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Here I am, the servant of the Lord

Fiat

Mediation for the Solemnity of the Annunciation
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

The Church’s celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly finding its origins around the Council of Ephesus (c 431). Earlier names for the Feast were Festum Incarnationis, and Conceptio Christi. In the Eastern Churches, the Annunciation is a feast of Christ, and in the Latin Church even though the focus has been more on Mary, it is still called the Annunciation of the Lord. The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. Some ancient Christian writers believed that God created the world on March 25 and that the fall of Adam and the Crucifixion also took place March 25. The secular calendar was changed to begin the year on January 1.

Annunciation icon

When we reflect on the Annunciation to Mary, and her acceptance of the angel’s message, we also reflect on our own vocation – our own calling from God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – an echo of Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Each time we commit ourselves to embracing God’s call and accepting his will, we mark a new point on the path of our relationship with Him. For the rest of her life, Mary pondered her extraordinary encounter with God, turning the weight of the angel’s message over and over again in her heart. From the manger to the Cross, Mary’s life was radically changed – her relationship with God profoundly deepened – the moment she said, “Yes.”

Mary of Nazareth is rooted in the faith of her ancestors, and yet now an angel has appeared in the midst of everyday life, extending a startling invitation. “You have found favour with God,” the angel says, “and you will conceive and bear his Son.” She received and welcomed God’s Word in the fullest sense – becoming impregnated with it, and bearing it to the world.

Imagine yourself in Mary’s place, asked to say “yes” to a divine plan so vast, so profound and so seemingly impossible that you cannot comprehend it. “How can this be?” she asks, bewildered. Will we accept God’s love and gift of new life and bring it joyously to those around us? Will we trust in his providence, even when we can’t see the path ahead? Amid the noise of everyday life, will we listen for and embrace his call?

Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room at the heart of the basilica. This cave commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus (Luke 1:31). The Latin inscription reads “Verbum caro hic factum est” (Here the word became flesh).

That inscription in the grotto of the Annunciation is profound, otherworldly, earth shaking, life changing, dizzying and awesome. The words “Verbum caro hic factum est” are not found on an ex-voto plaque in the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, nor engraved on the outer walls of the Temple ruins or on governmental tourist offices in Jerusalem. They are affixed to an altar deep within the imposing structure of Nazareth’s centerpiece of the Annunciation. “This is where the word became flesh.” This is where history was changed because Mary said “yes.”

It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live by faith, and how to respond when God’s providence Verbum caro hic factum estdisrupts the daily course of our lives, overturning its rhythms and expectations. Who better than Mary to walk with us and strengthen us on life’s journey? Who better than this faithful disciple, who endured the poverty of Bethlehem, the squalor of a stable, the experience of being a refugee, can show us how to cling to God when all seems to be lost? This faithful Daughter of Zion hoped beyond all hope and longed for the day when “the rich will be sent away with empty hands” and “the poor will have all good things” (Luke 1:53).

Even Mary was troubled by the angel’s revelation that she would bear God’s son. Mary’s raw faith is a living witness to the radial, unpredictable and ultimate triumph of the Good News of her Son, Jesus Christ. Despite her fears and uncertainty over how this promise could be fulfilled, she still answered “Yes.”

Are we able to respond to God this way? What prevents me from wholeheartedly accepting God’s call? What fears stand in the way? What prevents me from hearing God’s call? Do I purposefully use noise to avoid his voice? Am I uncomfortable with silence?

Focus on the image of Annunciation

WJW Annunciation art

  • See how the Holy Spirit comes to Mary. In the centre of this powerful apparition is a person with a human face.
  • Notice how Mary hears the news – seated on the floor, her garments spread around her, in a very quiet and private part of her home in Nazareth.
  • Imagine Mary’s emotions and deepest feelings during this awesome encounter.

Praying with the Roman Missal

Preface for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of May

“The Mystery of the Incarnation”

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

For the Virgin Mary heard with faith
that the Christ was to be born among men
and for men’s sake by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.

Lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb,
that the promises to the children of Israel
might come about and the hope of nations
be accomplished beyond all telling.

Through him the host of Angels adores your majesty
and rejoices in your presence for ever.

May our voices, we pray,
join with theirs in one chorus of exultant praise,
as we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…

From: Where Jesus Walked
Biblical Meditations on the artwork of The Roman Missal for Canada With prayers from the Missal for reflection and meditation

By Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2012

Order your copy here.

Where Jesus Walked sm 1

Pope Francis’ Homily for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

Pope Francis Mary1

On January 1, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, Pope Francis celebrated Solemn Mass in the Basilica of Saint Peter.
Below, please find the complete text of the Pope’s homily for the Mass:

Today we are reminded of the words of blessing which Elizabeth spoke to the Virgin Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk 1:42-43).

This blessing is in continuity with the priestly blessing which God had given to Moses to be passed on to Aaron and to all the people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).  In celebrating the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, the Holy Mother of God, the Church reminds us that Mary, more than anyone else, received this blessing. In her the blessing finds fulfilment, for no other creature has ever seen God’s face shine upon it as did Mary. She gave a human face to the eternal Word, so that all of us can contemplate him.

In addition to contemplating God’s face, we can also praise him and glorify him, like the shepherds who came away from Bethlehem with a song of thanksgiving after seeing the Child and his young mother (cf. Lk 2:16).  The two were together, just as they were together at Calvary, because Christ and his mother are inseparable:  there is a very close relationship between them, as there is between every child and his or her mother. The flesh (caro) of Christ – which, as Tertullian says, is the hinge (cardo) of our salvation – was knit together in the womb of Mary (cf. Ps 139:13). This inseparability is also clear from the fact that Mary, chosen beforehand to be the Mother of the Redeemer, shared intimately in his entire mission, remaining at her Son’s side to the end on Calvary.

Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she received from him the knowledge of the heart, the knowledge of faith, nourished by her experience as a mother and by her close relationship with her Son. The Blessed Virgin is the woman of faith who made room for God in her heart and in her plans; she is the believer capable of perceiving in the gift of her Son the coming of that “fullness of time”(Gal 4:4) in which God, by choosing the humble path of human existence, entered personally into the history of salvation. That is why Jesus cannot be understood without his Mother.

Likewise inseparable are Christ and the Church – because the Church and Mary are always together and this is precisely the mystery of womanhood in the ecclesial community – and the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church.  To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an “absurd dichotomy”, as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16).

It is not possible “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church, in our hierarchical, Holy Mother Church. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God”; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.

This, the Church’s activity and mission, is an expression of her motherhood. For she is like a mother who tenderly holds Jesus and gives him to everyone with joy and generosity. No manifestation of Christ, even the most mystical, can ever be detached from the flesh and blood of the Church, from the historical concreteness of the Body of Christ. Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.

Dear brothers and sisters!  Jesus Christ is the blessing for every man and woman, and for all of humanity. The Church, in giving us Jesus, offers us the fullness of the Lord’s blessing. This is precisely the mission of the people of God: to spread to all peoples God’s blessing made flesh in Jesus Christ. And Mary, the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus, the first and most perfect believer, the model of the pilgrim Church, is the one who opens the way to the Church’s motherhood  and constantly sustains her maternal mission to all mankind. Mary’s tactful maternal witness has accompanied the Church from the beginning. She, the Mother of God, is also the Mother of the Church, and through the Church, the mother of all men and women, and of every people.

May this gentle and loving Mother obtain for us the Lord’s blessing upon the entire human family. On this, the World Day of Peace, we especially implore her intercession that the Lord may grant peace in our day; peace in hearts, peace in families, peace among the nations. The message for the Day of Peace this year is “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters”.  All of us are called to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces. May he guide and sustain us, who, in order to make us all brothers and sisters, became our servant.

Let us look to Mary, let us contemplate the Holy Mother of God. I suggest that you all greet her together, just like those courageous people of Ephesus, who cried out before their pastors when they entered Church: “Holy Mother of God!” What a beautiful greeting for our Mother. There is a story – I do not know if it is true – that some among those people had clubs in their hands, perhaps to make the Bishops understand what would happen if they did not have the courage to proclaim Mary “Mother of God”! I invite all of you, without clubs, to stand up and to greet her three times with this greeting of the early Church: “Holy Mother of God!”

Biblical Foundations of Marian Piety and Devotion

MarianDevotionsPic

Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

A very significant turning point in Marian piety and devotion occurred with the Second Vatican Council’s renewal and reform of the liturgy. A decade later, Pope Paul VI issued a remarkable encyclical letter on Marian devotions ‘Marialis cultus’ in 1974. In this landmark document, Pope Paul VI provided guidelines that are as relevant today as they were when first proposed more than 40 years ago. Among the important points in that papal document, we find the following:

  1. Every element of the church’s prayer life, including Marian devotions, should have a biblical imprint. The texts of prayers and songs should draw their inspiration from the Bible and be ‘imbued with the great themes of the Christian message.’ This means that they should be free of pious sentimentality and of the temptation to view Mary as more compassionate than even her Son, who is our one and only Redeemer.
  2. Marian devotions should always harmonize with the liturgy. Novenas and similar devotional practices, including again the rosary, are not to be inserted, hybrid-style, into the very celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic celebration is not simply a backdrop for private prayer.
  3. Marian devotions should always be ecumenically sensitive. ‘Every care should be taken to avoid any exaggeration which could mislead other Christian brethren about the true doctrine of the Catholic Church.’ There should never be a doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus Christ is our sole Mediator with God.
  4. ‘Devotion to the Blessed Virgin must also pay close attention to certain findings of the human sciences.’ This means that the picture of the Blessed Virgin that is presented in devotional literature and other expressions of piety must be consistent with today’s understanding of the role of women in the church and in society.

We must see Mary once again for who she is: not only the Mother of God, her most exalted role in the mystery of Redemption, but also as her Son’s disciple par excellence. When she heard the Word of God, she acted upon it. As the encyclical noted, she was ‘far from being a timidly submissive woman.’ On the contrary, ‘she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions.

Only when Marian piety is liberated from what Pope Paul VI called a ‘sterile and ephemeral sentimentality’ can there be any real hope for a renewal of authentic Marian piety in our time. For many people who do not have the luxury, privilege, money, time or perhaps desire to delve into serious Scripture studies, their only encounter with the Word of God might be through the liturgy or popular piety and devotion.

Let’s consider three important moments of Mary’s life not easily understood and try to discover new meaning and relevance for us. While Marian devotion remains strong in the church, the Immaculate Conception is a complex concept that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful. Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ. In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favour, was without sin from the moment she was conceived. The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin. Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin. And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense. Through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he referred explicitly to the biblical story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel. The angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace,” is understood as recognizing that Mary must always have been free from sin. No other human being collaborated in the work of redemption as Mary did. The Early Church wanted to explain in a plausible manner how God’s Son could be ‘completely human, yet without sin.’ Their answer was that the mother of God must have been without sin.

What happens to Mary happens to Christians. We are called, gifted and chosen to be with Jesus. When we honour the Mother of God under the title ‘Immaculate Conception,’ we recognize in her a model of purity, innocence, trust, childlike curiosity, reverence, and respect, living peacefully alongside a mature awareness that life isn’t simple. It’s rare to find both reverence and sophistication, idealism and realism, purity, innocence and passion, inside the same person as we find in Mary.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, humility, openness, welcome, as well as a respect and dignity for all life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The angel didn’t ask Mary about her willingness. He announced, ‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’ God didn’t ask Mary for permission. He acted ‘gently but decisively’ to save his people from their sins.

The virgin birth shows that humanity needs redeeming that it can’t bring about for itself. The fact that the human race couldn’t produce its own redeemer implies that its sin and guilt are profound and that its saviour must come from outside.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1954. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honour in the Godhead.

Mary’s life can be summed up with four words that are found in the Gospels: ‘Fiat,’ in her response to the angel Gabriel; ‘Magnificat,’ as her response to God’s grace at work in her life; ‘Conservabat,’ as she cherished all these memories and events in her heart; and ‘Stabat,’ as she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, watched her Son die for humanity, and awaited the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus‚ mission.

God calls each one of us through scripture in complete love and grace, and the response of the obedient mind is ‘fiat: let it be to me according to your word.’ We, too, celebrate, with our strength, the relevance of the word to new personal and especially political situations: ‘magnificat.’

We ponder in the heart what we have seen and heard: ‘conservabat.’ But Scripture tells us that Mary, too, had to learn hard things: she wanted to control her son, but could not. Her soul is pierced with the sword, as she stands ‘stabat’ at the foot of the cross. We too must wait patiently, letting the written Word tell us things that may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but which are yet salvific. We read humbly, trusting God and waiting to see his purpose unfold.

(CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven

queen

August 22: Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

One week after the Solemn Feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, the church celebrates the Mother of God as Queen of Heaven.  In the fourth century St. Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.

It was Pope Pius XII who established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.

In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pope Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.

Taken up into heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to heaven, the way to life. She shows it to her children baptized in Christ and to all people of good will. She opens this way especially to the little ones and to the poor, those who are dear to divine mercy. The Queen of the world reveals to individuals and to nations the power of the love of God whose plan upsets that of the proud, pulls down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away (cf. Lk 1:51-53).

Mary’s earthly life is a journey of faith, hope and love, an exemplary way of holiness which began with the enthusiasm of her “fiat”, the exultation of the “Magnificat”, contemplative reflection in everyday life, perseverance in the dark night of the Passion until she could share in the joy of her divine Son in the radiant dawn of the Resurrection.  She is an outstanding model for each of us, and her Assumption into heaven reminds us that there is hope for you and me… what happens to the Virgin daughter of Nazareth at the end of her earthly pilgrimage will happen to each of us if we are faithful and obedient as she was.

We believe that because of the obedience and fidelity of the Blessed Virgin MaryQueenship of Mary 2jpeg, at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed both body and soul into heavenly glory.  The glory of the Mother of the Savior is a cause of immense joy to all her children, a joy that knows the far-reaching resonance of the sentiment that is typical of popular piety, even though it cannot be reduced to it. It is, so to speak, a theological joy, firmly rooted in the paschal mystery. In this sense, the Virgin is “causa nostrae laetitiae — the cause of our joy”.

Catholics believe that after her Assumption into heaven Mary was crowned as Queen of heaven and earth.  What kind of queen is she?  How does she manifest the kingdom of God in her reign?  As we remember Mary, Queen of heaven, we also think of earthly kings and queens.  So often we are caught up in and confused by their power, seeming successes and riches.  Today we will consider how we view power and success.  If God chooses the lowly to fulfill His plan, how then should we think of those who are far from the corridors of earthly power?  Let us pray for the grace to value humility and obedience above fame and authority, and seek to imitate Mary’s lowliness of heart.  Let us look for opportunities to serve those less fortunate than we are.  Let us meditate on the virtues of Mary, our Queen.  She was not proud or grand; she humbly and patiently received God’s word and surrendered her life to His plan, not her own.  Let us ask God to grant us those same heavenly virtues that will allow Him to guide and direct our path in life.

“She who was lowest in her own eyes says without tremor that she was highest in God’s eyes. She was glad because he was glad of it and for no other reason.” Thomas Merton

Holy Mary, Queen of heaven, pray for us.

Latin Text of the Salve Regina

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

V. Ora pro nobis sancta Dei Genetrix.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Traditional English Translation

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
R. that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

In Mary, Humanity and Divinity are at Home

Assumption

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Friday, August 15, 2014

The Assumption of Mary, Mother of the Lord, into heaven, is a consoling sign of our hope. In looking to her, carried up amid the rejoicing of angels, human life is opened to the perspective of eternal happiness. Our own death is not the end but rather the entrance into a life that knows no death. I would like to offer a few reflections on the historical and pastoral significance of this important feast, and its relevance for our own lives.

Immaculate Conception

For Catholic Christians, the belief in the Assumption of Mary flows from our belief in, and understanding of, Mary’s Immaculate Conception. We believe that if Mary was preserved from sin by the free gift of God, she would not be bound to experience the consequences of sin and death in the same way that we do. We believe that because of the obedience and fidelity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed both body and soul into heavenly glory.

History of the Assumption

For several centuries in the early Church, there is no mention by the Church Fathers of the bodily Assumption of Mary. Irenaeus, Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, and the other Church Fathers said nothing about it. Writing in 377 AD, the Church Father Epiphanius even states that no one knows Mary’s end.

As early as the 5th century, the feast of the Assumption of Mary was celebrated in Syria. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Apocryphal Books were testimony of the unwillingness of the Church to accept the fact that the body of the Mother of God should lie in a grave. In the 6th century, the feast of the Assumption was celebrated in Jerusalem and perhaps even in Alexandria.

The first “genuine” written references to the Assumption come from authors who lived between the sixth and eighth centuries. It is mentioned in the sermons of St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene, St. Modestus of Jerusalem, and others. In the West, St. Gregory of Tours mentions it first. St. Gregory lived in the sixth century, while St John Damascene belongs to the eighth century.

In the 9th century, the feast of the Assumption was celebrated in Spain. From the 10th to 12th centuries, there was no dispute over whether the feast could be celebrated in the Western Church. In the 12th century, the feast of was celebrated in the city of Rome and in France.

From the 13th century to the present, there has been certain and undisputed faith in the Assumption of Mary throughout the universal Church. In 1950, Pope Pius XII taught infallibly: “Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory” (Munificentissimus Deus, 44).

“Assumption” or “Dormition”?

The Catholic feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15, and Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos (“the falling asleep of the Mother of God”) on or around the same date. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon death, and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her death and that she was taken up into heaven bodily in anticipation of the general resurrection at the end of time. Her tomb was found empty on the third day. (One can even visit the Orthodox tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem. It is located near the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane.)

Sign of the Kingdom

In presenting the “great sign” of the “woman clothed with the sun,” today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10) says that she “was with child and … cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery” (12:2). Just as the Risen Christ who has ascended into heaven forever bears the wounds of his redemptive death within his glorious body, so his Mother brings to eternity “the pangs” and “anguish for delivery” (12:2). We could say that Mary, as the new Eve, continues from generation to generation to give birth to the new man, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). This is the Church’s eschatological image, which is present and active in the Virgin Mary.

Unless Christ is risen

In the second reading for today’s feast (1 Corinthians 15:20-26), St. Paul addresses a problem among the Corinthians: their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12) and their inability to imagine how any kind of bodily existence could be possible after death (15:35). Paul affirms both the essential corporeity of the resurrection and its future orientation. His response moves through three steps: a recall of the basic kerygma about Jesus’ Resurrection (15:1-11), an assertion of the logical inconsistencies involved in denying the resurrection of the dead (15:12-34), and an attempt to perceive theologically what the properties of the resurrected body must be (15:35-58).

Any denial of resurrection (15:12) involves logical inconsistencies. The basic one, stated twice (15:13, 16), is that if there is no such thing as (bodily) resurrection, then it has not taken place even in Christ’s case. The consequences for the Corinthians are grave: both forgiveness of sins and salvation become an illusion, despite their strong convictions about both. Unless Christ is risen, their faith does not save.

Christ’s definitive victory over death, which came into the world because of Adam’s sin, shines brightly in Mary, assumed into heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was Christ, the “new” Adam, who conquered death, offering himself as a sacrifice on Calvary in loving obedience to the Father. In this way he redeemed us from the slavery of sin and evil. In Mary’s triumph, the Church contemplates her whom the Father chose as the true Mother of his Only-begotten Son, closely associating her with his saving plan of Redemption.

Life from barren wombs and empty tombs

The Gospel for today’s feast (Luke 1:39-56) invites us into the extraordinary story of two women who share their faith, hope, and happiness as they prepare for motherhood. It is an occasion for celebration between Elizabeth, who is old and barren, and Mary, a young betrothed virgin – a story of God’s ability to both give and sustain life. Our God causes life to surge forth from barren wombs and empty tombs! Mary’s trip to the hill country of Judah is also a manifestation of the coming Kingdom.

Mary is a model for each of us, and her Assumption into heaven reminds us that there is hope for you and me. What happens to the Virgin daughter of Nazareth at the end of her earthly pilgrimage will happen to each of us if we are faithful and obedient, as she was.

Taken up into heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to heaven, the way to life. She shows it to her children baptized in Christ and to all people of good will. She opens this way especially to the little ones and to the poor, those who are open to divine mercy. The Queen of the World reveals to individuals and to nations the power of the love of God whose plan upsets that of the proud, pulls down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:51-53).

Marian triptych

The Church celebrates three great moments of Mary’s life, knowing that they represent all of our lives: the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation, and Assumption.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the first moment, in 1854 with the bull Ineffabilis Deus, he referred explicitly to the biblical story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel. The angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace,” is understood as recognizing that Mary must always have been free from sin. God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death. Through her Immaculate Conception, Mary was called for a special mission.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, gratitude, humility, openness, and welcome. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption, the third moment, promulgated by Pius XII in 1950. As with her beginnings, so too with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we are in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honour in the Godhead.

Mary follows our footsteps

Let me conclude these reflections on Mary’s Assumption with the moving words of Benedict XVI, spoken at his weekly General Audience at Castel Gandolfo on August 16, 2006. He said:

By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful. Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.

We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand. Supported by awareness of this, let us continue confidently on our path of Christian commitment wherever Providence may lead us. Let us forge ahead in our lives under Mary’s guidance.

[The readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption are: Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56.]

Evangelizing our Elizabeths, Propelled to the Peripheries

Magnificat cropped

“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” (Lk. 1:39-45)

The story of the Visitation, celebrated each year on May 31st, presents us with awesome insight into the life and mission of the Christian. Mary, having received in her womb the mystery of the Word made flesh, does not contain this incredible mystery, she does not withdraw for nine months of quiet solitude and private contemplation — rather she sets off “with haste,” propelled by the Holy Spirit to radiate the reality of Jesus present in our midst! Her encounter with God leads her to encounter with others, so that everyone may experience the joy of knowing God in Jesus Christ. The Visitation springs forth as Mary’s response to receiving Jesus in the Incarnation: it is a response that calls her outwards, to the outskirts, to the hill country, to bear “good news” and go out in joyful love and service.

Mary and ElizabethThis is the essence of evangelization: being transformed so that God can use us to transform others. It means sharing the Gospel — “good news” — with those around us, and especially those most in need. Like Mary, our experience of Jesus cannot be lived in isolation, it must overflow and be contagious! Our relationship with God is meant to be lived joyfully in the concrete circumstances of our daily lives and everyday encounters.

In the days prior to the conclave in which he was elected pope, Pope Francis — then Cardinal Bergoglio — spoke the following words about the nature of evangelization:

“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”

This desire is not just for the “Church” in some vague or general sense, but for all of us! We are called to have this desire to come out of ourselves, go to the peripheries and follow the spectacular example Pope Francis has given us since speaking these powerful words. As we celebrate the Visitation, let us ask ourselves: What are the peripheries and hill countries in our own lives? Who are our Elizabeths and what are we doing to bring them the joy of Jesus and his Good News? Our family, relatives, and friends certainly; but also the strangers sit beside on the subway, the panhandler asking for change on the street, the annoying neighbour, the difficult coworker. All of these are the Elizabeths of our day, what are we doing to bring them the joy we have encountered in Christ?

As the Church marks this great moment in the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Elizabeth, may our fears, reticence, and desire for convenience depart, and may we instead embark on a mission of living our Christian joy contagiously. We know that it is the Lord who inspires us to this mission, who accompanies us always, and who will lead us where we are to go. And so today may we too “set out and go with haste” to the hill countries, to bring Christ, to bring the Good News of the Gospel, to live it with joy. In short, may we evangelize.

(Texts courtesy of Oremus Bible Browser and Vatican Radio; Photos courtesy of life.remixed and capfrans.blogspot)

Mary, Mother of God, Mother for all

Madonna-and-Child

On December 31, 2013, Pope Francis prayed year-end Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica. Vespers began at 5 PM  with Pope Francis presiding over the prayers that constitute the Church’s official, public praise of God in the evening of the last day of the year, to be followed by the singing of the great hymn of gratitude in faith, the Te Deum, and the worship of the Blessed Sacrament before the giving of the blessing of the Eucharistic Lord.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on the sense of history that permeates the life of those whose lives are signed by faith in Jesus Christ. “The biblical and Christian vision of time and history,” he said, “is not cyclical, but linear: it is a path that leads towards a conclusion.” He explained that the passing year does not represent an end in itself, but a step on the way towards a reality that is to be completed – another step toward the goal that lies ahead of us: a place of hope and happiness, because we will meet God, the Reason of our hope and Source of our joy.

Pope Francis went on to say that, as the year 2013 comes to an end, we collect, as in a basket, the days, the weeks, the months that we have lived, to offer everything to the Lord.

Pope Francis concluded, inviting everyone to look toward the new year, in a spirit of gratitude for that, which we have received, repentance for that, in which we have failed, and resolve to work with God’s grace to better our lives, our communities and ourselves.

On Wednesday, January 1, 2014, Pope Francis welcomed the new year with a solemn morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, calling the faithful to look to Mary as a Mother to all and messenger of hope.

Here is the official English translation of the Holy Father’s Homily:

In the first reading we find the ancient prayer of blessing which God gave to Moses to hand on to Aaron and his sons: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). There is no more meaningful time than the beginning of a new year to hear these words of blessing: they will accompany our journey through the year opening up before us. They are words of strength, courage and hope. Not an illusory hope, based on frail human promises, or a naïve hope which presumes that the future will be better simply because it is the future. Rather, it is a hope that has its foundation precisely in God’s blessing, a blessing which contains the greatest message of good wishes there can be; and this is the message which the Church brings to each of us, filled with the Lord’s loving care and providential help.

The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before any other creature.

The Mother of God! This is the first and most important title of Our Lady. It refers to a quality, a role which the faith of the Christian people, in its tender and genuine devotion to our heavenly Mother, has understood from the beginning.

We recall that great moment in the history of the ancient Church, the Council of Ephesus, in which the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary was authoritatively defined. The truth of her divine maternity found an echo in Rome where, a little later, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major was built, the first Marian shrine in Rome and in the entire West, in which the image of the Mother of God – the Theotokos – is venerated under the title of Salus Populi Romani. It is said that the residents of Ephesus used to gather at the gates of the basilica where the bishops were meeting and shout, “Mother of God!”. The faithful, by asking them to officially define this title of Our Lady, showed that they acknowledged her divine motherhood. Theirs was the spontaneous and sincere reaction of children who know their Mother well, for they love her with immense tenderness.

Mary has always been present in the hearts, the piety and above all the pilgrimage of faith of the Christian people. “The Church journeys through time… and on this journey she proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary” (Redemptoris Mater, 2). Our journey of faith is the same as that of Mary, and so we feel that she is particularly close to us. As far as faith, the hinge of the Christian life, is concerned, the Mother of God shared our condition. She had to take the same path as ourselves, a path which is sometimes difficult and obscure. She had to advance in the “pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen Gentium, 58).

Our pilgrimage of faith has been inseparably linked to Mary ever since Jesus, dying on the Cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: “Behold your Mother!” (Jn 19:27). These words serve as a testament, bequeathing to the world a Mother. From that moment on, the Mother of God also became our Mother! When the faith of the disciples was most tested by difficulties and uncertainties, Jesus entrusted them to Mary, who was the first to believe, and whose faith would never fail. The “woman” became our Mother when she lost her divine Son. Her sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, whether good or bad, and she loves them as she loved Jesus. The woman who at the wedding at Cana in Galilee gave her faith-filled cooperation so that the wonders of God could be displayed in the world, at Calvary kept alive the flame of faith in the resurrection of her Son, and she communicates this with maternal affection to each and every person. Mary becomes in this way a source of hope and true joy!

The Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation. In this way our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary. To her let us entrust our journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace. Let us then together invoke her: Holy Mother of God!

Watch Holy Mass on the occasion of the Marian Day today at 10am ET

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima
Yesterday, Saturday October 12, the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima arrived in Rome where it was part of various celebrations commemorating Marian Day for the Year of Faith, including a prayer service with a catechesis and a vigil with a video message to Marian Shrines all over the world. The statue has only left the shrine for exceptional and extraordinary events. The last time was during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 when, on May 13, Blessed John Paul II carried out the act of consecration to the Virgin.

Today, Sunday morning, October 13, the anniversary of the final appearance of the Virgin to the three shepherd children in 1917 in Fatima, the statue of the Virgin returned to St. Peter’s Square where it was once more taken in procession across St. Peter’s Square. The procession was followed by Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. At the end of Mass, the Holy Father consecrated the world to Our Lady before praying the Angelus.

Tune in to watch the Holy Father’s Mass on S+L TV at 10am ET, 7am PT. Download the Mass booklet in order to follow this morning’s celebration. (See our schedule for rebroadcast times)

The statue of Our Lady will remain in Rome until Sunday evening when it returns to Fatima.

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CNS photo/Nacho Doce, Reuters

Prayer Vigil at the Shrine of Divine Love

Pope Francis
At the end of today’s event on Marian Day – Year of Faith, October 12, 2013, the Pope addressed Marian shrines around the world with a video message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet all the pilgrims present in this Shrine of Divine Love, and all those who join us from the Marian shrines of Lourdes, Nazareth, Lujan, Vailankanni, Guadalupe, Akita, Nairobi, Benneux, Czestochowa and Marian Valley.

This evening I am united to all of you in praying the Holy Rosary and in Eucharistic adoration under the gaze of the Virgin Mary.

Mary’s gaze! How important this is! How many things can we say with a look! Affection, encouragement, compassion, love, but also disapproval, envy, pride and even hatred. Often a look says more than words; it says what words do not or dare not say.

At whom is the Virgin Mary looking? She is looking at each and every one of us. And how does she look at us? She looks at us as a Mother, with tenderness, mercy and love. That was how she gazed at her Son Jesus at all the moments of his life – joyful, luminous, sorrowful, glorious – as we contemplate in the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, simply and lovingly.

When we are weary, downcast, beset with cares, let us look to Mary, let us feel her gaze, which speaks to our heart and says: “Courage, my child, I am here to help you!”. Our Lady knows us well, she is a Mother, she is familiar with our joys and difficulties, our hopes and disappointments. When we feel the burden of our failings and our sins, let us look to Mary, who speaks to our hearts, saying: “Arise, go to my Son Jesus; in him you will find acceptance, mercy and new strength for the journey”.

Mary’s gaze is not directed towards us alone. At the foot of the Cross, when Jesus entrusted to her the Apostle John, and with him all of us, in the words: “Woman, here is your son” (Jn 19:26), the gaze of Mary was fixed on Jesus. Mary says to us what she said at the wedding feast of Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Mary points to Jesus, she asks us to bear witness to Jesus, she constantly guides us to her Son Jesus, because in him alone do we find salvation. He alone can change the water of our loneliness, difficulties and sin into the wine of encounter, joy and forgiveness. He alone.

“Blessed is she who believed!” Mary is blessed for her faith in God, for her faith, because her heart’s gaze was always fixed on God, the Son of God whom she bore in her womb and whom she contemplated upon the Cross. In the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mary says to us: “Look at my son Jesus, keep your gaze fixed on him, listen to him, speak with him. He is gazing at you with love. Do not be afraid! He will teach you to follow him and to bear witness to him in all that you do, whether great and small, in your family life, at work, at times of celebration. He will teach you to go out of yourself and to look upon others with love, as he did. He loved you and loves you, not with words but with deeds”.

O Mary, let us feel your maternal gaze. Guide us to your Son. May we not be Christians “on display”, but Christians ready to “get our hands dirty” in building, with your Son Jesus, his Kingdom of love, joy and peace.

The Pope is scheduled to consecrate the world to Our Lady during a Mass on Sunday, October 13, 2013. This Mass will be broadcast on S+L TV at 10am ET.

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CNS Photo/Paul Haring

The Faith of Mary – Pope Francis’ catechesis on Mary

Marian Prayer Service
Pope Francis led a Marian prayer vigil on Saturday, Saturday October 12, 2013 in St. Peter’s Square. During the vigil, Pope Francis gave a special catechesis. Here is the text of the Holy Father’s message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are all gathered for this event of the Year of Faith devoted to Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, our Mother. The statue of Our Lady, which has come from Fatima, helps us to feel her presence in our midst. Mary always brings us to Jesus. She is a woman of faith, a true believer. What was Mary’s faith like?

1. The first aspect of her faith is this: Mary’s faith unties the knot of sin (cf. Lumen Gentium, 56). What does that mean? The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council took up a phrase of Saint Irenaeus, who states that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith” (Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4).

The “knot” of disobedience, the “knot” of unbelief. When children disobey their parents, we can say that a little “knot” is created. This happens if the child acts with an awareness of what he or she is doing, especially if there is a lie involved. At that moment, they break trust with their parents. How often does this happen! Then the relationship with their parents needs to be purified of this fault; the child has to ask forgiveness so that harmony and trust can be restored. Something of the same sort happens in our relationship with God. When we do not listen to him, when we do not follow his will, we do concrete things that demonstrate our lack of trust in him – for that is what sin is – and a kind of knot is created deep within us. These knots take away our peace and serenity. They are dangerous, since many knots can form a tangle which gets more and more painful and difficult to undo.

But nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by his grace. And Mary, whose “yes” opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy. We might ask ourselves: What knots do I have in my life? Do I ask Mary to help me trust in God’s mercy, in order to change?

2. A second aspect is that Mary’s faith gave human flesh to Jesus. As the Council says: “Through her faith and obedience, she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, without knowing man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, 63). This was a point on which the Fathers of the Church greatly insisted: Mary first conceived Jesus in faith and then in the flesh, when she said “yes” to the message God gave her through the angel. What does this mean? It means that God did not want to become man by ignoring our freedom; he wanted to pass through Mary’s free assent, her “yes”.

But what took place most singularly in the Virgin Mary also takes place within us, spiritually, when we receive the word of God with a good and sincere heart and put it into practice. It is as if God takes flesh within us; he comes to dwell in us, for he dwells in all who love him and keep his word.

Let us ask ourselves: Do we think about this? Or do we think that Jesus’ incarnation is simply a past event which has nothing to do with us personally? Believing in Jesus means giving him our flesh with the humility and courage of Mary, so that he can continue to dwell in our midst. It means giving him our hands, to caress the little ones and the poor; our feet, to go forth and meet our brothers and sisters; our arms, to hold up the weak and to work in the Lord’s vineyard, our minds, to think and act in the light of the Gospel; and especially our hearts, to love and to make choices in accordance with God’s will. All this happens thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit. Let us be led by him!

3. The third aspect is Mary’s faith as a journey. The Council says that Mary “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen Gentium, 58). In this way she precedes us on this pilgrimage, she accompanies and sustains us.

How was Mary’s faith a journey? In the sense that her entire life was to follow her Son: He is the way, he is the path! To press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith, is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and be guided by his words; to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps; to have his same sentiments of humility, mercy, closeness to others, but also his firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity and idolatry. The way of Jesus is the way of a love which is faithful to the end, even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross. The journey of faith thus passes through the cross.

Mary understood this from the beginning, when Herod sought to kill the newborn Jesus. But then this experience of the cross became deeper when Jesus was rejected and Mary’s faith encountered misunderstanding and contempt, and when Jesus’ “hour” came, the hour of his passion, when Mary’s faith was a little flame burning in the night. Through the night of Holy Saturday, Mary kept watch. Her flame, small but bright, remained burning until the dawn of the resurrection. And when she received word that the tomb was empty, her heart was filled with the joy of faith: Christian faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was the culmination of Mary’s journey of faith, and that of the whole Church. What is our faith like? Like Mary, do we keep it burning even at times of difficulty and darkness? Do I have the joy of faith?

This evening, O Mary, we thank you for our faith, and we renew our entrustment to you, Mother of our faith.


CNS photo/Paul Haring