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The following article is an excerpt from the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. The book is now available from Queenship Publications. To obtain a copy, visit queenship.org. Visit books.google.comand search on “Mariology: A Guide” to view the book in its entirety, or simply click here.
Asst. Ed
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Feasts & Seasons

Marian Feasts: Eastern Roots

The liturgical cult of Mary began in Jerusalem, where August 15 marked the particular feast day of the Theotókos. According to a legend in circulation as early as the mid-second century, the Blessed Virgin en route to Bethlehem, where she would be delivered of the infant Christ, had paused for a rest. In the early fifth century, a woman named Ikelia built an oratory to identify this resting place. This chapel saw the first liturgical celebration of the Mother of God. The name of the feast, Kathisma, means the sitting- or resting-place. Around 450, the venue of the celebration shifted to Jerusalem, specifically Gethsemane, a spot then supposed to be Mary’s final resting place on earth. Here, in a basilica which enshrined her reputed tomb, the feast became known as the Anapausis (“falling asleep”) or Dormition of the Mother of God. At the end of the sixth century, Emperor Maurice (reigned 582-602) extended this feast throughout the empire (69). By the seventh century, it had reached Rome, where it was known first as the Dormition or Pausatio. In the eighth century, the Sacramentary of Pope Hadrian referred to it as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Adsumptio sanctae Mariae) (70). The earliest Jerusalem feast of Our Lady, then, comprised elements of Mary’s motherhood and her dormition, with a resting-place as the common denominator.

At the beginning of the sixth century, a church north of the ruined Temple of Jerusalem became associated with Mary’s nativity. This is likely the source of the feast of her birth observed on September 8.

A third church dedicated to Mary arose in the middle of the sixth century. Built on what had once been the Temple square, the Nea or New St. Mary’s afforded the faithful the opportunity to commemorate the presentation of the child Mary in the Temple mentioned in the fourth chapter of the Protoevangelium of James. The anniversary of its dedication on November 21, 543, gave rise to the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin in the Temple.

The Marian feasts established in Jerusalem spread throughout the East. In connection with Christmas, a separate commemoration of Mary’s divine motherhood served to pay due reverence to the Mother shortly after the birth of the Son. In East Syria, such a feast, called the Congratulation of the Mother of God, fell on the day after Christmas (December 26). Again in direct, even literal, reference to the birth of Christ, two further feasts emerged. The Annunciation, on March 25 (nine months before Christmas), commemorated the message of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary and Our Lady’s consent to become the Mother of the Word incarnate. On February 2, forty days after the Lord’s nativity, the liturgy marked his presentation in the Temple. The feast originally was called Hypapante or the “Meeting” between Christ and Simeon (71).

Mary and the Roman Calendar

a. Natale s. Mariae: January 1

The first Marian feast of the Roman liturgy, observed on January 1, first came in the seventh century (72). Originally called Natale S. Mariae (73), it served as the Roman counterpart of the Eastern feasts extending congratulations to the Blessed Virgin on the occasion of Christ’s birth. Owing, however, to the feast’s occurrence on the octave day of Christmas, the Marian character of that day eventually gave way to a focus rather on the circumcision of the Lord. As the feasts of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Hypapante(February 2) gradually made their way onto the Roman calendar by the seventh century, they retained a distinctly and indeed increasingly Marian character, even in nomenclature, until the liturgical reform of Paul VI in 1970 (74). Exclusively Marian feasts, like the Nativity of Mary (September 8) and the Assumption (August 15), grew in prominence and overshadowed the original Roman feast of Mary on January 1. By the mid-seventh century, however, a pre-Christmas commemoration found its way onto the Roman calendar, as it had done likewise on other Western calendars, thereby compensating for the diminution of the Marian character of January 1 (75). Moreover, two readings on the Ember days following the third Sunday of Advent refer to Mary’s participation in the events leading to the Lord’s birth. The Lucan account of the Annunciation was read on that Wednesday, and the account of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth occurred on that Friday (76).

b. Mary and Christmas

Mary’s role in the celebration of Christmas in Rome was given sharper focus upon the erection near or in St. Mary Major of an oratory dedicated specifically to the Nativity of the Lord sometime between the pontificate of St. Leo I (440-461) and that of St. Gregory I (590-604). Of the three Masses celebrated by the pope at Christmas, this oratory became the venue for the first, that at midnight. By the twelfth century, the daytime Mass, too, had been transferred to St. Mary Major, again underscoring in topographical terms Our Lady’s part in the birth of Christ.

The earliest extant Roman euchological texts of Christmas present Mary in close association with the Savior’s birth (77). Collects found in both the “Old” Gelasian (78) and Gregorian (79) sacramentaries attest to Mary’s presence in the liturgy of Christmas:

 

Deus, qui per beatae Mariae sacrae uirginis partum, sine humana concupiscentia procreatum, in filii tui membra uenientis paternis fecisti praeiudiciis non teneri: praesta, quaesumus, ut huius creaturae nouitate suscepta uetustatis antiquae contagiis exuamur: per eundem Dominum (80).

O God, who through the offspring of the holy Virgin St. Mary, begotten without human concupiscence, didst cause the members of thy coming Son not to be bound by the condemnation of their fathers, grant, we implore, that we who have been taken up by the newness of this creation, may put off the harmful influences of our former state. Through the same Lord.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui hunc diem per incarnationem uerbi tui et partum beatae Mariae uirginis consecrasti, da populis tuis in hac caelebritate consortium, ut qui tua gratia sunt redempti, tua sint adoptione securi. Per (81).

Almighty, everlasting God, who didst consecrate this day through the Incarnation of thy Word and the childbirth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant to thy peoples a share in this festival, that those redeemed by thy grace may be saved by thine adoption. Through.

 

The Season of Christmas

The season of Christmas encompasses the birth of Christ, the solemnity of the Holy Family on the Sunday within the octave of Christmas, the solemnity of Mary Mother of God on January 1, and the Epiphany. It is worth mentioning that Mary figures in two stages or moments of Christ’s epiphany: the manifestation of his divinity to the Gentiles, and the revelation of his divine sonship to the disciples at Cana. Matthew records that the Magi, at the end of their journey from the East, entered the house and “saw the child with Mary his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him” (108). Early frescoes in the catacombs of St. Priscilla on the via Salaria depict Mary seated and in the act of presenting the Christ child to three figures dressed in Persian caps and offering gifts to the infant.

Mary does not appear in any of the scriptural accounts of Christ’s manifestation to the House of Israel on the banks of the Jordan. Instead, John the Baptist exercises his role as the precursor and baptizer of the Lord. Mary prepared a home for Christ; John prepared the people of Israel for him. Now, on the threshold of Christ’s public ministry, the Father and the Holy Spirit in a theophany present Jesus to Israel as the beloved Son sent to redeem the people from their sins.

Mary reappears at Cana, where Christ gives the first of his signs at her prompting. He thereby brings to a close the cycle of the three epiphanies: first to the Gentiles, then to the Israelites, and finally to the disciples. The appropriate response to the epiphany of divine glory is faith: “the disciples believed in him” (109). Christ then carries out his public ministry, and brings his messianic mission to its culmination in the Paschal Mystery.

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The following article is an excerpt from the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. The book is now available from Queenship Publications. To obtain a copy, visit queenship.org. Visit books.google.com and search on “Mariology: A Guide” to view the book in its entirety, or simply click here.
Asst. Ed
.

The Advent season draws attention to the comings of Christ. The liturgy recalls his first coming in the humility of the Incarnation, so that the Church might prepare worthily and well for his second coming in glory as Judge of the living and the dead. Hence the Church looks to Mary, who welcomed him in blessed hope. The character of the first part of Advent is distinctly eschatological. The liturgy, in its prayers, readings, and antiphons, anticipates Christ’s coming as Judge at the Last Day. Both the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and, in the Americas, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, remind us of Mary’s unique role in the history of salvation and the life of the Church. Like the dawn before the sunrise, Mary prepares the world and the Church for the coming of Christ. Moreover, during the immediate preparation for the Nativity of the Lord, from December 17-24, Mary emerges in even more distinct relief through the scriptural lessons and especially in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. Here, as in the Roman Canon, Mary appears in tandem with that other great figure of Advent, John the Baptist and Precursor of the Lord:

 

The Virgin Mother bore him in her womb with love beyond all telling.
John the Baptist was his herald
and made him known when at last he came (100).

 

A few notes are in order regarding the structure of Advent and its dynamics over the history of its development in the Roman Rite. Although Rome adopted a six-week Advent in the second half of the sixth century, St. Gregory I reduced it to four weeks. On the Roman calendar until 1970, the Ember days, falling after the third Sunday of Advent, recalled the Blessed Virgin in a particularly striking way. On Ember Wednesday of Advent, the text of the first reading featured the prophecy of Isaiah 7:10-15 Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel (“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (101). Then followed the Lucan account of the annunciation of Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin: Missus est angelus (Lk 1:26-38) (102). On Ember Friday in Advent, the first reading was drawn from Isaiah 11:1-5, Egredietur flos de radice Iesse (A flower shall come forth from the root of Jesse) (103). The Marian significance of this passage is obvious to all admirers of the Jesse tree, depicted in the Middle Ages often through the medium of stained-glass windows or elaborate illustrations in manuscript prayer books and bibles. The Gospel pericope of the day recounted the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-47) (104).

The Ember days called the faithful to fast and pray in anticipation of the ordinations that would take place on that Saturday. The accounts of Mary’s faithful reception of the Word incarnate (Annunciation), and her generosity in bringing that Word to others (Visitation), would have exhorted the ordinands to embrace with worthy joy their respective vocations.

The season of Advent shares the quiet and prayerful expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through the “O Antiphons,” recited during Vespers in conjunction with the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat), and used as well at Mass for the Gospel acclamation of the day, the liturgy invokes Christ by various messianic and divine titles (Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, King of Nations, Emmanuel). A custom originating in the early Middle Ages and transmitted through religious orders and congregations assigned an additional O Antiphon, O Virgo virginum (“O Virgin of virgins) to salute Mary (105). This title, too, implies the eschatological coming of Christ who makes fruitful the barren and who crowns with everlasting splendor the pure of heart.

The Alma Redemptoris mater serves as the Marian anthem customarily chanted after Compline (or solemn Vespers) from the First Sunday of Advent until the end of the Christmas season (February 2, Candlemas Day):

 

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli
porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti,
surgere qui curat, populo; tu, quae genuisti,
natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem,
Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore
sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere
(106).

 

The anthem invokes Our Lady not only as Mother of the Redeemer, but also as pervia caeli porta (Open Gate of Heaven) and stella maris (Star of the Sea). Going “to Jesus through Mary,” the Church merely follows the example of Christ himself, who chose to come to us through his Mother Mary (107). The title Star of the Sea plays on the meaning of the Hebrew name Miriam as interpreted by Western theologians. As the star of the sea, Mary guides the faithful over the waves and through the storms of this life to the final port of heaven. The virginal birth of Christ as the fruit of Mary’s obedience causes wonderment in nature itself, for the creature will give birth to the creative Word through whom all things came into being. Mary is both Virgin and Mother. Indeed the anthem stresses the perpetual virginity of Mary, virgo prius ac posterius (“virgin beforehand and afterwards), echoing St. Jerome’s defense of this immemorial doctrine.

Finally, the anthem denotes the power of Mary’s intercession and assistance inasmuch as it petitions Mary to have pity on sinners. In the litanies approved for use in both the sacred liturgy and personal devotions, the invocation Miserere nobis is reserved for the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The anthem reflects the great confidence which the Church places in Mary’s mediation for a people fallen yet striving to rise from their sinful condition.

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The following article is an excerpt from the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. The book is now available from Queenship Publications. To obtain a copy, visit queenship.org. Visit books.google.com and search on “Mariology: A Guide” to view the book in its entirety, or simply click here.
Asst. Ed
.

Introduction: First Principles and Goals

Mary’s dignity as the Theotókos (“God-bearer” or “Mother of God” ) is the source of all her other privileges and titles. It is precisely her exalted role in the mystery of the Incarnation which accounts likewise for Mary’s unique, ongoing role in the history of salvation. Having cooperated with God’s grace from the very beginning of her life, and sharing intimately in Christ’s suffering and redemptive death, Mary now enjoys in heaven the fullness of all that the children of the Church can hope to enjoy in eternity. Indeed, in view of Mary’s relationship to the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity (1), she possesses a state of glory far exceeding the rest of the human race. Any Catholic treatment of Mary in reference to the liturgy of the Church must necessarily take into account Mary’s unique, complementary mediation in relation to her Son, Jesus Christ. Far from posing an obstacle to ecumenical dialogue, a clear articulation of Mary’s status in the Church and her role in the lives of individual Christians is indispensable for that movement towards unity in truth which Christ himself made the central petition of his priestly prayer (2).

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