Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Homily for the Solemnity of
Mary, Mother of God
Jan. 1, 2014
Christian Brothers, St. Joseph’s Home, New Rochelle

“O God, through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary you bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation” (Collect).

Celebrating this solemnity with you last year, brothers, I preached on the gospel, particularly on Mary’s reflecting in her heart on all the wondrous events of this season.  Today I offer you some reflections on these mysteries from the perspective of the collect.
Madonna and Child with the Holy Spirit
Church of Sta. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
The collect, as it is at every Mass and in all the sacraments, is addressed to God the Father.  Today’s collect, like every festal collect, 1st notes the particular feast or mystery being celebrated; but today’s has a double note.  1st, as we are in the Christmas season, it points to the Father’s “bestowing on the human race the grace of eternal salvation.”  2d, it points to Mary’s role in this gift of the Father:  “thru her fruitful virginity.”

The virgin mother is not the object of our worship on this feast.  The work of salvation is God’s free gift to us—“grace.”  But by God’s design, as implied by Paul in his letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Mary plays a vital part in that grace’s coming to us.  It comes to us “thru” her —quite literally, we’d have to say, the Savior being born from her body and, presumably, carrying her genes and no one else’s.  Christ is born from her mind, her heart, and her will, as well; when these faculties of ours align with the Father’s designs, they’re life-giving, and her mind, heart, and will were so aligned with God’s designs that they gave birth to the most radical life in human history, “the author of life,” as the collect calls Jesus.

We’ve always called Mary “the Virgin Mother.”  The collect speaks of her “fruitful virginity,” which means essentially the same thing.  One commentator remarks, “true virginity is not merely physical integrity, but integrity of body and soul as well. . . .  Mary’s true virginity enabled her to receive the Holy Spirit so fully that she became mother yet remained virgin.”[1]

The collect proceeds to beg the Father to allow Mary to intercede for us.  Commentators on the revised Roman Missal have noted that the language of the collects is the language of a royal court.  We approach God as a subject might approach his sovereign, with awe of the royal majesty, humbly, aware of our unworthiness.  Even when we seek an intercessor, we’re cautious in our approach.  We might think of Queen Esther’s approach to King Ahasuerus when she goes to plead for the lives of her people.[2]  So we pray that God will receive Mary as our intercessor.

Not that we really doubt it.  We’ve already highlighted God’s having “bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation.”  Mary’s intercession can only reinforce what the Father already wants to give.  We’re asking the Father to be mindful of his own design:  that we should be saved thru this fruitful virgin—whose fruit, we know, includes not only her biological Son Jesus but us as well, because of our union with the crucified Jesus:  on the cross Jesus gave us Mary as our mother (John 19:26-27), and he gave us his own life thru the sacraments, symbolized by the blood and water that gushed from his pierced side (John 19:34).

The prayer continues by reminding the Father that “through her we were found worthy to receive the author of life.”  The “author of life,” as already noted, is Jesus.  The human race receives him as one of our own thru Mary’s fruitfulness, her cooperation with the divine design.  The prayer speaks of our being “found worthy to receive” Christ.  One scholar of liturgical Latin points out that the text here doesn’t really refer to our worthiness or our merit; rather, “it is a term of reverence which implies the reception of a ‘free gift’ for which one depends entirely on the benign favor of God.”[3]  Our worthiness certainly isn’t innate; nor does it come as a gift from Mary, tho we may speak of Christ as her gift to us on account of her free cooperation with the Father.  But we are “found worthy to receive Christ” only because the Father chooses to “bestow on the human race the grace of eternal salvation.”  The Father extends to us his “benign favor.”  We hope Mary will intercede for us that his “benign favor” continue—and that it may effect in us a receptivity to his grace similar to her own receptivity:  that our Lord Jesus Christ, “the author of life,” may come to life in our hearts, our minds, and our wills.

        [1] Daniel J. Merz and Marcel Rooney, OSB, Essential Presidential Prayers and Texts: A Roman Missal Study Edition and Workbook (Chicago: LTP, 2011), p. 24.

        [2] “Chapter D” in the NAB and NRSV Cath. ed.; more briefly, ch. 5 in all Bibles.
        [3] M.P. Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Nijmegen: Dekker, 1963), pp. 198-199, cited by Anscar J. Chupungco, The Prayers of the New Missal: A Homiletic and Catechetical Companion (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013), p. 40.

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