Like a fragrance filling the house

nativita-GIOTTOThe Presence of Mary
The days between Christmas and Epiphany are a continuous celebration: the festival of the Advent of God among us. There is, through these days of Christmastide, a mysterious presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a nearness of the Mother, a pervasive tenderness.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. John 12:3). “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Again and again, through the sacred liturgy, the Holy Ghost graces the Church with a renewed awareness of the presence of Mary. It is as if the Church, surprised by the nearness of the Mother of God during these days of Christmastide, and graced with a new consciousness of just how close Mary always is, wants and needs 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
Mary, the Mother of God and Mediatrix of all blessings, obtains for us the fulness of the ancient blessing given by God to Moses for Aaron and his descendants. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord smile on thee, and be merciful to thee; the Lord turn his countenance towards thee, and give thee peace. ” (Numbers 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” (Psalm 44:13). Those who seek the countenance of the Virgin Mother will hear her good counsel, Accedite ad eum, et illuminamini; et facies vestræ non confundentur. “Look to the 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” (Philippians 4:7). I invite all of you, dear readers, perhaps on the first day of the New Year to spend some time before a favourite image of the Mother of God. Light a candle before her image, and seek 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
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4–5). The Immaculate Virgin 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 Ghost.

The Heart of Mary
“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Saint Luke evokes an image that summons us, in a particular way, to live in Mary’s presence, conscious of her nearness, and of her attention not only to the Infant Christ, but also to every member of His Mystical Body. Saint Luke 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 Ghost.

Consecration to Mary
Many years ago, my dear friend Father Jacob, O.P. and I began the practice of consecrating ourselves to Mary on the first day of the year. 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 this year in thy presence, trusting in thy care for me, a care in every way as tender and solicitous as the care thou didst lavish upon the Infant Christ.”

Find your own words, invent your own formula, but do this. Consecrate yourself anew to the Blessed Virgin 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 Ghost.

The Rosary
This is the experience that lies at the heart of the humble and incomparable prayer of the Rosary, a prayer for every day of the year; the contemplation of the Face of Christ with Mary most holy. With the Mother of God the approaching New Year of 2016 can be for each of us and for the world a year of grace.

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.

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