On the Octave Day of Christmas, the day of the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the Church focusses her contemplative gaze on his Holy Mother Mary. Today we proclaim and celebrate our Lady’s Divine Motherhood. We do so necessarily, if we would understand, enter into, participate in the mystery of Christ, and of his human birth. Today we boldly invoke, honour, address Mary as “Mother of God”. This title is associated in particular with St. Cyril of Alexandria, and the 5th century Council of Ephesus. By it, all heresies are countered. That is, all attempts to rationalise away the mystery of our Faith, to dissolve the paradox, diminish the miracle, water down the life-giving power of the Good News we have received from God.
O admirabile commercium! our liturgy sings today. O wonderful exchange! The Creator of the human race, taking up a human body and soul, has deigned to be born of the Virgin. Coming forth as a man without a human father, he has bestowed on us his own divinity.
Yes: this baby whom the Angel had said must be called Jesus (Lk 1:31) - and whom he named to the Shepherds Saviour, and Christ the Lord (2:11) - he is the Eternal Son of God. He is the Divine Word who became flesh for our salvation. He is God from God, light from light, true God from true God; and Mary is his Mother.
Contemplating the Divine Motherhood of Mary, with wonder, and ever renewed astonishment, we glimpse something also of our own vocation, and the beauty and glory of our holy religion. For like Mary, with and through Mary, we also are called, graced, honoured, predestined to be God-bearers; to carry within us the Divine Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Like Mary, with her, and through her, we are to be over-shadowed by the Holy Spirit, and filled with grace, and our lives are thereby to be made fruitful, for God’s glory, and our own sanctification, and the salvation of the world.
Just in case anyone should think that today’s Feast is about a dogmatic abstraction; about a truth that we assent to, but which does not touch us directly, today’s Collect uses the word “sentiamus”. It asks that, especially today, and through this coming year, all of us may feel, perceive, experience, be aware of Our Lady’s intercession: an intercession that is personal, feminine, motherly, efficacious.
The words that qualify the address to God in today’s Collect contain a paradox. Precisely our Lady’s virginity, her immaculate purity, was fruitful. “O God”, the Collect begins, “who bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation - beatae Mariae virginitate fecunda - by the fruitful virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” “Fruitful virginity”. But nowadays the opposite of that is everywhere accepted and even promoted in our own society: sterile unchastity, or contracepted promiscuity. This has its own bitter fruit: a host of damaged or broken lives, a continent that is slowly dying for want of children; an overt hostility towards Christianity, whose values are opposite and contrary.
Unfortunately we leave 2017 behind with the lingering bad taste of multiple accusations against members or representatives of the Catholic Church. There have been gross failures precisely in chastity; even vile crimes of abuse, which fill us with shame and confusion. We are almost led to wonder if the very credibility of the Church has been thereby compromised? But no! Thank God! It never can be. Through our Blessed Lady, says our Collect, meruimus - we have deserved, merited, been made fit, to receive the Author of life, Christ our Lord. Looking at her, then, once again, we breathe a sigh of relief. In Our Lady we have a permanent reference point and model. Type and figure of the Church, in Mary God’s work of salvation has been perfectly accomplished.
And so, in order to console us, and warm the ardour of our love, and stir up our piety, and bring us into God’s presence, and make our hearts sing, we have the words spoken to Our Lady by the Angel. Hail Mary! he said, and Hail Mary! we repeat, and again and again, in all circumstances whatever. Mother of the Divine life in us, our Mother in the order of grace, Mother of our salvation, Mother of God; we instinctively turn to her, or run to her, or cry out to her. May she teach us how to receive what God wants to give us, which is above all Himself. May she teach us how to pray, how to open our hearts, how to live in purity, how to love without limit.
These days of Christmas of course we think of Our Lady above all as holding her infant Son. But her Divine Motherhood did not end there. Surely when she lived in the holy house at Ephesus with St. John, the image most indelibly inscribed into her memory would have been Jesus in his Passion, and Jesus hanging dead on the Cross. And surely the reality in which she permanently then rejoiced was his Resurrection, and his life in her, and his call to join him forever in heaven when the time came. So today we ask Our Lady to draw us not only into the mystery of Christ’s human birth, but also into fellowship with his sufferings. We ask her to teach us both her own horror for sin, and also how to walk in the light of Christ’s victory; with her in invincible joy.
Today’s Collect invites us to be bold in what we ask for. Taking up that hint, perhaps I might suggest some requests we could make for ourselves for 2018. Of course here at Pluscarden we ask our Lady especially to send us new, good, holy vocations. But beyond this, we have things to ask for ourselves as individuals. If there have been infidelities in the lives of others, and perhaps in our own lives too, this year, then we ask that through Mary’s intercession, we may henceforth be always faithful. If there has been any loss of vision, or loss of confidence, or acedia within the Church, we ask that we may experience a new falling in love with God; that our own vision and hope may be renewed.
To ask even more. Since God calls us to great things, and great holiness, may we all, this year, make progress in our spiritual lives. May we shake off some of the bad habits or attachments or symptoms of petty selfishness that impede our union with God. May we grow in humility. May we experience, enter, know, this year, a closer encounter with Jesus, a deeper union with him. In expression of that, may our life of prayer also become deeper, richer, more constant; perhaps especially through fidelity to the holy rosary. And by this means, may the whole Church in our day be renewed in faith and hope and love.