right up to the expressions of praise and petition used today”. St. Paul VI continues to note that the Church’s devotion is a special one, greater than that offered to any other Saint, because of the “the singular dignity of Mary”. However, and as the Catechism explains, it is essential to mention that this devotion “differs essentially” from the worship given to the Almighty Trinity. As St. Paul VI further notes, this devotion is “subordinated to worship of the divine Saviour and in connection with it”. This is exactly the point of devotion to the Virgin Mary: Mary is the perfect disciple of the Lord and true devotion to her necessarily points to her Son. St. Louis de Montfort, one of the most important Saints in advancing devotion to Our Lady, explains that “Jesus Christ is the ultimate end of devotion to Our Lady … If, then, we are establishing solid devotion to Our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly devotion to Jesus Christ, to provide an easy and sure means of finding Jesus Christ”. Mary is an intercessor between us and Jesus, designed to help draw us closer to her Son. This is meaning of our devotions to Mary and all the Saints: they intercede for us before Christ, and provide an example for us to follow.
 
The Church has many practical means of devotion to Our Lady. Her Son’s disciples have been ever creative in honouring her through poetry, songs, music, paintings, sculpture, and other forms of art; but most importantly of all, through prayer. Many Popes have continually recommended the Rosary to the faithful. The Rosary takes the form of a series of short meditations on the great events of salvation history by the means of repetitions of the Hail Mary. As Pope Pius XII explains, by “the frequent meditation on the Mysteries, the soul little by little and imperceptibly draws and absorbs the virtues they contain, and is wondrously enkindled with a longing for things immortal, and becomes strongly and easily impelled to follow the path which Christ Himself and His Mother have followed. … [and] has … the admirable quality of infusing confidence in him who prays and brings to bear a gentle compulsion on the motherly Heart of Mary”.
 
The Angelus, too, is strongly recommended and, in a tradition started by St. John XXIII, the Pope leads the faithful of Rome in the Angelus every Sunday at noon. It consists of a short recollection of and meditation on the events of the Annunciation, and thereby provides a practical means to think upon that essential moment in salvation history throughout the day. It is traditionally recited in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. The seven sorrows of Mary, examined in our post on Mary as the Mother of Sorrows, has also provided a traditional focus for meditation, thinking upon the hardships which Mary suffered and united with her Son, sorrows suffered for His sake. Many more devotions to Mary have arisen throughout the history of the Church besides these, but the one thing that should remain clear are that all these devotions to the Virgin Mary are also, at their end, devotions to her Blessed Son.
 
Thus, we hope that this series of posts will help people to draw closer to Mary, and through her, to Jesus. We will finish with the words of the great St. Maximillian Kolbe: “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did”.
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Mary, Queen of Heaven

26th May 2021

Mary, Queen of Heaven

Adam Coates

In our previous post in this series, we considered Our Lady’s Assumption as that moment when Mary was taken up into Heaven, body and soul, to be united with her Son. In this post we will examine what it means for Mary to reign as Queen of Heaven, at her Son’s side.

The Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico, 1434-35
To examine what this title of Queen means, it is necessary to turn to the Old Testament. When one typically thinks of a Queen, they often imagine the wife of a King. It is not so in the Old Testament. In the first Book of Kings, Bathsheba, the mother of King Solomon, is seated at her son’s right hand and Solomon states that requests to him should be directed through his mother, so that she might intercede for them before him (1 Kings 2:19-20). Moving to the Psalms, we are told that the Queen shall stand at the right side of the King (Psalm 45:9). In the final verse of this Psalm, this Queen is addressed directly and told that she will be “celebrated in all generations” and that “therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever”.
 
Anyone familiar with the New Testament should be instantly reminded of Our Lady’s Magnificat in St. Luke’s Gospel. Here Mary says that, due to God’s blessings, “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). This Queenship of Mary has been put into effect from the moment of her ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel: by opening the door to salvation, the subject of our first post, she puts herself on this path. In the Magnificat we are further told that God has seen Mary’s humble state, and that He will exalt the lowly in place of the mighty who have been cast down from their thrones (Luke 1:48, 52). It is obvious what is being said here: Mary is the humblest of God’s creatures, for she is the perfect disciple, and, thus, she is destined for Queenship; Mary is destined for glory. Christ, in ascending into his glory with his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, gives a similar tribute to Mary. He assumes her into heaven and crowns her as Queen.
 
The Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium expresses this by saying that Mary was “exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords”. Truly, Our Lady’s coronation as Queen is the culmination and the continuation of her mission as the Lord Jesus’ perfect disciple. In St. John Paul II’s words, “She who at the Annunciation called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” remained throughout her earthly life faithful to what this name expresses. In this she confirmed that she was a true “disciple” of Christ, who strongly emphasised that his mission was one of service … she fully obtained that “state of royal freedom” proper to Christ’s disciples: to serve means to reign”! Her service of faithful discipleship makes possible her reign as Queen.
 
Generations, indeed, have called Mary blessed and glorified her name. As St. John Henry Newman explains, these glories of Mary are fitting to her state. But they are given not for her glory or her exaltation, but, rather, for the sake of her Son, and also for our sake so as to provide us with an example to follow. In St. John Henry’s own words: “Let us copy her faith, who received God’s message by the angel without a doubt; her patience, who endured St. Joseph’s surprise without a word; her obedience, who went up to Bethlehem in the winter and bore our Lord in a stable; her meditative spirit, who pondered in her heart what she saw and heard about Him; her fortitude, whose heart the sword went through; her self-surrender, who gave Him up during His ministry and consented to His death”. Mary has consistently been an example and model for Christians to follow and, in glorifying her as the Church does, her perfect discipleship is made clearer for the Church to imitate.
 
We should also be clear that devotion to Mary as Queen in no way diminishes the devotion proper to her Son. The great Archbishop Sheen reminds us that “devotion to the Mother of our Lord in no way detracts from the adoration of her divine son. The brightness of the moon does not detract from the brilliance of the sun but rather bespeaks its brilliance”. All glories given to Mary are not, in the end, to glorify her, but to glorify Him who gave her all these good things.
 
Thus, whilst all things are given to Christ the King, they can be given through Mary the Queen. Numerous works of art, hymns, and poetry have been written to the Virgin Mary for the glory of Jesus Christ. One such poem is St. John Henry Newman’s The Queen of Seasons. This is a wonderful meditation on Mary’s Queenship and a beautiful act of devotion. It is devotion to Our Lady which we will discuss in the next, and final, post of this series.
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The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

22nd May 2021

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

Adam Coates
The Assumption of the Virgin, El Greco, 1577
Our previous few posts in this series have, essentially, built on Our Lady as the model for Christians. Made possible by her Immaculate Conception, she has proven a model of faith, a model in suffering, and a model as the Mother of the Church.
 
The culmination of all of this is found in the dogma of the Assumption. Pius XII teaches us that Mary “obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven”.
 
The Assumption is the natural fruit of Mary’s perfect discipleship, which we have already discussed. As we have also seen, this discipleship is expressed in a Eucharistic fashion. To have a truly Eucharistic faith is be in communion with Jesus. This, St. John Paul II explains, is expressed in the Assumption: “In the mystery of the Assumption is expressed the faith of the Church, according to which Mary is ‘united by a close and indissoluble bond’ to Christ, for, if as Virgin and Mother she was singularly united with him in his first coming, so through her continued collaboration with him she will also be united with him in expectation of the second”. Our Lady is perfectly united to Jesus in her life on Earth and this is expressed also with her entry into heaven, body and soul.
 
Ultimately, as Pope Benedict XVI explains, this is a sign that heaven is real. In Pope Benedict’s own words: “in the Assumption we see that in God there is room for man, God himself is the house with many rooms of which Jesus speaks (cf. Jn 14:2); God is man’s home, in God there is God’s space. And Mary, by uniting herself, united to God, does not distance herself from us. She does not go to an unknown galaxy, but whoever approaches God comes closer, for God is close to us all; and Mary, united to God, shares in the presence of God, is so close to us, to each one of us”.
 
Our Lady’s entry into heaven, and this profound union with God she experiences there, allows her to be an intercessor for all people. She has thus been granted the title “Queen of Heaven”. We will discuss this reality in our next post.
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Mary, Mother of the Church

19th May 2021

Mary, Mother of the Church

Adam Coates
Pentecost, Jean II Restout, 1732
Our last post in this series addressed Our Lady’s suffering as an essential part of her model discipleship. We saw how it united her discipleship to her Son’s mission of sorrow. It is not hard to imagine the height of Our Lady’s sorrow as being the witnessing of her beloved Son suffering and dying in agony upon the Cross, whilst being mocked and derided.
 
This is the moment to which the ministry of Jesus has been leading and this is a key moment within the life of Our Lady’s discipleship; it is the moment where she takes on a new role, the moment she is proclaimed Mother of the Church. As Christ hangs dying upon the Cross, He see His mother and St. John. Addressing His mother, He says, “Woman, behold your son”. Addressing St John, He says, “Behold your mother”. The passage then continues stating that “from that hour the disciple took her to his home” (John 19:26-27). St. John, the only Apostle present, represents the Church. This is more than simple a call for St. John to take Mary as his mother, it is a call for the whole Church to take Mary as its mother. St. John responds generously, and, to provide a more literal translation, Pope Benedict XVI explains that it can even be translated that St John takes Mary “into his inner-life setting”.
 
The Mother of Jesus is called to be taken into the hearts of all Christians. This motherhood, St. Paul VI writes, is a “new motherhood in the Spirit”. He continues, that in this “new motherhood … Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church”. As St. Paul VI makes clear, this is not a motherhood that ends with the end of the earthly life of either Mary or St. John but, rather, one that continues as a lived reality in the Church.
 
St. John Paul II further reinforces this fact. Pointing to the Mass, that awesome moment where Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is re-presented, he writes that to revisit the Cross in this fashion is also to revisit this moment with Our Lady: in every celebration of the Mass, Our Lady is given anew to the Church. In St. John Paul’s own words, “Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting – like John – the one who is given to us anew as our Mother”. It means, St. John Paul continues, “putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us”. Every celebration of the Mass renews the Church’s oneness with Christ and its motherhood with Mary. It is no accident that it is in the Mass, the “source and summit of the Christian life”, where Mary’s motherhood is renewed in the Church, for Mary’s role in Christ’s saving mission is essential; this relates right back to our very first post where Our Lady’s ‘yes’ makes possible Christ’s mission. Mary’s motherhood of the Church, where she serves as an example and teacher to all Christians, is central to the lived reality of the Christ’s Body the Church.
 
Mary was, as Pope Leo XIII writes, “in very truth, the Mother of the Church, the Teacher and Queen of the Apostles, to whom, besides, she confided no small part of the divine mysteries which she kept in her heart”. The Apostles would have looked to Mary as a model which to follow for, as we already know, she was the perfect disciple. That perfect discipleship was to lead to Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the subject of our next post in the series.
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Mary, Mother of Sorrows

15th May 2021

Mary, Mother of Sorrows

Adam Coates
We discussed in our previous post how Mary is the model of the Christian disciple. She constantly said ‘yes’ to God and adhered perfectly to His will. To be a disciple means to follow Jesus and, as Our Lord said Himself, this is achieved through the Cross: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
 
Our individual crosses, our sufferings and trials are all joined to Christ’s suffering on the Cross; as St. John Paul II says, our sufferings have a “salvific” power. He continues that it is for “this reason Saint Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Colossians 1:24)”.
 
The Church’s tradition tells of Mary’s seven great ‘sorrows’ during her earthly life. These are:
 
1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35)
2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52)
4. The meeting on Jesus and Mary on the road to calvary (handed down in Sacred Tradition)
5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:33-50, Mark 15:22-41, Luke 23:33-49, John 19:16-37)
6. The piercing of the side of Jesus with a lance and his descent from the Cross (John 19:34-38)
7. The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew: 27:57-61, Mark 15: 42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42)
 
These are all significant events in the life of Jesus and Mary. Beginning with Simeon’s prophecy in the Temple of Jerusalem that Jesus’ life and ministry would be a monumental one, he also adds, addressing Mary directly, that a “sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:34-35) and it points straight towards the road to the Cross. The sinlessness of Jesus and Mary is no guard against suffering in a word which is fallen.
 
St. John Paul II refers to Simeon’s prophecy to Mary as a “second Annunciation” which tells “her of the actual historical situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow”. He continues, this prophecy “also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Saviour, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful”. Jesus’ life and ministry is one filled with sorrow and Mary’s life is intrinsically bound up with the life of Jesus and her suffering has a salvific role to play.
 
However, we know that the ministry of Jesus does not end in sorrow, but with the Resurrection and Ascension.
Returning to the Annunciation, which has been so prominent a part of our catechesis, we know that Mary’s ‘yes’ makes all of this possible. As Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14)”. Mary’s yes ensures that her life will be tied up with sorrow. It is not sorrow that is aimless, but sorrow that points towards salvation: Mary’s sorrow points towards hope.
 
It is no accident that the final sorrow is the burial of Our Lord, for it is a sorrow bound up with hope. Our Lady waits with hope on Holy Saturday for the joy of the Resurrection.
 
Mary’s life was bound up with sorrow. It was at the Cross where this sorrow reached its peak, yet this is where she became the Church’s Mother.
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Mary, Model of Christians

12th May 2021

Mary, Model of Christians

Adam Coates
In attempting to deny Mary’s traditionally exalted place, some people have pointed to Christ’s rebuke to the woman who addresses him in St. Matthew’s Gospel with the words “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked”. Christ replies to her that “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-28).
 
On the surface, this might seem to be a refutation of the idea that Mary is special. However, it is quite the contrary. As Saint Augustine explains, “Didn’t the Virgin Mary do the will of the Father? I mean, she believed by faith, she conceived by faith. … Yes, of course, holy Mary did the will of the Father. … It means more for Mary to have been a disciple of Christ than to have been the mother of Christ. … Mary, too, is blessed, because she heard the word of God and kept it. She kept truth safe in her mind even better than she kept flesh safe in her womb”.
 
It is clear what St. Augustine is saying: Mary perfectly followed God’s will and this is why she is blessed, not because of any biological connection to Jesus, but because she is the model of a faithful disciple in her fidelity to the God’s will. As the Catechism explains, ‘By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a “preeminent and … wholly unique member of the Church’”.
 
The Eucharist, as we know, is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. That is to say, Jesus is the Eucharist is where our faith begins and in which it finds its greatest fulfilment, its true end. As St. John Paul II explains, the Eucharist is the continuation of the Incarnation, of God taking on flesh. He writes, “In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word. … At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood.”
 
St. John Paul II continues to state that there is a “profound analogy” between the believer saying ‘Amen’ when receiving Holy Communion, and the Virgin Mary making her fiat at the Annunciation; both are a ‘yes’ to the will of God. When Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, when the unborn St. John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth, Mary is demonstrated to be history’s first “tabernacle”, says St. John Paul. Mary’s faith was a profoundly Eucharistic one, and one that was practiced in model fashion.
 
Continuing on this theme, St. John Paul II points to how this necessarily leads to the Cross for, indeed, the Eucharist is the fruit of the Sacrifice of Calvary. So in our next post, we shall examine Mary under her title “Our Lady of Sorrows”.
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The Immaculate Conception

8th May 2021

The Immaculate Conception

Adam Coates
We began the first post in this series by talking about the Annunciation; and this is precisely where we will begin when talking about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
 
Let us remind ourselves of what happens at the Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she will bear in her womb the Saviour. Mary makes her “yes” and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity takes flesh and assumes a human nature. This flesh is taken from Mary just as the flesh of you who are reading this is taken from your mother and father.
 
Now, of His nature, Christ is sinless but he is truly possessing of a human nature. The Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes declares, “born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin”. If Christ, then, truly takes His humanity from the Blessed Virgin Mary, it necessarily leads one to ask how is this possible if she is a sinful human being. The answer lies within the Immaculate Conception. What, however, does this mean precisely?
 
To put it simply, it means that the Blessed Virgin was conceived, by “a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God”, free from the stain of original sin. Consequently, she never sinned during her time on Earth. How do we know this, however? The answers, implicitly, are found in Sacred Scripture. Returning to the Annunciation narrative, Mary is addressed by the Angel Gabriel by the title “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) – she is filled up with the gifts of God. Secondly, Pope Benedict XVI explicitly links the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary with the prophecy of Zephaniah which states that “the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst”. (Zephaniah 3:15). Pope Benedict explains that this prophecy literally means that the Lord “is in your womb”. He further explains that this is a direct reference to God dwelling among His people in the Ark of the Covenant as first seen in the book of Exodus (Exodus 25:10-22). The Ark of the Covenant is truly special and holy, not to be approached by simply anyone. The Ark of the Old Covenant held the word of God inscribed on stone tablets, the rod of Aaron that bloomed into life (Numbers 17:1-12), and manna, the bread from heaven. The Ark of the New Covenant held Jesus, the Word of God, Jesus who rose on the third day, and Jesus who declared Himself the Bread of Life which had come down from heaven. Mary is revealed as the pure, undefiled bearer of the God Who is with His people. She is made spotless so she might hold Him who is the spotless one.
 
Some people, in questioning this dogma of the Church, have asked how Mary can be free from sin when, in the Magnificat, she refers to God as her saviour. This is easily answered. In defining the dogma, Pope Pius IX made clear that the “singular grace” given by God is made possible “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ”; that is to say, the merits of the Cross, of the Sacrifice of Calvary, are seen by God dwelling beyond time who then applies them to Mary at her conception. This grace, too, is not simply for her own benefit, but because it has an essential place in God’s divine plan of Salvation.
 
The Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium says that she was “enriched by God with the gifts which befit such a role”. This gift, this preservation from the stain of original sin enables Mary to make her “yes” at the Annunciation”, to endure the journey to Bethlehem, to stand at the foot of the Cross. In this, Mary is the model of all Christians, an idea we will explore in the next post.