Of a Lovely Rose is all my Song!
Today's Stational church dates to the 4th century. St Susanna was a Roman virgin-martyr who died in the persecution of Diocletian. Her name was given to the titulus Caii, the church established in the house of her uncle Pope Caius, that was later to become a parish church of Rome. Remains of a 3rd-century house have been found in the crypt of the existing church. Cistercian nuns occupied the adjacent convent from the 16th century (and are still there) and in 1921 Paulist Fathers came to serve the church. The church remains in their care and it is the church for nationals of the U.S.A. in Rome.
Today is Lady Day - the Annunciation - when we mark the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Today the archangel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and declared that God would take flesh in her pure and sinless womb and she gave her whole-hearted 'Yes' to God's plan of salvation, thus co-operating in the salvation of the world. Today our salvation has dawned through Mary's 'Fiat' and the working of the Holy Spirit. Today, Our Lady, filled with grace, became the Mother of Christ and our own Blessed Mother. How fitting then that tomorrow, we should also celebrate Laetare Sunday, for this solemnity is a cause of universal and cosmic rejoicing! Fitting too that tomorrow is Mothering Sunday for this solemnity celebrates the 'Yes' of the Mother of us all!
In an age which fails to respect unborn life, Lady Day is also a day for honouring Christ in the womb of His most holy Mother, for celebrating the Incarnation and remembering that when the Word was made flesh, it was so from the moment of conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit. As this great event marked the dawn of a new era for all of creation - the hallowed time of Christ - so in medieval England, the New Year began on Lady Day! The current financial year which runs from April 6 and thus falls around this time is a vestige of that older tradition.
The Annunciation (depicted on right in a rare pre-Reformation stained glass window from the recusant Hengrave Hall in Suffolk; Hengrave was built by the wealthy Kytson family c.1525 and they are related by marriage to President George Washington!) is probably one of the most popular scenes in sacred art and is celebrated in song, verse and story. Moreover, in England many pubs are named in honour of the Annunciation. Pubs called 'The Angel' and 'The Salutation' are named in honour of Our Lady and this momentous event but after the Reformation, the signs featured only an angel (without the Virgin Mary) or were given secular interpretations! Oddly enough, 'The Flower Pot' was another name given to pubs commemorating the Annunciation because in some medieval paintings of the Annunciation, a flower pot was shown in the background.
Below is a beautiful 14th-century English poem and hymn in honour of Our Lady and has a profound theology of the incarnation, Eucharist and redemption. Mary is the lovely rose from whom Jesse's rod is sprung and there is (perhaps) a pun on the word 'spring' and its' derivatives as Lady Day falls around the Vernal Equinox. This song has been rather prettily set to music by John Rutter The writer of this text has remained anonymous but it is something we can pray with as we contemplate this joyous day of Our Lady's Annunciation and praise God for His marvellous work of our salvation and redemption in Christ:
"Listen, lords, both old and young,
How this rose began to spring;
Such a rose to my liking
In all this world ne know I none.
The angel came from heaven's tower
To greet Mary with great honour,
And said she should bear the flower
That should break the fiend's bond.
The flower sprung in high Bedlem,
That is both bright and sheen:
The rose is Mary, heaven queen,
Out of her bosom the blossom sprung.
The first branch is full of might,
That sprung on Christmas night,
The star shone over Bedlem bright
That is both broad and long.
The second branch sprung to hell,
The fiendish power down to fell,
Therein might none soul dwell;
Blessed be the time the rose sprung!
The third branch is good and swote,
It sprang to heaven, crop and rote,
Therein to dwell and ben our bote,
Every day it shows in priest's hand.
Pray we to her with great honour;
She that bear the blessed flower,
She be our help and our succour
And shields us from the fiend's bond."
The above illustration of the Annunciation is from a late-19th-century Roman Missal.