Mary 23 – Queen of Heaven

Posted: February 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mary, Queen of Heaven

I thought it would be fitting to close my series on Mary with a reflection on her title as Queen of Heaven. I know from experience that many of my fellow Protestant Christians find that appellation disturbing, though I’m not sure if it’s for theological reasons or because of our American discomfort with monarchical titles. In order to understand this title for Mary, we have to first look at Christ and specifically his Ascension.

To be honest, it’s not clear to me what the typical modern Evangelical thinks or believes about the Ascension of Christ. Sometimes I almost get the sense that they have a vision of Jesus as some cosmic spacemen flying off into outer space. But that’s certainly not what the Scriptures of Christian tradition are describing. When someone was crowned king or emperor, they ascended to their throne, which means they entered into their power. That’s what we see happening with Christ, but he was not ascending to a typical throne. Rather, he was ascending to the throne of God, to the seat of power in the Kingdom of the Heavens (which is to say God’s Kingdom).

And that’s where the “clouds” enter into the picture. Smoke or clouds were associated with the visible presence of God in Hebrew imagery. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt in the desert, he did so as a pillar of clouds. When the shekinah glory of God entered and rested upon the first temple, it did so as smoke. When Isaiah enters the presence of God in visions, he is surrounded by clouds and smoke. And so when Jesus ascends into the clouds, it’s a way of saying he is entering his power and taking the throne of heaven. Heaven, of course, is overlapping and interlocking with the material creation, but it is presently veiled from us, so as Jesus enters his power, he vanishes from their sight. But he didn’t leave and go someplace else. As we read in Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” And sometimes that veil is pulled back. Stephen, the protomartyr saw the throne of God at the time of his death. Paul experienced the reality of the third heaven.

So Jesus the Christ, Son of God, is in Christian terms, the reigning King of heaven and earth. In Hebrew culture, going back at least to the time of the Davidic kings, who is the queen? It’s the king’s mother, also called the queen mother. In fact, that’s true in many cultures. In England, the mother of the monarch is even affectionately called the Queen Mum.

So Mary is rightly called the Queen of Heaven because her son is the reigning King of Heaven. Of all her titles, this should be one on which every Christian can agree. If we deny her the title of queen mother, we deny her son as king.

Now, as the Queen of Heaven, what does Mary do? She does what she has always done, which we see exemplified in the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. She points to her son and commands us all, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”

Are not those the words we all need to hear?


Mary 22 – Dormition of the Theotokos

Posted: February 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 22 – Dormition of the Theotokos

Dormition of the Theotokos

This feast, celebrated on August 15 following a fourteen day fast, is the last Great Feast of the Orthodox liturgical year. I find it interesting and fitting that their liturgical calendar begins and ends with a feast of Mary. Dormition means ‘falling asleep’ using the Christian term from the New Testament for death. The term reflects our belief that death has been defeated by Christ; the metaphorical gates of Hades or Sheol have been burst asunder and death no longer enslaves humanity.

Tradition holds that the apostles were miraculously summoned and, except for Thomas, were all present when Mary reposed. Thomas arrived a few days later and desiring to see her one more time, convinced them to open the tomb. When the tomb was opened, it was found empty. This event is seen as one of the firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful.

The feast is celebrated as the Solemnity of the Assumption by the Roman Catholic Church and focuses on her bodily assumption rather than her death. In fact, the dogma is phrased in a way that leaves open the question of whether or not Mary experienced death at all and many Catholics believe she did not. Pope Pious XII made the Assumption a dogma of the Catholic Church on November 1, 1950 as follows.

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

As with other such dogmas established in Catholicism as acts of Papal Infallibity, the Orthodox perceive this as another addition to the faith by the Catholic Church, widening the schism between the two. In this case, unlike the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Orthodox essentially agree on the event itself. But the Orthodox believe it is preserved in the faith through the liturgical life of the Church and not as a dogma.

Below is a recording of an ancient hymn of the feast in English.


Mary 20 – Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Posted: February 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , | Comments Off on Mary 20 – Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Visitiation of Blessed Virgin Mary

The Visitation is a Western feast that began in the 13th century and is currently celebrated on May 31. It celebrates the visitation of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth when both were pregnant as recorded in Luke 1:39-56. This is the meeting in which Mary, with the Holy Spirit upon her, prophesies what has become known as the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

As this is primarily a Western feast, it seems appropriate to include a video of the Magnificat from Notre Dame Cathedral.


Mary 19 – Annunciation

Posted: February 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 19 – Annunciation

Annunciation

This feast, another of the twelve Great Feasts in the Orthodox liturgical year and a feast in the Western Church falls on March 25th. While the Western church will move the feast if it falls during Holy Week, the Eastern Church never moves it. This feast celebrates the events of Luke 1:26-38, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she would have a child of the Holy Spirit and Mary ultimately replied, “Let it be to me according to your word!”

Mary is often called the second Eve because her willing assent to God reversed the effects of the first Eve’s rejection of God in the Genesis story. It’s an extension of the same typology Paul uses to contrast Adam and Jesus. Evangelicals tend to largely ignore the Annunciation. If pressed, they will often express the idea that Mary was little more than a “vessel” for the Incarnation. Hidden (or sometimes not particularly hidden) behind that idea is one that if Mary hadn’t worked out, God would have just found another vessel. But there’s no such indication anywhere in the story. There’s no evidence of a “plan B”; Mary’s yes to God was for the healing of creation. Indeed, all generations should call her blessed.

There are actually two Churches of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The Roman Catholic Church is located where tradition holds Mary’s home was located. Orthodox tradition is that the Annunciation occurred at the well in Nazareth and their Church is located at that site.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth

The Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth


Mary 18 – Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Candlemas)

Posted: February 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 18 – Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Candlemas)

Meeting of the Lord in the Temple

 

Since this is a series on Mary, I selected one of the traditional Western designations for this feast. It’s also known as the Presentation of Christ at the Temple and in Orthodoxy it’s one of the twelve Great Feast of the liturgical year. Both names are technically correct. The events of the feast are described in Luke 2:22-40. After giving birth to a male child, under Mosaic the mother was considered ritually unclean for seven days and was then to “remain in the blood of her purification” for thirty-three days. Once the forty days had passed, the parents were to appear in the Temple with the child, make the required offering to redeem the child from the Temple, and the mother would receive prayers from the priest and be cleansed.

Mary followed the law and along with Joseph presented Jesus and herself at the Temple forty days after his birth. Jesus was redeemed with two turtle doves, suggesting Joseph was not wealthy, or perhaps indicating that Mary was one of the righteous poor. Simeon the Just and Anna the Prophetess encountered Christ during his presentation.

Orthodox Christians still practice a Christianized variation of the forty day period. The mother and child remain home and away from Church (and generally going out as little as possible) for forty days following the birth. After that period, the mother and child are “Churched.” These are the Greek Orthodox prayers for the Churching of a mother and child after forty days.

It’s also the Feast on which candles which will be used in worship for the rest of the year are blessed. So in the West it also became known as Candlemas.


Mary 17 – Synaxis of the Theotokos

Posted: February 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 17 – Synaxis of the Theotokos

This is an Orthodox feast held each year on December 26. A synaxis is a feast day  in honor of a saint with special services (matins, vespers, etc.) written for that day. It typically occurs following a major feast day and recognizes a saint that participated in the event of that feast. So, for instance, the Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner falls on January 7, the day after Theophany. The Synaxis of the Theotokos, fittingly, occurs the day after the Nativity of Christ. This feast is likely the oldest feast of Mary within the Church and the beginning of her formal veneration in the liturgical cycle of the Church.

The Akathist to the Holy Virgin Theotokos by St. Romanos the Melodist is normally done each Friday during Great Lent, but this post on the Synaxis seems like an appropriate time to share it.

You can read one translation of the service here and another one here.

Frederica Mathewes-Green reads her own translation of the hymn in this podcast.

 


Mary 16 – Our Lady of Guadalupe

Posted: February 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

I’m a Texan. I’m not sure that it’s possible to grow up or live in this state and not absorb some knowledge of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose icon from the 16th century is pictured above. She appeared to St. Juan Diego,  a poor Aztec peasant, at Tepeyac, northwest of present-day Mexico city. In that appearance in 1531, a decade after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, she is reported to have said the following.

“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my son, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me; you will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be assured that I will be most grateful and will reward you, because I will make you happy and worthy of recompense for the effort and fatigue in what you will obtain of what I have entrusted. Behold, you have heard my mandate, my humble son; go and put forth all your effort.”

The Bishop, however, requested a sign. So St. Juan returned and Mary told him to gather flowers he would find on the hill in mid-December. The flowers were Castillian roses, which could not have been found at that time of year in that place. St. Juan Diego gather the roses in his tilma, a cloth made from cactus fiber. The flowers were arranged by Mary and when he had presented them to the Bishop, the image above had miraculously appeared on the tilma.

Tilma is a poor quality cloth and normally lasts no longer than 15-20 years. The icon above, however, has survived for centuries. Many other miracles are associated with it as well. The Basilica of Guadalupe is the most visited Christian shrine in the world.


Mary 15 – Annunciation of the Theotokos

Posted: February 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 

Annunciation of the Theotokos

 

This feast, celebrated on December 8, is called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception within the Roman Catholic Church. The feast in both traditions celebrates the conception of Mary. However, it’s not one of the twelve Great Feast in Orthodoxy, but it is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church, which places a greater emphasis on the feast.

The Catholic feast name actually marks a point in dogma (at least since 1854) on which the Catholic church differs pretty significantly from the Orthodox. Here is the Catholic definition of the dogma from Ineffabilus Deus issued by Pope Pious IX.

We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.

The Orthodox have no issue with the idea that the Theotokos lived a blameless life and that she lived a life filled with the Holy Spirit. The problem, however, lies in their difference with Catholicism over the definition and meaning of the ancestral sin. Notably, they do not believe that the ancestral sin is passed along genetically as a burden of guilt as the doctrine of original sin requires. As such, in the Orthodox perspective all infants are born blameless and untainted by any guilt. However, we are all born mortal, subject to death and all the evil and brokenness in the world.

Once you understand that view, it’s easy to see that it is necessary that Mary and later Jesus be born fully as one of us.  As an often-quoted saying about the Incarnation of our Lord states, “That which is not assumed is not healed.” Jesus inherited the fullness of our nature from his mother. He became sarx or flesh. It’s not the general term for body, which was soma.  From what I understand, it could be translated meat. He became mortal and subject to everything we suffer. Because he was also God before the Ages, the Incarnate Word, he was able to remain faithful where we fail and thus heal humanity and grant us the possibility of union with God.

I’m not Orthodox, but it’s my understanding that the Orthodox perceive the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as something Catholics have added to the faith and, as such, it’s a problem for them. Despite the doctrinal difference, the feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos is still an important Orthodox feast even though it’s not one of the Great Feasts.

One thing I’ve noticed about many Protestants is that they almost seem to view Mary as little more than a “vessel” for the Incarnation. It’s as though they believe Mary simply served a biological function and any other vessel would have sufficed. In other words, if Mary hadn’t worked out, God would have just picked another vessel to bear the Word. (In reality, I believe that was actually a part of one of the ancient heresies that’s found new life today.) There’s no indication anywhere that’s true. Mary’s ‘yes‘ to God heals Eve’s ‘no.’ Nowhere is there any hint that God had a Plan B. Moreover, Mary did not merely give birth to Jesus. She raised him. She taught him. She loved him as his mother and shaped his human formation. That’s simply amazing if you allow yourself to think about it. We see in Jesus’ first recorded proclamation in the synagogue echoes of the Magnificat.

No, if Jesus is important to us, then Mary has to be. I don’t see any alternative.

 


Mary 14 – Presentation of the Theotokos

Posted: February 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 14 – Presentation of the Theotokos

Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple

This feast is also called The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple in Orthodox tradition and The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholic tradition. It commemorates the entrance or presentation of Mary as a child at the Temple in Jerusalem by her parents to serve as one of the Temple virgins. It’s celebrated on November 21.

It’s not clear to me exactly where this feast ranks in Catholic tradition, but it’s one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox liturgical year. (Four of the Great Feasts commemorate the Theotokos; this is the second one. As a note Pascha is not one of the twelve Great Feasts. Rather, it is considered the Feast of Feasts and stands alone and above all other feasts.)

Fr. Thomas Hopko has an essay online about the feast that’s well worth reading. As he notes, a central theme of the feast revolves around Mary entering the Temple to become herself the living Temple of God. As such, her entrance into the Temple celebrates the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God.


Mary 13 – Our Lady of the Rosary

Posted: February 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Mary 13 – Our Lady of the Rosary

Also called Our Lady of Victory, this feast was initially instituted as a day of thankfulness in the 16th century following the miraculous defeat of the Turkish fleet and the end of Muslim domination of the Mediterranean. It’s celebrated on October 7, and I believe the whole month of October is dedicated as the month of the Holy Rosary. Over time the feast became more focused on the celebration of the Rosary itself, in no small part because the devotion of the people through the Rosary plays a key part in the story of the Turkish defeat. I discussed the Rosary in my post on the Hail Mary prayer, so I won’t repeat that here. However, for those interested, I did run across a short pdf outlining a typical Rosary devotion.

As with Our Lady of Sorrows, there are a number of Catholic Churches with Our Lady of the Rosary as their name and patron.