And first, O Lord, I praise and magnify thy Name
For the Most Holy Virgin-Mother of God,
who is the Highest of thy Saints.
The most Glorious of thy Creatures.
The most Perfect of all thy Works.
The nearest unto Thee in the Throne of God.
Whom thou didst please to make
Daughter of the Eternal Father,
Mother of the Eternal Son.
Spouse of the Eternal Spirit,
Tabernacle of the most Glorious Trinity.
Mother of Jesus.
Mother of the Messias.
Mother of him who was the Desire of all Nations.
Mother of the Prince of Peace.
Mother of the King of Heaven.
Mother of our Creator.
Mother and Virgin.
Mirror of Humility and Obedience.
Mirror of Wisdom and Devotion.
Mirror of Modesty and Chastity.
Mother of Sweetness and Resignation.
Mirror of Sanctity.
Mirror of all Virtues.
The most illustrious Light in the Church,
wearing over all her beauties the veil of Humility
to shine the more resplendently in thy Eternal Glory.
Thomas Traherne, 1636-1674
In this month dedicated to the Holy Family, a rosary meditation on the Joyful Mystery of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple:
‘When Our Lady asked her Child: “Son, why hast thou done so to us?” His answer teaches us the hierarchy, or due order, of obedience: obedience to God, which must always come first, and is often humanly mysterious. St Francis leaving his father’s house to do God’s will, St Clare, St Thomas Aquinas, must all have got strength from this Mystery.
Much more puzzling is the question why Our Lord, most loving of children, should have let His mother suffer that long – what must have seemed that endless – search. Journet, in Our Lady of Sorrows, sees an echo, a correspondence between Our Lady’s “Son, why?” and Our Lord’s cry on the Cross: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” The three days’ loss is one of the Seven Sorrows that make Our Lady so close to her Son in His sacrifice.
Meditating on this Mystery, most people look back at the three days’ loss and finish their prayer in the Temple. But others go home with the Holy Family and stay awhile at Nazareth. Chesterton has pointed out that the Holy Family takes the ordinary human family and reverses its values. Yet in the life at Nazareth the human hierarchy was kept, even though its values were reversed.
The child was God, but He obeyed the man who was head of the house. He had gone to the Temple in direct obedience to His heavenly Father, but now for eighteen years he would obey God through His human mother, His human foster-father. It is one of the most amazing facts of the Christian economy that God chose a way of saving men that made two human beings strictly necessary. God needed Our Lady and St Joseph: Our Lord could not alone have made a human family’.
from The Splendour of the Rosary, 1948, by Maisie Ward, 1889-1975
‘Rather less than eighty years ago, a little girl stood before the rock of Massabieille, in the township of Lourdes, on the slopes of the Pyrenees. No premonition of any divine event disturbed her thoughts; she was at play with her companions, and if she took off the shoes from her feet it was only to cross the stream that lay in their path. She heard a noise, like that of a strong wind; she turned, and saw that the trees in the valley were not bowed as a strong wind must bow them. She turned back towards the rock, and a rose-bush that grew in front of it. And now she saw the rose-bush flaming with something more bright, more pure, more beautiful than fire. She saw above it the figure of a Lady; what need to describe it in detail? Wherever Christendom reaches, the helpless aspirations of Christian artists have made that figure familiar to every human eye. The Lady said no word, but she made one sign, the sign of the cross; and the little girl, taking courage, said her rosary as if to defend her from harm. Then the Vision beckoned to her to come nearer; she drew back in alarm, and it vanished. She took off her other stocking, crossed the stream, and rejoined her companions, who had seen nothing. That was all; it was only in later visits that she realised what a grace had been bestowed upon her; that she, too, was to lead a world out of its captivity; draw it after her to worship God and celebrate the glories of his Mother on that mountain. It was only many days later that the gracious Lady revealed herself by name; lifted up her eyes to heaven and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception”’.
from a homily preached in 1934 by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary didst consecrate a dwelling-place meet for thy Son: we humbly beseech thee; that we, celebrating the apparition of the same Blessed Virgin, may obtain thy healing, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘On this feast we commemorate the Purification of our Lady, her act of obedience to the law of her Church and her people, her humble act of thanksgiving for the birth of her Child. The feast is also called the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and is known familiarly as Candlemas. In the Greek Church the festival is called ‘The Meeting’ (Hypapante), and commemorates the meeting of Simeon and Anna.
This old man, Simeon, had been waiting for the redemption of Israel, and longing for the fulfilment of hopes which only on this day did he rightly understand. As the Blessed Mother enters the Temple bearing in her arms the Holy Child, suddenly the Light comes to him, he realises the meaning of the Temple. The sacred building has been waiting for this entrance, for His possession Whom he holds in his arms. The Temple of Solomon was made for that day when the glory of God filled it. Now into this Temple is brought by the Blessed Mother the Presence of God in a yet more wondrous way, and Simeon feels the light smiting down upon him. Life, religion, the Temple – all are for the possession of God.
St Paul says, “Know ye not your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?” We must make this temple of our souls a fit place for His Presence. We are given light, and we must walk as the children of light. Light is given to us not to save us trouble, but to enable us to take more trouble; not to save us thought, but to enable us to think more truly, more deeply. Our religion is mean to us nothing less than this: that we are to be possessed by the Presence of God’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Dear brothers and sisters, it is only by pondering in the heart, in other words, by piecing together and finding unity in all we experience, that, following Mary, we can penetrate the mystery of a God who was made man out of love and who calls us to follow him on the path of love; a love to be expressed daily by generous service to the brethren. May the new year which we are confidently beginning today be a time in which to advance in that knowledge of the heart, which is the wisdom of saints. Let us pray… that the Lord may “make his face to shine” upon us, “and be gracious” to us (cf. Numbers 6:24-7) and bless us. We may be certain of it: if we never tire of seeking his Face, if we never give in to the temptation of discouragement and doubt, if also among the many difficulties we encounter we always remain anchored to him, we will experience the power of his love and his mercy. May the fragile Child who today the Virgin shows to the world make us peacemakers, witnesses of him, the Prince of Peace. Amen!’
Pope Benedict XVI, 1 January 2008
O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary hast bestowed upon mankind the reward of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may know the help of her intercession, through whom we have been counted worthy to receive the Author of our life, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy wondrous holiness didst adorn a human home, and by thy subjection to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate the order of earthly families: grant that we, being enlightened by the example of their life with thee in thy Holy Family, and assisted by their prayers, may at last be joined with them in thine eternal fellowship; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘O Virgo Virginum, the last of the Great O Antiphons in the old English liturgy of Sarum, occurs on December 23rd. Its structure is quite different from all the other Great O Antiphons. The first part is a question addressed to the Virgin Mary; in the second part she replies with another question, and then, gives her answer.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.
Here, at Silverstream Priory, since the beginning of Advent, we have been singing O Virgo Virginum each morning as the Marian Antiphon at the end of Lauds’.
Dom Mark Daniel Kirby OSB, Prior of Silverstream Priory, Co. Meath, Ireland, writing in 2012
‘The Apostle Paul teaches us that in the fulness of time God sent his Son, born of a woman, to redeem us from sin and to make us his sons and daughters. Accordingly, we are no longer servants but children and heirs of God. Therefore, the Church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death. May the Continent of Hope also be the Continent of Life! This is our cry: life with dignity for all! For all who have been conceived in their mother’s womb, for street children, for Guadalupe! To you we present this countless multitude of the faithful praying to God in America. You who have penetrated their hearts, visit and comfort the homes, parishes and dioceses of the whole continent. Grant that Christian families may exemplarily raise their children in the Church’s faith and in love of the Gospel, so that they will be the seed of apostolic vocations. Turn your gaze today upon young people and encourage them to walk with Jesus Christ. O Lady and Mother of America! Strengthen the will be celebrated throughout America with the liturgical rank of feast.
O Mother! You know the paths followed by the first evangelisers of the New World, from Guanahani Island and Hispaniola to the Amazon forests and the Andean peaks, reaching to Tierra del Fuego in the south and to the Great Lakes and mountains of the north. Accompany the Church which is working in the nations of America, so that she may always preach the Gospel and renew her missionary spirit. Encourage all who devote their lives to the cause of Jesus and the spread of his kingdom. O gentle Lady of Tepeyac, Mother of indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, for immigrants and refugees, for the young deprived of opportunity, for the old, for those who suffer any kind of poverty or marginalisation.
Dear brothers and sisters, the time has come to banish once and for all from the continent every attack against life. No more violence, terrorism and drug-trafficking! No more torture or other forms of abuse! There must be an end to the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty! No more exploitation of the weak, racial discrimination or ghettoes of poverty! Never again! These are intolerable evils which cry out to heaven and call Christians to a different way of living, to a social commitment more in keeping with their faith. We must rouse the consciences of men and women with the Gospel, in order to highlight their sublime vocation as children of God. This will inspire them to build a better America. As a matter of urgency, we must stir up a new springtime of holiness on the continent so that action and contemplation will go hand in hand’.
from a homily given during his Apostolic Journey to America, 23 January 1999
by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
O God, who hast willed that under the special patronage of the most Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, we should receive an abundant measure of unceasing favours: grant us, thy suppliant people; that as we rejoice to honour her upon earth, so we may enjoy the vision of her in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception is the promise and the earnest of Christmas Day; our salvation is already in the bud. As the first green shoot heralds the approach of spring, in a world that is frost-bound and seems dead, so in a world of great sinfulness and of utter despair that spotless conception heralds the restoration of man’s innocence. As the shoot gives unfailing promise of the flower which is to spring from it, the Immaculate Conception gives unfailing promise of the Virgin Birth. Life had come into the world again. And it grew there unmarked by human eyes. No angels sang over the hills to celebrate it; no shepherds left their shepherding to come and see; no wise men were beckoned by the stars to witness that prodigy. And yet the first Advent had begun. Our Lady, you see, is the consummation of the Old Testament; with her, the cycle of history begins anew. When God created the first Adam, he made his preparations beforehand; he fashioned a paradise ready for him to dwell in. And when he restored our nature in the second Adam, once more there was a preparation to be made beforehand. He fashioned a Paradise for the second Adam to dwell in, and that Paradise was the body and soul of our blessed Lady, immune from the taint of sin which was the legacy of Adam’s curse. It was winter still in all the world around, but in the quiet home where St Anne gave birth to her daughter, spring had begun’.
from a meditation published in The Tablet, 1939, by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
O God, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us, until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
This is that blessed Mary, pre-elect
God’s virgin. Gone is a great while, and she
Dwelt young in Nazareth of Galilee.
Unto God’s will she brought devout respect,
Profound simplicity of intellect,
And supreme patience. From her mother’s knee
Faifthul and hopeful; wise in charity;
Strong in grave peace; in pity circumspect.
So held she through her girlhood, as it were
An angel-watered lily, that near God
Grows and is quiet. Till, one dawn at home,
She woke in her white bed, and had no fear
At all – yet wept ’til sunshine, and felt awed:
Because the fulness of the time was come.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882
Almighty and everlasting God, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost didst prepare the body and soul
of the glorious Virgin Mother Mary to be a dwelling-place for thy Son: grant that we who rejoice in her Presentation
may at her tender intercession be kept unspotted, and made a pure temple for his dwelling;
who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Divine Worship: The Missal
For that fair blessed mother-maid,
Whose flesh redeemed us; that she-cherubin,
Which unlocked Paradise, and made
One claim for innocence, and disseized sin,
Whose womb was a strange heaven, for there
God clothed himself, and grew,
Our zealous thanks we pour. As her deeds were
Our helps, so are her prayers; nor can she sue
In vain, who hath such titles unto you.
John Donne, 1572-1631
A visit to Chester Cathedral yesterday which, before the Reformation, was a Benedictine abbey in communion with Rome. The cloister has a remarkable collection of stained glass windows dedicated to the saints and holy men and women commemorated within the kalendar of the Church of England. Here is the window to Saint Gabriel the Archangel, and an accompanying prayer to Our Lady Mary for the conversion of England. Let the reader understand!
O BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England thy Dowry and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross, O sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the supreme Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son. Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee, in our heavenly home. Amen.
In the doorway of a low grey house,
built of stones as old as the Crusades,
a woman of Bruges
sits in the sunlight, among the flowers,
saying her Rosary.
The story of Mary is her own story,
and her son was her life’s joy
and her life’s sorrow;
and for ever
her son is her life’s glory.
In a field in Flanders,
among the red poppies, he is sleeping:
he will sleep soundly
until the day of resurrection.
She has still the patchwork quilt
made, when her hands were nimble,
for the wooden cot:
now he is sleeping, and each year
he has a new coverlet
of delicate young grass,
and at the end of his cot
a wooden cross.
The cradle of the wood,
the wood of the cross:
from cradle to cross,
like a lullaby.
The story of the woman of Bruges
is the world’s story.
it is the story
of human joy and sorrow,
woven and interlaced,
like the blue and crimson thread
in a woven cloth:
the story of birth and death,
of war and the rumours of war
and of peace past understanding,
peace in the souls that live
in the life of Christ.
In the doorway in Bruges,
sitting among the flowers,
her mind like a velvet bee
droning over a rose,
taking the honey of comfort
out of the heart of Love,
the old woman is nodding
over her Rosary.
She has lived her meditation,
like the Mother of God,
living the life of Christ:
let her sleep in Christ’s peace.
Caryll Houselander, 1901-1954
Continuing the theme of yesterday’s feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, today I’m sharing the original version of the Walsingham Pilgrim Hymn, written by Sir William Milner (1893-1960) and sung to the tune Lourdes, with its familiar refrain of the Aves. The hymn was revised by Father Hope Patten’s successor as Administrator of the Anglican shrine, Father Colin Stephenson, in 1960 (after Sir William’s death that year, and two years after Hope Patten’s death - canny timing, that). The version below is taken from the third edition of the The Pilgrims’ Manual, dated 1949 (the first edition was published in 1928, but the hymn predates this, as Father Cobb, in his history of the shrine, indicates that the first issue of Our Lady’s Mirror in 1926 mentions the hymn). In my 1949 manual the hymn is prefaced with these brief words of explanation: ‘This processional is based on the mediaeval legend, long loved by our Catholic forefathers’.
Comparing the two versions is an interesting exercise in literary taste, history, memory, and mixed emotion. The older form of the hymn is longer by five verses and, for those who enjoy the stuff of legend, it happily fleshes it out somewhat, particularly on the detail of Richeldis’ vision of the Virgin and the miraculous circumstances of the erection of the Holy House at the hands of Our Lady herself, with Lady Richeldis’ chaplain receiving an honourable mention. Also notable is that whereas the updated version of the hymn references Henry VIII as a ‘king who had greed in his eyes’ (the older version speaks, more poetically, of his ‘covetous eyes’) in relation to the treasures and wealth of the shrine, the older version sounds a more merciful note of regal rehabilitation (‘But his soul did repent, when he came for to die/And to Walsingham’s Lady for mercy did cry’). This is lacking in the present form, which feels, to me at least, notwithstanding the historical accuracy, just a tad heart-rending (especially when the accompanying organ sounds an ominous note during the verse; though I do realise that this is much enjoyed by others of a more mischievous disposition).
Father Stephenson’s version also includes a curious verse which, like the above, as an Anglican I always considered peculiar given the shrine’s place within the life of the established Church of England. Now, as a Catholic of the Ordinariate, it’s certainly much easier, theologically, to sing (‘And this realm which had once been Our Lady’s own Dower/Had its Church now enslaved by the secular power’), but its continued presence within the canon of the Walsingham Pilgrim Hymn of the Anglican shrine is even more baffling in light of the happy existence of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Sir William’s version makes no mention of this emasculation, thus rendering it more coherent for those Anglicans who have not (yet) taken up the generous offer of the Ordinariate which, if nothing else, promises that liberty for the Church from the slavish excesses of the secular power...
Of course the older version had its critics long before Father Stephenson amended it. Michael Yelton, in his excellent history of Father Hope Patten and the Anglican shrine, notes that Sir William’s words ‘have often been criticised for their banality,’ and references Bishop Henley Henson’s (then-Bishop of Durham) attack on it as ‘pitiable rubbish’. But in these days of revived traditional worship in its hieratic register of English (think Divine Worship: The Missal...), I rather like it. It won’t catch on too widely, of course, because the present version, now nearly sixty years old, is much-treasured, not least because there are some memorable and even fun verses to be found therein (‘Then lift high your voices, rehearse the glad tale/Of Our Lady’s appearing in Stiffkey’s fair vale’, and ‘So crowded were roads that the stars, people say/That shine in the heavens were called Walsingham Way,’ for example). Nonetheless, perhaps Sir William’s old hymn can be dusted off and brought out in an Ordinariate context from time to time where the rhyming of ‘meads’ with ‘bedes’ is happily married in verse, and where the use of such old-fashioned phrases as ‘celestial-crowned’, ‘full wondrous’, ‘for to die’, ‘right soon’, ‘forthwith goodly store’, and the like might be regarded as (albeit antiquated) treasures to be shared... Anyway, judge it for yourself.
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, Patroness of the Personal Ordinariates of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and Wales (where it is a solemnity), and of the Chair of St Peter in the United States and Canada. Devotion to Our Lady under this ancient title is something held very dear by Catholics and Anglo-Catholics alike, and for those of us who came into the fulness of Catholic communion in the See of St Peter through the provision of Anglicanorum coetibus, it is especially significant. Before today’s feast was appointed as such on the calendar, in 2000, today was Our Lady of Ransom. It was a feast which, in England, focused the Church’s attention on the conversion of England, the return of apostates, and the forgotten dead. All appropriate themes given the ravages of the Reformation, and equally appropriate, then, that this devotion should be localised to the great and historic centre of Marian devotion and pilgrimage in England in Walsingham, a place which has become a focus for intense prayer for the reunion of Christendom, and for the rightful return of England to Our Lady as part of her divinely-given earthly dower. The photos above are from a visit to Walsingham in October last year. Our daughter Richeldis is greeting her namesake (the Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, to whom Our Lady appeared in this village in 1061), and our son Dominic is assisting me as I offer the Holy Sacrifice, according to Divine Worship, in the Slipper Chapel, under the watchful gaze of Our Lady of Walsingham... and our daughter Verity. A blessed feast!
‘At Walsingham we should glory in all that unites us, and mourn in deepest penitence for all that divides us. In this place where we have recovered so much we may regard prayer for the full recovery of Catholic unity as a special obligation.
What of the future? It is the hope of all concerned with the Shrine that it may more and more take its place as a great spiritual force for evangelism and conversion in this land which was once “our Lady’s Dowry,” and which is so many ways at the present day is no great credit to her patronage. It is a visible demonstration in this world of unbelief that God became man in the fullest sense - He had a human mother - He lived in an ordinary little house - all these things are stated without equivocation in the Shrine of the Holy House of our Lady of Walsingham, and perhaps as you [ponder] its foundation, destruction, and restoration in our own time you may be led to think that God has allowed this to happen that the message of “The Word made Flesh” may come with special force in this age of materialism and that the warmth of devotion from England’s Nazareth may play its part in the conversion of England’.
from England’s Nazareth: A History of the Holy Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 1959
by Donald Hole, revised by Colin Stephenson
O Mary, recall the solemn moment when Jesus, thy Divine Son, dying on the Cross, confided us to thy maternal care. Thou art our Mother, we desire ever to remain thy devout children. Let us, therefore, feel the effects of thy powerful intercession with Jesus Christ. Make thy Name again glorious in this place once renowned throughout our land by thy visits, favours, and many miracles. Pray, O Holy Mother of God, for the conversion of England, restoration of the sick, consolation for the afflicted, repentance of sinners, peace to the departed. O blessed Mary, Mother of God, our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us. Amen. - Walsingham Pilgrims’ Manual.
to the tune St Cross, by J.B. Dykes, 1823-1876
Frederick Faber, Cong. Orat., 1814-1863
Today is the memorial of Our Lady of the Sorrows, also known in the liturgy of Ordinariate as Saint Mary at the Cross.
‘Behold thy mother!... Behold thy son! No evangelist records this saying except St John, the disciple whom JESUS loved. The others tell, indeed, of the company of weeping women, faithful to the last, who watched by the Cross. But the presence of the mother of JESUS was unmarked except by the friend to whose care she was commended in the loving words which escaped the notice of the rest. Little is told about the Blessed Virgin in the Gospels; she is but the highly favoured handmaid of the Lord. But enough is told to assure us, what indeed we would readily believe, even if we were not told, that the tie between mother and Son was a perfect pattern of that most sacred relationship. From the beginning, she kept in her heart all that was said of her wondrous Son, she had a premonition that all generations would call her Blessed. Yet she had heard, in the days of His tender infancy, that because of Him the sword of grief would pierce her heart. And so now it had to come to pass. She saw Him brought to the Cross. But His love took thought for her future even in His last pains. He commended her to His best earthly friend, to the disciple who had drunk most deeply of His spirit. And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home’.
from Verba Crucis: Good Friday Addresses, 1915
by John Henry Bernard, 1860-1927 (Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, 1915-1919)
O Lord, in whose Passion, according to the word of Simeon, the sword of sorrow didst pierce the most sweet soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary: graciously grant that we, who devoutly call to mind her sorrows, may obtain the blessed effects of thy Passion; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Today is the Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary.
‘A person’s name means much more in the liturgy and in the Bible than to us moderns. It is an expression of one’s personality, of one’s whole being or nature. In many cases individuals who in sacred history were assigned special roles received from God a name suited to their mission. We may well admit that the name of the Mother of God did not befall her accidentally but through divine design. For us Christians the name Mary is a sacramental which is ever spoken and honoured with deepest piety. No wonder then that preachers and writers have sought to assign it meanings, to accord it highest praise. The liturgy offers various interpretations, e.g., “friend,” “mistress” (Peter Chrysologus in the third nocturnal), “star of the sea”. The is last title is widely used in the Office (although sound basis for such etymology is lacking). Upon it St Bernard builds an edifying homily to which we listen in the second nocturn. Also in the lovely Vesper hymn of Marian Offices, Ave, Maris Stella, this title used and explained in the third strophe.
Today’s feast is also a family feast in God’s great family. Mary not only is God’s Mother, she is the Mother of us Christians too. Some few days ago we celebrated her birthday, today her name day. And many of us have sisters who keep this day as a special union with their heavenly patroness.
Nor ought we be unmindful that today's feast is a thanksgiving celebration. It is the anniversary of Vienna’s wonderful, almost miraculous, deliverance from the Turks on September 12, 1683. Pope Innocent XI designated this day as one of gratitude for the victory of the Cross over the crescent, due to Mary’s intercession’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that thy faithful people who rejoice in the name and protection of the most holy Virgin Mary, may by her loving intercession be delivered from all evils on earth and be found worthy to come to everlasting joys in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘“Woman, behold thy son.” “Behold thy mother.” Can’t you see it all down the years since, till it drew near to you and me, until at last now she is your mother and mine? At Jerusalem, when they brought in the newly won Christians, and showed them to her, and her to them, and said: “This was His mother”. And then, as they went about His business, I see them telling her before they went out, and coming to her with their story when they returned, and her praying for their work, and loving it, because it was His work. And at Ephesus I do not see that it was different. And now that she is in Heaven when JESUS I cannot believe that it is different. What sort of Heaven would it be to a Mother to know nothing of how her Son’s dearest friends were prospering, and to be cut off from praying for them? So I believe that she is my Mother, and that I am her son, as much as any of the earthly Christians who lived during her earthly life, and I believe that she loves me, because JESUS loves me; and I believe that she prays for me, because she wills that I should become what JESUS would have me be. And in these days when I in London can hear a broadcasting announcer clearing his throat in Madrid, I do not find it difficult to believe that Our Lady hears me in Heaven when I ask her in my sore need to pray for me. I beg you, don’t set the resources of the spiritual kingdom below the present achievements of radio-telephony.
...She is our Mother. He gave her to us. So when we pray with Gabriel, God’s archangel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women,” and with Elizabeth: “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, JESUS,” we add from ourselves as her children: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death”. And in Heaven “A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” will turn to her beloved Son, and an angel will come to help us and them to conquer in the fight’.
from Dom Bernard Clements OSB, 1880-1942
‘Mary is the “Regina Martyrum,” the Queen of Martyrs. Why is she so called? - she who never had any blows, or wound, or other injury to her consecrated person. How can she be exalted over those whose bodies suffered the most ruthless violence and the keenest torments for our Lord’s sake? She is, indeed, Queen of all Saints, of those who “walk with Christ n white, for they are worthy;” but how of those “who were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held?”
To answer this question, it must be recollected that the pains of the soul may be as fierce as those of the body. Bad men who are now in hell, and the elect of God who are in purgatory, are suffering only in their souls, for their bodies are still in the dust; yet how severe is that suffering! And perhaps most people who have lived long can bear witness in their own persons to a sharpness of distress which was like a sword cutting them, to a weight and force of sorrow which seemed to throw them down through bodily pain there was none.
What an overwhelming horror it must have been for the Blessed Mary to witness the Passion and the Crucifixion of her Son! Her anguish was, as Holy Simeon had announced to her, at the time of that Son’s Presentation in the Temple, a sword piercing her soul. If our Lord Himself could not bear the prospect of what was before Him, and was covered in the thought of it with a bloody sweat, His soul thus acting upon His body, does not this show how great mental pain can be? and would it have been wonderful Mary's head and heart had given way as she stood under His Cross?
Thus is she most truly the Queen of Martyrs’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
On this, Our Lady’s Nativity, another poem by the 17th century English Jesuit martyr, Saint Robert Southwell. Happy feast!
Our Lady’s Nativity
Joy in the rising of our orient star,
That shall bring forth that Sun that lent her light;
Joy in the peace that shall conclude our war,
And soon rebate the edge of Satan’s spite;
Lode-star of all engulf’d in worldly waves,
The card and compass that from shipwreck saves.
The patriarchs and prophets were the flowers
Which time by course of ages did distill,
And culled into this little cloud the showers
Whose gracious drops the world with joy shall fill;
Whose moisture suppleth every soul with grace,
And bringeth life to Adam’s dying race.
For God, on earth, she is the royal throne,
The chosen cloth to make his mortal weede;
The quarry to cut out our Corner-stone,
Soil full of fruit, yet free from mortal seed;
For heavenly flower she is the Jesse rod
The child of man, the parent of a God.
St Robert Southwell, c.1561-1595
What mist hath dimmed that glorious face?
What seas of grief my sun doth toss?
The golden rays of heavenly grace
lie now eclipsèd on the cross.
Jesus! my Love, my Son, my God,
behold thy mother washed in tears;
Thy bloody wounds be made a rod
to chasten these my latter years.
Thou messenger that didst impart
his first descent into my womb,
Come help me now to cleave my heart,
that I may there my Son intomb.
Ye angels all, that present were,
to show his birth in harmony;
Why are you not now ready here,
to make a mourning symphony?
But wail, my soul, thy comfort dies,
my woeful womb lament thy fruit;
My heart, give tears unto my eyes,
let sorrow string my heavy lute.
St Robert Southwell, c.1561-1595
‘Here I saw something of the compassion of Our Lady St Mary, for Christ and she were so one in love that the greatness of her love was the cause of the greatness of her pain. In this I saw the substance of natural love, developed by grace, which his creatures have for him.
This love was most supremely and surpassingly shown in his sweet Mother. For as much as she loved him more than all others, her pain surpassed all others. For always the higher, the stronger, the sweeter the love is, the greater is the sorrow of one who sees the body of a beloved suffer. So all his disciples and all his true lovers suffered far more when he suffered than when they themselves did. I am sure, from the way I feel myself, that the very least of them loved him so much more than they loved themselves that I am unable to put it into words’.
Julian of Norwich, c.1342-c.1430
September is the month dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.
‘The Queen of Virgins is the Queen of Martyrs too, but it was within her heart that the sword transpierced her, for with her everything took place within her soul. Oh, how beautiful she is in a majesty both strong and sweet, for she has learned from the Word himself how they should suffer who are chosen as victims by the Father; those whom he has elected as associates in the great work of redemption; “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be made conformable to his Son”, crucified by love. She is there at the foot of the Cross, standing in her strength and courage, and my Master says to me, “Ecce Mater tua”. He gives her for my Mother! And now that he has returned to the Father, he has put me in his place on the Cross, so that I may “fill up those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ for his Body which is the Church”. Mary is there still, to teach me to suffer as he did, to tell me, to make me hear those last outpouring of his soul, which only his Mother could catch’.
St Elizabeth of the Trinity, 1880-1906
Fr Lee Kenyon
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