Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Friday, August 05, 2005

Calling to Mind the Joys of Mary

The following was delivered by me in St Stephen's, Skipton 2 years ago and I replicate it in part below:

"Today the Church marks the Dedication of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream to Pope Liberius and the Roman patrician John telling them where they should erect a church in her honour. The next day, the 5th of August in 358, they awoke to find that the top of the Esquiline Hill in Rome was covered with snow. This was the spot indicated in the dream and so Pope Liberius drew in the snow the plans of the first basilica, as he was instructed by the Virgin Mary. The present basilica was built by Pope Sixtus III after the Council of Ephesus in 431. This became one of the four major basilicas in Rome and the first church in the West dedicated to Our Lady, hence it is called St Mary Major. To this day, the miracle of Our Lady of the Snows is commemorated in that basilica on this day when white petals rain down from the roof during Mass and Vespers.

In 431, the bishops of East and West gathered at Ephesus where Mary lived with St John until her Assumption and where one can still visit her house. At this time, a heresy called Nestorianism plagued the Church. Nestorius (purportedly) believed in a rather schizophrenic Jesus Christ. He thought that Jesus was made up of two distinct Persons, one divine and the other human. As such, he rejected the mystery of Jesus as the God who suffered and died for us. He also asserted that Mary was only mother of the human side of Christ which was somehow conjoined to God. This erroneous logic is still applied by some Protestants. However, the Fathers of the Church taught that Nestorius overemphasised the humanity of Jesus Christ and taught that Jesus is a single Person who is at once both human and divine. Thus to stress the divinity of Christ, the Council of Ephesus in 431 gave Mary the title Theotokos which is Greek for ‘God bearer’. In other words, Mary had borne in her womb Jesus who is both God and human; not just the human part of Jesus. Jesus was and is fully “God-with-us”. To mark this great event and declaration, Pope Sixtus III built the present basilica on the Esquiline Hill in honour of Mary, the Mother of God. Thus today in remembering the dedication of that church, we are in fact calling to mind the doctrines of the faith which that church and indeed Our Lady embodies.

For Mary is truly the humble handmaid of the Lord. She is the highest honour of our race because she alone of all God’s creatures has so faithfully heard God’s word and kept it. In fact she bore God’s divine Word, Jesus Christ in her womb and nurtured him. Mary’s whole life and being points to her divine Son, Jesus Christ. As we have heard the title Theotokos was given to Mary in order to highlight the truth of Christ’s divinity. In a similar way, every honour paid to Our Lady in fact honours Christ. Next week, we shall be marking the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption. Some people dissent from this doctrine and yet in doing so, they reject one of the truths of being Christian. For the Assumption is not primarily a Marian honour. It is a Christ-centred honour. The Assumption affirms the divinity and sanctity of Jesus who took flesh from the Virgin Mary’s womb. Consequently he would not allow her to suffer corruption but took her to himself when her earthly life was ended. In addition as Pope John Paul II teaches, in the Assumption, Mary “enjoys beforehand, by a unique privilege, the destiny reserved for all the just at the resurrection of the dead.” So to reject the Assumption would be to misunderstand and reject our own destiny as baptised Christians.

Likewise, those who reject the doctrine of Our Lady’s perpetual virginity inadvertently reject Christ’s unique position as Redeemer. Because, as St Thomas Aquinas says, Christ is the new Adam and in him the new act of redemption outshines the glory of creation; he is making all of creation new. Thus he is born of a virgin; a pure miraculous work of God. As such, Mary becomes forever the temple of the Word, entirely consecrated as a virgin to God forever and not just before the birth of Christ. This is to highlight the very unique role and nature of Jesus Christ the God-Man. If Mary’s perpetual virginity is scorned then we make Jesus just a first-born child and really, not all that unique. Therefore, Mary’s virginal consecration as well as her Immaculate Conception points to the wonder of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as a new creation which makes possible our own re-birth as Christians by water and the Holy Spirit.

In co-operating with this act of grace, Mary is a new Eve and shares in the act of Redemption. Thus, the title of Co-Redemptrix is used by some people and alluded to in Lumen Gentium of Vatican II to point to the fact that Mary has co-operated with God’s work of Redemption. It also highlights how all of us humans have been given free will and the choice to co-operate or not to co-operate with God’s redeeming love for us.

Clearly, all the Church teaches about Mary has one object: to glorify her Son, Jesus which is what she herself wants. As she says at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you”. Mary is also our Mother and model. Where she has gone, we are destined to follow. As such, the Marian doctrines also serve to remind us of fundamental Christian truths which apply to every Christian."
May Our Lady of the Snows, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God pray for us, that we may share in the promises of her Son!


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