Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary, the hope and solace of a searching people of God

With First Vespers for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in view –it is now the beginning of the vesperal light and the Church gathers to pray her evening prayers– thoughts turn to salvation in Christ and the meaning of Mary for us. She is the indeed the hope and comfort of the serious and pilgrim Christian. The great Mother of God shows us that the promises of God are true, reasonable and worthy of hope in this world and for life in the next. It is from her that we know the Second Person of the Trinity, it is her ‘yes’ to the Will of God that the great lie told of and to all humanity disappears.The Father of the Second Vatican Council point us in a direction:


Theotokos1.jpg“In the interim just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come,as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.


“It gives great joy and comfort to this holy and general Synod [Vatican II] that even among the separated brethren there are some who give due honor to the Mother of our Lord and Saviour, especially among the Orientals, who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honor to the Mother of God, ever virgin. The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and Mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. (Lumen Gentium, 68-69)

Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major

St Mary Major Basilica.jpgA few times a year the Church’s sacred Liturgy observes a liturgical memorial of a church’s dedication and today is one of those observances. When you get down to brass tax we don’t glorify a building but the action of the Blessed Trinity in the lives of believers.

The point of Catholic dogma affirmed with the building of this Marian basilica is that Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos) defined by the Council of Ephesus in 431. This dogma keeps the orthodox Christian’s faith Christ-centered, especially in matters of worship. The Church holds: “From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, in whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs. Accordingly, following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the cult of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: ‘All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me'” (Lumen gentium, 66)
Our prayer at Mass today is:
Lord, pardon the sins of Your people. May the prayers of Mary, the mother of Your Son, help to save us for by ourselves we cannot please You.
Saint Mary Major is the oldest church in Rome dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the worship of the Trinity situated on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills in Rome. The construction of the basilica began following a promise of the benefactors (a Roman patrician), a dream of Pope Liberius and the presence of snow on the spot where the church was to be built on this date on an extraordinarily hot day in August in the 4th century. Pope Sixtus III consecrated the the church in 435. Hence, the Saint Mary Major is often called the Liberian Basilica or Saint Mary at the Snows or Saint Mary of the Crib. The holy crib that held the baby Jesus is retained there.
Today we call the Basilica of Saint Mary Major together with Saint Peter’s (on Vatican Hill), Saint John Lateran and Saint Paul outside the Walls Papal (patriarchal or pontifical) basilicas. That is, these churches are directly connected with the ministry of the Pope and the altar in each of theses 4 churches is reserved for the exclusive use of the Pope to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass; there are times in which the Pope gives permission to a visiting cardinal or a patriarch of an Eastern Church to celebrate at his altar.
Some have designated the four papal basilicas in this way as way of keeping in mind the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of salvation wrought by Grace and the work of the Apostles:
Saint John Lateran recalls the See of Rome
Saint Peter’s recalls the See of Constantinople
Saint Paul outside the Walls recalls the See of Alexandria
Saint Mary Major recalls the See of Antioch.

Our Lady of the Angels & The Portiuncula Indulgence

From a life on Saint Francis of Assisi by Saint Bonaventure:

Regina Angelorum.jpg

“The Portiuncula was an old church dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God which was abandoned. Francis had great devotion to the Queen of the world and when he saw that the church was deserted, he began to live there constantly in order to repair it. He heard that the Angels often visited it, so that it was called Saint Mary of the Angels, and he decided to stay there permanently out of reverence for the angels and love for the Mother of Christ.

He loved this spot more than any other in the world. It was here he began his religious life in a very small way; it is here he came to a happy end. When he was dying, he commended this spot above all others to the friars, because it was most dear to the Blessed Virgin.

This was the place where Saint Francis founded his Order by divine inspiration and it was divine providence which led him to repair three churches before he founded the Order and began to preach the Gospel.

This meant that he progressed from material things to more spiritual achievements, from lesser to greater, in due order, and it gave a prophetic indication of what he would accomplish later.

As he was living there by the church of Our Lady, Francis prayed to her who had conceived the Word, full of grace and truth, begging her insistently and with tears to become his advocate. Then he was granted the true spirit of the Gospel by the intercession of the Mother of mercy and he brought it to fruition.

He embraced the Mother of Our Lord Jesus with indescribable love because, as he said, it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother, and through her we found mercy. After Christ, he put all his trust in her and took her as his patroness for himself and his friars.”

More on today’s feast of Our Lady of the Angels and the Portiuncula Indulgence here. One has to remember that Holy Father Francis received this “little portion” church from the Benedictine monks!

Assumption/Dormition fast

Death of the Virgin Caravaggio.jpgThose Christians who are not Orthodox –as in, Orthodox Christians or Eastern Orthodox or some version of this– are likely not to be aware that today begins the traditional time of fasting in preparation for the great feast of the of the Assumption (if you are Catholic) or Dormition (if you are Orthodox) of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Theotokos), the all-holy Mother of God. In fact, the Churches of East and West are called upon to prepare for the yearly festival of our Lady by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sound familiar? Indeed, the 3-point spiritual discipline is identical with Lent and Advent.

The period of fast I am speaking of today is a period of time that ought to be understood as training ourselves to be spiritually vigilant. That all of us, no matter of Church membership, should be attentive to and practice fasting so that our hearts and mind and bodies are opened up to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Put another way, by fasting what could the Lord be offering us to know and love and live? Our prayerful vigilance for the feast of the Assumption/Dormition ought to be rekindled by Catholics because the practice opens us up to God’s grace. Whether a Catholic takes on 14 days of fasting or something more modest it is a personal choice. But do something! And while I can’t guarantee much, I can say that if we are faithful to the spiritual practices of the Church they will give us new eyes of faith, the eyes of the beatitudes, a new mentality with which to assess the world in which we live today. That is, to look with the same mercy and openness that God has for us due to the Incarnation.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate the same event, Mary’s departure from earth, but each call the event by a different name. The Orthodox say that Mary died a natural death as any human being would, that her soul was received by her Son, Jesus, and on the third day her body was resurrected but didn’t suffer bodily corruption. Catholicism says Mary was assumed by God’s own power like that of Elias, into heaven body and soul at the moment of death. Catholic dogma defined by the Church leaves it an open question as to whether Mary died (see Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).
At any rate the Christian Churches of East and West up until today celebrates this significant feast of the Mother of God liturgically and has done so since the early years following the Council of Ephesus (431). Some point to the Jerusalem liturgical practices of the burial services of the Virgin as imitating those done on Good Friday for Jesus. The point is that the Assumption/Dormition feast is prepared for by a period of fasting, preparing the whole person to receive anew the Paschal Mystery wrought by Mary.
The period of fast lasts until August 14th. Remember, the Assumption/Dormition feast is the same solemn feast observed by both the Eastern and Western Churches but with different emphases depending on the Church that you belong to. But one should note that this fast has a stricter sense than even that of the Nativity and Apostles’ fasts.
The Orthodox Church’s rules for fasting can be found here and if you are Catholic it might be a good idea to consider some time in prayer and fasting as a path to celebrate the Marian feast of the Assumption or Dormition on August 15th.
PS: The Assumption is my most favorite of Marian feasts!

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

OL of Mt Carmel & St Simon jpgCardinal Newman in his admirable “Letter addressed to the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D., on occasion of his Eirenicon” (1865) says very aptly: “Theology is occupied with supernatural matters, and is ever running into mysteries, which reason can neither explain nor adjust. Its lines of thought come to an abrupt termination, and to pursue them or to complete them is to plunge down the abyss. St. Augustine warns us that, if we attempt to find and to tie together the ends of lines which run into infinity, we shall only succeed in contradicting ourselves” (Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, 5th ed., p. 430). It is widely agreed that the ultimate considerations which determine a true estimate of all particular points of the Christian tradition are doctrinal. No purely historical arguments, whether from antiquity or from silence, are ever decisive. They are subject to a further theological scrutiny and revision in the perspective of the total Christian faith, taken as a whole. The ultimate question is simply this: does one really keep the faith of the Bible and of the Church, does one accept and recite the Catholic Creed exactly in that sense in which it had been drafted and supposed to be taken and understood, does one really believe in the truth of the Incarnation?

Let me quote Newman once more. “I say then,” he proceeds, “when once we have mastered the idea, that Mary bore, suckled, and handled the Eternal in the form of a child, what limit is conceivable to the rush and flood of thoughts which such a doctrine involves? What awe and surprise must attend upon the knowledge, that a creature has been brought so close to the Divine Essence?” (op. cit., page 431). Fortunately, a Catholic theologian is not left alone with logic and erudition. He is led by the faith; credo ut intelligam. Faith illuminates the reason. And erudition, the memory of the past, is quickened in the continuous experience of the Church.

A Catholic theologian is guided by the teaching authority of the Church, by its living tradition. But above all, he himself lives in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. The mystery of the Incarnation is still, as it were, continuously enacted in the Church, and its “implications” are revealed and disclosed in devotional experience and in sacramental participation. In the Communion of Saints, which is the true Church Universal and Catholic, the mystery of the New Humanity is disclosed as a new existential situation. And in this perspective and living context of the Mystical Body of Christ the person of the Blessed Virgin Mother appears in full light and full glory. The Church now contemplates her in the state of perfection. She is now seen as inseparably united with her Son, who “sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” For her the final consummation of life has already come-in an anticipation. “Thou art passed over into Life, who art the Mother of Life,” acknowledges the Church, “Neither grave nor death had power over the Mother of God… for the Mother of Life hath been brought into Life by him who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb” (Troparion and Kontakion for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary).

Again, it is not so much a heavenly reward for her purity and virtue, as an “implication” of her sublime office, of her being the Mother of God, the Theotokos. The Church Triumphant is above all the worshipping Church, her existence is a living participation in Christ’s office of intercession and his redeeming love. Incorporation into Christ, which is the essence of the Church and of the whole Christian existence, is first of all an incorporation into his sacrificial love for mankind. And here there is a special place for her who is united with the Redeemer in the unique intimacy of motherly affection and devotion. The Mother of God is truly the common mother of all living, of the whole Christian race, born or reborn in the Spirit and truth. An affectionate identification with the child, which is the spiritual essence of motherhood, is here consummated in its ultimate perfection. The Church does not dogmatize much about these mysteries of her own existence. For the mystery of Mary is precisely the mystery of the Church. Mater Ecclesia and Virgo Alater, both are birthgivers of the New Life. And both are orantes.

The Church invites the faithful and helps them to grow spiritually into these mysteries of faith which are as well the mysteries of their own existence and spiritual destiny. In the Church they learn to contemplate and to adore the living Christ together with the whole assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23). And in this glorious assembly they discern the eminent person of the Virgin Mother of the Lord and Redeemer, full of grace and love, of charity and compassion — “More honorable than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, who without spot didst bear the Eternal Word.” In the light of this contemplation and in the spirit of faith the theologian must fulfill his office of interpreting to believers and to those who seek the truth the overwhelming mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery is still symbolized, as it was in the age of the Fathers, by a single and glorious name: Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God Incarnate.

The Ever-Virgin Mother of God
Archpriest George Florovsky

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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