Pope Benedict XVI: August 2009 Archives

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The corpus of Pope Benedict XVI's teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary grows apace. By means of his homilies and addresses on or around the various liturgical feasts of Our Lady, the Holy Father proposes various aspects of the Marian mystery to the Church's contemplation. Pope Benedict XVI is emerging as a great Marian Pope; his particular gift is a synthesis of liturgical theology, rigorous doctrine, and tender piety. Here is the homily given by His Holiness on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Glorious Destiny of the Mother of God

Today's Solemnity crowns the series of important liturgical celebrations in which we are called to contemplate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Divine Motherhood and the Assumption are the fundamental, interconnected milestones with which the Church exalts and praises the glorious destiny of the Mother of God, but in which we can also read our history.

The mystery of Mary's conception recalls the first page of the human event, pointing out to us that in the divine plan of creation man was to have had the purity and beauty of the Virgin Immaculate.

This plan, jeopardized but not destroyed by sin, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, proclaimed and brought into being in Mary, was recomposed and restored to the free acceptance of the human being in faith.

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Our Lady in the Life of the Priest

Pope Benedict XVI has been using every opportunity to promote a fruitful observance of the Year of the Priesthood. Especially noteworthy is the Holy Father's attention to the place of Our Lady in the life of the priest. At the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Assumption, he spoke of the Immaculate Virgin in the experience of Saint John Mary Vianney.

The Curé of Ars and the Parish Priest of Knock

It struck me, after my recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock, that the Marian devotion of the Curé of Ars (1786-1859) had much in common with that of the Parish Priest of Knock, the Venerable Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897). Both priests were devoted to Our Lady in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception; both priests consecrated their parishes to her.

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The memorial tablet erected by the grateful parishioners of Knock in honour of Archdeacon Cavanagh could, in fact, describe the Curé of Ars. It reads:

Pray for the soul of the Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Archdeacon of the Chapter of Tuam, and parish of Knock-Aghamore, whose fame, on account of the extraordinary sanctity of his life and his devotion to the Mother of God, was diffused thus far and wide. Unwearying in the Confessional, assiduous in works of piety, he died, full of years and merits, December 9th, 1897, R.I.P.

There is one mistake on the memorial tablet; the Archdeacon died, not on December 9th, but on December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception to whom he was so devoted.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Mary Our Mother

In the heart of the month of August, a holiday period for many families and also for me, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the ultimate meaning of our existence, helped by today's Liturgy which invites us to live in this world oriented to eternal happiness in order to share in the same glory as Mary, the same joy as our Mother (cf. Collect).

The Example of the Saints

Let us, therefore, turn our gaze to Our Lady, Star of Hope, who illumines us on our earthly journey, and follow the example of the Saints who turned to her in every circumstance.

Priestly Love and Veneration for the Most Holy Virgin

You know that we are celebrating the Year for Priests in remembrance of the Holy Curé d'Ars, and I would like to draw from the thoughts and testimonies of this holy country parish priest some ideas for reflection that will be able to help all of us especially us priests to strengthen our love and veneration for the Most Holy Virgin.

His biographers claim that St John Mary Vianney spoke to Our Lady with devotion and, at the same time, with trust and spontaneity. "The Blessed Virgin", he used to say, "is immaculate and adorned with all the virtues that make her so beautiful and pleasing to the Blessed Trinity" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 303).

Never Tired of Speaking of Mary to the Faithful

And further: "The heart of this good Mother is nothing but love and mercy, all she wants is to see us happy. To be heard, it suffices to address oneself to her" (ibid., p. 307). The priest's zeal shines through these words. Motivated by apostolic longing, he rejoiced in speaking to his faithful of Mary and never tired of doing so. He could even present a difficult mystery like today's, that of the Assumption, with effective images, such as, for example: "Man was created for Heaven. The devil broke the ladder that led to it. Our Lord, with his Passion, made another.... The Virgin Most Holy stands at the top of the ladder and holds it steady with both hands" (ibid.).

Mary's Beauty

The Holy Curé d'Ars was attracted above all by Mary's beauty, a beauty that coincides with her being Immaculate, the only creature to have been conceived without a shadow of sin.

"The Blessed Virgin", he said, "is that beautiful Creature who never displeased the good Lord" (ibid. p. 306). As a good and faithful pastor, he first of all set an example also in this filial love for the Mother of Jesus by whom he felt drawn toward Heaven. "Were I not to go to Heaven", he exclaimed, "how sorry I should be! I should never see the Blessed Virgin, this most beautiful creature!" (ibid., p. 309).

Marian Consecration

Moreover, on several occasions he consecrated his parish to Our Lady, recommending that mothers in particular do the same, every morning, with their children.

Turn to Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, let us make our own the sentiments of the Holy Curé d'Ars. And with his same faith let us turn to Mary, taken up into Heaven, in a special way entrusting to her the priests of the whole world.

Mary in the Life of the Priest

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Dear readers, I returned from Ireland to Connecticut last evening. As soon as I can, I will share some of the pilgrimage experience with you. In the meantime, I must catch up with correspondence and other pressing duties. The Holy Father's General Audience of August 12th is a real gift for the Year of the Priesthood. This unusual depiction of Our Lady and Saint John in the Cenacle is a fitting illustration of the Holy Father's teaching on Mary, Mother of Priests.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our Lady and the Priesthood

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priests. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Mary's Yes

When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes".

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary at the Heart of This Mystery

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Saint John the Beloved Son

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests.

Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27).

The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home".

Taking Mary Into One's Inner Life

This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being.

To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate.

It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them.

In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world.

Priests: Beloved Sons of Mary

Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18).

The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305).

Priests: Stewards of the Precious Treasure of Jesus' Love

This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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