Ave, Maria — Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent

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.

What are the labour pains spoken of by the prophet Micah
in the First Reading?
The prophet cannot be referring
to the miraculous birth of the Son of God.
The continuous tradition of the Church holds
that the Virgin Mother gave birth to her Son
without loss of her virginity
and without the travail common to the daughters of the old Eve.
The Fathers of the Church use the analogy of light passing through glass without breaking it.
The traditional teaching of the Church,
upheld by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas
is that the Immaculate Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus
without the pains of labor.
To the first Eve it was said:
“In pain thou shalt bring forth children” (Gen 3:16).
The new Eve gave birth in a new way to Him who says:
“Behold, I make all things new” (Ap 21:5).
It is not the Virgin Mother who brings forth the Messiah in travail;
rather, it is Israel, God’s unfaithful spouse who,
in the midst of vicissitudes and afflictions,
is made ready for the birth of her Consoler, her Redeemer, and her Peace.
“And He shall stand, and feed in the strength of the Lord,
in the height of the name of the Lord His God: and they shall be converted,
for now He shall be magnified even to the ends of the earth.
And He shall be our peace” (Mi 5:4–5).
Christ is our peace, and Mary is the Virgin Mother of our peace.
The mystery of the virgin birth of Our Lord signifies, among other things,
that He who is our peace came peacefully from His Mother’s womb,
that is, ex intacta Virgine.

The Responsorial Psalm made us repeat,
“Let Thy face shine that we may be saved” (Ps 79:3).
The face of Christ began to shine in the face of His Virgin Mother.
Who has not noticed the indescribable glow of the expectant mother?
Mary reflected as in a mirror the divine radiance
concealed beneath her heart.
If you would contemplate the face of Christ,
begin by seeking the face of Mary.
Then, through her eyes you will begin to see
the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.
Wherever Mary has appeared and shown the loveliness of her face
— to Juan Diego at Guadalupe, to Catherine Labouré at the rue du Bac,
to Bernadette at Lourdes, and to the little children of Fatima —
it was in order to draw souls to the contemplation of the Face of her Son
and, specifically, to His Eucharistic Face.
One who gazes on the Face of Christ is drawn into His priestly prayer.

The Second Reading gave us that prayer
at the very moment of His conception.
“When Christ came into the world, He said:
‘Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not,
but a body Thou hast fitted to Me:
Holocausts for sin did not please Thee.
Then said I: Behold I come . . . to do Thy will, O God” (Heb 10:7–9).
This is the priestly entrance of Christ into the world.
The womb of the Virgin Mary is the pure temple
in which the Incarnate Word offers His first prayer to the Father.
If you would enter into the prayer of Christ, priest and victim,
seek him in the virginal temple of his Mother.
Already, in Mary’s womb,
the offering of the body of Jesus Christ was made once and for all.
The sacrifice of the Cross is the completion
of the offering begun at the very instant of Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb.
From the moment of the incarnation
Mary was intimately associated to the oblation of her Son
as priest and victim,
Her presence at the cross was the continuation of a divine liturgy
that began beneath her heart in the temple of her womb.
This is why the Church continues to commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary
at the very heart of every Mass.
The Virgin Mother is inseparable from the offering and sacrifice of the Son.

In today’s Gospel of the Visitation,
the Virgin Mary is the tabernacle of the hidden Christ.
Pope John Paul II wrote these unforgettable words:
“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 voice of Mary” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 55).
Elizabeth, seized by this “Eucharistic” moment unique in history cries out: “Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Lk 1:42).
Today, the Church prepares to live her own “Eucharistic moment”
by taking up Elizabeth’s cry
at the moment of the offering of the bread and wine.

The liturgy completes Elizabeth’s words
with the salutation of the Angel Gabriel,
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28).
It is extremely significant
that the most ancient liturgical use of the Ave Maria
is in the Offertory of this Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
The melody that clothes it is of an artistry so chaste and, at the same time,
so jubilant, that it reveals something of what the angels in heaven
must sing ceaselessly before their Queen.
It is out of the liturgy that the Ave Maria passed
into the ceaseless prayer of believers,
notably in the sweet repetition of the rosary.

The Prayer Over the Offerings will suggest a typology between
the womb of the Virgin Mary and the altar:
“Let that same Spirit, O Lord,
who by His power didst fill the womb of blessed Mary
sanctify also the gifts placed upon Thy altar.”
Again, the Church intimates that the liturgy of the Cross
and the liturgy of every Mass
began in the temple of Mary’s virginal womb.
The fruitfulness of our participation in the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice
will be proportionate to our abiding in Mary.

The Communion Chant will repeat Isaiah’s glorious prophecy:
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child,
and shall bear a son,
and His name shall be called Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).
The pedagogy of the Church makes us repeat this name
over and over during the Communion procession.
He who will come in this Eucharistic Advent is Emmanuel, God–with–us.
EMMANUEL is the word that, between the end of this Mass and the First Vespers of Christmas, will echo in the ear of our hearts
and linger like fragrant incense in the air.
No other name of Christ inspires such confidence.
No other name promises such peace.
God is with us
because God was with Mary.
Abide in Mary
and God will abide in you.
This, my friends, is the secret of a blessed Christmas.