August 15, 2023
Reflection by Archbishop Fred Hiltz
In her book, “Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life”, Judith Dupré writes,
“Through the centuries Mary’s historical identity has become a living canvas on which humanity’s deep need and essential woundedness have been transformed into beauty and so into truth. Her persona has been culturally tattooed on and by many groups for multiple reasons. It is difficult to say exactly where her physical, cultural and theological reality stops and embellishment begins.”
In honouring the unique place of Mary in the communion of all Christ’s saints, we take as our point of reference the Gospels themselves.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s purity, the fullness of grace, her favour in the sight of God, chosen as she was to bear his Son into the world.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s delight in having been so chosen, a delight reflected in her song which has been sung for centuries in the daily round of monastic offices, in great cathedrals and in lovely parish churches, her song which is a powerful interplay of the tenderness of God’s mercies and the mightiness of his justice.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s courage in birthing Jesus in a manger behind an inn. We learn of her ponderings after the visit of shepherds from nearby fields, her treasuring of their humble adoration of her child and all the things that had been said concerning him – “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” “He is the Messiah …”
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s gracious hospitality in receiving magi from afar, come to pay her child homage with their sacred gifts of mystic meaning. We learn of her protection of the child as she and Joseph fled into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s parenting of Jesus in their home in Nazareth, and then her letting go as he ventured to the Jordan to be baptized by John and to begin his ministry.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s patience, even when it was trying. Anxious to see him when he returned to Nazareth for a visit he says, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is m brother and sister and mother.” (Mt. 12:50) In what would have been a difficult moment for her, she would not possibly have imagined how she would have such an honoured place in the kindred of her Son that would span continents and centuries.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s pain as she stood at the foot of the cross, leaning on the arm of John – the pain of which the aged Simeon had spoken when she and Joseph had presented him in the temple as a child.
From the Gospels, we learn of Mary’s joy in her Son’s rising from the dead and his ascension into heaven, and her anticipation with the disciples and certain other women of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
From the Gospels, we learn of how Mary pointed people to her Son. “Do whatever he tells you,” she told the servants at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Indeed many of the world’s renowned icons depicting Mary portray her with one hand pointing to her Son and the other open to the world – each a reflection of Herbert O’Driscoll’s comment that “Mary’s eternal privilege is to turn our eyes from the contemplation of her loveliness to the greater glory of her Son.”
Recognizing how she had fulfilled her vocation as the Mother of God, the Church at a great council in Ephesus in 431 bestowed on her the title “Theotokos – Bearer of God”.
Of all the saints Mary is the most beautifully indigenized and wonderfully enculturated. In Christian art Mary’s features bear a marked resemblance to the peoples of the world who have received the Gospel. She is the Mother of all their joys, struggles and sorrows.
In a 2004 Anglican-Roman Catholic statement on Mary, she is described as “Christ’s foremost disciple.” It reads, “We recognize in Mary a model of holiness, obedience and faith for all Christians.”
In that very spirit, Pope Francis writes, “Mary lets herself be guided by the Holy Spirit, on a journey of faith toward a destiny of service and fruitfulness.” (Evangelii Gaudium)
Here, friends, is the calling of the Church Universal and the Church local:
- a journey of faith for which we are nourished in Word and Sacrament;
- a destiny of service and fruitfulness in caring for the neighbourhood, in tending to the poor, and the ordering of society in accord with the mercies and judgments of Mary’s Magnificat.
Here, friends, is the call you embrace as a religious community:
- a journey of faith for which you are nourished daily in Word and Sacrament;
- a destiny of service and fruitfulness in caring for those who come to this place hallowed by your prayers – who come seeking spiritual refreshment or guidance in discerning God’s call in their lives.
I began this reflection with a reference from Judith Dupré’s book on Mary, and I would like to conclude with another reference. She writes,
“Thanks to artists immemorial who honored Mary with their best gifts, she is associated with a rainbow of colors that capture her spiritual vibrancy. She is the crimson pomegranate of fertility, the deep claret of wine, and the color of Christ’s passion, death and remembrance. She is the color of the sky, spreading like a protective blue mantle on the tidal ocean.”
In her chapter, “The Color Blue” Dupré points out that Mary’s most authentic colour is not blue, but rather an earthy reddish brown, the colour of everyday garments woven from rough linen cloth. It was the renaissance artists and their patrons who opted for blue to be their colour of choice for Mary – specifically ultramarine blue, the most costly of pigments, once made from lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone. Their choice was a reflection of their profound honouring of Mary, an honouring reflected most wonderfully in a hymn attributed to Roland F. Palmer (SSJE) who set the words from a poem published anonymously in 1914 to music. (The tune of Hermon by Charles Venn Pilcher)
“Joyful Mother, full of gladness,
In thine arms thy Lord was borne.
Mournful Mother, full of sadness,
All they heart with pain was torn.
Glorious Mother, now rewarded,
With a crown at Jesus’ hand.
Age to age thy name recorded
Shall be blest in every land.”