Blessed Virgin Mary: December 2007 Archives

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Monsignor Patrick Brankin was kind enough to remind me that the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Zapopan in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Expectation. The same Little Virgin is venerated at the Shrine of Saint Thérèse in Collinsville, Oklahoma.

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Santa Croce in Gerusalemme has a small monastic foundation in Guadalajara. One of the three solemnly professed monks there is my very dear friend, Fra Leone Maria. Fra Leone has a personal devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Expectacíon of Zapopan; his family has their own precious image of the diminutive and much loved Virgin. He had a picture of her in his cell at Santa Croce in Rome.

Shortly after the conquistador Francisco de Bobadilla founded Tzapopa (later called Zapopan) in 1541, Franciscan friars arrived to evangelize the native population. Fray Antonio of Segovia arrived carrying in one hand a crucifix and, in the other, a little statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The statue gave off sparks of heavenly light. The Indians, fascinated and subjugated by the Virgin Mother of Jesus, ceased their resistance and accepted the Gospel.

The Little Virgin won the hearts of the people of Zapopan by granting them abundant graces and miracles. In the mid-1600s, the bishop fixed her feast on December 18th, conferring on the statue the title of Nuestra Señora de la O or de la Expectacíon. It became customary to transfer the statue to Guadalajara in times of special need or crisis. Even today, the Little Virgin spends part of the year, from June 13th to October 5th in Guadalajara. Our Lady of Zapopan is the patroness of the state of Jalisco. On January 18, 1921 she was solemnly crowned.

The statue, made of wood, is very small: just a little over 13 inches tall. Our Lady's tunic is an earthy red and her mantle is blue. She stands on the crescent moon, just as she does at Guadalupe, and her hands are folded in prayer, just as they are at Guadalupe. It is customary to dress the statue in gorgeous clothes. The Little Virgin wears a wig and a golden crown set with jewels. A little reliquary containing an image of the Child Jesus is suspended below her breast. This is reminiscent of the Byzantine icons of Our Lady of the Sign.

Join with me in wishing Fra Leone and the community of the monastery of Santa Cruz of Guadalajara a very blessed feast of Nuestra Señora de la Expectacíon.

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I pray thee, O Most Holy Virgin Mary,
that I might hear the Heartbeat of redeeming Love,
and that with Thee
I might adore the Heart of Jesus
formed in Thy womb by the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit,
by whose power and overshadowing Thou didst become
the living tabernacle of the Heart of God,
may my soul rejoice in Thy every visitation
and leap in recognition of Him
who through Thee deigns to come to me.

Through the Holy Spirit
by whom Thou wert illumined by faith,
quickened by hope,
and inflamed with charity,
grant that I may believe all that the Sacred Heart of Jesus has revealed,
never despair of His boundless Mercy,
and burn with the fire He came to cast upon the earth.

In the Holy Spirit,
Thou adorest the Heart of Thy Son as the Heart of Thy God;
in that same Holy Spirit,
grant that I may adore the Heart of my God
as the Heart that, hidden in Thy womb, once beat beneath Thy own:
the same Sacred Heart that, pierced upon the Cross,
fills the heavens with glory
and the earth with mercy.
Amen.

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Yes, today, December 18th, is one of the liturgy's loveliest old Advent festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that of the Expectatio Partus. It was kept by nearly the entire Latin Church. The Marquess of Bute calls it, in his fine old translation of the Breviary, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Looking Shortly To Be Delivered." It was also called in Spain, and elsewhere, Nuestra Señora de la O, and this because, after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted "O" to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.

Looking first at the Office for the feast, one discovers that the Invitatory Antiphon is the greeting of the Archangel to the Virgin of Nazareth: "Hail Mary, full of grace, * the Lord is with thee." The antiphons on the psalms of Matins are all taken from the Advent Office. The lessons are Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child (Is 7:10), a passage from Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo on the Maidenhood of Blessed Mary, and one from the Venerable Bede on the Annunciation Gospel. The final responsory is the glorious Fourth Mode Suscipe verbum, "Receive, O Virgin Mary, receive the word of the Lord, which is sent thee by His Angel."

The Collect throughout the day is that of Lady Day in March:

O God who didst will that Thy Word should,
by the message of an Angel,
take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grant unto us, we beseech Thee,
that all we who do believe her to be in very deed
the Mother of God,
may be holpen by her prayers in Thy sight.

At Lauds and the Hours, the antiphons are those of Lady Day, while the hymns remain those of the Advent Office. The Magnificat Antiphon is the lovely O Virgo Virginum, composed in the same Second Mode melody as the Great O Antiphons:

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O maiden of maidens,
how shall this be,
since neither before nor henceforth hath there been,
nor shall be such another?
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why look ye curiously upon me?
What ye see is a mystery of God.

I would venture to suggest that the Office and Mass of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are today, more than ever before, worthy of celebration and meditation, given that the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is roundly mocked by many. Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.

All of this makes me want to open my Processionale Monasticum to page 146 and sing, Gaude Maria, Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti:

Rejoice, O Mary,
by whose mighty hand the Church hath victory
over her foes [every heresy] achieved,
since thou to Gabriel's word of quickening power
in lowliness hast listened, and believed
— thou, still a virgin, in thy blessed womb
hast God Incarnate of thy flesh conceived,
and still, in heaven, of that virginity remainest
after childbirth unbereaved.
V. Blessed art thou that hast believed,
for there is a performance of those things
which were told thee from the Lord.

Bravissimo, Maestro Bocelli!

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I just had to translate this interview with Andrea Bocelli for the readers of Vultus Christi:

Maestro, we are in Advent, a Marian time par excellence. . .

"Of Mary we can never have too much. She is an inexhaustible wellspring of holiness and of sweetness, and even music has always known how to venerate and honour her wisely. Take, for example, the Ave Maria of Schubert, so used and, I agree, abused: it began originally as a pagan composition, inasmuch as the author did not conceive of it in a religious key, but its beauty, which goes together with the beauty of the liturgy, lovingly transported it into the churches of the word. But, thank God, in general, nearly all the greats of music have never had too much of the Madonna, and thus, so many musical versions of the Ave Maria were born. I ask myself then, what is the meaning of this abundant and glorious Marian presence in music?

Please, Bocelli, tell us this yourself.

"It is that even the art of music has bowed before the beauty of Mary, before the All-Holy, before who helps and consoles in difficulty. We are her children and she loves us."

I don't know what to say. You are really fervent when it comes to Mary.

"We all are. Mary is the obligatory itinerary to arrive at the Father. And then, she is our heavenly Mother. For example, you, when you are in trouble, do you not turn to your mother? Or if your father reproves you, do you not take refuge with your Mamma to be consoled and understood? Mary is the heavenly version of our earthly Mamma: she is consoler and mediatrix.

Traveling all over the world for your concerts, do you find the same love for the Madonna among diverse peoples?

"Certainly. For example, in Latin America and in Mexico, I was able to see that for the faithful Mary is truly a Mamma. And then, I think of Lourdes, which is a temple of consolation for the body and for the soul, and of Medjugorie. . ."

Let's talk about Medjugorie: the official Church does not seem convinced of the goodness of the apparitions.

"Here, in fact, the discourse becomes complex. It is true, the Catholic Church, in her infinite wisdom and with great prudence, has suspended judgment on the apparitions of Medjougorie. As a Catholic I hold the position of the ecclesiastical authority to be legitimate and reasonable, also because at one time many were feeding the sorry phenomenom of miraculism. But, all the same . . ."

A Mother Ever-Virgin

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O SAPIENTIA

Genesis 49:2, 8-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 3-4ab, 7-8, 17
Matthew 1:1-17

The Wondrous Exchange

O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in the womb of a mother ever-virgin,
look graciously upon our prayers,
that your only-begotten Son,
having taken our humanity to Himself,
may deign to make us partakers of His divinity.

The first Collect of the seven-day preparation for Christmas englobes the whole magnificent plan of the Incarnation and Redemption. It goes straight to the heart of the mystery: God, having taken our humanity to Himself in the womb of a virgin, makes us partakers of His divinity.

Partakers of His Divinity

We already hear today what we will pray in the Collect of the Mass of Christmas Day:

O God, who in a wonderful manner
created the dignity of human nature,
and still more wonderfully renewed it;
grant that we may be made partakers of His divinity
who deigned to become partaker of our humanity.

This same prayer is echoed in every Mass at the preparation of the chalice. The priest, adding water to the wine, says silently:

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we be made partakers in His divinity
who deigned to share in our humanity.

Mary Rose Up in Haste in Those Days

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Our Lady in Advent

The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the liturgy of Advent is like the fragrance of roses in December. Our Lady is everywhere, drawing us after her into the mystery of Christ. With Advent, the Church has entered into a Marian Jubilee Year, gratefully commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions of the Immaculate Conception to Saint Bernadette at Lourdes. “He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” (Ap 2:11).

A Moment of Grace

This is a moment of grace, a moment of conversion, a moment of hope for each of us. The All-Holy and Immaculate Mother of God emerges from her hiddenness? Why? Because her children, threatened by the ancient dragon, are in need of her maternal and regal presence. The vision vouchsafed to Saint Juan Diego is the same one that dazzled the eyes of another John, on the Island of Patmos: “And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake, and great hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Ap 11:19a; 12:1).

She who “rose up in those days, and went into the hill country in haste” (Lk 1:39), first into the hill country of Palestine to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and then, centuries, later into the hill country of Mexico to visit Juan Diego, visit us today. She visits us by means of the graces that, ever flowing from her open hands, bear witness to her presence and to her maternal and regal action.

The Battleground of the Heart

Do not let the grace of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe pass without changing you. Even the loftiest mystical graces are useless if they leave us unrepentant and unchanged. Pray the humble prayer of the Rosary, not sparingly, but continuously, at every free moment. It decapitates pride. It extinguishes lust, envy, covetousness, possessiveness, and greed. It pulls up the seven capital sins by their roots. The great cosmic battle between the Woman and the Dragon is not fought in the fantasies of movie screens. It is fought on the battleground of human hearts, one heart at a time.

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On December 8th, His Eminence Ivan Cardinal Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, opened the Jubilee Year of Lourdes. His homily was extraordinary, and strikingly suitable for today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! One senses a powerful and sweet Marian grace sweeping through the Church at every level. But allow me to let the Cardinal speak for himself:

Mary Weaves Her Web

“After her apparitions at Lourdes, the Holy Virgin has not ceased to manifest her great maternal concerns for the fate of mankind in her several apparitions worldwide. She has everywhere asked for prayers and penance for the conversion of sinners, for she predicted the spiritual ruin of certain nations, the sufferings that the Holy Father would face, the general weakening of the Christian faith, the difficulties of the Church, the rise of the Antichrist and of his attempts to replace God in the life of men, attempts which, despite their instant success, would nevertheless be destined to fail. Here, at Lourdes, as everywhere in the world, the Virgin Mary is weaving a enormous web of her spiritual sons and daughters in the whole world in order to launch a strong offensive against the forces of the Evil one, to lock him up and thus prepare the final victory of her Divine Son, Jesus Christ.

With the Small Beads of the Rosary

The Virgin Mary invites us once again today to be a part of her combat legion against the forces of evil. As a sign of our participation at her offensive, she demands, among other things, the conversion of the heart, a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the daily recitation of the rosary, unceasing prayer without hypocrisy, the acceptance of sufferings for the salvation of the world. Those could seem to be small things, but they are powerful in the hands of God, to whom nothing is impossible. As the young David who, with a small stone and a sling, brought down the giant Goliath who came to meet him armed with a sword, a spear, and a shield (cf. 1 Sam 17,4-51), we will also, with the small beads of our rosary, be able heroically to face the assaults of our awesome adversary and defeat him.

The Final Struggle

The struggle between God and his enemy still takes place, even more so today than at the time of Bernadette, 150 years ago, because the world finds itself stuck in the swamp of a secularism that wishes to create a world without God; of a relativism that stifles the permanent and unchangeable values of the Gospel; and of a religious indifference that remains undisturbed regarding the higher good of the matters of God and the Church. This battle makes innumerable victims within our families and among our young people. Some months before becoming Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Karol Woytjila said (November 9, 1976): "We are today before the greatest combat that mankind has ever seen. I do not believe that the Christian community has completely understood it. We are today before the final struggle between the Church and the Anti-Church, between the Gospel and the Anti-Gospel." One thing remains certain: the final victory belongs to God and that will happen thanks to Mary, the Woman of Genesis and of the Apocalypse, who will fight at the head of the army of her sons and daughters against the enemy forces of Satan and will crush the head of the serpent.”

Am I not here whom am your Mother?

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"Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you: let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?" (Words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Juan Diego)

Saint Juan Diego whom we remember on the day after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is listed in the Martyrology not as a visionary but as a hermit. Graced with seeing the holy Mother of God in all her radiance, Juan Diego’s vocation unfolded in a life of solitude, ceaseless prayer, and watchfulness.

These words to a priest seem to echo those Our Blessed Mother addressed to her beloved son Juan Diego so many years ago:

"I am ever willing to come quickly to the aid of my poor children. I am every ready to help them them, to lift them when they fall, to bind up their wounds, and even to intervene in such a way as to repair the effects of their wrongdoing.

I am not distant. I hear every prayer addressed to me. My maternal Heart is moved to pity when my children, and especially my priest sons, have recourse to me in their needs. I am the Mother of Mercy, MATER MISERICORDIAE, honoured by the Church in her chant to me. I do turn towards you my eyes of mercy, and I am ever willing to help poor sinners. Let sinners come to me; I will never turn them away. Let them appeal to my Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart; they will never be disappointed.

. . . I ask little of souls and I give much. Such is my way. Such too is the way of my Son. Yes, our Hearts are moved even by the smallest tokens of love, and our response to them surpasses what you can imagine."

This beautiful Akathist to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is the work of Dr. Alexander Roman.

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Akathist to Our Lady of Guadalupe

1
Kontakion 1
To Thee, our great and constant Intercessor before the Throne of Almighty God, do we,
Thy children, offer this hymn of praise, glorifying Thy wondrous Image revealed to Thy
humble servant, Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, as we sing of Thy enduring heavenly
Protection of all who keep festival, joyfully exclaiming with arms uplifted: Rejoice, O
Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

Ikos 1
The peoples of Mesoamerica saw a most Divine Light when they gazed upon Thy sacred
and miraculous image inscribed by the Finger of God upon the tilma of Juan Diego.
They recognized in it their salvation at last and liberation from the darkness of
enslavement to the cunning Serpent of old and they cried with grateful love amidst tears:

Rejoice, Most Immaculate Messenger from on High!
Rejoice, Great Sign that appeared in Heaven and in our midst!
Rejoice, Woman shining with the Brightness of Thy Son and our Lord!
Rejoice, Lady crushing the Serpent of old beneath thy feet!
Rejoice, Victor over evil!
Rejoice, Queen of Heaven and Earth!
Rejoice, unfailing Intercessor for those lost in darkness!
Rejoice, Star of the Sea bringing us to the harbor of safety!
Rejoice, Defender of children!
Rejoice, Protector of such as are of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, Standing with the moon at Thy feet!
Rejoice, with hands enfolded in prayer to God on our behalf!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

2
Kontakion 2
Thy servant, Juan Diego, first saw Thee in Thy appearance on a hill. Thou didst
command him to witness to Thy desire to have a temple raised there to bring salvation to his people. Overjoyed by this Thy maternal condescension on earth toward us all, Thy
servant ran into the city, crying: Alleluia!

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Thy servant has truly imitated the Beloved Disciple, John, for he likewise took Thee as
his Mother to the home of his heart at the command of our Crucified Lord. Asking Thee
for the grace to do likewise, we sing:

Rejoice, Temple of the Holy Spirit!
Rejoice, Rock Unhewn!
Rejoice, Densely wooded Mount Thaeman!
Rejoice, for Thou dost call everyone to the Mountain!
Rejoice, for like Elias of old, Thou comest to destroy idols!
Rejoice, for Thy Image is our bridge over dangerous waters to Heaven!
Rejoice, Mother of Christ!
Rejoice, Mother of His Church!
Rejoice, for we became Thy children underneath Thy Son's Cross!
Rejoice, Mother of the Foundation Stone!
Rejoice, Rock Unquarried!
Rejoice, Hilltop leading to the Heavenly Kingdom!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother Clothed with the Sun!

More on the Immaculate Conception

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First Vespers

Last evening, as I opened my antiphonal to begin the First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was stunned, all over again, by the beauty of the antiphons that the Church places in our mouths to sing of this mystery. I had just come in from the snowy cold. A layer of pure whiteness was resting ever so lightly on the trees, on the housetops, and on the ground.

All Lovely

And then, I took a breath, and said what the Church wanted me to say. Her words, not mine. Words inspired by the Holy Spirit, words crafted by the Church, coming to the help of all of us who know not how to pray as we ought.

Tota pulchra es Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.

Thou art all fair, O Mary,
there is no spot of original sin in thee (Ct 4, 7).

Tota pulchra: all fair, all lovely, all beautiful or, to use the words of the Angel Gabriel in today’s Gospel, gratia plena, full of grace. In Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot,” one of his characters comments on the portrait of a woman named Nastassya Filippovna, saying, “One could turn the world upside down with beauty like that.” The beauty of the Immaculate Conception does not turn the world upside down; it is more radical than that. It is the beginning of a new world. It is the beauty of a new genesis, of paradise reinvented in a little girl conceived, as Bernanos put it, “younger than sin.”

The Heartbeat of Hope

This is the key to understanding today’s Lesson from Genesis (3: 9-15, 20). Immaculate beauty crushes the head of the ancient serpent. The human race receives in the person of the Immaculate Conception a new “mother of all the living.” The heartbeat of hope begins its rhythm in the womb of Saint Anne. Nothing will ever again be the same.

The Jubilee of Lourdes

The second antiphon describes Mary as she appeared to Bernadette 150 years ago, in the grotto overlooking the Gave River:

Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.

Thy raiment is white as snow, and thy countenance as the sun (Ct 1:3, 4).

Today the Church enters into the Jubilee Year of Lourdes. It was 150 years that the young woman robed in white, with her countenance indescribably radiant, said to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Church intends to mark this Jubilee Year in a number of ways. The Holy Father announced the gift of a Plenary Indulgence. It is granted not only to those who will go on pilgrimage to Lourdes this year, but also to all those who will pray before a blessed image of Our Lady of Lourdes solemnly exposed to public veneration between February 2nd and February 11th, 2008.

Mary, Younger Than Sin

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Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Genesis 3: 9-15, 20
Ephesis 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

Back to Creation’s Dawn

The mystery we celebrate today takes us back to creation’s dawn, to a moment of pure beauty in which all things, untouched by sin, sang the glory of God, praising in a perfect harmony. The nostalgia of it still haunts the human heart. Every human experience knows moments—as fleeting as they are precious—in which we seem to perceive something of heaven shining through the things of earth, glimpses and bits of another time and of another place.

The Nostalgia of Paradise

The nostalgia of paradise is painful and sweet: a longing for something remembered, strains of a symphony heard long ago and not quite forgotten. There are moments of silence in which it seems to come back to us: in a child’s laugh, in a fragrance, in the proustian palate’s recognition of an unmistakable taste. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

A Royal Couple Clothed in Glory

Presiding over this cosmic liturgy, and fully themselves at its heart, were man and woman fully alive, a royal couple clothed in grace and glory, vested in light as in a robe. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them“ (Gen 1:27). God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man (Gen 2:21) and, from his side, drew a helper fit for him,“bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh” (Gen 2:23), and she was called woman. “The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25) for they were clothed in garments woven by the hand of God.

Original Sin

Then, tempted and deceived by the serpent, the most subtle of all God’s creatures (Gen 3:1), they rebelled against the Author of Life, using the gift against the Giver. They grasped what they were created to offer. They pulled down what they were to lift up and, immediately, they were cast into confusion. The order of the world was shaken. All created things were wrenched out of harmony. Heavy darkness fell upon them. The symphony of praise and glory was silenced with the silence of death, cold and empty. Closed to the joy-giving beauty of God, their eyes opened in horror to sin’s harsh and stony grimace. “And they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7), stripped of grace and of glory, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to evil, to sickness, suffering and death. “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7): a futile attempt to cover with human artifice the devastating shame of sin.

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One of my heavenly friends — in some way, I might even consider him a spiritual father of mine - is the Benedictine Dom Eugène Vandeur (1875-1967). One of my dreams is one day to facilitate the re-edition of some of Father Vandeur's works. Father Vandeur wrote extensively, passionately, and beautifully on the Blessed Virgin Mary. His point of departure was always a text of Holy Scripture or of the Sacred Liturgy; then he would allow his pen (and his soul to take flight) in what he called his elevations. His message remained simple and accessible, even as he probed the hidden and deep things of God and of the Kingdom. Here is a page of Dom Vandeur that I think suitable for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:

If it is possible for you, never neglect to say your beads every day,
and if you find time, even the whole fifteen decades.

Be not afraid of distractions, provided you are willing to struggle against them.
Our heavenly Mother understands so well our weakness, our tired feelings, our weariness at times.
Hail Mary's multiplied never displease her.
She appreciates your murmurings of faith, hope, and love.
Do your best. But, never give up your beads.
To carry them on your person . . . is that not as if you were saying them all day, all night secretly?
Keep them, at times, especially in time of trial, in the hollow of your hand. That is to clasp Mary's hand.

To conclude, keep this in mind, at least:
do not neglect to say three Hail Mary's morning and night to Mary, Mother of God and your Mother, to thank the Most Blessed Trinity for having given us her.

We can report marvelous results from faithfulness to that practice, among those who suffer, who labor, who undergo pain of any kind,
in body, in soul, in the midst of cares, to safeguard their interests for time and eternity.

When we love someone, we cease not to remind him of our love, and always we love him more.
In saying Hail Mary, you will never disappoint your heart, and above all the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
She is your Mother . . . Does not that say it all?
Amen! So be it! Yes, altogether, right, sweet, and good that it be so.

(Hail Mary, by Dom Eugène Vandeur, translated by John H. Collins, S.J., The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1954)

Spes Nostra

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Monday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 4:2-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5, 6-7), 8-9 (R. 1)
Matthew 8:5-11

Isaiah’s Gift

Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope can be read as a commentary on the readings given us in the Advent liturgy. In fact, given the timing of the publication of the Encyclical and his own sensitivity to the liturgy, I rather suspect that the Holy Father had just that in mind. The particular gift of the prophet Isaiah is to instill hope into hearts burdened by fear and discouraged by the desolation that seems to surround them on every side. Isaiah’s gift was not for the Jews of the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ alone. Were that the case, the reading of Isaiah in our liturgical assemblies today would be an exercise in literature with no real bearing on our lives here and now. Isaiah’s prophetic gift is for all generations.

God Speaking Here and Now

When the Church reads Isaiah, she receives his message in all its immediacy and freshness for today. This is why we say Deo gratias — Thanks be to God — at the end of a liturgical reading: not because God spoke through His prophet once upon a time, but because God is speaking to us here and now.

The Promises of Christ

What causes hope to spring up in a heart? What makes me hope? What makes you hope? A word of promise. A promise made by one faithful enough and powerful enough to keep it. In a sense, we live in hope because of the promises that have been made to us. Is this not why the Church has us so often pray, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”? What makes us worthy of the promises of Christ? The hope that we place in them.

The Act of Hope

When I was a schoolboy we used to say the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity every day upon our return to class after the noonday break. The Act of Hope made an explicit reference to the promises of God: “I hope . . . because Thou didst promise it.” What are the promises of God to us in today’s First Lesson from the fourth chapter of Isaiah?

Jubilee of Lourdes

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December 8, 2007 marks the opening of the Jubilee Year of Lourdes: 150 years after the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, to Saint Bernadette. Be sure to look at the official Lourdes website for further information on this moment of grace for the whole Church. Especially interesting (and inviting!) is the request for priests to hear confessions and for volunteer medical personnel. Lisa, are you thinking what I am thinking?

Spes Nostra, Salve!

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The Holy Father's Encyclical Spe Salvi ends in a splendid prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Spes Nostra, Our Hope. One of the high points of my recent travels in France was a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de la Sainte Espérance at Le Mesnil Saint-Loup, founded by the Benedictine Père Emmanuel André in 1864. In response to a sermon preached by Père Emmanuel, his parishioners spontaneously cried out, "Notre Dame de la Sainte Esperance, convertissez-nous! Our Lady of Holy Hope, convert us!" The entire parish was converted to hope, becoming a beacon of Christianity and of full, conscious, and actual participation in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

Mary, Star of Hope

49. With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

Humble and Great Souls of Israel

50. So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

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With the Hope of the World in Your Womb

When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world.

The Hour of the Cross

Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26).

Did Hope Die?

From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning.

Mother of Hope, Star of the Sea

The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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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