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“Hail, Full of Grace”: On the Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation di Corciano

Today’s Gospel on this Solemnity of the Annunciation is the famous account of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel from Luke 1:26-38. It includes some indirect proof for two major Marian dogmas of the Church – the Immaculate Conception (which was recently celebrated on Dec. 8), and the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. It also gives us part of the biblical roots of the “Hail Mary”.

When the archangel Gabriel greets Mary, it marks the only recorded incident in scripture that an angel greets someone by their title, not their name. “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This, of course, is the first line of the “Hail Mary”, with the second line, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, from Luke 1:42. So much for the ridiculous argument that the prayer is “unbiblical”.

But what of those dogmas? Speaking of the phrase, “Full of Grace”, in the original Greek of Luke’s Gospel, it is an interesting term: kecharitomene. It means, literally, “one who has been made full of God’s grace” (biblical translations that render this term “highly favored one”, or something to that effect, don’t cut it) . It’s a past perfect term, meaning that, at some point in the past, Mary was made perfectly full of God’s grace. This condition extends out into the future, into eternity. This is exactly what the Immaculate Conception is all about – that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin. If one is perfectly full of the grace of God, there is no room for sin.

With respect to the perpetual virginity, Gabriel explains to Mary that she will bear the Messiah, and at this point he has said nothing about Jesus being conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1:34). A very strange question for a young woman to ask, who, as we have already been told, was engaged to be married. Unless, that is, she had already intended to remain a virgin, consecrating herself wholly to God.

This post was originally published as “Mary of the Annunciation”

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

guadalupe

Matthew Leonard, Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology:

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the native people of Mexico City suffered conquest first by the Aztecs and then by the Spanish conquistadores. It was the custom of the Aztecs to harvest the conquered people as victims for human sacrifice, offered to the snake god Quetzalcoatl (Qweztzel-coh-AH-tul). Think Mel Gibson’s movie “Apocalypto”, though it was about Mayans. Same basic, brutal principle.

By the Aztecs’ own account, this cost a quarter of a million human lives per year. In the dedication of just one temple, a celebration lasting four days, they slaughtered more than eighty thousand men and women. As you can imagine, these native peoples lived a life of natural and supernatural terror. Yet the fear of their idols kept them trapped in idolatry, and they resisted conversion to the Christian faith. The best efforts of brilliant missionaries proved basically ineffective.

Then, in 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in Mexico City to a peasant man named Juan Diego.

Read the rest here.

In Assisi in 2005, my wife and I met an American priest named Padre Sisco. He gave me his contact information, which I, of course, misplaced. This guy was unbelievable – on the off chance any readers out there know him, I’d love to get in touch. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on homilies preached in Mexico following the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the miraculous image she left behind.

That would make for some pretty incredible reading – over eight million Mexicans, by some accounts, converted to the faith in just a few years as news of these events spread. As Leonard notes, Mexico had been stubbornly infertile mission territory prior to 1531.

I’ve always found it fascinating that, while the Church on the Continent in the 16th century was being fractured by Luther’s revolt and the events that followed, the most effective evangelistic movement in the history of the world was taking place at the exact same time in the Americas.

Advent and the Miraculous

Advent

We are now in Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Many modern secularists find it very difficult to believe in the possibility of miracles, such as the virginal conception of Jesus. They say that the ancients were quite gullible to believe this, and that modern humanity is far too “educated and enlightened” to fall for such “nonsense”. How can we respond to this?

At one level, this is nothing more than chronological snobbery. In a recent article, RZIM apologist Jill Carattini responds to this fallacious line of reasoning:

In his 1945 essay “Religion and Science,” C.S. Lewis exposed one of the most common false assumptions at the heart of the science/faith divide, particularly as it pertains to the nativity of Jesus. The assumption is that this “primitive” nativity was likewise filled with primitive thinkers devoid of any sort of knowledge of biology or natural reasoning. Here and elsewhere, Lewis saw that we hold our scientific advancements as something like demerits for prior generations, perpetuating the mentality that the only accurate thought is current thought, the only mind worth trusting is an enlightened one—of which I am conveniently a member.

The disciples…knew enough about the laws of physics to be completely terrified by the man walking on the water toward their boat. The crowd of mourners knew enough about death to laugh at Jesus when he insisted that the dead girl was only sleeping, and to walk away astonished when she came back to life. There were also the magi, astrologers who followed their scientific calculations to the child, Philip and Andrew who knew that the mathematics of two fish and a starving crowd were not going to divide well, Mary and Martha who knew that their brother’s death was the last word, and Thomas who knew the same after he watched Jesus crucified.

In each of these objections, I thankfully hear my own. So much so, that it would appear faith is not a turning of one’s back on the fixed laws of nature or physics or mathematics, but rather, a recognition in the very face of these laws we know and trust that something from outside the law must have reached into the picture. I find each of these scenes both remarkable and reasonable precisely because of the reactions of men and women with a grasp of natural law and the same objections that any of us would have offered had we been present. It would be blind faith indeed if we were receiving a story that wanted us at the onset to fully reject the laws of natural reasoning in replacement of something else. What we receive instead is a story filled with undeniable indications which suggest that something—or Someone—has startlingly stepped into the picture.

4 Quick Facts on the Assumption of Mary

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, celebrating that God raised the Virgin Mary, body and soul, to the glories of heaven at the end of her earthly journey. Here are four quick facts about this teaching of the Church :

1. Catholics must believe this in order to hold the Faith.

The Assumption of Mary is one of the four Marian Dogmas (infallible teachings) that Catholics must believe (the others being the Immaculate Conception, Divine Maternity, and Perpetual Virginity of our Lady). The reason why validity of the doctrine can be trusted is that it rests on the same foundation as that of Transubstantiation or the Canon of the Bible – namely, the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

2. There is good circumstantial, supporting evidence for the Assumption.

No Christian community has ever claimed to have the relics (bones or other mortal remains) of the Virgin Mary. When one considers how Christians venerated the relics and final resting places of important saints in the early Church period (such as St Peter’s Basilica being built over his tomb), it is remarkable that no church has ever claimed to have her relics. If the relics of the Mother of Jesus relics really did exist, they would have been prized above all others. An argument from silence isn’t always the greatest, but in this case, silence speaks volumes.

3. There is indirect, biblical support for the doctrine.

The simple fact of the matter is that, in salvation history recorded in the Bible, “assumptions happen”. Genesis speaks of Enoch, who “walked with God and was no more, because God took him” (Genesis 5:24; cf. Hebrews 11:5). Most interpreters believe that Enoch was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. Also, Elijah was taken up to heaven, body and soul, in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).

If these holy ones of old could be translated directly to heaven, why not the “Panagia” (“All-Holy”) mother of God, who “gave the Word flesh” (cf. John 1:14)? In Revelation 12, John sees the “Ark of the (New) Covenant”, Mary in heaven.

4. Christians have believed this for centuries.

Catholics did not “invent” the doctrine of the Assumption when Pope Pius XII officially defined it in 1950. All the Pope was doing was making clear that this teaching was always true and part of the deposit of faith (Jude 3) for centuries. How do we know this? Because the Church’s liturgy (including the content of liturgical prayers and feast days) included the Assumption from the earliest times. Some even believe it was the earliest of Marian feast days, originating in Jerusalem.

Many Christian practices were suppressed under the wicked reign of Emperor Hadrian, who had levelled much of Jerusalem in 135 AD, renaming the town after the pagan god Jupiter. After Constantine’s acceptance of the faith in the fourth century, many Christian feasts were revived. The Assumption began to be celebrated in Rome as early as the seventh century. It is in the liturgy that Sacred Tradition is taught most clearly, for “the Church believes as She prays” (Lex orandi, lex credendi).

We have a powerful intercessor in heaven in Mary, who precedes all of us who look forward to life in the new heaven and the new earth in a glorified humanity of body and soul. We close with a liturgical prayer asking for that intercession: Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei, dum steteris in conspectu Domini; ut loquaris pro nobis bona (“Remember, Virgin Mother of God, when you walk in the presence of the Lord, to speak well of us”).

On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

bernadette-incorruptI guess you could say this is a “Wayback Wednesday” post, on today’s Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. For whatever reason, an article I wrote a few years ago on Lourdes, Saint Bernadette (and her incorrupt body), and on the miraculous in general drew a lot of interest, and still does today. People remain utterly fascinated by the phenomenon at Lourdes, and, I think, by the possibility of the miraculous in general:

This February, we celebrate the feast day of a saint whose life was touched by myriad miracles, all of which give stunning testimony to Catholic truth. Saint Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), only 14, encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary in the grotto of Lourdes in the South of France on February 11, 1858, though at the time, she did not know who it was.

Bernadette was a poor peasant girl, not afforded formal religious education. When, on March 25, “the Lady” (as Bernadette called her) told her in the local dialect, “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou” (“I am the Immaculate Conception”), her pastor could hardly believe it. Four years earlier, the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed by the Vatican. But Bernadette would have had no way of knowing, less understanding, what this meant.

Another impressive confirmation of God’s action at Lourdes was the miraculous stream unearthed by Bernadette at Mary’s behest. These waters have been the source of innumerable healings over the years, inexplicable by natural means.

You can read the rest of the article here: http://bit.ly/1uG9V06

What do you think about the Lourdes phenomenon, and about the possibility of miracles?

Scott Hahn on the Queenship of Mary

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On this feast of Mary’s Queenship, here’s a brief video by Dr Scott Hahn explaining the link between the Assumption of Mary and her special role as Queen Mother of Christ’s Kingdom. Be sure to check out the wonderful work of Professor Hahn and all of his associates at The Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

 

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Pope Pius IX, who defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

Pope Pius IX, who defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

Today’s great Solemnity of the Immaculate conception of Mary is usually celebrated on December 8. However, due to the second Sunday of Advent falling on that date yesterday, the Solemnity was communicated to today this year. And it’s certainly a doctrine that is misunderstood by many.

The Immaculate Conception is not the Virginal Conception of Jesus. Nor does it have anything to do with this, sports fans.

Here’s the actual definition, from Blessed Pope Pius IX, “Pio Nono”:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX solemnly defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 1854.

the basis for the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the New Testament is well-known, but today I’d like to share about one of the ways the doctrine is foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In his masterful devotional series, In Conversation with God, Francis Fernandez writes about Mary as the new Temple in which God dwells:

In the litany of Loreto we call upon Mary, House of Gold, the abode of greatest conceivable splendor. When a family turns a house into a home by taking up residence there, the place reflects the individual qualities of the people. They accentuate the beauty of the dwelling place. Just like the Holy Spirit dwelling in Our Lady, the home and its inhabitants make up a particular unity, in much the same way as the body and its garments do. The foremost Tabernacle in the Old Testament, later to be the Temple, is the House of God, where the meeting of Yahweh and his people takes place. When Solomon makes the decision to build the Temple, the Prophets specify that the best available materials are to be used – abundant cedar wood on the inside and clad with gold on the outside. The most highly skilled craftsmen are to work on its construction.

Before God made known his coming into the world in the fullness of time, He prepared Mary as the suitable creature within whom He would dwell for nine months, from the moment of his Incarnation until his birth in Bethlehem. Evidence of God’s power and love show forth in his creation. Mary is the House of Gold, the new Temple of God, and is adorned with so great a beauty that no greater perfection is possible. The grace of her Immaculate Conception, including all the graces and gifts God ever bestowed on her soul, are directed towards the fulfillment of her divine Maternity.

God’s gift of supernatural life to her exceeds that of all the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins combined. It reaches far beyond the experience of anyone who has ever lived, or ever will live, until the end of time. God dwells in Our Lady more than in all the angels and saints, since the foundation of the world, taken together. Truly God has prepared a human vessel in keeping with the dignity of his eternal Son. When we say that Mary has an almost infinite dignity, we mean that among all God’s creatures she is the one who enjoys the most intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. Her absolute honor is the highest possible and her majesty is in every way unique. She is the firstborn and most highly favored daughter of the Father, as she has often been called throughout the history of the Church, and as has been reiterated by the Second Vatican Council, Our Lady’s blood relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leads her to a singular relationship with him.

Mary is indeed the new Temple and Tabernacle of God.

How Old Was Saint Joseph? Part II

Now that we’ve looked briefly at the case for Saint Joseph as an older man in our last post, how about the other side of the argument? Is it possible that Saint Joseph was a younger man when he became the adoptive father of Jesus? Under this view, it would still be possible to hold the opinion that Joseph knew about Mary’s prior commitment to consecrated virginity, or (far more unlikely) that they were planning a “normal” marriage prior to Mary’s discovery of her unique vocation to be the Mother of the Messiah?

Here’s what St. Josemaria Escriva, who had a tremendous devotion to St. Joseph, said about the matter in a homily about St. Joseph in 1963:

“I don’t agree with the traditional picture of St Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasise the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong young man, perhaps a few years older than our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work…You don’t have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and gaiety of youth are no obstacle for noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures. Anyone who cannot understand a love like that knows very little of true love and is a complete stranger to the christian meaning of chastity.”

I suppose an important question in this debate is this: How old is old? perhaps a type of “hybrid” view makes the best sense. For example, Joseph could have married Mary when he was about 25-30 years old (with Mary being, in all likelihood, no more than 16, according to the majority of New Testament scholars). Joseph would have still possessed a relatively “young body”, as St. Josemaria put it, able to withstand the rigors of the flight into Egypt and the journey back to Nazareth some time later. He would have been capable of working hard for many years and protecting Jesus and Mary, as well as providing for their necessities.

The average life span of men in the first century in the Roman Empire was considerably less, however, than what we enjoy today. Thirty years later, when Jesus began his ministry, it is more than concievable that Joseph, approaching sixty, may have already passed away.

On Candlemas

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Today the Church celebrates Candlemas, otherwise known as the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Light of the World (Luke 2:22-40). It was in Gaul (modern-day France) that processions with candles began to mark this event, the official end of the celebration of the Nativity.

Jesus, like all Jewish firstborn sons, was consecrated to the Lord. Mary and Joseph took the child to the temple in Jerusalem at the time he was to be circumcised and offered the sacrifice of two pigeons, the offering of a poor couple who could not afford a more expensive animal sacrifice. Only Mary and Joseph, and possibly Simeon and Anna would have known that the ultimate and final sacrifice, the true Lamb of God, was being presented in the temple. And only they would have known that here was the true temple – the Body of Christ (cf. John 2:19-22 ).

The Ark of the Covenant, which used to be housed in the Jerusalem Temple, had been missing since Jeremiah hid it from invading marauders in 586 BC. Yet, the true Ark, the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary, was now entering the temple with her divine Son. She brought the Light of the World into the world. Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, in The Glories of Mary, says, “Saint Simeon received a promise from God that he should not die until he had seen the Messiah born…but he did not receive this grace except by means of Mary, for he did not see the Savior until he saw him in the arms of Mary. Hence, whoever wishes to find Jesus, will not find him except through Mary.”

Mary of the Annunciation

Today’s Gospel is the famous account of the Annunciation from Luke 1:26-38. It includes some indirect proof for two major Marian dogmas of the Church – the Immaculate Conception (which was recently celebrated on Dec. 8), and the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. It also gives us part of the biblical roots of the “Hail Mary”.

When the archangel Gabriel greets Mary, it marks the only recorded incident in scripture that an angel greets someone by their title, not their name. “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This, of course, is the first line of the “Hail Mary”, with the second line, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, from Luke 1:42. So much for the ridiculous argument that the prayer is “unbiblical”.

But what of those dogmas? Speaking of the phrase, “Full of Grace”, in the original Greek of Luke’s Gospel, it is an interesting term: “kecharitomene”. It means, literally, “one who has been made full of God’s grace” (biblical translations that render this term “highly favored one”, or something to that effect, don’t cut it) . It’s a past perfect, meaning that, at some point in the past, Mary was made perfectly full of God’s grace. This condition extends out into the future, into eternity. This is exactly what the Immaculate Conception is all about  – that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin. If one is perfectly full of the grace of God, there is no room for sin.

With respect to the perpetual virginity, Gabriel explains to Mary that she will bear the Messiah, and at this point he has said nothing about Jesus being conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1:34). A very strange question for a young woman to ask, who, as we have already been told, was engaged to be married. Unless, that is, she had already intended to remain a virgin, consecrating herself wholly to God.