Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Like a Fragrance Filling the House: the Presence of Mary

Fr.MarkKirbyCard.jpgIt will soon be possible to obtain magnificent reproductions of the icon of the Virgin Mother, Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Christ. This icon, inspired by the teachings of Pope John Paul II during the Year of the Eucharist, was blessed last June on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. I will be carrying the original with me to Rome on Wednesday.

The Presence of Mary
For the Church, all the days between Christmas and Epiphany are one continuous celebration: the festival of the Advent of God among us. Through it all, there is a mysterious presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a nearness of the Mother, a pervasive tenderness. In today’s Gospel, the Virgin Mother is all silence, but her silence is — to borrow an image from the Gospel of Saint John — like a fragrance filling the house (cf. Jn 12:3). “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

On today’s Solemnity of the Mother of God, the Holy Spirit gifts the Church with a renewed consciousness of the presence of Mary. It is as if the Church, surprised by the nearness of the Mother of God on the threshold of the New Year and graced with a new awareness of just how close Mary always is, wants and needs today to acknowledge her unfailing presence. The Virgin Mother’s nearness to the Church is like her breath, warm on the face of the sleeping Infant Christ. The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins compared this presence of the Blessed Virgin to the air we breathe:

This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

Mediatrix of All Blessings
Today, Mary, the Mother of God and Mediatrix of all blessings, obtains for us the fullness of that ancient blessing given by God to Moses for Aaron and his descendants. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24–26). It strikes me that the liturgy teaches us to pray to Mary, saying, “Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us.”

The Countenance of Mary
One who would contemplate the face of Christ must begin by seeking the countenance of Mary. This is no merely personal opinion of mine: it is something the Church teaches through the liturgy by making us pray in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “All the rich among the people shall entreat thy countenance” (Ps 44:13). Those who seek the countenance of the Virgin Mother will hear her good counsel, “Look to the Eucharistic Face of my Son, and be radiant, so your faces shall never be ashamed” (cf. Ps 33:5).

Before Her Image
In the eyes of the Mother, we begin to understand the mercy of the Son. In the gaze of the Mother, there is “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). I invite all of you on this first day of the New Year to spend some time before your favourite image of the Mother of God. Light a candle before her image, and seek there her silent, compassionate gaze. On her most pure countenance, you will discover the peace that is the gift of her Divine Child wondrously reflected as in a spotless mirror.

Restored to Childhood
The Blessed Virgin Mary is present in today’s Lesson from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Mary is the woman to whom, through whom, in the fullness of time, the Son is sent — of Mary is born the Son, so that all of us, receiving the Child from the Mother, might, in the Child be restored to childhood, and to the embrace of the Father in the Holy Spirit.

The Heart of Mary
“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Saint Luke, ever the iconographer, sets before us an image that summons us, in a particular way, to live this New Year conscious of Mary’s presence, of her nearness, of her attention not only to the Infant Christ, but also to each and every member of His Mystical Body. He shows us the Mother of Jesus contemplating His mysteries and preserving the memory of them for the sake of all in whom those same mysteries will be reproduced by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Consecration to Mary
Many years ago, my dear friend Father Jacob and I began the practice of consecrating ourselves to Mary on the first day of the year. So long as we were together we did this kneeling before the icon of the Mother of God. Although apart, we have remained faithful to doing this on New Year’s Day. It is a way of saying, “Most Holy Mother of God, we choose, I choose to live out this year in your presence, trusting in your care for me, a care in every way as tender and solicitous as the care you lavished on the Infant Christ.”

Find your own words, invent your own formula, but do this. Consecrate yourself anew to Mary. Allow yourself to be surprised by Mary. Like the Infant Christ waking from His sleep, open your eyes to gaze into the eyes of the Mother and in them, see all the tenderness of the Father, all the compassion of the Son, all the peace of the Holy Spirit.

The Rosary
This is the experience that lies at the heart of the humble prayer of the Rosary, a prayer for and for every day of the year; the conteplation of the Face of Christ with Mary. With the Mother of God this New Year can be for each of us and for the world a year of grace, a year of healing, a year of peace for you. Listen again to the poet:

I say that we are wound
with mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let her dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

Ave, Maria — Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent

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Today is Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent.
Pope Paul VI, influenced, no doubt, by the ancient practice
of the venerable Church of Milan,
desired that the Fourth Sunday of Advent
should become a veritable festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery
in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother.
By designating the Fourth Sunday of Advent our Lady’s Sunday
and by restoring to January 1st
its ancient title of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,
Pope Paul VI sought to give us the Infant Christ, the Redeemer of the world,
circled round by the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin.
The liturgy celebrates the Virgin Mother
before Christmas Day and again eight days after it.
This is the Church’s way of teaching us
that the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable to every advent of Christ.
If you would welcome Christ, welcome Mary.
If you would receive Christ, seek Mary.
If you would know Christ, know Mary.
If you would love Christ, love Mary.
The Blessed Virgin is present in every part of today’s Mass.
The Introit, for example, is her song before it is ours.
It can only be ours because it was first hers.
“Send down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One:
may He, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of the earth” (Is 45:8).
There is no prayer that does not begin
in an intense longing for the dew from above.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness;
they shall have their fill” (Mt 5:6).
The Collect is familiar and worn like a thing much loved
because it is the prayer that, three times each day,
concludes the Little Office of the Incarnation
that we call the Angelus.
It sums up the whole economy of our salvation:
the message of an angel to the Virgin;
the immensity of her “Yes”;
the bitter Passion and the Blood outpoured;
the Cross, the Tomb, and the triumph of the Prince of Life.
Of all these mysteries, Mary is the mystical portress
and the keeper of the gate.
This is why the saints teach that love for Mary
is a sure sign of predestination.
Understand this aphorism as the saints did:
one who loves Mary
is destined to imitate her “Yes”
and to follow her through the passion and cross of her Son
into the glory of His resurrection.

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Ave, verum Corpus natum, de Maria Virgine

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In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word. The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood.

As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” ( Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.

“Blessed is she who believed” ( Lk 1:45). Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the incarnation, the Church’s Eucharistic faith. When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary. And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion? (Saint John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia)

Ab initio, et ante saecula creata sum

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At the beginning of time,
before the world was,
I was created,
and to all eternity
I shall not cease to be (Ecclus 24:14).

How I love this sixeenth century Mexican depiction of the Eternal Father painting the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Immaculate Conception! The Eternal Father is deep in conversation with His Son; between them flutters the Holy Spirit, the living bond and perfection of their love. Note the way the artist sought to show he wings of the dove in movement.
The Eternal Father Himself, the Divine Artist, is holding His palette; the palette bears the roses that He is applying to the Virgin’s robe. The gaze of the Son, with an ineffable tenderness, is fixed on the Face of the Father. “I was with Him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times” (Pr 8:30).
In the bottom left hand corner of the painting is the Angel of the stars and moon. In the image of the Mother of God he contemplates the stars and the moon that he has given at the Father’s bidding. All around the painting are cherubs, happy to participate in the Divine project.

Gaudens gaudebo in Domino

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December 8
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 97: 1, 2-3ab, 3cdd-4
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

A Song From the Womb
“Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels” (Is 61:10). A song intoned from the womb! The Church takes the jubilant words of the prophet Isaiah and places them in the mouth of the Immaculate Conception, the Child full of grace just conceived in the womb of Saint Anne.
Prelude to the Magnificat
Gaudens, gaudebo in Domino.” “Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord.” If you would understand the text, you must sing it as the Church sings it today. The exegesis of the text is in its ravishing third mode melody; it soars pure as crystal in a kind of ecstatic cry of undiluted joy in God.
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Mary herself intones the first chant of the Mass today: a kind of prelude to her Magnificat. Already — just conceived — the Child Mary begins to sing, and with her the whole Church. On no other feast of the year does the liturgy allow the Virgin Mary to open the Mass by singing in the first person singular. “Rejoicing, I will rejoice” (Is 61:10). Mary’s message, from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, is one of joy in God.
The Tree
The joy of the Immaculate Conception springs from the mystery of the Cross. The Collect says that Mary was “preserved from all stain” in foresight of the death of Christ on the Cross. Here enters the figure of the tree glimpsed in today’s First Lesson from Genesis. The tree of Eve’s mourning and weeping becomes for Mary the tree of “an unutterable and exalted joy” (1 P 1:8). Mary is the first to taste of the sweet fruit of the Tree of Life; Mary is the first to sing of the joy of the Cross. There is an extraordinary medieval painting that shows the Tree of Life with Mary on one side and Eve on the other. Eve, completely naked, is giving the bitter fruit of her sin to her own communicants in evil. From her side of the tree a skull looks out, grimacing in death. On the other side of the tree is Mary, crowned and clothed in grace and beauty. She takes pure white hosts from among the branches of the tree and, like a priest distributing Holy Communion, places them in the mouths of her own communicants in eternal life. In the branches of Mary’s side of the tree there is a crucifix. The Face of the Crucified is turned toward those who partake of the fruit of the Cross.

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Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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