Liturgy: The Marian Dimension of Advent
Father Timothy Finigan FAITH MAGAZINE November - December 2014
At the beginning and in the early part of Our Lord’s life, we find Our Lady at significant moments. When she found Him in the Temple she saw the demonstration of divine wisdom made flesh as the learned men were astounded at his words. At the Presentation, when He was formally given the name of Jesus, Our Lady presented, in accord with the law, the sacrifice of the poor person. She who had no need of purification associated herself with her Son, who came not to abolish the law but to fulfil it. She knew even better than Simeon that here indeed was the light to enlighten all the nations, and she shared in his joy at being granted the grace of seeing Him with his own eyes before his death.
Fr Faber’s beautiful Advent hymn “Like the dawning of the morning” tells of the expectation of Our Lady during her pregnancy, how she understood with overflowing joy the words of the psalms and of the prophets, which she knew to be fulfilled. The holy Oratorian founder anticipated by over a century St John Paul’s affirmation that in the Rosary we contemplate with Mary the face of Christ:
Thou hast waited, Child of David,
And thy waiting now is o’er;
Thou hast seen Him, Blessed Mother,
And wilt see Him evermore!
Oh His Human Face and Features,
They were passing sweet to see;
Thou beholdest them this moment,
Mother, show them now to me.
Earlier, the hymn says,
On the mountains of Judea,
Like the chariot of the Lord,
Thou wert lifted in thy spirit
By the uncreated Word.
In the hill country of Judea, Our Lord was first recognised by others. St Elizabeth humbly asked why she should be granted the privilege that the Mother of the Lord should visit her; her son leapt in the womb, recognising Christ who was at that time an embryo of about five days. When we say the Angelus we can put ourselves in mind of the beginning of our salvation. At the moment that Our Lady consented to the vocation graciously communicated to her by the angel Gabriel, Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was a pivotal moment in the history of the universe. God had become man.
In the ages before, the prophets foretold not only the Messiah but His mother, the Daughter of Sion, the Virgin who would conceive a Son. She was prefigured partially and in shadow, in Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Judith, Esther and the mother of the Maccabees. She was symbolised in Ark of the Covenant, the gate of heaven, the rod of Aaron, which flowered without natural causes, and the tower of David. At the beginning of the human race, immediately after the first sin, the Lord God Himself spoke of the enmity between her and the serpent. Although many translations diverge from St Jerome’s vulgate “She shall bruise your head”, Blessed Pius IX in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, in which he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, said that in this text, Christ’s most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated, and that she “most completely triumphed over [the serpent] and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot”.
Yet with the Blessed John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan tradition, we can go back even further, to the beginning of the universe and before, to the eternal plan of God in His eternal wisdom. God “chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and he “predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:5).
Sin did not force the hand of God, who willed from all eternity that we should share in His divine life, feed on Him in the Eucharist and enjoy with Him the bliss of heaven. Therefore Our Lady was also a part of that plan of God. (Incidentally, we may see in this eternal plan the division of the sexes and our own identity as male and female according to God’s design so that His Son might become incarnate.) She was needed as the Mother, who would be the vessel of honour and conceive by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus Christ would be truly God and truly man, one divine person with a human nature and a divine nature.
Our devotion to Our Lady, which we express with our hearts, our minds, our joy and our tears, is not an optional extra. Nor is it simply a question of human courtesy, as we might greet and respect a man’s mother when we visit his home. Our devotion takes us to the beginning of all things, the provision of God in His infinite wisdom and love from before the foundation of the world. We find Our Lady there, and at every point in the history of our salvation. When we greet her, we do so with love and joy, but also knowing that her place is at the heart of our faith, not at the periphery; she is integral to everything that God does for us, hence she is also called “Mediatrix of all graces” and “Co-Redemptrix”. God Himself chose her before all time to be the Immaculate Mother of His Son.
There was a time not so long ago when professional liturgists would try to exclude Marian themes from liturgical celebrations, and even devotions. They did not realise how truly Jansenistic this was. The noble simplicity of the Roman tradition has always made way for the noble tenderness of devotion to our Lady. The celebration of Advent is especially enriched by its Marian dimension.
Father Timothy Finigan is the Parish Priest of Saints Austin and Gregory with St Anne in Margate, Kent. He is also a visiting tutor in sacramental theology at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh. You can read his blog at the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.co.uk