The Feast of the Visitation 2016

Today’s feast of the Visitation, the only Marian feast to occur in May, ‘Mary’s month’, is one we can all enjoy. It is taken directly from scripture, so no quarrels about its origin; it celebrates life rather than death, so no forced attempts to wrest joy from heartbreak; and its chief protagonists are not important people, living gilded lives, but ordinary folk, rather like ourselves, who understand the importance of family and friends and do their best to live lives of uncomplicated goodness. So far so good. But for those of us who live what is called a liturgical spirituality, there is a hidden danger. We can become so distracted by our worship that we forget the message of the feast.

It is not enough to surround our statues with flowers and candles; to sing our light Magnificats into the darkness of a fallen world; to process, heap praises upon the Mother of God, allow a sentimental sigh or two to escape our lips. We are not merely to marvel but to do. Even those of us who are cloistered must act. We are to help, give comfort, welcome — and we are, quite literally, to go out of our way to do so, if necessary. When we celebrate the feast of the Visitation today, we are not simply recalling a more-or-less-historical event, we are affirming our willingness to serve. For most of us there will be no weary trek over the Judean hills, no need to struggle with all the discomforts of early pregnancy, but there will be asked of each of us something that will not be easy, something that will cost. May Our Lady and St Elizabeth help us with their prayers.

Note:
I have often blogged about this feast. Here are  links to two earlier posts:

The Feast of the Visitation 2011

The Kindness of Kin and the Friendship of Women

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The Assumption of the B.V.M. 2014

The destruction of statues and icons of Our Lady in Mosul and Qaraqosh is a  reminder that, next to the Cross of her Son, images of Mary are powerful signs pointing beyond this world to the next, to the realisation of Christian hope and the perfection of heaven. She is already what we hope to be, so we call upon her prayers with joyful confidence. The words of the prayer we make are both a theological statement, expressing what we believe about Mary, and a mark of our love and trust in her concern for the Church. Let us pray them today with great simplicity and devotion, mindful of the Christians of Iraq and wherever there is persecution or need: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Note
For a short reflection on what Mary means to Catholics see here; for a summary of the Church’s teaching on the Assumption and other Marian doctrines, a quick search of this blog should reveal several entries.

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The Feast of the Visitation 2014

This tender image from the eleventh century is eloquent of the love between Mary and Elizabeth and the care of each for the other. That long trek through the Judaean hills must have cost Mary something in both time and effort. How Elizabeth responded to that generosity! It is worth asking how we spend our time, our efforts. Do we waste them on anger or criticism of others, for example, or do we lavish them on those we love? ‘Those we love’ can be a difficult category. Sometimes, perhaps, we define our terms too narrowly, wanting to feel love where we cannot. It is surely enough that any human being has a call on our love simply by virtue of being human; and if we cannot find it in ourselves to love them, we can allow God to love them through us.

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The Merry Month of May

014 MS 65 F5 VLimbourg brothers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The merry month of May is here again, and despite the fact that a change in calendar, from Julian to Gregorian, means that May Day is now later in the season than it was when the Duc de Berry went in procession to fetch in the May garlands, who does not feel an uplifting of spirit as everywhere bursts out in blossom and birdsong? May is known as Mary’s month, and there is a sweetness and tenderness about the month that Hopkins delighted in. But there are more poets to sing of Mary than Hopkins, so here, as a little May Day treat, is an eBook I did some years ago of twelve poems and a prayer in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
 

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O Clavis David or Missus Est?

Today puts me in a quandary. Do I write about the day’s O antiphon or follow monastic tradition by commenting on the day’s gospel in what is known as a Missus Est because it focuses on the words, ‘An angel was sent from God’? Or can we have something of both?

Today’s O antiphon is

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, who open and no one shuts, who shuts, and no one opens, come and free from prison him who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

It is impossible to sing that antiphon without thinking of St Bernard’s words in a Missus Est written nearly nine hundred years ago. He addresses Our Lady, daughter of David’s royal line, urging her to give the waiting angel her consent to what God asks of her, to give the word which will give us the Word made flesh. He pictures all creation on its knees before her, including Adam and those imprisoned in darkness and the shadow of death.

I think we can identify with all those on the fringes with Adam, as it were, whose faith is sometimes wobbly, whose lives are sometimes messy but who are sure (most of the time) of this: our need for a Saviour. We are reminded today of both our fragility and our glory as human beings. Mary gave her consent to be the Mother of God in a moment of unequalled faith. Had she not done so, we would be in darkness still.  Jesus is the one and only Key, but his Mother provides the lock and wards that allow the Key to work.

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The Annunciation 2012

When I wrote about this feast last year (see here), I mentioned that it reminds us youth can do great things for God. More than that, I think this lovely feast tells us that our dreams and ambitions are all too little for God. He called Mary to be theotokos, God-bearer, in the fullest sense. Just think for a moment what that must have meant to her, a young Jewish girl with the ordinary expectations of her place and time. What an upset of all her plans and expectations!

God calls each one of us to be something special. Often we are so conscious of our ordinariness, and rightly so (heaven spare us the person who thinks (s)he’s special!), that we overlook or undervalue the unique grace he has given us. For those of us who live in monasteries, our only talent may be that of living the monastic life, but it is for us the essential talent, the one that endows us with grace to respond to our vocation, to be what God desires us to be. As we give thanks for Mary’s acceptance of what God asked of her, let us pray for ourselves, that we may be equally generous and fearless in accepting what is asked of us.

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