Nativity of Mary: the ‘origin of every feast’

As with all celebrations of the Blessed Virgin, today’s Nativity of Mary ultimately refers to Christ.

The birthday of Our Lady heralds the coming of Our Redeemer. We rejoice at Mary’s arrival in the world because she is the Lord’s chosen who will be the Mother of Christ.

With her birth, salvation history takes a momentous step forward: the birth of her Son draws ever closer. The one from whom the Eternal Word will take His flesh, is now here. God is working out His plan of redemption!

From Dom Gueranger’s Liturgical Year:

Andrew of Crete calls this day a solemnity of entrance, a feast of beginning, whose end is the union of the Word with our flesh; a virginal feast, full of joy and confidence for all.

‘All ye nations, come hither,’ cries St. John Damascene, ‘come every race and every tongue, every age and every dignity, let us joyfully celebrate the birthday of the world’s gladness.’

‘It is the beginning of salvation, the origin of every feast,’ says St. Peter Damian, ‘for behold! The Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice today; and the Church, beside herself, bids her choirs sing wedding songs.’

— Vol. XIV, pp. 148-49.

The Awesome Truth about Christmas

The Nativity Scene at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Ky.

The Nativity Scene at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Ky.

Are we so accustomed to Christmas that we overlook the shocking truth of what we’re actually celebrating?

Christmas, “Christ’s Mass,” marks the birth of Our Lord. What a startling fact: God has become man to redeem us! God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, holds His arms out to us as a newborn baby!

Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461) describes the mind-boggling awesomeness:

He comes down from the throne of heaven…Invisible in His own nature, He became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, He chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, He began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, He hid His infinite glory, and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, He did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, He chose to be subject to the laws of death.

Leo’s words are recalled especially for our March 25 celebration of the Annunciation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary accepted her role in salvation history, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived Jesus — the precise instant of the Incarnation, the enfleshment, of the Lord.

God went to such extraordinary lengths to seek us out, cultivate a relationship with us, and save us so that we may enjoy eternal life with Him.

That in turn calls for a response from us, to welcome the Lord into every aspect of our lives. Can’t we respond with greater love and fidelity to the One Who has loved us infinitely?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Gospel – Luke 1:26-38

The Annunciation marks the turning point in all of history: when the Eternal Son of God descends to take on our human nature, our flesh, becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In recognition of this sublime mystery, we bow during these lines when we profess the Creed.

At this moment, God and Mary are entrusting themselves to each other, as St. John Paul II observed in Redemptoris Mater:

For it must be recognized that before anyone else it was God Himself, the Eternal Father, Who entrusted Himself to the Virgin of Nazareth, giving her His own Son in the mystery of the Incarnation (39).

And Mary surrenders herself totally to the Lord, freely consenting to become the mother of the Savior:

The mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished when Mary uttered her fiat: ‘Let it be to me according to your word,’ which made possible, as far as it depended upon her in the divine plan, the granting of Her Son’s desire.

Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve…And as the Fathers of the Church teach – she conceived this Son in her mind before she conceived Him in her womb: precisely in faith! (13).

Thus in a sense Mary as Mother became the first ‘disciple’ of her Son (20).

While Mary’s faith is an example to us, she continues to exercise a much more active role on our behalf. Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother too:

Along the path of this collaboration with the work of her Son, the Redeemer, Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation, becoming ever more imbued with ‘burning charity’ towards all those to whom Christ’s mission was directed.

…In response to this interior willingness of His Mother, Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ (39).

Thus, in her new motherhood in the Spirit, Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church (47).

Question for reflection: How does the Blessed Virgin Mary help me to be a better disciple?

Engaging the Gospel: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24 — Joseph obeys the angel and takes Mary into his home

St. Joseph serves as a model of profound faith and generosity of spirit, as Blessed John Paul II has reflected upon in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer).

Calling the angel’s revelation to Joseph “the ‘annunciation’ by night” (19), the Holy Father links Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan with Mary’s obedience as the handmaid of the Lord.

“Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife’s indescribable vocation; he also heard…the truth about his own vocation” (19) – that is, “to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood” (8). By taking Mary into his home, “he showed a readiness of will like Mary’s with regard to what God asked of him through the angel” (3).

Thus “Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home” (26).

Pope Paul VI contrasted the sanctity of Joseph and Mary with the disobedience of Adam and Eve:

“We see that at the beginning of the New Testament, as at the beginning of the Old, there is a married couple. But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family — that sanctuary of love and cradle of life” (quoted in Redemptoris Custos 7).

Question for reflection: When has God led my life into an entirely unexpected direction?

Death and Particular Judgment

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1005-22, 1680-90:

  • Death – the separation of the soul from the body – was not part of God’s original plan, but only entered the world as a consequence of sin.
  • Yet God, not death, has the final word; by willingly suffering and dying for us, Christ has transformed death into a blessing, for through it we come to God.
  • Even before we physically die, Christians have already died sacramentally with Christ through our baptism; we mystically participated in His death and burial, and arose to new life in God’s grace.
  • Like Jesus, we too should embrace our own mortality in obedience and love for the Father.
  • In this way our physical death completes our incorporation into Christ, if we die in this state of grace, in right relationship with God.
  • At the moment of death, the soul immediately goes before God for the “particular judgment,” and learns its eternal destiny – either heaven (possibly after undergoing further purification in Purgatory), or hell.
  • We determine our own eternal destiny by the choices we make in our earthly life.
  • Each of us has just one life on earth; there is no reincarnation, for we are totally unique, unrepeatable creations.
  • We have only a certain amount of time to respond to grace and to grow in love for God and neighbor; our eternal life depends upon how we use this gift of time on earth.
  • Because death will come for us all, we should remind ourselves of our mortality and prepare for that inevitable hour; we do this in every “Hail Mary,” asking the Blessed Mother to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Live Your Faith

We diligently strive to achieve our earthly goals, but how much effort do we put into the ultimate goal of all, the only one that really counts – our eternal destiny?

Getting to heaven is more important than any success we could possibly have in this life, but we are often tempted to put our spiritual life on the backburner.

Are we prepared to be judged by God instantly? If not, what do I need to do right now to change my life?

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 484-511, 963-75:

  • The Blessed Virgin Mary was specially chosen by God to be the mother of Christ; conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus took His human nature entirely from her.
  • To prepare Mary for her extraordinary role in salvation history, God filled her with extraordinary gifts and graces.
  • All of our teachings about Mary are intensely Christ-focused: everything we believe about the Blessed Mother flows from, and integrally connects with, what we believe about Christ.
  • Because Jesus is true God and true man in one Person, we honor Mary as the Mother of God – our Western rendering of the Greek Theotokos, or “God-bearer,” her title ratified by the Council of Ephesus in response to heresy in 431.
  • By a signal grace of God, Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin when she was conceived by her parents; for this reason, we hail her as the Immaculate Conception, who remained sinless for her entire life.
  • Yet Mary was still in fact redeemed by her Son; Christ’s grace was given to her in advance, unlike the rest of us, who receive redemption after we are stained by sin.
  • Because Mary was in a wholly unique way set apart for God, we hold the truth of her Perpetual Virginity; she fulfills the Old Testament imagery of the Ark of the Covenant, consecrated to God alone.
  • Being perfectly free from sin, Mary was able to give herself freely and unreservedly to accomplish God’s saving plan; even beyond consenting to become Jesus’ mother, she has continually devoted herself to His mission.
  • Because of her perfect union with Christ, Mary was taken up into heaven, body and soul, at the conclusion of her earthly life; we celebrate her Assumption as the prefiguration of our own resurrection at the end of time.
  • Mary is our mother too, as we all belong to the Body of Christ, and she actively intercedes for us before the throne of God.

Live Your Faith

Devotion to the Blessed Mother has an ancient pedigree in the Church.

The apostolic faith has never seen a rivalry between God and Mary, as if venerating her were somehow taking something away from God. It’s actually the opposite: we give greater glory to God by praising what He has accomplished in Mary.

Moreover, Jesus Himself gave us His mother from the Cross. Would it not grieve Him if we neglected her, and thereby failed to attain all of the graces He wants to give us through her?