Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

The Marian Way of Carmel

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Father Prior is in Northern Ireland today, having been invited to address the Carmelite Tertiaries of Belfast for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Made of a Woman

«But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law» (Galatians 4:4). The Son of God is born of woman like the great drenching rain born of the little cloud rising over the Mediterranean. The woman of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a woman complete in every way, a woman in whose flesh the fullest feminine potential has been realized. Mary, the God–bearing woman, through whom Christ is given to the world, is the sign and promise of the God–bearing Church, through whom Christ is given to the world, and of the God–bearing disciple, through whom Christ is given and made present in situations as numerous as they are unique and unrepeatable.

In Our Lady, Saint Mary, in the Church, and in the individual disciple, Christ is conceived, brought forth, and given, «not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13) acting powerfully in the mission of the Word and the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost.  The fullest feminine potential of the Mother of God, of the Church, and of the soul is realized in a joyful, sorrowful, and glorious growth from one stage of relationship to another: from virginal readiness to bridal self–gift; from bridal self–gift to spousal fidelity; and from spousal fidelity to life–giving motherhood.

Virgin, Bride, Spouse, and Mother
In Mary Most Holy we contemplate a woman who is virgin, bride, spouse, and mother.  The Church, too, is a woman who, down through the ages, knows again and again the experience of being virgin, bride, spouse, and mother «for the life of the world» (John 6:51). Each of you, embracing unreservedly your Carmelite vocation, will find yourself confronted with the fearful and wonderful possibility of becoming, like Mary, and like the Church, virgin, bride, spouse, and mother. «God sent his Son, made of a woman» (Galatians 4:4).  The pattern of salvation is given, the matrix is cast, once and for all, in the Virgin of Nazareth. It finds completion in the feminine mystery of the Church, and is brought to a unique realization in each disciple’s conscious acceptance of the specifically feminine mode of relating to God and to the world. Isaac of Stella, a 12th century Cistercian, expresses this simply and clearly in one of his sermons:

In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary, and what is said in a particular sense of the virgin mother Mary is rightly understood in a general sense of the virgin mother, the Church. When either is spoken of, the meaning can be understood of both, almost without qualification.

In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful. These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. (Sermo 51: PL 194, 1862-1865)

Draw Us After Thee
This is why the sacred liturgy teaches us to pray: «Draw us after thee, O Virgin Mary; we shall follow in thy footsteps». All too often, men, if they consider the feminine pattern of holiness at all, are tempted to dismiss it as belonging exclusively to women. We men do this at our own peril. Women, for their part, enflesh the four stages of virginal readiness, bridal self–gift, spousal fidelity, and life–giving motherhood in what might be termed an iconic and exemplary fashion.  Men, and even priests and prelates, learn this particular pattern of holiness precisely by standing in chaste relationship to women, a relationship characterized by reverence, humility, and collaboration, literally «in labour side by side». The Carmelite woman, be she in the cloister or in the world, be she unmarried, married, or widowed, is called to be virgin, bride, spouse, and mother. By contemplating Mary, she comes to participate, over time and almost imperceptibly, in the grace of the holy Theotokos, the God–bearer, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Into the Mystery of Mary
By seeking the face of the Virgin Mary, by approaching her heart, by living in her presence, men and women alike are drawn into her mystery. It is Mary Most Holy who reveals to souls the grandeur of their baptismal consecration and chrismation. It is Mary Most Holy, who, by a discrete and efficacious influence, prepares souls to hear the Word of God. It is Mary Most Holy, who attracts souls after her into the via dolorosa and, then, to the altar of the Cross, to the sealed tomb, the Cenacle, and the mount of the Ascension.

The Church

Similarly, it is in the contemplation of the Virgin Mary that the mystery of the Church is disclosed and enfleshed. A Carmelite is a soul compelled by the Holy Spirit persevere in the night, that is, in the heart of the Church’s faith, waiting for the arrival of the Bridegroom with her lamp filled, trimmed, and ready. A Carmelite, be she (or he) in the cloister or in the world, waits for the cry in the night, Ecce sponsus venit, «Behold the bridegroom cometh» (Matthew 25:6). A Carmelite has no ambition apart from the unconditional gift of herself as a bridal soul, strong and unwavering with the Church in her vigil of compassion and contemplation at the foot of the Cross (John 19:25). A Carmelite, hidden in the heart of the Church, carries within herself the weight of new life, and brings forth life, amidst pain and tears, for the salvation and joy of the world.

Virgin

The Church, like Mary, is virgin by reason of the integrity of her faith and by that state of readiness for nuptial love to which she is brought, and in which she is held, by the Holy Spirit. It is the catholicity (or completeness) of the Church’s faith, held intact, that renders her, in every generation, ready for the new experience of the unchanging love of Christ. The individual soul, formed, enlightened, and healed in the virginal faith of the Church, is made ready for a personal nuptial experience of the new and unchanging love of Christ. This is what it means to be virgin. Too often we define virginity in a limited and negative way, referring principally to a state of physical integrity, or to the absence of the experience of sexual union. Such a narrow and negative definition of virginity disqualifies many and discourages most from pursuing the specifically Marian path of holiness.

The challenge of virginity addressed to every disciple has to do with coming to that human, and therefore spiritual, maturity by which one holds oneself in readiness for a divine love that is, at once, unitive and fecund. The process is not without pain, but it is the pain of growth. The soul is made ready for love by a costly adhesion to truth, and by a personal appropriation of the faith of the Church, integral and intact

Bride

The Church, like Mary, is bride because she subsists in the dynamic tension of the beloved chosen by her Lover and chooses, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, to respond with the unconditional gift of herself sealed in an irrevocable covenant of love. The bridal Church is characterized by the beauty conferred upon her by the Holy Ghost who clothes her in a raiment worthy of the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Church rejoices in the passionate declaration of the Bridegroom, «Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck» (Canticle 4:9). The bridal stage of Marian holiness is not static, but dynamic; not fleeting, but abiding. Even in her eschatological perfection, the Church remains the eternal bride (Canticle 21:2).

To the Carmelite virgin called, with all Christians, to heavenly glory, and to every bridal soul, the liturgy of the Church sings, «Come, thou bride of Christ, receive the crown prepared for thee by the Lord».

Spouse

The Church, like Mary, is spouse: «steadfast in her faith, relentless in her hope, unswerving in her devotion».  Growth in the Carmelite vocation entails a passage from the virginal and bridal realities into the crucible of spousal love. Saint John gives us a feminine icon of the Church as spouse. «Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.» (John 19:25). We contemplate the Church as spouse when we look at the Mother of God standing by the foot of the cross. The voice of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is an impassioned call to spousal fidelity, to the companionship of the Crucified. «If you decide for Christ», she writes, «you can even be asked to sacrifice your life. If you wish to be the spouse of the Crucified, you must renounce completely your own will and have no other aspiration than to do the will of God» (Second Lesson, Proper Office of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). The spousal way is one of faithful companionship marked by blood, and by tears. It is the way of the Cross and, by that very fact, it is the way of life and of joy, ineffable joy.

Mother

Finally, the Church, like Mary, is mother.  The Church is fruitful.  The fecundity of the Church in every age is the crowning glory of her virginal, bridal, and spousal realities.  Mary, the Virgin, the Bride, the Spouse standing in the shadow of the Cross, enters into the fullness of the motherhood to which she consented when, at Nazareth, she was visited by an angel sent by God (Luke 1:26). Under the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, we see the motherhood of the Godbearer become increasingly inclusive, beginning with the adoption of the beloved disciple John (John 19:26); enfolding the disciples at prayer in the upper room (Acts 1:14); and extending to the least of Jesus’ brethren, with a predilection for the poor, the wounded, and the weak.  «When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.» (John 19:26).

One comes to Carmel to assume the responsibility and joy of spiritual motherhood: the Christ–life carried, the Christ–life brought forth, the Christ–life nurtured, sustained, and sent into the world for its healing and redemption. It is no accident that the monastic tradition confers upon the woman mature in the virginal, bridal, and spousal realities of her consecrated life, the title of Amma or Mother.

Men — sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, monks, abbots, deacons, priests, and bishops —should not shrink from this mystery, for while they are called to embody it in a distinctly masculine way, in a manner proper and unique to men, they are called nonetheless to bring Christ to birth, and to give Him to the world. Maternity of the spirit is in no way limited by the specificity of gender.  «And looking round about on them who sat about him, he saith: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, he is my brother, and my sister, and mother.» (Mark 3:34–35).

The Marian Way
The way of holiness revealed in Our Lady Saint Mary, and in the Church, virgin, bride, spouse, and mother, is the very life of any soul called to Carmel. «God sent his Son, made of a woman» (Galatians 4:4), and God continues to send Him forth, sacramentally, through the Church, and mystically, through the hearts of those who, hearing the Word, hold themselves in readiness for the torrent of love, «abiding in their cells, pondering the Law of the Lord day and night, keeping watch in prayer» (Rule of Saint Albert).

The abiding and familiar presence of the Virgin Mary in the sacred liturgy is the promise and safeguard of our growth from virginal readiness to bridal self–gift, from bridal self–gift to spousal fidelity, and from spousal fidelity to life–giving motherhood.  Intimacy with the Mother of God is the gift of Christ to each disciple held in the gaze of Crucified Love.  «After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.» (John 19:27).  An ancient Carmelite text expresses the extent to which intimacy with the Mother of God was treasured by the sons of Elijah on the holy mountain:

O blessed Mother, all of us who dwell on this mountain, water our hearts by drinking from thy fountains. We know that we are guided by thy hand, helped by thy assistance, illuminated by thy light. Mary, Our Lady, abide with us; in thee do we seek refuge. It is needful that the Mother remain with her children, the Mistress with her disciples, the Abbess with her monks. (The Book of the First Monks, Chapter 32)

The Beauty of Carmel, Mary, «Virgin, Bride, Spouse, and Mother» abides with all who, praying like Elias, prostrate on the holy mountain (3 Kings 18:42), look to the little cloud, and expose themselves to the driving rain of the Holy Ghost.  The Mother of God accompanies us now to altar of the Sacrifice, bringing her own incomparable joy to Supper of the Lamb. Her word to us echoes that of the angel to Saint Elias» «Arise, eat: for thou hast yet a great way to go.» (3 Kings 19:7).

The Magnificat in a Eucharistic key

Saint John Paul II
“Blessed is she who believed” (Luke 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. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 55)

The Hidden Face of Christ
The Face of Christ was hidden in Our Lady Saint Mary’s virginal womb: hidden, yet wonderfully radiant. Jesus was hidden in Mary as He is hidden in the tabernacle. (The traditional use of the tabernacle veil suggests this very connection.) The Virgin of the Visitation bears within herself the Human Face of God. She holds it beneath her heart. The joy that shines on the Virgin’s face as she intones her Magnificat is the very joy that shines eternally on the Face of the Word in the presence of the Father. The Virgin Mother’s womb enclosed, for all generations to come, “the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The Virgin of the Sign
This is the significance of the ancient icon of the Mother of God called «of the Sign». The icon shows her as the Virgin of the Magnificat and the Woman of the Eucharist. The Divine Child in the tabernacle of her womb is displayed to the eyes of faith. The Face of the Infant–God shone from Our Lady’s womb as now it shines from the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Elizabeth was inwardly illumined by the radiance of the Face of the hidden Christ, and the infant John, hidden in her womb, leapt for joy. The same light that shone from the Face of the Infant Christ in the tabernacle of Our Lady’s womb shines for us from his Eucharistic Face.

The Eucharistic Face of Christ
The Eucharistic Face of Christ concealed in the tabernacle, or displayed to our eyes at Holy Mass, or exposed to our gaze in the monstrance, streams with light for every darkness, healing for every brokenness, joy for every sorrow, and pardon for every sin. So often as Christ is “brought forth” in the Most Holy Eucharist, as He was from Mary’s virginal womb on the first Christmas, the Church can sing what she sings every year at First Vespers of Christmas: Rex pacificus magnificatus est, cuius vultum desiderat universa terra — «The King of peace is magnified, the One whose face the whole earth desireth to see».

Visited by Joy
Today’s festival of the Visitation invites to imitate the faith of Elizabeth who, without seeing it, was illumined by the Human Face of God tabernacled in Mary’s womb. For us the same Human Face of God is hidden beneath the sacramental veils, the appearances of bread and wine. The Most Holy Eucharist is the Visitation of the Hidden Christ. He come always with His Virgin Mother that from her we might learn, as Saint John Paul II said, «to sing the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key» (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 58) Thus does the Hidden Face of Christ become for us, as it was for Our Lady Saint Mary and for Saint Elizabeth, the inexhaustible wellspring of joy in God.

Mass of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour

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Introit
Rejoice we all in the Lord, as we keep festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary: whose solemnity makes angels joyful and sets them praising the Son of God. V. Joyful the thoughts that well up from my heart, I shall speak of the works of the King (Ps 44:2).

Gaudeamus is a magnificent festal chant originally composed for the virgin martyr Saint Agatha, and then adapted to other occasions. It is used on a number of other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making it familiar enough to be sung with a certain jubilant ease. The gentle balancing of the first mode melody evokes the ceaseless, sweeping joys of the heavenly liturgy celebrated by “the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Ap 5:11). The verse, drawn from Psalm 44, the exuberant messianic wedding song, is placed in the mouth of the Church, the Bride of Christ, as she declares the wonders wrought through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help.

Collect
Lord Jesus Christ, by whose gift Mary Thy Mother, whose glorious image we revere, is our Mother too, and ready at all times to succour us, we pray Thee grant, that we who earnestly beg her maternal help, may be counted worthy to reap through all eternity the fruit of Thy redeeming work. Thou who art God living and reigning with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, forever and ever.

As are many liturgical prayers of recent composition, the Collect is addressed to Christ rather than to the Father. Orations addressed to the Son are exceptional in the Roman liturgy; in the East they are the norm. While it is not traditional to direct the Collect to the Son in the classic Roman liturgy, there are moments when it can be quite fitting to do so. The feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help may be one of those moments.

The Collect refers straightaway to the gift of the Virgin Mary’s motherhood extended to every disciple of her Son, the very mystery that will be evoked in the Gospel; and to the veneration of her glorious image. It acknowledges that Mary is perpetually ready to help us, and asks that, through her motherly power, we may reap through all eternity the fruit of Christ’s redemption. The last phrase is certainly an allusion to the charism of the Redemptorists, custodians of the miraculous icon and, in the tradition of Saint Alphonsus, tireless preachers of Mary’s universal mediation and inexhaustible clemency.

Lesson (Ecclesiasticus 24:23-31)
As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour: and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches. I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst. He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting.

I so regret that the modern reformed liturgy uses this text so sparingly in the context of Marian feasts. It is quoted by all the great Marian doctors and mystics. It articulates the ineffable experience of those who, having consecrated themselves to Mary, found themselves inwardly changed. The very last line is a promise to those who promote the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and explain its significance.

Gradual
All lovely and gentle art thou, daughter of Sion; beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army drawn up for battle (Ct 6:3,9). V. What blessing the power of the Lord hath granted thee, making use of thee to bring our enemies to nothing (Jud 13:22).

The Gradual artfully juxtaposes two traditional Marian texts. In the Canticle of Canticles the Church sees her as lovely, gentle, beautiful, radiant and . . . terrible as an army drawn up for battle. The imagery is related to that of the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Apocalypse 12:1). The verse from the book of Judith says that it has pleased God to grant Mary a singular blessing, that of bringing our enemies to nothing. Again, this reflects the experiece of the Church through the ages, as well as the intimate experience of the saints who, in the thick of spiritual combat, had recourse to Mary and prevailed over the powers of darkness.

Alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia. V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women (Lk 1:28). Alleluia.

The Alleluia Verse repeats the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation at Nazareth; but here the words of the Angel serve to introduce another annunciation, the words of Jesus from the Cross on Calvary.

Gospel (John 19:25-27)
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.

The words of Our Lord to His beloved disciple, “Behold thy mother,” are an invitation to contemplate Mary. In the context of today’s feast of the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help, the words of the Crucified invite us to behold our Mother as she is depicted in her miraculous image. “And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own” (Jn 19:27). Wheresoever the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is given a place of honour, Mary herself is welcomed and received there. It has been said that there is scarcely a family in Ireland without an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I have heard similar reports coming from the Philippines and from Haiti. When families, communities, and individuals welcome an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in their homes, they are, in effect, imitating the Apostle Saint John. The presence of the icon expresses a spiritual desire to abide with Mary and to remain beneath her gaze in an attitude of total consecration to her.

Offertory
Remember, O Virgin Mother, where thou standest before the face of God, to plead on our behalf, and to avert His anger from us (Jer 18:20).

The Church lifts this text directly from the prophet Jeremias and, in the liberty that comes from the Holy Ghost, addresses it to the Virgin Mother. The antiphon acknowledges that Mary stands before the face of God to plead on our behalf: a clear allusion to her role as Mediatrix and Advocate. As Mediatrix, Mary participates in the work of her risen and ascended Son; as Advocate, she participates in the work of the Holy Spirit. We ask her to plead on our behalf that, in spite of our sins, the anger of God may be turned away from us.

Secret
By thy gracious mercy, O Lord, and at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary, let this offering bring us prosperity and peace, now and forevermore. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who is God, living and reigning with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, forever and ever.

Here the gracious mercy of God and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin meet. The Most Holy Eucharist is the fulfillment of what God, in His mercy, seeks to give us, and of what Mary, in her maternal solicitide, seeks to obtain for us: prosperity and peace.

Communion
Most worthy Queen of the world, O Mary ever-virgin, who didst bear Christ, the Lord and Saviour of us all, intercede for our peace and salvation.

It is unusual that a Communion Antiphon should be addressed to the Mother of God. Here the Church calls her “most worthy Queen of the world” and “Mary ever-virgin who didst bear Christ, the Lord and Saviour of us all.” All who partake of the Sacred Mysteries become, with Mary, bearers of Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all. The peace and salvation for which we ask Mary’s intercession, are given us sacramentally in Holy Communion.

Postcommunion
May the august intercession of Thy immaculate and ever-virgin Mother Mary help us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that through her lovingkindness, we, upon whom she has heaped lasting benefits, may be freed from every peril and made one in heart and mind. Thou who art God, living and reigning with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, forever and ever.

This prayer alludes to the countless favours attributed to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. She has, in fact, “heaped lasting benefits” on those devoted to her. She continues to do so. We ask that we may be freed from the perils that threaten our souls and bodies, and we pray that the full effect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be given us, that is: oneness in heart and mind.

Beginning Afresh

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Benedictines Always Beginning Again
We began today, once again, the reading of the Holy Rule from the beginning. In Benedictine life, we are always beginning again. This is, I think, one of the characteristic graces of Benedictine life: a supernatural optimism, born of confidence in the all–sufficient grace of Jesus Christ. He speaks to each one, saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Hearing this word of Christ and taking it to heart, one will always have the grace to begin afresh. For one who relies on Christ, there is an inexhaustible spring of hope. It is this that allows one to begin again, and again, and again.

Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king. In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory. (Prologue of the Holy Rule)

The Loveliest Month of the Year
I have always felt it entirely suitable that we should begin a new reading of the Holy Rule at the very beginning of the month of May, “the loveliest month of the year”. Francis Duggan describes May in Ireland:

The countryside has never looked so green
And spring has reached her prime in the northern hemisphere
And the wild birds sing from dawn till dark of day
In May the loveliest month of all the year.

Our Lady in the Rule of Saint Benedict
One cannot listen to the reading of the Prologue of the Holy Rule on this second day of May, without relating it to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some would argue that, because the Blessed Virgin Mary is nowhere mentioned in the Rule of Saint Benedict, one should not read her into it. I, on the other hand, would argue that Our Lady has left the fragrance that is unmistakably hers on every page of the Holy Rule, from the first to the last. What Gerard Manley Hopkins writes in his poem, The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe, is perfectly applicable to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Monks are meant to share Mary’s life as life does air.

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 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.

The Prologue of the Holy Rule begins on a distinctively Marian note: “Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart”. Behind Saint Benedict’s text, the liturgical ear hears that verse of Psalm 44 that the Church delights in applying to Our Lady:

Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’ s house. And the king shall greatly desire thy beauty. (Psalm 44:11–12)

Fra_Angelico_-_Annunciation_(Cell_3)_-_WGA00538The Soul of the Prologue
The best commentary in the world on the beginning of the Prologue of the Holy Rule was written not by a Benedictine, but by a Dominican, a Friar Preacher. One, who would grasp from the heart what Saint Benedict is saying, need only tarry before Blessed Angelico’s depictions of the Annunciation. (I think that a pilgrimage to San Marco in Florence is a most desirable part of the complete Benedictine’s education.) There one will find the soul of the Prologue of the Holy Rule.

The Archangel Gabriel bears the Word from on high. The very Word of whom Saint Thomas sings in his hymn for Lauds of the Office of Corpus Domini.

The Heavenly Word proceeding forth,
yet not leaving the Father’s side,
went forth upon His work on earth
and reached at length life’s eventide.

Maria, Regula Monachorum
The Word arrives in silence. “For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14–15). Look at the Archangel; his whole being expresses silence before the mystery of the Word he has been charged to announce. And here, in this painting, Our Lady is, in her whole person, the icon of the monk such as Saint Benedict would have him be: Maria, regula monachorum. Our Lady is inclining the ear of her heart; she is leaning forward so as to receive the Word. In one hand, the Virgin holds the book of the Sacred Scriptures, marking with her thumb the place where Isaias prophecies: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Isaias 7:14). She passes from the word to the Word. In this moment, Mary consents to forsake all things for the sake of the Word, and in this moment, God “greatly desires her beauty” (Psalm 44:12).

The rest of the Holy Rule develops out of this kernel. All 73 chapters are mysteriously contained in the first verse of the Prologue. For one with eyes to see, and with ears to hear, the Rule of Saint Benedict fulfils the yearning of the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs: “Shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely” (Canticle 2:14). Maria, regula monachorum; Mary is the pattern of monks.

Ave — Consummatum est


Good Friday falls this year on the feast of the The Annunciation of the Lord  to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The two mysteries intersect: the “Ave” addressed to the Virgin, and the “Consummatum est” uttered from the Cross. 

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’” (Rom 11:33-34).
“None of the rulers of this age understood this;
for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8).

We find ourselves today at the intersection of two mysteries,
or rather, at the heart of the One Mystery,
indivisible, and yet too rich to be taken in all at once:
Incarnation and Redemption,
Annunciation and Crucifixion,
Conception and Death.

The Western tradition, seeking clarity in distinctions
and respectful of chronos, the ordered time of the universe,
separates, fixing her gaze today on the wood of the Cross,
and promising to return in ten days time
“to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph
of the house of David” (Lk 1:26-27).

The Eastern tradition, spiraling into kairos,
the ever-present immediacy of the God who is, who was, and is to come,
integrates, even liturgically,
the mysteries of the conceiving Virgin
and of the crucified Fruit of her womb.

One might argue as convincingly from one perspective as from the other,
but we are here not to debate but to contemplate.
The mute prostration at the beginning of this solemn liturgy,
— all of humanity flung down before the face of God in the person of the priest —
was an act of utter and unconditional surrender to the Mystery,
not to the Mystery as we see it,
poor myopic creatures, straining to transcend our limited perceptions,
but to the Mystery as it is
in its cruciform “breadth and length and height and depth” (cf. Eph 3:18),
and in “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19).

This is the crucifying and glorious knowledge
of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8)
by which one is “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).
This is the awareness that, like a sword, pierced the heart of the Virgin Mother,
“standing by the cross of Jesus” (Jn 19:25).
Even she watched him in the painful spasms of death,
she remembered his first stirrings in her womb,
and somehow sensed obscurely,
“as in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12),
that he would stir again beneath the shroud.
But for now, she saw the fruit of her womb
become the fruit of the tree.

beato-angelico-annuciazione

Thirty-three years had passed;
it seemed to her like yesterday.
“Sent by God” (Lk 1:26), that bright, majestic, creature had come to her,
–exquisitely courteous he was, and awful and lovely all at once —
and his greeting still astonished her:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women” (Lk 1:28).

She remembered the shock of it,
and how she had “considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29).
Now his voice came to her again, and how she needed to hear it,
to lean on it, to steady herself against it, to cling to it
even as Abraham, “in hope believing against hope” (Rom 4:18),
had clung to the wild promises made by God to him:
“Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God” (Lk 1:30).

To see what she was seeing —
her Child stretched naked on the wood,
his hands and feet pierced,
his whole body bloodied,
his sweet face beneath a cruel crown of thorns —
to see this and yet believe in the word of the Angel
was to feel the two-edged sword’s sharp blade
“piercing to the division of soul and spirit,
of joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12).

Could this be what Simeon meant:
“And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Lk 2:35)?
The Angel had said more:
“Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb,
and shalt bring forth a son;
and thou shalt call his name Jesus” (Lk 1:31).
This too she remembered, and lifting her eyes, she read “the inscription over him
in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew” (Lk 23:38):
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).

For a moment she thought of her Joseph
she still missed him so — her friend, her comforter, her rock —
and she remembered what the Angel had said to him as well:
“And thou shalt call his name JESUS.
For he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
“He shall be great,
and shall be called the Son of the most High;
and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father;
and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.
And of his kingdom there shall be no end.
And of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).
Tell me, O Gabriel, is this bitter abjection his greatness?
Is this cross of execution his throne?
Is this defeat the inauguration of his kingdom?

Just then the thief crucified beside him spoke,
as if in answer to her torment:
“Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.”
“And Jesus said to him:
Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:42-43).
For an instant, she turned from the face of her Jesus
to the face of the thief,
and she felt herself a mother to him.
“For those whom God foreknew
he also predestined to be conformed to the image of her Son,
in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (cf, Rom 8:29).

With that, her Jesus spoke,
his gentleness like the breeze in the cool of the day,
his authority undiminished by the scourging, the mockery, and the taunts.
Seeing “his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near,
he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold thy son!’
Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold thy mother!’” (Jn 19:25).

This was a new Annunciation, the second one:
the first, thirty-three years ago by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel;
this second one by the mouth of her Son,
lifted up with bloodied arms spread wide in place of shining wings.
Then, as now and forever, “no word shall be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).
“Woman, behold thy son!” (Jn 19:25).
To this Mary had no answer
apart from the one she had given the Angel then:
“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38).
She was to be mother, mother again and again.
Mother to John, to Dismas, to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, and to James,
mother to “the coming generation” and to “a people yet unborn” (Ps 21:30-31).
Mother of the Church.

“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished,
that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: ‘I thirst’” (Jn 19:28)
and she knew in herself the torment that is the thirst of God
and tasted in her mouth the bitter vinegar,
and knew too that this new motherhood was given her
in this new annunciation
to quench the thirst of God with the children of her sorrowful heart:
adorers “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23).
And as she recalled how at Nazareth the Holy Spirit had come upon her
and the power of Most High had overshadowed her (cf. Lk 1:35),
he said, “’It is consummated,’ and bowing his head,
he gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30).

She lifted her face to receive the breath of his mouth,
and remembered that the Angel too,
having accomplished that for which he was sent from God left her,
leaving God in her womb.
“And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:38).

Afterwards they took his body down from the cross.
Strange that another Joseph, this one of Arimathea,
should be there helping.
A strong and tender man.
And she remembered her Joseph, also strong and tender,
lifting that tiny newborn body in his calloused hands
to place it in the manger.
And she wept.

They placed his lifeless body in her arms.
He seemed so tired, so spent, so in need of his Sabbath rest.
Bits of a lullaby she used to sing to him went through her mind.
“Sleep, my Yeshua, sleep.
Sleep my Yeshua, sleep until thou wakest.”
She remembered something he had said:
“I will come again and will take thee to myself,
that where I am thou mayest be also” (Jn 14:3).
And she repeated something he had prayed:
“Father, glorify thy Son that thy Son may glorify thee” (Jn 17:1).

They placed him the tomb.
And the stone was rolled across the entrance,
sealing in her heart with his body.
To John she said:
“Come, son, take me home.
‘He has torn, that he may heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
and on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him’ (Hos 6:1-2).”

And John, saying nothing, looked into her eyes,
just as Jesus had earlier in the day,
and like Jesus, he believed her.

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Founded in 2012 in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland, and canonically erected in 2017, Silverstream Priory is a house of monks living under the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle. The monks of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the “Opus Dei” (Work of God, the sacred Liturgy) in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” (Extraordinary Form) of the Roman Rite. As Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, they aspire to assure ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream offer their life for the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, and a publishing house, the Cenacle Press.

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