Our Lady of Guadalupe

I hope everyone has a blessed Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast! Admittedly, this is  not a feast I get into very much, at least compared to other Catholics, and as most of you know apparitions are not a huge part of my faith. Nonetheless, I find this apparition fascinating, and its fruits throughout the Americas have been, and currently are, noticeably positive.

God of power and mercy,

you blessed the Americas at Tepeyac

with the presence of the Virgin Mary at Guadalupe.

May her prayers help all men and women

to accept each other as brothers and sisters.

Through your justice present in our hearts

may your peace reign in the world.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Image taken by me at the Our Lady of Consolation Shrine

Mary, Mother of God, 2010

Happy New Year! It is 2010, and I hope and pray for a great new decade. Today is also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,  and a time to honor the reality that Mary, as theotokos, bore the God-Man, Jesus Christ, in her womb. Today is also the end of the octave of Christmas, and at one time commemorated the Circumcision of Jesus.

I often get questions about why we call Mary the “mother of God?” Some, unaware of the meaning and history of the term, believe it refers somehow to Mary being the mother of the Trinity. No Catholic, Orthodox, or classic Protestant understands the term “Mother of God” in this fashion. The title “Mother of God” means that Mary bore one person in her womb, Jesus Christ, who had two natures, human and divine. The debate over the term in the 4th and 5th centuries was not so much about Mary’s nature, but about the nature of our Lord. Thus, I include below the definition of Chalcedon, from 451 AD.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ…

Happy Annunciation Day!

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which celebrates the conception of our Lord by the Holy Spirit. We also commemorate Mary’s “yes” to God, without which we would not have salvation. Here is today’s Gospel reading:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her  (Luke 1:26-38, NAB).

The U.S. Patronal Feast

The Immaculate Conception by Murillo

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the patronal feast of the United States. Our school teams up with the elementary school to help out with the Mass downtown at 8:30 AM. Since it is a holy day of obligation, there is always a good crowd.  Since the Immaculate Conception was probably the last Catholic Teaching I accepted before becoming Catholic, today is a special feast day for me, in that, among many other things, it symbolizes my submission to Christ and the Church. Below is the traditional collect for the day:

O God
Who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin
didst make her a worthy habitation for Thy Son
and didst by his foreseen death
preserve her from all stain of sin,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that through her intercession
we may be cleansed from sin
and come with pure hearts to Thee.

John of Damascus on the Assumption of Mary

I wish everyone a blessed Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. This feast holds a special place in my heart because I was confirmed Catholic on the eve of the feast in 2004. Along with the Immaculate Conception, I had trouble accepting the Assumption when I began to study Catholicism, which makes it even more amazing that I was confirmed on the eve of the feast.

Some of the finest words about the Assumption were preached by Saint John of Damascus, an Eastern Church Father who died around 755 AD. I want to share some of the excerpts with you below. Keep in mind that like most of the Greek Church Fathers, Saint John believed that Mary passed away before her Assumption into heaven, a belief acceptable under the Catholic infallible definition. This explains his reference to her tomb.

O people of Christ, let us acclaim her to-day in sacred song, acknowledge our own good fortune and proclaim it. Let us honour her in nocturnal vigil; let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for she next to God surpasses all in purity. It is natural for similar things to glory in each other. Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor. For if mercy is the best worship of God, who will refuse to show His Mother devotion in the same way? She opened to us the unspeakable abyss of God’s love for us. Through her the old enmity against the Creator is destroyed. Through her our reconciliation with Him is strengthened, peace and grace are given to us, men are the companions of angels, and we, who were in dishonour, are made the children of God. From her we have plucked the fruit of 1ife. From her we have received the seed of immortality. She is the channel of all our goods. In her God was man and man was God. What more marvellous or more blessed? I approach the subject in fear and trembling. With Mary, the prophetess, O youthful souls, let us sound our musical instruments, mortifying our members on earth, for this is spiritual music. Let our souls rejoice in the Ark of God, and the walls of Jericho will yield, I mean the fortresses of the enemy. Let us dance in spirit with David; to-day the Ark of God is at rest. With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed (Sermon II: On the Assumption).

Come, let us depart with her. Come, let us descend to that tomb with all our heart’s desire. Let us draw round that most sacred bed and sing the sweet words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, predestined Mother of God. Hail, thou chosen one in the design of God from all eternity, most sacred hope of earth, resting-place of divine fire, holiest delight of the Spirit, fountain of living water, paradise of the tree of life, divine vine-branch, bringing forth soul-sustaining nectar and ambrosia. Full river of spiritual graces, fertile land of the divine pastures, rose of purity, with the sweet fragrance of grace, lily of the royal robe, pure Mother of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, token of our redemption, handmaid and Mother, surpassing angelic powers.” Come, let us stand round that pure tomb and draw grace to our hearts. Let us raise the ever-virginal body with spiritual arms, and go with her into the grave to die with her. Let us renounce our passions, and live with her in purity, listening to the divine canticles of angels in the heavenly courts. Let us go in adoring, and learn the wondrous mystery by which she is assumed to heaven, to be with her Son, higher than all the angelic choirs. No one stands between Son and Mother. This, O Mother of God, is my third sermon on thy departure, in lowly reverence to the Holy Trinity to whom thou didst minister, the goodness of the Father, the power of the Spirit, receiving the Uncreated Word, the Almighty Wisdom and Power of God. Accept, then, my good-will, which is greater than my capacity, and give us salvation. Heal our passions, cure our diseases, help us out of our difficulties, make our lives peaceful, send us the illumination of the Spirit. Inflame us with the desire of thy son. Render us pleasing to Him, so that we may enjoy happiness with Him, seeing thee resplendent with thy Son’s glory, rejoicing for ever, keeping feast in the Church with those who worthily celebrate Him who worked our salvation through thee, Christ the Son of God, and our God. To Him be glory and majesty, with the uncreated Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, through the endless ages of eternity. Amen (Sermon III: On the Assumption).

To read the full text of all three homilies, visit the Medieval Sourcebook page that has them all.

Kitchen Madonna

Kitchen MadonnaBack in the day, or so I’m told, every Catholic kitchen had a Kitchen Madonna statue. If it didn’t have a statue, you were sure to find a kitchen prayer posted somewhere with in it’s walls. I often search E-Bay for vintage Catholic items. Of the ones I’ve seen, my favorite piece happens to be this reproduction faux-wooden Madonna. Unfortunately, my kitchen has little counter space as it stands, so instead I have a little kitchen prayer with a Madonna picture on it. I don’t have the means to show you the picture, but it is similar to the pewter statue below. I received this as a gift from a friend years ago, and keep it above the sink. I find doing the dishes the most tedious of household tasks, well next to cleaning the bathtub. (Whose idea was it to make sliding tub doors, anyways?) Having the prayer there helps me to focus on the bigger purpose to being a homemaker. Since I like it so much, I thought I would share it with you:
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The Immaculate Conception

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, celebrating Mary’s conception free of the stain of original sin. The Immaculate Conception is unique to Catholicism. This makes it one of the most difficult Catholic doctrines for Protestants exploring the Catholic faith to accept, and a target for anti-Catholic polemics. Since the Orthodox do not have a theology of Mary’s immaculate conception, this is a point of division with them as well. Of course, the Orthodox do believe Mary was immaculate by the time she gave birth to Jesus (just look at the titles of Mary listed in the Akathist Hymn, and tell me the Orthodox agree with the Protestants on this issue!). I admit that the Immaculate Conception was, with papal infallibility, one of the last Catholic dogmas I accepted before entering the Church.

Mark Shea has written an excellent piece on the Immaculate Conception that I highly recommend (thanks to Dave Hartline for linking to it). He quotes from a variety of Church Fathers who praise Mary as immaculate, and answers common objections to the dogma. However, I think this is the best quote of the whole piece:

The second red herring is that there’s some sort of cutoff date for the development of doctrine. In other words, some people have the vague idea that the Church can legitimately take three centuries to iron out what “Jesus is Lord” means, but it can’t legitimately take eighteen centuries to iron out what “Kaire, Kecharitomene!” (“Hail, Grace-Filled One!”) means.

As a former Anglican, I can attest to the widespread belief in some sort of magical cut-off date for legitimate doctrinal development, which of course includes Nicaea and Chalcedon, but excludes the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and transubstantiation. Granted, the first three were declared dogmas after the Church of England had broken off from the Catholic Church, but nonetheless I think Shea’s point remains. For some, the elusive cutoff date is the fourth ecumenical council (e.g. most Protestants and Calvinist Anglicans), and for others it is the seventh. Others end with the Patristic period (and what constitutes the end of this period is debatable). Others like the Middle Ages, just not too far into the Middle Ages. Still others gladly accept modern Protestant developments (women’s ordination, etc), but balk at Catholic developments after the Patristic era. Of course people and churches are free to believe what they want, but my point (based on Shea’s) is that if you allow contraception, gay marriage, and women’s ordination, but get on the Immaculate Conception because it is too “new,” I think a reexamination is in order. The Immaculate Conception develops from Biblical and Patristic themes and ideas about Mary, whereas the others are innovations having their root not in Catholic or Orthodox thought, but the ideas and practices of heretical sects of the Patristic era and 19th and 20th century Protestantism.

I wish everyone a blessed Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. And if our Eastern Catholic contributors have the time, I would love to hear their take on this, hint, hint.

MARIAN PRAYER OF SAINT GREGORY OF NAREK (A.D. 1010)

MARIAN PRAYER OF SAINT GREGORY OF NAREK (A.D. 1010)

Assist me by the wings of your prayers,
O you who are called the Mother of the living,
so that on my exit from this valley of tears
I may be able to advance without torment
to the dwelling of life
that has been prepared for us
to lighten the end of a life burdened by my iniquity.

Healer of the sorrows of Eve,
change my day of anguish into a feast of gladness.
Be my Advocate,
ask and supplicate.
For as I believe in your inexpressible purity,
so do I also believe in
the good reception that is given to your word.

O you who are blessed among women,
help me with your tears
for I am in danger.
Bend the knee to obtain my reconciliation,
O Mother of God.

Be solicitous for me for I am miserable,
O Tabernacle of the Most High.
Hold out your hand to me as I fall,
O heavenly Temple.
Glorify your Son in you:
may he be pleased to operate Divinely in me
the miracle of forgiveness and mercy.
Handmaid and Mother of God,
may your honour be exalted by me,
and may my salvation be manifested through you.
Amen.