Monday, 8 September 2014

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

Catholics can sometimes come to believe that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is something optional; they think it is up to them to decide whether to include her in their spiritual life or not. This, regrettably, can be the result of a kind of false ecumenism which sees Mary as an obstacle to unity with our protestant brothers and sisters and so they surround her with a cocoon of silence. This silence becomes neglect and the neglect becomes indifference.

But devotion to Mary does not start with us, our preferences, our choices; it starts with God who very definitely chose her. Though she is not the centre of the Faith she is very close to the centre. She is an integral part of a mature, fully developed Christian spirituality and therefore deserves to be recognised as God's beautiful choice in his plan for our salvation.

And so today we celebrate the birth of Mary, reminding ourselves again of the antiphon for the Catena Legionis: Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?

Who is she that comes forth ...? Who is this Jewish infant girl born more than two millennia ago in Israel? To answer this question we cannot rely on our senses which would deceive us. We must turn to all that is revealed by God in the Scripture and Tradition of the Church.

My own reflection turns immediately to the mysterious words of Genesis 3:15 as given in the Douay-Rheims translation: I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

This tiny infant in her mother's arms is she who would crush the head of the serpent as foretold in the third chapter of the first book of the Bible. We see this drama recorded by artists in so many of the statues of the Blessed Virgin standing in our churches.

The translation given in the Jerusalem Bible which we use for our liturgies is different. It goes like this: I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel.

In this translation it is the offspring of Mary, Jesus, who will crush the head of the serpent. I like this translation because it makes clear that Jesus alone is the Saviour, the Redeemer, however, I would not be at all surprised if he had not reserved the coup de grĂ¢ce to the heel of his mother as a final humiliation to the pride of the ancient serpent.

What the first Eve lost was restored in Mary. If Eve can be said to be the mother of the lost, this infant would be the Mother of the redeemed. Mary is properly called by the Church, the New Eve, the new Mother of the living.

And let us not overlook, as we gaze at this newborn child, that she is already without that sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world. Through an astonishing privilege from God, this child was born, in fact, conceived without stain of sin. She is Immaculate - Unstained.

As William Wordsworth says in his sonnet to the: The Virgin

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost 
With the least shade of thought to sin allied; 

Woman! above all women glorified, 
Our tainted nature's solitary boast...

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